LONDON (Reuters) - Welsh composer Paul Mealor had the thrill of a lifetime when one of his choral works was played at the April wedding of Britain’s Prince William to Catherine Middleton, but he gave his piece of royal wedding cake, which came in a special box, to his mum.
How could he not? She’d even bought a new hat to watch the royal wedding, including her son’s choral piece “Ubi Caritas” played for a worldwide television and online audience estimated at 2.4 billion people, at the family home.
“I quite fancied eating it, but I gave it to my mum,” Mealor, 35, told Reuters in an interview to mark the release this week of the first commercial CD of his choral music, “A Tender Light” (Decca 2781149), performed by the Tenebrae Choir under Nigel Short.
It is all a bit of a breathless rush to fame — at least in classical music terms — for a relatively unknown composer who by his own admission is a big fan of the royals, especially the younger generation, and a bit of a “young fogey” to boot.
“I get some stick for it,” said Mealor, affable, bespectacled and a bit bemused by the lunches, news conferences and chauffeured limousines attendant on an album launch.
Everyday life for him, he says, consists of living alone in a house on the northern Welsh Anglesey coast, without electricity — but with running water, he hastens to add — and eating his meals off a grand piano that doubles as a table.
“I feel at home by the sea, with the sound of it,” said the son of a fisherman, whose aforesaid mom used to play Mahler symphonies on the phonograph to calm down her hyperactive child.
“The movement kind of finds its way into my music,” he added.
Here’s what else he had to say about his musical influences, how his work links up with that of others in what he sees as a new choral tradition of singable music, and the magic of having his piece included in the royal wedding.
Q: How did you wind up with a career in music, given your love of the sea and your father being a fisherman would suggest an alternate occupation?
A: “My grandmother was musical and also my uncles played in brass bands, I played in one myself and sang in church choirs. But it was at the age of nine, I suddenly realised I was going to die, that my life wasn’t infinite, it wasn’t going to go on forever. I was in a field in Anglesey and I had a huge grip of fear and that’s when I started my lifelong journey to discover what happens afterwards. I turned to faith — Anglican — I started attending church and singing in the choir. And that’s also when I started composing.”
Q: You studied with the noted fellow Welsh composer William Mathias, from an early age, but who else are your musical influences and how would you describe your style?
A: “It’s almost become a cliche to mention (16th century Tudor composers) like Thomas Tallis, Thomas Tomkins and Orlando Gibbons but all that music which is what I liked as a child finds its way into my own music and I try to do my own settings. As a young student I experimented with (avant garde) music like Stockhausen, I got into all those composers, but then I went right back to my early music, Tallis, Gibbons, and I try to create music that is very much of our time but could have been sung anytime.”
Q: This type of clear, airy but modern choral sound, you’re not alone doing it.
A: “I’ve come across any number of other composers doing this, Gabriel Jackson, Tarik O’Regan, Sir John Tavener, in the U.S. Morten Lauridsen. And perhaps this is a bit of a big statement to make, but just like the Tudor period there is a zeitgeist of (musical) language, they are individual but they are part of a school and it seems to me to be what is happening now in choral music — all of these composers engaged in this one type of school but with individual voices.”
Q: So what’s it like to be a young composer whose piece is plucked almost out of the air by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge as a new work they would like performed at their wedding in Westminster Abbey, for a world audience of billions?
Writing by Michael Roddy, Editing by Paul Casciato