January's themed month explores the world of contemporary music through the eyes of some top performers in specialised ensembles. We continue our interviews series with Mark van de Wiel, Principal Clarinet in the London Sinfonietta.

Why did you choose to specialise in contemporary music as opposed to mainstream classical? 

I didn't! I'm principal clarinet in the London Sinfonietta, but also with the Philharmonia, London Chamber Orchestra and Endymion. This means I'm playing Brahms as much as Birtwistle, and Mozart as much as Morgan Hayes.

Is playing Contemporary music more challenging than playing classical music? For instance, do you need more time to master the technical aspects, do you find it more difficult to interpret?

It's true that much contemporary music is very challenging technically, and it's very satisfying to be able to conquer this. But everything has its own challenges in a concert, and a slow Beethoven melody requires as much care, technical control and experience as anything required in contemporary music. Many of the London Sinfonietta principal players also hold positions in the major symphony orchestras in London, and we find that the experience of playing in LS enhances our technical control of mainstream music. In the same way, we hope that our experience in our symphony orchestras brings a warmth of sound and a depth of musicianship to our playing in the London Sinfonietta. 

Do you think your approach to contemporary music is similar to the way early music ensembles approach their music?

The best early music groups play music in the most beautiful, exciting and well researched way possible. I hope I do the same in everything I play. 

How involved are you within each project and to what extent can each member put forward ideas about what to play and with whom?

We are in constant contact with our excellent management at London Sinfonietta, and in particular our Chief Executive, Andrew Burke, and our ideas always seem to be welcome! 

How difficult is it to get contemporary music onto concert programmes/into concert halls?

I'm very thankful that this is not my job! But I'm so happy when we play special and sometimes unusual new music to a large and enthusiastic audience. 

Are audience responses to contemporary music changing? Does it differ in different countries?

I think not. It's encouraging that audiences throughout the world seem prepared to try new things. 

How is your ensemble trying different approaches to reach new audiences?

Again, I'm glad that's not my job to arrange! But I've observed that however many different approaches to presenting new music are tried, presenting it in world class performances without interference to the audience concentrating on the music itself is the only way which really works. This puts the responsibility back to the players, but that's fine! 

Which is the most exciting new work you've performed? Could you please describe why?

If new music means music of the last few years, then I would answer that in the last year I've particularly enjoyed Beat Furrer's FAMA, for its sense of space and dramatic presentation of sound, and Hans Abrahamsen's Schnee, for its uncompromising demands of concentration on players and listeners and its delivery of beautiful musical material to make it worthwhile.