The People United Will Never Be Defeated

Date: Friday 14th November; 7.30pm
Venue: St. Luke’s Church, Brighton

The Riot Ensemble’s co-principal pianist Adam Swayne presents a unique performance Frederic Rzewski’s The People United Will Never Be Defeated, one of the twentieth century’s most monumental works for solo piano.  Rzewski wrote the piece in 1975 for Adam’s teacher, Ursula Oppens. The 36 variations are based on a song that expressed solidarity with the Chilean resistance to General Pinochet and, in a wild and often bewildering mix of virtuosic piano techniques and motley musical styles, the composer also weaves in other anthems that represent a struggle for democracy. The concert will last just over an hour without an interval and will include a spoken introduction.

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The People United Will Never Be Defeated

Date: Friday 7th November; 7.30pm
Venue: The University of Chichester

The Riot Ensemble’s co-principal pianist Adam Swayne presents a unique performance Frederic Rzewski’s The People United Will Never Be Defeated, one of the twentieth century’s most monumental works for solo piano.  Rzewski wrote the piece in 1975 for Adam’s teacher, Ursula Oppens. The 36 variations are based on a song that expressed solidarity with the Chilean resistance to General Pinochet and, in a wild and often bewildering mix of virtuosic piano techniques and motley musical styles, the composer also weaves in other anthems that represent a struggle for democracy. The concert will last just over an hour without an interval and will include a spoken introduction.

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The People United Will Never Be Defeated

Date: Tuesday 11th November; 7.30pm
Venue: The Forge Camden

The Riot Ensemble’s co-principal pianist Adam Swayne presents a unique performance Frederic Rzewski’s The People United Will Never Be Defeated, one of the twentieth century’s most monumental works for solo piano.  Rzewski wrote the piece in 1975 for Adam’s teacher, Ursula Oppens. The 36 variations are based on a song that expressed solidarity with the Chilean resistance to General Pinochet and, in a wild and often bewildering mix of virtuosic piano techniques and motley musical styles, the composer also weaves in other anthems that represent a struggle for democracy. The concert will last just over an hour without an interval and will include a spoken introduction.

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More Hands: Patrick Harrex

We’ve got a concert coming up tonight (!) at the Friend’s Meetinghouse (in Brighton) where we’ll be recapping some of our favourite pieces of the 2013 season and also playing some pieces by composers from the New Music Brighton collective.  We’re gearing up for the concert by asking the NMB Composers a series of questions, so you can get a feel for who they are and what they do. The fifth and final interview in our series: Patrick Harrex.

patrickharrex

Thanks for being with us Patrick.  First up, are you a Brighton composer or a composer that lives in Brighton?
The latter – I’ve lived here only since 1979 so need to stay around a bit longer to meet the naturalisation criteria!

Could you give us a little insight into how you compose?  (Do you have a set time you work at?  Do you write at the piano?  Etc…)
Ideally I like to set aside mornings (8am to 1pm) for writing, but too often other things have to take priority. I’m a hopeless pianist so can’t, and don’t want to, compose at the piano – it irritates me that so many young (student) ‘composers’ think they can sit at a keyboard and play around until something turns up. Mine is the old fashioned approach – sitting at my desk with paper and pencil. Inspiration often comes from images/ paintings or words – even now a blog! If I am travelling – long or short distances – I usually take a note book and pencil with me so I can jot down ideas at any time. Trains are great for this – but I do sometimes get funny looks, and occasionally get into interesting conversations.

When you compose, who do you think of most: the performers, the audience or other composers?
Performers and audience on more or less equal terms – thinking about how to draw each closer to the other. Very occasionally, for example in my Voices and Instruments, the audience is invited to join in the performance – something I’d like to explore further.

What is your favourite piece of your own work and why?
I think of my pieces a bit like my children: I don’t have favourites but am very fond of them all – and once they have reached maturity and go out into the world, they are on their own!

Do you consider blogs (such as this one) a useful way of interacting with your audience?
I have no idea – this is the first one for me, so let’s see what happens. But see also (2) above!

Have you ever had an experience similar to Witold Lutoslawski’s: When he heard John Cage’s Second Piano Concerto on the radio, the encounter changed his musical thinking and ushered in a new creative period (the first result of which was his Jeux Vénitiens)?
Hearing my tutor at York, Robert Sherlaw Johnson, playing the piano music of Messiaen and Boulez opened my ears to the sounds and thrill of contemporary music – a formative experience (1965). More recently, walking on the Downs, near Firle beacon, on a very windy day and quite alone apart from the sheep, the sound of the wind whistling through metal five-bar gates was amazing – rather like an organ (flute stops) but most mysterious. An effect I have since returned to and echoed in some of my pieces.

Describe Riot Ensemble’s Artistic Board Member (and NMB composer and performer) Adam Swayne in three words.
(apart from: ‘Not enough words’?) – Inspiring, encouraging, convivial

Have you ever participated in a Riot?
No – but I have experienced the after effects (Paris, 1968).

Thanks very much Patrick!  We’re looking forward to your music tonight!

Context is King

So the Rite of Spring is 100 years old, and so it the ‘Riot’ that accompanied it.

Commentators then and now seem divided on what caused the fracas; was it the music, the dancing, the performance itself, or some class-based tension in the audience that had little or nothing to do with the show? The most likely answer is probably all of these things at once, with the music the least likely culprit.

But I don’t think that context can be understated. The way the concert was presented in advance (Diaghilev’s marketing was fairly ambiguous), the other music on the programme (Weber and Borodin) the venue itself (don’t we still cling onto class prejudices about ‘going to the ballet’?) all played their part in stoking the shock-value of the famous premiere.


A new, visceral ‘context’ for The Rite of Spring

Now we have a ‘Riot Ensemble’ – one that fully embraces the importance of context. Our concerts start a long time before the music. You can watch a video about the concert in advance, virtually meet the performers through blog posts, and interact fully with the performances through education projects (we have a whole string of these planned for 2014). And our concerts all cost £10 or less (no class-based tension in our concerts, thank you very much!).


A video trailer for our just gone ‘Shapes of a Square’ concert

In 2010, when the Riot Ensemble was embryonic, I played the solo part in Michael Daugherty’s piano concerto ‘Le Tombeau de Liberace’, a performance that caused a very British kind of protest in the form of quite a few audible harrumphs from composers in the audience. Perhaps the insertion of gaudy light music at the end of a programme showcasing ‘serious’ contemporary works was not to their taste! Another example of context playing its part.

But if it sounds like it might be to your taste, then head to Brighton this Thursday evening (April 25th) where I’m performing a programme of ‘classical’ works written by leading lights of the local rock and jazz scene.

A series of Riotous events!

“Why the ‘Riot’ Ensemble?” I’m quite often asked. I usually reply that our Artistic Director Aaron Holloway-Nahum dreamed up the name many years ago, pre- 2011, and has nothing to do with a quick smash for a new flatscreen or pair of trainers and, as far as I know, no-one’s tried to launch a brick through the window of one of our concerts (yet).

What we’re really referencing is the riotous feeling that occurs when new music meets new players and new ears for the first time; when composers, performers and audience come together and feel an equal and important part of the creative process. After all, these roles are never as separate as the national curriculum would have us believe.

Since pianists are surplus to requirements for our next concert of string quartets– at LSO St Luke’s on March 8th at 7.30pm- I shall be joining the audience at a Riot Ensemble concert for the first time. This well-deserved little ‘sabbatical’ has also afforded me the time to complete a new composition, so I am ticking all the GCSE boxes! My teachers would be proud.

I was asked by my colleague Dr Laura Ritchie at the University of Chichester to write a piece for many cellos with a few interesting and indeterminate variables, not least the actual number of players that will show up for her Cello Weekend (March 16/17) and the varying experience of these performers. I have dealt with similar situations before through my work with Contemporary Music for All (CoMA) and educational projects for the RNCM, and have learnt that this is not a challenge but rather a delicious opportunity to unleash experimental ideas upon performers and audience with a generous dollop of ‘riot’ to boot.

 

                                            The opening of Celli-Chela

In my piece for the RNCM – ‘Football Crazy’ for any large number of pianos – there was something of a riot at the first performance (this may have had as much to do with the face paint and whistles as it did the neon-tinged D7 chords). I built a competitive process into this piece that I turned to again in ‘Maggie Maggie Maggie! Sing Sing Sing!’. This encourages the performers to behave as musical wide-boys amassing pitch and dynamic as currency in a Thatcherite society (there’s no such thing!). Less competitive (but still interactive) I wrote ‘Many Dark Actor Playing Games’ for Cambridge University and CoMA, a political satire on the decisions leading up to the 2003 Iraq invasion ending with a mini-requiem for weapons expert Dr David Kelly.

Chela Earrings, no joke!

This new multi-cello piece eschews sport and politics in favour of zoology, but maintains the game processes I used in these other works. It’s called ‘Celli-Chela’- a punning reference to the pincer-like appendages on crabs or lobsters. Our crustacean-like cellists will be attempting to scuttle across a musical rockpool while ‘nipping’ other cellists using a snap pizzicato. The sonic result will be an ever-ascending blend of various extended techniques for cello in a slowly developing harmonic framework, rather like parts of Lachenmann’s quartets but without the hassle of notating it precisely… does this make me a lazy composer?

I suppose I’ll find out the answer to this last question (eek) on March 8th at the LSO St Luke’s concert, when we’ll hear new quartets by top composers from around the world. The Chichester Cello Weekend is on March 16th (concert 7.30pm) and 17th (concert 4pm), and also at the University of Chichester is a jamboree of new music on March 12th (7.30pm) featuring Tom Reid’s new score for the silent film Ballet Mecanique and David Sawer’s score for ‘Hollywood Extra’. Both films will be shown alongside the music, and the concert ends with Michael Daugherty’s piece for two Barbie sopranos and rock ‘n’ roll ensemble ‘What’s That Spell’.

Hope to see you at some of these riotous events!

 

The Magic Bass Flute in Pictures

Thank you for all who came along to our concert this past Saturday (26.01.13).  It was great to have you with us, and we hope you enjoyed hearing the music as much as we enjoyed playing it for you!  One of the highlights of the concert this past weekend was having composer Amy Beth Kirsten around to work with Adam and Kate on her engaging and dramatic piece,Two Monologues.

We’ll be back next week with audio and video from the concert, along with a blog post from flautist Kate Walter on what it’s like to work on a piece with a composer.  In the meantime, we hope you’ll check out our next concert – The Shapes of a Square – at LSO St. Luke’s, 7:30pm on Friday 8th March!