Tansy Davies, composer

Tansy Davies studied at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama and Royal Holloway. Her work has found an accommodation between the worlds of the avant-garde and experimental rock, between - in the words of one critic - Xenakis and Prince.

The recipient of a 2009 Paul Hamelin Award, Davies has been commissioned by numerous world class ensembles and orchestras, including the London Sinfonietta, the CBSO Youth Orchestra, the City of London Sinfonia, BIT 20, BCMG, and a large-scale piece for the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Wild Card, for the Proms in 2010. In 2011 Davies’ carol, Christmas Eve, was performed at the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols in King's College Cambridge and broadcast around the world. 2012 saw the premiere a piano concerto, Nature, by Huw Watkins and the BCMG under Oliver Knussen, and the release of her second commercial CD, spine, on the NMC label.  Davies’ first opera, Between Worlds, was premiered by ENO in 2015.

Listen on Spotify to her NYO playlist of orchestral works that inspire her.

What intrigues you about writing this piece for teenage musicians?

Their enthusiasm, talent and appetite for music, coupled with their fresh outlook on life. I hope that my music ignites their curiosity and sense of ownership; it’s their piece!

What were you like as a teenage musician?

I had a thirst for all things out of the ordinary. And contrary… or rebellious; when the music teacher expressed suspicion for contemporary music, my imagination was ignited and I immediately rushed out to record shops to seek out as much of it as I could.

I enjoyed trying out different instruments, I played horn, electric guitar, double bass, drum kit, and sang. Composing was very much there from the start though I didn’t really do much horn practice (my main instrument) until I was 18 or 19, at which point I became hooked. I just loved practising horn for hours and hours each day, it gave me focus and I found it therapeutic. But composing was my true ‘main instrument’, so eventually that took over completely.

What characterised your musical journey? 

My musical journey has been partly varied meander and partly extreme roller-coaster ride! I have a tendency to jump into what felt like the deepest of waters! I’ve performed in symphony orchestras, in the pit of musicals, in prog rock, funk and reggae bands, and I’ve composed for a wide variety of instruments and situations, with varying degrees of success! I’ve found myself being a spokesperson for new music, unexpectedly speaking in front of thousands of people…

But music has been a huge force for good in my life. If I hadn’t discovered music as a young teenager, and fallen in love with it; become obsessed by it, my life would be much poorer than it is. Music saved me from all kinds of negative situations and I’m immensely grateful for that.

What was your most inspiring musical experience as a teenager? 

In the 80s (when I was at school) the London Sinfonietta had a truly enviable education 

programme. I was fortunate enough to have been involved with not one, but two of their wonderful outreach projects in schools. The one that changed my life involved composer Nigel Osborne, Gillian Moore (then at the Sinfonietta) and mezzo-soprano Susan Bickley. It was a composition project that culminated in a huge ‘happening’ in a massive Sea-Cadet training space. The focus of the event was a concert of contemporary works, given by the London Sinfonietta. It was the most thrilling and spine-tingling thing I had ever heard, I was instantly hooked and inspired!

What was your most exciting audience experience of your teenage years?

Aged 16 I got lucky at a Notting Hillbillies gig: the band’s manager invited me and my best friend backstage, then to join them on the rest of their UK tour; to as many of gigs as we could get to. The whole experience had the glow of adventure about it.

When did you know you wanted to spend your life writing music?

I had a feeling that was what I would from around age 14, but had no idea of how to go about it and for some years I was undecided about which musical path to follow. I felt I had to choose between being an orchestral horn player, a lead singer/guitarist in an experimental rock band, and composing for classically trained musicians…

But there was never a ‘eureka’ moment of absolute clarity; more a falling away of the things that weren’t so important, to allow room for composing, which emerged as my strongest passion.

What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done as a composer?

Compose an opera. 

What’s your number one tip for teenage musicians and composers? 

Feel the fear and do it anyway. But do it with love.

Any more words of wisdom?

Enjoy your work. Work hard. Don’t worry about what other people might think or say. Take advice from as many different people as you like, but always listen to your own quiet inner voice. 


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