In conversation with Catherine Nasskau
CN: Thank you for sparing the time to chat with us today. Maybe we could start with your early life - what or who were your early musical inspirations?
WT: My parents had a big record collection with a lot of diversity from jazz, rock and blues through to choral, opera and orchestral. We also listened to all sorts on the radio (radio Luxemburg, Radio 1, Radio 2, Radio 3....). My sister learned the piano and inspired me to do the same.
CN: How did you first encounter jazz?
WT: Listening to my dad's records of Dizzy Gillespie and Dave Brubeck. Fabulous!
CN: Much of your work is for singers. Why do you think this is?
WT: Singing from an early age in a church choir has given me a life-long love of singing. I grew up in Durham and went to St Oswald's Church where they had an excellent choir (huge thanks to David Higgins my first choir director and composition teacher.)
CN: What led you to writing more operatic and theatrical pieces?
WT: Again, that early listening to my parents' opera records. We also fell in love with the musicals of Andrew Lloyd Weber in our house and I knew them all by heart!
CN: How do you approach setting traditional Latin texts to a jazzy style?
WT: I know a lot of these texts well from singing Mass settings in my youth. I try not to think too hard about style - just react to the words and let them inspire me.
CN: You compose for a wide range of genres – do you have one you feel more at home with?
WT: Always the one I'm NOT working in at the time. No - seriously, different projects demand different styles so I use whatever I need.
CN: Of your own work, do you have any favourites, or ones you are most proud of having composed?
WT: Hard to say, but Mass in Blue and My Lord Has Come must be high up the list.
CN: What music do you like to listen to?
WT: Jazz, choral, orchestral and rock music. I particularly like Genesis, The Who and Yes.
CN: Do you have a special place where you go to compose?
WT: In the shed I built at the end of the garden which just manages to fit a grand piano!
CN: What led you to ‘Mass in Blue’?
WT: The commission was specifically for a setting of the Mass for jazz orchestra and choir - so I have David Temple and Hertfordshire Chorus to thank for that
CN: What makes a good performance of the Mass? What should the EAC try and remember?
WT: Passion and singing through the lines - energy and looking happy for your audience. Never look down and enjoy EVERY moment.
CN: Could you tell us a little more about it?
WT: I would describe it as a blend of driving jazz grooves and clear, strong, choral writing against which the solo piano and solo soprano voice weave and blend in an aural tapestry. It is a fusion of sacred choral music and jazz. This central work is complemented by musical settings of religious texts, infused with a highly individual and melodic style, bringing my lifelong love of traditional choral music into the 21st century with spiritual sensitivity and a contemporary edge.