Getting to know... David John Roche - Britten Sinfonia

Getting to know… David John Roche

Meet David, a composer whose music is influenced by heavy metal, lush orchestra music and his working-class Welsh background.

He’s part of our Magnum Opus residency for the 2023 season.

A man with a beard smiles with his mouth open

What excited you most about being part of Magnum Opus?
Writing music for Britten Sinfonia’s roster of absurdly spectacular musicians! Nicholas Daniels’ performance of Carter’s Oboe Concerto, Tom Gould performing with James Macmillan in King’s College Cambridge, and Huw Watkins’ Spring being programmed in the same concert as my Waves of Love in 2022 are things that vividly sit in my memory, but Britten Sinfonia is nothing but exceptional. The burden is on me to make the most of this opportunity – it’s not something I take lightly.

Who has been your biggest musical influence so far?
Probably my brother, John Metcalf, and the rock music scene in South Wales when I was a teenager. Without this scene, I wouldn’t have learned to write music, I wouldn’t have had chance to test it on stage, I wouldn’t have attempted to perform in front of audiences, and I wouldn’t have developed a thick skin (or a great haircut).

What inspires you to compose?
I feel compelled and obsessed rather than inspired. When the right idea comes, I can’t turn away from it. I’m on the sofa, in the car (not driving, obviously), and I’m spending every spare minute working on it. It demands my attention.

What’s your favourite set up to compose for?
The orchestra – I love the scale, the colour, and the spectacle. That said, my heart’s an open book, and part of being a working composer is finding space for your voice in the context of a given ensemble. Thinking about instruments abstractly also removes the consideration of the performer and this is an issue. Who I am writing for is as important as what I am writing for – this is true for orchestras too.

If you could write a brand-new piece for anyone in the world, who would you choose?
Yuja Wang. She is hammering, technical, showy, polarising, and a total superstar. I saw her perform at Tanglewood in the Summer (I’m back there next year with a Tanglewood Music Centre Commission) and – I don’t care what anyone says – it was such an awesome event. I knew her discography, but I felt like I’d been to see Metallica or something. Just amazing.

Otherwise, I’d really like to write for Sean Shibe, the National Youth Orchestra of Wales, and Sandbox Percussion. I’d also love to compose more quartets for the Solem Quartet, and I’d murder to write for the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra or the BBC NOW again. I like working with people and organisations over long periods of time.

What 3 pieces of music would you have to have on your desert island?
Megadeth’s Rust in Peace album (‘Tornado of Souls’ if you’re only allowed 1 song – it’s Marty Friedman’s greatest solo by a country mile). Common Tones in Simple Time by John Adams, it reminds me of long drives, long nights, and working in retail – it just takes me somewhere else. I’m also going to say You’ll Be Fine by Hot Mulligan because I’ve had that album on repeat for the best part of 2 years. Also, their Shell Pink Yamahas will age like milk left on a radiator (and I want one).

What is the best snack?
I used to love those stands where they’d blend chocolate bars into milkshakes. So yeah, I think I’d say a white Lion Bar (neglected in their own right) milkshake. Can’t go wrong with a Crunchie either (senza milkshake).

Find out more about David on his website