Meet the Composer: Alex Groves

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Hear Alex’s composition in The Clements Prize final at Conway Hall on 17 October 2021!

Find out more / book tickets here.

Tell us a little bit about your background. How did you become a composer?

I had a bit of a roundabout route to becoming a composer. When I was a kid, I spent most of my spare time at sea – competing around the world as a youth sailor. I loved music but I was more of an avid listener than anything else. It wasn’t until I had to make a choice about what to study at university that the idea of a career in music started to emerge. I realised that, amongst all the topics I was doing, it was music that I went into school for. So I went off to university to study music, still intending to go back into sport afterwards. However, it was whilst I was at university that the friendships I made began to show me there was more to my obsession with music than just listening. I knew that I wasn’t really a performer or an academic, but I did enjoy creating pieces for my friends, sculpting sounds into pieces and exploring the results together. By the time I graduated, I’d set my sights on writing music for a living and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.

We are all looking forward to hearing the piece you have written for The Clements Prize 2021.  Could you say a little about it please?  We’d love to hear about the inspiration behind the music, what you think of the string trio form…

Three Forms is an undulating sea of sound with each player weaving their own way through the piece – their lines crossing one another, tangling up and suddenly coming into alignment. The three forms of the title referring equally to the three players of the trio, the three undulating musical lines and the three climaxes that appear throughout the piece. One big inspiration for the piece is the work of sculptor Barbara Hepworth (who I borrowed the title from!). Her monolithic forms and abstract contours  capture a kind of elemental quality and I love the way they suggest more than they depict. They’re a reflection of something – be it a physical place or a fleeting emotion – but their abstraction allows us to define what that is for ourselves. With my piece, I wanted to create something rich and emotive but also elusive and transient. I don’t like defining how someone should respond to my work, but instead prefer to open up a space where each listener’s reaction is valid. For me, the piece takes me back to all that time spent out on the sea – that elemental feeling of something vast and unknowable and yet so immediate and visceral too.

What are your plans for the future?  What are you going to write next?  Do you have any performances coming up?

During lockdown last Winter, I turned my hand to making some visual art. My inability to see any musical projects through to completion due to all the restrictions meant I was finding the act of composing quite disheartening. I decided to take the processes and structures I use to create my music and apply them to a visual medium. To my surprise, I found the process really enlightening – giving me a new perspective on my music and opening up new avenues of exploration. One of the pieces – Surface Image (No. 2) – was recently selected for the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition and is now on show there until January. I’ve got a couple of pieces that were postponed from 2020 in the works but the dates are yet to be pinned down, so for now I’m continuing to explore this new side to my work and letting it feed back into my music-making as it evolves.

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