Composer Tom Coult is the 25th Fellow Commoner in Creative Arts at Trinity. This year the College celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Fellowship, which has enabled painters, composers, novelists, poets and a filmmaker to spend two years at Trinity. As Tom begins his two-year Fellowship, we asked him to tell us about himself and his work.
I grew up in London and played in a lot of bands once I started getting into music. Having had my interest also piqued by baroque music, I went to study music at the University of Manchester where I discovered 20th century music and got very excited about composing. I later moved back down to London in order to study with George Benjamin at King’s College London.
What do you intend to work on during your Fellowship?
The biggest project I’ll be working on is a chamber opera with writer Alice Birch, loosely inspired by Edgar Allen Poe’s short story ‘The Devil in the Belfry,’ but my first job will be to put the finishing touches to a new piece for the Arditti Quartet. I’ll also be working with the Cambridge-based Britten Sinfonia over the next year – I’m the composition mentor to their four talented young Academy composers, and I’ll be orchestrating some music by Schumann for their Academy players.
How do you feel about spending the next two years at Trinity?
I feel extravagantly fortunate to benefit from this position. It gives security, focus and time to work on my music – all rare luxuries. Being a part of the musical and intellectual life of the college will be fascinating – so many interesting people working in diverse fields. I also barely know Cambridge as a place, so I’m looking forward to exploring it by foot, by bike and by boat.
How you would characterise your work as a composer?
I try to write music that is agile and fleet of foot but highly focused. A music drawn in bold, primary colours – not necessarily lacking in subtlety or complexity, but always clear and bold in intention. To this end, I am happy for my music to flirt with a kind of mischievous naivety at times. I’ve written music inspired by Luigi Serafini’s imaginary encyclopaedia, Matisse’s cut-outs, Oscar Wilde and Cambridge’s Corpus Clock, but the main thing that drives me is the simple and sensuous joy of putting notes next to and on top of one another.
Can you tell us about a recent piece?
My most recent composition was an orchestral piece called ‘St John’s Dance’ that was performed to open the First Night of the Proms by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Edward Gardner. It was a very exciting commission – easily the most public thing I’ve done – and a mad adventure.