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Guest Picks: Emma-Ruth Richards

Emma-Ruth Richards has composed music for ensembles ranging from the London Sinfonietta to Opera North. She cites musical influences ranging from Bach to Unsuk Chin – not to mention the inspiration she draws from visual art and literature, whether CS Lewis or Imran Qureshi. Yet her compositional voice is wholly distinctive and unmistakably direct, though her aim, she says, is merely to write ‘music that speaks clearly and powerfully’.

We caught up with Richards to learn more about her music and also, find out what’s on her playlist in our latest Guest Picks.

‘My music is often infused with a sense of urgency, intimacy, darkened beauty and drama’

‘My approach to writing a new work greatly depends on the situation I find myself in at any one time and is often charged by emotional experiences and challenges that I have been living in/dealing with. Ernest Hemingway once said that you should ‘write hard and clear about what hurts’ and whilst a powerful feeling will drive me to my desk to write it is often works of architecture, artwork, installations, photography or text that help me structure and mould my ideas into something logical and coherent.’

‘My music is often infused with a sense of urgency, intimacy, darkened beauty and drama. My temporal vision for a work is brought about through an intricately crafted harmonic language with reverence for tradition alongside the fearless unleashing of brutal sounds at extreme pressure points. I often think about how my music is going to come across to the performers and it is therefore a particular honour to be writing for Britten Sinfonia who are not only amazing performers but also musicians who are passionate about understanding new music and its creators.’

Bach, Partita no 2, BWV 1004
The Chaconne is a spiritually powerful piece that reveals the utmost, deepest of thoughts and the most powerful feelings. Listening to it makes me feel everything at every extreme imaginable. It is, for me, one of the most wonderful, incomprehensible pieces of music ever written.


Tavener – The Hidden Face
The cantorial prayer-like solos between the counter tenor and oboe are transmuted across time and space, with the strings acting as a bridge between here and somewhere else. It draws me into the heart of silence and my mind into my heart.


Stravinsky – Symphonies of Wind Instruments
The textural and architectural streamlining is significant and startling. I am drawn to how Stravinsky chooses to isolate the themes / motives with an almost thematic use of silence, where all nonessential details are trimmed away, resulting in beautiful clarity.


Scarlatti – Keyboard Sonata in B minor, K87
Every time I listen to this I treasure the struggle of the opening, mournful theme as it moves towards the upper register of the keyboard. Whilst the second subject does rise higher it doesn’t dispel its sense of sorrow. Through almost unbearably tense chains of suspensions it yearns deeply even as it rises and I’m imprisoned waiting for its eventual resolution.


Discover more music on our Spotify profile.

Britten Sinfonia perform the world premiere of Emma-Ruth Richards’ New work on Saturday 2 December

Photo: Keith Malone