Adam Saunders - a Young Composer of Note
ADAM SAUNDERS – A YOUNG COMPOSER OF NOTE
talking to PETER EDWARDS
Adam Saunders first came to the attention of RFS members several years ago, when he composed his Comedy Overture which was featured on "Friday Night is Music Night". It was also performed by the BBC Concert Orchestra specially for "Legends of Light Music". Adam now has a flourishing career as a Light Music composer, and he recently spoke to Peter Edwards about his work.
First of all, here are some basic facts about his musical background. Adam was born in Derby and studied at the Royal Academy of Music and London University, winning several prizes for composition. Since leaving he has established a career composing music for the concert hall and for worldwide television, film and other media. In addition to a period as composer-in-association with the East of England Orchestra, Adam has had his works performed and recorded by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, English Chamber Orchestra, BBC Concert Orchestra, City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir, Royal Ballet Sinfonia, Academy of Ancient Music, London Mozart Players, Odense Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra of the Renaissance and the Brighton Festival Chorus amongst others. As well as his work as a composer, arranger and conductor, Adam also regularly performs as a jazz pianist with his own trio and quartet. His concert works include the afore-mentioned Comedy Overture and The Magic Kingdom. Adam is an Associate of the Royal Academy of Music.
Peter Edwards began by asking Adam: which composers or arrangers do you admire the most, and why?
Adam Saunders: I have wide-ranging musical tastes and admire composers and arrangers from a wide variety of musical backgrounds. For example, my favourite classical composers include Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Debussy and Ravel who wrote the most colourful and amazingly vibrant works for orchestra. Favourite film composers include the usual suspects – John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, Alan Silvestri and, of course, from Hollywood’s golden era, Korngold, Newman and Hermann.
However, I also grew up listening to BBC Radio 2 nearly every day and in particular the BBC Radio Orchestra broadcasts (especially the great Tuesday evening Radio Orchestra Show and String Sound on a Saturday night – I must have been a very unusual teenager!). There were also great concerts on a Saturday night with either the Radio Orchestra or the Concert Orchestra. My favourite arrangers and conductors were John Fox (also a fantastic composer and now one of my best friends), Neil Richardson, John Gregory, Roland Shaw, Robert Farnon, Ronnie Aldrich and Stanley Black. I think I learned a huge amount about the sound of the orchestra and the basics of scoring by listening intently to these wonderful broadcasts, which sadly now have disappeared from the air waves.
Peter: What are your favourite films or television programmes? How does this influence your work?
Adam: Again, my tastes are varied. I’m a huge fan of silent movies – in fact, as a child I had an 8mm cine projector and used to put on film shows of Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy etc. for local OAP’s clubs and the like where I accompanied the films by improvising on the piano to match the action on-screen, just like in the days of silent cinema. I’m sure this started the ball rolling with my decision to become a composer for film and TV.
I also greatly enjoy fantasy and science fiction films – anything from Star Wars to Indiana Jones, Alien, etc. and it’s no coincidence that these are my favourite kind of film scores to listen to in their own right. I think that if you have exciting visuals and lots of action and magic on screen, the music you write to accompany these scenes is going to be the most imaginative you can compose. I remember hearing an interview with Ron Goodwin saying how much he enjoyed scoring action films for this very reason, and that the worst kind of films to score are where they consist mainly just of people talking in a room!
The wonderful scores from Hollywood’s greatest composers can’t fail to have influenced my development as a composer (especially when writing library music), just as the current top Hollywood writers were influenced by the best of their predecessors. Everyone grows up listening to something - the important thing is to absorb these influences and go on to develop your own style.
Peter: What are the main differences between writing library music and writing concert music?
Adam: With library projects, you’re writing a CD of music to fit a particular purpose. Examples of this could be fantasy music, historical/ period dramas, news and current affairs, comedy/ cartoons, music for sports programmes etc. The CDs are distributed to production houses around the world for television, film and radio producers to use in the soundtracks to their productions. Obviously, listening to a library CD from beginning to end might not be a great experience for a lot of people, no matter how good the music is. Listening to 70 minutes of non-stop horror or slapstick music – including all the 60 and 30 second versions and short "stings" that are required by the publishers doesn’t include a lot of variety for a casual listener! However, these recordings have become essential in the world of TV, radio, film and advertising. Also, writing library music is a fantastic way for a composer to make a very good living from writing music – although it’s to be recommended to write other music as well.
Of course, when writing concert music you don’t have the same constraints on what you write. In the case of a commission you probably have a brief to write a particular type of work (an overture, a work for chorus and orchestra, a piece for strings etc) but then it’s up to you to decide what you want to write. You can be true to yourself as a writer and write in your "own voice" rather than having to write in a particular style or mood. In the case of writing for a classical recording, where you may be compiling a CD of your works, it is important to have a balanced programme with plenty of variety to keep the listener interested.
Peter: Why do you think there is so little encouragement for composers who write tuneful music for music's sake?
Adam: We live in a different world now to the days of, for example, the BBC Light Music Festivals etc. and gone are the days of the BBC commissions to light music composers to create new works for the many broadcasts that existed of this kind of music. However, the picture in the classical world isn’t as bleak as it was a few decades ago when anything "tuneful" would be looked down on by the ivory-tower "squeaky gate" brigade. Indeed, the "avant garde" movement of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s is now almost a cliché in itself and there’s nothing new anyone could write to "shock" or alienate audiences that hasn’t been done before many times. Modern "classical" music is much more audience-friendly with many composers writing music people enjoy hearing, without being old fashioned. There’s a lot more freedom than there used to be for composers. After graduating from the Royal Academy, I soon became Composer-in-Association with the East of England Orchestra for several years. A post like this would have definitely gone to another kind of composer a few decades ago.
Peter: How do you see the world of light music progressing in years to come?
Adam: Well, there’s always going to be a place for orchestral music that’s enjoyable to listen to, whether on CD or in the concert Hall, and although quite limited in their playlists, Classic FM and the like have done a lot for the popular classical market. However, it seems that, as far the tastes of the general public are concerned, those that do listen to orchestral music tend to look upon writers like Howard Shore and John Williams as the new popular composers of our time with film soundtrack albums dominating the "classical" record charts.
Although this isn’t written as "music for music’s sake", there’s no doubting that writers like this are immensely talented and it’s good exposure for new orchestral music, no matter what it’s written for. Indeed, I think it’s great if young people start to listen to orchestral music of any kind, and I’m sure that those who start off by listening to soundtracks may well start to experiment and listen to other kinds of music. It’s also great that orchestral music isn’t seen as something that was only written in the past. Film composers especially now have a bigger public image than they have had for a long time.
Producer Philip Lane has been a fantastic force in bringing new recordings of light music to the fore, and with his policy of mixing older repertoire with new and unfamiliar works he’s created a new life for light music in the recording studio, and with the subsequent broadcasts of these discs, a gradual increasing in public awareness. Brian Kay’s Light Programme on Radio 3 is wonderful, but there really should be more than one hour a week allocated to light music. It’s almost bizarre that what was once the most popular and commercial music on the airwaves (and actually not that long ago), is now seen by the BBC as a "peculiar" minority interest.
The pioneering series of recordings produced by Ernest Tomlinson for Marco Polo must also be recognised as hugely important in the re-awakening of this market, and with wonderful people like Gavin Sutherland and the players of the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, we are now in a situation that would never have been imagined a few years ago, where we have an abundance of new digital recordings of light music. Surely it would be a great idea for the BBC to give somebody like Gavin an hour-long weekly programme on Radio 3, maybe with the BBC Concert Orchestra, where he could broadcast light music from all eras. If we can have regular broadcasts of early music or mainstream "serious" contemporary music (both minority interests), it’s time to do the same for light music.
ADAM SAUNDERS DISCOGRAPHY
ASV: British Light Overtures 3 CDWHL 2140
Dutton Epoch: British Light Music Premieres Vol.1 CDLX 7147
Chappell: Fantasy and Adventure CHAP 272
Chappell: Elizabethan and Baroque Drama CHAP 292
Chappell: Light and Shade CHAP 303
Chappell: Pure Piano CHAP 309
Bruton: Cinematic Trailers BRJ 54
Bruton: Movie Mania 2 BIGS 010
Bruton: Political Path BR 429
Bruton: Living and Breathing BR 426
Bruton: Game Zone BR 435
Bruton: Widescreen Drama BR441
Amphonic: Soprano Sax AVF 130
Amphonic: Neo-Classical AVF 139
Amphonic: Klub Kulture AVF 143
Amphonic: Beat Nation AVF 145
Amphonic: Film Styles II AVF 146
Amphonic: Christmas AVF 147
Amphonic: Adrenalin Zone AVF 149
Amphonic: Symphonica Electronica AVF 151
Amphonic: Contemporary Jingles AVF 155
Amphonic: Classical Fusion AVF 158
Amphonic: Retro Remix AVF 163
Amphonic: Broadcast Themes AVF 168
Amphonic: Comic Capers AVF 170
Focus: Byte-Sized FCD 171
Focus: Fast and Furious FCD 178
Focus: Sound Design and Music Beds 1 FCD 181
Focus: Sound Design and Music Beds 2 FCD 182
Focus: Lifestyle and Reality TV FCD 199
Focus: Promos and Commercials FCD 202
Extreme: Passport to Cuba XPS005
Silva Screen: The Fantasy AlbumFILMXCD360
Primetime: John Williams 40 years of Film Music TVPMCD810
RPO Records: Filmharmonic RPO 015CD
Chappell: Pop Hits CHAP AV150
Chappell: Ambient Grooves and Dub 2 CHAP AV157
Chappell: French Electronic Beats CHAP AV169
Albums of Adam Saunders compositions to be released shortly:
Bruton: Epic Choir and Orchestra
Focus: Lounge Jaz
Editor: this article (reprinted from our September 2005 magazine) is based on a feature which recently appeared in the Newsletter of The Light Music Society. We are grateful to Adam Saunders, Peter Edwards and the LMS for kindly allowing us to adapt it for ‘Journal Into Melody’.