Gwilym Simcock: It's All Just Music
AAJ: Is playing a solo concert and then playing in a trio like being in parallel universes for you because playing solo you are so looking inwards and listening to yourself, and yet in a trio you must have an antenna out the whole time for what the other two guys in the trio are doing?
GS: There were a couple of reasons why I wanted to do a double album; one of the reasons was a boring financial one in a way because in the next year or two I'll be doing a lot of solo concerts and a lot of trio concerts, so people want to then buy something that they've heard.
So do you bring out a solo CD or a trio CD or both, and what order do you do it in? The actual cost of making a double CD is not very much more than making a single one, and in terms of promotion it's a lot easier to do that.
The other side of it is that playing in this trio I almost play less than I would in any other trio just because Yuri is doing so much.
AAJ: In the Lighthouse Trio you seem to use the whole keyboard to a far greater extent than you do in this trio.
GS: Totally, because there's no bass so I'm being the bassist there, but in this trio, my trio, it's not just that I'm the pianist and he's the bassist...there's a classic thing where a pianist has to be careful not to get in the bassist's way but it's completely the other way round in our band, because Yuri gets so high and there are so many melodic and linear things going on in what he does that I end up leaving more space for him than I would with maybe another bassist. I play quite little in this trio compared to some trios, but hopefully there is a balance. Hopefully people hear the sound of the trio and not individual sounds.
You're trying to find something that makes your trio sound different to all the millions of others and Yuri's voice is so distinctive; what he does with his instrument is quite a unique thing.
AAJ: You've been commissioned to write different music for cello, for piano and choir; when you're asked to write a piece of music does that put a special kind of pressure on you and does it give you a different type of satisfaction when you premier it?
GS: Absolutely, you've almost answered the question. For example when I get back to England I've got to write a fifteen-minute orchestral piece by the end of January  for something I'm doing in Holland. That means when I get back to England I'll just be sitting in my house getting up at eight o'clock every day in the morning and working through 'til midnight just writing music, because it's such a long process writing orchestral music. It's quite an insular existence.
Of course when you hear something back sang by a choir or played by an orchestra it's a nice feeling to know that you did that. It's something relatively new for me so I feel like I'm learning all the time. I've never had any lessons so I'm teaching myself, and studying a lot of different scores. In an ideal world you'd have a nice balance between writing and playing but it never really works out that way; you do a couple of months of touring and then you do a couple of months of sitting at home writing.
AAJ: Tell us a little bit about "I Prefer the Gorgeous Freedom;" how did that come about?
GS: I got asked to write this piece for the Norwich and Norfolk Festival which was a great opportunity. The piece was for a choir in Norwich Cathedral which is one of the most gorgeous buildings in the whole of the country. These are community choirs, they are not professional musicians so most of them don't read music and everything had to be taught by ear, which was a hell of an undertaking, really.
There was a completely open book what to do, so I sat down with the two people who run the choir, Jon Baker and Sian Croose, and they are amazingly enthusiastic people who dedicate their time to this choir. We asked ourselves what we could do and the topic of freedom as a starting point came up, something which everyone can relate to. It's always appropriate and relevant to what's going on in current affairs.
I love setting words to music, poetry and other written work and we thought we might set four or five different pieces of poetry to music and have it a s a suite. So I scoured around and found this one particular book, which was a collection of poems written by some of the detainees of Guantanamo prison, which was amazingly humbling to read.
AAJ: You just don't imagine the inmates at Guantanamo writing poetry somehow.
GS: It's incredible. I thought well, we're doing something about freedom and this is the antithesis of it, so it's really important to have that in there. On a musical level it was a great challenge because I like very chromatic and harmonically sophisticated music, but when you've got a choir of people who don't read music, that's very hard.
I had to approach the writing of the music on a completely different level and from a different starting point. It was a lot more diatonic and less harmonically dense to make it physically possible for Sian and John to teach it to the choir. It was an interesting process and there was a lot of to'ed and fro'ed maybe four or five times between London and Norwich until we eventually came up with the final version of it.
I also wanted to have four vocal soloists, almost as a safety net, because anything which was too hard for them to learn or they couldn't quite get together, then the soloists could take that on, though that was also for texture. So you've got the choir, Klaus Gesing on saxophone, four vocal soloists and the trio. Through that we could create fifty minutes of , which the choir could feel comfortable about performing and enjoy it.
At the end of the day we wanted the choir not to feel roasted and actually enjoy making the music. It has to be fun for them to come to the rehearsals after a day at work.
It was so inspiring to work with them because they just wanted to make music, and that spirit of joyful music making was so infectious and that really translated to us as the band. It was one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life, especially when we premiered it in Norwich Cathedral. Those buildings are so emotionally charged when you just step foot in them, whether you're a religious believer or not; they are just incredible spaces to be in.