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.
‘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!
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.
Pianist Claudia Maria Racovicean has been on the Artistic Board of The Riot Ensemblesince 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.
Unfortunately we can’t play the entirety of the broadcast (due to copyright restrictions) but we’ve broken down the hour into a few usable snippets which you can listen to below.
The broadcast opened with Claudia Racovicean’s first performance of John Cage’s Seven Haiku, before Celeste gave a short introduction to The Riot Ensemble and our artistic aims. This section concluded with Lutoslawski’s Five Songs:
The middle of the broadcast included some advice for composers writing for voice, and for young vocalists working with contemporary composers:
The broadcast ended with Martin Suckling’s Three Venus Haiku (with Riot Artistic Board Member Kate Walter playing Flute) and the second performance of John Cage’s Seven Haiku:
Thanks so much for joining us for this broadcast and we’ll be back to you soon with videos from the concert, and blog posts from composers featured in our upcoming Transatlantic Collaborations concerts!