I would like to begin by saying a great and heartfelt “Thank you!” to Birmingham City University for this honorary degree. It is indeed a great honor, and I feel happy, energized, and inspired! And it is a real pleasure to establish closer ties with this city, with its long and very fine tradition of new music.
I would also like to thank the staff of Birmingham Conservatoire for inviting me here this week. It has been an intensive period of seminars, masterclasses, rehearsals – and of course, the concerts last night and this evening with fantastic performances. I have met many wonderful people and come away with many new thoughts and new ideas. Music is truly a meeting place. Music is collaboration. So, a big thank you to everyone I have met this week.
As a composer, I am the consummate listener. I make my ears as big as I can, and I listen in on the world. I listen to people, to the earth, to roots and skies. I send feelers even further, far out into the universe. What needs to be said? What needs to take shape as music? What do we, the people living right now, need to hear?
Then I look for a sound: a concrete musical starting point, something burning, something I absolutely must investigate. It is not hard to get ideas, but to choose the right idea is an art. It takes time. It requires stillness. But once I catch hold of the core idea, which is often just a short musical cell, the music begins to unfold. Slowly. It takes a long time to decide whether a note should sound like this…(singing) or this…. It takes time, patience, and a lot of concentration. But in the end – after a lot of hard work and a lot of ”erase, try again, erase, try again”—in the end, the music usually starts to write itself. And all of a sudden, Something appears. Something I feel I could never have discovered all by myself. Something that had to be excavated, coaxed into existence. Something that – now it’s here – seems like the most natural thing in the world. Something that reaches out, towards “the other.”
Music is important for us human beings. When you emigrate and have to leave your country, like so many people these days, you carry your music with you. You bring your cuisine, and you bring your music. These things stay with you.
My music often uses forms that have accompanied humanity through the ages. Musical forms deeply bound up with what it means to be human: the call, the prayer, the incantation. The lullaby, the song of sorrow, the hymn of praise. Tradition is important, but I think we also need to find new expressions for it. And we must not lose these expressions. We must never stop resounding; never stop expressing sorrow and joy in music – we talk so much these days – never stop singing lullabies to our children. Not just listen, now that music is everywhere, always close at hand. We each have to walk at our own tempo, follow our own rhythm. And we have to sing! As the poet Guillevic wrote:
Whoever hears singing
says, “I exist;
I believe that I am
without limits any more.”
Birmingham, November 13, 2015
English translation by Robin Blanton