Tell us about your 200 PIECES composition, Scorpion Canary. What was the inspiration behind it?
I chose to write a piano piece for this project. As a keyboard player myself, my inspiration came in part from early and Baroque music repertoire, specifically dance music. My piece takes on a similar dynamism to the energy of the Canary dance. It has a fast tempo, compound duple meter and accented chord hits that imitate the stamping of feet often found in the choreography of this dance.
How do you approach writing a new piece of music? What are the pleasures and challenges?
I think about the performance narrative that I wish to create, and how particular qualities of an instrument can coalesce with my ideas. I enjoy the whole creative journey for each composition, seeing how it blossoms from the initial musical grain. I think the main challenge when writing a composition is for your intended vision to be heard by the performer and audience.
What were the highlights of your time at the Academy? How did the training help prepare you for your career?
The projects that were organised by the Composition Department and the hands-on nature of the Master’s course were what really propelled my understanding of my strengths and future goals. The breadth of opportunities available was outstanding, which allowed me to focus on composition fully and progress. The composition staff helped me to understand my creative heart and gave me the confidence to embrace it for my first professional projects.
Why did you choose to become a multi-instrumentalist? What does it bring to your career as a performer and composer?
Each instrument is very individual, with its own spirit – I can’t resist experiencing that immersion.
Classical guitar was my first instrument, and I went on to learn saxophone, piano, singing and harpsichord. I was then able to apply my performance knowledge to my compositional work. For example, through my saxophone playing I began to experiment with electronics, and that is now one of the areas of composition that I specialise in. I also love playing these instruments for their repertoire – particularly the piano and harpsichord. I’m taking the path of synthesising my composing and performing. My debut album, Electric Scent (2019), was an exciting and fulfilling first in this respect. I’m playing all the instruments featured, together with effects pedals and electronics. On my next release, Within the Flames (2020), I performed my solo work for scordatura violin and electronics of the same title.
What are your aspirations for the next few years?
My aim as a musician is to embrace multiple directions: performing, composing, collaborating. When considering composition, there are all sorts of mediums to choose from, so it is possible to be multifaceted and have different ways to express myself. This is what I have been aiming for with my work, with its present scope consisting of concert pieces, electronic music, graphic scores. I’m moving towards including choreographic works, sound installations and creative writing too.
Are there any other projects you are working on that you’d like to tell us about?
Recently I released Horae, a multi-movement work I created using clock chime mechanisms as instruments. I’m now arranging this work for string orchestra.
I’m also recording my recent works for piano, and music by other composers for harpsichord.
What advice would you give to composers who have just graduated?
Embrace your independence and the individuality of your path. Feel empowered to be creative, come up with your own projects and share your work.
Sophya Polevaya's Scorpion Canary will receive its world premiere on Friday 25 November. Book tickets here.
Photo credit: Image 1st London