A few moments with Molly Joyce

Our first concert of 2018 is already almost here! On Friday 12 January we perform Elliott Carter’s legendary Double Concerto for harpsichord and piano at LSO St Luke’s, with Riot members Goska Isphording and Adam Swayne in the challenging solo roles.
This will not be the only highlight of the evening, however: the concert is completed with  works by two younger American composers, Molly Joyce and Pierce Gradone. Over the Christmas holidays Tim Rutherford-Johnson spoke to Molly about her Push and Pull, a new commission from our 2017 Call for Scores, and her work in general.
Tim Rutherford-Johnson: How did you start composing? Was there a particular moment, piece or person that inspired you to begin?
Molly Joyce: I was born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA, to a non-artistic but very supportive family. Musically speaking, I initially started on the violin. However, at the age of seven I was involved in a serious car accident after which my left hand was nearly amputated. After the accident, with the incredible support of my elementary music teacher, physical therapist, and mother, I was able to figure out a way of playing the cello instead –  backwards, so fingering with the right hand and bowing with the left hand (with a splint on the bow). I was always involved with music from then, also playing trumpet (including the ever-fascinating marching band) and occasionally singing in choir. However, once I was in high school I had access to computer notation software. Looking back I think what attracted me to composing at first was that there was no immediate physical limitation, and thus I felt that I could let my imagination run free. It also helped that the notation software all seemed like a big video game to me!
TR-J: What most recently has made a big impact on you?

MJ: While I feel like my answer to this changes every day, I think what has had the greatest impact on me in the past year or so has been meeting the singer, advocate, and entrepreneur Carla Canales. I have been very fortunate to get to know her as a close friend, mentor, and collaborator, and learning from and working with her has truly helped me reimagine my practice and career as one that not only strives for artistic truth and authenticity, but also social impact and awareness. Among her many activities, she is the founder and CEO of The Canales Project, a non-profit founded to create connections through culture, which I feel provides a very conscious and organic platform for artists to address social issues.

Additionally, she has really been the first collaborator to encourage me to sing in my work, which at first was a very scary step but now has truly been life-changing for my practice and output.

TR-J: How did Push and Pull come about? And what surprised you most when you were composing it?

MJ: Lately in many of my instrumental pieces I have been trying to confront my musical ‘guilty pleasures’ head on. These pleasures range from lots of reverb and constant rhythmic pulse, to wanting to quote every Florence + The Machine song …. With my work for Riot Ensemble, I wanted to wrestle with my love of downbeats, and to try to explore what would happen if the downbeat shifts from super obvious to super subtle, and then perhaps even inaudible at the end, allowing for a ‘pushing and pulling’ of it overall.

I think what surprised me most when composing it was how nervous I was and still am about the orchestration of it. I always feel incredibly insecure about orchestration, specifically because it’s so hard for me to tell how exactly it will sound; and once I do hear the music live it can sometimes be too late to make any major changes.

 TR-J: What is your composing routine like? Do you have a dedicated space and/or particular time of day to write, for example?

MJ: My composing routine generally follows the motto ‘anywhere and everywhere … with a coffee – light Starbucks frappuccino if possible.’I almost always compose directly onto my computer, and if possible with my toy organ by my side. When I’m not travelling I generally try to compose in the morning, as I feel that’s when I’m most focused and it’s overall a great way to start my day. When I am travelling I will compose anywhere – on the plane, in the train, and so on. My favourite practice is to find a Starbucks to camp out at (preferable seat near an outlet with nice window view) and binge on light frappuccinos.

TR-J: I’m detecting a frappuccino-based theme! So what’s next on your agenda?
MJ: My next major project is my debut solo album, which will feature my own voice with what is perhaps my favourite instrument, my electric vintage toy organ. Bought on eBay about five years ago, this instrument has quickly become a primary focus in my work, not only because of the unique sound and tuning that it produces, but because it physically fits my body as a performer well due to my physically-impaired left hand.
Thus with the organ and the music I compose for it, I aim to engage and challenge my impairment, an act which I hope will allow for a true ‘breaking and entering’ of my body to a realm beyond ability in and of itself. The album is not concerned with the functional or dysfunctional, but rather all the in-betweens and multitudes of possibilities that emerge from such a source.
TR-J: Finally, if you could choose anything, what would be your dream line-up of instruments and/or voices to write for? And where would you like the premiere of this fantasy piece to take place?

MJ: Along the lines of the previous question: right now my fantasy piece would at least involve myself singing and performing on the organ, most likely in a very resonant church or similar venue as I very much love reverb. I would also envision this as perhaps a collaboration with a lighting and/or projection designer, to add to the theatrics of the work and performance space.

And for the encore a huge dance party would immediately follow.
TR-J: Good times! I’m fascinated too to hear what comes out of your explorations of physical impairment. Thank you for your time, Molly, and we look forward to giving the first performance of Push and Pull.

A few moments with Pierce Gradone

Our first concert of 2018 is already almost here! On Friday 12 January we perform Elliott Carter’s legendary Double Concerto for harpsichord and piano at LSO St Luke’s, with Riot members Goska Isphording and Adam Swayne in the challenging solo roles.
This will not be the only highlight of the evening, however: the concert is completed with  works by two younger American composers, Molly Joyce and Pierce Gradone. Over the Christmas holidays Tim Rutherford-Johnson spoke to Pierce about his To Paint Their Madness, which will receive its UK premiere, and his work in general.

Tim Rutherford-Johnson: How did you start composing? Was there a particular moment, piece or person that inspired you to begin writing music?
Pierce Gradone: I started music as a bassist, mostly playing in church and in bluegrass and rock bands in the rural Appalachia region in the US. My composing, or at least some version of it, began when I was around nine years old. I heard Elton John’s ‘Benny and the Jets‘ on the radio, and since I had no money to buy a record, I tried to recreate it on my family’s upright piano. Having figured the song out, I began to realize that I could manipulate the chords and rhythms to my liking, thus beginning a brief tenure writing pop tunes at the piano. As I grew older, I began to listen to more and more classical music, but it was mostly limited to that of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This changed when I was about 18. I spotted an album with an intriguing cover and a name I’d only vaguely heard before: Béla Bartók. It was Edith Farnadi and Hermann Scherchen’s recording of the Second Piano Concerto, and I’ll never forget the moment I heard that opening movement, as two things occurred to me: first, I was ecstatic to discover that music like this existed at all; second, I knew that I wanted to be a part of it. That’s when I began to seriously explore contemporary music and composition.
TR-J: What most recently has made a big impact on you?
PG: At a recent festival, I was introduced to the music of Hanna Eimermacher, a composer living and working in Berlin. Her works are intensely theatrical and ritualistic, but somehow manage to marry a striking sense of mise-en-scène with an equally compelling sound world. For me, her music reaffirmed the importance of performance and performing bodies, especially in a musical economy so heavily weighted toward creating the perfect aural document. I would particularly recommend Luftpost and In Vivo.
TR-J: How did To Paint Their Madness come about? And what surprised you most when you were composing it?
PG: To Paint Their Madness was commissioned by the Fromm Foundation at Harvard University for Ensemble Dal Niente, a group I had worked with in the past, and whose members had become colleagues and friends. In short, I wanted the piece to be about the people playing it, so I decided to thematize the experience of performance in the piece itself. The title is taken from a passage of Denis Diderot’s Le Paradoxe sur la comedien, in which he argues that the greatest actors feel no true emotion on the stage, but instead create a reproducible copy. Thus, I thematize this sense of artifice through musical pantomime, in which players looks like they should be creating sound, but are in fact making none whatsoever, creating a kind of paradox within the performance, These moments recur throughout the piece, but culminate in the final measures, where the entire ensemble has taken to pantomiming musical gestures, but creating only a shadow of sound.
I think I was most surprised by how quickly I was able to write it – about one month!
TR-J: What is your composing routine like? Do you have a dedicated space and/or particular time of day to write, for example?
PG: My routine often varies, with the one constant being coffee and interruptions to walk my dog. I usually sketch on paper or by recording myself playing the piano or bass, and vocalizing figures and sounds that don’t translate well to traditional notation. I then do a kind of rough analysis of my material, trying to find new connections between seemingly disparate ideas. After that, I usually compose and engrave at the same time. Since my composing process involves a lot of revision, I find that I waste less paper and time by simply working directly into Finale and avoiding the playback button at all costs. I often have to get started in the morning, and ideally work for about 6-8 hours when I’m not teaching. I often work in my home office, with my beagle-basset hound, Marlon, sitting beside me and providing a nice accompaniment of howling at passing police sirens. What I like about the space is the sense of organization and purpose that comes with sitting at a desk to work, especially if it’s a nice day and the windows are open. Some composers may hate this, but I love being surrounded by the sounds of an urban environment (Chicago, where I live), so much so that I’ve actually created harmonies in my pieces based on a pitch I happened to hear outside.
TR-J: What’s coming up next for you?
PG: I’m currently writing a concerto for trombone and ensemble for my dear friend Steve Parker (based in Texas) and Ensemble Dal Niente. Farther on the horizon are pieces for saxophone/electronics, orchestra, and viola, flute and harp trio.
TR-J: Finally, if you could choose anything, what would be your dream line-up of instruments and/or voices to write for? And where would you like the premiere of this fantasy piece to take place?
PG: My dream project would be an operatic adaptation of China Mieville’s Embassytown, a fantastic novel that deals with linguistics, colonialism, and the nature of truth. A unique quality of several characters in Mieville’s novel would require that some parts be sung by two singers simultaneously, creating a really fascinating musical premise. I imagine it would be for chamber orchestra, with a much larger cast of singers and some electronic components as well. It’d be premiered at any opera house willing to spend a fortune on costumes!
TR-J: Sounds fantastic! Let’s hope we have a chance to see it happen one day … Thanks Pierce, and we look forward to playing To Paint Their Madness later this week.

Carter Double Concerto

Date: Friday 12th January, 8.00pm
Venue: LSO St. Luke’s (EC1V 9NG)

We’re hugely excited to kick off 2018 with a rare performance of Elliott Carter’s masterful Double Concerto, with Riot soloists Adam Swayne (Piano) and Goska Isphording (Harpsichord).  Carter’s work will be placed alongside two varied emerging American composers.  Molly Joyce, one of seven composers chosen in our 2017 Call for Scores will have a world premiere of a new work in this concert, and we will give the UK Premiere of Pierce Gradone’s To Paint Their Madness.  The concert will last an hour and will be followed by a drinks reception with the artists and composers.

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Ayre: BBC Radio 3 Open Ear

Date: Saturday 11th November, 7.30pm
Venue: Broadcast on BBC Radio 3, Live from LSO St. Luke’s (EC1V 9NG)

As part of the regular BBC Radio 3 programme Open Ear, we perform the London premiere of Ayre: Towed through plumes, thicket, asphalt, sawdust and hazardous air I shall not forget the sound of by Chaya Czernowin next two Clara Iannotta’s The people here go mad, they blame the wind and Mirela Ivičević’s Baby Magnify/Lilith’s New Toy – one of our 2017 Call for Scores commissions.

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Portfolio Workshop, LSO St Luke’s – 8.4.15

Yesterday, at LSO St. Luke’s, we workshopped three new pieces written for us by emerging UK composers Chloe Knibbs, Daniel Kidane, and Ed Nesbit.  In collaboration with Sound and Music, we commissioned these composers to write us new pieces featuring international soloists Rafal Luc, Heather Roche and Marco Fusi.

We’ll give the world premieres of all three of these pieces, along with three other pieces by Athena Corcoran-Tadd, Pedro Alvarez and Oliver Brignall, on 6th June at MeWe360.

The Shapes of a Square in Pictures

Thank you for all who came along to our concert this past Friday (08.03.13).  It was great to have you with us, and we hope you enjoyed hearing the music as much as we enjoyed playing it for you!  The Navarra Quartet were brilliant guests and gave fantastic performances of all five works on the programme.

We were so pleased to have another international composer with us (Gustavo Penha, from Brazil).  Gustavo had the opportunity to work with the Navarra Quartet on his piece estudo sobre gravitacao during the rehearsals at LSO St. Luke’s.

Composer Gustavo Penha working with the Navarra Quartet

We’ll be back soon with audio and video from the concert.  In the meantime, we hope you’ll check out our next concert – Songs and 7 Haiku – at The Warehouse, 7:30pm on Saturday 15th June!

The Navarra Quartet taking a well-earned bow at the end of the concert

A series of Riotous events!

“Why the ‘Riot’ Ensemble?” I’m quite often asked. I usually reply that our Artistic Director Aaron Holloway-Nahum dreamed up the name many years ago, pre- 2011, and has nothing to do with a quick smash for a new flatscreen or pair of trainers and, as far as I know, no-one’s tried to launch a brick through the window of one of our concerts (yet).

What we’re really referencing is the riotous feeling that occurs when new music meets new players and new ears for the first time; when composers, performers and audience come together and feel an equal and important part of the creative process. After all, these roles are never as separate as the national curriculum would have us believe.

Since pianists are surplus to requirements for our next concert of string quartets– at LSO St Luke’s on March 8th at 7.30pm- I shall be joining the audience at a Riot Ensemble concert for the first time. This well-deserved little ‘sabbatical’ has also afforded me the time to complete a new composition, so I am ticking all the GCSE boxes! My teachers would be proud.

I was asked by my colleague Dr Laura Ritchie at the University of Chichester to write a piece for many cellos with a few interesting and indeterminate variables, not least the actual number of players that will show up for her Cello Weekend (March 16/17) and the varying experience of these performers. I have dealt with similar situations before through my work with Contemporary Music for All (CoMA) and educational projects for the RNCM, and have learnt that this is not a challenge but rather a delicious opportunity to unleash experimental ideas upon performers and audience with a generous dollop of ‘riot’ to boot.

 

                                            The opening of Celli-Chela

In my piece for the RNCM – ‘Football Crazy’ for any large number of pianos – there was something of a riot at the first performance (this may have had as much to do with the face paint and whistles as it did the neon-tinged D7 chords). I built a competitive process into this piece that I turned to again in ‘Maggie Maggie Maggie! Sing Sing Sing!’. This encourages the performers to behave as musical wide-boys amassing pitch and dynamic as currency in a Thatcherite society (there’s no such thing!). Less competitive (but still interactive) I wrote ‘Many Dark Actor Playing Games’ for Cambridge University and CoMA, a political satire on the decisions leading up to the 2003 Iraq invasion ending with a mini-requiem for weapons expert Dr David Kelly.

Chela Earrings, no joke!

This new multi-cello piece eschews sport and politics in favour of zoology, but maintains the game processes I used in these other works. It’s called ‘Celli-Chela’- a punning reference to the pincer-like appendages on crabs or lobsters. Our crustacean-like cellists will be attempting to scuttle across a musical rockpool while ‘nipping’ other cellists using a snap pizzicato. The sonic result will be an ever-ascending blend of various extended techniques for cello in a slowly developing harmonic framework, rather like parts of Lachenmann’s quartets but without the hassle of notating it precisely… does this make me a lazy composer?

I suppose I’ll find out the answer to this last question (eek) on March 8th at the LSO St Luke’s concert, when we’ll hear new quartets by top composers from around the world. The Chichester Cello Weekend is on March 16th (concert 7.30pm) and 17th (concert 4pm), and also at the University of Chichester is a jamboree of new music on March 12th (7.30pm) featuring Tom Reid’s new score for the silent film Ballet Mecanique and David Sawer’s score for ‘Hollywood Extra’. Both films will be shown alongside the music, and the concert ends with Michael Daugherty’s piece for two Barbie sopranos and rock ‘n’ roll ensemble ‘What’s That Spell’.

Hope to see you at some of these riotous events!

 

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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