Interview with Featured Composer Gordon Kerry – Part 2

Of course, not all of Kerry’s chamber music is about death. His 2006 string quartet “Variations”, written for David Bookallil’s 60th birthday, is an altogether more festive work.

“It’s such an open-ended form,” says Kerry. “It’s a great way to wish somebody a long and happy life, to show how the music can keep going as long as the composer has ways of varying the original fanatical idea.”

Martian Snow, Kerry’s 2008 violin and piano duo, is similarly inspired by something special. “There was a story that came out that year, about the discovery of snow and ice on Mars. I thought it was such a lovely image that had nothing to do with the global financial crisis or other such concerns that were going on at the time, and that it might be a nice thing to try and visualise the event in a piece,” observes Kerry.

As this year’s featured composer for Musica Viva, Kerry is also completing a new commission – a quintet for two violas, written for the German Kuss Quartet and Berlin Philharmonic violist Naoko Shimizu.

Recently, Kerry says, he was reading that the additional cello in Schubert’s quintet threatens to explode the entire classical aesthetic.

Would that be a good thing or a bad thing?

“I don’t know,” Kerry answers. “I suppose it depends on whether it’s a good piece or a bad piece. It was a good thing in Schubert’s case, wasn’t it? But the other thing about that instrumental line-up is to have that richness in the middle of the texture. It’ll be lots of fun.”

Kerry is famous for meeting his deadlines, a rare quality in a composer and a legacy, he says, of his years as a music administrator.

“It’s something I learned very early,” he says. “The last thing you want is a composer arriving breathlessly with the score five minutes before the piece is supposed to be performed, because nobody’s happy then.”

In his Victorian country home, Kerry finds he can compose relatively fluently, with few distractions and ample pleasure.

“Why do a job that you hate? I’m incredibly lucky, because I work in a beautiful place and I’m my own boss. I’m very fortunate indeed.”

For Kerry, the post of Musica Viva’s 2012 composer-in-residence came as an agreeable surprise, and he looks forward greatly to the opportunity of hearing five of his own works over a short space of time, as well as to having new groups playing works which first came to life in other hands.

“It’s great to hear work that has had a life with other ensembles being played by new groups,” says Kerry. “Each interpretation is different and interesting in its own way. It will offer the audience an opportunity to make a judgement of my work based on a variety of pieces, and give me the chance to listen to all these things in reasonably rapid succession.”

Abruptly, Kerry changes tack.

“Aren’t you going to ask me about the four people I want to have dinner with?”

It had not been on my list, but why not?

“I fluffed that one last time. Joseph Haydn, Barack Obama, Elizabeth David and the Virgin Mary,” declares Kerry with a flourish.

Should be some dinner.

© Shirley Apthorp 2011

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Welcome to Musica Viva’s International Concert Season blog. Here you can follow and read more about our wonderful touring artists.

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