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An interview with Jonathan Dove

How did you get into composing?
I was probably 4 or 5 when I first clambered onto the piano stool, and tried to play the pieces I’d heard my mother playing. I think I started making up my own pieces almost immediately, but it was a long time before I could write them down, and much longer before I was satisfied with the results. In my twenties, I accompanied singers, and wrote some extended pieces for one singer friend in particular, in collaboration with two other friends who were dancers. In this theatrical world of singing and dancing, I realised I was finally making music which felt like me. Singing has been at the centre of my work ever since, whether writing operas, songs or choral pieces.

Have you come across any challenges in writing for vocalists as opposed to instrumentalists?
Every voice is unique, so with each vocal piece you have to get to know the instrument you are writing for, and understand the kind of musicianship a particular singer or ensemble has. This needs a little extra time and thought, but it is also very rewarding: the particular timbre of a voice, or the phrasing of a particular singer, will give you ideas you might not otherwise have had. Of course, once a piece has been written, many quite different singers or choirs will be able to sing it.

What styles/genres of music do you most enjoy composing for?
I have realised that I am fond of telling stories, whether in a song or an anthem or a full-scale opera. I have also enjoyed helping other people to tell stories, by contributing music to theatre productions, or to films. Writing music that brings together professional musicians with less experienced young people and amateurs can be a particularly joyous experience.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
All kinds of theatre, including opera and dance; visiting galleries, going to the cinema; reading. Composing involves a lot of sitting still, so I like to keep active, exercise a bit, cycle – especially along the canals near my home in East London. I am lucky that my work brings quite a lot of foreign travel, and I enjoy being a tourist, exploring and taking photos to share with friends at home.