2017 is the Year of British Music in Porto, Portugal, and the Casa da Música will play host to wonderful British composers past and present through a programme of shows and events brimming with the best of British classical music.
The Year of British Music opened with a flurry of activity over its first weekend in January and, supported by the British Council, four young composers travelled to Portugal to showcase some of their work. Among them was Daniel Kidane and we caught up with him to ask him about his musical influences, his time in Portugal and how the decision for the UK to leave Europe might affect future music making between the UK and the continent.
How you would describe yourself as a composer?
Daniel: I am a British composer of mixed heritage – my mother is Russian, my father is Eritrean and I was born and raised in London. Having grown up in an eclectic inner city environment, much of my music today is influenced by multiculturalism and strands of urban music. I’m especially interested in the interaction of language and how different voices can come through in music, almost as a type of polyphony. The idea of the vernacular in music is also something that interests me, in the sense of creating music that reaches a wider audience. Recent endeavours have focused on incorporating elements of grime and jungle music in to my chamber and orchestral works.
How did you get started in music?
Daniel: My initial interest in music came about from my parents, who introduced me to the joys of music making at the age of about seven. I first began tinkering on the piano, then I moved on to playing the recorder in an ensemble at primary school and eventually took up the violin. During the early stages of my musical journey I attended Saturday music schools, including several “Centres for Young Musicians”, one of which was based at Morley College, Waterloo. I then moved on to the Royal College of Music’s Junior Department, where I first started receiving composition lessons. It was at this point that I began to write my first pieces, one of which was based on Eritrean folk music. An increasing interest in composition eventually led me to go and study the subject at university level. I also took a gap year, which allowed me to go and study violin in St. Petersburg, Russia, where I studied violin and composition privately, before commencing studies at the Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester. It was at the RNCM where my first proper pieces took shape. During this time I had amassed a strong portfolio and made long lasting working relationships that in turn allowed me to sustain my compositional output post-conservatoire. Currently, as well as managing a busy portfolio career, I am also a doctoral student at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, under the tutelage of Julian Anderson.
How was Portugal? Did you find it beneficial to you as a composer?
Daniel: My time spent at Casa da Musica during the opening of the Year of British Music was fruitful and insightful. It was good to share thoughts and insights with a wide range of industry professionals from across Europe, including composers, festival directors, heads of arts organisations and concert halls. A glimpse into the types of different challenges that organisations face was also eye opening. A varied and busy concert schedule was one of my highlights and it was great to see so many people attend these concerts. There were also ample opportunities to network and talk to people that one would rarely have the chance to meet.
What are your thoughts on the possible impact of Brexit on UK music making and specifically to you as a composer?
Daniel: In light of Brexit I think the main thing to remember is that there is even more need to remain unified, in the sense that there are so many aspects of music making that require and benefit from cross-European collaboration. It is this unified galvanising approach, within the arts world, that I currently have most hope for. I believe that in order for arts and education establishments to carry on without a total breakdown of movement, a concerted effort has to be made to press the need to remain open. I also hope that Europe will still view the UK as an artistic ally and that the act of Brexit will not sour the musical climate, especially for future generations. Here’s to hoping that the wind of change doesn’t completely blow away common sense.