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Five Minutes With: Jonny Bates

In this new series of 'Five Minutes With' blogs, we speak to composers whose music has been performed at UniBrass about their lives, influences and plans for the future.

Next up, Jonny Bates.

How did you first get involved with playing in brass bands?

I started out in a very similar way to most - playing in my local village training band before moving into some of the more established youth band organisations in the local area. Both my parents were musicians too which helped. I say that, my mum played the tenor horn. My dad was/is a drummer but I'll still count that!

From there I moved into the regional and national youth bands which is where I first came into contact with some of the great conductors and players I'm now delighted to have spent a number of years playing in the same band as.

When did you know you wanted to compose and how did you get started?

I think I've always had an interest in creating/making this. In a strange way it helped being brought up through a school system which was so unsupportive - of both music in general and of my achievements within music - because this just focused my mind more and made me even more dedicated.

My high school was a sports specialist school (I'm far from that!) so most breaks and lunchtimes I'd go to the music room for extra guidance, practise and composition time which ultimately led to my first major composition - a 14-minute work for full band composed for the National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain and Bramwell Tovey - receiving its premiere at the RNCM when I was 16. An achievement, of course, completely thrown out by my high school at the time in place of a cross-country race or swimming gala.

Which of your compositions are you most proud of and why?

This is a really tough one, as there's probably four or five pieces I am really proud of for a variety of reasons. If I'm pressed though, I'll go with:

Amundsen which was composed for the Norwegian band Orskog Brass, who first gave me the chance to visit Norway as a player back in 2011. They asked me to conduct the band at the Norwegian National Championships in Bergen's magnificent Grieg Hall, and also compose the own choice test piece. I created Amundsen for them, and together we won the Norwegian Nationals this year to a standing ovation and a reception like I've never heard outside of the Championship Section.

Ex Terra Lucem - Whilst the musical language of this piece is a lot more simplified than works such as Amundsen or my Cornet Concerto, this ticked a completely different box for me. I originally wrote the work as a congratulations gift to a friend who had just been appointed Musical Director of the youth band (St Helen's) he began his playing career with. It was soon after chosen as the Second Section Regional Championship set test piece in 2018 and seemed to be strongly received around the country. I'm passionate that too much 'new music' is composed solely for the elite bands and others are forgotten about, so I was proud to feel I've been able to contribute to fixing this imbalance in my own way.

If you could have dinner with any composer from history, who would you choose?

Anyone who shares a substantial appetite! In terms of talking about writing though, I'd love to get to know what on in the mind of Olivier Messiaen, I've always been fascinated by his writing and colours. If we could hook up Igor Stravinsky and JS Bach via Zoom conference call at the same time, that would be sweet too!

How would you describe your musical style and inspiration?

Consistently inconsistent - which I see as a positive. If I'm out for me one-exercise-a-day at the moment, the playlist on Spotify will go from anything between Club Tropicana and Nielsen's Sixth Symphony, so you could say my inspiration pool is pretty wide.

I guess if I were to break it down I'd say rhythmically influenced by modern pop culture, harmonically inspired by late romaticism and melodically inspired by the last song I listened to.

What's next on the musical horizon for you?

I've a couple of longer-term projects in the pipeline (all dependent on the period of lockdown), but whilst the schedule is quite clear I am trying to pursue this idea of writing music for the lower sections. They're really forgotten about too often in composers' minds, and they're the future of our 'elite' bands. They deserve just as much quality new music and it's our job to supply that.

We're really grateful to Jonny for taking the time to talk to us.

To read more about UniBrass' work and stories, head over to our blog.

If you want to keep in touch and support our work, why not check out the UniBrass Family?

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