This Saturday we make our Oxford Debut, with a programme stretching from J.S. Bach’s Second Cello Suite, through to the UK premiere of Djuro Zivkovic’s I Shall Contemplate…. (The programme also includes the magical Vox Balaenae and two preludes of Claude Debussy).
We were incredibly lucky to have Djuro with us for rehearsals of I Shall Contemplate… this week, and it was my pleasure to sit down with him and ask some questions about this piece and his other work.
AHN: Djuro, In your introductory note to I Shall Contemplate…, you talk about ‘composing this piece through improvisation’, could you tell us more about how you work when you’re writing?
Djuro Zivkovic: Each piece has its own working path, but there is a routine in my working environment that I feel very comfortable.
I think of two approaches in composing: analytic and synthetic. In my improvisational composing, I confront the synthetic aspects of composing against the analytic ones. When working analytically, I’m determining processes/techniques. It’s all about a knowledge of HOW to compose. On the contrary, the synthetic approach is focused on an understanding of the wholeness and the question of WHAT you compose. I’m normally more focused on “What” I compose, because the knowing of “What” is the very thing that ultimately determines how I write it.
For me, the improvisation is a way of getting to know WHAT to compose. I spend a long time – many hours – improvising, and eventually the final idea crystallises in my mind. The improvisation gives me total and unlimited freedom in expression. Then, later in the process, I use the more analytical techniques to help me shape the score in the desired way.
AHN: There’s a vocal part in I Shall Contemplate…, how does it relate to the instrumental ones?
DZ: I have attempted to create a vocal part that is as simple as possible. It is not an opera, but a very solitary voice that descends deep in its heart. It is like being naked and alone in a desert asking God for forgiveness and help. It’s drama comes from how simple it is.
AHN: Where does the text of I Shall Contemplate… come from?
DZ: The texts are partly from the Divine Liturgy and also from Dionysius the Areopagite – a very mystical figure of the early church. I am always looking for unusual texts, because they inspire me and make me want to compose music for them.
These texts are very, very far away of daily worries and activities in our lives, that’s why I love them. Although they’re Christian texts, in these sentences there is no name of the God, and so they can serve as a cantata for any human believer, or at least musically – for anyone.
AHN: It’s lovely how you refer to it as a ‘cantata for anyone’. You do mention Bach in your note about the piece (and, in fact) we’ve programming your piece alongside movements from Bach’s Second Cello Suite). Could you tell us a bit about how Bach’s music relates to I Shall Contemplate…?
DZ: Bach played a huge roll in my youth. When I was little I decided to be a baroque violinist and composer after listening to Bach’s organ prelude E-flat major!
In the German cultural centre Göte-Institut in Belgrade I had chance to borrow famous Archive editions of recordings of Bach’s cantatas, with small scores that follow along the LPs. It was a great experience in my childhood, and I always wished I could compose cantatas. This piece is far away from that period, but I hope still very close in the spirit of Bach’s works.
AHN: There are a number of beautiful extended techniques in your piece. Microtonality, multiphonics, and singing by the flute and piano player. Composers today are surrounded – both in everyday life and more and more in the repertoire – by extra-musical sounds. Do these sounds influence you or play any role in your work as a composer?
DZ: They do play role, but I always try to filter these sounds. Some sounds can be dangerous for my composing and some are fruitful.
AHN: Thanks so much for being with us Djuro. We’re really looking forward to giving the UK premiere of I Shall Contemplate… this Sunday!
DZ: Thanks for having me, and good luck!