Cheryl Frances-Hoad





Cheryl's music has been described as “like a declaration of faith in the eternal verities of composition” (The Times), with “a voice overflowing not only with ideas, but also with the discipline and artistry necessary to harness them” (The Scotsman). Classical tradition, along with diverse contemporary inspirations including literature, painting, and dance have contributed to a creative presence provocatively her own. Her works include From the Beginning of the World, a setting of Tycho Brahe's remarkably prescient thesis on the Great Comet of 1577 (BBC Proms, 2015), Pay Close Attention, a homage to electronic music gods The Prodigy, The Whole Earth Dances, a quintet influenced by the local landscape and the poetry of Ted Hughes (Spitalfields Festival, 2016) and Game On, a duet for piano and Commodore 64 inspired by Game Theory and the crimes of bankers (NonClassical at the Dalston Victoria, 2016).

​Cheryl wrote her first piece within weeks of taking up the 'cello aged 7, and despite some early disasters (her first string orchestra piece was thrown out by the school conductor due to mistakes in her hand-copied parts) Cheryl's desire to compensate for her chronic shyness through composing remained unquashed. At 15 she won the BBC Young Composer of the Year Competition, and it was during the first performance of her Concertino for 'Cello, Piano, Percussion and Orchestra, by cellist Peter Dixon and the BBC Philharmonic that she became convinced that her life had to be in composition.

​Twenty years on, Cheryl's obsessive dedication, imperviousness to rejection, inherent thriftiness and endless stamina for filling in funding applications has resulted in her working full time as a composer. She has a Double First from Cambridge University, a PhD from Kings College London and has been awarded many prizes, scholarships and residences: a full list can be found here. Three CD's of her work have been released on the Champs Hill Records label, with two more albums due to be recorded this year. Her output addresses all genres from opera, ballet and concerto to song, chamber and solo music, reaching audiences from the Proms to outreach workshops. Future works include a piano concerto for Ivana Gavric and the Southbank Sinfonia, a new Evensong for Peterborough Cathedral, a third work for the London Oriana Choir and a few other exciting pieces that she's not allowed to tell you about yet.




What does music mean to you personally?

I grew up with music from a very young age, as my mother was a flute teacher. I was incredibly shy as a child and so making music, composing and playing it, was my most effective method of communication. It often still feels this way!

Do you agree that music is all about fantasy?

A lot of my music is pure fantasy yes, but in my composition I also use lots of techniques which can also be very important. For instance I recently wrote a homage to Bach for the BBC Proms for solo organ that was a two part canon all the way through, even though it was a modern sounding work. For me, a healthy balance between pure creativity, or fantasy, and solid compositional technique and grasp of structure, is key.

If you were not a professional musician, would would you have been?

I went to a specialist music school from when I was 8 years old, so it's very hard to imagine being anything other than a musician. But I think I would like writer, or failing that, work in a library! Something solitary which doesn't involve working in a team!

The classical music audience is getting old, are you worried about your future?

It's true that often the average age of the audience is a lot higher than the performers! But lots of performing groups are working really hard to engage younger audiences in the UK, with innovative programming and cross-arts events. Ensemble Perpetuo, a group I have worked with in the past, is particularly good at this, as are many other groups, so I have hope for the future.

What do you envision the role of classical music to be in the 21 century? Do you see that there is a transformation of this role?

When I'm depressed about things, and about the state of music education in the UK, I think that classical music will be all but extinct in my lifetime. But when I feel more positive I think it will continue to thrive: perhaps people will even tire of massed produced music and become more interested in art music again in the future – we can only hope!

When I say that classical music is searching for new ways, what would come to your mind?

I think lots of performers and composers are being really innovative in the ways that they engage with audiences, in their programming and in their collaborative practices.

Do you think that the classical musician today needs to be more creative? Whats the role of creativity in the musical process for you?

Creativity is really important to me in my musical process – without it I'd never have any music written! When I am feeling uninspired, I am able to fall back on pure technique and still create music: I still try and create something, and luckily the very process of writing often triggers ideas. Often my pieces are based on other pieces of music, or poetry, or art, so I often spend a long time listening, reading or looking before I start writing music. Once I have an intial idea I then fall back on technique to see how I can make the most out of my idea compositionally. My creative process is a continuous dialogue between creativity and technique.

Do you think we musicians can do something to attract young generation into the classical music concerts? How will you proceed?

Yes absolutely. As a composer I often don't have any say in the concerts my music is performed in, but one thing I can do is write music especially for young people to play, with the hope that they will grow up to love classical and contemporary music.

Tell us about your creative process. How did you start working on your "Contemplation", my favourite piece of yours?

Contemplation was commissioned by the pianist Ivana Gavric – it is one of a series of four homages to different composers (Grieg, Janacek, Schubert and Ravel). For these pieces I listened to lots of music by the composers that I was paying homage to, and then simply composed the pieces with these sounds in my mind, trying not to think too hard about it, and trying to avoid writing a pastiche.

'Contemplation' is a meditation on a few bars from the second movement of Grieg's Sonata op.7 (bars 17-20). I was very taken by these bars, which to me seemed typically 'Griegian': the e minor chord with the added c sharp, and dominant minor chords. The piece was written in a matter of hours, and I simply elaborated upon Grieg's chords, feeling my way on the piano as I wrote. '

We, Moving Classics TV, love the combination of classical music with different disciplines: music and painting, music and cinematography, music and digital art, music and poetry. What do you think about these combinations?

I think they are absolutely wonderful! I have done a lot of work with dancers in the past, when I was composer in residence with Rambert Dance in the UK. Most of my music is inspired by other art forms, and I'd love to write music for a film one day.

Can you give some advice for young people who want to discover classical music for themselves?

I think the best way to discover classical music is to learn an instrument as a child: most of the music that still inspires me the most was music that I played on the 'cello when young – Bach, Brahms, Beethoven etc. Nowadays it is so easy to listen to all types of music via the internet, which is wonderful, but if at all possible I'd suggest going to a live concert – in the UK the Cavatina Trust provides free tickets for under 25's to go to places like the Wigmore Hall. If you can't do this then perhaps if you've heard some music on the television or in a film that you like, you can try and find out what it is, and then listen to more music by this composer and see what sites like Youtube suggest you should listen to next, and take it from there!

Now it is a common practice in the media to talk that the classical music is getting into the consumption business, do you agree? We are speaking about the supply and demand rules and how to sell your “product” in your case your compositions. How do you see it?

As a composer I'm very aware that I have to be very proactive in my work – I can't just sit back and wait for people to commission me. I make sure that I am active on social media, have a good website etc. But most important of course is trying to be the very best at what you do! I also write music for many different kinds of ensembles, for all different levels. By writing music for children, for amateur choirs, for professionals, and every other kind of performer, I have found that I get asked to write a wonderful variety of pieces. When I write a piece for amateur choir, it is of course very different from a piece for professional orchestra, but I hope both pieces are still clearly written by me, that they have my 'voice' in them.

Do you have expectations what regards your listeners, your audience?

I want my music to be the main focus of my listeners when they are listening to it. Other than that I am happy for my music to be played anywhere to any audience.

What projects are coming up? Do you experiment in your projects?

I have just finished a piano concerto, which is going to be performed by Ivana Gavric and the Southbank Sinfonia in London in June 2018. Then I am very lucky to be writing a piece for the BBC Symphony Orchestra to commemorate the end of the First World War in 2018. I like to experiment in all my projects, but the most important thing to me is to write meaningful, emotional music that is idiomatically written and highly crafted.