Daniel Kidane

Daniel Kidane is part of a new wave of British composers bringing fresh ears and raw talent to the contemporary classical scene. We learn more...

Anita Awbi
  • By Anita Awbi
  • 6 Nov 2014
  • min read
Daniel Kidane is part of a new wave of British composers bringing fresh ears and raw talent to the contemporary classical scene.

With an eclectic taste spanning everything from Olivier Messiaen and Bach to Johnny Cash and Pantera, he combines his musical flexibility with a healthy respect for the masters.

What started as a hobby, growing from Saturday music classes in Tooting, South London, eventually led to his first composition lessons at the Royal College of Music Junior Department.

He has since composed for orchestras, chamber ensembles, choral and dance, had his work performed around the world and has been namechecked by the Financial Times and The Telegraph as one to watch.

Daniel recently joined PRS for Music, so we took the opportunity to spend some time with him and learn more about his craft...

What prompted you to join PRS for Music?
’ve been meaning to join for quite a while. Then I met [classical account manager] Naomi Belshaw in Wales at a concert premiere and we got talking. I realised that now is a good time to do it. For the next year I’ve got quite a lot of concerts so I thought it would be worthwhile joining up for the royalties.

Has much of your music been recorded music or are you more performance-based at the moment?
A lot of it is performances and commissions at the moment, but some of that is also recorded. There’s a CD just out in Denmark with a piece of mine on it.

Do you find with your commissions that they get repeat performances or are they mainly premieres?
A lot of them are premieres but I tend to work with the same people – they know my music and I know their playing so we’ve formed collaborations which have been fruitful. Also there are knock-on effects where you meet other people and work on different collaborations and cross the paths of other agents and concert promoters. It’s all very network based and depends on who you know and who likes your music. It’s obviously not as big as the commercial world of pop, or even jazz, but it’s definitely got a market.

Do you notice that it’s hard for new composers to get repeat performances of their commissioned works?
Probably, yes. As a new composer, a lot of my work is focused around the 10-minute concert opener. Although that’s good for me because I get to write and I get paid a commission fee, it can be hard to spend so much time on a piece that’s given one performance and then gets locked up in a cupboard somewhere.

But, having said that, one of the features of my music is that I like to recycle it. A lot of sections and ideas appear in other pieces. I might use one piece as a starting point for something else and in that sense I’ve learned to be productive with what I come up with.

I’m also doing a research doctoral degree at the Guild Hall, and one of the things I’m going to talk about is the speed at which people discard one thing and jump onto the next in this day and age. I don’t want to say I rewrite the same pieces but it’s important for me to really get to the core of what I’m writing at that time, so I like the idea of reusing and reappropriating work.

Do you remember the first thing you wrote?
Yes, it was a piece for string quartet based on Eritrean tribal music – I’m half Eritrean. I remember hearing the music and thinking it was so cool. I really wanted to know what it would sound like if I rewrote it for strings. It was my first endeavour to interpret what was in my head and I haven’t stopped since then really.

What are your main influences? Does your musical background play much into what you write?
I suppose you’d expect my background in violin to influence my music but it doesn’t really. Although I’ve worked a lot with string players, cellists in particular. I have my favourite composers though, like Bach and Stravinsky. I’m very fond of the British school of composers like Colin Matthews, Olivier Messiaen, and my teachers, Gary Carpenter, David Horn and Julian Anderson, who have also been a big influence. It’s a big medley of sounds that have influenced me in different ways.

What are you working on at the minute?
I’ve just finished a piece for quartet that was premiered at Kings Place on 3 November for Ensemble Matisse. I’m also writing a piece that will be premiered at Spitalfields, for part of the Orgelbuchlein series, which is completing Bach’s set of organ works that were supposed to be played at services throughout the whole year. He only completed about a third of the pieces so this project is getting composers to complete it.