You began your career as a violist. When did you begin composing?

I began composing when my mother, a professional violinist, showed me how to read and write musical notes. I was four and my first compositions were created from flowers and faces, which I drew on the staves. From then on, I wrote music constantly. I studied viola as I assumed I couldn’t earn a living as a composer. I had never seen a woman do that. So I decided to be a player to support the composing. 

Sally Beamish holds her viola against a dark green wall, next to a window.

Sally Beamish. Photo © Ashley Coombes

Do you enjoy being both an instrumentalist and composer?

It’s not easy combining the two careers. In fact, I moved to Scotland in 1990 to distance myself from the London freelance scene. I was beginning to be offered commissions, and when I successfully applied for an Arts Council Composers Bursary, it gave me the confidence to concentrate on composing. But the deciding factor was the theft [in 1989] of the beautiful Gabrielli viola on loan to me. I did buy another viola, but over the next five years,...