Tell us more about yourself, your background and your musical influences.
I was born in Toronto in 1980. My parents are both musicians and I studied music from a fairly young age, though I was never particularly good at any instruments. I started composing when I was about 16 or 17. I would plan ridiculously ambitious projects-song cycles, immense programatic symphonies, operas-and write about three or four pages of each before getting bored and moving on to the next project.
My musical influences are fairly wide-ranging. I spend as much or more time listening to popular music as I do to classical music and I think that this comes through in my works. Not that my music is particularly 'populist', but I do think that my listening habits influence my compositions. I've been on a real country kick lately-Jerry Reed, Townes Van Zandt, Emmylou Harris-and also a bit obsessed with the Janácek string quartets. I guess my music sits somewhere in between those points.
Tell us about your music - how do you decide on an idea for a piece and how do you then develop your ideas?
I'd say about 50% of the time I don't know what a piece is going to be about until it's almost finished. Well, maybe halfway finished. It's sort of a constant process of discovery of what the potential of the material is, and what directions it could go in, and also what directions it should definitely not go in. There's always a moment when you're subjecting your material to some extremely intricate process of development or transformation only to discover that the result sounds like something out of Godspell. Those discoveries are important though-you often navigate the potential pitfalls of your material by actually falling in the pits. Sometimes though I have a very clear of what I want a piece to be from the outset. Those initial ideas can be musical but they just as often come from poetry, film, television or photography. I don't really decide on those ideas-things I see, read or hear just continue floating around in my memory and sometimes the ones that don't go away end up forming the seeds of something creative.
What excites you most about working with Manchester Camerata?
I think the most exciting thing for me is the chance to develop a working relationship with the musicians of the course of the year. So often as a composer you arrive the day before a performance and get very little time to interact with ensembles. The musicians of the Camerata are absolutely fantastic-I came to the final concert of last season and was extremely impressed-and I'm really looking forward to getting to know and working with all of them.
How do you think audiences will react to your music?
I hope that they'll enjoy it! I also hope that the audiences will get a chance to get a little bit familiar with me and my language over the course of the year and the three pieces I'm going to be writing. Then, by the final concert in May, they'll already have a small window into understanding the way I work and express myself.
What you hoping to get out of the composer in residence experience?
The one thing I hope the most is that I write three good pieces of music! The composer in residence position is designed to help that as much as possible though. There are extensive workshops and rehearsals for my pieces, so hopefully by the time of the performances, all of the compositional kinks will have been worked out and the pieces will be in the optimum configuration!
The first opportunity for audiences to hear Chris's music will be on 24 November at RNCM, when cellist Hannah Roberts will perform a short piece for cello and orchestra. Click here for full concert details.