Meeting Tim Rutherford-Johnson

We’re completely delighted to welcome Tim to our artistic board. As well as composing poetic and illuminating programme notes to our concerts, Tim brings an academic slant to our programming as well as a keen contextual eye on our activities within a wider contemporary scene.

Tim has just published (with University of California Press) ‘Music after the Fall’ – the first detailed survey of western art music in the post-Cold War era. He is also the editor for ‘Sounds Like Now’ – a brand new independent magazine devoted to contemporary classical music which launches its first issue in May. You can also follow his highly regarded blog here.

Alex Ross has called Tim ‘probably the most authoritative international chronicler of the composed music of our time’.

Pretty impressive stuff, we think you’ll agree. But how will he fare with the really big questions, such as ‘favourite 007’ or ‘mayonnaise or salad cream’? You can find out below …

Riot_Tim2
In what ways have you Rioted so far?
I’m the group’s in-house writer; so far I’ve written notes to four Riot concerts, with more to come. As a new member of the artistic board I’ve also thrown in a few Riotous programming suggestions.
Teenage tearaway, or nerdy note-learner?
Oh, I was a proper nerd – books, science, music, the lot.
Favourite musician?
Toss-up between Olivier Messiaen and Kim Gordon.
Favourite performance venue?
Anything off the beaten track: small rooms in the back of pubs, that sort of thing. Hawksmoor’s churches in London are always special places to listen too.
People have said this about me …
“That T-shirt makes you look pregnant.” – my daughter.
Strictly or X Factor?
Bake Off.
The best 007 is …
Roger Moore is the most fun, but Daniel Craig has made the better films. I wish they’d had the courage to make Skyfall the last Bond; that was a perfect ending.
Salad cream or mayonnaise?
Mayo. With chips.
I would most like to Riot about …
Arts funding. Inequality. The environment.
Many thanks, Tim!

Speak, Be Silent – Programme Note

‘Find the thing and it disappears’, warns the composer Rebecca Saunders. ‘Name the thing and it loses shape.’ In Saunders’ piece a visible trace we hear a piano keyboard squashed hard, before its sound backs away, as though embarrassed; a double bass glissandos downwards, as if being swallowed up; violin and flute essay a note, an idea, but seem to think better of it. Sub-groups of instruments step forward and draw back. We hear sounds brought tentatively into being, attempting to stand on stick-like legs, bearing weight for the first time. A lyrical line, already stretched thin, is coaxed a little further, slowly building in strength.

At the start of her score, , Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdóttir writes to her players:

When you see a long sustained pitch, think of it as a fragile flower that you need to carry in your hands and walk the distance on a thin rope without dropping it or falling.

Her words recall a line at the start of Saunders’ score by the Italian novelist Italo Calvino, from Six Memos for the Next Millennium:

The word connects the visible trace with the invisible thing, the absent thing, the thing that is desired or feared, like a frail emergency bridge flung over an abyss.

Saunders’ sounds, like Calvino’s bridge, are fragile, thrown almost in desperation to reach something before it fades. Yet Thorvaldsdóttir’s thin rope, sustained by bass flute, bass clarinet and strings, spun out into tight melodic tendrils, and pierced by thunderous interruptions from the piano, conveys an inner assurance. Her title draws on the Icelandic word for serenity, as well as its Chinese equivalent, , which may also be rendered as Ann: the composer herself. Traces – in this case of self – can create a sense of tranquility, a safe harbour.

But what of the abyss itself? What empty space do these bridges cross?

We might see an answer in buildings by the Japanese architect Junya Ishigami. Almost invisible boxes of glass, they are held up by forests of thin white supports that give these otherwise empty spaces mass and drama. ‘Transparency is some kind of feeling of freedom, it’s not a physical thing’, Ishigami says of his buildings.

Ishigami

Inspired by them, Edmund Finnis in his Frame/Refrain surrounds a bustling, percussive piano, prepared with strips of blu-tack across its strings, with softly chugging string chords, a trumpet and clarinet duo of short, sliding glissandi, and a slowly warping background of brass and metallic percussion. As the individual parts repeat they circle around each other and the space between them, creating illusions of density and form out of components that seem hardly to be there.

Amidst these worlds of sonic fragility and uncertainty, the blast of brass and gongs at the start of Liza Lim’s Speak, Be Silent seem to sound with a potency from an entirely different place. Yet this is another illusion. Her work also describes a sort of bridge, between one thing and another, one person and the next: what Walt Whitman called ‘a vast similitude [that] interlocks all’. This is a concerto, but Lim’s solo violin frequently melts into or is smelted out of the ensemble surrounding it; the scale of Lim’s commitment to her vision is reflected in how un-violin-like the rest of that ensemble is, dominated by brass, piano and abrasive percussion.

All four pieces in tonight’s concert consider the delicate trick of connecting ourselves to things without them disappearing. Lim prefaces hers with one more trace, one more piece of advice; lines by the 13th-century Persian poet Jalaluddin Rumi:

Just remember when you’re in union,
you don’t have to fear
that you’ll be drained.
The command comes to speak,
and you feel the ocean
moving through you.
Then comes, Be silent,
as when the rain stops,
and the trees in the orchard
begin to draw moisture
up into themselves.

Programme

A few moments with Liza Lim

It’s my pleasure to be giving this Friday the UK Premiere of Liza Lim’s violin concerto, Speak, Be Silent.  Liza is a generous composer and collaborator, and I’ve been an admirer of her music for a long time, so it was a particular pleasure to spend a day working on the piece with her, and asking her a few questions in advance of our performance.

the opening of Lim's "Speak, Be Silent"

the opening of Lim’s “Speak, Be Silent”

Sarah Saviet: Hi Liza, and thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us. We are incredibly excited to give the UK premiere of your piece Speak, Be Silent for solo violin and ensemble. Where does the title come from, and does it give any hint to our readers as to what they can expect from the piece?

Liza Lim: The title comes from a version of Rumi made by Coleman Barks:

Just remember, when you’re in union,
you don’t have to fear
that you’ll be drained.
The command comes to speak,
and you feel the ocean
moving through you.
Then comes, Be silent,
as when the rain stops,
and the trees in the orchard
begin to draw moisture
up into themselves.
     – Jalaluddin Rumi, excerpt fr. Mathnawi V: 3195-3219
     version by Coleman Barks 

The piece is a ‘concerto’ – a rather classical formation! But my take on this was to make a piece that plays with ideas of union and separation – to find ways of exploring how rather different things can be in the same space to make a unison and to see how divergence and convergence are in dialogue and relate to each other. After speaking, comes listening … and then the ecstasy of an internal singing.

Speak, Be Silent was commissioned for and premiered by Ensemble Contrechamps in 2015. We will be the second ensemble to perform this piece. What is it like to hear your music played approached for the first time by musicians who didn’t give the premiere, and how is your participation in the rehearsal process different (or similar)?

I’m excited to hear you (Sarah) with Riot Ensemble and your take on the work. It is amazing how different a piece of music can be from one musician and performance to the next and actually, I love the non-static nature of that. Interpretation and style are important components of how all musics are communicated and I think the sonic-time arts are particularly seismographic to who, how, where, and when something is happening – that unrepeatable specialness of time-place-person in the  process of performing and as an intersection of the energies of the people involved, is so incredibly interesting. In terms of rehearsal, every situation can be different – I suppose with a premiere, there is a more open space for creating the language of the work but that quality of ‘creation’ could and should be there no matter how many times a piece has been played – it’s up to the imagination, vitality, and sensitivity of the performers. In rehearsals, I listen!

whatever this is

from Ensemble Modern’s recent premiere of Lim’s “Ronda – The Spinning World”

You frequently write for non-Western (ie non-European) instruments; for example, sheng, Hardanger fiddle, and most recently Walter Smetak’s ‘Sound Sculptures’ (for an upcoming premiere with Ensemble Modern).  In comparison, the instrumentation for Speak, Be Silent consists mainly of Western orchestral instruments. How does your compositional process differ when you are writing for familiar instruments, as opposed to instruments that you are exploring for the first time while writing the piece?

I try to find some unfamiliar aspect to all instruments that I write for – often some lateral perspective, some ‘secret view’ of the instrument in terms of how it’s played or sounds, provides an important point of inspiration to me. The more seemingly familiar an instrument is, the more potential I think it has of surprising me and prompting unexpected creative responses. The cello, for instance, is an instrument very much known to me in an internalized way and I’ve explored many different preparations: of wrapping hair around the bow, or by tying cotton threads to the strings, as techniques to de-familiarize the instrument (anyway, a very well-trodden modernist path!) and through that, found ways of opening up some new aesthetic priorities for my music, for example: an aesthetics of shimmer, or a way of phrasing which hesitates and breathes in a certain way. The element of ‘making strange’ or ‘making unknown’ that might be more obvious when composing for a non-Western or an invented instrument is pursued in all of my music as a way of arriving at some kind of perceptual shift (even if small) – rather than it being about writing for ‘weird’ instruments per se.

In Speak, be Silent, I retuned the bottom string of the instrument to increase the ‘throaty’ quality of the string and this is for me the access point to making a connection between the woodblock (a very basic ‘violin’) and the violin in the piece. I try to find links between the identities of these two instruments using the rasp stick on the woodblock as a bow and having moments in the solo violin where the sound catches and distorts – it’s not a complete match and I keep it quite subtle but in that gap between sameness and difference, I glimpse something which for me is the essence of the piece.

You were recently appointed Professor of Composition at the University of Sydney’s Conservatorium of Music. This is a unique post as you will be closely involved in SCM’s national women composer’s development programme. What advice could you offer towards ensembles and performers who would like to support the development of women composers? Is it significant to simply programme works by women composers, or are there other actions that might be important to consider?

The Sydney University/Conservatorium programme is an exciting one to be involved in because it takes a bold approach to addressing gender inequality.

I think basic inclusion is the first step (otherwise it’s all talk, no action …). I think we’re still (still!) working on a basic shift in perception in terms of gender (and other) equalities, hence the need for tools that change those frameworks – quotas where one commits to inclusion allow one to ‘make’ the result straight away so one can see what that looks like. Through that, you normalize a culture where women and men are given space and access to cultural resources. (When one puts it that way, it really does become very clear why this is essential.)

I think having role models is also important – visibility is a very powerful thing – especially in our age of images. I’m pleased to be working more to address gender equality issues; I’ve been doing quite a lot of mentoring of women composers recently at a grass roots level in Australia as well as a programme with Speak Percussion in Melbourne. I’ve been inspired by my colleagues at Huddersfield University – Liz Dobson and Lisa Colton; by the work and research led by Ashley Fure and others at 2016 Darmstadt, as well as by the work of colleagues like Cat Hope at Monash University and composers like Chaya Czernowin, Olga Neuwirth, like Rebecca Saunders and Anna Thorvaldsdottir who you’ve also programmed in this concert, and many, many others.

Liza garden, Feb2017

Liza Lim, in her garden

Occasionally you make a blog post that includes pictures of your incredibly gorgeous vegetable and flower garden. How do you pick which plants to grow?

I have a very small garden in the front yard – it’s basically 2×2 metres and I like to plant in a very dense way using horizontal and vertical space (that way there are no weeds and the theory is that biodiversity helps keep pests in check – they eat each other!). It’s fun to grow things you can eat and I choose heirloom tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, chillies, beans, greens, and herbs; the flowers bring the bees in; and because it’s the front garden, it’s quite a public space so lots of people passing by stop to chat – it becomes a rather social zone.

That sounds lovely to us – especially to those of us in London!  We’re excited to see you and work with you this week, Liza.  Thanks so much for your time!

A few moments with Anna Thorvaldsdottir

We hugely enjoyed performing Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s piece ‘Shades of Silence’ during our last concert in Brixton, so we’re immensely looking forward to presenting her ‘Ró’ on March 3rd at The Warehouse, Waterloo. Anna is commissioned and performed all over the world, so we’re really grateful to her for taking time in her busy schedule to answer a few questions. Read her interview below, and check out her website here.

1413023547875.jpeg

You’re an Icelandic composer but you’ve studied in the U.S. and now you live in London. Where do you think your artistic heart lies?

Well, I can’t say I feel that my artistic heart belongs to a geographical place per se – for me it is much more of an inner search for a soundworld. It is very precious to be inspired by different places but I don’t feel that the places I stay in, or live in, bound me or define me artistically. But I will of course always be Icelandic because that is where my roots lie.

We have been working on two of your pieces: ‘Shades of Silence’ and ‘Ró’. These are scored for wildly different ensembles. Can you give us a flavour of the soundworld you’re creating in each piece?

It is always important to me to listen to what the music wants and needs each time, and this often depends on the instrumentation of course and sometimes the occasion for which the piece is written. But my soundworlds are always born from the same inwards place in a sense although they are of course different for each piece. The characteristics of Shades of Silence are for example inspired by the airy and light notion of baroque string instruments because the piece was initially commissioned by an ensemble that performs on baroque instruments, so the lightly pulsating characteristics of the piece are inspired by that. And was inspired by a search for calm through various musical means which are carried by a stream of harmony and sound materials that are born from various attacks on the larger and smaller scale within the piece.

You’re very well known for your huge orchestral landscapes. Do you feel more at home in a symphonic medium than writing for smaller forces?

I very much enjoy writing for larger forces and orchestras and playing with the colors of many instruments has always been a very big and a natural passion for me. My musical voice tends to be geared towards instrumentations that have the capabilities to create sound structures and sustained harmonies, and there are of course many variations of smaller instrumentations that can very well do that which I very much enjoy writing for as well and feel at home within. But writing for the orchestra is always a special treat and a big passion of mine.

I see you’ve got performances in Vancouver and Paris in the same month as our concerts. Are you at home with travelling as much as your music is?

I travel very much for my music but the music is being performed very often and quite widely so I am not able to attend all performances, but I try to attend the largest performances and premieres the best I can.

Do you think Iceland will beat England at football next time they meet?

Probably not :)

We’ll see … Many thanks, Anna!

A few moments with Oliver Brignall

A couple weeks ago, we spent two days at Brunel University workshopping a scene Oliver Brignall’s new opera Palace of Junk.  

Palace of Junk

The multi-media opera retells the terrifying tale of the Collyer Brothers (do not follow that link lightly!)  Oliver’s music is as beautiful and haunting as the story, and we’re really excited to premiere this scene at Mahogany Opera Groups Various Stages Festival on 24th February.  We got to ask Oliver a few questions about the music in advance…

Hello Oliver, and thanks for answering these questions. The ensemble’s really enjoyed working with you on your new opera ‘Palace of Junk’. How’s the collaboration been from your perspective?

Hi! It’s been an enormous pleasure to collaborate with Riot again; I’ve been working on the opera for over a year, so as I’m sure you can imagine I was pretty nervous (but excited) to finally get the full ensemble together in a room!

Scene 4 - Homer & Langley

Page 1 of Oliver’s Score

I was blown away with everyone’s commitment to the piece. The entire opera is to be performed without a conductor, with all direction coming from within the ensemble so on the surface the score could potentially be quite daunting, especially as it is written in a sort of hybrid of traditional notation and a more free time/space notation. It was great having Aaron on hand to direct the rehearsals, helping with the initial navigation of the piece and offering some rehearsal pointers. It was also fantastic to be able to workshop different ideas with all involved, resulting in some important yet necessary changes being made to the scene.

You combine your composing work with performance work as a professional tenor. Does this practical experience inform or change the way you write music?

I feel that they have both influenced each other in different ways. I guess most importantly, despite my continuing compositional interest in ‘music on the edge’, the borderline between sound and silence for example, my experiences as a performer have ensured that the notes on the page are presented as clearly and idiomatically as possible, even if asking for something on the border of the realms of possibility.

My taste in performers and performance style, informed by my own experiences as a professional singer, has also been influenced by and continues to influence my music. I am increasingly less interested in this idea of perfect ‘studio quality’ live performances, much preferring the excitement of a voice or instrumentalist on the edge. Many of my favourite singers, golden age superstars such as Mario Del Monaco sang in a way that was so utterly thrilling yet so far removed from modern ideas of a ‘safe’ performance. Consequently, in performance sometimes it worked sometimes it was less successful. I take huge amounts of inspiration from this kind of sound, using it as a base level for most of my work in an attempt to create a resulting style that is consistently inconsistent and celebrates the act of performing over a clinical precision led style.

You’ve chosen to set the true and rather sad tale of the Collyer brothers who famously filled their Manhattan abode with all manner of (un)collectables. However, your score is quite the opposite of cluttered. Can you give us a window into your compositional processes?

One of the first things to strike me about the story of the Collyer brothers was just how much music they must have had in their lives. Amongst the belongings removed from the house were literally tonnes of musical detritus including 14 grand pianos (represented in the opera electronically – a live, constantly reacting series of piano related resonances and cascades), countless instruments and piles and plies of sheet music and records, there was also an apocryphal story that their mother was a society singer.

The harmonic language of the whole opera is based on the musical items found in the house (Bessie Smith records, Sheet music for Chopin’s Etudes etc) creating a kind of collection of musical items from which the piece is built. Rather than cluttered with a patchwork of gestural musical ideas, the sound leans more towards a spectral style, with timbral and homophonic elements as a musical centre. I imagine that the end result of the electronics together with the spectral nature of the harmony might suggest an idea of claustrophobia but it’s not an intentionally explicit part of the work.

In terms of the score, as mentioned briefly above, I try and keep the presentation on the page as clear as possible. The score leans slightly in the direction of tablature, with the (often noisy and unpredictable) resultant sound rarely reflected in the written notes. I hope that the writing on the page however, suggests both a musical direction and a physical intention for the performer.

Mahogony Opera Group’s ‘Various Stages’ Festival on February 24th showcases work by a range of composers at the Institute of Contemporary Arts from 1-8pm. Can you give us a flavour of what to expect?

 This is an unbelievably exciting festival. There are six showcased pieces in total (four, like this selected from an open call) hugely varied in scope and style. Whilst I feel unbelievable privileged to be involved – I’m also super excited to see and hear everything else that will be put on!

So, do you share any personality traits with the Collyers? For example, are you an obsessive hoarder?

Haha! Yes, good question! I’m sure artists of all kinds will agree that they are somewhere on the spectrum of obsessiveness. I’d be the first to admit that I have an extremely obsessive nature and it was definitely something that I wanted to look at with this piece.

I’m no hoarder per se but I have a weakness for records and CD’s, making any record shop my first port of call whenever I travel! As a result, they take up a pretty huge portion of my house. Arranged alphabetically, chronologically and by genre of course…

Do you live in semi-seclusion?

A city boy through and through!

Have you booby-trapped your house?

 Come for tea and find out?!

Many thanks, Ollie (we think … )!

 

A few moments with Heather Stebbins

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.

View More: http://ginabrocker.pass.us/heathermikeandelliottoctober2016

‘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!

RealWorld-43

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.

Thanks so much, Heather!

Talking Toy Pianos

IMG_3697At our session at Real World Studios this week we are recording super works for toy piano(s) by composers Monica Pearce and Thomas Kotcheff. Here they answer Adam’s questions about their intimacies with these dinky noise-makers, embracing sonics, tonics and politics …

You are both seasoned ambassadors for the toy piano. Please can you describe your activities to date?

MP: It’s an anniversary year for me and my toy piano – I met this Schoenhut 3-octave number ten years ago in July off an ad on Craigslist. It’s been a wild adventure ever since – I’ve written almost a dozen pieces with toy piano since then. One piece in particular – clangor for toy piano and bicycle bells, written for Queen of the Toy Piano Margaret Leng Tan – has at this point travelled internationally more than I have, making stops in Singapore, Australia, U.S., and Canada! My interest in toy pianos has led me to some very unique projects – last year I wrote a duet for toy piano and tabla (with the remarkable duo of Xenia Pestova and Shawn Mativetsky), and this year I’ll be writing a quartet for two toy pianos and two percussionists for the Atlanta-based ensemble Chamber Cartel. When I’m not tickling the plastics, you can find me writing chamber operas, chamber music or educational music.

unnamedTK: I am a founding member of the Los Angeles based piano duo HOCKET and we love to perform music for toy pianos. Our repertoire ranges from toy piano classics by John Cage to newly commissioned works written for our ensemble (including a terrific piece by Riot Ensemble’s artistic director Aaron Holloway-Nahum). As a piano duo, we love the mobility that performing on toy pianos offers us (performing in art galleries, bars, outdoors, etc.) and both myself and my partner in HOCKET continue to compose, arrange, and commission new works for these instruments.

What initially attracted you to the distinctive sound of the toy piano?

TK: I’ve always seen the toy piano as the quirky combination of a harpsichord and a glockenspiel with the distinct feature that every toy piano has their own unique tuning. The fact that no two toy pianos can be in tune with one another is exploited in death, hocket, and roll by having the two toy pianos trading identically voiced major chords back and forth. Major chords on the toy piano also always reminded me of what an old-fashioned slot machine sounds like when you win and the machine is paying out — I tried to capture this slot-machine sound world throughout death, hocket, and roll and especially so in the coda of the piece.

IMG_0861MP: I loved the sound – the bell-like timbre with its bizarre overtones. I love that its sound exists in some other dimension that mixes an out-of-tune pitch with a very percussive clack. I think it’s an instrument that can be incredibly fruitful for composers to get outside of their comfort zones and really stretch their imaginations, especially if they can get over the mindset of it being a mini-piano or only suitable for writing creepy children’s music.

Riot Ensemble is recording a piece by each of you. To my ears both your pieces seem to mix a transparent sense of tonality with more chromatic flights of fancy. Is this a response to the instrument or a more general theme in your musical language?  

composition-iv-1911.jpg!Large

MP: I would say this piece certainly fits within my musical language but it’s most directly inspired by Kandinsky. I took a marvellous quote from Wassily Kandinsky which deals with colour as a musical metaphor: “Each colour lives by its mysterious life. Colour is the keyboard, the eyes are the harmonies, the soul is the piano with many strings. Everything starts with a dot.” Kandinsky’s artworks are so vibrant and dynamic, and I wanted to try and create a musical environment which was both calculated and completely excitable. The soprano also plays a wine glass drone throughout which gives a somewhat false sense of stability and creates unusual harmonic interactions with the toy piano. I am certainly prone to doing certain gestures on the toy piano, such as fast pointillistic patterns and repeated notes – I adore the resonance created by those types of gestures.

TK: In the music I’ve written in the last few years, juxtaposing vanilla major and minor chords against chromaticism, noise, and harsh dissonance has been a focus of my music. I’ve always been interested in the idea of “bad taste” in music and looking for ways to exploit that as an aesthetic. The idea of blatantly putting major and minor chords up against dissonant material seems like it would be in poor taste, but if a piece becomes oversaturated with poor taste, for me it slowly begins to emerge out the other side to become something new and worth exploring.

Perhaps a little piano is best played with little hands? Would you be happy, for example, for President Trump to give a recital on your toy piano?

TK: It would be fitting for a toy president to perform on a toy piano and he would certainly do less damage that way. However, I fear that President Trump wouldn’t be able to figure out how to play the instrument despite it being originally designed for children.

MP: Well all I can say is – music unifies, and requires that people listen and consider multiple perspectives. So, perhaps President Trump could use more of a music education to add to his personal growth. Meanwhile I’m just going to build this tiny wall around my toy piano.
What does President Trump think of that?
Trump Tweet
Many thanks Monica and Thomas! Together you sure make the toy piano great again!

 

A few moments with Rebecca Saunders

We’re actually quite amazed that we’re going to be giving the London premiere of Rebecca Saunder’s A Visible Trace on 3 March at The Warehouse.  We know we’re not alone in being deep admirers of Rebecca’s music, and we’re excited to be hatching plans to bring a lot more of her music to her homeland’s concert halls over the coming years.  We’re also grateful Rebecca took the time to answer a few of our questions about her and her music.  Read on, below!

Rebecca_Saunders_grande

 

Hello Rebecca and thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us. Your piece A Visible Trace seems to be part of a clutch of “trace” works. Can you explain what you mean by traces in music?

It´s hard to explain, but that´s why I wrote the piece, to try to explore this idea. Composing is like another form of thinking.  Here are 4 partial answers:

1. This quotation from Calvino was intended as the program text. It´s a beautiful visual image:

The word connects the visible trace with the invisible thing, the absent thing, the thing that is desired or feared, like a frail emergency bridge flung over an abyss. 
– Exactitude, from Six Memos for the Next Millennium, Italo Calvino.

Sound/silence – presence/absence. Tracing the sound, the timbre. Hunting down a trace of colour and pursuing it. Find the thing and it disappears; name the thing and it loses shape and meaning. That is the ‘trace’ – unattainable, elusive, slips through your fingers, the moment you touch it, it is gone.

2. This piece had no prepared formal structure or pre-conceived goal. In the moment of composing investigating the chosen palette of sounds, exploring their potential, and then gradually as the piece progresses sketching a formal design.

3. The unveiling of the ‘thing’, the drawing out of silence of a sound and giving it context and shape – moulding, caressing, projecting, catapaulting sound or timbres into audible space.

4. The work is rather like a single long lyrical line, albeit elongated and stretched to breaking point. This line pursues the fragments of timbre, the ‘traces’.

This piece is scored for ‘eleven conducted soloists’. Can you give us an idea of how the musicians will interact with one another?

The individual parts can be quite virtuosic and demanding. Also there are a number of small chamber groups which explore a shared timbral palette of sounds. These were separately composed and then juxtaposed within the large-scale work, forcing separate threads of music to co-exist. The last section has for example a trio of e-guitar, violin and piccolo which is fused into the overall texture, but which also lends line and form to this part of the piece. I liked at this time to explore the potential formal tensions inherent in juxtaposing different musics in this way. It can create an unusual tension and disjointed formal cohesion.

00 - Score - A Visible Trace-10

On the other hand I also explored creating a single shared palette of sounds which fused the whole ensemble together to try to create one single instrument where the sound is in a constant state of transformation from one timbre to the next.

Your music seems to frequently (although not always) draw upon slow tempi and silence. Are you giving your audience freedom within their listening experience? Or are you simply using silence as an important musical tool within different performance environments?

I don´t think I can deem to give or take away freedom … Certainly a slow tempo can allow a listener to contemplate a sound and a colour in a different way. But even in a highly tense fast dense music the play of timbre can lead the ear to follow the line, gesture and contour of the music. Silence is particularly important in this respect. It can frame and give context and depth to a musical gesture. It highlights the contours and characteristics of a sound. It enables us to focus intensely on a moment of sound that follows or indeed precedes the silence. Silence can be active, inactive, full of expectation, dead or incredibly exciting – that moment of waiting, even the moment of dread – it has many functions. It can be seen as the antithesis of sound, but also it is a full vibrating explosive potential of anything sonic. Drawing sound out from under the surface of silence, which is like a knot of infinite frequencies and cacophony waiting to be revealed, or allowing it for a moment to explode into the listening space. A composition can frame a sound which we may never have noticed or bothered to give our attention to before. One possible act of composition is to create a listening space, an acoustic landscape into which the listener may enter. I wouldn’t define silence as a tool, as it is as important as sound itself, is part of the fabric of sound.

We see you are hard at work on a large-scale music theatre piece. Can you tell us more?

It is a large-scale spatial project for dancers, voices and large ensemble based on a late Beckett text entitled Still. But it one of those projects that keeps starting and stopping and right now I am not sure when the premier is, somewhere between 2019 and 2021.

Finally, warm greetings from London to Berlin. How is life as an English person in the heart of European culture?

Berlin is a very diverse and international vibrant city, which I love and does remind me of London at times. It has a rich and exciting cultural life. It is a tricky question right now, post-Brexit. Brexit hangs heavily over us. Disappointed and angry like all Brits living in Europe – one feels rejected by one’s own country.

I feel part of a rich European culture. I have lived here for many years now but of course, since I came here as an adult, I retain my essential ‘Englishness’. I still eat Marmite and watch Sherlock. But Brexit and its unimaginable aftermath have shocked me profoundly. It was awful not to be able to vote – not a clever move, and rather undemocratic, to not let so-called ex-pats have their say – that could well have made all the difference. It’s going to be incredibly important for cultural institutions, ensembles and artists to work even harder to maintain and promote exchanges and collaborations between the UK and Europe.

Many thanks, Rebecca!

A few moments with Utku Asuroglu

We give the U.K. première of Utku’s Hayirli Olsun at our concert on February 16th at Brixton East 1871, 7.30pm. Find out more about him on his website, and read his thoughts on composing, conducting and his Turkish heritage in our interview below!

jpg

Your musical studies and career have taken you from Turkey all across Europe. Did anywhere in particular steal your artistic heart?
The years I spent in Graz, Austria were the most valuable and important in my artistic life as a composer. The rich culture of Austria and my professor, Clemens Gadenstätter had a huge impact on me.
Does your conducting work inform the way you compose music?
Of course. My experiences in conducting greatly developed my inner hearing, my understanding of orchestration, and understanding of the psychology of the performers behind the music.
This piece features a prominent part for harpsichord (performed by our very own Goska Isphording). What attracted you to this particular instrument together with the unusual combination of piano, percussion and trombone?
The harpsichord is an instrument whose presence I truly miss in contemporary music. When used creatively, harpsichord adds extremely unique colours and expressive possibilities to any instrumentation. Dutillieux’s Les Citations [performed by Riot Ensemble in 2014!] or Carter’s Sonata for Flute, Oboe, Cello and Harpsichord are wonderful works that prove my point. I wanted to contrast harpsichord with another keyboard instrument, and I tried to underline their percussive quality with percussion and their expressive ability using the trombone.
Your programme note mentions the Sivas Massacre of 1993. Have you addressed these horrific events in music, and if so then how?
My music mostly lacks any programmatic content. However, non-musical influences have always proven to be strong points of departure for my compositions. The word non-musical sounds very unjust to me, for I can’t isolate music from literature or architecture.
The Sivas Massacre was a horrible hate crime against critical and creative minds of Turkey. Even though I was just a kid in 1993, I have read a lot about it ever since and its impact is still present in my life. I don’t think it’s possible to address how I used these impressions in this particular piece, and I believe this is the very unique thing about music; it defies being described with words.
Can you tell us more about your future plans?
I’m working on an ensemble piece that’s going to be premiered by International Ensemble Modern Academy in the Gaudeamus Music Week 2017. I will also be busy with a chamber opera project with Marcel Beekman in the Netherlands. We are still working on the libretto. Working with artists from different disciplines motivates and inspires me. I am very much looking forward to hearing and seeing the resulting work on the stage.
Many thanks, Utku!