Blog of Alumni Team

Luke Styles - alumnus profile

Alumni Team - Posted on 06.04.2020

Luke Styles (Composition, 2005) is an Australian and British composer, published by G.Schirmer/Music Sales. In 2017 he received his Aldeburgh Festival début with his large work All Howl At Once. Most recently his sixth opera Ned Kelly premiered at the Perth Festival and his song cycle, On Bunyah, written for Mark Padmore and the Britten Sinfonia premiered at the Wigmore Hall followed by the Australian premiere at the Coriole Music Festival receiving wide critical acclaim. 

We spoke to Luke about adapting to life in lockdown during the Coronavirus crisis. 

Tell us a little about your professional life since leaving the Academy.

After finishing my BMus at the Academy, I went on to do three postgraduate degrees in Austria, Germany and back in the UK. Perhaps not the most common academic pathway, but it allowed me to study with the composers I most admired. Then I started life as a freelance composer in earnest. This took the form of new commissions; founding my own ensemble, Amorpha, to perform new music from around the world and to create multidisciplinary projects with numerous organisations including the ICA, BFI and the Vaults Festival; and teaching composition in the junior department of Trinity Laban. 

I was then lucky enough to be selected for three successive composer development schemes and residency positions – Aldeburgh, Glyndebourne and the Foundling Museum. These provided me with a secure income, projects, a host of new collaborators and performances for a five-year period. After finishing my three-year residency at Glyndebourne I was signed by IMG Artists and then in 2019 by publishers G Schirmer/Wise Music Group. Both these professional management/publishing organisations are building on the work I put in prior to signing, and they have opened up new avenues for performances and commissions.

What has been the immediate result of the Coronavirus crisis on your working life? 

As a composer I work from home, so a lockdown or isolation situation is not very far removed from my normal working life. What has immediately changed is that all my meetings have become digital, so the personal interaction and sense of community have disappeared. I am finding that I have dropped a lot of my admin hours, which means more composing time. I have not been in communication with arts organisations nearly as much as I would normally be, as they are all dealing with far more immediate problems. 

That said, this silence underpins my main fear, which is that organisations will look to cut new commissions in the future as a means to recoup lost revenue during the Coronavirus crisis. This is understandable, but I believe it will further injure our sector. When they programme and commission new music, organisations are supporting not only their artists but the sector as a whole (composers, publishers, PRS, and all those employed by these organisations). This will help those affected by the crisis far more than programming music by dead white men who don’t need any help. It would be irresponsible if the arts sector doesn’t do all it can to look after the entire community as much as possible, and you don’t do that by denying living artists a voice.

Do you see this time as a hiatus in your activities, and do you think there will be lasting change in the music world? If so, what changes do you foresee?

I am composing the works that had already been commissioned for 2020, so I am lucky in the short term, but the longer term will be more precarious. I do think there will be lasting change. I think creating a more dynamic and accessible digital space for the arts will be a positive outcome, and I hope that audiences and organisations will want to listen to the artists who have lived through this crisis. I can foresee a future in which new commissions will allow the community to reflect on, digest and make sense of what has happened to the world. I don’t think Beethoven, Puccini or Mozart can do this as well as the artists who have gone through it, and I do foresee organisations realising this and being in a position to bring audiences and artists together with new work as a result of all of this. 

Are you managing to remain positive in this time, when many of your usual work outlets have disappeared overnight? If so, how? 

I do remain positive. I have lost some work that had an educational dimension (a new commission tied to workshops in schools), and some work that involves development sessions has been postponed. I remain positive by focusing on the work I am doing and also by connecting with new people who, for whatever reason, I was aware of but hadn’t been in touch with before. This has led to new contacts, networks and in some cases the seeds of new projects. It doesn’t feel like a great time to reach out to organisations, but it does feel like a good time to reach out to individuals who I sense I might share a common ground with.

In the short term, while we are all still restricted in our movement, a positive outcome for me is the near complete focus on composing, with no days being sacrificed to travelling for meetings, lecturing or workshops (as much as I miss those things). 

I have also started conversations about new digital projects, although I hope these won’t be ready while we are still isolated as that would mean we are in isolation for a very long time. I believe that organisations will want to invest in and have digital work ready, just in case something like this crisis comes along again, or as a new way to reach a broader audience, or perhaps as an alternative offering to audiences who are wary about returning to large concert halls and theatres.

Do you have any advice for current students and recent alumni about how to get through this indefinite period of isolation? 

I would say focus on what is positive in your life and creativity. Practise, compose, read and listen more. Reach out to people you’ve never got around to contacting. Suggest your most outlandish idea to your collaborators and colleagues – people want to hear positivity and ambition at a time when so much is bleak. Think about your practice in more normal times and see how you can reimagine it in a digital space, then try it out.

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