back to interviews


  ROVNER: Professor Clarke, you are a composer of great merit and your works are frequently performed in Europe. As is known, you are a member of the trend in contemporary British music known as the New Complexity movement, which gained a reputation during the last few decades. Among these composers Brian Ferneyhough is the most well-known composer. Could you tell us what constitutes the New Complexity movement? I am referring to your lecture presented at the "Europe-Asia" festival in Kazan in April 2000. How is this trend of new music accepted in Britain and Europe?

  CLARKE: I mentioned that the music of the majority of British composers is often performed in Great Britain and seldom in mainland Europe. Among these composers, I could name Peter Maxwell Davies and James MacMillan. However, there also exists a smaller group of composers, whose music is performed more often in Europe and seldom in Great Britain. These are, for the most part, the composers who make up the trend known as New Complexity. It includes Britain's most famous composer, Brian Ferneyhough, as well as composers of a younger generation, such as James Dillon, Richard Barrett and myself. Most of the composers in this group have an international but not a local reputation; their works are frequently performed in Europe and elsewhere in the major festivals by the most prominent contemporary music ensembles. However, it is very rarely that their music can be heard in Britain. Occasionally, maybe once every few years, the BBC Symphony Orchestra will programme something by Ferneyhough or by Dillon, just to pretend that they are not biased, but this music is mostly ignore in Great Britain.
  ROVNER: Do these composer live in Britain?
  CLARKE: Most of them live in Britain, except for Ferneyhough, who has taught for many years in the USA, first at the University of San Diego in California, and now at Stanford University, and Barrett, who lives in Germany.
  ROVNER: Could you describe the stylistic features of the New Complexity style? What are some of the main principles of this style and how does your music fit into it?
  CLARKE: The New Complexity style, as its name implies, aims to enrich the musical language in a maximal or inclusive manner, leading to a very complex type of music - complex both in the immense technical requirements made of the performers, and in the extraordinarily large amount of musical material and information presented. The New Complexity style pays great attention to detail and precision; the performers are required to perform extremely intricate, refined instrumental material individually and produce the most complex polyphonic combinations together, all of which adds up to create a whole macro cosmos of sound. A large amount of information is presented within each short period of time, which is certainly not the case in more simple music. The music could sometimes be likened to a big city, where an enormous number of events take place simultaneously. It is like the human brain, with a complex combination of different thoughts and reactions happening. Generally speaking, I think that it is a mistake to try to over-simplify things. There are relatively few certainties in life and there are few in this music; there are always questions being asked, for which it is not always easy to give immediate answers. An extreme opposite trend to this one would be the new religious composers like Arvo Part and the British composer John Tavener, who write very simple music, and who have perhaps one question, to which they feel they know the answer.
  ROVNER: One could presume that such a complex type of music as that of the New Complexity trend must be enormously difficult for the performer to learn, by him- or herself and in ensemble. How would you describe the relationship of this music to the performer and the approach that a performer must take towards learning this extremely complex music, both in their own individual parts and in the overall ensemble?
  CLARKE: In this type of music, the individual parts for the performers, as well as the problems of coordination for the overall ensemble, are of course frequently extremely difficult technically, requiring an immense amount of effort and will-power on the part of the musicians. The assumption of the composers of this trend is that the technique of each of the musical instruments is capable of being continually expanded and refined to a higher level of development. Presenting difficult music for the performer to learn encourages him or her to meet new musical challenges, but equally the expertise and virtuosity of the performers and their enthusiasm in creating new possibilities are a huge inspiration to us composers to write still more difficult music! It gives listeners new challenges to meet in order further to develop and expand their sense of aural perception, and to appreciate and enjoy the most complex types of musical thinking. This type of music is not meant to be listened to casually as some sort of light music, it is not "entertainment" (which literally means something to fill in time between other more important activities), but it requires the listener to apply his or her intellect and to expand his or her listening skills in order to learn to hear a multitude of musical materials travelling by and developing quickly, and in the end still to perceive this as part of a unified, coherent musical composition.
  ROVNER: Does the music of the New Complexity presuppose any solid structural basis in the vein of serial music, with definite pre-set structural parameters, or is the musical material used much more freely and developed at will in a more freely textural manner?
  CLARKE: The music labelled New Complexity includes a mixture of the intuitive and the structural, though it normally never becomes purely intuitive nor purely structural. It would be a misunderstanding to imagine that the style ignores the emotional and intuitive aspects of music, and much of this music has extremely strong expressive qualities. At the same time, it also utilizes solid structural means fundamentally, sometimes approaching a degree of rigour similar to, or indeed sometimes far greater than, that of serial, twelve-tone music. Unlike serial music where the parameters are pre-set from beginning to end, in this type of music the parameters are usually not so rigidly one-dimensional - they could be firmly established in the first few bars of a composition only to be drastically altered and modified as the composition proceeds, or they could be changed to produce completely newly composed parameters, which might be applied to the next or another section of the composition. The "intuitive" element is often very strong in this music, since the parameters can be changed entirely during the course of the composition. However, the intuitive element is not given free rein to wander where it will: it is harnessed by the structural logic of the development of the composition, as well as by decisions about the parameters taken at the beginning of work on the composition. This interconnection of opposite, conflicting, adjacent or divergent elements within the music can also lead to new and interesting large-scale formal structures. It is this curious mixture and interaction between strict structure and free intuition, which gives the music such an enriched sound-world and a vibrant, subtle, complex and dialectically charged musical language, having many more dimensions than a traditional serial composition with all of its parameters pre-set, or a freely written sonoristic composition, which merely uses sound-colour as the basis of its musical language.
  ROVNER: When did you become associated with the New Complexity movement? When did you meet Ferneyhough and the other composers connected with the trend?
  CLARKE: When I was studying composition in Britain, there existed a gap between the greater part of the composers, who had a more moderate, traditional "new music" style and who were not so interested in the latest European avant-garde trends, and those few of us who were interested in more radical, experimental musical directions, who were keen to explore the musical trends of mainland Europe. Those of us who were the most internationally outward-looking composers were interested in the music of Finnissy and Ferneyhough, who at that time were making their first appearance on the musical scene and whom we perceived as important figures. Their musical outlook was international and different from that of the mainstream of British music. I met Finnissy when I was sixteen and still a school student, thanks to a friendship with a very fine composer, Nigel Osborne; I met Ferneyhough when I was in my early twenties and studying in Finland. (Note that I did not meet him in England!) Ferneyhough was and is a quite remarkable man, extremely intelligent and perceptive. I have learnt much from meetings with him, and his musical style was certainly an influence on me. He immediately taught me that everything, the brain, life itself, is a complex mixture of stimuli, impressions and ideas. Later on, I met James Dillon and Richard Barrett in the early 1980's. They are more or less my contemporaries (we were all born in the 1950's) and I greatly admire their work. I conducted the premiere of one of Dillon's works at that time.
  ROVNER: As in the case with each composer who belongs to a particular trend, your own music does not merely reflect the overall aesthetics of a trend common to several different composers, but your music also has distinct, individual features, different from the music of your colleagues. How is your music similar to and different from the other composers of the New Complexity movement?
  CLARKE: Sometimes I think that my music is not as complex as that of some of the other composers of this trend. It has roots in some other musical trends as well as in the New Complexity movement - as does the other composers' music, of course. Ferneyhough's music is the essence and the epitome of the New Complexity movement. Dillon's music is complex, but with some influence of the French composers. Barrett's music is complex but with influence of horror and improvisation. My music is sometimes complex and sometimes very clear. It particularly owes this quality to the influence of German composers, such as Hans-Joachim Hespos, Matthias Spahlinger and Dieter Schnebel, amongst other influences.
  ROVNER: As a frequent participant of the Darmstadt Ferienkurse, you must have strong musical and cultural ties to Germany and to German musicians. What is your relationship to the contemporary German composers? Does your music show the influence of contemporary German trends?
  CLARKE: Though I have never studied or lived in Germany, I have a strong affinity with some contemporary German composers. I would say that my music, as well as having some of its roots in the New Complexity movement, is also strongly connected with some of the contemporary German musical ideas. Some of the composers whom I admire most are the German composers just mentioned, as well as Lachenmann and the Swiss composers Klaus Huber, Heinz Holliger and Gerhard Zinsstag. I greatly admire their work. Amongst the most important composers for me I would also list Luigi Nono, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Iannis Xenakis, as well as Wagner, Schoenberg and Brahms.
  ROVNER: It would be interesting for our readers to find out how you began your musical training. Where did you study composition in your youth?
  CLARKE: I started studying composition entirely by myself with nothing much more than derision from my school teachers, but then I was very lucky to meet Nigel Osborne, who was very helpful in encouraging me and very informative. I studied at universities in Britain and then at the University of Tampere in Finland with the composer Usko Merilainen. After that, I established contacts with European musicians and composers, and attended festivals in mainland Europe.
  ROVNER: Lately, I have met you at a number of festivals which we have both attended, prior to this visit of yours to Moscow. Have you attended many contemporary music festivals and events in Russia and some of the other former Soviet republics?
  CLARKE: During the last few years I have been invited to a number of festivals in Russia, Ukraine and Moldova. Among these were the "Two Days and Two Nights" Festival in Odessa, Ukraine, the "Europe-Asia" Festival in Kazan, Tatarstan, Russian Federation, and two festivals in Chisinau, Moldova. One of the festivals which I attended in Moldova was the ISCM World Music Days Festival, when it was held in Romania and Moldova in 1999. In this festival my composition "Delirium" for six instruments was performed. Six months later, I was invited to another new music festival in Moldova, the "Days of New Music", in which an orchestral work, "Pascal, pensee 206", and another ensemble work, "Delmenhorst", were performed. I have also been invited three times to Azerbaijan - the first time in November, 1999, to a festival of British Arts, Science and Culture, and the second and third times this year, when I was appointed Professor at the Baku Music Academy. I plan to travel twice or three times a year to Baku for a month or so each time to teach there, so I expect to spend two or three months a year in Azerbaijan. I have been to Moscow once before (apart from a visit in 1974) - in April 2000, when I was en route to the Kazan festival. I lectured at the Theremin Centre and the Composers' Union. During my present visit [in November 2001] I have lectured at the Conservatory and the Arditti Quartet, together with Catherine Milliken, have performed my "Oboe Quintet". They also performed the same work in Ekaterinburg, from where I have just returned, and where I lectured at the Ekaterinburg Conservatory.
  ROVNER: I attended the concert by the Arditti Quartet and Catherine Milliken on November 7, 2001, where there was the fine performance of your "Oboe Quintet" in the Small Hall of the Conservatory. During the same concert they also performed works by Edison Denisov, Gyorgy Kurtag, Brian Ferneyhough, James Dillon and Iannis Xenakis. You have worked with the Arditti Quartet before.
  CLARKE: Yes, I have been acquainted with the Arditti Quartet for many years. My "Oboe Quintet" was written for them in 1992, commissioned by the Darmstadt Internationale Ferienkurse.
  ROVNER: And in 1992 it won the Kranichsteiner Musikpreis awarded by Darmstadt. You have many performances of your music in many countries in Europe. Could you say something about your performances and in what countries they take place?
  CLARKE: My music has been performed in many European countries and throughout the world - probably most frequently in Germany, but also in the Nordic countries, France, and in the Netherlands. There have been performances and broadcasts in Japan, Korea, USA and Argentina. I have taken part in the Darmstadt Ferienkurse often, as well as the ISCM World Music Days Festival, at which I have been lucky enough to have music performed many times in the various countries in which it takes place. In the past I frequently attended the Gaudeamus Festival in Amsterdam.
  ROVNER: What has been your affiliation with the Darmstadt Ferienkurse?
  CLARKE: I first attended the Internationale Ferienkurse Darmstadt in 1988 and since then I have participated in it on many occasions. I have lectured there and my music has often been performed there.
  ROVNER: Professor Clarke, I would like to thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. I would like to wish you success in your future music endeavors. I hope that we shall have the opportunity to hear your music in Russia often and to acquaint our readers with new examples of your musical work.

top of document