For the latest amateur classical music listings in and around Portsmouth, including Fareham, Petersfield, Chichester, Havant and Hayling Island

Profile: Alex Poulton, singer, vocal practitioner and composer

Who and/or what have been the most important influences on your musical career or interest in music?

I started with dance and theatre rather than music, attending Horndean Ballet school, The Royal Ballet associates and then Elmhurst Ballet School from an early age. Watching The Boyfriend at the age of 10 at the Manor Pavilion Theatre in Sidmouth had quite an influence on me. I expanded my interests into music when I attended Southdowns College – Liz Lewis was a particular inspiration, introducing me to a wide range of composers and works, and I studied double music specialising in voice there.

After leaving school I went into the entertainment industry, enjoying a variety of roles as a dancer and singer in family entertainment style shows, such as Thorpe Park’s diving show.

Subsequently I studied for 6 years at the Birmingham Conservatoire. I went on many tours round the world during my breaks from college: I especially enjoyed spending time in sunny Dubai, before returning to my digs in grey Birmingham! The Conservatoire gave me so many opportunities to perform: I took major parts in productions such as The Marriage of Figaro, The Magic Flute and Guilio Cesare and performed song cycles such as Winterreise and Die Schöne Müllerin among other works. I benefited from input from some wonderful teachers, including Julian Pike, Julius Drake and Meriel Dickinson. I was also really fortunate to be awarded scholarships to study in Weimar and Budapest. There I had the opportunity of training with world-class singers such as Sándor Sólyom-Nagy and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.

I was given time off from the Conservatoire to go on tour with Colombia Artists to the USA for several months, performing The Merry Widow, Die Fledermaus and Madame Butterfly.

I now compose shows, perform in various productions and I am often invited to perform lieder and art song. I feel I am very lucky to have an interesting variety of work. Performing in a recital is particularly important to me. I like the intimate experience it presents. One can be director, m.d. and performer all at once. The music is truly wonderful and a real privilege to perform.

What have been the greatest challenges and pleasures of your musical career so far?

I put on my own Jazz musical called Freek Street on Hayling Island a couple of years ago. This piece was written in association with the mental health charity M.I.N.D. I worked on this with my Dad. It was a huge amount of work but a really rewarding experience.

I recently performed the Marquis in Poulenc’s The Carmelites with a 70-piece orchestra in London. It is an extraordinary and challenging piece of music/theatre.

I perform my dramatised version of Schubert’s Winterreise quite regularly. This is a monumental piece both mentally and physically. Unless you feel completely drained afterwards, somehow you haven’t done the work justice.

Are there any composers with whom you feel a particular affinity?

Schubert, Menotti, Vaughan-Williams, Finzi, Mozart and Wagner all wrote works which best suit the baritone voice. They are all masters at setting words and creating a dramatic scene.

What advice would you give to those who are considering a career in music?

Create your own opportunities: do what you really want to do without distractions, though prepare yourself for the need to change!

What are you busy with at the moment?

I am preparing to perform a somewhat “reduced” Ring Cycle for a socially distanced tour of the South West and a recital of Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, a work that I have always been keen to sing. I recently recorded a new song with Valentina Seferinova by Rosalind Rogerson. I am currently writing a Bel Canto opera, and a stage production for baritone and mezzo-soprano.

Go to http://alexbaritone.co.uk to find out more about Alex.


Profile: Crispin Ward, composer, conductor, university lecturer

Who and/or what have been the most important influences on your musical career?

I grew up in a musical family; my father, now retired, was an opera singer so I pretty much know most of the major opera repertoire. I remember that when I was young I used to sneak down after bedtime and sit at the bottom step and listen to music being played on my parent’s stereo, in particular I recall Mozart’s Magic Flute, Verdi’s Requiem and Beethoven’s Fidelio.

When I went to school there was government support for music education, something sadly lacking now. There were free instrumental lessons in school and I started on a tenor horn. My teacher Graham Johnson was inspirational and he encouraged me to join all the local county bands. This opportunity is being denied our children now with only the wealthy being supported in this way.

When I was a senior at the Royal College of Music I was encouraged to take up conducting and my teacher, Christopher Adey was an absolute inspiration. I copied his style so closely my friends used to call me Little Chris.

What have been the greatest challenges of your musical career so far?

There seem to be three main challenges for me. One is to try to put self-doubt behind me and ignore the negative comments from others whilst still striving to constantly improve.

The second is a lack of a clear career path: it is sometimes a challenge to decide which way to go, which direction to take, when deciding what to do next. Each concert is often a self-contained entity and each might, or might not, lead to something else. It is always difficult to know which jobs to take and which to leave alone.

The third challenge is trying to persuade people that this is the way that I, and my colleagues, make our living. Although I love my job, it is not my hobby.

What for you are the particular pleasures and challenges of collaborating with other musicians?

Music has taken me all over the world and introduced me to princes, presidents and celebrities. It has given me friendship and allowed me to contribute to the lives of others. One thing I have noticed about working in this field is that those musicians at the very top of the profession are almost all really very nice people.

How would you describe your musical language?

I am what some might describe as classically trained. This misnomer is a really loose term but I think it describes what I do. I am absolutely not a musical snob and I enjoy many forms of music but I am only really any good at one type. The composers with which I am most at home would be Mozart, Beethoven, Shostakovich and Weinberg. I wanted to be able to play the piano like Oscar Peterson but I really can’t, other priorities got in the way and I didn’t practice my jazz piano enough.

How do you work?

When I am composing I follow the brief. If it is a commission, what do they want? Who is the soloist and how do they play? If it is film music, then what does the director want an audience to feel at any given moment?

The actual composing is done in my head and I write the melodies and harmonies down on manuscript paper (the old fashioned way) with notes to myself as to structure, I then put it onto a computer program. I use Sibelius notation software. If the client needs to listen to it then I use a programme called Logic with a virtual orchestra from Spitfire Audio called BBC Symphony Orchestra.

Which works/performances are you most proud of?

I am proud of a very few things.
I am proud of my French Horn playing in Mozart’s Magic Flute with William Christie and Les Arts Florissants.
I am really proud of the education project I developed in Moldova which tripled the salaries of the musicians whilst reaching many thousands of school children in the poorest country in Europe.
I am really pleased with my new score to the black and white silent film Battleship Potemkin which I have just finished.

Are there any composers with whom you feel a particular affinity?

Beethoven.

Which works do you think you perform best? Why?

Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony and Shostakovich’s 5th Symphony because I am sure I understand what they are feeling.

What are your most memorable concert experiences?

I took Messiah to Chisinau (Moldova) – neither the musicians nor the audience had ever heard it before. There used to be a tradition that the audience would stand during the Hallelujah Chorus (it was said that King George stood at the first performance, as he said that he felt the presence of God, so everyone stood from then on). This tradition died out in around the 1960s. The chorus is the end of the second part (of three) and the audience in Chisinau had a translation in their programmes, however when the Hallelujah was about halfway through people started to stand up. At the end they were completely out of control, clapping and screaming, and stormed the stage. It took us a while to calm them down but at the end of the Amen chorus they erupted once again.

Also playing the French horn in Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder in Berlin with Abbado, Norman, Sukova, Langridge et al when I was 23 was simply amazing. To this day I meet people who played this concert and we all still remember it with pleasure.

What advice would you give to those who are considering a career in music?

Only become a professional musician if it is the ONLY thing you could imagine yourself doing. It is full time!!!

How would you define success as a musician?

I will let you know, I have yet to meet anyone who really feels as if they have truly made it.

How are you keeping yourself usefully occupied and sane under lockdown?

I am writing my PhD and am trying to improve my Russian.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

In no particular order but combinations of…. family, beer, food, mates, the pub, walks, good music, cricket, rugby, London Irish winning/Harlequins losing (a very good day when both happen on the same day), the novels of Rex Stout.

Crispin Ward studied conducting for four years at the Royal College of Music. He has worked with many inspirational musicians such as Claudio Abbado, Zubin Meta, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Yehudi Menuhin, Mstislav Rostropovitch, Bill Christie, Leonard Bernstein, George Solti and Ravi Shankar.

For four years he gained British Foreign Office sponsorship that supported his efforts as the artistic director of the National Chamber Orchestra of Moldova. This involved conducting this, and other orchestras, in Moscow, Kiev, Odessa, Bucharest, Tver, and around the former Eastern Bloc.

Whilst working in Moldova, he instigated and sourced funding for a music education project with the orchestra. This involved over two hundred performances in schools to some 12,000 children, was backed up with considerable resources for teachers and tripled the salaries of the orchestral players. It has generated a huge interest from amongst the pupils and it receives many letters of thanks on a daily basis.

As a result of his extremely successful work in the whole sphere of Moldovan music, Crispin received the title of Om Emerit in Republica Moldova from President Vladimir Voronin. This is the highest award that a foreign national can receive and is the equivalent of a British Honorary Knighthood. Last year Mr Ward was given full Moldovan citizenship and a Moldovan passport in recognition of his continuing success in developing Moldovan musical excellence and East/West relations.

Crispin is Head of Orchestral Studies at the University of Chichester, which boasts the second-largest music department of any university in the UK.

Visit his website for further info.


Profile: Clive Osgood, organist, pianist, conductor and composer

Who and/or what have been the most important influences on your musical career?

I have had a number of great teachers (instrumental and at university) who have inspired my interest in music. I could not easily name them all!

Are there any composers with whom you feel a particular affinity?

I’ve always had an interest in 18th-century music, so much so that I did a Masters in Musicology specialising in that era. My favourite composer is Mozart, but as an organist Bach has to come a close second. Quite by contrast, I also admire a number of contemporary composers who have explored new ways of expressing tonal music (e.g. Pärt, Richter, Glass etc.). My music is in the classical tradition: it’s injected with elements of jazz harmony and the rhythmic vitality of Latin American music.

What have been the greatest challenges of your musical career so far?

Covid-19 has been a huge challenge to achieving a good work/life balance, as I have had to step in to home-school my two children while my wife (a nurse) goes to a stressful job.

What for you are the particular pleasures and challenges of collaborating with other musicians?

I very much enjoy playing chamber music and working with choirs. I am currently writing music based on Alice in Wonderland, in collaboration with the composer Hugh Benham. This is being recorded in September by Convivium Records and which will be released early in 2021.

How would you describe your musical language?

Tonal: I am interested in the fusion of 18th-century forms with 20th-century rhythms and harmony.

How do you work?

I often head off to my church (where I am the director of music) where I can compose without distractions. I use Sibelius and tend to work through many drafts.

Which works/performances are you most proud of?

I am particularly proud of my Sacred Choral Music album under Robert Lewis, Excelsis Choir and the London Mozart Players which was launched last year.

Which works do you think you perform best?

I am an organist, so possibly Bach.

What are your most memorable concert experiences?

I have had the opportunity of having compositions performed in a complete concert last year in the Grayshott Concerts, as well as a big performance of my music in St Paul’s and on another occasion in front of the Queen at Reed’s School, where I teach.

What advice would you give to those who are considering a career in music?

Be reliable and careful about treading the line between self-promotion and modesty. And only do it if you enjoy it – it’s not generally very rewarding financially.

How would you define success as a musician?

Putting the music first.

How are you keeping yourself usefully occupied and sane under lockdown?

With difficulty – I have been home-schooling!

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

In good health.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Achieving something, then sitting back to enjoy it – finishing a composition or watching the view from the top of a hill.

What is your most treasured possession?

My photo albums (I would also be inclined to rescue my Mozart CD box set from a burning building!).

What do you enjoy doing most?

Visiting new places.

What is your present state of mind?

Not too bad considering…

Clive Osgood is a composer, accompanist, organist and music teacher living near Haslemere. He is currently Director of Music and Organist at the Parish Church of St Bartholomew’s in Haslemere, Surrey and teaches ‘A’ Level Music at Reed’s School, Cobham. He is available for tuition in Piano, Jazz Piano, Organ and music theory. Visit https://www.cliveosgood.com to find out more about him and his compositions.


Profile: Ian Schofield, composer and singer

Ian Schofield was born in the Lancashire town of Oswaldtwistle in 1949. He studied Composition at the University of Southampton under Dr. Eric Graebner and Prof. Peter Evans. He has lived and taught in Portsmouth since 1972 and was, until retirement, a lecturer on the specialist pre-professional music course at South Downs College.

His Te Deum, commissioned by Jonathan Willcocks and the Portsmouth Choral Union, has been performed widely in the UK. The Christmas sequence Illuminare Jerusalem has had numerous performances throughout Great Britain, including the Royal Albert Hall – as well as performances and a broadcast by choirs in the USA. Recent compositions include a Concerto for Violin and Viola that was premiered in London in November 2012. A setting of the Stabat Mater text received its first performance in 2015 by Guildford Choral Society. His Cantata Freedom, on the subject of slavery was commissioned by Southampton Choral Society – with funding from a BBC Arts in the Community Award. Other recent works include a Sinfonietta based upon the melody L’Homme Armé, a concerto for cello and string orchestra, and Stream of Life – a setting of five texts by Rabindranath Tagore, for Peter Gambie and The Renaissance Choir.

In addition to composition and lecturing, Ian also works as a freelance music editor, where he specialises in Renaissance and Baroque choral music, and 19th century Italian choral and operatic works. He has prepared performances of editions of works by Rossini and Donizetti, as well as lesser-known composers such as Mayr, Mercadante, Pacini and Lillo. His editions have been used in London concert halls, on BBC Radio 3 and, further afield, in Italy and Germany, as well as on Ireland’s National Radio, and notably on recordings by Opera Rara.

Simon O’Hea is in conversation with Ian.

Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?

There wasn’t an enormous amount of music at home in my very early years, though my father did have piano lessons and I remember him practising and I think I attended some of his lessons from time to time. I enjoyed listening to the popular classics that would be heard – usually at the end – of BBC Radio programmes such as Family Favourites and I always liked the more stirring hymns at school: I Vow to Thee, And Did Those Feet, and though more meditative Dear Lord and Father of Mankind. At junior school there was only singing in assembly and a Friday afternoon ‘all sing together’. However, senior school required me to learn the recorder and that, along with an electronic keyboard at home, introduced me to music notation. The enthusiastic music teacher organised evening trips to hear classical concerts and I want to most, if not all of them: Liverpool Philharmonic, The Halle Orchestra and various BBC Orchestras. I especially enjoyed those concerts with choirs: Verdi Requiem, Dream of Gerontius, a concert performance of Verdi’s Aida and Messiah and so on. My enthusiasm for music at school increased enormously when I discovered that anyone taking O level music would have to miss PE and Games.

Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?

Certainly the choral concerts that I heard whilst at school were the ones that made the greatest impression on me, and my first attempt at composition – after my earliest very basic harmony lessons – was a song for our school choir. It was called The Jovial Monk, I don’t remember anything else about it.

When I moved to Portsmouth to attend the Teacher Training College here, one of the lecturers was Hugh Davis who, at that time, was deputy organist at Portsmouth Cathedral and conductor of the Portsmouth Choral Union. He encouraged me to write several pieces for the College Choir and later, for the Choral Union. One of my first major choral works ‘Fire From Heaven’ was written for Portsmouth Baroque Choir at the request of their then conductor Christopher Burgess, for whom I subsequently wrote several other pieces. The first performance of Fire from Heaven led to a commission from Portsmouth Cathedral to write a work for their 800th anniversary celebrations, and also introduced me to the singer Ian Caddy who has been enormously supportive in promoting and publishing my music.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?

It can be difficult to produce a work if you don’t like the combination of instruments you’re offered and/or if a text that you don’t like has been chosen for you. A good example of the latter would be the Renaissance Choir’s Stream of Life commission. At first I really didn’t care for the poems that had been selected. There seemed to be no regularity to them – no way that I could get any meaningful musical structure from them, and I did spend three or four months getting nowhere at all. However, once I devised a more ‘motivic’ approach to setting the texts, I began to appreciate them much more and found them very moving.

Which works are you most proud of?

I am especially proud of my setting of the Stabat Mater text for strings, soprano and chorus. It’s a text I’d wanted to set for a long while, in fact I think I’d had maybe three earlier attempts – all of which I gave up on. All the verses, of which there are many, have exactly the same poetic meter – so you could, if you wanted, use the same music for every verse. The challenge is to respond appropriately to the sentiments of each verse whilst ensuring there is sufficient musical contrast without destroying musical unity. The closing text Paradisi Gloria also seems to demand a quiet and tranquil ending – though many composers, Rossini and Dvorak for example, have tacked on an uplifting fugal Amen. I’m pleased with the way my setting fades almost into nothingness.

I am also pleased to see how often my Te Deum has been performed, and I have received good feedback for it. My most recent large-scale work is a setting of the Credo text for chorus and orchestra – interspersed into the Credo are settings of texts by Abbess Hildegard of Bingen, and these are sung by a soprano solo. I think I’ve merged the two texts successfully and it has a vigorous fugal ending in complete contrast to my Stabat Mater.

How would you characterise your musical language?

Tonal, melodic, rhythmic, with modal inflections. And accessible without being “sickly sweet”. I like to make discreet use of dissonance for dramatic purposes.

How do you work?

As most of my music is vocal, ideas are suggested by the chosen texts. Sometimes I begin work at a desk – with paper and pencil, other times at a piano, it just depends on what I’m working at and what stage of the process I’m at. In the case of Stream of Life, I used a lot of manuscript paper and did a lot of improvising at the piano.

I don’t like to compose on the computer, although it is useful to hear it played back, and listening in that way will frequently encourage me to make changes. Of course computers are now very useful for preparing finished copies of the music for printing.

Its always useful to have people listen to what you’re working on and I have three or four friends whose opinions I value: I always listen to what they say and I don’t mind harsh, but constructive criticism.

What are you working on now?

Aqua Luna, a short sextet for strings. I’m also editing some rare, virtually forgotten operas by Donizetti, part of Opera Rara. Donizetti’s manuscripts are incredibly untidy, and it’s fascinating deciphering them and seeing the music begin to emerge. He worked incredibly quickly – once describing Rossini, who wrote The Barber of Seville in three weeks – as lazy. I’m constantly amazed at the quality of the music that he produced with such speed.

How would you define success?

When writing to a commission I ask myself, “Do I like it?” Then, “Do I think the performers will like it” and “Will the audience like it?” Whether I like it is, to a certain extent dependant upon my answers to my second and third questions. If, after a performance, performers and audience members tell me they’ve enjoyed rehearsing, performing and listening to the work then I’m happy.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring composers?

Understand the client’s brief and the performer’s abilities; for instance, are you writing for professionals or amateurs? Be practical, don’t write for huge forces that no one is ever going to be able to afford – or for strange combinations of instruments: there’s a very limited market for bagpipe and cowbell duets with organ accompaniment! Write for the same instrumentation/voices as used by a well know composer – so that you know that there is something that can be performed alongside your work, without incurring extra costs. When I composed my Te Deum, part of the brief was to use the same instrumentation that Handel had used in his Coronation Anthems (I was allowed one additional percussionist). Also be prepared to be flexible; the Te Deum was once paired with Mozart’s Requiem which doesn’t use oboes, but does use clarinets – I was asked if I could provide my oboe parts transposed for clarinet. I had no issue with that, but I know several composers who would have created quite a fuss and who probably would have lost a performance.

Listen to “Stream of life” on Spotify.

Read about it on the Renaissance Choir website.


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