Simeon Walker, composer & pianist

Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?

My parents were hugely supportive of anything that I did in general, but particularly with regards to music. They funded the learning of numerous instruments and years of lessons, came to all my performances (and still do, as much as possible!), encouraged me in all I did, and created an atmosphere where music was simply an essential part of life. I’m so grateful for that, and the love for music that they fostered in me. They’re the kind of people that would be proud of me whatever I ended up doing, but I know that for me have forged a career as a musician is very pleasing for them.

I’ve always been creative, but I especially enjoyed the thought of creating something new. The fact that new melodies are still to be found and created after so many centuries of musical history, I find incredible and so interesting.

Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?

My piano teacher, Jeremy Kimber, was a huge influence on my musical life. Most of what I know and am as a musician is because of him and his teaching. He created the perfect balance of guidance and development, whilst helping me to see the multiple different ways I could move in. I remember when still fairly young, I would bring manuscript’s full of illegible and outrageous musical information to lessons, which he would gamely – and respectfully – attempt to bring to life on the piano. When, in my mid-teens, I began to explore Jazz, he enthusiastically supported my exploration, despite it not being his favoured genre.

What have been the greatest challenges/frustrations of your career so far?

The greatest frustration I have is that I took a long time to fully trust in myself and my ability. Whilst this isn’t something that many others haven’t experienced, and is certainly a common thing amongst angst-ridden creatives, I wish I’d had greater conviction in myself at an earlier age.

Of which works are you most proud?

My new album ‘Mono’ is the product of over a year’s worth of work; improvising, performing, composing, reflecting; feeling. I deliberately stopped some of my teaching work to give myself more time to work on the project, and when you take a risk like that, there’s always a nagging sense of “what if I make something rubbish?”. Thankfully, I’m very proud of the record that I have made and the increased audience that are hearing my music.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

In recent years, I have truly learnt the value of leaving space in my music. To allow the listener time to think and time to feel. Life is incredibly cluttered these days, and music has always been my escape. I find it humbling that others have found a similar escape whilst listening to my music, so I continue to seek the healthy balance between enough musical complexity to satisfy even myself, and the space I know I need to leave to enable the response I’m looking for.

I value the principle behind a minimalistic outlook on life. Without wishing to be provocatively paradoxical, I feel that my music has a warming quality; an invitation to hibernate from the world, all whilst having quite a cold quality to the sound.

I’m definitely a big fan of the principle of not playing more than is absolutely necessary to convey the mood you’re trying to invoke.

How do you work?

I hugely value the process of improvisation. I tend to start most of my practice sessions with a period of improvisation, where I allow the thoughts, feelings, emotions to come through in how I play. I like to think of it as playing how I feel.

Most of the ideas that have become fully formed pieces of music have come from these moments, often fairly early in the morning. I love that time of the day, for it’s freshness, clarity and stillness.

I’ll spend lots of time sketching out lots of different ideas; alternative melodies, harmonic and rhythmical development. I like to record ideas from an early stage. However, I try to avoid being too clinical and agonise over new ideas, so as not to lose that spark or sense of excitement at a potentially new idea.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

I have a very broad range of musical interests. Within the Classical world I’ve always been most interested in the Romantic and later-era composers: Chopin, Debussy, Satie. From the Jazz world the greatness of Bill Evans has always been a huge draw for me, whilst I find the more modern work of Brad Mehldau to be captivating.

The music I am making these days is primarily because of discovering a new wave of pianist/composers from Europe, who – whilst the labelling of a genre has many pitfalls – loosely fit within what many call Modern Classical. People such as Nils Frahm, Olafur Arnalds and Max Richter have redefined the idea of Modern Classical music – it has an inherently cinematic quality; often soft, calm, fuelled by rubato. The aspect of being able to leave space between notes, particularly not overplaying for it’s own sake was a powerful discovery, and has allowed me to find my own musical voice.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

There are many. Seeing Evgeny Kissin play at Symphony Hall in Birmingham when I was very young and still falling in love with the piano. Sufjan Stevens in Manchester touring his ‘Carrie & Lowell’ album – somehow managing to make a heartbreaking performance feel uplifting.

But my favourite would be…In 2008, I was in Denmark for the Copenhagen Jazz Festival for the first time. I fell in love with the city as I tramped round loads of small bars and venues, with most concerts being free entry. It had been a fairly last minute decision to go, and I’d just finished university, so wasn’t flush with money! I looked in the programme and saw that Brad Mehldau was playing with his Trio in the Glass Hall Theatre (Glassalen) in Tivoli Gardens later that evening. I checked the availability, and there were a few left. It was by far the most expensive concert I’d bought at the time. The evening was magical, mind-blowing and the best spur of the moment decision I’ve made.

What is your most treasured possession?

I have the upright piano on which I spent most of my childhood practicing in my house. It’s a Rönisch, and it’s just perfect. I recorded the album on it – and it sounds so warm and full for an upright.

Simeon Walker’s debut album ‘Mono’ was released on 24th of November 2017

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