Young composer Lauren Marshall talks about her music, ahead of the debut of her piece written for Morgan Stanley's 2017 Chelsea Flower Show garden.
At 17, Lauren Marshall is the principal composer in the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain. Her talent has brought her a multitude of high accolades and special opportunities, the most recent of which is the chance to compose a piece of music inspired by Morgan Stanley's 2017 Chelsea Flower Show Garden. Here, the young composer recounts her story so far and tells us how this opportunity marks the start of a new chapter.
I started to play piano at the age of five or six. In the beginning, I was just like any other kid who took piano lessons at school; it was a hobby and I didn't really take it too seriously. However, I had a piano teacher who thought I had the potential to become a pianist, and so I applied to the Purcell School for Young Musicians in London when I was nine years old.
One of the pieces I played at the audition for Purcell was actually just me - messing around on the piano, improvising for five or six minutes. I wouldn't dream of doing that now unless I wanted to make a real statement, but at the time it seemed sensible! So I guess you could say that was the first piece of music that I “wrote”... even though I never actually wrote it down!
At Purcell, a lot of the time, instead of practicing the repertoire I was supposed to be playing I was creating my own music. I just found it a lot more fun, but it never occurred to me that I could try composing. But gradually improvisation led to composition, thanks to the teachers at school, who really encouraged me. I started to take it seriously and now, having become principal composer with NYO, I’m starting to feel I’m as much a composer as a pianist.
The chance to work on a piece of music for Morgan Stanley's Chelsea Flower Show Garden with garden designer, Chris Beardshaw, has been amazing. Nature has always been hugely influential in my work but this opportunity has taken my interest to the next level. It's been great to explore how gardens and music, these two contrasting art forms, can actually feed off of each other in a spatial context.
It was really important that both Chris and I tried to understand the kind of process that takes place in creating a piece of art within our respective fields. I've always enjoyed gardens and appreciated their beauty, but talking to Chris has helped me to see gardens in a totally new light. We went to see the National Trust's Hidcote Garden in Gloucestershire, where I learned that it's possible to see gardens as a linear journey for the visitor. It's actually very similar to the way that composers think about composition.
From the outset I had a lot of ideas as to how we could take this forward, but the result is completely different to how I thought it would be. The finished piece is a response to Chris's descriptions of the emotional landscapes that he is trying to create within the garden.
When it came to working with NYO musicians on the piece, I knew I could count on their honest feedback. After rehearsals, we'd all have lunch together, and I found out what they thought. They made suggestions as to how we could make the piece more effective. So through these conversations, the thoughts of the musicians have also weaved their way into the piece.
The fact that music and gardening are so intrinsically linked as art forms is something that's surprised me the most. I think that this project is absolute proof that whenever you take things that are quite disparate and put them together, something interesting always emerges.
As a young composer, it can be quite hard to find a platform to showcase new music. Chelsea Flower Show is certainly not an event that I would have ever associated with my work, but what an incredible opportunity! It's so important to me that different people get to experience my music, so this is just fantastic.