LPO Debut Sounds | Meet the Composers: Yvonne Eccles

Ahead of our annual Debut Sounds concert next month we've been chatting to the LPO Young Composers about their new works and their experiences on the scheme.

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Each year the LPO invites a small handful of promising but as-yet unpublished young composers to take part in a year-long scheme which sees them collaborate with LPO musicians, take part in tutorials with the Orchestra’s Composer in Residence Magnus Lindberg, and write a new orchestral work for our annual Debut Sounds concert. With Debut Sounds: New Musick at St John’s Smith Square just a few weeks away, we caught up with this year’s four composers at a recent workshop to find out how their new compositions have taken shape, and to ask them what it’s been like to take part in the scheme.

Next we spoke to Yvonne Eccles, who has recently completed her PhD at the University of Manchester, where she was exploring characterisation in music through her own compositions. Now as well as working on the LPO’s Young Composers scheme she has been offered a place on Toronto’s Creative Music Lab. 

Yvonne EcclesSo today is the first time that you’ve heard your piece performed live, which must be quite a strange feeling? How has today’s rehearsal been so far?
Amazing! All the players are so helpful, and have great suggestions – because they’re so great at their instruments they can help to see how best you can realise your ideas. It’s just brilliant – I’ve had an amazing time.

With this brief you’re responding to a piece by Purcell. Is the idea of a response to or inspiration from earlier music something you’ve worked with before, or is this new for you?
It was definitely new, and I’m grateful for it because it causes you to try new things, and I think that’s always brilliant for a composer. Because characterisation is a strong element in my music I set up strong narratives and characters, but then to be given something else just makes you think differently about your music, which is brilliant because then you’ve just got to do something different and create something you might never have created.

Could we get an introduction to your piece, and to how all these different things are interacting?
So I was inspired by the Purcell in wanting to create a really jubilant piece, hence the title Jubilate, but I’m interested as I said in characters and development and transformation of characters, so I decided to start with mourning that turned to joy, so that’s the general plan of the piece. And what you get is the mourning music at the start with lots of groaning and sighing, and then these glimpses of joy coming through the texture, which eventually take over.

So obviously you have quite a clear idea of what you want to achieve in your music. Are there composers who have particularly influenced you in this?
I’m definitely influenced by music that is teleological, that has a goal, so all composers from Classical music onwards into the twentieth century who were working with goal-oriented harmony. I’m inspired by Lutosławski – his Cello Concerto is a piece that has a conversation between the soloist and the orchestra; the orchestra is disrupting what the cello’s doing and it very much has a goal, so that’s a piece and a composer who I’ve drawn on a lot. And in terms of the characterisation thing, composers like Elliott Carter – he started that really with his Second String Quartet, thinking of each of his instrumentalists as an individual character, speaking together through the piece. Carter is a composer who I’m influenced by in concept but not in sound, so my music sounds quite different, but I take his ideas and work with them in a different way.

Lutoslawski and Carter aren’t quite contemporary, but in terms of current composers who would you say your other biggest influences are, or who is simply your favourite composer who you would recommend to other listeners?
I’d recommend Emily Howard, a female composer who’s from the North of England – which is where I’m from – and who also has really strong characterisation in her music. I don’t think she’s about musical characters in the way that I am, but she very much sets up strong musical identities, so she’s a composer who I think lots of people would resonate with, and in some ways hers does have some similarities with the music that I’m writing.

And one last question – what would you say to someone who hasn’t been to a contemporary music concert before and isn’t necessarily sure where to start? Any tips or things to listen out for?
Be open minded. In my piece I’m trying to tell a story with a very clear process, so I think it’s helpful to listen out for a narrative, even if some of the sounds might be unfamiliar. I think being open minded is key because contemporary composers are just reflecting something of the world that they’re part of, in a different way. Contemporary music is so diverse – every composer here today has responded to the brief in such a different way and has a very different style, so there’ll be something for everybody. Definitely give it a go! 

You can hear the world premiere of Yvonne's Jubilate at LPO Debut Sounds: New Musick at St John’s Smith Square on Wednesday 12 July, as part of a bold programme mixing new music from the LPO Young Composers with choral works by Henry Purcell and Sir James MacMillan. Tickets are £9 (and just £4 for students!) and available here