Composer Chats - Michael Cryne

Hi Mike! Thanks so much for taking the time to chat to us ahead of our premier of your piece, Frost Flower, at the Purcell Room on Friday 18th January 2019. Firstly, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Sure, I’m a British composer. I spent a long time working as a music director, composer and teacher in the theatre before turning to writing concert music about 7 years ago. I did my PhD at RHUL with Mark Bowden and Helen Grime, and I’ve been really lucky to have done some of the big orchestral development schemes with people like the LSO, LPO and RSNO. I love working with acoustic instruments as well as writing with electronics, and a lot of my work is influenced by the natural world, and the human relationship to it.

Had you written for the saxophone before at all? What did you enjoy about writing for saxophone quartet and what did you find challenging?

I have written for the saxophone a couple of times before. Frost Flower is the 2nd sax quartet I’ve written, and I also wrote a piece for solo soprano sax called ‘Listen to the singing wind’ a few years ago. I think, because there isn’t so much repertoire available for sax as there is say, for violin, performers want to (or have to) engage with 20th and 21st century music.   

Who would you say has been the biggest influence on you as a composer?

This is a difficult one, there’s no one person, but the composers Mark Turnage, Kaija Saariaho, Oliver Knussen and Thomas Adés have had a huge influence on me in different ways. I’m very into electronics as well, and music by artists like Autechre, BT, Aphex Twin and similar have been hugely influential on me as well.

You mentioned you worked for a long time in theatre, do you think this influences your writing for concert music?

I’m often told my music is dramatic, I’d love to have a go at an opera one day, but the process of composition for theatre is very different from concert music. Theatre composition is a very servile art, you’re always working to serve someone else’s vision, supporting something that your music is only a small part of. Concert music (at least for me) is such a completely different thing, they’re almost entirely different jobs.


Where does the inspiration for Frost Flower come from?

Frost flowers are beautiful, strange things. They’re caused when the ground isn’t frozen, but the air is, and the sap in a flower expands and breaks out of the stem. The water is drawn through these cracks, and freezes on contact with the air, creating layers of what looks like ribbons made from ice. They’re obviously fragile and very temporary, and I wanted the piece to capture this fragility.

If you could only take one piece of music to a desert island what would you take?

Rite of spring, probably.

Some quick fire questions now

- Cats or Dogs? Dogs. Obviously.

- Popcorn; sweet or salty? Neither. Eating popcorn is like chewing cardboard.

- Beer or wine? Beer. No, wait, wine. No, beer. Oh, bugger, this is hard…

- Rugby or football (or neither!)? Football. I will never understand rugby.

- Tea or coffee? Coffee.

- Game of Thrones; Yay or Nay? Nay, couldn’t get into it.

Finally, have you got any upcoming projects you would like to tell us about/what’s next for you

Sure, I’ve been writing orchestral music for the past few years, which has been great, but I’ve got some smaller scale and solo stuff I’m now working on. I’ve been working on a collection of pieces based on Japanese spirits, for oboist James Turnbull, which I’ve owed him about 2 years, so that’s next up. I’m also going back to doing some more electronics work, and I’m collaborating with Flautist Carla Rees on some stuff with electronics in the new year. I’m halfway through the score for my first computer game, which is something a bit different.  I’m also working on my first choral piece, so the start of next year’s looking quite busy.


The Laefer Quartet will be performing Michael Cryne’s Frost Flowers at the Purcell Room on Friday 18th January at 6:45 as part of the SoundState Festival. Tickets and more information can be found below.