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Eleanor Alberga (71) is commissioned by the BBC Proms and Royal Opera, among others. Her works range from solo instrumental to symphonies and operas. She was appointed OBE for music services this year.
What was your childhood or earliest ambition?
I decided at the age of five that I wanted to be a musician. I wanted to become a concert pianist.
Private school or public school? University or directly at work?
My school days started at my mother’s school in Jamaica. I won a scholarship to a Catholic convent school — it was my high school education from 11. I was lucky enough to win a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music [in London].
Who was or still is your mentor?
I started playing for modern dance classes when I left the Academy. I’ve played for ballet classes before, but modern dance was much freer – the scores were out of this world and you could go a little crazy with harmonies. I was asked to play in the London Contemporary Dance Theater. Robert Cohan, the co-founder, was my mentor, whether he knew it or not. He was so inspiring. I ended up playing for his classes and improvising completely all the time. The tempos would change, the dynamics would change – I just swam in this dance world. One or two dancers asked me to write music for their choreography, and it was then that I fell seriously in love with composing.
How physically fit are you?
I should be fitter. I like to go for a walk, especially at the beginning of writing a piece. But once I reach a very dangerous deadline, exercise is one of the first things I need to do.
Ambition or talent: which is more important for success?
Ambition, at this time, would win.
How politically committed are you?
I’m not that interested in party politics, but there are so many things that need to be done to make humanity live better. I try to show my politics in how I lead my life.
What would you like to own that you do not currently own?
I can think of nothing! Things sometimes get in the way. In practical terms, I want to upgrade my computer system.
What is your biggest extravagance?
I like to buy movies or series that I find entertaining, sometimes that’s the only way I can shut down my brain.
In what place are you happiest?
When I am with my husband, I am happiest at home or on vacation.
What ambitions do you still have?
Simple to keep improving what I do and putting more and more into what I write, to write great pieces, to write music that communicates and means something. The list includes another opera, symphonies and more string quartets.
What drives you?
I do not believe in retirement. To improve is an endless journey. I always want to go a step further.
What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?
Just keep going. Practically I wrote an opera in 2009 and performed a piece at the Last night of the Proms A few years ago.
What do you find most annoying about other people?
Insensitivity. I can not understand why people should not do their best to be friendly.
What would she think if your 20-year-old self could see you now?
At the time, I focused on being a pianist. She would be surprised that a composer came forward – and someone who took on more things than I thought I would or could.
What object did you lose that you wish you had?
I get very attached to some objects and I feel sad when they are gone – but I get over it. Objects are just objects.
What is the biggest challenge of our time?
The pandemic and how it changed lives. But I think something good will come out of it. Climate change. How are we going to reverse the damage we have done?
Do you believe in an afterlife?
I do not know. It is possible. I think I do. There are more things in heaven and on earth than we can dream of.
What would you achieve if you rated your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10?
“Wild Blue Yonder” by Eleanor Alberga is out now. Her trumpet concerto “Invocation” premieres on September 20 in the Barbican, London. eleanoralberga.com
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