Interview with Nieuw Ensemble (2011) – Part 1

[repost of an old post from my former blog that no longer exists]

The following is the interview that was conducted by the Nieuw Ensemble of The Netherlands, for their publication purposes. They gave a wonderful performance (European Première) of my Départ dans… at the Gaudeamus Muziekweek in September, 2011.

Each composer had to answer ten questions asked by the Nieuw Ensemble. I answered eight of them. In this post I post the first four questions.

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1. Why do you compose?

For me composing is a necessity. By composing I am given an opportunity to discover more about my psychological self, and the process of discovery signals to me that there is so much that I do not know. By realizing how much I do not know, I also realize that I don’t know much about anything else in this world, either. Therefore, composing does make me humble to try to learn more about how this world works, and how I operate in it. I believe that it is one of the effective tactics for me to be a better person, and a better citizen of the world.

2. How do you compose?

I carry a small sketchbook with me almost anywhere I go, so I can jot down ideas. Over time I accumulate these small fragments of ideas, which then I try to see if I can develop them into something interesting. As for my writing process is concerned, it is best said to be a series of making corrections on rough drafts. I write out music in a draft format, then I start to improve on it, as a schoolteacher might correct students’ writing in red ink, I do the same with my own piece.

3. Why this piece, now, today?

I wrote this piece in 2010, which was a commission from Takefu International Music Festival. I entitled the piece “départ dans…” which is from a passage from the Arthur Rimbaud’s poem “Départ” from the collection of his poems, Les Illuminations. I thought the aspect of “departure” was appropriate, especially at the time I wrote this piece I had not been able to write for nearly a year. I thought writing this piece would make a new compositional departure, in a sense that I embark on a new journey of my inner self.

4. Could you not do anything better in life?

In the interview made by Gaudeamus Muziekweek this year, Portuguese composer Miguel Azguime spoke about how he became a composer. To summarize what he said, his father said to him that if he had no other life options, then the choice of becoming a composer would be become the best option. I think this applies to me very well, also. Perhaps I could have become a psychologist, or a lawyer, after my father’s recommendation. But I think composing is something I do the best. So to answer this question, no, I couldn’t do anything better in life than composing.

At the same time, the idea there are better things to do than composing is questionable — sad, if I may say —, as that notion seems to be largely governed by how a society views different ways of life. If the profession of music composition is thought from a capitalistic perspective, it may be inferior to stock trading business, for example. But music, or fine arts in general for that matter, positively nurtures and even challenges the aesthetic minds of those who experience it. This is the power of fine arts that artists should be proud of.