Friday, 31 May 2019

Interview with Dmytro Morykit

Dmytro Morykit is aaccomplished composer and classical pianist, who has worked within many genres. He was born in Northampton, England to a Ukrainian father and Italian mother who were both displaced from their respective countries after the second world war. As a result, when he began his formal training as a pianist, aged five, he used music as his first language. A Licentiate of the Royal Academy of Music (LRAM), Dmytro is celebrated for his collaborative work with other musicians and artists, including poets, choreographers, and filmmakers. He has studied under Christina Griffin and Graeme Mayo and composes music that is not merely technical but aims to provoke and evoke an emotional response from his audience.

Currently, Dmytro concentrates on performing his own works alongside the classic silent films, Metropolis (1927) and Nosferatu (1922). He performs full piano concerts that are autonomous in nature but dance alongside and create a frisson with the films. His London premiere of Metropolis LIVE: a concert comprising twenty-nine original compositions, written over the last 30 years, received a standing ovation. His two-hour score has been described as an ‘accidental marriage’ since it was not written specifically for the film but was adapted and arranged to complement it.

  1. Tell us about your work.
At the moment, I’m piano-centric although with the new album, Gathered Stones, there are electronic and orchestral elements. I would love my work to be orchestrated more or to find lyricists, but the right connections have not been made yet. Mainly, I am known for my piano concerts, which sit alongside Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu. However, I have composed and played all my life alongside many different genres, including flirting with minimalism and working with poets and choreographers. My compositions are visual and have an emotional charge. I’d love to compose for ballet and, in some ways, Metropolis is a ballet.

  1. What aspects of your childhood inspired your musical creativity?
Wow! A difficult one as I started playing from such an early age but my first formal compositions were not until much later; my early 20s. By then, it was my response to hearing Beethoven and Chopin, which left such a strong emotional imprint. As a young child, I found language difficult because I spoke three languages: my father’s Ukrainian, my mother’s Italian and my native English. It was easy to be misunderstood across all these cultures. Also, my father couldn’t express his war trauma and I picked up on this and think it transferred into my later work.

  1. Tell us about your musical training, learning process, and particularly how your work evolved as a result of it.
My musical training was very formal, classical training. However, my teacher, Christina Griffin, was inspiring. My learning process was daily practice, exams, and practice.

  1. Tell us about your prizes and commissions. 
At age 22, in 1978, I was awarded the inaugural prize for Best Music Composition at the National Student Drama Festival, which was judged by Graham Sebastian Jones, Artistic Director of the Southbank. I wrote the music originally for a theatrical piece based on The Wasteland by T. S. Elliot created at NENE University drama department. However, due to copyright issues with Elliot’s estate, the poem had to be changed and paraphrased to Valley of the Ashes. It caused quite a stir at the festival because it wasn’t a traditional drama piece. At the end of the festival, during the prize ceremony at Southampton University Theatre, they announced they had created a new prize for best original music and before they announced the winner, I began walking down the steps from the back of the room, so when they said my name, I was already there! The confidence of Youth - from there on in it was downhill as far as prizes are concerned. It was the same year that John Godber was awarded Best Drama for Toys of Age.

In 1996, I was commissioned by poet, Angus Calder and Amnesty International to compose works for poetry based on prisoners of conscience, the 12 works included poems by Pablo Neruda to contemporary poets, such as Jack Mapanje, who wrote:
“The reading and the whole programme of putting the poem to music from the distinguished composer Dmytro Morykit is the most delightful experience that I have had. Please thank Morykit on my behalf for this wonderful rendition of my poem. Now I understand why I was finally released from prison after such huge campaigns by Angus and others. Many thanks.”

A concert and reading, Dungeons to the Sky, was performed at the Queens Hall in Edinburgh for the Commonwealth Heads of State visit that year.

In 2006, the Ukrainian Consulate General of Edinburgh commissioned a commemorative piece for the 75th anniversary of the Holodomor. I worked with the choreographer, Steinvor Palsson, to create Portrait of Evil, which was performed live, filmed, and later shown at the Sene Film Festival.

In 2012, I was shortlisted along with filmmaker, Sam Spreckley, and my partner and manager, Hazel Buchan Cameron, for the 50th Anniversary commission for the Open University. Unfortunately, during the interview of the last three candidates, I was asked ‘Why does your music have to be live?’ I’m not sure my response endeared me to the judges.

  1. Tell us about the 1927 classic science fiction silent film, Metropolis, and how you came to compose and perform a two-hour score to accompany it.
Hazel and I created a performance called Music in Manufacture, which was short films about manufacturing processes, such as glass blowing, bottle making, welding and sail making and included two of Sam Spreckley’s abstract films. I played a live concert alongside. We premiered this at the Edinburgh Fringe and received a four-star review. We then performed it at our local Art Centre in Crieff.  The cinema organiser suggested afterwards that I should create a new score for Metropolis which they would show. Hazel hadn’t seen the film and agreed a date in the diary only 8 weeks hence.  With such a short time to create the score, I had to use existing pieces and discovered that many fitted almost exactly to several of the scenes. Others had to be rearranged and I also composed a few new pieces.

  1. Your live performance for Metropolis lasts two hours, without the benefit of sheet music or any form of music notation. What preparation do you undergo for your performance, and how do you recall and synchronise your work onstage?
My music is autonomous and is not reliant on me seeing the image on-screen but having a cue to the beginning of a scene. There are 29 compositions and Hazel sits beside me to give the cue in case I have a memory lapse. I have always played my own music from memory and do not find this difficult, it’s like reciting a poem. It’s hard for me to understand when people find this surprising as it is totally natural for me to create in this way. I have hundreds of pieces of my own music in my head but in order to perform comfortably, I have to recall and practice these before a performance. I only ever use sheet music when playing other people’s work.

I practice almost daily and especially more intensely the two weeks before a concert. I build it by playing a few pieces each day and adding more in until I am playing the full score right through a couple of days before the event.

  1. Tell us about your composition and performance to accompany the 1922 classic silent film, Nosferatu.
After performing Metropolis several times, I was asked on many occasions when I was going to do another silent film. Eventually, a friend emailed about Nosferatu and I gave in and decided to do it. I’m reluctant to be type-cast as a silent film musician. The music for Nosferatu is very different to Metropolis in its scale. It is moodier and more haunting to fit with the film. Again, much of the music has been recycled from other projects including dance pieces, poetry, and contemporary short films.

  1. Tell us about your tours and concerts.
There have been over 50 performances of Metropolis and Nosferatu, most have been in the UK including several in Northern Ireland. I’ve performed in large theatres and small halls and enjoy them all. In 2018, we went further afield and took Metropolis to Helsinki and Nosferatu to Estonia, where we hope to return this year with the possibility of Riga also. Last year we took Metropolis to Canada, which was a great success, and we hope to return.

In 2016, I was invited to perform Metropolis at the Green Man Festival in Wales. It was in a large Cinedrome and I had to play a keyboard which we had to tape to the stage (even then, it began to walk away from me towards the end). My back was to the audience, so I had no idea how many people had come in and envisaged a small crowd as there were a lot of events happening at the same time. However, when I played the last note, thunderous applause engulfed the drome and I took my bow to a full house with people also standing outside. I was completely taken aback and my surprise was noted by many. The steward told me it was the only time he’d seen a venue full for the entire 2 hours of a performance. I still feel it was one of my highlights. The following year, I was asked to play at Glastonbury but the financial offer was very poor and they wanted me to bring my own piano; we usually travel by train! So, with great regret, I could not agree. That is on the flip side. I do hope to play at more festivals as it brings a new audience not only to Metropolis but to contemporary classical music.

Wilton’s Music Hall has been a Godsend. They supported me from the beginning of this project and I have returned each year since, once with a three-night run. It is always a fantastic audience at Wilton’s as they know their theatre and music.

  1. Given universal freedom, where would you most like to perform your work and why?
In 2018, I performed Metropolis in the Elgar Rooms at the Royal Albert Hall. This building is an icon of my early musical career in London when performing with my brother Roman (also a musician) in bands across the London pub and club scene. Back then, I would not have imagined that I would perform there, solo. After the performance, a doorman sought me out to say how much he enjoyed the event. I realised that this was a huge compliment as he would have seen and heard so much in that building. So, perhaps, it is not unrealistic that I could perform in the main hall. That would certainly be something special and something I feel I could live up to, especially with an orchestra.

  1. What advice would you give to someone considering a career in film soundtrack composition?
A lot of this is luck, meeting the right directors or people of influence at the right time. Perhaps, the answer is to mix as much as you can with the film world, something I never did. Networking was never my forte and it took a long time, many disappointments, and failure before I achieved a modicum of success. I still hope for more, so I’m probably not the best person to ask for advice on creating a successful career. Several times after a performance, someone will ask, ‘Why have we never heard of you before?’ I’m never sure what to answer to that. Ha-ha.

  1. What do you find most rewarding in the creative process, and how do you overcome that which you find challenging?
I find it most rewarding when I’ve worked for a length of time, and it finally begins to take shape and I believe I have created something lasting. Perseverance and focus in bucketloads are required to overcome the challenges.

  1. Who, living or dead, has inspired you and why?
Quite a list, so many will be missing. Musically; J. S. Bach, Beethoven, Mussorgsky (Pictures at an Exhibition), Rachmaninov and countless other classical composers. More recently, David Bowie, Rick Wakeman, Morricone, Kate Bush, Ella Fitzgerald, Dione Warwick, Thelonious Monk, Vangelis, Philip Glass, Iannis Xenakis, Michael Nyman, Ligeti and Annie Lennox. The pianist, Maria Yudina, and much opera and ballet music.

Other inspirations: Albert Camus, Schopenhauer, Dostoevsky, Peter Sellers, Audrey Hepburn, Briget Helm and Max Schreck. I am also a great admirer of Hitchcock films. Finally, not to forget, Sister Wendy Beckett.

  1. What other interests do you have?
Gardening and cooking - bon viveur. I have a long-term interest in ancient history, architecture, and art.

  1. Tell us a little about any good music you’ve heard recently or good books you’ve read.
I liked Regina Spektor’s voice when I heard it recently. Though, I think, like most current singers, she lacks good music to work with. I hate the ‘millennial whoop'. I’ve sung with the Ripon Choral Society and we recently performed Paul Carr’s Seven Last Words from the Cross and I enjoyed that.

At the moment, I’m reading The Stars of Robbie Burns by Catherine Smith, which I’ve found interesting because of the historical and philosophical content, which goes beyond a standard biography. I recently read Umberto Eco’s The Island of the Day Before. I’ve read a lot of his books and find him very erudite and engrossing as a writer.

  1. Where can we find you and your work?
I’m easily found, having an unusual and totally unique name, even when it is constantly misspelt.

My work is widely available on all music sites, including my covers and arrangements of other works. My preference is to play live and people can sign up for concert news via my website. I’m always happy to consider any request to play live - though, I’d rather not have to bring my own piano.

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