New voice: Aaron Holloway-Nahum

aaron nahum

Aaron Holloway-Nahum describes a recent work ~

Expressions of Sea Level was written for the Dr. K Sextet and the Cheltenham Music Festival. It’s a work that continues my recent exploration of a combination between lyricism and an expanding canvas of pitch (including microtones) and timbre. The ideas were about questions of perspective and timelessness. The way we view an event or an object, itself unchanging but always different to our perception of it. It takes its title from poet A. R. Ammons, which opens:

Peripherally the ocean

marks itself

against the gauging land

it erodes and / builds:

it is hard to name

the changless:

speech without words …



Music by Aaron Holloway-Nahum has recently been commissioned and performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, London Sinfonietta, Britten Sinfonia, and clarinetist Timothy Orpen. In 2014, Aaron will attend the Aspen Music Festival on a full scholarship, will have a 5-week residency at the home of Aaron Copland (‘Copland House Awards’) and will write his third and fourth pieces for players from the London Symphony as part of their ‘Soundhub Scheme’. Music by Aaron has recently been performed at the Cheltenham (UK), Etchings (France) and highSCORE Festivals (Italy). He has had multiple pieces broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and regularly appears as a radio host on ResonanceFM. Aaron is also the chief conductor and Artistic Director of The Riot Ensemble.


What is your earliest musical memory that, in looking back, has proved to be significant regarding your career as a composer?

I started my life in music as a singer – in particular I sang in various choirs in the US such as the regional and national honours choirs. I cannot remember the year, or the details about it, but I remember – in one of these choirs – singing Elliott Carter’s Musicians Wrestle Everywhere and absolutely LOVING the driving, rhythmic nature of this music; the feeling of using your voice at a sort of break-neck speed. Singing remains very central to me as a composer – I sing all the time when I’m composing – and my memories of that music making are totally embedded in all the music I create.

If relevant, which composer(s) have been the most influential regarding your own work?  Has this changed over time?

Composers influence one another in many ways. I’d immediately have to point to my teachers – Julian Anderson, Philip Cashian, Augusta Read Thomas and Amy Williams as my four of the most influential composers. Though I’ve had the very rare pleasure of studying with four incredibly talented composers, each with a strong individual voice, this isn’t necessarily because of the music they write so much as because of the ongoing discussions – and the way that good teachers will lead you by example to think about music differently and more deeply.

In terms of composers I absolutely love, this is changing constantly but there are some voices which have been important to me for so long I doubt they will ever change: Henri Dutilleux and J.S. Bach, the saxophone playing of Chris Potter and Joshua Redman, the songwriting of The Weepies and Sara Bareilles, and the music of Claude Debussy, Gustav Mahler and Elliott Carter.

Can you describe your working process, i.e., do you have a regular schedule for writing; do you use a computer for composing (either for creating pre-composition materials or notation), if so, do you find that it inhibits your process?  What other technology, if any, do you use?

I write music very early in the morning, every morning, for anywhere from 2-4 hours depending on the current project and other demands on my day. I get up, make a cup of coffee and then go straight to the drafting table (if I do literally anything else on the way, open an e-mail, turn on the TV for a moment, etc…my head just fills up with other things and nothing gets done!)

For a new piece I spend anywhere from a couple of days or weeks planning the music and discovering the ideas I want to explore. I listen to music related to the questions I’m asking myself and think about how other composers have answered them. I start to work on paper – normally doing a full, handwritten draft of the entire piece. I think it was Hemmingway who urged writers to always write out by hand first – because, he said, it means that when you put it into the computer you get a whole extra pass at improving it! That’s what I do; it goes from my handwritten score (which may have shorthand at a number of places) into the computer, being edited as I go. Then I print that score out and write all over it. Deleting, adding, and revising. It gets another pass on the computer and then it’s done.

I do use a number of software tools including Open Music, Spear and AudioSculpt to help me when I’m composing – especially in the planning stages.

Website | Soundcloud

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