Get to know our Composer-in-Residence Alex Groves
Our Composer-in-Residence scheme is an innovative and forward thinking approach to education and new music at Handel & Hendrix in London. Established in 2005, its aim is to bring an understanding of the composition process to a wider audience and interpreting the history of the homes of George Frideric Handel and Jimi Hendrix.
We recently caught up with Alex Groves our current Composer-in-Residence to find out a bit more about his composition process and how he’s been influenced by working at the former homes of Handel & Hendrix.
I recently worked with Joanna Harries and Richard Robbins on two new pieces for their recitals at Handel & Hendrix in London because, as Composer-in-Residence, I felt it was super important for me to collaborate with the other musicians resident at the museum. Handel’s house and Jimi’s flat are both places steeped in musical history but they’re also so alive with music and performance today so it feels great to be able to continue the musical life of these spaces in my own way.
Both Jo and Richard’s recitals were made up of early music with my piece being the only contemporary representative. For me, this poses a big challenge – how can I make something that feels both rooted within the material around it and completely new at the same time? I like my music to resonate with its surroundings, revealing similarities between old and new and closing the divide between our ideas of genre.
The process all started with a series of conversations with the singers, discussing their interests and influences, the inspiration behind the concert, and the other pieces on the programme. For Jo’s piece, this all focused around her idea of celebrating music written by non-native composers living and working in European countries and, for Richard’s piece, it was around the idea of power and the ways in which power differences play out in society.
Once we’d discussed these ideas, the next step was to look for text to set. I’m a fan of collecting or aggregating my text from a particular source. My music is very process based so it makes sense that the texts I work with reflect this. So, for Jo’s piece, I mined a bunch of 18th-century fan mail written about Handel’s music – these fabulous overblown odes written about his organ playing, his life’s work or a particular piece. What Jo and I loved about these odes was the way they implored Handel to use his music to help sooth the troubles they saw in society and my piece is therefore both a thank you note to Handel and a reaffirmation of that sentiment that music has the power to transcend cultural, political and societal differences and bring people together. Whilst Richard’s piece takes a letter written by 19th-century writer John Dalberg-Acton in which he said ‘Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely’ and from which I created a list of commands ranging across the full spectrum of power dynamics. I like to think that by reducing larger texts like this, I’m able to focus on the essence or idea of the text, heightening the experience for the listener but also allowing them space to interpret the text in their own way.
I then set about writing the pieces and beginning the workshop process, trying out ideas with the singers to make sure what I was writing sounded like I thought it would and creating a piece that felt really idiomatic for the performers. Then I put the finishing touches to the pieces and have some final rehearsals to really hone the atmosphere we want to create before inviting everyone in and sharing them with the world.
Alex curates and runs SOLO, a London-based concert series presenting intimate recitals from some of the UK’s leading musicians.
Get tickets for the SOLO concert in Handel’s Music Room on Thursday 22 November at 6:30pm & 8:30pm.