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Huw Watkins

This season we are delighted to welcome Welsh composer Huw Watkins as our new Composer-in-Association. We sat down for a short interview to get to know him better.

Hear Huw Watkins' works in 2015-16 season:

  • London Concerto – October 2015
  • Composer Portrait – February 2016
  • Flute Concerto – March 2016

What were your earliest musical influences?

We always had a piano in the house, and everybody else in the family played it so it was natural for me to learn. My mother taught music, my dad is an amateur violinist and my older brother, Paul Watkins, plays the cello as well, so there were lots of musical influences in the family!

At what point did you start experimenting with composition?

There was lots of manuscript paper around in the house that I enjoyed trying to fill up – with all sorts of rubbish probably! It was a slightly obsessive hobby for me whilst I was in my teens.

Did you feel influenced by welsh composers?

I was very lucky to have been introduced to the Welsh composer Mervyn Burtch when I was 14; he was an incredibly encouraging early influence and introduced me to all sorts of music that I wasn’t aware of. Of course, Alun Hoddinott and William Mathias were the leading Welsh composers when I was growing up, and I’ve always admired these two very different figures.

You’ve worked with bbc now for many years, how did that first come about?

I’ve been incredibly lucky to have had BBC NOW’s support for so long; they commissioned my Sinfonietta, which I wrote in 2000, and other commissions followed on from that, including a piano concerto. I grew up going to see the Orchestra in St David’s Hall in the 1980s and 1990s, watching them getting better and better over that period, so it’s been a privilege to work with them in more recent years.

What’s your composition process?

For me, it’s necessary to be pretty disciplined. I’ve got to be quite strict in setting aside periods of time for composition away from my performance work and travelling; it’s quite hard to write a piece with just a day here and there, so I need to find free periods. Often the best ideas come to me when I don’t have a chance to write them down, but mainly I tend to write at the piano, and that’s the main place that ideas spring from I suppose, rather than just out of the air!

What do you try to communicate in your music?

I want to try to keep someone’s attention and take them somewhere. I don’t want the music to be background or just atmosphere; I want it to be dynamic! Audiences have to make a bit of an effort, especially with unfamiliar music, but I want to meet them halfway.

What would you say to someone who was nervous about trying contemporary music?

I would say – don’t worry if you don’t like it immediately, but don’t make up your mind after just hearing it once! From my own experience, there are some pieces that I’ve hated initially, but later grown to love. Don’t be afraid to say what you think after a first impression, but don’t be afraid to change your mind.

What are your plans as composer-in-association?

I’d love to get involved in the life of the Orchestra, perhaps even come and play and talk about other omposers who might be interesting to explore. There’s talk of a couple of BBC commissions so watch this space!