Composer, pianist and producer Max Richter combines classical music training and electronics to tell the story of the human experience through his compositions. Richter will perform at Hugh Hodgson Hall on Sept. 30 at 7 p.m. as part of his North American tour.
The show will begin with a pre-performance talk with Richter at 6:45 p.m. in Ramsey Concert Hall. Admission is free.
The Red & Black spoke with Richter about his life, work and upcoming tour stop in Athens.
The Red & Black: When did you first become interested in music? What are your earliest memories of music as part of your life?
Max Richter: My first musical memories were my first memories, in a way — hearing records being played in my house. My parents listened to classical music and they also listened to experimental rock music from the ‘60s and ‘70s, so I heard the sound of Bach and the Beach Boys all jumbled up in my consciousness. That was really my very first years, and I was immediately bewitched by it, really. I’ve had music going on in my head ever since.
R&B: When did you realize that you wanted to pursue this style of neoclassical composition?
MR: My background was in classical music, but at the same time, I was interested in electronic music. I built synthesizers in my bedroom when I was 14, so these two things always went together for me.
At the time, when I was starting to write my own work, which was at the beginning of the 2000s, there wasn’t this theme. It didn’t exist at all. I basically just wrote the music I wanted to hear and hoped that other people might want to hear it, but there wasn’t really any way to describe it.
Now, of course, there are a lot of composers working in instrumental music in all kinds of ways. It was really just an experiment on my part to try and find a language which felt kind of personal to me.
R&B: What do you think were your biggest challenges during this period of experimentation?
MR: Well, the biggest challenge was trying to buy food. I made the first record “Memoryhouse” in 2002, and a few other musicians heard it, but no one else did. They shut down the record label and deleted the record.
No one was listening, and then I made “The Blue Notebooks,” and … people started to listen. I’d made three or four albums before really anything happened. The biggest challenge was really just trying to keep body and soul together for those first years.
R&B: You have created albums of your music such as “The Blue Notebooks,” “Memoryhouse,” “Songs from Before,” “Infra,” “Three Worlds: Music from Woolf Works” and the eight-hour epic “Sleep” and wrote pieces for television shows such as the “Black Mirror” episode, “Nosedive,” and more recently, the movie “White Boy Rick.” What do you feel is the difference between creating music for television and movies and creating music of your own personal album? Does your sound change? How does the accompanying piece, such as a movie or show, influence your creative process?
MR: The big thing is that, if you’re writing an album, you’ve got the whole of the listener’s attention. He’s only focused on the sound of the music. But in a film or a TV project, the music [is] only part of the picture, and it’s part of this sort of hybrid language of images and story and acting and editing and cinematography and all of those things. It’s kind of a puzzle-solving process as to how to figure out how music can bring something special to that situation. That’s a really enjoyable, collaborative thing that is really fun to do.
R&B: Can you talk a little bit about your creative process? How do you start a piece, and how does it become something?
MR: I’ve always had music buzzing around in my head in one way or another. There’s always more than one thing happening. One project is starting. One’s coming to an end. One’s not ready yet. My world is full of huge amounts of manuscript paper everywhere, and I work things out on the piano and I write them on paper. If it’s an electronic thing, I’m in the studio with synthesizers and tape machines. It’s quite free-form really. I see myself going into the lab and just trying things. All of these languages flow together in that process.
R&B: Who are your inspirations musically and artistically?
MR: That’s interesting. I guess within classical music it’s easy to say because classical music is really a historical form. Bach, Beethoven, Mahler, Schubert, Stravinsky. I really admire the early minimalists, so Steve Reich and Philip Glass. All of that. I really enjoy a lot of early electronic music as well … Artists finding new, personal languages.
R&B: According to the press release, your tour will include music from you multimedia project “Infra.” Can you talk about your inspiration and motivation for creating this?
MR: We’re going to play “The Blue Notebooks,” “Infra” and music from “The Leftovers.” “Infra” is a piece that takes its inspiration from the attacks in London, the 7/7, which were underground terrorist bombings, and just tries to make a piece for those people who were involved, for the people who suffered in that situation. It’s a piece about the city. It’s a piece about the underground. It’s a piece about journeys and the people on a journey.
R&B: How are you expecting your show in Athens to play out? Will it be any different from the shows at other stops on your tour?
MR: The nice thing about live music is that every show is unique, really. The music is already written, so we’re always playing the same notes, but every room is different. Every audience is different. It’s always a voyage of discovery. I’m looking forward to it.
R&B: What impact do you hope your music has on listeners? What emotions do you hope to evoke in your audience, particularly during your live shows?
MR: Music is really like a one-to-one conversation. We perform and we listen as a community, but it’s also a one-to-one conversation between the music and that unique listener. Everyone has a unique biography. It’s that chemical reaction between the work and that unique biography, which is so exciting. It’s always really inspiring to see how people respond to that and what people bring to that situation with their own lives.