Andrew Poppy

We talk to the composer ahead of a performance of his music in the BBC Concert Orchestra's '19 eighties: the rhythm of a decade' concert

Andrew Poppy

Andrew Poppy is a composer, musician and record producer whose experience spans Debussy and rock music. His work 32 Frames for Orchestra is being performed by the BBC Concert orchestra in their concert celebrating the sound of the '80s at the Southbank Centre this weekend. We spoke to him ahead of the performance.


Tell us a bit about what people can expect from this concert.
Six months ago we could have said it’s a programme of all living British composers. Sadly Steve Martland and John Tavener aren’t with us any more and they are missed. That said, a programme of all British composers is still quite rare and something to celebrate. 19 eighties : the rhythm of a decade is part of the Southbank Centre’s The Rest Is Noise festival. The BBC Concert Orchestra are performing my piece 32 Frames for Amplified Orchestra written in 1981 and I'm also playing the piano in another of my works, Almost the Same Shame. Paul Morley – whose ZTT Records I signed to as an artist and composer in 1984 – will also be providing his own thoughts as he narrates a new soundtrack to the decade, composed by Anne Dudley. 

What are your enduring musical memories of the eighties.
It’s about that change from analogue to digital. The sound of digital has a certain clarity and bite. It’s got a cool crisp edge.

Your piece 32 Frames for Orchestra opens the concert – can you tell us a bit about the work?
I remember wanting to create something for orchestra that had the perpetual motion feel of some rock music. The idea is that it’s a kind of grid which becomes a maze. You move down a very clearly defined path towards a turning but when you turn the corner, you are both back at the beginning and in a different place.

Who are your musical influences?
Stravinsky, Bartók, Debussy, Glass, Feldman, Kraftwerk, Fela Kuti – the spirit, texture and energy of all these composers are enduring inspirations. 

Which works from the '80/ do you think have been seminal or groundbreaking for the works that’s come afterwards.
This is a very hard question to answer simply. Personally, the works that were seminal for me are from the '60s and '70s. Glass/Wilson’s Einstein on the Beach to name just one. In the '80s Alfred Schnittke and John Adams were building connections between the experimental and minimal music of the '60s, '70s and pop whilst perhaps also rebuilding connections with 18th and 19th-century European classical music. There were lots of things converging, and it’s interesting that the sampler develops after this eclecticism emerges. You can hear a great example of a hybrid ensemble in Schnittke’s Faust Cantata with the electric guitar, bass guitar, synths and a pop vocal. This hybrid ensemble is something that I’ve always been drawn to. It’s something about working in studios where you can balance any given sound with any other sound. The seminal orchestral work of the '80s for me would be Morton Feldman’s Coptic Light. The way he works with pattern and texture is extraordinary. But I don’t think he would have done it without all the music based on repetitive patterns developed by Glass, Reich and Riley. 

'19 eighties : the rhythm of a decade' with the BBC Concert Orchestra takes place at Southbank Centre's Queen Elizabeth Hall at 7.30pm on Saturday 30 November. There will be a free pre-concert talk at 6.15pm.

The concert will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 and available to listen again for seven days at the Radio 3 website. Visit the BBC Concert Orchestra's website for more information.


Photo: Henrick Knudsen