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In Conversation with Nicky Spence and Thomas Kemp

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As one of the most celebrated composers of his generation, Mark-Anthony Turnage has written a great number of large-scale orchestral works and operas, including his most recent commission for the Royal Opera House, Anna Nicole.

The renowned chamber group, Chamber Domaine with their conductor and artistic director Thomas Kemp, on their new disc on the Resonus label present a selection of world premiere recordings of Turnage's chamber works composed in recent years. Included in the programme is the characterful piano quartet Three for Two, the compelling piano trio A Slow Pavane, the varied Four Chants for violin and piano as well as the energised Grazioso! for ensemble.

Chamber Domaine are joined by the outstanding young tenor Nicky Spence for the central work of the album, the song cycle about love - A Constant Obsession. I caught up with Nicky Spence and Thomas Kemp over apple juice and lemon cake to discuss the new recording.

We began by talking about some of the latest contemporary operatic works to have hit the London stages; Spence, of course, was involved in Nico Muhly's Two Boys that premiered at the end of last season. Kemp and I discussed the critics approach to hearing a new piece for the last and the constraints of review deadlines, he said, "I would defy, having done a lot of contemporary work, anybody to make a judgement from one hearing, because the amount you retain is not very much" - It's true, I remarked having seen 'Anna Nicole' and more recently 'The Passenger" twice before making up my mind properly.

Conversation turned to 'Anna Nicole' and naturally Turnage himself, Kemp began by saying, "I like his music, its just Turnage" - He is a recognisable composer by ear. Kemp commented on Turnage's seemingly ensemble specific compositions, "Turnage is like one of the musicians, he writes specifically for the player".

I asked of Turnage's involvement in the project and Spence informed me "he was so dedicated" and insisted that "you can't have an organic experience if the composer is micro-managing and interfering" - Kemp concurred and said, "He is incredibly honest... He lets you play and won't disrupt or interfere... He did make some corrections and indeed re-orchestrated various parts but he let us, in a time pressured environment, make decisions and interpret which hasn't always been my experiences with composers".

A Constant Obsession is a song cycle formed from the poems of several English writers that composes the text for the cycle, the cycle was previously sung by Mark Padmore by on this disc is sung by the brilliantly agile and romantic young tenor Nicky Spence. Nicky Spence explained his thoughts on the cycle: "The first song is an introduction and encapsulates the whole song cycle as it uses lines from each of the other song... The poets are all from different eras which makes the poems the glue that brings everything together...It is like a monologue; I did learn the text first before the song"

Kemp agreed saying that "Nicky's voice is brilliantly suited to this piece" and that "The poems hang together as a set".

Nicky began to discuss the last song that he seemingly found enchanting, "Something about the last song that is so simple - it's from your heart to the listener".
Kemp continued, "There is feeling the piece, the situation, continues after its finish with this recurring theme that is repeated".

Kemp then began to talk about contemporary classical music more generically and how "you can explore contemporary classical music without being pinned down" - it seemed the artistic process of this recording was fresh and creative; Spence followed saying that "Mark's music is honest, I love that organic feel to his music".

Finally Nicky Spence turned to Thomas Kemp and said, "We're so lucky to be working with living composers".

Mark Anthony Turnage's A Constant Obsession, with the Chamber Domaine conducted by Thomas Kemp and with tenor Nicky Spence, is out now and can be bought from iTunes or by clicking on the link for £7.99. This disc is on the label Resonus Classics.