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Ahead of our two concerts this week at the City of London and Hythe Festivals, we caught up with composer Judith Bingham whose new piece, The Hythe, will be given its world premiere with us on 4 July as part of the City of London Festival and again in Hythe itself on 6 July.
What/when was your big breakthrough?
The performance of Chartres, my orchestral piece, in 1993. It really was an overnight change of attitude.
How did you become involved with the John Armitage Memorial (JAM)?
I was commissioned by JAM back in 2006 to write My Heart Strangely Warm’d which went on to win a British Composer Award. I got involved with JAM after that – I’m on the panel now. It’s a wonderful organisation, full of energy and enthusiasm for new music, and a real engagement with composers young and old.
Why did you decide to write The Hythe and could you tell us a bit about the compositional process?
I had been to Hythe in Kent and was thinking a bit about the name and what it meant – so many places have the word Hythe in them or corruptions of that. When I was commissioned to write a piece that would be done in Hythe and in London, it seemed a common bond, but really, harbours or havens have a powerful meaning right round Britain. I read the Anglo Saxon poem The Seafarer and decided to base the piece on the structure and tone of the poem. I wanted to use the gut strings of the OAE to evoke a raw world of ice, sea-birds and the menace of the sea.
Which mobile number do you call the most?
If I can avoid using my mobile I will. I like texting but hate phoning anyone.
What – or where – is perfection?
Everything is always changing of course, the only real constant is change. But some works of art achieve perfection in that every single thing about them seems right and you can’t imagine it any other way. And for me, flowers are sublime and mysterious.
What’s your favourite ritual?
I like reading my emails over breakfast: the new day always brings the possibility of different challenges.
Which living person do you most admire (and why)?
I admire people who try and make a difference without looking for recognition or reward. We only hear bad news by and large, but there are so many people who plug away at trying to help others, whose efforts are rarely acknowledged. People like that underpin the stability of society.
What other talent or skill would you like to possess?
I wish I was thrifty.
What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
That you can’t change other people, you can only change yourself, and that is hard enough. Also, to accept my own part in things and not blame or deny.
What is the most played piece of music on your MP3 player or in your CD collection?
At the moment, Prokofiev’s Cinderella. I’ve only just realised how much I like it.
Could you sum up in one sentence why people should come along to hear your new piece?
I don’t expect people to like what I do, but I hope that my ideas can offer them something thought-provoking, or helpful, or beautiful. A piece needs an audience to move forward in time.
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