Composer Patrick Hawes is busy working on a very English collection of movements...
PUBLISHED: 12:53 14 April 2010 | UPDATED: 17:02 20 February 2013
...for an extremely prestigious commission. Abigail Saltmarsh went to meet him.
At his tranquil Norfolk home, composer Patrick Hawes is busy working on a very English collection of movements for an extremely prestigious commission. Abigail Saltmarsh went to meet him.
Pictures: Bill Smith
From his music room at his Broadland home, Patrick Hawes can look out across the countryside and watch the seasons change through the glass. This timeless backdrop is probably the composers great inspiration, just one small corner of the English rural scenery that so enthuses him and that informs not only the classical music he has become known for but also the great pieces he is currently working on.
Patrick, who moved to Norfolk four years ago, has been commissioned to write four pieces of music for the Prince of Wales. Together, the compositions will make up The Highgrove Suite, four movements that will be premiered at the royal residence on June 8 and performed by leading British musicians including royal harpist Claire Jones.
I do feel profoundly honoured to have been asked to do this, says Patrick. I remember driving back to Norfolk after the meeting where we discussed it, sitting down at home and then suddenly feeling very moved.
Not only was it the enormity of the commission, but to have spent an hour in the company of the future king was something really very special indeed.
Patrick, who was born in Grimsby, spent most of his childhood in Lincolnshire where his parents were publicans. At the age of five, he began taking music lessons from the pub pianist and soon became so passionate about it that of his own volition he would get up early every morning to ensure he could play for at least an hour and a half before school.
My brother Andrew believes my ability was influenced by the fact that my bedroom was above the pubs concert room and that I absorbed the music as I was sleeping!
Neither of my parents was very musical. I think they thought that by giving me lessons I would eventually be able to play the piano in the pub for them. But I ended up wanting to play Mozart sonatas instead! he says.
At the age of 11, Patrick went off to board at De Asten School, in Market Rasen, and there his extraordinary ability was identified and nurtured.
By pure chance when I was in the fourth year they also introduced O Level Music for the very first time. This enabled me to engage with the academic side of music, he remembers.
But while much of his contented childhood was spent at the piano, other experiences were to inform his future too. Because my mum and dad had to work all through the summer we would take our family holidays in the autumn half term. We always went for a week on the Norfolk Broads and I loved it. All my family were there grandparents, uncles and aunties, cousins and my brother and it was so beautiful. Those holidays in Norfolk were among the happiest experiences of my childhood, he recalls.
After school, Patrick went on to study a BA (Hons) in Music and then a MA in early baroque music at Durham University. From there he went into teaching, taking up a post at Pangbourne College in Berkshire, where he initially intended to stay for two years but ended up for nine.
It was there that I found my vocation, he says. I taught English as well as music, and through the rich imagery of the English novel felt inspired to compose. The first music I wrote as an adult was for a school production of King Lear.
Parents of boys at the school picked up on Patricks gift and were soon helping him make contacts within the world of commercial music. Within six months he had written some promotional music for the BBC.
Once I had found an outlet for my creativity I started to produce a wealth of music. I was commissioned to write a piece of music for the school chorale society, The Wedding at Cana, and I also began to collaborate with my brother, who had entered the priesthood and had always written a lot. He wrote the words and I would set them to music.
Patrick was then asked to become composer in residence at independent school Charterhouse, where Vaughan Williams, one of his greatest influences, had been a pupil. He was there for seven years, still teaching but with greater freedom to focus on his compositions. Commercial projects saw him work on music for TV adverts for WH Smith, British Gas and Sainsbury. He wrote works such as The Lincolnshire Song Cycle with Andrew and a childrens opera, A Kings Ransom.
By 1999 I had reached a stage where I felt able to become a full-time composer. I rented a boathouse on the Thames at Maidenhead and then conceived and wrote my first commercial album, Blue in Blue, which was heavily inspired by the river setting, he says.
With the album came widespread recognition. Not only was it nominated for a Classical Brit Award but it became Classic FMs CD of the week and was voted by listeners the fastest ever and highest entry in the radio stations Hall of Fame.
From there more works followed. In March 2008, the world premiere of Patricks Lazarus requiem was held at The Cadogan Hall, and more albums came Towards the Light, Song of Songs and his latest release, Fair Albion. As a result of the success of Blue in
Blue I was also invited to become the second composer in residence at Classic FM. While I was there I wrote 12 pieces for the piano, which became Towards the Light. These pieces were, in fact, inspired by Patricks move to Norfolk, which came in 2005, and his love of the countys coast, sunsets and skies, as well as its rural beauty.
One of them, Stargazer Final is about an amazing Norfolk night sky in the middle of winter, he explains. In 2008, in the wake of his growing success, Patrick was commissioned by the Prince of Wales to write a piece for his 60th birthday.
It was for a concert at Covent Garden with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and royal harpist Claire Jones as a soloist, he says. The Prince gave me free reign and I decided to write a piece based on his garden at Highgrove.
For me it seemed to sum up that rural spirit of pure Englishness that is so important to me. I decided to write about one area called The Stumpery, which is made up of knarled tree stumps. There is a memorial to the Queen Mother there, as well as Prince William and Prince Harrys tree house. In the middle of a glade is a statue of the Goddess of the Woods, which is what the piece is called, he says.
It was very well received. After the performance I met him and he told me how thrilled he was that an area of his garden had inspired me. When I told him I could have written another three pieces, a private audience was arranged and we met up to discuss it.
At the meeting not only was the commission for three further movements to be added to the Goddess of the Woods to make up the Highgrove Suite discussed, but Patrick was also invited to become an ambassador for the Princes Foundation for Children and the Arts.
This organisation aims to introduce children from under-privileged backgrounds to the arts and to inspire their creativity. In his role as ambassador Patrick plans to make a film of the creative process of composing the movements.
I am also hoping to take some children from a school in Great Yarmouth to Highgrove to share with them the inspiration of this beautiful garden, he explains. Patrick, who is an extremely prolific composer, has also recently released his Fair Albion: Visions of England album, which includes Norfolk-inspired pieces such as Fenside and How Hill, and features recordings by Julian Lloyd Webber and Elin Manahan Thomas.
He has written the musical score for film The Incredible Mrs Ritchie and has hopes one day of launching a Broadland-based music festival that would see performances in some of the countys most beautiful churches by leading musicians. I have some roots here and I intend to firmly implant them, says Patrick, whose grandparents were born in the county. I dont think I will ever leave Norfolk.
I find here that sense of Englishness that I still feel is so fertile and holds so much potential for the future. This is one of the areas Prince Charles and I discussed great classical music does not have to be a thing of the past and here in England we have so much to celebrate.
He adds: Norfolk itself is such a place of inspiration and I hope to continue to be able to express in music all that this county has to offer.
For more information on Patricks work visit www.patrickhawes.com