The summer season of the free Bradford Cathedral Wednesday@One organ recitals begin on Wednesday 17th April 2024. On the fourth recital – on Wednesday 8th May – our Assistant Director of Music Anthony Gray will be playing, and his recital will include the world premiere of a new piece – Kambaramayanam-34 – by Leeds-based composer, Dr Niki Zohdi. We spoke to Dr Zohdi to find out more about him and the piece.

Could you give us a bit of background to yourself as a musician and composer.
My life in music began as a chorister at Blackburn Cathedral and I currently sing as a tenor in the choir of Sheffield Cathedral. I sometimes go back to sing at Blackburn Cathedral and occasionally dep at Bradford Cathedral. In 2016, I began studying for my undergraduate degree in music at Goldsmiths in London. This was followed by a masters in music composition from 2019 to 2020 and, finally, a PhD in music composition at the University of Leeds which I recently completed. My music has been performed throughout Europe with upcoming performances in Leipzig, Germany and Bled, Slovenia.

You have composed a piece of music for the upcoming organ recital season – could you tell us a bit about it?
My piece is called Kambaramayanam-34 and is inspired by my recent travels to the Tamil Nadu region of India. The piece uses an ancient Tamil poem as its starting point. A rumbling pedal drone continues for the entirety of the piece with interjections of different material played on the organ manuals.

How did the commission come about?
I have never written for the organ before. Anthony and I have had a few conversations in the past about writing for the Bradford Cathedral organ so it stemmed from these conversations.

How do you, personally, go about composing a piece?
The process is different for each piece I compose. I do tend to begin with a source of something ancient (like a poem or some Renaissance music) and develop a piece out of my interests in that source.

What are your tips for creating an engaging composition?
I think it is important for composers to write music that they love! It is key that a composer in engaged in the music they are writing.

This will be its world premiere – have you got any ambitions about where to go next with it?
I am just happy, thankful and privileged that Anthony is playing my piece on the 8th May. I haven’t thought about what is next!

You have also written a PhD. Could you tell us a little about that?
I recently completed my PhD in music composition at the University of Leeds looking at concepts of distance, distortion, fusion and fission in my music. I also examine in detail my relationship to early Renaissance music. My PhD is practice-led meaning that I have a combination of compositions (around one hour’s worth) and written text (around 40,000 words).

What are your plans for the rest of 2024?
I am currently writing a few other pieces for other performers and ensembles and I plan on continuing with my freelance singing and teaching work.

You were a chorister alongside our Assistant Director of Music Anthony Gray. Was that an enjoyable partnership?
Anthony and I were choristers together at Blackburn Cathedral, which was very enjoyable and memorable. We hadn’t seen each other for a long time until 2021 and have been good friends since then.

You are also a conductor. Have any particular concerts stood out for you?
I recently conducted a programme of choral music by James MacMillan with Leodis Consort – a choir I recently co-founded. In the past, I have conducted student ensembles in pieces of contemporary music by the likes of Scelsi and Gubaidulina.

Join us on Wednesday 8th May for Anthony Gray’s organ recital at 1pm, featuring the world premiere of Kambaramayanam-34 by Dr Niki Zohdi. You can find out more about Dr Niki Zohdi on his website or on his Instagram channel.

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