Composer Profile: Naomi Pinnock

Naomi Pinnock
Naomi Pinnock


Naomi Pinnock (born 1979) comes from Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire, UK. She studied in London at King’s College London with Harrison Birtwistle, at the Royal Academy of Music with Brian Elias, and with Wolfgang Rihm at the Hochschule für Musik Karlsruhe, Germany.

She has received, amongst others, commissions and performances at/from the Wittener Tage für Neue Kammermusik, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, ECLAT Festival Stuttgart, Heidelberger Frühling Festival, ZKM Karlsruhe, Festival Musica Strasbourg, Festival les Musiques Marseille, Spitalfields Festival London, unerhörte musik concert series in Berlin, Arditti Quartet, London Sinfonietta, Neue Vocalsolisten Stuttgart, Les Percussions de Strasbourg, Ensemble Linea, Kammerensemble Neue Musik Berlin, Beat Furrer, Omar Ebrahim, Rolf Hind and Frode Haltli. Her music has been broadcast on SWR 2 Radio, WDR 3 Radio, BBC Radio 3 and Bayern 2 Radio.

In 2010 she was the winner of the Berlin-Rheinsberger Kompositionspreis, in 2012 the recipient of the Collard Fellowship and in 2013 the prizewinner of the Günther-Bialas Kompositionspreis.

She lives in Berlin.



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

I don’t think I have one really important memory, rather a whole bunch of them where I just remember having fun with music. Like making up words with my sister whilst listening to “Carmina Burana” or singing the entire music used in our church’s order of service to my grandparents in the back of their car (doesn’t sound much like fun now, but it was at the time). I also remember listening to Bach, Bruch and Mendelssohn violin concertos on tapes and enjoying them a lot, especially the slow movements.

I don’t know how significant any of this is with regards to my being a composer… 

Slightly related to this is the idea that I read Grisey mention in an interview, that composers can be divided into two camps: those that are interested in the sounds themselves and those that are interested in the rhetoric of music. I definitely fall into the second category – it’s not that sounds of and in themselves don’t interest me but that I’m more interested in the effect of them within a gesture. Which is why I will always remember more about how something made me feel rather than any interesting technical aspects.

Are there composers who have been influential or relevant regarding your own work?  Has this changed over time?

When I was studying I was really into Stravinsky for a long time. I still do love his music but I don’t listen to it as often. Beethoven is an old favorite and that probably won’t change. Ditto Bach. 

Harrison Birtwistle was my first proper composition teacher and his music was highly influential on my work at the time. There are traces still there, I think. 

“Jagden und Formen” by Wolfgang Rihm is basically the reason why I’ve ended up in Germany. Such a visceral and energetic piece, it blew me away when I first heard it. Literally life-changing! 

Feldman, Ligeti … right now I’m becoming a big fan of Grisey, particularly his ability to write engaging musical gestures and form and be incredibly precise about his choice of notes at the same time.

Would you mind speaking a little concerning 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 always find it fascinating to hear how other creative people work, and the habits they embed in their day to day lives. Somehow hoping that others’ professed virtues for getting up at the crack of dawn and starting work with a cup of green tea will rub off just by reading about it. Not so! Didn’t Morton Feldman write about always wishing he could find a comfortable chair…? If he could only find the right chair, he would rival Mozart. 

The truth is you need to show up, you need to be excited about what you’re composing, and you need to have some fun whilst doing it. Sometimes having a schedule will help, at other times this just feels agonizingly boring. I need to feel fascinated and energized to some degree about what I’m writing, otherwise no amount of good scheduling is going to help. 

On the other hand I do subscribe to Elisabeth Lutyens’ advice (she was the teacher of one of my teachers, Brian Elias): if you’re a composer, bloody well sit down and compose… 

As regards to composing and computers. I use Sibelius for notation, but only right at the end of the process. The rest I do by hand. I actually find that it’s really useful for me because I do a lot of editing and moving around of sections towards the end of writing a piece.

naomi pinnock

Please describe a recent work and provide a link to an audio clip.

My String Quartet no. 2, which I wrote in 2012 for the Arditti Quartet. Here’s the program note: 

The circling, persistent viola solo, with which the quartet begins, is repeated, chopped up, magnified, distorted and stretched out. This treatment of musical material is similar to my manipulation of text in recent works. It has a lot to do with memories – how sometimes a vividly experienced dream can suddenly vanish upon waking and all you can grasp hold of are fragments. And how these fragments often linger but finally fade away.

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