Composer and arranger Bob Chilcott talks to Scala Radio about his new arrangement of Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto written exclusively for The Sixteen.
What does Bob Chilcott do for a living?
I’m a composer. I’m also a bit of a choir conductor. I came to that by mistake really. When I was writing music for people and choirs, I started to realise that I had to be in contact with the people who sang the music. In my work and practise I’ve always been someone who needs to be a very social composer. I like to write music that people can sing. I’m very interested in the idea of what makes people sing. That’s why I write music that I hope people will want to sing.
What makes people want to sing do you think?
That’s a complicated question. I think about it at a lot. At a basic level people want to sing because they like the sound of particular types of music – a song, a melody. But it takes quite a lot of confidence to say ‘actually you know what I think I could do that’. You’ve got to have a lot of courage to do that. I really admire people who take the plunge to do that. It’s a very liberating kind of experience. In a world where people don’t necessarily come into contact with loads of other people doing the same thing, it’s something that bonds people together; it’s very important for feeling good about yourself. To be able to do something like singing, something you really like when you’re subsumed into a group of people who want the same thing, really is quite a nice feeling.
What does it feel like for you when you’re conducting a choir?
When you’re a conductor one very basic thing is that you look at people in the face. That’s a really revealing thing and an intimate thing. When you see people sing they show themselves as they really are so they’re making themselves very vulnerable. It’s a great feeling of trust. I love it when you manage to energise them. When you’re a conductor one very basic thing is that you look at people in the face. That’s a really revealing thing and an intimate thing. When you see people sing they show themselves as they really are, so they’re making themselves very vulnerable. It’s a great feeling of trust. At the same time, it’s a very uplifting experience. It can be a very moving.
What prompted you to choose to arrange the second movement of the Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No 2 for The Sixteen?
Harry Christophers from The Sixteen was great. Basically he said that it was my choice to arrange what I wanted. I gave him a choice of course. What I love about Rachmaninov is he is one of the composers of the last 100 years who has written fantastic tunes. Inherently the melodies have a lot of line and breath, which is the kind of thing that singers love – melody with a sense of building; a sense of where it’s going. Rachmaninov writes very instinctive melodies. He was a piano player of course, but his music inherently sings. It also has beautiful texture – the orchestral sound is very very lush and communicative. Probably he was one of the big influencers in the way that people felt about film music. He was really imitated by film composers too (and was used in Brief Encounter). His music is very much on the sleeve (in a good way).
Hearing this familiar tune reworked for voices gave us a buzz the first time we heard it in the office – why do you think that is?
If choral singing works, I think people connect with its because singing involves breath. There’s something that inspires people about the movement of breath. I think it’s a connection – it’s a kind of visual connection. When singing works and you think “I love that”, it’s because a singer is communicating something you inherently know and feel, even if you can’t necessarily explain it. I think that’s one of the powers of singing and I think that’s why singers are so loved. What I love about Rachmaninov is he is one of the composers of the last 100 years who has written fantastic tunes. I think in this case it’s that combined with a tune which is so really well known. Another thing I’m really pleased about is that this doesn’t have any words. It creates a different atmosphere. You’re not distracted by words which perhaps weren’t intended for the music. So there’s no distraction by the text.
What would you like to arrange next?
I’ve thought about that. I think Morning from Peer Gynt. I think it would work brilliantly.