A few moments with Mirela Ivičević

On Saturday, we will be at St Nicholas’ Church in Brighton, giving the world premiere of Baby Magnify/Lilith’s New Toy by the Croatian composer Mirela Ivičević, one of our 2017 call for scores commissions. (Also on the programme: another call for scores commission by Sylvain Marty.) This week Mirela took some time out of her busy travelling schedule to answer a few questions from us about her work.

Mirela Ivečivić

Tim Rutherford-Johnson: Hi Mirela – thank you for speaking to us! Your piece Baby Magnify/Lilith’s New Toy has a really intriguing title that raises a lot of questions. To start us off, can you tell us what it means?

Mirela Ivičević: Thank you! The piece follows the contours of the Magnum Opus, the alchemical process of working with starting material to create the so-called philosopher’s stone, which according to Carl Jung corresponds to the transformative process of the psyche.

Originally, the Magnum Opus had four main stages: nigredo or blackening, a phase of chaos, shadow, of ‘massa confusa’; albedo or whitening, washing away of impurities; citrinitas or yellowing, ‘transmutation of silver into gold’, or symbolically, accumulation of wisdom based on previous experience; and finally rubedo or reddening, the wholeness, the phase in which the material (or a person) achieves their maximum potential. I believe these stages will be pretty identifiable in the piece.

It’s a ‘baby’ because it’s only about eight minutes long and because it is my first ensemble piece exploiting this concept consciously.

And the Lilith archetype is always around my pieces as a hidden narrative. Her seemingly frightening and uncompromising character and undisputable power comes closest to the energy of those strong women creators I am happy to see more and more in field of composition nowadays. In this piece Lilith is a baby, playing somewhat carelessly yet curiously with raw material to make sonic magic.

TR-J: Previous pieces of yours have confronted big themes. Sometimes in quite an ironic fashion, as in your musical heritage in Phantom no. 3 and the problem of CVs and musical biographies in Orgy of References. In others, you address more serious issues of diversity, co-existence and violent oppression. Can we expect anything similar in Baby Magnify/Lilith’s New Toy?

MI: Actually, Baby Magnify is one of a few pieces of mine whose direct background is of a non-political, ‘timeless’ nature. The way the composition is structured on a macro and even more on micro level I think still shows my ongoing fascination with trying to find a way for diversities to creatively coexist in a shared space. This is always a conscious, politically inspired choice, although it is probably rooted in my subconsciousness as well, being raised a multicultural family in a multicultural patchwork country. It also simply feels right.

TR-J: You were born in Croatia but now you live in Vienna. When did you move to Austria, and what encouraged you to move?

MI: I live kind of nomadically at the moment, mostly between my hometown of Split, Zagreb and Vienna, which I guess is not unusual for a musician nowadays. I moved to Vienna originally because I wanted to broaden my knowledge in electroacoustics as well as in composing for various media, as well as simply to move and experience the world from another point of view. It’s something which I’d recommend to any artist, there’s nothing more crucial and more rewarding then setting yourself into unknown, physically or metaphorically.

Vienna is an inspiring place and still one of the most artists-friendly cities in Europe. And it’s also reasonably close to the Mediterranean, without whom I wouldn’t want to live!

TR-J: In your biography you mention that your music makes use of the ‘side-products of media-dominated reality’. Can you explain what you mean by this? Will we hear any of these elements in your Riot commission?

MI: It means that rather then escaping the everyday sounds I get exposed to through various media, I use them as my starting material. I said ‘side-products’ as a polite alternative to trash. They are not always trash: some I find valuable as they are, but often I also use sounds I don’t value or whose original context or source affects me negatively. Sometimes I work deliberately with the sounds and their respective contexts, and such pieces are more theatrical. Sometimes though, as in case of Riot commission where I used, among other things, various human breathing gestures, I exploit them more hermetically: they are just a source of basic material from which to create something contextually independent.

TR-J: Your music is full of exciting and original sounds. How do you discover them? Do you experiment with the instruments, talk to players, or collect them from other pieces you’ve heard?

MI: I enjoy getting my hands ‘dirty’, so I have a bunch of different instruments I bought cheap on the flea-market. It is also a huge advantage that I’m a part of Black Page Orchestra, with absolutely amazing, adventurous musician friends with whom to discuss any idea I might have.

Ideally, I love writing not for mere instruments, but for musicians’ personalities. Working closely with a fellow musician, getting to know their character, preferences and even hidden talents opens so many additional possibilities, makes me more adventurous in terms of trying out new things and usually produces my best works.

But then again, sometimes it happens that you compose for people you haven’t yet met, and they sweep you off your feet with the magic they do with your score. Like a soulmate you first meet on Facebook.

TR-J: Now that you’ve finished this piece for us, what is next on your agenda?

MI: I’m currently working on an electronic solo set for a November festival of experimental music Sine Linea in Greta Gallery in Zagreb, a new piece for piano, electronics and video for pianist Alfredo Ovalles, and a theatre piece for children commissioned by the Jeunesse Austria to be premiered at the Mozarthaus in Vienna in April. The last one I am especially looking forward to because it approaches the youngest audience while dealing with a very sensitive, very personal and – unfortunately for a lot of kids – very current theme of exile and trying to find a place for oneself in a new, foreign land.

Another project coming up that I’m very excited about is new piece for percussion and solar panels. Friends of mine, the Croatian artists’ duo Lightune.G discovered a way to translate light into sound using solar panels – what they call luminoacoustics. I’ve already tried it out in a piece I made for them and percussionist Kaja Farszky last year, and it was an amazing experience that I can’t wait to continue. After that a new piece for Black Page Orchestra and music for Peter Tscherkassky’s experimental movie Dreamwork with Ensemble Nikel.

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?

MI: I love diversity, I love depths, I love noise, and I love bringing together extremes, so I guess it would be an ensemble of lots of different bass and soprano instruments, electronics, solar panels, probably also a skilful soprano/actress for some word play. And the dream venue for the premiere: definitely the abandoned submarine port from the Yugoslav era in Rogačić bay on the island Vis, one of the places I like to call home. At night, with the audience listening from boats on the sea. But of course, this is just a dreamy frame: what’s always more important is what a composer would fill this frame with.

TR-J: Sounds like a beautiful concept! Maybe one day … Until then, we look forward to playing Baby Magnify/Lilith’s New Toy in Brighton. Thank you, Mirela.

A few moments with Sylvain Marty

On Saturday, we will be at St Nicholas’ Church in Brighton, giving the world premiere of Block Mouvementa by the French composer Sylvain Marty, one of our 2017 call for scores commissions. (Also on the programme: another call for scores commission by Mirela Ivičević.) Sylvain is currently very busy with pressing compositional deadlines, but he managed to find time to answer a few questions from us.

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Tim Rutherford-Johnson: Hi Sylvain! Thank you for taking the time to speak to us. The piece you have written for us is called Block Mouvement. Can you tell us a little about the inspiration behind it?

Sylvain Marty: The title reveals a precise place (and moment) in the compositional architecture. This is a moment when the ‘musical flow’ is circumscribed in blocks or fragments, and when I am able to consider complex textures differently.

TR-J: Many of your pieces, including Block Mouvement, I think, use loops as a way of extending and developing your material. But your music is not in any way ‘minimalist’. Can you say a little about what you like about loops, and about how you use them?

SM: Even if it is present in several pieces, loops are not fundamental to my work (in fact they disappear quite quickly). I use them to create a sensation of the persistence of the cell, generating materials and vectors of movement. However, I love working with the ideas of groove and echo, which allow me to use repeating cells.

TR-J: Your work often uses quite ‘dry’ sounds. You have described these as having a ‘tragic’ quality. Can you explain what you mean by this description?

SM: It was a director friend who spoke of tragic sounds in some passages of my pieces. That may be true. In any case, even when I study a sound analytically – when I study its spectrum, its typology – I don’t exhaust its expressive content. Sounds, when they appear in an effective composition, are presented as irreducible entities. What we experience is their unveiling.

TR-J: Do other types of sound have emotional qualities like this for you? Can you give some examples?

SM: I don’t think there is an a priori emotional quality to a sound. It is the composer who contextualizes the sound in an organizing network and gives it expressive power.

TR-J: Both new commissions in this concert were commissioned to be performed alongside Ayre by Chaya Czernowin. Was this work in your mind at all when you were composing?

SM: Chaya Czernowin is a very great composer, and when I learnt this I was first afraid that my piece would appear weak next to Ayre. But soon I forgot this fact, I just composed as I often do: Continue my musical path. I try to do a good job while taking risks.

TR-J: Now that you’ve finished this piece for us, what is next on your agenda?

SM: It’s not yet official – I don’t know if I can say …

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?

SM: I would like to write for a ensemble in which all the families of instruments are present – 14 instruments seems good to me! Where? In a place where the sound of the hall is good, the audience is curious and where the academic spirit is not too heavy. There are lots of possibilities!

TR-J: Thank you very much for your time, Sylvain – we look forward to performing your piece!

A few moments with Laurence Osborn

We come to new music in a lot of ways here.  You’ve already been introduced to Yukiko and Lee, the two winners of our 2016 Call for Scores competition.  This Saturday’s concert will also feature more than a dozen World Premieres from New Music Brighton composers – whom we collaborate with in Brighton annually.  Laurence Osborn is a composer we got to know, in large part, because we saw him at a lot of concerts – ours and lots of other people’s, too.  As soon as we heard his music we knew he was somebody we’d like to work with and so we’re thrilled to have commissioned a new piece from him and poet Joseph MindenMicrographia.  

In this interview Laurence discusses his life and music with our artistic director Aaron Holloway-Nahum. Both Laurence and Aaron will be at the concert this Saturday at 5pm – and the afterparty – so do come say hello if you make it down!

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1. What’s happening in your life?

This evening I got back from Sainsbury’s just in time to see a mouse emerge from a box of cornflakes on the kitchen counter, so at the moment, mouse problems.

2. What’s happening in your music?

I’m writing a 90-minute opera for Mahogany Opera Group. The opera is called The Mother and it’s based on the work of a Polish playwright, painter, and prolific substance abuser called Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz. Witkiewicz’s work has had a huge influence on my music – particularly his theory of dramatic form, which he calls pure form. I’m interested in creating music-dramatic forms from apparently disparate or unconnected elements that hang together in the same space, so that the story of a piece or a scene is revealed in its overall composition rather than observed through linear narrative. The third act of the opera is made in this way: it comprises twenty-four very short sections intermingled with a standalone choral piece that has been cut up arbitrarily and superimposed on top of it all.

I’ve been listening to and watching a lot of things that work with this principle – Kurtag’s chamber music, and some of Peter Greenaway’s films from the ’80s. And I’m reading Infinite Jest, which does similar things. I’m also obsessed with the new Danny Brown album, Atrocity Exhibition – Danny Brown is amazing at juxtaposing different voices and sound-worlds in order to create an overarching narrative, I think. He’s a total genius.

3. Your piece is inspired by magnified images of tiny particles in substances including blue mould and urine. Are you at heart a true romantic?

Yes, I’m very soppy. But to be honest, it’s possible to get sentimental about virtually anything when it’s viewed through a microscope. The piece is based on Robert Hooke’s Micrographia, which was written in 1665, and details the author’s observations of various things through the microscope. The book contains lots of beautiful observational drawings. 

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Drawing of frozen wee!

Joe’s text really gets to the heart of Hooke’s love for the tiny worlds contained within everyday things, I think. The poetry is so colourful and evocative in itself that the composition of this piece came very naturally to me. Micrographia is much gentler and hazier than the stuff I usually write.

4. So what’s the first note?

It’s a chord! A cheeky little four-note chord on piano and vibes!

5. And what’s the last note?

An F natural. Not very interesting. But the last word of Joe’s poem is ‘hunger’.

6. What happens in between?

The piece is in six small movements, and each movement focusses on a different phenomenon viewed through the microscope – the point of a needle, salt crystals, urine, and so on. For me, the composition of each movement was a little game of magnification and/or reflection. So material is often magnified during a movement either through rhythmic augmentation, or the proportional widening of the intervals in particular chords, or sometimes both.

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Micrographia by Joseph Minden

But (depending on the movement) you also find material reflected in various ways, in retrograde, inversion, and so on. There is no discernible system for this in movements 2–5. Movement 6, however, is a direct inversion of the magnification process used for movement 1. These two would probably make more sense sat next to one another, rather than at opposite sides of the piece. But also, each movement has its own specific sound-world that relates to the physical qualities of the phenomenon represented – I think the audience will be able to hear this when it’s performed.

We can’t wait to perform it!  Thank you very much Laurence!

A few moments with Lee Westwood

Lee Westwood is one of two winners of our 2016 Call for Scores competition. We are excited to perform his latest work at our Brighton concert at 5pm on Saturday October 29th. Lee needn’t make extensive travel plans to attend this concert as he has made Bohemia-by-Sea his home for well over a decade. He is currently studying for a PhD at the University of Sussex with Martin Butler and is a member of the composers’ collective New Music Brighton whose members are contributing twelve exciting and distinctive new miniatures to the concert.

In this interview Lee discusses his life and music with our co-principal pianist and fellow Brightonian Adam Swayne. What’s the betting they’ll be enjoying last orders in the pub after the concert while we are hauling all the equipment back to London …?

Join us for a splendid Saturday 29th at 5pm at St Nicholas Church!

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What’s happening in your life?

For a couple of years now, I’ve been working on a stream of commissions without a break. I’m not complaining, because it’s been a fantastic way to learn a lot fast, and to work with loads of brilliant people. It is exhausting though, and the last few weeks of a write really take it out of me, so I’ve been trying to recover a little from the Riot Ensemble commission before I begin my second piece for the LSO Soundhub.

Outside of music, as a part-time house-dad for the second time round, I’m spending a lot of my day telling my son not to eat my CDs or ham the keys of my laptop with his gooey hands. Oh, and I just bought my first car in 15 years, which has been a brilliant excuse to trawl through my CD collection and get deep into all the albums I used to spend so much of my time listening to – currently my car has metamorphosed into a mobile Alice In Chains capsule.

What’s happening in your music?

Lots of wind instruments, that’s what’s happening. Instrumental timbre has been increasingly taking the foreground in my music, so I’ve been having lessons on a load of different instruments in an attempt to better my understanding of them. This has also involved spending days and days recording me making weird noises on each one. Basically, really fun.

Your piece is called Fluorescence. Are you hoping for glowing reviews?

My piece is called Florescence, and I am hoping it will allow your mind to blossom.

Oh dear, Lee! Well, if I can’t get the title right then how can I be expected to play your new piece?! Help me out – what’s the first note?

I’m not sure – it depends what comes out of the flute … an upper partial of G, hopefully …

Well, if you don’t even know the first note …

What’s the last note?

Again, I’m not really sure – it depends where the viola ends up … fingers crossed, it’ll be an upper partial of G …

Hmmph. So what happens in between?

Mostly G … the reckless abuse of an expensive piano … then some arpeggios.

No pianos will be harmed in the execution of this piece! All the effects are astonishingly gentle. Thank you very much Lee, we are all really excited to perform your new piece ‘Fluoridification’ on October 29th!

Micrographia

Date: Saturday 29th October, 5.00pm
Venue: St. Nicholas Church, Brighton (BN1 3LJ)

The World Premiere of Laurence Osborn’s Micrographia – a song cycle for two sopranos and chamber ensemble setting seven new poems (written specifically for this piece) by poet Joseph Minden.  World Premieres from our 2016 Call for Scores winners Yukiko Watanabe and Lee Westwood, and an array of new miniatures from composers from the New Music Brighton Composers’ Collective.

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Six Autumn Concerts 2015

Have a look at our six concerts taking place this Autumn, including the Spitalfields Music Winter Festival, opening night of the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, ongoing work with BreatheAHR, a return to Brighton with NMB and more!

Death of Light, Light of Death

Date: Saturday 31st October; 5.00pm
Venue: St. Nicholas Church, Brighton
Jonathan Harvey’s “Death of Light, Light of Death” was inspired by Grünewald’s ‘Crucifixion’ in the Issenheim Altarpiece.  Harvey wrote that the “unflinching sense of catastrophe that hangs over this picture has given it a special appeal to the sensibilities of our own time.”  The Riot Ensemble returns to Brighton for the third consecutive year, to perform a concert centred around this beautiful and haunting music.  Other music will include composers from the New Music Brighton composers collective, Helen Grime’s Oboe Quartet, and NMB Composers Patrick Harrex, J.C. Clark, Peter Copley & Phil Baker.

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Introducing: Kate Walter

5 - KateFlautist Kate Walter was one of the founding artists of The Riot Ensemble, and has been on our Artistic Board since our first concerts at Guildhall.  Kate performs regularly in London’s top orchestras – such as the Philharmonia – and in West End Shows such as Les Miserables.

Kate has a busy year of Rioting in 2015, starting with our very first concert, The Riot, at MeWe360 in January.  Get to know Kate a bit better, in her answers to our questions below.


What is the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you while playing the flute?
Well, there has been nothing too embarrassing when playing the flute, there’s plenty of time for it to happen though!! I have conducted a flute ensemble dressed as a Christmas pudding, that was pretty embarrassing.  I did once have to play triangle in a Wind Quintet performance, and when I reached the solo triangle moment, I swung and completely missed!  (oops!)

 

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What are you looking forward to in 2015?
I am really looking forward to the Riot Ensemble season, it includes some awesome repertoire and I always really enjoy the challenge of learning new music: the crazier the better! We always have a lot of fun in these concerts, and there never seems to be a dull moment. I’m very lucky to have opportunities this year to play in many amazing concerts around the globe and make a living playing music, it does’t get much better than that.

What is your favourite Riot Ensemble story, so far?
It’s got to be our Workers Union performance on MayDay 2014…outside in Dalston Square…in the rain…the police were called….enough said?? It was brilliant, we were making a LOT of noise and the crowd were dancing along in the pouring rain, it reminded me of being a Glastonbury, minus the mud! I also just love meeting so many fabulous musicians and composers.  Collaborating with different Artists such as ECCE Ensemble and New Music Brighton is something that is really exciting.

Arrangements of Five

Date: Tuesday 14th October; 7.30pm
Venue: The Friend’s Meetinghouse in Brighton

The Riot Ensemble returns to Brighton to present an exciting array of contemporary music for various combinations of flute, clarinet and string quartet.  The concert includes the world premiere of Artistic Director Aaron Holloway-Nahum’s Arrangements of Five – commissioned by Timothy Orpen with funds from the RVW Trust and Britten Pears Foundation.  Other music includes the UK premiere of Augusta Read ThomasMansueto Tribute, ‘double helix’, Helen Grime’s To See the Summer Sky and an array of pieces from composers in the New Music Brighton Collective.

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More Hands: Patrick Harrex

We’ve got a concert coming up tonight (!) at the Friend’s Meetinghouse (in Brighton) where we’ll be recapping some of our favourite pieces of the 2013 season and also playing some pieces by composers from the New Music Brighton collective.  We’re gearing up for the concert by asking the NMB Composers a series of questions, so you can get a feel for who they are and what they do. The fifth and final interview in our series: Patrick Harrex.

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Thanks for being with us Patrick.  First up, are you a Brighton composer or a composer that lives in Brighton?
The latter – I’ve lived here only since 1979 so need to stay around a bit longer to meet the naturalisation criteria!

Could you give us a little insight into how you compose?  (Do you have a set time you work at?  Do you write at the piano?  Etc…)
Ideally I like to set aside mornings (8am to 1pm) for writing, but too often other things have to take priority. I’m a hopeless pianist so can’t, and don’t want to, compose at the piano – it irritates me that so many young (student) ‘composers’ think they can sit at a keyboard and play around until something turns up. Mine is the old fashioned approach – sitting at my desk with paper and pencil. Inspiration often comes from images/ paintings or words – even now a blog! If I am travelling – long or short distances – I usually take a note book and pencil with me so I can jot down ideas at any time. Trains are great for this – but I do sometimes get funny looks, and occasionally get into interesting conversations.

When you compose, who do you think of most: the performers, the audience or other composers?
Performers and audience on more or less equal terms – thinking about how to draw each closer to the other. Very occasionally, for example in my Voices and Instruments, the audience is invited to join in the performance – something I’d like to explore further.

What is your favourite piece of your own work and why?
I think of my pieces a bit like my children: I don’t have favourites but am very fond of them all – and once they have reached maturity and go out into the world, they are on their own!

Do you consider blogs (such as this one) a useful way of interacting with your audience?
I have no idea – this is the first one for me, so let’s see what happens. But see also (2) above!

Have you ever had an experience similar to Witold Lutoslawski’s: When he heard John Cage’s Second Piano Concerto on the radio, the encounter changed his musical thinking and ushered in a new creative period (the first result of which was his Jeux Vénitiens)?
Hearing my tutor at York, Robert Sherlaw Johnson, playing the piano music of Messiaen and Boulez opened my ears to the sounds and thrill of contemporary music – a formative experience (1965). More recently, walking on the Downs, near Firle beacon, on a very windy day and quite alone apart from the sheep, the sound of the wind whistling through metal five-bar gates was amazing – rather like an organ (flute stops) but most mysterious. An effect I have since returned to and echoed in some of my pieces.

Describe Riot Ensemble’s Artistic Board Member (and NMB composer and performer) Adam Swayne in three words.
(apart from: ‘Not enough words’?) – Inspiring, encouraging, convivial

Have you ever participated in a Riot?
No – but I have experienced the after effects (Paris, 1968).

Thanks very much Patrick!  We’re looking forward to your music tonight!