The maestro

The maestro

Welsh musician and composer Sir Karl Jenkins talks about his forthcoming performance in Mumbai at the Symphony Orchestra Autumn Season 2017. By Team Viva

For the bulk of his early career, Sir Karl Jenkins was known as a jazz and jazz-rock musician, playing baritone and soprano saxophones, keyboards and oboe, an unusual instrument in a jazz context. He joined jazz composer Graham Collier’s group and later co-founded the jazz-rock group Nucleus, which won first prize at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1970. Today, he is known for his compositions for The Prince of Wales, Bryn Terfel and the London Symphony Orchestra among many others.

The Symphony Orchestra Autumn Season 2017, which will be hosted between  September 13 and 28, will see Sir Karl Jenkins, the most-performing living composer in the world, taking stage.

What will you be performing at The Symphony Orchestra of India ?

I will be performing Alem The Universe (Alem means ‘the universe’ in Kazakh) commissioned by Marat Bisengaliev and his Almaty Symphony Orchestra for Expo 2017 in Astana, Kazakhstan. The work is a personal reflection of how I perceive the universe, since only twelve people have ever set foot on “terra firma” in space - the Moon; and then each one, only once. The text is just like Adiemus in that it consists of my invented language (with one exception), using the voice as an instrument and not as a conveyor of a narrative.

What made you perform in India with Symphony? What are you expecting?

As often happens, the true story is as simple as the fact that I was asked! I have a close musical bond with Marat Bisengaliev who is the musical director of The Symphony Orchestra of India. I’ve written a great deal of  music for him, including a violin concerto. I’ve been there conducting, about ten years ago, so I know what to expect. I had a fantastic time then.

What do you think about the music scene in India?

I can’t really comment on this since I’ve only been to India once, apart from this next visit.

 What gives you the inspiration to perform till now as you are known as the most performing living composer?

Well there may be a misunderstanding here. My music is apparently the most performed, globally, by a living composer but that does not mean I am there when it is performed, just like dead composers (Mozart, Beethoven etc) are performed. I conduct only five or so concerts a year and only of my own music. My life is mainly composing. The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace has been performed over 2000 times and I’ve conducted probably only 50 or so of them.

Can you share any memorable anecdote?

One time in Europe, after a Soft Machine concert, the audience (who loved the music) stormed the stage and stole some of the instruments that were never recovered.

With the advent of electronic music, what difference can you observe in composition patterns today?

There are all kinds of electronic music. Much ‘pop’ and ‘sound design’ is prevalent in film music. They all have their place but everything I compose is 100% acoustic.

Which is your most celebrated performance till date and why?

Impossible to answer. I’ll mention two. Five consecutive nights of Adiemus in Tokyo, the first, the day before 9/11 and the other, 10 years later, conducting The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace on the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

What is that one thing which can be heard clearly in your compositions?

It’s not for me to quantify. Although I draw on other cultures outside the European tradition, I endeavour to make it sound as though the music has come from one place and not just some disparate styles bolted together. I’m also told I write sacred music for secular people.

How do you make sure that people join the choirs while you perform?

It doesn’t work like that. If I’m invited to conduct one of my works (as in Mumbai) it is up to the local promoters to ensure a local choir and orchestra of sufficient standard is available.

How does your composition differ from your son, Jody?

Jody writes film music, I write music for concert and CD. However we (me and my wife Carol Barratt who is also a composer) share similar tastes and we were all  educated classically.

 Is there any plan for retirement?

No! It is not a job, it’s a way of life. There is an old saying: “if you love what you do to make a living, you never have to work again.”



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