Roxanna Panufnik is the internationally acclaimed composer of the Westminster Mass, and has had her music featured in the Last Night of the Proms. In this interview, she gives an insight into the process of making music in suburban London. 


Panufnik has been a professional composer for thirty years. During her career, she has made her name despite having a profession that has largely been dominated by men. Panufnik explains that ‘when someone’s looking to commision a new piece, and trying to think of a composer, the visual image that comes to mind has always been, until very recently, a male one, and in some respects, that may slow down the success rate of female composers.’ However, Panufnik also felt that during her twenties (1990s), being female helped her stand out from the crowd. 


Although she was raised in verdant Twickenham, she spent the first part of her adult life in bustling Shepherd’s Bush whilst working in television production. Composing between BBC contracts in such a relentlessly lively environment often proved a challenge. Panufnik describes this as being ‘a great training in discipline and focus, and not being distracted, which has come in very useful now I’m a working mother’. 


When asked about how this experience compares with the quiet enclave of SW13, Panufnik says that the ‘leafy tranquility of Barnes is the perfect environment to fulfil her more complicated commissions such as a recent work for ten choirs and symphony orchestra’. Her biggest form of noise pollution is now the lesser-spotted woodpecker, from the nearby Wildlife and Wetlands Centre, tapping on her roof of her studio as she improvises on the piano. However, she explains that composing can be a lonely job, but ‘the gentle tapping combined with the odd heavy landing from an immensely-overfed squirrel are beautifully reassuring’. 


Her happy Twickenham childhood was filled with the music of her composer father, Andrzej Panufnik, who could often be seen and heard ‘vocalising the new percussion part of his latest oeuvre as he walked our dog by the Thames’. He also worked in a studio at the end of the garden, however, his work was often interrupted by the ‘not-so-gentle tapping of his naughty children at his window’.  


Panufnik has worked in Barnes for over a decade, and has been inspired by the wildlife just as her father was during her childhood in Twickenham. Overall, she agrees that despite the noise pollution in some areas, London is a place that inspires her to continue writing music.

By Ellie Macklow-Smith