Joe Cutler wrote (re)Gaia for me early in 2001. I premiered it at The Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin and have gone on to perform it over 15 times in Italy, USA, UK and record it for CD and Lyric FM.
Click here to download a short excerpt from
D: What does the title refer to and what is the previous piece Gaia that the
material is derived from. Are titles important to you?
J: The title (re)Gaia refers to the Greek goddess of the earth. I wanted the
piece to allude to an ancient imaginary type of folk music called “Earth” music
and throughout most of the piece I exploit the open strings of the violin which
are used as drones. (re)Gaia uses a considerable amount
of material from the earlier piece entitled Gaia for solo viola which I wrote
about ten years ago. Good titles are certainly important. Sometimes the title
arrives before you write the piece and that usually makes the composition of
the piece much easier. However, more often it arrives toward the end of the
piece as you begin to panic about what to call it. In fact sometimes the title
only arrives as I’m about to send the piece off. That’s usually
when you come up with the worst titles.
D: As a violinist yourself did you write much of this piece at the instrument? & Is
this something you do regularly (for instance composing at the piano)?
J: I did compose some of (re)Gaia at the instrument. I don’t normally
compose at the violin but I use the piano as part of the composing process
to find or check harmonies for instance. I also do a certain amount of improvising
before beginning or during the course of composing a piece which often produces
D: Your musical language is now quite often associated with modern Dutch minimalists
like Louis Andriessen. Has your music changed much over the last ten years
and who are your big influences?
J: I think my musical language has changed quite a lot over the last ten years
but I do find myself going back and re-exploring ideas from earlier pieces.
Usually it happens when you hear an early piece being performed and because
of the distance you have from the piece, you begin to hear ideas in different
ways. For example, my earlier pieces used a lot of irrational rhythm values
but then I went through a period of writing very pulse-orientated music. At
the moment I’m interested in combining these two characteristics. That’s
something you find as well in Diderik Wagenaar’s music which I’ve
been getting into recently.
D: Being a freelance composer in the UK must be very difficult. Do you think
that’s going to change and how might it be improved?
J: Being a freelance composer certainly isn’t easy in Britain. Opportunities
in Britain for securing funds for commissions is becoming more and more difficult
and the government seems to be directing the music world towards private and
corporate commission funding which is far similar a situation to the USA than
Western Europe where government funding still remains a possibility. Some composers
do very well through fellowships which pay a salary and that takes the pressure
off the freelance way of life. However these are rather few and far between.
To be a freelance composer in Britain you have to be quite versatile as a composer
and you need to enjoy that versatility. I survive through a combination of
teaching, composing for theatre and doing education projects.
D: I’ve noticed you write a lot of your expressive markings
in English. Why's this?
J: I tend to write performance terms in English rather than
Italian because I don’t know the Italian for “Like a maniacal dancer” and
probably neither would the performer. Also it might lose some of its immediacy
if it was written in another language. I think choosing quite graphic performance
directions does help the performer to enter into the visual imagery of a piece
or gesture if such an image exists.
D: How difficult is it writing for solo violin and do you approach it differently
to writing for a larger ensemble?
J: Writing for a solo intrument has its difficulties as everything is so exposed.
By this I mean structure and the balance of ideas. There is nowhere to hide
and you have a limited array of instrumental colours which means the melodic
and rhythmic or gestural elements take on a great deal of importance. So I
suppose you do approach it differently.
D: Do you plan a whole piece initially
from a kind of ‘blackboard’ plan or does it simply evolve through
the painstaking compositional process?
J: This kind of varies from piece to piece. I do produce elaborate plans sometimes but
quite often they change as I go along. I think architecturally a lot. I will
visualize the piece in my mind and this often evolves quite gradually whilst
I’m walking or swimming. I will imagine the dynamic of the piece; the
highs and lows, the colours and instrumental focus of the sections and usually
I am working maybe five minutes ahead. It’s a bit like a snooker player
building a break. I don’t usually know till quite well into piece how
it will resolve or end. However, the nuts and bolts and details, the choice
of harmony and specific notes only happen as I actually work on a specific
Click here for an interview with composer Frank Lyons