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!

More Hands: Guy Richardson

We’ve got a concert coming up this month 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 the same series of questions, so you can get a feel for who they are and what they do. The fourth interview in our series: Guy Richardson.

guyThanks for being with us Guy.  First up, are you a Brighton composer or a composer that lives in Brighton?
I live in Brighton. I was born in Zimbabwe, moved to England aged five and lived in Eastbourne, Brighton while at uni. I moved to London to do some teaching, then returned to Brighton in 1979.

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…)
I try and keep to a regular time slot which is ideally from 7.30am to 2.30pm Monday to Friday and most Sunday mornings, and Saturday mornings in the holidays when I’m not teaching piano and have a deadline to meet! I work out my melodic ideas and try and develop a feel for the harmony away from the piano then work out the details on the piano.

When you compose, who do you think of most: the performers, the audience or other composers?
The performers in terms of whether a passage lies well on an instrument or how singable it is if for voices. The audience in terms of how clear the structure of a piece is, or whether a passage needs to be extended to make more impact, or whether a passage goes on for too long!

What is your favourite piece of your own work and why?
A very difficult question; often it feels like the piece I’m working on at the moment, if it’s going well!

Do you consider blogs (such as this one) a useful way of interacting with your audience?
Yes. Any communication which helps break down the barriers is good.

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 Charles Ives’ music for the first time many years ago, was a revelation.

Describe Riot Ensemble’s Artistic Board Member (and NMB composer and performer) Adam Swayne in three words.
Lively, Passionate, Humorous.

Have you ever participated in a Riot?
No, but I have been involved in anti nuclear weapons demos and arms manufacturers where things got quite hairy.

Thanks very much Guy!  We’re looking forward to your music on the 31st!

More Hands: Jonathan Clark

We’ve got a concert coming up this month 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 the same series of questions, so you can get a feel for who they are and what they do. The second in our series: Jonathan Clark.

Thanks for being with us Jonathan.  First up, are you a Brighton composer or a composer that lives in Brighton?
I am Sussex born and bred. I neither live in Brighton nor was born there.

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…)
I do not have a set time for composing. When working on a piece it tends to become an all consuming passion and I have little time for anything else. I have different stratagem for different aspects of a piece. The overall architecture of a piece is often worked out while walking, driving or doing the house work, sometimes if I’m concentrating on key relationships I improvise at the piano. For some passages I devise mathematical algorithms. For more detailed work I use the piano or sometimes just compose at the computer. I most often get ideas away from the piano but use the piano to decide if they are any good or to hone them.

When you compose, who do you think of most: the performers, the audience or other composers?
For the most part I think in abstract terms about the music. If I give anyone a thought it is the performers. I have recently reworked part of my 4th String Quartet purely in order to make it easier for the performers. What is interesting is that, although to begin with, I have great reluctance to part from the original, I often grow to prefer the new, easier version.

What is your favourite piece of your own work and why?
Immediately after finishing a piece I often think it the best thing that I’ve ever written. Shortly after this my belief in the piece plummets. It is only after a year or two that I am able to make a more objective judgement. At present I consider my Flute Concerto one of my best pieces. Why is hard to say. It is a surprisingly traditional piece for me. Perhaps for that reason it is easier for me to judge it. I am particularly proud of the long unbroken flute line above a simple string pizzicato in the slow movement.

Do you consider blogs (such as this one) a useful way of interacting with your audience?
I don’t know. Ask my audience.

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)?
Not to that extent. Two pieces that did have quite a deep effect on me at the time of them coming out were John Taverner’s The Protecting Veil and Harrison Birtwistle’s Earth Dances. However, you will have to look quite hard at some of my pieces to find any influences from these works.

Describe Riot Ensemble’s Artistic Board Member (and NMB composer and performer) Adam Swayne in three words.
Generous, Affable, Enthusiastic.

Have you ever participated in a Riot?
No

Thanks very much Jonathan!  We’re looking forward to your music on the 31st!