Big week looms for Highbury composer

16:02 02 December 2012

Composer Jocelyn Pook. Picture: Hugo Glendinning

Composer Jocelyn Pook. Picture: Hugo Glendinning


Next week will be a busy one for leading UK composer Jocelyn Pook. Not only is she in the running for a prestigious industry award and releasing an album of the revered work which earned her the nomination on Monday, but her new song collection is also being premiered that same night.

Highbury resident Jocelyn, whose illustrious career to date has seen her work across theatre, TV and film with directors including Stanley Kubrick and Martin Scorsese, is nominated in the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (BASCA) stage works category for her critically acclaimed score written for celebrated choreographer’s Akram Khan’s dance production DESH earlier this year.

For all her success, which includes a raft of awards and Hollywood credits, it’s surprising that the mother-of-one had not set out to become a composer, feeling that she did not fit the stereotypical mould because she excelled at viola rather than the piano, despite being accomplished in both disciplines.

She said: “I always composed as a child and always studied piano and had a very encouraging piano teacher, but I didn’t have that kind of confidence to go in that direction. There was always that idea that you had to be a brilliant pianist, and a particular type that goes into composing and conducting.”

Jocelyn studied music at Guildhall School of Music but was always drawn to the stage. “I was always looking out for jobs in theatre,” she explained. “I had always wished I was doing drama rather than music.”

And that love of theatre saw her go on to compose for various theatre projects, which led to her writing for an Orange advertising campaign and eventually releasing an album. Her work then came to the attention of director Stanley Kubrick who commissioned her to pen the music for the ballroom scene in his 1999 blockbuster Eyes Wide Shut, and later the entire score.

Jocelyn, who lives by Clissold Park, said: “He brought me in very early on but he was very secretive – I wasn’t allowed to have a script and he was self-contained, but explained it to me, and showed me costumes and masks.

“In fact, Kubrick has got this reputation for being quite difficult but I never saw a hint of that dealing with him. He is such a music lover. He loved talking about music – I probably saw the very best side of him.”

Her work garnered a Chicago Film Award and a Golden Globe nomination, but Jocelyn said such interaction with the director from such an early stage when composing for films is something very rare in the industry.

Indeed, her involvement from the beginning of DESH was also important. “In dance you’re working on it right from the beginning as the choreography has to come partly out of the music,” she said. “I like to work like that, it’s kind of frustrating when you’re writing for film as you’re often literally brought in when the film’s finished.”

This week will also see Jocelyn’s song cycle Hearing Voices premiered by singer Melanie Pappenheim and the BBC Concert Orchestra at the H7steria concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in South Bank.

The work explores mental illness and is largely inspired by her great aunt’s break-down which led to her spending 20 years in an asylum.

“She shouldn’t have been there. When she died her life’s belongings were in a trunk and she had written notebooks and diaries, and she was a really talented writer. My mum wrote a book about her for the family which included her writings. That’s where I started on the project.”

The finished work now charts five women’s journey’s through mental illness – also including Jocelyn’s mother, the seamstress Agnes Richter and artists Julie McNamara and Islington’s own Bobby Baker.

And for the first time Jocelyn, who is used to performing her own work with her ensemble, will be watching in the audience. She added: “It’s unusual for me to do a work like this, when it’s out of my hands. But I’m just thrilled that it’s working.”


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