A few moments with Liza Lim

It’s my pleasure to be giving this Friday the UK Premiere of Liza Lim’s violin concerto, Speak, Be Silent.  Liza is a generous composer and collaborator, and I’ve been an admirer of her music for a long time, so it was a particular pleasure to spend a day working on the piece with her, and asking her a few questions in advance of our performance.

the opening of Lim's "Speak, Be Silent"

the opening of Lim’s “Speak, Be Silent”

Sarah Saviet: Hi Liza, and thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us. We are incredibly excited to give the UK premiere of your piece Speak, Be Silent for solo violin and ensemble. Where does the title come from, and does it give any hint to our readers as to what they can expect from the piece?

Liza Lim: The title comes from a version of Rumi made by Coleman Barks:

Just remember, when you’re in union,
you don’t have to fear
that you’ll be drained.
The command comes to speak,
and you feel the ocean
moving through you.
Then comes, Be silent,
as when the rain stops,
and the trees in the orchard
begin to draw moisture
up into themselves.
     – Jalaluddin Rumi, excerpt fr. Mathnawi V: 3195-3219
     version by Coleman Barks 

The piece is a ‘concerto’ – a rather classical formation! But my take on this was to make a piece that plays with ideas of union and separation – to find ways of exploring how rather different things can be in the same space to make a unison and to see how divergence and convergence are in dialogue and relate to each other. After speaking, comes listening … and then the ecstasy of an internal singing.

Speak, Be Silent was commissioned for and premiered by Ensemble Contrechamps in 2015. We will be the second ensemble to perform this piece. What is it like to hear your music played approached for the first time by musicians who didn’t give the premiere, and how is your participation in the rehearsal process different (or similar)?

I’m excited to hear you (Sarah) with Riot Ensemble and your take on the work. It is amazing how different a piece of music can be from one musician and performance to the next and actually, I love the non-static nature of that. Interpretation and style are important components of how all musics are communicated and I think the sonic-time arts are particularly seismographic to who, how, where, and when something is happening – that unrepeatable specialness of time-place-person in the  process of performing and as an intersection of the energies of the people involved, is so incredibly interesting. In terms of rehearsal, every situation can be different – I suppose with a premiere, there is a more open space for creating the language of the work but that quality of ‘creation’ could and should be there no matter how many times a piece has been played – it’s up to the imagination, vitality, and sensitivity of the performers. In rehearsals, I listen!

whatever this is

from Ensemble Modern’s recent premiere of Lim’s “Ronda – The Spinning World”

You frequently write for non-Western (ie non-European) instruments; for example, sheng, Hardanger fiddle, and most recently Walter Smetak’s ‘Sound Sculptures’ (for an upcoming premiere with Ensemble Modern).  In comparison, the instrumentation for Speak, Be Silent consists mainly of Western orchestral instruments. How does your compositional process differ when you are writing for familiar instruments, as opposed to instruments that you are exploring for the first time while writing the piece?

I try to find some unfamiliar aspect to all instruments that I write for – often some lateral perspective, some ‘secret view’ of the instrument in terms of how it’s played or sounds, provides an important point of inspiration to me. The more seemingly familiar an instrument is, the more potential I think it has of surprising me and prompting unexpected creative responses. The cello, for instance, is an instrument very much known to me in an internalized way and I’ve explored many different preparations: of wrapping hair around the bow, or by tying cotton threads to the strings, as techniques to de-familiarize the instrument (anyway, a very well-trodden modernist path!) and through that, found ways of opening up some new aesthetic priorities for my music, for example: an aesthetics of shimmer, or a way of phrasing which hesitates and breathes in a certain way. The element of ‘making strange’ or ‘making unknown’ that might be more obvious when composing for a non-Western or an invented instrument is pursued in all of my music as a way of arriving at some kind of perceptual shift (even if small) – rather than it being about writing for ‘weird’ instruments per se.

In Speak, be Silent, I retuned the bottom string of the instrument to increase the ‘throaty’ quality of the string and this is for me the access point to making a connection between the woodblock (a very basic ‘violin’) and the violin in the piece. I try to find links between the identities of these two instruments using the rasp stick on the woodblock as a bow and having moments in the solo violin where the sound catches and distorts – it’s not a complete match and I keep it quite subtle but in that gap between sameness and difference, I glimpse something which for me is the essence of the piece.

You were recently appointed Professor of Composition at the University of Sydney’s Conservatorium of Music. This is a unique post as you will be closely involved in SCM’s national women composer’s development programme. What advice could you offer towards ensembles and performers who would like to support the development of women composers? Is it significant to simply programme works by women composers, or are there other actions that might be important to consider?

The Sydney University/Conservatorium programme is an exciting one to be involved in because it takes a bold approach to addressing gender inequality.

I think basic inclusion is the first step (otherwise it’s all talk, no action …). I think we’re still (still!) working on a basic shift in perception in terms of gender (and other) equalities, hence the need for tools that change those frameworks – quotas where one commits to inclusion allow one to ‘make’ the result straight away so one can see what that looks like. Through that, you normalize a culture where women and men are given space and access to cultural resources. (When one puts it that way, it really does become very clear why this is essential.)

I think having role models is also important – visibility is a very powerful thing – especially in our age of images. I’m pleased to be working more to address gender equality issues; I’ve been doing quite a lot of mentoring of women composers recently at a grass roots level in Australia as well as a programme with Speak Percussion in Melbourne. I’ve been inspired by my colleagues at Huddersfield University – Liz Dobson and Lisa Colton; by the work and research led by Ashley Fure and others at 2016 Darmstadt, as well as by the work of colleagues like Cat Hope at Monash University and composers like Chaya Czernowin, Olga Neuwirth, like Rebecca Saunders and Anna Thorvaldsdottir who you’ve also programmed in this concert, and many, many others.

Liza garden, Feb2017

Liza Lim, in her garden

Occasionally you make a blog post that includes pictures of your incredibly gorgeous vegetable and flower garden. How do you pick which plants to grow?

I have a very small garden in the front yard – it’s basically 2×2 metres and I like to plant in a very dense way using horizontal and vertical space (that way there are no weeds and the theory is that biodiversity helps keep pests in check – they eat each other!). It’s fun to grow things you can eat and I choose heirloom tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, chillies, beans, greens, and herbs; the flowers bring the bees in; and because it’s the front garden, it’s quite a public space so lots of people passing by stop to chat – it becomes a rather social zone.

That sounds lovely to us – especially to those of us in London!  We’re excited to see you and work with you this week, Liza.  Thanks so much for your time!

A few moments with Oliver Brignall

A couple weeks ago, we spent two days at Brunel University workshopping a scene Oliver Brignall’s new opera Palace of Junk.  

Palace of Junk

The multi-media opera retells the terrifying tale of the Collyer Brothers (do not follow that link lightly!)  Oliver’s music is as beautiful and haunting as the story, and we’re really excited to premiere this scene at Mahogany Opera Groups Various Stages Festival on 24th February.  We got to ask Oliver a few questions about the music in advance…

Hello Oliver, and thanks for answering these questions. The ensemble’s really enjoyed working with you on your new opera ‘Palace of Junk’. How’s the collaboration been from your perspective?

Hi! It’s been an enormous pleasure to collaborate with Riot again; I’ve been working on the opera for over a year, so as I’m sure you can imagine I was pretty nervous (but excited) to finally get the full ensemble together in a room!

Scene 4 - Homer & Langley

Page 1 of Oliver’s Score

I was blown away with everyone’s commitment to the piece. The entire opera is to be performed without a conductor, with all direction coming from within the ensemble so on the surface the score could potentially be quite daunting, especially as it is written in a sort of hybrid of traditional notation and a more free time/space notation. It was great having Aaron on hand to direct the rehearsals, helping with the initial navigation of the piece and offering some rehearsal pointers. It was also fantastic to be able to workshop different ideas with all involved, resulting in some important yet necessary changes being made to the scene.

You combine your composing work with performance work as a professional tenor. Does this practical experience inform or change the way you write music?

I feel that they have both influenced each other in different ways. I guess most importantly, despite my continuing compositional interest in ‘music on the edge’, the borderline between sound and silence for example, my experiences as a performer have ensured that the notes on the page are presented as clearly and idiomatically as possible, even if asking for something on the border of the realms of possibility.

My taste in performers and performance style, informed by my own experiences as a professional singer, has also been influenced by and continues to influence my music. I am increasingly less interested in this idea of perfect ‘studio quality’ live performances, much preferring the excitement of a voice or instrumentalist on the edge. Many of my favourite singers, golden age superstars such as Mario Del Monaco sang in a way that was so utterly thrilling yet so far removed from modern ideas of a ‘safe’ performance. Consequently, in performance sometimes it worked sometimes it was less successful. I take huge amounts of inspiration from this kind of sound, using it as a base level for most of my work in an attempt to create a resulting style that is consistently inconsistent and celebrates the act of performing over a clinical precision led style.

You’ve chosen to set the true and rather sad tale of the Collyer brothers who famously filled their Manhattan abode with all manner of (un)collectables. However, your score is quite the opposite of cluttered. Can you give us a window into your compositional processes?

One of the first things to strike me about the story of the Collyer brothers was just how much music they must have had in their lives. Amongst the belongings removed from the house were literally tonnes of musical detritus including 14 grand pianos (represented in the opera electronically – a live, constantly reacting series of piano related resonances and cascades), countless instruments and piles and plies of sheet music and records, there was also an apocryphal story that their mother was a society singer.

The harmonic language of the whole opera is based on the musical items found in the house (Bessie Smith records, Sheet music for Chopin’s Etudes etc) creating a kind of collection of musical items from which the piece is built. Rather than cluttered with a patchwork of gestural musical ideas, the sound leans more towards a spectral style, with timbral and homophonic elements as a musical centre. I imagine that the end result of the electronics together with the spectral nature of the harmony might suggest an idea of claustrophobia but it’s not an intentionally explicit part of the work.

In terms of the score, as mentioned briefly above, I try and keep the presentation on the page as clear as possible. The score leans slightly in the direction of tablature, with the (often noisy and unpredictable) resultant sound rarely reflected in the written notes. I hope that the writing on the page however, suggests both a musical direction and a physical intention for the performer.

Mahogony Opera Group’s ‘Various Stages’ Festival on February 24th showcases work by a range of composers at the Institute of Contemporary Arts from 1-8pm. Can you give us a flavour of what to expect?

 This is an unbelievably exciting festival. There are six showcased pieces in total (four, like this selected from an open call) hugely varied in scope and style. Whilst I feel unbelievable privileged to be involved – I’m also super excited to see and hear everything else that will be put on!

So, do you share any personality traits with the Collyers? For example, are you an obsessive hoarder?

Haha! Yes, good question! I’m sure artists of all kinds will agree that they are somewhere on the spectrum of obsessiveness. I’d be the first to admit that I have an extremely obsessive nature and it was definitely something that I wanted to look at with this piece.

I’m no hoarder per se but I have a weakness for records and CD’s, making any record shop my first port of call whenever I travel! As a result, they take up a pretty huge portion of my house. Arranged alphabetically, chronologically and by genre of course…

Do you live in semi-seclusion?

A city boy through and through!

Have you booby-trapped your house?

 Come for tea and find out?!

Many thanks, Ollie (we think … )!

 

A few moments with Heather Stebbins

The ensemble is currently hard at work at Real World Studios, and tonight we will be recording Heather Stebbins’ miniature written especially for our two pianists Claudia Racovicean and Adam Swayne. ‘Ursa Minor’ is a beautiful and semi-improvisatory piece featuring some extraordinary sounds that we can’t wait to get ‘in the can’! Find out more about Heather on her website and have a read of an interview about her piece below.

View More: http://ginabrocker.pass.us/heathermikeandelliottoctober2016

‘Ursa Minor’ for piano … are you a stargazer?
Not in any formal sense. Like most children, I was very curious about space and astronomy as a kid. I grew up in a rural area and the lack of light pollution allowed for great views of the stars, planets, and constellations with both the naked eye and my uncle’s telescope. Since moving to the ‘big city’ I haven’t had much opportunity to star gaze, but I still like to look upwards. In this piece, I was inspired by the idea of connecting elements to make new shapes, such as in a constellation.

Your piece involves a crystal ball, metal knitting needles, hairpins, and aluminium foil. Can you describe how you use these things, and can you put into words what they will sound like?
Normally when I compose and want to use some non-traditional element, such as hairpins, I try to limit myself to just a few uses so that things don’t get too unwieldy. For some reason, I did the exact opposite for this miniature! I use these elements to exploit the piano’s delicate and metallic persona. The crystal ball creates a very special sound. A dear friend, Spanish pianist and improvisor Hara Alonso (who is doing some really amazing projects), showed me this technique and I fell in love with the sound world. The hairpins and knitting needles come from my own experimentations with the piano and objects I had lying around. The aluminium foil provides a quiet, unpredictable texture. I am attracted to tiny and delicate sounds – I love the sound of slowly crumpling aluminium foil and you really can’t replicate that with any instrumental sound!

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Can you tell us what else you are working on at the moment?
I recently finished a piece for ensemble and electronics for Colorado-based Nebula Ensemble (so many space references!). I’m starting a new project for trombone (and most likely electronic devices) for NYC-based trombonist Will Lang. Will plays with the ensemble loadbang and is a great champion of new works. I’m really excited to be working with him again.

Thanks so much, Heather!

Talking Toy Pianos

IMG_3697At our session at Real World Studios this week we are recording super works for toy piano(s) by composers Monica Pearce and Thomas Kotcheff. Here they answer Adam’s questions about their intimacies with these dinky noise-makers, embracing sonics, tonics and politics …

You are both seasoned ambassadors for the toy piano. Please can you describe your activities to date?

MP: It’s an anniversary year for me and my toy piano – I met this Schoenhut 3-octave number ten years ago in July off an ad on Craigslist. It’s been a wild adventure ever since – I’ve written almost a dozen pieces with toy piano since then. One piece in particular – clangor for toy piano and bicycle bells, written for Queen of the Toy Piano Margaret Leng Tan – has at this point travelled internationally more than I have, making stops in Singapore, Australia, U.S., and Canada! My interest in toy pianos has led me to some very unique projects – last year I wrote a duet for toy piano and tabla (with the remarkable duo of Xenia Pestova and Shawn Mativetsky), and this year I’ll be writing a quartet for two toy pianos and two percussionists for the Atlanta-based ensemble Chamber Cartel. When I’m not tickling the plastics, you can find me writing chamber operas, chamber music or educational music.

unnamedTK: I am a founding member of the Los Angeles based piano duo HOCKET and we love to perform music for toy pianos. Our repertoire ranges from toy piano classics by John Cage to newly commissioned works written for our ensemble (including a terrific piece by Riot Ensemble’s artistic director Aaron Holloway-Nahum). As a piano duo, we love the mobility that performing on toy pianos offers us (performing in art galleries, bars, outdoors, etc.) and both myself and my partner in HOCKET continue to compose, arrange, and commission new works for these instruments.

What initially attracted you to the distinctive sound of the toy piano?

TK: I’ve always seen the toy piano as the quirky combination of a harpsichord and a glockenspiel with the distinct feature that every toy piano has their own unique tuning. The fact that no two toy pianos can be in tune with one another is exploited in death, hocket, and roll by having the two toy pianos trading identically voiced major chords back and forth. Major chords on the toy piano also always reminded me of what an old-fashioned slot machine sounds like when you win and the machine is paying out — I tried to capture this slot-machine sound world throughout death, hocket, and roll and especially so in the coda of the piece.

IMG_0861MP: I loved the sound – the bell-like timbre with its bizarre overtones. I love that its sound exists in some other dimension that mixes an out-of-tune pitch with a very percussive clack. I think it’s an instrument that can be incredibly fruitful for composers to get outside of their comfort zones and really stretch their imaginations, especially if they can get over the mindset of it being a mini-piano or only suitable for writing creepy children’s music.

Riot Ensemble is recording a piece by each of you. To my ears both your pieces seem to mix a transparent sense of tonality with more chromatic flights of fancy. Is this a response to the instrument or a more general theme in your musical language?  

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MP: I would say this piece certainly fits within my musical language but it’s most directly inspired by Kandinsky. I took a marvellous quote from Wassily Kandinsky which deals with colour as a musical metaphor: “Each colour lives by its mysterious life. Colour is the keyboard, the eyes are the harmonies, the soul is the piano with many strings. Everything starts with a dot.” Kandinsky’s artworks are so vibrant and dynamic, and I wanted to try and create a musical environment which was both calculated and completely excitable. The soprano also plays a wine glass drone throughout which gives a somewhat false sense of stability and creates unusual harmonic interactions with the toy piano. I am certainly prone to doing certain gestures on the toy piano, such as fast pointillistic patterns and repeated notes – I adore the resonance created by those types of gestures.

TK: In the music I’ve written in the last few years, juxtaposing vanilla major and minor chords against chromaticism, noise, and harsh dissonance has been a focus of my music. I’ve always been interested in the idea of “bad taste” in music and looking for ways to exploit that as an aesthetic. The idea of blatantly putting major and minor chords up against dissonant material seems like it would be in poor taste, but if a piece becomes oversaturated with poor taste, for me it slowly begins to emerge out the other side to become something new and worth exploring.

Perhaps a little piano is best played with little hands? Would you be happy, for example, for President Trump to give a recital on your toy piano?

TK: It would be fitting for a toy president to perform on a toy piano and he would certainly do less damage that way. However, I fear that President Trump wouldn’t be able to figure out how to play the instrument despite it being originally designed for children.

MP: Well all I can say is – music unifies, and requires that people listen and consider multiple perspectives. So, perhaps President Trump could use more of a music education to add to his personal growth. Meanwhile I’m just going to build this tiny wall around my toy piano.
What does President Trump think of that?
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Many thanks Monica and Thomas! Together you sure make the toy piano great again!

 

A few moments with Rebecca Saunders

We’re actually quite amazed that we’re going to be giving the London premiere of Rebecca Saunder’s A Visible Trace on 3 March at The Warehouse.  We know we’re not alone in being deep admirers of Rebecca’s music, and we’re excited to be hatching plans to bring a lot more of her music to her homeland’s concert halls over the coming years.  We’re also grateful Rebecca took the time to answer a few of our questions about her and her music.  Read on, below!

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Hello Rebecca and thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us. Your piece A Visible Trace seems to be part of a clutch of “trace” works. Can you explain what you mean by traces in music?

It´s hard to explain, but that´s why I wrote the piece, to try to explore this idea. Composing is like another form of thinking.  Here are 4 partial answers:

1. This quotation from Calvino was intended as the program text. It´s a beautiful visual image:

The word connects the visible trace with the invisible thing, the absent thing, the thing that is desired or feared, like a frail emergency bridge flung over an abyss. 
– Exactitude, from Six Memos for the Next Millennium, Italo Calvino.

Sound/silence – presence/absence. Tracing the sound, the timbre. Hunting down a trace of colour and pursuing it. Find the thing and it disappears; name the thing and it loses shape and meaning. That is the ‘trace’ – unattainable, elusive, slips through your fingers, the moment you touch it, it is gone.

2. This piece had no prepared formal structure or pre-conceived goal. In the moment of composing investigating the chosen palette of sounds, exploring their potential, and then gradually as the piece progresses sketching a formal design.

3. The unveiling of the ‘thing’, the drawing out of silence of a sound and giving it context and shape – moulding, caressing, projecting, catapaulting sound or timbres into audible space.

4. The work is rather like a single long lyrical line, albeit elongated and stretched to breaking point. This line pursues the fragments of timbre, the ‘traces’.

This piece is scored for ‘eleven conducted soloists’. Can you give us an idea of how the musicians will interact with one another?

The individual parts can be quite virtuosic and demanding. Also there are a number of small chamber groups which explore a shared timbral palette of sounds. These were separately composed and then juxtaposed within the large-scale work, forcing separate threads of music to co-exist. The last section has for example a trio of e-guitar, violin and piccolo which is fused into the overall texture, but which also lends line and form to this part of the piece. I liked at this time to explore the potential formal tensions inherent in juxtaposing different musics in this way. It can create an unusual tension and disjointed formal cohesion.

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On the other hand I also explored creating a single shared palette of sounds which fused the whole ensemble together to try to create one single instrument where the sound is in a constant state of transformation from one timbre to the next.

Your music seems to frequently (although not always) draw upon slow tempi and silence. Are you giving your audience freedom within their listening experience? Or are you simply using silence as an important musical tool within different performance environments?

I don´t think I can deem to give or take away freedom … Certainly a slow tempo can allow a listener to contemplate a sound and a colour in a different way. But even in a highly tense fast dense music the play of timbre can lead the ear to follow the line, gesture and contour of the music. Silence is particularly important in this respect. It can frame and give context and depth to a musical gesture. It highlights the contours and characteristics of a sound. It enables us to focus intensely on a moment of sound that follows or indeed precedes the silence. Silence can be active, inactive, full of expectation, dead or incredibly exciting – that moment of waiting, even the moment of dread – it has many functions. It can be seen as the antithesis of sound, but also it is a full vibrating explosive potential of anything sonic. Drawing sound out from under the surface of silence, which is like a knot of infinite frequencies and cacophony waiting to be revealed, or allowing it for a moment to explode into the listening space. A composition can frame a sound which we may never have noticed or bothered to give our attention to before. One possible act of composition is to create a listening space, an acoustic landscape into which the listener may enter. I wouldn’t define silence as a tool, as it is as important as sound itself, is part of the fabric of sound.

We see you are hard at work on a large-scale music theatre piece. Can you tell us more?

It is a large-scale spatial project for dancers, voices and large ensemble based on a late Beckett text entitled Still. But it one of those projects that keeps starting and stopping and right now I am not sure when the premier is, somewhere between 2019 and 2021.

Finally, warm greetings from London to Berlin. How is life as an English person in the heart of European culture?

Berlin is a very diverse and international vibrant city, which I love and does remind me of London at times. It has a rich and exciting cultural life. It is a tricky question right now, post-Brexit. Brexit hangs heavily over us. Disappointed and angry like all Brits living in Europe – one feels rejected by one’s own country.

I feel part of a rich European culture. I have lived here for many years now but of course, since I came here as an adult, I retain my essential ‘Englishness’. I still eat Marmite and watch Sherlock. But Brexit and its unimaginable aftermath have shocked me profoundly. It was awful not to be able to vote – not a clever move, and rather undemocratic, to not let so-called ex-pats have their say – that could well have made all the difference. It’s going to be incredibly important for cultural institutions, ensembles and artists to work even harder to maintain and promote exchanges and collaborations between the UK and Europe.

Many thanks, Rebecca!

A few moments with Utku Asuroglu

We give the U.K. première of Utku’s Hayirli Olsun at our concert on February 16th at Brixton East 1871, 7.30pm. Find out more about him on his website, and read his thoughts on composing, conducting and his Turkish heritage in our interview below!

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Your musical studies and career have taken you from Turkey all across Europe. Did anywhere in particular steal your artistic heart?
The years I spent in Graz, Austria were the most valuable and important in my artistic life as a composer. The rich culture of Austria and my professor, Clemens Gadenstätter had a huge impact on me.
Does your conducting work inform the way you compose music?
Of course. My experiences in conducting greatly developed my inner hearing, my understanding of orchestration, and understanding of the psychology of the performers behind the music.
This piece features a prominent part for harpsichord (performed by our very own Goska Isphording). What attracted you to this particular instrument together with the unusual combination of piano, percussion and trombone?
The harpsichord is an instrument whose presence I truly miss in contemporary music. When used creatively, harpsichord adds extremely unique colours and expressive possibilities to any instrumentation. Dutillieux’s Les Citations [performed by Riot Ensemble in 2014!] or Carter’s Sonata for Flute, Oboe, Cello and Harpsichord are wonderful works that prove my point. I wanted to contrast harpsichord with another keyboard instrument, and I tried to underline their percussive quality with percussion and their expressive ability using the trombone.
Your programme note mentions the Sivas Massacre of 1993. Have you addressed these horrific events in music, and if so then how?
My music mostly lacks any programmatic content. However, non-musical influences have always proven to be strong points of departure for my compositions. The word non-musical sounds very unjust to me, for I can’t isolate music from literature or architecture.
The Sivas Massacre was a horrible hate crime against critical and creative minds of Turkey. Even though I was just a kid in 1993, I have read a lot about it ever since and its impact is still present in my life. I don’t think it’s possible to address how I used these impressions in this particular piece, and I believe this is the very unique thing about music; it defies being described with words.
Can you tell us more about your future plans?
I’m working on an ensemble piece that’s going to be premiered by International Ensemble Modern Academy in the Gaudeamus Music Week 2017. I will also be busy with a chamber opera project with Marcel Beekman in the Netherlands. We are still working on the libretto. Working with artists from different disciplines motivates and inspires me. I am very much looking forward to hearing and seeing the resulting work on the stage.
Many thanks, Utku!

A few moments with Michael Cryne

We are hugely looking forward to giving the premiere of Michael Cryne‘s five-movement work Celia’s Toyshop at our concert on February 16th at Brixton East 1871, 7.30pm.

Michael lives and works in London and is currently pursuing doctoral study in composition under the supervision of Mark Bowden and Helen Grime at Royal Holloway, University of London, having previously studied composition at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

In this short interview Michael discusses his work with Adam and whets all of our appetites. We hope to see a great crowd on February 16th!

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Welcome Michael, and thank you for giving Riot Ensemble the premiere of your piece ‘Celia’s Toyshop’. I believe there’s a special dedicatee in the title?!

 

Thanks Adam, I’m hugely excited. This will be a really special one for me. As you’ve mentioned, the collection of pieces were written for my daughter Celia. I’ve been writing them on and off in between other things. She won’t make it to the premiere, she’s only 2, and generally prefers youtube videos of people opening shiny things.

 

Your piece is for ‘Pierrot ensemble plus percussion’. Has Schoenberg influenced any other aspects other than the instrumentation? 

 

Oh, I use post-serial techniques all the time, so in that sense absolutely. ‘Puzzle Book’ uses a ciphered version of Celia’s full name as a tone-row, for example.

 

There are five movements with really imaginative titles such as ‘Clockwork Nightingale’ and ‘Neon Butterflies’. Are you telling some (famous) stories in your piece, or are you just encouraging imaginative listening?

 

Well, ‘Clockwork Nightingale’ is a combination of a birdsong transcription and a mechanistic rhythmic pattern, so the title in that instance shaped elements of the piece. Whereas ‘Neon Butterflies’ was just a youtube video we were watching together. But yeah, ‘imaginative listening’  is a nice way of putting it. I don’t think any of the pieces tell stories in a programmatic sense.

 

So what’s the first note?

 

 

What’s the last note?

 

A

 

And what’s the best bit?!

 

I really like ‘Marionettes’. It’s a quirky little dance, inspired by the jerky movements of puppets.

 

In 2017 Michael Cryne is also …

 

… currently working on a piece for Manchester-based ensemble Psappha, for solo alto flute and electronics. We’re recording that in April.

And if you happen to be coming to the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra’s composers day on Saturday 18th Febraury, I’ll be presenting Celia’s Toyshop there with Kokoro, their new music ensemble. 

 

Many thanks Michael!

 

A few moments with Lee Westwood

Lee Westwood is one of two winners of our 2016 Call for Scores competition. We are excited to perform his latest work at our Brighton concert at 5pm on Saturday October 29th. Lee needn’t make extensive travel plans to attend this concert as he has made Bohemia-by-Sea his home for well over a decade. He is currently studying for a PhD at the University of Sussex with Martin Butler and is a member of the composers’ collective New Music Brighton whose members are contributing twelve exciting and distinctive new miniatures to the concert.

In this interview Lee discusses his life and music with our co-principal pianist and fellow Brightonian Adam Swayne. What’s the betting they’ll be enjoying last orders in the pub after the concert while we are hauling all the equipment back to London …?

Join us for a splendid Saturday 29th at 5pm at St Nicholas Church!

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What’s happening in your life?

For a couple of years now, I’ve been working on a stream of commissions without a break. I’m not complaining, because it’s been a fantastic way to learn a lot fast, and to work with loads of brilliant people. It is exhausting though, and the last few weeks of a write really take it out of me, so I’ve been trying to recover a little from the Riot Ensemble commission before I begin my second piece for the LSO Soundhub.

Outside of music, as a part-time house-dad for the second time round, I’m spending a lot of my day telling my son not to eat my CDs or ham the keys of my laptop with his gooey hands. Oh, and I just bought my first car in 15 years, which has been a brilliant excuse to trawl through my CD collection and get deep into all the albums I used to spend so much of my time listening to – currently my car has metamorphosed into a mobile Alice In Chains capsule.

What’s happening in your music?

Lots of wind instruments, that’s what’s happening. Instrumental timbre has been increasingly taking the foreground in my music, so I’ve been having lessons on a load of different instruments in an attempt to better my understanding of them. This has also involved spending days and days recording me making weird noises on each one. Basically, really fun.

Your piece is called Fluorescence. Are you hoping for glowing reviews?

My piece is called Florescence, and I am hoping it will allow your mind to blossom.

Oh dear, Lee! Well, if I can’t get the title right then how can I be expected to play your new piece?! Help me out – what’s the first note?

I’m not sure – it depends what comes out of the flute … an upper partial of G, hopefully …

Well, if you don’t even know the first note …

What’s the last note?

Again, I’m not really sure – it depends where the viola ends up … fingers crossed, it’ll be an upper partial of G …

Hmmph. So what happens in between?

Mostly G … the reckless abuse of an expensive piano … then some arpeggios.

No pianos will be harmed in the execution of this piece! All the effects are astonishingly gentle. Thank you very much Lee, we are all really excited to perform your new piece ‘Fluoridification’ on October 29th!

A few moments with Yukiko Watanabe

Yukiko Watanabe is one of two winners of our 2016 Call for Scores competition. She studied with Beat Furrer in Austria and now lives in Berlin. Her music is truly adventurous, embracing the dramatic and the bizarre alongside truly heartfelt sensitivity. We are excited to perform her new work In My Room at our Brighton concert at 5pm on October 29th. Yukiko has kindly given us a window into her life, ideas and compositional methods – read the interview below!
Don’t miss Yukiko’s piece on the 29th! The venue is a short walk from Brighton station, and the concert starts at 5pm, allowing plenty of time for dinner, drinks and travel after it finishes. So why not plan a bracing autumnal day at the seaside with a terrific concert to boot? There’s even an extra hour to pack with enjoyment before the clocks go back that evening.
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What’s happening in your life, and in your music?
Life is full of unexpected things. There are many happy accidents that give me a chance to know and change myself. Likewise in my music I expect that something new will happen to me.

Do you feel like you have a ‘personal style’ in your composing?  Could you describe your own style to us?

It’s a very interesting question. Though it may seem paradoxical, but to think about my own style equates to the assumption that I don’t have any original style. Our music exists in different contexts and background of cultural history, so my music also can’t consist only of itself, but it is created always with some contexts. So it seems to me that to know the context rather than thinking about my own style is important. But perhaps we believe too much our own history and context without questioning. Composition is nothing more than the accumulation of the question for oneself; not to accept everything as common sense, but to try to think through everything again personally.

Your piece is called In My Room. So, what is actually in your room?
Currently, my small room is occupied by a lot of instruments and also small toys for my daughter.
When I started to compose, my daughter came to me with her toys and showed me new techniques for making music. So she provided inspiration and even guidance for the beginning of the piece!
I imagine the piece is like a kindergarten, there should be some serious fun with these toys. The piece should be played like inquisitive child!
Do you conceive of your pieces with drama in mind?  

Drama in my music is actually not easy to define. Because it is not always same, and mostly it depends on the idea of the piece. Each idea has an appropriate duration, and I just follow what the ideas or musical material wants to do. One more thing I can say about the shape is that compositional blank space is very important. For the imagination of the listener, they will always need blank space to fantasize.

How does the piece end?
Music always tells me the end of the piece.

Could you tell us a bit about other projects you have going on in 2016/2017?

I have two big projects in 2016/2017 other than the piece for Riot Ensemble. Firstly, I will compose a new piece for AsianArt Ensemble in Berlin. The ensemble is very unique, it’s mixed instrumentation with European and Asian instruments. I will take particular note of the difference between the physicality of both of them and I’m sure it will be a challenging piece for me, because it is related to my own origin deeply.

And the second one is also a very challenging project. In the project, I deal with the possibility of using sign language in contemporary music. For this project, I’m studying the language and I’m already totally fascinated with it. Learning a new language is not only fun but it will also be a first step to understanding an unknown world!

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A few moments with Jack Sheen

Composer and conductor Jack Sheen has been co-commissioned by Riot Ensemble and BBC Radio 3 to compose a new work Television continuity poses for performance this Saturday (01/10/16) at the Southbank Centre with simultaneous live broadcast. He kindly took a few moments out of quite an intense schedule to answer our questions.

photo by Anton Lukoszevieze

photo by Anton Lukoszevieze

What’s happening in your life?
I have just moved flat and am listening to the new Young Thug mixtape a lot.
What’s happening in your music?
I’m starting to make long duration performance installations, some by myself, and some in collaboration with the artist Rowland Hill. The first one with Rowland is called I have never been anywhere so long and is being premiered in Manchester at Emergency Festival. It’s based on hand gestures used by women in Lancashire cotton mills and is about real and imagined repetition, corporeal memory, discipline, and fatigue. It’s actually going to be the same day as this Radio 3 broadcast, so quite a busy day.
Your piece is scored for solo violin (Sarah Saviet), viola, alto flute, bass clarinet, and toy piano. Have you been inspired by the great canon of works for this combination?
Not really, no.
So what’s the first note?
G sharp.
And what’s the last note?
F quarter-sharp.
What happens in between?
The piece is for solo violin and ensemble and there are three movements. In the first movement the violin plays a line and the rest of the ensemble play a chord. In the second and third movements the ensemble is split into a bunch of individuals and/or duos which act independently of the others. Generally, material is cycled around and variated in some childishly simple way.
Whilst I was writing the piece I was watching a lot of Merce Cunningham dances. I really, really love how Cunningham treats large groups of dancers, how he breaks up that group into smaller groups, how those groups change and interact.
I mostly wrote this piece during that huge heatwave in London in late August/early September, so a lot of this piece was sketched and composed wearing swimming shorts.
Many thanks, Jack!