One of the world’s most influential composers, Max Richter tells Tim Hughes he is riding a ‘musical stream of consciousness’ to Blenheim Palace

Inspired as much by Bach and Kraftwerk, Vivaldi and punk rock, Max Richter is a giant of classical music – but with a delicate electro twist.

An acclaimed composer, among the most influential of his generation, he is also an iconoclast – a torchbearer for classical music who has kicked aside the establishment furniture, broken it to bits and thrown their metaphorical television out of the window... albeit it to a sublime melody.

He has had the nerve to ‘recompose’ the works of one of the world’s best-loved composers, has written scores for blockbuster films and hit television shows, and is respected as a pianist, producer and remixer renowned for the emotional power and melodic transcendence of his work.

He may be a product of the Royal Academy of Music, but there is nothing conventional about Max Richter.

“There’s an element of obsessiveness,” he tells me.

“I write what I am enthused by and follow the material. There isn’t a grand plan. I’ve been doing it for 15 years, have kept going – and have started to connect with people. There isn’t any strategic plan; I’m a passenger on a musical stream of consciousness.”

That desire to do things different – and minimally – has been there from the start. “I went through a straightforward academy, conservatoire education and, at that time, the orthodoxy in classical music was that complexity and quality were the same thing,” he says. “If it was complex it meant it was good... and meant the audience would be miniscule.

“But I never believed that. It’s a bit weird as music is a communicative art. It’s a way of telling stories, and I set out to simplify my musical language by making music that feels simple but isn’t simple.

“Plain speaking is a quality that people connect to.”

Born in Germany, Max now lives with his family in the north Oxfordshire countryside.

“It’s great," he says. "I’ve been in Berlin for eight years, so it’s a bit of a change. I travel a lot and am usually working in London or Berlin so it’s nice. It’s like a pause.”

Tonight he heads down the road to play the grand setting of Blenheim Palace’s Great Court for the second in its Nocturne series, following tonight’s concert of John Williams tunes by the Royal Philharmonic.

“It’s an amazing palace in a beautiful park,” he says. “It’s very special. I have played festivals before but nothing quite like this.”

The concert will feature three bodies of work: his Vivaldi Recomposed, which sees him reworking the 18th century Venetian master’s The Four Seasons; premiering his new album Three Worlds: Music from Woolf Works; and a performance of On the Nature of Daylight – music from which opens and closes the film Arrival.

Firstly, Vivaldi: why ‘fiddle’ with a classic? “It’s a kind of off-road trip through Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, exploring landscapes and music from the inside,” he says.

He says he has tried to exorcise the hackneyed and cliched use of a sublime work which has descended into muzak.

“I re-wrote it as a way to rediscover it,” he says. “We are all used to hearing it through jingles and adverts and I felt the original meaning had got lost and redundant.

He adds: “For me it totally works and I re-connect with it as a piece of music. It’s great fun.”

And would Vivaldi have approved? “Oh yes. I don’t think he’d have a problem as he re-purposed and re-worked music all the time as well as borrowing. This process would have been very familiar to him.”

Three Worlds: Music from Woolf Works is taken from his compositions for Wayne McGregor’s Royal Ballet production inspired by the writing of Virginia Woolf. It is built around themes from three of the modernist novelist’s books: Mrs Dalloway, Orlando and The Waves.

“This will be the premier of the three works,” he says. “It was recorded for a big orchestra and I have reconfigured it for a concert performance. It will be the first time I am going to play it, so is exciting.

“Live performances are always special and you never know what’s going to happen. When you play something, you hear a different side of it. It’s only when you play it in front of an audience that you find out what you’ve made.

While familiar through it’s use in Arrival, On the Nature of Daylight is much more than a piece of movie music.

“It’s a piece of protest music in the tradition of the 1960s, but it is a string piece with an orchestral composition” he says.

“It’s a reflection on the political climate around the build up to the Iraq war and the nature of politics then and now.”

While instrumental, the work packs a powerful message. “Music can be at the same time vague but very precise. When music touches us we feel we are being spoken to.

“When we hear a bit of Bach or Beethoven it seems to be talking to us but, and my hope is my work does the same.”

He goes on: “The thing about music is you don’t really know where it’s going to go or whether a piece is going to catch fire or not. One of the things I enjoy is seeing what happens to these pieces. We release them and they have a life of their own and find their way to surprising places – like On the Nature of Daylight finding its way to Arrival or Vivaldi recomposed ending up on [Netflix series] Chef’s Table.

Among 50 film and TV soundtracks, his work has appeared on Damon Lindelof’s HBO series The Leftovers and Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island.

Such is the nature of tomorrow’s programme, however, there will be no space for another piece of music which has thrown the spotlight on Max: his music for the television hit Taboo, which starred Tom Hardy.

“Maybe I missed a trick there,” he laughs. “We’ll play that next time.”

Max follows in illustrious footsteps at the Nocturne podium. The baton has previously been taken by Ludovico Einaudi and Ennio Morricone – both of whom packed out Blenheim’s Great Court.

“People enjoy engaging with some kind of extended work, not just three-minute pop songs,” Max says.

“It allows us a little holiday and stops life for a moment.

“There’s something satisfying about that.”

Max Richter plays Nocturne at Blenheim Palace tonight (Friday). Nocturne runs from today to Sunday. Go to