Philip Hammond on Philip Hammond

Philip Hammond
...was born in Belfast, 5 May 1951
.was a teacher, university tutor, and arts administrator all within a fifteen minute radius
...is retired
...is a Reiki Master
.will continue to be a composer, arts correspondent, writer and broadcaster... and furniture painter.


I would expect that in many people's minds, living all your life in Belfast may not necessarily imply a great deal of excitement and fulfilment. So I'd have to say that I've been fortunate because this place has allowed so many opportunities for me to follow the several strands of my creative career with impunity - almost! I managed to be a school music teacher, a university tutor, a broadcaster, writer and music critic. I even performed regularly as a pianist with, admittedly, a limited repertoire which didn't include too much of my own piano music because increasingly I found it a bit difficult at times to play!

I've always thought of myself - until my recent retirement from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland at least - as an 'occasional' composer. By that I mean that my compositions were nearly always related to special events or a special set of performers. I am lucky to have had collaborations with excellent Irish musicians like James Galway, Barry Douglas, John O'Conor, Ann Murray and many, many others. Because there weren't that many Northern Irish composers knocking about, I was given commissions from august bodies like BBC Radio 3, Belfast City Council and Queen's University, and I've been played in lots of international venues by touring Irish and other international performers which is great because sometimes I'm able to go along and hear performances in situ.

My music was never cutting edge, though I am able to claim such firsts as the first live electro-acoustic composition performance in Northern Ireland in 1978, or the first music ever to be played in Belfast's Waterfront Hall in 1997. I have always been keen to promote local music making and have written for local forces which are often large-scale - like in 2000 a millennial commission from the three choirs of Methodist College Belfast and a big accompanying orchestra in my Psalms and Songs from the Hebrew.

Literary influences on my music abound. That latterly mentioned piece grew from my reading translated Hebrew verse from ninth century Spain which the then Israeli Cultural Attaché in London, Ahuva Oren, expanded for me with her huge knowledge and insight. I've set music by Michael Longley and Seamus Heaney, been inspired by Hermann Hesse, been intrigued by Louis MacNeice, and I often use a literary quotation as the starting point for composing - as in my piano pieces "The island beyond the world" or "..the blinks and blanks of night's inscrutable eternity"- the latter is Ciaran Carson at his best.

Northern Ireland is indeed a small place but, for me, it's not the outside environment that is important in the arts and in music. What goes on in the imagination is limitless and I suppose that is why I describe myself as a "retro-romantic". I'm old enough now not to concern myself unduly the avant-garde and with innovation for its own sake; I write music because I like the sound of it.

Coming up in my compositional world are two new works - a set of piano pieces entitled "Miniatures and Modulations" based on the music collected by Edward Bunting at the 1792 Belfast Harp Festival and a choral "Requiem for the lost souls of the Titanic", another occasional piece to be first performed on April 14th 2012, exactly one hundred years after the disaster. I feel quite a responsibility rests with me on that one.

In between then and now I will continue to indulge myself with my new obsession of furniture painting - it's almost like composition because you have to think of form and colour as the basis but let your imagination do the rest!

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