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Manchester composer Carmel Smickersgill
Manchester composer Carmel Smickersgill

Manchester Composer Carmel Smickersgill on her Radical New Work

Home » People » Manchester Composer Carmel Smickersgill on her Radical New Work

Carmel Smickersgill is a Manchester based composer whose recent work includes Enter Vivian, part of the Philip Glass Referactions EP; and Birthday Card for a Stranger, a joint commission to mark the 50th annivarsaries of Manchester Camerata and RNCM.

Her latest work, Actions Speak Louder is premiering as part of an evening of revolutionary music with Manchester Camerata performing in the round at Albert Hall. She talks to Quays Life about the inspiration behind it and how music can be used as a radical force to break down invisible walls.

Can you tell us about your new work?

Carmel: “Actions Speak Louder is a piece of music which gives everyone in the room a voice and the power to influence how the music sounds. It’s loud, it’s made with a sense of breaking down the invisible walls in performance spaces and it aims to prove that ‘fun’ sounding music can just as articulately express deeper thoughts usually reserved for more ’serious’ tones”.

Manchester composer Carmel Smickersgill
Manchester composer Carmel Smickersgill

What was the inspiration behind it?

Carmel: “I was thinking a lot about how non violent protest movements gain momentum, evolve and shift focus. The piece models some of these patterns and ultimately relies on people to get involved. I need to mention I worked on the concept for the piece with writer Nathan Ellis, whose work in participatory theatre was quite inspirational to the form of the piece”.

Do you take any influence from Manchester’s revolutionary past?

Carmel: “Not specifically, but I am a regular visitor to the People’s History Museum and probably feel more inspired by the revolutionary present”.

Did you compose it with the in-the-round performance in mind?

Carmel: “I did. I think a lot of the concept was driven by the closeness of the audience. It’s rare to get such an intimate setting for such a large ensemble so I was keen to write something that really leaned into that”.

What are your thoughts on this type of immersive orchestral performance? What can people expect?

Carmel: “My thoughts are largely, why not? We’ve seen orchestras perform in a similar way for years. By doing stuff differently I think it opens up the possibility of hearing familiar works in a totally different way as well as having a totally different experience with an orchestra”.

Can you explain a bit about the radical influences of the programme? Why were the two Beethoven works chosen?

Carmel: “I didn’t choose the programme so I can’t comment on the exact thinking behind it. I can however speculate that Beethoven was someone who played with musical boundaries in a radical way. I like how the 8th symphony, which is also in the programme, is often described as weird because of it’s lack of being contained to the standard symphonic form and the amount of ‘unanswered’ material in the piece. It asks more questions than it answers”.

Manchester composer Carmel Smickersgill
Manchester composer Carmel Smickersgill

As one half of group Bothy you work to create sustainable working and rehearsal spaces for musicians in Manchester. Can you tell us briefly about this?

Carmel: “Yes, myself and cellist Dan Springate have been working under the name Bothy since 2021. We both try to build relationships with institutions in the city centre to provide rehearsals space and alternative venue space. It started after being inspired by the New Diorama’s Theatre Deli, temporary rehearsal spaces in vacant office space. We continue to support classical and art music makers, performers and curators to make things happen in Manchester. As great as it is to have large orchestras in a city, I think it’s a shame for those to be the only way people can see live professional classical music. Chamber music is often the ‘gateway drug’ for a lot of people getting into larger scale works and generally involving music into their life as a source of joy, pleasure and community”.

How can people find out more?

Carmel: “They can follow me on instagram @carmelsmickersgill to hear about future shows, concerts or pieces. They can follow @bothymcr to find out who we’re supporting, and how as well as upcoming gigs from the ensembles and curators we work with in Manchester”.

Is there anything else you would like to say?

Carmel: “Support your local music scenes! Go to venues, buy beer or the fancier cans of pop, be outraged by developers taking studio or performance spaces away with no replacement. If you’re presented with tiered ticketing for a gig, be honest about whether you can afford the slightly more expensive ticket. Also enjoy it!”

Disrupters is at Albert Hall on 2 May 2024.

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Written by
Carmel Thomason
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Avatar photo Written by Carmel Thomason