Interview with the Composer
Rob's most recent work continues to evolve a truly contemporary style, with a refreshing directness of expression. It draws on the often diffuse innovations of the last century, aiming at a musical language, both unified and capable of a wide range of expression. An intriguing work like the Oboe Concerto, which takes as its starting point the closing bars of Haydn's 'Farewell' Symphony, illustrates a stage in what is obviously a continuing quest. A quest to reconcile the traditional and the modern in a way which is new, which avoids retrospective leanings, and which it is hoped will appeal to its audience.
RS I have been drawn to many, often very different composers - for instance to the highly individual world of George Crumb or the techniques of Steve Reich. But the single living composer who has excited me more than any other, I would say, is Boulez.
RS His wonderful ear for timbre - for instrumentation generally. You can hear a whole line of descent from Debussy, through Messiaen - especially in his later works. Also his rhythmic freedom and vitality.
RS My discoveries here, as elsewhere, have unfolded gradually - in my search for my own language. Much of the boldest experiment of the post war generations has come to enthrall me - Cage, Stockhausen, Berio, Ligeti. I wouldn't say though that my music sounds like any of those I have mentioned - at least to any marked degree. You hope - after your earliest efforts at least - to be able to absorb and assimilate influences - to make them part of yourself.
RS Well, yes. I should say it was very much a student work. I wanted to do something quite bold and experimental - at least for me at that time - to explore a language of greater dissonance than I had done hitherto, and especially to aim at thematic integration.
RS Yes, I would say - so far as thematic integration was concerned - Sibelius. The 4th Symphony especially fascinated me. My passion for Bartók was also well established by then, but I can hear his influence only slightly. There's a hint of Berg perhaps, as I had recently encountered Wozzeck, and the Lulu Suite, amongst other things.
RS Yes - she used to come over from Paris once a year to the RCM . She was a formidable figure. I got off quite lightly, I remember - she was even quite complimentary about bits of it! It was an incredible experience - to have just caught her, right at the very end of her life.
RS Yes, I came under the influence of modality for a while and was attracted to the music of Holst especially - there was a fine performance of Savitri I remember, while I was at College. I was interested by the asymmetry of his rhythms and his use of ostinato patterns for example - also by his mystical leanings. You can hear his influence in Visions of William Blake, I think, which I wrote soon after leaving the RCM.
RS I suppose Youth, Sun & Moon, a piece I wrote for the Purcell School, marked a clear step forward. I can certainly hear Bartók's influence here - with some Holst in the background - but I think it has a distinct flavour which is mine. I also became acquainted with Messiaen's modes at about this time.
RS Oh yes - in fact I encountered the very different worlds of Messiaen and Tippett during the same period, and both affected my thinking very much. Aiming at a certain simplicity and directness of expression, I was very attracted by non-conventional scales of all kinds - including Messiaen's modes - as sources of melody and especially harmony - attracted by new ways of presenting often familiar sounds in unfamiliar, yet beguiling ways. Messiaen's ideas on rhythm also interested me greatly.
RS Again it was his approach to rhythm especially - his wonderful sprung rhythms and consequent vitality.
RS Yes - increasingly so - as I have discovered more and more of its creative possibilities - as a technical ally if you like in trying to form a distinctive language of my own. It was once seen too much as a 'system', rather than a new imaginative resource. The first piece in which I used series extensively was The Seagull. For me though, style is very much linked with technique, which I have continually sought to develop - so it is an ongoing process. All the various influences need time to be absorbed and assimilated.