Date: Saturday 28th October, 5.00pm
Venue: St. Nicholas Church, Brighton (BN1 3LJ)
Date: Saturday 28th October, 5.00pm
Date: Saturday 28th October, 5.00pm
Venue: St. Nicholas Church, Brighton (BN1 3LJ)
We come to new music in a lot of ways here. You’ve already been introduced to Yukiko and Lee, the two winners of our 2016 Call for Scores competition. This Saturday’s concert will also feature more than a dozen World Premieres from New Music Brighton composers – whom we collaborate with in Brighton annually. Laurence Osborn is a composer we got to know, in large part, because we saw him at a lot of concerts – ours and lots of other people’s, too. As soon as we heard his music we knew he was somebody we’d like to work with and so we’re thrilled to have commissioned a new piece from him and poet Joseph Minden: Micrographia.
In this interview Laurence discusses his life and music with our artistic director Aaron Holloway-Nahum. Both Laurence and Aaron will be at the concert this Saturday at 5pm – and the afterparty – so do come say hello if you make it down!
1. What’s happening in your life?
This evening I got back from Sainsbury’s just in time to see a mouse emerge from a box of cornflakes on the kitchen counter, so at the moment, mouse problems.
2. What’s happening in your music?
I’m writing a 90-minute opera for Mahogany Opera Group. The opera is called The Mother and it’s based on the work of a Polish playwright, painter, and prolific substance abuser called Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz. Witkiewicz’s work has had a huge influence on my music – particularly his theory of dramatic form, which he calls pure form. I’m interested in creating music-dramatic forms from apparently disparate or unconnected elements that hang together in the same space, so that the story of a piece or a scene is revealed in its overall composition rather than observed through linear narrative. The third act of the opera is made in this way: it comprises twenty-four very short sections intermingled with a standalone choral piece that has been cut up arbitrarily and superimposed on top of it all.
I’ve been listening to and watching a lot of things that work with this principle – Kurtag’s chamber music, and some of Peter Greenaway’s films from the ’80s. And I’m reading Infinite Jest, which does similar things. I’m also obsessed with the new Danny Brown album, Atrocity Exhibition – Danny Brown is amazing at juxtaposing different voices and sound-worlds in order to create an overarching narrative, I think. He’s a total genius.
3. Your piece is inspired by magnified images of tiny particles in substances including blue mould and urine. Are you at heart a true romantic?
Yes, I’m very soppy. But to be honest, it’s possible to get sentimental about virtually anything when it’s viewed through a microscope. The piece is based on Robert Hooke’s Micrographia, which was written in 1665, and details the author’s observations of various things through the microscope. The book contains lots of beautiful observational drawings.
Joe’s text really gets to the heart of Hooke’s love for the tiny worlds contained within everyday things, I think. The poetry is so colourful and evocative in itself that the composition of this piece came very naturally to me. Micrographia is much gentler and hazier than the stuff I usually write.
4. So what’s the first note?
It’s a chord! A cheeky little four-note chord on piano and vibes!
5. And what’s the last note?
An F natural. Not very interesting. But the last word of Joe’s poem is ‘hunger’.
6. What happens in between?
The piece is in six small movements, and each movement focusses on a different phenomenon viewed through the microscope – the point of a needle, salt crystals, urine, and so on. For me, the composition of each movement was a little game of magnification and/or reflection. So material is often magnified during a movement either through rhythmic augmentation, or the proportional widening of the intervals in particular chords, or sometimes both.
But (depending on the movement) you also find material reflected in various ways, in retrograde, inversion, and so on. There is no discernible system for this in movements 2–5. Movement 6, however, is a direct inversion of the magnification process used for movement 1. These two would probably make more sense sat next to one another, rather than at opposite sides of the piece. But also, each movement has its own specific sound-world that relates to the physical qualities of the phenomenon represented – I think the audience will be able to hear this when it’s performed.
We can’t wait to perform it! Thank you very much Laurence!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
Date: Saturday 29th October, 5.00pm
Venue: St. Nicholas Church, Brighton (BN1 3LJ)
The World Premiere of Laurence Osborn’s Micrographia – a song cycle for two sopranos and chamber ensemble setting seven new poems (written specifically for this piece) by poet Joseph Minden. World Premieres from our 2016 Call for Scores winners Yukiko Watanabe and Lee Westwood, and an array of new miniatures from composers from the New Music Brighton Composers’ Collective.
Have a look at our six concerts taking place this Autumn, including the Spitalfields Music Winter Festival, opening night of the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, ongoing work with BreatheAHR, a return to Brighton with NMB and more!
Date: Saturday 31st October; 5.00pm
Venue: St. Nicholas Church, Brighton
Jonathan Harvey’s “Death of Light, Light of Death” was inspired by Grünewald’s ‘Crucifixion’ in the Issenheim Altarpiece. Harvey wrote that the “unflinching sense of catastrophe that hangs over this picture has given it a special appeal to the sensibilities of our own time.” The Riot Ensemble returns to Brighton for the third consecutive year, to perform a concert centred around this beautiful and haunting music. Other music will include composers from the New Music Brighton composers collective, Helen Grime’s Oboe Quartet, and NMB Composers Patrick Harrex, J.C. Clark, Peter Copley & Phil Baker.
Soprano 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!
Date: Tuesday 14th October; 7.30pm
Venue: The Friend’s Meetinghouse in Brighton
The Riot Ensemble returns to Brighton to present an exciting array of contemporary music for various combinations of flute, clarinet and string quartet. The concert includes the world premiere of Artistic Director Aaron Holloway-Nahum’s Arrangements of Five – commissioned by Timothy Orpen with funds from the RVW Trust and Britten Pears Foundation. Other music includes the UK premiere of Augusta Read Thomas‘ Mansueto Tribute, ‘double helix’, Helen Grime’s To See the Summer Sky and an array of pieces from composers in the New Music Brighton Collective.
We’ve got a concert coming up this month 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 the same series of questions, so you can get a feel for who they are and what they do. The third in this series of interviews: Phil Baker.
Thanks for being with us Phil. First up, are you a Brighton composer or a composer that lives in Brighton?
I’m not sure what ‘Brighton composer’ might suggest: composers are composers wherever they’re from and I have never thought there was any suggestion of there being a ‘Brighton School’. I am, technically, Brightonian but haven’t lived in the city for some years. I used to dislike being called a ‘local composer’ which seemed already to consign one to parochial anonymity. I suppose that if being a Brighton composer the chances of increased financial support were forthcoming, the title could be worth it.
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…)
Having begun a new work, I make a point of writing every weekday and, if needed, weekends too. There is always a point when the work becomes slightly obsessive and preoccupying together with the sense of wanting it to be finished and out the way (Out the Way being, incidentally, the title of my Jazz Suite). Inspiration comes largely by being asked to write a work (a rarity), being asked to write a work for a particular performance (more common) or to be paid to write a piece (very rare); on the whole, I like to think I can pick up the thread of a piece each day partly as a matter of having a technique which can be brought into play to generate ideas if nothing presents itself. I often work on two pieces at once but I’m not sure why that happens so often.
When I first started to compose, it was at the piano with a pencil and rubber and I find that now at least some of the tentative steps at the start of a piece often happen that way; writing songs are most comfortably written at the piano but I’m not sure why that should be. With the advent of notation software, I also use that either to transcribe from penciled manuscript or directly into the system. Needless to say, much of the work is about listening to silence in your own mind in order to find the sounds. Orchestral music is usually written direct to score but with much sketching and scribbling besides on paper. (One of the pieces I am currently writing is, however, in piano reduction for later orchestration but there is a particular reason for that). My opera The Bayeux Tapestry was also produced in that way.
Sometimes the work will progress against the odds ignoring that nagging feeling that it’s going in the wrong direction: several pages can be discarded by not listening well enough to the musical conscience. Creativity generally, I think, is a complexity of processes which involves spontaneity, rigid control, aesthetic judgements and luck. When the ideas flow, it’s usually a sign to stop and wait for a new day.
Echo’s Antiphons was worked on over a period of about three years in part because there were other pieces to be written but in part because I wasn’t sure which prison I was in at the time. My hope is that it will sound free.
When you compose, who do you think of most: the performers, the audience or other composers?
In a nutshell, my attention is on the unfolding of the piece itself. It’s a question of putting an idea down and then combing through it in order to remove the knots; or to shape it more satisfactorily; or to change an interval here or there or to tweak a rhythm or two. The trouble is that, by making a single change, many others have to follow and I quite often make changes to works written some time ago simply because there is a different perspective over time. On the whole, Brahms’ advice to finish a work and put it in a drawer for a month or two is very sound if only to forestall the pitfalls of vanity.
I have written some Gebrauchmusick and, as such, those works certainly take into account the prospective performers. That is an enriching factor since it provides limitations. Also, some performers have particular characteristics which can be enriching to tap into and especially where singers are concerned. It is equally difficult to write difficult music for gifted executants as straightforward music for the competent but it is an aspiration to be able to write for anyone and anything. I don’t think it follows that one should write technically demanding music just because the performers can manage it; and, to some degree, it’s important not to write patronisingly simple music for the less experienced. I also will change parts (if permitted) as a result of performance because sometimes, composing is about making leaps into the darkness where aural imagination perceives one thing but receives another.
There is a sense in which music has to be perceived in order to exist and the fact that that will be by an audience of one kind or another makes consideration of an audience important. It is always important to be true to the music one wants to make so that it is not necessary to allow consideration of any hypothetical audience into that particular creative equation if only because judgements about an audience are impossible to make prior to a performance and perilously condescending to make during or afterwards. However, I do believe that there is little point in presenting a piece if there are no – absolutely no – points of contact whether emotionally or aesthetically. Tradition is a primal factor for generating points contact and I like to think I link to traditions without becoming a slave to them.
If there is no connection with an audience, we might as well not bother and all go home.
What is your favourite piece of your own work and why?
What would it mean if a composer didn’t like anything he had written?
There are a few pieces I am concerned about but mainly because they fail in one way or another – usually at a technical level.
I feel positive about the series of works written from fragments of ancient Greek music such as Chronophagos for Two Pianos (premiered by Adam Swayne and Terence Allbright) and the Epinikia on Pindar for reciters and ensemble. My Cabaret Songs of Misery and Hope I enjoyed writing and because they show a difference of style and voice and the Sinfonietta which I think still sounds funky and entertaining in a ‘serious sort of a way’. The Murals at Albi also still sounds interesting although I have yet to re-write the alternative ending. My Piano Quintet (Epiphanies of Silence ii) I think has some effective passages.
Do you consider blogs (such as this one) a useful way of interacting with your audience?
Well – you can interact all day with strangers but it won’t make them your ‘friends’ although it might encourage them to trot along to your concerts. Then the real interaction can begin at the performances as long as there are connections to be made.
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)?
Yes, I think that happened some years ago. I’m not sure how it came about but I was at a rehearsal of Shostakovitch’s Quartet No8 in a very small room at the University of Sussex. In part it was the sheer proximity of the sounds (it was a very small room) but, of course, the intensity of the work itself which shocked me into wanting to produce a string quartet. But the work also revealed (after later consideration) a tight web of relationships within the composition creating a coherent formal unity and that too had its attraction.
A close encounter with Stravinski’s Les Noces was another epiphany but, this time, about the cumulative power of music which sustains its energy over a long time span. Messiaen’s harmonic practice continues to fascinate but it’s one which won’t allow imitation. Keith Jarrett’s Köln Konzert is still something I like to hear once in a while: Sibelius improvised.
Apart from music, certain writing has also made a difference such as Webern’s Pathways to the New Music, 1922.
But this is beginning to sound like Desert Island Discs so best stop…
Describe Riot Ensemble’s Artistic Board Member (and NMB composer and performer) Adam Swayne in three words.
Talented – Enthusiastic – Short
Have you ever participated in a Riot?
I have been present at a riot but I did not think I was participating in it.
The riot in question was at Grosvenor Square outside the American Embassy and proved to be quite alarming. Finding oneself confronting a thin blue line and being goaded by horses a mile high is not comfortable. Now, was it an American war or was it Thatcher?
I once had a work performed which had reached the final of a competition and, in the interval, I was quizzed about the work’s apparent links to the current civil unrest and rioting and discontent in society at large. I couldn’t make sense of the questions and, what’s more, didn’t win either.
‘We had the experience but missed the meaning’.
Thanks very much Phil! We’re looking forward to your music on the 31st!
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