Q&A with Nick Strimple

Composer and conductor Nick Strimple, whose Music and the Holocaust event for the Pureland Series was highly praised, answers questions about his musical career and influences on the Meet the Artist website.

He explains that he was inspired to pursue such a career by Bernice Parrott, his fourth-grade music teacher, particularly in the light of one lesson on Mozart: “I remember thinking to myself that if Mozart could compose at such a young age, why can’t I?”

He cites folk music as one of his biggest influences, along with Bach, Bartok, Dvorák and Vaughan Williams.

Musing on the challenges of his career so far, he says: One of the biggest early on was managing to stay focused on my choice and not give up. This was difficult financially during the early 1980s when my daughter was an infant. She had some health issues and I needed to make more money, so aside from what I did musically I also had to work other jobs: I was a clerk in a music shop and worked as a private detective for a few years; I also worked at my church on Thursdays and Sundays. I would take any music jobs that came along – made possible because one of the perks of being a private detective was that the hours were very flexible.

Another challenge has always been to gracefully accept the frustrations that come along. Things don’t always turn out the way you want them to, and if something goes wrong in a performance there is nothing you can do about it. It is simply part of life.”

Talking about writing for commissions, he muses: “The biggest challenge of commissioned pieces is that often you are writing something you may not have been interested in writing to begin with.” Then he adds: “Of course, one of the main pleasures is the pay cheque at the end of it.”

Strimple also has to bear in mind the technical and artistic capabilities of the commissioning ensembles as he writes. While it is “nice” for performers to be stretched, he says this shouldn’t be so great that they cannot manage the end result. But he always hopes the performers will enjoy playing it – and takes pleasure from the fact that each piece gets at least one performance.

I prefer to work with people who are already familiar to me,” he says. “I know how they work and what they like, and there is more confidence in the professional relationship. You know what to expect and they also know the same about [me]. It becomes a labour of love because I understand them, what they can do and what they like.

But this creates other challenges. Currently I’m faced with the issue of older singers who want to keep working, but just can’t deliver the goods any more. This is a real issue for me because many of them are my friends.”

He says the works of which he is most proud are his two Christmas cantatas and Sinfonia Breve, which he composed for the London Symphony Orchestra, as well as Franciscan Canticles and a chamber work entitled Music for the Blue Rose.

Asked to characterise his compositional language, he says: My music is modal – based on triads that are not necessarily used in a traditional manner. My music tends to be linear, so I like contrapuntal forms. I also like to experiment with musical techniques derived from medieval music and Schoenbergian dodecaphony.”