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The Music that made me: Sarah Lianne Lewis

SLL 001This interview will appear in a more user-friendly format on Tŷ Cerdd's new website in April.

My earliest classical music memory
I have this bizarre recollection of watching a TV show as a young child (it must have been back when the BBC still had their old boxy blue-red-green logo!). The programme - aimed at children - would explore different pieces of classical music. In particular I remember the episode (or episodes?) that explored Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition.

Whilst the music played, the TV showed a 'painting' that had some aspect of it animated. Whilst the music for 'The Hut on Fowl's Legs (Baba-Yagá)' is very dramatic, the animation that accompanied it was quite terrifying, and I still remember that to this day. My Mum also recounts how my great-aunt (who was very musical herself) had visited one day, and observed that - whilst I was happily playing with my toys - I was singing the 'Promenade' theme to myself ... I was only 3 years old at the time!

The piece that inspired me to become a composer
Whilst I was studying for my A-Levels, I fell in love with Berg's Violin Concerto. It was the first piece I chose to study more carefully myself, and it was one of those 'lightbulb' moments; I'd grown up listening to baroque and classical music, so had very little experience of 20th century music past 1920. The realisation that serialism in music was actually incredibly beautiful and expressive, rather than being constrictive, was enlightening, and - whilst I've never written 12-tone music myself - it encouraged me to write music that wasn't replicating the chords and structures I'd heard in classical music that I played as a violinist and pianist.

The piece I wish I’d written
I think Salvatore Sciarrino's Luci mie traditrici (The Killing Flower) is one of the most exquisite pieces I've listened to. Sciarrino's music is hauntingly beautiful, and he creates this quietly tense atmosphere, using unconventional noises alongside more traditional techniques. The entire opera murmurs and whispers its way towards its tragic end. The way that Sciarrino uses all aspects of the instruments, and his use of silence throughout his music, gave me the impetus to explore more unconventional techniques and pacing of musical material within my own work.

The recording I would give as a gift
Music is such a personal thing, I think it's difficult to give as a gift as everyone has different tastes. However, if I were to give music to anyone, it'd probably be either Owen Pallet's Heartland or Anna Meredith's Varmints. Anna Meredith's orchestral work is filled with creative energy, and her recent foray into electronic music is no different. As I have a lot of friends who are musical, but aren't really into classical music per se, these CD's are probably a good way to introduce music with a more classical influence behind them.

My comfort listen
For me, Elgar's Cello Concerto is the ultimate in comfort music! It has such emotion in the melodic lines, and doesn't hold back (I mean, only two minutes in to the first movement, and there's that gorgeous passage building up to when the orchestra comes swooping in)! The piece was the impetus to me finally starting to learn cello myself, after years spent as a teenager wishing I was a cellist rather than a (really not-very-good) violinist!

The music that reignites my imagination
Often I find that actually taking time out, going for a long walk, and listening to the sounds of the natural world will clear my head, and give me material to use in existing pieces or ideas of projects I'd like to explore. As a creative and musician, my faith plays an important part in why, what and how I create. Outside of composing, I am also heavily involved in the music ministry in my church, and so it's not just classical music that inspires my imagination.

I always find something new to latch on to in the music of Ligeti, and I love how there is such beautiful light in what are really densely written scores. I also listen to a lot of worship music like Hillsong and Bethel Music which, whilst sounding completely different to Ligeti, inspires me through the emotion and message of the music.


Sarah Lianne Lewis's Is there no seeker of dreams that were? will be premiered by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales at BBC Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff on 28 March 2018.