Leo Geyer has been awarded the Lancaster Jazz Festival Youth Jazz Commission 2014. His new work will be premiered at the festival on Sunday 21st September, 2.40pm at The Hall.
22 year old Leo Geyer studied on the Joint Course at Manchester University and RNCM before being awarded the RNCM Gold Medal Award, CMU New Ensemble Call for Works and the Phillip Bates Prize. Recent projects have included works for the BBC Singers, Opera North and the Manchester Camerata. Leo is also the Artistic Director of the Constella Ballet & Orchestra which he co-founded in 2011 and has started working as assistant conductor for the Royal Ballet.
How hard is it to make the transition from more classically based composition, which I know you specialise in, to a jazz style and did it force you to change your methods in any way?
I think my music has always had a jazzy flair. Most of my compositions are rhythmically driven, with jazz-like licks, lopsided grooves and a harmonic language that sits in-between tonality and atonality. I made a big move with my most recent piece and fully embraced my jazz influences and most significantly, incorporating improvisation. It has been used (some say over-used) in classical works for the last 100 years or so and is often looked down upon now. As classical composers, we are taught to be very specific about the sounds we want, resulting in often very complicated and descriptive notation. But in recent works I have been letting go of some of that control and allowing the players to 'fill in some of the gaps'. It was daunting at first but now it really excites me because every performance will be different!
Have you got a favourite style or form of music?
A favourite style or form of music... a very difficult question! I like lots of styles and forms of music for various reasons. I suppose, if I was forced to answer I would probably lean towards music theatre, (not to be confused with musical theatre!) such as opera, ballet and theatrical music works. I really enjoy collaboration across different disciplines and when it all comes together it is truly magical.
What do you aim to convey in your music?
I aim to convey something different in every piece I write. I find it impossible not think or feel something when I compose and so that's what I try and get across.
Could you tell us a little bit about what the commission you are doing for the festival is based on and how you wrote/ are writing it ?
The piece I am writing, commissioned by the festival is called Sunset in Grey.It's written for voice, clarinet, violin and cello and is inspired by the turning from summer to autumn. As with most of my pieces I started by writing a short poem.
Rose, lilac and marigold
shade the clouds
with the light of the dying sun.
Like a giant lake the sky is reflected
in a mass of rippling grey coats
with black umbrella lilies.
Iris, violet and lavender
paint the raincoats
with the last of summer frocks.
I often write short poems before starting writing, it helps me to focus on what the music is about. But for this piece, I decided that I would set the words to music. So this will be the first time that I've set my own poem to music.
Are there any pieces or musicians that have influenced you over the years?
There are a lot of musicians that have influenced and inspired me, it would make an extremely long list! If I had to name a few I would probably say Mark Anthony-Turnage and Thomas Ades. They are two very exciting British classical composers who have written incredible operas and also explored the fusion of classical contemporary music and jazz. A big idol of mine is Igor Stravinsky, his approach to rhythm and characterisation is truly inspirational. In terms of jazz artists, I really enjoy the groves and energy in Latin Jazz such as artists like Tito Puente and Poncho Sanchez. And of course, I really love the melodic and rich harmonic language of artists like Gwilym Simcock and Tim Garland.
What can the audience expect at your set on the 21st of September ?
I expect that this programme will feature a style of music that most audience members may not have heard before - the unusual fusion of jazz and contemporary classical. First up is a piece by Camden Reeves who taught me composition briefly while as I was at Manchester University. His fiery trio The Dead Broke Blues Break requires incredibly virtuousic playing including an extended solo for plucked cello. We will also play a luscious vocalise (a song without words) by the André Previn. Next will be a piece by our cellist Michel Newman titled Prelude from the Last Minstrel Suite. As well as my new piece, Sunset in Grey, we will also be performing Sideshows, inspired by the Victorian circus featuring limping grooves, jazz harmonies and wild improvisation.
Leo Geyer was talking to Luke Adams, Youth Journalist in Residence at LJF2014.