Josephine Stephenson on composition - Britten Sinfonia

Josephine Stephenson on composition

Josephine Stephenson is a Franco-British musician based in London, and is being commissioned to write a new piece for Britten Sinfonia Academy, Writhen, which will be performed during lunchtime concerts in July 2019. We had a chat with Josephine and got to know a little bit more about her, what her influences are and her career so far…

Josephine Stephenson © Brian Sweeney

Josephine Stephenson © Brian Sweeney

What’s your earliest musical memory?
I was three years old, and while we completed a jigsaw puzzle of Noah’s ark my Dad would play a record of Mahler’s Third Symphony, linking the various themes to different groups of animals. Very dramatic indeed, but a great way to learn about the instruments that make up a symphony orchestra!

What has inspired you most recently?
A couple of weeks ago I went to see a dance piece at Salder’s Wells which completely blew my mind. Called Vessel, it was a collaboration between the French-Belgian choreographer Damien Jalet and the Japanese sculptor Kohei Nawa, in which they attempt to blur the line between body and sculpture. The dancers’ bodies were shown in ways you’d never have imagined are possible. It was utterly mesmerising, and a refreshing reminder of the fact that however well we think we know something, there will always be ways to reinvent it and see it in a new light. This particularly struck me as an important thing to keep in mind when thinking about music.

What advice would you give to aspiring composers?
Learn as much as possible about instruments and how they are played, as well as notation, making sure your scores are always as clear as they can be. Find opportunities for your music to be heard and make it happen. Be curious and have an open mind, listen to a lot of different things, believe in yourself and don’t be afraid of taking risks, but also never forget to chase those butterflies in your stomach that got you started.

What’s your musical guilty pleasure?
I’ve always been a fan of some pop music which my old composition teachers would probably frown upon – in recent years from artists such as Christine & The Queens or Grimes. Though I’m not sure how guilty I feel about it, because listening and dancing to it feels so good.

If you turned your iPod on now, what would be playing?
Right now… I believe we would land somewhere in the middle of the Australian singer-songwriter Julia Jacklin’s latest album, Crushing, which I’ve been enjoying a lot.

Which musical instrument do you wish you could play, and why?
I’d love to try and play the theremin, to feel like a magician and look as cool as Leon Theremin in the pictures of him and his instrument. I’d definitely also wear the suit.

If you hadn’t been a musician what might have happened, or not happened, in your life and career?
At the end of my schooling in France I was pretty much set to go down the route of becoming an engineer – at least that’s what my teachers intended for me, I’m not sure I would have survived a scientific classe préparatoire. Instead I imagine I might have gone into academia, possibly linguistics or philosophy, which I studied for a short period of time in Paris before moving to the UK.

Career highlight?
The opera I wrote with Antoine Thiollier in 2016, Les Constellations – Une Théorie, (a collaboration between the theatre company L’Éventuel Hérisson Bleu and music company Miroirs Étendus, co-produced by Lille Opera), which we performed four times in the north of France. It was by far the most rewarding project to see come to life. Arranging three David Bowie songs for the Proms earlier that same year was pretty great too.

You can be among the first to hear Josephine’s new piece in At Lunch Four, 16-18 July 2019 at Cambridge’s West Road Concert Hall and Norwich’s St Andrew’s Hall.

You can support Josephine’s new commission via Musically Gifted and receive signed scores, complimentary tickets to the world premiere and even meet the composer.