Meeting Ausiàs Garrigós Morant

It’s been quite a year at Riot HQ. Aaron had to buy a new sofa in order to squeeze in all our new members of the artistic board. (Maybe I’ll pop a picture of the sofa up on instagram.) Our final ‘unveiling’ of the year is the astonishing clarinetist Ausiàs Garrigós Morant. Ausiàs will be joining us at Cardiff University for our second performance of wonderful text scores by the late Pauline Oliveros on Tuesday April 4th at 7.30pm. You have to think quickly on your feet for those, and the same goes for these interview questions below (although don’t ask Ausiàs how long it took to answer them …).


Welcome Ausiàs! Tell the ways in which you have Rioted so far …

Every day. Every morning. Against my alarm.

Teenage tearaway, or nerdy note-learner?

Tearaway. 100% impulsive.

Favourite musician?

Paquito d’Rivera has always been my musical (and clarinetist) hero and I would say one of the reasons why I play clarinet, too.

Favourite performance venue?

A half-improvised stage lost in the mountains of Sierra de Segura (Spain), a beautiful natural reserve that hosts a beautiful music festival – Musica en Segura.

People have said this about me …

‘Being as clumsy as you are, how is it possible that you have not dropped or broken your clarinets a thousand times?’ (By my mum – I still don’t know how!)

Strictly or X Factor?

Sorry, but this year, La Voz, the Spanish edition of The Voice, only because one of my best friends was in the final.

Salad cream or mayonnaise?

Mayonnaise (and french fries, and a touch of mustard, please).

I would most like to Riot about …

Climate change, and common sense – should they both not come together?

Introducing: Kate Walter

5 - KateFlautist Kate Walter was one of the founding artists of The Riot Ensemble, and has been on our Artistic Board since our first concerts at Guildhall.  Kate performs regularly in London’s top orchestras – such as the Philharmonia – and in West End Shows such as Les Miserables.

Kate has a busy year of Rioting in 2015, starting with our very first concert, The Riot, at MeWe360 in January.  Get to know Kate a bit better, in her answers to our questions below.

What is the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you while playing the flute?
Well, there has been nothing too embarrassing when playing the flute, there’s plenty of time for it to happen though!! I have conducted a flute ensemble dressed as a Christmas pudding, that was pretty embarrassing.  I did once have to play triangle in a Wind Quintet performance, and when I reached the solo triangle moment, I swung and completely missed!  (oops!)



What are you looking forward to in 2015?
I am really looking forward to the Riot Ensemble season, it includes some awesome repertoire and I always really enjoy the challenge of learning new music: the crazier the better! We always have a lot of fun in these concerts, and there never seems to be a dull moment. I’m very lucky to have opportunities this year to play in many amazing concerts around the globe and make a living playing music, it does’t get much better than that.

What is your favourite Riot Ensemble story, so far?
It’s got to be our Workers Union performance on MayDay 2014…outside in Dalston Square…in the rain…the police were called….enough said?? It was brilliant, we were making a LOT of noise and the crowd were dancing along in the pouring rain, it reminded me of being a Glastonbury, minus the mud! I also just love meeting so many fabulous musicians and composers.  Collaborating with different Artists such as ECCE Ensemble and New Music Brighton is something that is really exciting.

Introducing: Sarah Mason

6-2 - SarahPercussionist Sarah Mason is the newest member of the Artistic Board of The Riot Ensemble.  Sarah has consistently performed with us since our earliest days at Guildhall.  She is also the principal percussionist of the Ossian Ensemble, has toured China, Russia and America with the LPO, and played on the recording for Howard Shore’s score for ‘The Hobbit’.  Sarah will be performing in a trio of Riot Ensemble concerts in 2015, including our day of multiple performances of David Bird’s Fields in unannounced parks and venues throughout London. Get to know Sarah a bit better, in her answers to our questions below.

What is the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you as a percussionist?
There have been so many…it’s hard to know where to start!  I once had to chase a 6″4 fellow off the stage whilst wearing a black executers mask and beating a drum with whips…oh, and Aaron once made me run into a pile of chairs! It hurt but it was worth it – way more fun than embarrassing.

What is the loudest instrument you know of?
Weirdly the loudest sound I’ve ever heard was sitting next to a suspended cymbal while someone did the loudest roll on earth. It was epic, but I thought my head was going to explode. Again, totally worth it.

What are you looking forward to in 2015?
I can’t wait for the new commissions that come out of our Call for Scores. It’s brilliant working on a premiere with the composer. I feel like a piece is still a little bit mailable before it’s been performed/set, and it’s exciting for you to discover together what it will be like in 3D.

What is your favourite Riot Ensemble story, so far?
Again, there are just so many!  Recent great Riot moments include giant breakfast butties during percussion rehearsals, watching everyone getting their rage faces on for the Riot photo shoot (perhaps I got particularly carried away…). Oh and Aaron keeps asking me how the really hard solo piece is going for the concert tomorrow… When there is no solo piece. Terrifies me every time.

Introducing: Goska Isphording

4 - GoskaHarpsichordist Goska Isphording joined the Artistic Board of The Riot Ensemble after our Les Citations projects in 2014.  Goska is one of Europe’s top contemporary specialists on the harpsichord, previously winning first prize as a soloist at the Krzysztof Penderecki International Competition of Contemporary Music 2002. Goska will be performing in two Riot Ensemble concerts in 2015, including our end of year concert, where we will premiere a new work by Jose Manuel Serrano, along with the two pieces chosen in our 2015 Call for Scores.  Get to know Goska a bit better, in her answers to our questions below.

What is the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you at a harpsichord?
During a recent chamber music concert in Tallin, I was performing a piece an approached a very busy – and specifically notated passage.  Unfortunately, just before I began this, I accidentally switched off the needed registers on the harpsichord – so I ended up playing on a silent keyboard, moving my fingers all over the place with no sound.  It was some time until a suitable moment came to get my sound back!

What are you looking forward to in 2015?
So many things, new things, that’s what makes playing contemporary music so exciting! Firstly, as an Artistic Director myself, I’m looking forward to the competition and festival Prix Annelie de Man, in Amsterdam.  It’s a wonderful full week event, completely devoted to contemporary harpsichord music with special focus on presenting and promoting newly written repertoire performed by some of the world’s most talented young players.

Of course there are also all this season’s premieres: premiering new works is always like taking a journey to unknown landscapes.  And of course this is what I’m always doing in the great projects of The Riot Ensemble: seeking to bring this exciting new repertoire to the audiences with the surprising twist (see the picture above, for example…)

What is your favourite Riot Ensemble story, so far?
Definitely the Les Citations rehearsals where we had a harpsichord, double bass, soprano, oboe and an entire array of percussion (including marimba and vibraphone) in the front room of your (Aaron’s) flat!  Thankfully we had great weather those days so we could have lunch in the garden! I’m very much looking forward to the new stories of 2015!


Introducing: Adam Swayne

3 - AdamPianist Adam Swayne has been on the Artistic Board of The Riot Ensemble since our very first concerts at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama in 2009.  In addition to his busy performing schedule, Adam teaches piano at the Junior Royal Academy of Music and is Senior Lecturer and Head of Chamber Music at the University of Chichester. Adam will be performing in a number of Riot Ensemble concerts in 2015, including our June Portfolio Concert, presented in conjunction with Sound and Music. Get to know Adam a bit better, in his answers to our questions below.

What is the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you at a piano?

Probably playing a wrong note at your (Aaron’s) wedding. It was only one note out of several hundred, but it seemed somehow to resonate louder than a thermonuclear explosion. And it found its way onto the official wedding video too. Other than that, probably having to impersonate two female goddesses in Amy Beth Kirsten’s ‘Speak to Me’.

What are you looking forward to in 2015?

Playing/ vocalising Amy Beth Kirsten’s ‘Speak to Me’ again on January 30th. I suppose it’s pretty kinky to be humiliated. After all, if I didn’t enjoy it then I wouldn’t have agreed to let Aaron release that ridiculous picture.

What is your favourite Riot Ensemble story, so far?

I enjoyed hearing the sharply divisive audience reaction when we performed Michael Daugherty’s Le Tombeau de Liberace in one of our first concerts at Guildhall. I also enjoyed playing Workers’ Union in the rain in Dalston and having the police turn up halfway through.

Introducing: Claudia Maria Racovicean

2 - DiaPianist Claudia Maria Racovicean has been on the Artistic Board of The Riot Ensemble since our very first concerts at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama in 2009. Claudia is currently preparing to record her first album, which will include Aaron Copland’s Piano Variations, which she started learning this summer while living at Copland House.  Claudia will be performing in half-a-dozen Riot Ensemble concerts in 2015, none less than our series of concerts with Breathe AHR, which brings contemporary music into hospitals with live visual artists. Get to know Claudia a bit better, in her answers to our questions below.

What is the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you at a piano?

I was in my final year of my Masters at the Royal Academy of Music – and before the concerto exams every student gets about 20 minutes on their fantastic Steinway in the Duke’s Hall (where the exams eventually take place).  I was the very first pianist to practice on the day, and I ran through my concerto (Saint-Saëns Second Piano Concerto) and on as I played the final fortissimo chord, a string on the piano snapped!  It was this incredible, thunderous sound and my accompanist and I had no idea what had happened.  When we saw a string had broken we quickly gathered our things a slipped out to let the piano technician know.  I wondered if the rest of the pianists that day thought someone was trying to sabotage them…!

What are you looking forward to in 2015?

I’m really looking forward to recording my first full-length album.  It’s going to include some works I’ve been playing for many years, such as the Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, but I’m placing those pieces alongside much lesser known (but no less beautiful) works such as Matthias Pintscher’s On A Clear Day.  With Riot Ensemble, I just look forward to every concert because there’s always some sort of crazy excitement happening on the day, and it’s just great to be making music with such close friends in concert after concert.

What is your favourite Riot Ensemble story, so far?

You know, I really love the concerts we do with Breathe Arts Health Research.  It’s great to perform this – often very serious and high-minded – music in a venue where it has a very real affect and impact on people’s lives.  The music always speaks really well in these concerts because of the informality of the event – and I also really like the experience of sitting down to play something, and then finding this artist has created this wonderful painting that you can look at and enjoy long after the music has finished.

Introducing: Celeste Cronje

1 - CelesteSoprano Celeste Cronje has been on the Artistic Board of The Riot Ensemble since our official launch in 2012. In addition to being a soprano up for absolutely anything voice-related, she founded and runs the foreSOUND School of Music in North London, where we will be hosting the 2015 ‘Riot Young Composer of the Year’ project in 2015.  She’s going to be singing a huge array of repertoire with us in 2015, not least, Jose Manuel Serrano’s Velado in our October Concert: My Life on the Plains. Get to know Celeste a bit better, in her answers to our questions below.

What is the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you while you were singing?

Burping mid-note…okay, it was when I was 17 but it was hilarious and I’ll never forget it! I was ‘test running’ my diploma repertoire at a local charity concert and felt a little ‘rumble’ in my tummy as I approached the ‘F#’ in O del mio dolce ardor….I managed to hold on to about a quaver worth of the pitch before the naughty little belch made its way north! The audience were stunned and I had to make a split second choice. Do I carry on or do I stop and apologise? I carried right on. Apparently I only missed about an extra quaver worth of time! *sing-burp super loudly-sing* A lady came to me afterwards and asked if I was feeling okay. Very funny.


What are you looking forward to in 2015?

No longer having to teach on Saturday mornings, learning how to make muffins that aren’t as arid and dry as the Sahara, getting my amazing students excited about writing music for our Young Composer Award, and last but not least SINGING all the epic music I get to sing with Riot Ensemble!

What is your favourite Riot Ensemble story, so far?

I can’t give just one!  Here are my top three (so far…)
1) Realising that my lips are too fat to make flutelike whistle harmonics and/or having to bellow at a snare drum because my microphone broke! (Jenna Lyle!)

2) Hitting any sweatshop we could find in Brighton to ask for anything ‘grim looking’ so that we could decorate the piano at our NMB Halloween event in 2013 (Watch out, Brighton, we’re coming back for Halloween this year!).
3) Burning a thousand candles in one of our earlier concerts, which took place in London’s craziest venue, run by London’s craziest woman.  It took a while to get the place into concert shape, but it ended up being a hilarious and really fun night!

Contemporary Music: Pleasures and Pitfalls, with Brian O’Kane

One of the things I most enjoy about The Riot Ensemble is that all of our concerts and projects are planned and produced by the same artists who perform the music.  This means that the same artist who performs a contemporary work to a new audience has had a real hand in curating both that work and the context that it’s presented in.

Brian O’Kane (cello) and the rest of the quartet rehearse for The Shapes of a Square

I was pleased to have a few moments this week to speak with Riot Ensemble Brian O’Kane, a member of our artistic board, whom you might have seen perform in our recent Shapes of a Square concert at LSO St. Luke’s.  Brian is a highly sought after emerging musician with a wide range of experiences in the classical and contemporary classical profession.  His answers here shed light on what it’s like for musicians to present contemporary music, including some of the most common pleasures and pitfalls.

Brian, thank you very much for being with us. Can you tell us a little about how you came to play contemporary music?

it’s my pleasure to be here, and thanks for having me.  My first performance of contemporary music was as a teenager at the Cork School of Music. It was a piece by Nicola LeFanu and I suppose that’s what garnered my initial interest in contemporary music.  From there and then, interaction with student composers whilst studying at the RAM & GSMD in London made it quite natural to continue playing new music. Other factors were the influence of my colleagues and particularly my professor at the RAM, Philip Shepard, who had a wonderful energy and enthusiasm for contemporary music. It was he who introduced me to more obscure contemporary cello repertoire such as Augusta Read Thomas‘ Fantasy on 2 Klee Studies which if I’m not mistaken, was actually written for Philip!

You play music from the entire spectrum of music history, of course, and I’m interested in asking a bit about the similarities and differences you find in communicating such different styles of music to audiences and listeners. Could you tell us a bit about that?

In theory, the communication in playing contemporary music should not be any different to mainstream classical repertoire. A convincing performance of any work from any period, should ultimately convey a strong sense of structure, style, imagination, sound-world and contrast. In this regard they’re the same. In practice however, they’re not quite on a par due to the fact that contemporary music constantly breaks new ground in sound and its possibilities. As performers, we play catch up. We already have an intrinsic knowledge of how to approach and communicate a Beethoven sonata. Therefore, what has to exist is an initial belief in whatever the genre or work so that our approach remains the same and does not effect our communication.

You’re an experienced chamber musician and currently play in the Navarra Quartet, could you tell us about some of the particular challenges that a String Quartet faces when performing contemporary music?

Where to start! Obviously, there are some string quartets such as the Arditti and Kronos quartets who focus primarily on contemporary music. These quartets have a unique skill set, honed through decades of immersion in sound-worlds of the foremost composers of today with constantly evolving extended techniques. What challenges a quartet which doesn’t specialise, like Navarra, is to get to grips with these sound-worlds and techniques in a manner that doesn’t dictate interpretive choices or restrict musical ideas.

The merits of Beethoven, the grand-master of the string quartet idiom, are rarely questioned or divide opinion among a quartet’s members. Beethoven’s quartets have obviously passed the test of time! For contemporary music on the other hand, there are four opinions on the merits of whichever contemporary piece the quartet is working. Judgements cannot be avoided on whether a work is a success or failure, whether it will remain in the repertory for centuries or whether the composer’s language lacks a unique voice. It’s a big challenge to let go of that baggage and approach it strictly for what it is and what the most effective way is of expressing the music.

On the other hand, we also have the luxury of being able to question and understand the intentions and writing of today’s composers. This presents a challenge in itself as some contemporary music specialists prefer to be told exactly how to play or interpret a phrase or note which doesn’t leave much room for any kind of interpretation. This is the complete opposite to the approach of classical repertoire where one has to trust the score and interpret as best they can. As for performance practice, the concentration required when performing contemporary music is different. It’s neither less or more, it’s the simple difference in musical language which creates the challenge.

Thanks so much Brian.  Maybe you could finish up by telling us what’s coming up for you in the next few months?

Coming up next is predominantly chamber music concerts encompassing travels to Ireland, France, Austria, Canada and South Korea. Highlights will be a recital at Ireland’s National Concert Hall, a cycle of the Britten Quartets at the Aix-en-Provence Festival and at the Lockenhaus Festival for the Austrian premiere of “Sparge La Mort” by Australian composer Brett Dean for cello, five voices and tape.