Art Rules

In the centenary of his birth, we’re thrilled to return to music based around Henri Dutilleux’s Les Citations.  We’ll be giving a world premiere from Nathan Shields, an extended version of Jose Manuel Serrano’s magical Cenizas de un madrigal triste, other Riot Ensemble commissions from Ken Hesketh & Chris Roe, Arlene Sierra’s Petite Grue and – of course – Les Citations itself.

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A few moments with Jose Manuel Serrano

José Manuel Serrano - Foto colorThe Riot Ensemble is gearing up for our upcoming Les Citations project, programmed in memory of Henri Dutilleux, with an array of premieres from around the world.  We’re hugely excited to be hosting Argentinian composer Jose Manuel Serrano for the premiere of his new work Cenizas de un Madrigal Triste (read on for the translation).

I first met Jose in France last summer, and his music immediately struck me as incredibly powerful, concise and passionate.  It’s a pleasure to have been able to commission himand to ask him a few questions about his work in general.  As with all the composers in this project, Jose will be with us at both Les Citations concerts so look for him if you’ve got any further questions on what he says here!

Aaron HN: Jose, thanks so much for travelling so far from Argentina to be with us! We’re hugely excited to give the World Premiere of Cenizas de un madrigal triste (“Ashes of a sad madrigal”). The word Cenizas (“ashes”) appears in a number of your titles, does it have a special meaning to you?

Jose Manuel Serrano: Is a great pleasure for me to be here, for first time in UK also, to attend the concerts and to work with The Riot Ensemble. Thanks a lot for this commission and opportunity.

The word ashes, is a very evocative word for me. First of all, because of the immediate association with something that “remains” but which is “incomplete” or almost dead. In some way, the idea of ‘ashes’ is linked with the concepts of memory and past, because we automatically think back to the original object, which now is only ashes.

Another connection to this word word is through the poet Omar Khayyám.  He worked in Rubaiyat, where he believed that all the things of this world – even all the sand of the deserts or a wine’s glass- were created with the ashes of the dead, and are still a part of life.

Concretely, I’ve used this word in some titles when I wanted to make some reference to other music (like Ars Nova and Ars subtilior). This is the case with this piece, where “Madrigal Triste” (Sad Madrigal) is a small reference to Baudelaire’ Les Fleurs du mal.

AHN: We specifically commissioned this piece to go with Henri Dutilleux’s Les Citations. Did Dutilleux’s music effect you as you were composing this piece?

JMS: Before I began to write this piece I was thinking about the occasion of the concert (an homage, for Dutilleux). I thought about lots of different approaches, such as:

  • “Should I use some materials or ideas from Les Citations by Dutilleux as a reference or evocation?”
  • “Or maybe from other pieces by Dutilleux?”
  • “Maybe I can use some of the same quotations, or from the same composers, that Dutilleux used in this piece (Jehan Alain-Clémet Janequin and Britten)”
Cenizas de un madrigal triste - Ref

The opening page of Cenizas de un Madrigal Triste

I finally landed on two things: one, that the best I could do – to connect Dutilleux’s ideas with my own ideas – would be to write a piece based on quotations from music I like and which are part of me.  A bit like making my own selection of “citations”, sort of repeating something that Dutilleux made at the beginning of the compositional process.  Second, I decided I will use some instrumental ideas from “Les Citations” which I also has used in some of my pieces: Working on instrumental ideas like modal melodies in artificial harmonics in the contrabass, chords in tremolos and ppp (with soft mallets) in the marimba, resonances in tam-tam, dense chords in the harpsichord, and so on.

And with this I should create a continuity between new materials and seven quotations I took from Mozart (Piano Concerto No.23, Mov. II), Josquin des Prez (Mille Regretz), Berlioz (Requiem), Nicola Vicentino (Laura, che ‘l verde lauro), Schubert (Ihr bild) and others.

This piece could be titled as “Les Citations” too, but it’s my personal version, with some references to instrumental ideas that can make us remember the piece of Dutilleux.

AHN: Even though you are a young composer, your music has struck me from the first time I heard it as having a very strong, unique and distinctive voice. Do you think you have a ‘personal style’ of composing? Could you describe your own style to us?

JMS: That is always a hard question for me, and I think for many people too. It’s hard to view our own work from inside, though even from outside there are also some things which can’t be seen completely. I want to be critic with my own work and ideas all the time (I always fear I am doing less of this as I get older) and I find problems all the time during the composition process.  This is one reason I write slowly and review the same bars eternally. I can recognise musical influences in my pieces in different points or concepts many times. That is a normal feeling for me.

Recently, very strangely to me, many people have started saying to me that my music sounds very personal; that it has some individual voice. Maybe! I hope so!  The influences I find are many and when I put them all together their origins vanish, or they work differently enough that they are creating a new thing. I don’t know. But as I said before, it’s still hard, very hard, for me, to find myself in my music. I still find that many sounds that comes from here or there. And if there is something which I recognise as “my”, the fear of “repetition” makes me feel that I work on the same ideas in many of my pieces. I mean, any time that I find something “recognisable” of myself, I don’t feel well using it many times (but it’s also not so easy to find new things).

About if I can describe my music…I can say that in the last years I was very interested in worlds which can be found between textures like chorals, paraphonies, monodies and heterophony, working with the ambiguity, duality and clear meanings in between of them. Let’s say: all the possibilities of meaning between the vertical and horizontal dimensions. With some slow and far melodical/textural/timbrical ideas which can have some references to music from the past. I like to expose the materials with some fragility, almost naked, to produce some tension, but that don’t means that the materials don’t have different natures and that they will be very restricted, or that there will be not big changes and strong contrast during the piece. I want to work with something synthetic, but not simple, which includes all the character I want or need without a forced and stylised elaboration, or a superficial refinement. A material that is exactly the one I need. (But that is really hard to find any time and needs lot of time), And if the material is apparently complex or apparently simple, I will just let it be.

AHN: Well we’re hugely excited to be giving this premiere of your work, Jose.  It’s wonderful to bring in composers from around the world, and to hear what you are doing.  We live in such a globalized society, yet contemporary music is often a very local phenomenon. Could you tell us a little bit about the contemporary music scene where you live (Argentina) and what you’re looking forward to in working in England?

Until this year, none of my pieces was performed in UK. And fortunately last year I had this great news of this commission and concerts in May, and last month I knew that an Italian Dúo, for cello and piano, also performed a piece in London last February. I am very happy for these performances.

The musical world in Argentina is very diverse and has changed a lot in the last years. Around 10 years ago there was almost no stable ensembles of contemporary music, a few concerts per year, and only one annual big International Festival in Buenos Aires each November.  Now, speaking only about Buenos Aires, there are maybe 10 stable ensembles, with around 7 annual concert series of contemporary music, when sometimes in strange days in November you can have like 5 concerts in a day of contemporary music.  Things have changed a lot. The most strange thing: there is a good public, many times full, in any concert, especially young people, who are very enthusiastic.

I can say that there is a big phenomenon of contemporary music now in Argentina. Many young players create new ensembles each year or play as freelance for these annual concert series. And there are many young composers too. But the other face of this is the instrumental level. There are many great players from Argentina, many of them who are playing in Europe in famous ensembles and orchestras, and many of them living in Argentina too, but I still feel the absence of a real high level or professional instrumental ensemble or orchestra for contemporary music. Normally, making a generalisation of course, the instrumental level in the concerts of contemporary music is medium or not good. If you want, one can attend good concerts for solo instruments, duos or trios of marvellous musicians but I still hope that in the next years some good large ensembles will be created calling the best players.

I feel like it’s mandatory for me to travel to Europe and outside of Argentina, for infinite reasons. To see and experiment different cultures, sound, flavourings, food, etc, and to feel that the time and history are “real” in any corner, and that the same things can happen again and again in abstract with different forms crossing the centuries. I can say millions of things why I love to travel, like all the people, but of course one of the main reason is that for me, as a musician, Europe represents a great level of performance for my music.  There is more possibility to attend good concerts from early to contemporary music, and the possibility of meeting new good friends and future colleagues which have the same musical needs. And more important, that even when I love Argentina, it’s nice to take some good air from the quotidian life from time to time!

These are the things I am looking forward to do and find in UK too, and I am sure I will! I am very excited to work with the Riot Ensemble in the rehearsals, and to meet all your players and to attend the concerts. And of course to know more about UK’s culture during this days in, as you said, my first trip here, where many things are new for me.

AHN: Fantastic Jose.  Just before we finish, what other projects dos you have coming up in 2014?

JMS: From the beginning of 2014 until now I had some performances in Italy with a cello piece, in Germany with a string trio which was performed two times by the Ensemble Aventure (Freiburg), and the same string trio – which was selected at the ECCE Ensemble Call for Scores 2014 – was performed twice in USA. After the concerts in London and Cambridge of the next week, I will have a performance in Lulea (Sweeden) at the “New Directions Festival”, where I am very happy to can go too during this trip. After this I will return to Buenos Aires, to come back at my job in the University of La Plata, and am preparing a Festival of contemporary, classical and early music in the town where I grew up: Choele Choel. I need to finish a new piece for soprano, piano, contrabass, percussion and prerecorded instruments too, which will be premiere in Buenos Aires around August, and I also need to finish two pieces before end of the year. I have a lot of work to do, fortunately.

AHN: We can’t wait to hear all the music Jose! 

A few moments with Arne Gieshoff

ArneThe Riot Ensemble is gearing up for our upcoming Les Citations project, programmed in memory of Henri Dutilleux, with an array of premieres from around the world.  One of the pieces coming from closer to home is from emerging composer Arne Gieshoff.  Arne’s currently a Sound and Music Embedded composer with BCMG, and a fellow-member of the New Voices Scheme.

I’ve known Arne’s music for a couple of years now.  It’s a pleasure to have been able to commission and programme his new solo oboe piece Wucherung, and to ask him a few questions about his work in general.  As with all the composers in this project, Arne will be with us at both Les Citations concerts so look for him if you’ve got any further questions on what he says here!

Gieshoff, Arne - Wucherungen_2

Aaron HN: Thanks for being with us Arne, and for your new solo oboe piece.
We commissioned this work for a project including Dutilleux’ Les Citations.
Did his music effect/influence you at all as you composed your new piece?

Arne Gieshoff: First of all, thank you very much for commissioning this piece! I’m very excited to be hearing Wucherung at the Forge next week. Rebecca is playing it brilliantly!

No, there is no direct relation between Dutilleux’s work – Les Citations in particular – and the oboe piece. However, his music has been a constant in my musical development and in that sense is influential on my compositional outlook. I sang the children’s voices part in a performance of The Shadow of Time something like thirteen years ago. This had a great impact on me and I guess the excitement for his music and contemporary music in general started around that time.

AHN: You worked closely with the oboist in writing this piece.  Is that a normal part of your composing process, and what do you do differently in writing a piece when you’re working with a specific musician?

AG: Wucherung explores the lower register of the oboe and its microtonal capacity. Those sounds require specific fingerings which vary in their success to produce a certain pitch on different instruments. On that level it was invaluable to work with Rebecca – especially because it is a solo piece. It can often help to know who will be on stage in order to get a better grasp on the material without necessarily tailoring it to preferences beyond my own.

Wucherung is part of a cycle of works which also comprises the string quartet Unwuchten (‘imbalances’), verdreht (‘contorted’, ‘distorted’, ‘perverted’, ‘pixilated’, ‘wry’…) for Trombone, Melodica and Scordatura Melodica and Umschreibung (‘periphrasing’ / ‘alteration’) for chamber orchestra. In German, the term ‘Wucherung’ describes the uncontrolled growth of structures such as tumours.

AHN: Do you have a specific, daily routine for composing?

I have a daily routine but try to avoid a composing routine.

AHN: I think it would be fair to say that your music focuses on ‘musical’ parameters (pitch/rhythm/melody/form/etc…) eschewing extra-musical things such as noises (rustling paper, key-clicks, breath sounds, etc….)  But composers are surrounded – both in everyday life and more and more in the repertoire – by sounds.  Do they influence you and are they in any way significant for your compositional work?

While I acknowledge a difference between sounds produced by instruments which were built for that purpose and sounds stemming from unconventional sources, the divide is not that clear cut for me, and is not an idealogical one. I think the issue of anecdotal qualities of sounds is technical: the creation of a meaningful context for them poses different demands compared to conventional instrumental colour. However, for me all sounds have ‘musical’ potential and in the same way that the Lupophon hasn’t featured prominently in my work, a hoover hasn’t either. But this could change tomorrow.

AHN: What other projects are you working on/do you have coming up in 2014?

AG:Throughout the year I am Apprentice Composer-in-Residence with the BCMG as part of Sound and Music’s Embedded scheme and am spending time in Birmingham gaining insights into the ensemble’s work in preparation for a 2015 commission.  I’ve also just finished Umschreibung for chamber orchestra (part of the same cycle as the oboe piece) which will be performed as part of the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s Debut Sounds Concert on 9 June at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, and have received a fellowship for the Tanglewood Music Center.  I’ll spend the summer there studying as part of the composition programme and having a few works performed.  In the Autumn The Ligeti Quartet will premiere my string quartet Unwuchten (also part of the cycle; commissioned by Anthony Bolton through Third Ear) at the Little Missenden Festival.

exploreensemble

In addition to that, fellow composer Nicholas Moroz and myself are busy organising performances for explorensemble, a contemporary music group we run. On 23 June there will be a concert at the RCM featuring works by Sciarrino, Furrer, Romitelli and young composer Edwin Hillier.  And in September we will be performing Fausto Romitelli’s Professor Bad Trip (Lesson I, II & III).

A few moments with Drew Schnurr

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The Riot Ensemble has had a busy month of May – from an outdoor performance of Workers Union (to which the police were called!) to Vox Balaenae and the UK premiere of Djuro Zivkovic’s I Shall Contemplate… on the Platnauer Concert Series at Brasenose College, Oxford.

Next week, though, is where we really get going.  Our Les Citations project, programmed in memory of Henri Dutilleux, will feature an array of premieres from around the world.

One of the furthest afield comes from Los Angeles-based composer Drew Schnurr whose new piece Linda’s Wake sets a libretto by Richard Sparks. It was my pleasure to ask Drew a few questions about Linda’s Wake, and his work in general.  Drew will be with us at both Les Citations concerts so look for him if you’ve got any further questions on what he says here!

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Composer Drew Schnurr

Aaron HN: Thanks so much for being with us Drew.  We can’t wait to give the world premiere of your work Linda’s Wake, which you wrote with librettist Richard Sparks. Can you tell us a bit about your work with Richard, and how you collaborated on this piece, specifically?

Drew Schnurr: First, I want to say how excited I am for the opportunity to work with the Riot Ensemble on this project. I had a great experience working with Richard last year, so when the commission came in I knew right away I wanted to ask him to be involved. I was happy he said yes. He took a few weeks and wrote the text specifically for this piece. I had no idea what he would be coming back to me with, and was blown away when I read the text for the first time. He had built a mountain for me to climb.

AHN: Setting text is always a particular challenge for composers, and Richard’s libretto sets some specific challenges for you as it moves in and out of rhymed verse.  Was this a decision you guys made together, and how did you approach the different formal styles within the text?

DS: You’re right. For me, Richard’s treatment of text and narrative is almost cubist—constructed periods of formally rhymed verse adjacent to more freely flowing structures. These correspond with abrupt intersections of time, place, and emotion within the narrative. All his conception. It did make the text a challenge to set. It would have been easy to do in musical abstraction, but my intention with this piece has been to support the heart of the protagonist’s (the soprano’s) story while also keeping the work interesting musically. One way I did this was to try to think of the text itself—inflections, rhythms, and formal structures—as musical material that can compositionally developed “as music.” This gave me some of the flexibility I needed to make the whole thing work.

The opening of Linda's Wake's Libretto by Richard Sparks

The opening of Linda’s Wake’s Libretto by Richard Sparks

AHN: You were a professional contrabass player yourself for many years – and indeed there’s a contrabass in Linda’s Wake.  How do the experiences you had as a performer effect your composing today?

DS: It’s another layer. I spent many years cultivating my skills as a performer and then working professionally. I personally feel one danger of the performer turned composer is that the “performer” can take over in the creative process which can narrow the range of compositional expression. When I turned my focus to composition some years ago, I worked consciously to try to bring my compositional technique to the same level I had achieved as a performer. It took some time, but I finally feel these two aspects of my musical DNA as being integrated and working well together. I wouldn’t have it any other way. When composing, I’m always conscious of how it would “feel” to perform the music within the ensemble, which I feel is of tremendous benefit to my process.

AHN: In addition to being the world premiere of Linda’s Wake, this will be the first UK performance of your work. We live in such a globalised society, yet contemporary music is often a very local phenomenon. Could you tell us a little bit about the contemporary music scene where you live (Los Angeles) and what you’re looking forward to in working in England?

DS: One of the distinctive traits of the new music scene in Los Angeles is it’s diversity. I’ve always been very attracted to that—both for how it stimulates creativity in my own work and for the freedom it allows. It’s rare. And we are experiencing a kind of surge here. New music series are sprouting up all over. Many of my L.A. composer colleagues have re-located recently from other parts of the U.S. traditionally considered more “happening” in terms of contemporary music. People recognise something significant is happening here. I’m very excited to be having my UK premiere. London continues to be so important to what is happening in new music today, and my musical encounters in London are always inspiring. I’m really looking forward to working with the Riot Ensemble for this project!

AHN: Well we’re very much looking forward to working with you, too, Drew.  As we sign off, tell us what other projects do you have coming up in the year ahead?

DS: It’s going to be busy. Work wise: I have a documentary film that I scored coming out this summer, along with a couple of other films in the pipeline. UCLA also hired me this year to develop a new curriculum in “sonic arts” at the Herb Alpert School of Music so I’ll be busy with that this fall. On more personal artistic fronts: Richard Sparks and I are planning another project, and I’m also working on a series of piano etudes. Any day composing music is a good day. I plan to have many more of those this year!

Les Citations (in memory of Henri Dutilleux)

Near the one-year anniversary of his death, The Riot Ensemble brings  Henri Dutilleux’s Les Citations to the Divinity School Recital Hall at St. John’s College, Cambridge. Presented along Dutilleux’s masterwork are an array of newly-commissioned works by composers from across the globe for the same lineup of instruments (with an additional soprano in two of the works).

These new pieces will come from Jose Manuel Serrano (Argentina), Jenna Lyle (USA), Arne Gieshoff (UK), Chris Roe (UK) and Drew Schnurr (USA).  The concert will also feature Ken Hesketh’s transcription of Dutilleux’s piano piece Blackbird (1950) for Les Citations forces, Arlene Sierra’s Petite Grue, and a short piece for Doublebass and Soprano by The Riot Ensemble’s 2014 Composer in Residence Amy Beth Kirsten.

 

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Les Citations (in memory of Henri Dutilleux)

Near the one-year anniversary of his death, The Riot Ensemble brings Henri Dutilleux’s Les Citations to The Forge, Camden. Presented along Dutilleux’s masterwork are an array of newly-commissioned works by composers from across the globe for the same lineup of instruments (with an additional soprano in two of the works).

These new pieces will come from Jose Manuel Serrano (Argentina), Jenna Lyle (USA), Arne Gieshoff (UK), Chris Roe (UK) and Drew Schnurr (USA).  The concert will also feature Ken Hesketh’s transcription of Dutilleux’s piano piece Blackbird (1950) for Les Citations forces, Arlene Sierra’s Petite Grue, and a short piece for Doublebass and Soprano by The Riot Ensemble’s 2014 Composer in Residence Amy Beth Kirsten.

 

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2013 Season: Composers

We’re extremely excited about our upcoming 2013 season.  Here’s a list of the composers we’ll be performing, with links to websites where available.

Giovanni Albini
Terence Allbright

Julian Anderson
John Aylward
Samuel Barber
George Benjamin
John Cage
Henri Dutilleux
Patrick Harrex
Aaron Holloway-Nahum
Marc Hyland
Mario Garuti
Ric Graebner
Helen Grime
Amy Beth Kirsten
György Ligeti
Witold Lutoslawski

Gustavo Penha
Augusta Read Thomas
Guy Richardson
Dominique Schafer
Christopher Theofanidis
Amy Williams

 

The Shapes of a Square

At LSO St. Luke’s at 7:30pm on Friday 8th March, 2013.
Music for string quartet by Henri Dutilleux, Christopher Theofanidis, Giovanni Albini, Gustavo Penha and Aaron Holloway-Nahum.
Featuring the Navarra Quartet

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