Sohrab Uduman Q&A

OPUS2016 shortlisted composer – Sohrab Uduman

In this blog we find out more about OPUS2016 shortlisted composer Sohrab Uduman

Full Name: Sohrab Uduman

Age: 53

Where are you from? Where do you live now? Do you think this is relevant to understanding your music?

I was born in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and now live in Cheshire, around the corner from where I work at Keele University. I grew up in South East Essex where, thanks in part to the then-enlightened practices of local government, entrepreneurs and the regional arts board, there was a rich musical life not only in Art Music but also jazz and rock; notably, in the last case, the Canvey Island R&B of Dr Feelgood, Lew Lewis and others. A healthy local circuit of recital spaces, civic halls, venues, pubs and clubs kept all this accessible, alive (and live). l doubt, however, whether any of this expresses itself on the surface of my music.

How will you approach writing your OPUS2016 composition for Britten Sinfonia?

With relish. This is an ensemble whose work I admire and I’ve had in mind for some time to write a piece for piano and strings.

Who have you worked with previously? What ensembles/orchestras/organisations?

I had a very enjoyable period at IRCAM some years ago working on a commission from them for the Ardittis; it was great fun. Recently, and following on from the work at IRCAM, I’ve worked with musicians such as Jane Chapman, Susanna Borsch, Sarah Watts and Antony Clare on projects incorporating live electronics and the kind of musical ideas I’m interested in looking at. I also worked with Jon Barraclough, the visual artist, on a number of projects involving music and moving images including exploring ways of integrating live drawing with performance and computer transformation.

What’s your earliest musical memory?

The music around our home in Colombo; my mother playing Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata on the upright in the front room, an LP of Nat King Cole singing, amongst other things, Perfidia, Kandyan drumming in the street processions and my father (plus his friends) gathered around the piano at the end of the day for what you could call a spirited rendition of Foggy Foggy Dew.

Describe your growth as a composer to this point. What were the pivotal points?

Another tough one since these pivotal points acquire significance after the event but the important ones relate to my composition teachers, George Mowat-Brown, Jonty Harrison and Vic Hoyland who, as well as imparting technique, attention to detail and openness to the irrational, have the knack of presenting complex ideas in simple terms. Apart from that, my formative experiences came from performing and hence encountering the music of composers such as Messiaen, Webern, Stockhausen and Boulez. Interestingly, the issue of accessibility of ‘new’ music during my student days at Surrey and Birmingham meant simply that; one of access to the music. Since scores and materials were readily available it was relatively straightforward, given the company of other like-minded people and some quality time, to gain physical contact with this music. And, yes, there was also an audience!

How do you start a new work/ what is your composing method?

Largely at the computer, for sketching and playing with material and for its ability to allow you to work in interesting ways with physical sound in conjunction with abstract, symbolic, ideas and notation. Recently I’ve been trying to spend more time sketching with pencil and paper since, for purely instrumental, ‘acoustic,’ music, this is more efficient.

What’s your musical guilty pleasure?

I don’t associate pleasure with guilt. On the other hand, if I sit at a piano I tend to play Beethoven sonatas, which I do badly and annoy my family, so this would be an embarrassing pleasure.

What instrument do you play?

It was the clarinet, but in another lifetime. I owe a lot to the instrument since it went some way in bringing me to composition by putting me in direct touch with some great music, including those extraordinary Alan Hacker pieces by Birtwistle and Maxwell Davies, and Roger Heaton’s performances of music by Globokar and Radulescu.

How do you feel about the opportunities that are available to composers?

These exist and the main challenge for us is getting our work an airing, rather than producing it. Hence, the great opportunity provided by OPUS2016 in this instance to write for Britten Sinfonia.

What would be your advice to other young composers today?

I recollect Poul Ruder’s advice when he was once asked this question: “ Always use a ruler [for straight lines I assume] and stay out of jail.” Well, computers have largely made rulers redundant for us composers but the latter part of his guidance is still worth taking note of.

What does the future hold for you? What are your next steps going to be as a composer?

I don’t know what it holds but I’ll try and deal with it one piece at a time.

*NEWS FLASH – 18 FEB 2016* – Sohrab Uduman announced as winner of OPUS2016 – read more here