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Composer Conversations: Mandy Leung

Find out more about the inspiring composers taking part in this year’s Composition: Wales in our new series called ‘Composer Conversations’.

To kick off the series we’re excited to hear from Mandy Leung, composer of Funeral March (from Bells of Wrath). Originally from Hong Kong, Mandy is currently studying in Cardiff.

NOW: Why did you decide to submit a piece of music to Composition: Wales this year?

Mandy: I have just completed my Masters in Composition at Cardiff University and thought I should submit part of my thesis for Composition: Wales.

NOW: How does it feel to be one of the shortlisted composers?

Mandy: I still don’t believe it! I’m currently doing a PGCE which, as you can imagine, can get a bit intense and stressful, especially during the pandemic. It is nice knowing that I have something so exciting to look forward to, and I can’t wait to hear my music come to life!

NOW: How did your friends and family react when you told them?

Mandy: I live with my partner, George Owen, who has also been shortlisted as one of the composers. He wasn’t at home when I received the news on the phone, so I told him when he returned home, and his reaction was: “You got the call as well?”. This means a lot to both of us and has kept us going through this miserable year. I think my friends and family were particularly excited for me because I’ve never come across as a composer to them; they have always seen me as a performer or tutor. It is only through my MA that I have matured the skills and techniques in composing for different ensembles. In that sense, I owe this to the teachers that have supervised and encouraged me in the past - you know who you are!

NOW: What has the process been like for you so far, and what have been the challenges?

Mandy: So far, BBC NOW has been supportive and arranged several opportunities for us to meet with Ryan Bancroft, Gavin Higgins and Sarah-Lianne Lewis, as well as Orchestra Librarian Eugene Monteith and the players. It has been a great experience discussing my piece with Ryan and receiving feedback and advice from members of BBC NOW.

NOW: What do you hope to achieve from taking part in Composition: Wales this year?

Mandy: I would like to take this incredible opportunity to try things out in the workshops and refine them for the performance in May. I hope that working with a professional orchestra will give me the experience to confidently write more orchestral music in the future.

NOW: How do you hope people feel when they hear your piece for the first time?

Mandy: Funeral March is from the last movement of Bells of Wrath, which is entirely based on the Dies Irae (Day of Wrath) chant from the Requiem. I would say that this movement goes through quite an emotional ride that takes about 8 minutes to build up to a dramatic climax. I want the audience to feel like they are on a journey with me, and to enjoy the reflective and peaceful ending.

NOW: What would you say to encourage other composers to take part in Composition: Wales in the future?

Mandy: I would like to encourage all music students at secondary schools and universities to seize every opportunity to practise composing. Just like with your instruments, the more you practise, the more fluent you will become. I have learned that whilst a teacher can give you tips and guidance, the creativity and hard work must come from you, and that only through exploration will you find your ‘voice’. In other words, keep exploring and go for it!

NOW: Thanks for your time Mandy – and for being the first in this new series highlighting the composers in Composition: Wales this year! Is there anything else you would like to add?

Mandy: Bells of Wrath was written to commemorate a family member who sadly passed away in 2016, which is why I have referenced the Dies Irae. I think everyone is so strong mentally, and hopefully physically, to have survived this pandemic, and I hope that you can spend more quality time with your family once this is all over. For those who aren’t as fortunate, I hope my music can speak to you, and take care.

You can follow Mandy Leung on Twitter at: @MandyL_composer