Opus 1: Getting to know... Raymond Yiu - Britten Sinfonia - News & Blog

Opus 1: Getting to know… Raymond Yiu

Meet Raymond Yiu, a composer, conductor, jazz pianist and music writer. He’s one of our Programme Leaders for Opus 1 and you can find out more about him here:

  • What inspires you to compose?

Inspirations for me come in different forms, shapes and sizes. Music, sounds, poems, paintings, photographs, stories, news, histories, interviews or even research papers. Sometimes, the seed of a new work can come from the least expected place.

A man composing at a piano

    • How did you get into composition?


  • I started piano lessons at a young age. However, with a mediocre teacher and parental pressure, I did not find enjoyment in playing, and gave up by the age of twelve. However, the skill of playing stayed with me. Gradually I realised I had the ability to play back – with elaboration – the music that I heard.
  • At the age of seventeen, I came to the U.K. to attend a boarding school in Canterbury. With the encouragement of the head of the music department, I joined the choir and jazz band (after realising I could improvise), took up piano lessons again, and most of all, started to write down musical ideas that I improvised. It was about that time I started learning to read scores, often with recordings. I want to learn to visualise and notate sounds.When I was studying Electrical and Electronic Engineering as an undergraduate, I made believe that I knew what I was doing in terms of putting sounds together. Until one day, around 1996, I picked up a record of music by the German born, American composer Lukas Foss (1922-2009). One of the works on it opened my ears and my mind. Weeks later, I wrote to him, and we started a friendship/mentorship without which I would not be who I am today.


What is the hardest thing about being a composer?

Two things. Firstly, not having enough time to consider all the possibilities in your head and to write them all down. Secondly, knowing when to stop.


What’s your biggest compositional achievement?

It is hard to choose between your children. But if I do have to single out one work of mine that I am most proud of, it would undoubtedly be Symphony. It occupies a special place in my heart partly because it was commissioned for the 2015 BBC Proms, partly it was a tribute to my late best friend and those affected by the AIDS epidemic. It is a very personal work.


  • What 3 pieces of music would you have to have on your desert island?

To choose 3 pieces is not easy as there are plenty I would like to take with me. So I go by the criteria of music that I cannot live without, or has special meaning for me:

When I first heard Lukas Foss’ Baroque Variations (1967) my world changed. This strange and beautiful work taught me how to listen, to imagine sounds and to understand the importance of manipulating memories in composition.

A work by Stephen Sondheim, possibly Merrily We Roll Along, as I consider it to be his best and most heartfelt work. I said that to the great man himself during a chance encounter in Covent Garden in 2012, during which he was visibly touched. However, Company and Sunday in the Park with George are close runners-up.

Cantopop is an integral part of my musical heritage. Its complex cultural lineage informs the way I look at musical influences and my cultural identity. Any Cantonese album of the Hong Kong singer Sandy Lam – whose career took off in the mid-1980s – plays an important part in my growing up. If I have to be specific, I think her City Rhythm trilogy (1988, 1989 and 1990) would be my top choice.

  • What is the best snack?

Nice and Spicy Nik Naks.


Find out more about Ray on his website

Click here to meet our 2022 Opus 1 composers