Vic Hoyland

Interview with Graham Treacher

Essex-Xingu souvenir programme page 4

Essex-Xingu souvenir programme page 4

Extracts from an interview with Graham Treacher, Essex Youth Orchestra Conductor, by Alison Love (1979)

Graham Treacher has been involved in conducting young people since the early 60's, and particularly in promoting new music.

After training at the Royal Academy of Music he formed the London New Music Singers, a professional choir which gave the first English performances of many 20th Century Classics as well as commissioning new works.

He spent two years at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, at the invitation of Sir Georg Solti, and became Associate Conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra for three years.

He is at present involved with the performance side of a new degree course at the University of York. Graham Treacher is a founder member of the Amati Ensemble performing Baroque Music.

“It was while we were performing an earlier piece of Hoyland's, EM, at the University of York that I first saw him and the Essex Youth Orchestra work together. His primary quality is the use of sound and colour as ends in themselves, and the physical nature of his music makes it eminently suitable for children. A great deal of his work is concerned with language, not in the conventional sense of setting words, as in Handel's “Messiah", but rather the sound of words, the way languages are built-up. EM, for example, is an extravaganza of phonetics for two choruses, a development of the rhythms of speech without syntax."

"In Xingu what Hoyland has done is to challenge children. It's a very difficult piece and he has made no concessions, in fact, has made tremendous demands on them, instrumentally and dramatically. The form of the piece opens up the whole question of theatre and music, with symphony orchestras, choruses, the use of large spaces. It was because I knew Hoyland would do that instinctively that I asked him to write this jungle oratorio."

"The major influences on Hoyland’s work are composers who have shared that basic elemental style. His starting point, maybe, is Webern. Hoyland’s analysis of the Webern Symphony is the best I've heard; and it’s important to say ‘heard’ because he is always concerned with the sound of sounds. He doesn't talk about them, he actually sounds them. His lectures are usually full of half sentences, and thrusts: he says, 'He does that' and his hand, goes out vertically or horizontally to describe a melody, meaning of course that it generates an energy which is moving. He is interested in Berlioz and Debussy, in this characteristic of using rhythm and colour as the basic constituents of his art. He's fascinating on a wide range of composers and styles going back to medieval times, and to all kinds of ethnic music. What is universal in any culture he takes, and uses it to express his particular interests, his particular creative talents."

"I have always been committed to working with contemporary composers. After all, one should always start by speaking the language of the Twentieth Century before working back in time, and in terms of music I think that is especially important when working with children. They have problems, not with style, but with their own conditioning. Mary of the things that composers do they find hard to accept because they aren't allowed to do that themselves: there is a barrier, usually the barrier of the adults, which has to be overcome."

Hoyland has asked them to do a great many things in Xingu which, because they're so-called 'serious musicians' they find strange, and the suspicion that what they're playing is not 'real music' can create certain prejudices, even a certain resentment. Therefore it's important to uncover a basic instinct which is there in everyone, and to make that relevant to playing each particular instrument in the orchestra. That is a battle which I love. The orchestra is at one moment a disciplined group of a hundred skilled musicians, and at the next moment a seething mass of individuals, all reacting to a challenge in a different way. The formidable tasks which Hoyland’s work creates extend the boundaries of each musician simply by attempting to play parts which are phenomenally difficult, they find themselves doing things that they would not before have believed were possible. That is, I think, a particular value of contemporary music, and something which only contemporary music can achieve. Varese has said: ‘There is no music of the past, only music of the present': If children have no idea what Twentieth Century Composers are like, they tend to think of music as a thing of the past, a museum occupation for Sundays and high days and holidays, and not a thing which is part of everyday life.”

Graham Treacher, 1979

"I started my career conducting children before going on to work with professionals. I spend a lot of time working with young people, and I often prefer it, because I am myself energetic, and I like an energetic response. One of my favourite aspects of conducting, for example, the Essex Youth Orchestra, is that during rehearsal I can indulge in all kinds of creative fantasies in quest of that response. I love to suggest preposterous things that would never have occurred to them, in the hope of relating sound to living in its wider sense. That is something one can do quite naturally with children, reinstating the basic instincts which their education may very often cover up. For that reason I love conducting young people, and think I always shall. They are also extremely demanding: technically the standard of the Essex Youth Orchestra is extraordinary in terms of what it would have been twenty years ago. It’s a question of dealing, not simply with children, but with real professional potential, and that for me provides a huge challenge. Their dedication is phenomenal: I've only met isolated cases of professional musicians who show the same vitality and determination later on in life that my youth groups have. When we rehearsed in Clacton for a week last Easter, they were working for seven hours a day, with no questions asked, and then jumping into the sea in the evening; and then sometimes going back and playing some chamber music after that."

"Conducting seems to be the thing in which I find most fulfillment, for the sheer reason of the physical movement it involves. Ultimately I am, like many people, a disappointed acrobatic clown: I love the communication of ideas through movement. I know, for example, when I've conducted badly because my body tells me that I haven't used it correctly, that is, haven't used it rhythmically, and as a consequence I feel stiff afterwards. On the other hand, the effort of conducting can actually cure illness. I've gone on to a platform suffering from 'flu and come away perfectly healthy: the sense of physical unity generates its own energy."

“I also have a strong interest in mountaineering, although I lack the time to do a great deal. One of my ambitions was realised last Autumn when I went to the Himalayas, l took a tape recorder with me, and it was the first time I’d combined music and mountains, and the recordings I made thrill me to go on and do more: it was the perfect merging of two passions. My other ambition is to become self-sufficient. l started life as a farmer: when I was eighteen I was conscripted to go to the army, but instead went on the land where I stayed for three years, earning enough money to go to the Royal Academy of Music. If haymaking was finished before harvesting I used to go off climbing in the Isle of Skye or somewhere similar. I was very young and impressionable, and having lived the life of the seasons then I've never forgotten it. It's this marvellous relationship of the physical, of nature, with music, which represents all the things that I want to go on doing."