The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst

Date: Monday 15th June, 7pm
Venue: The Cockpit Theatre, Marylebone
A chance to see a new chamber opera in the making.  As part of Rough for Opera, a scratch night for new opera hosted and curated by Second Movement, four scenes from this new opera will be presented as a work-in-progress followed by a Q&A with audience feedback.

Created by Riot Ensemble’s Artistic Director Aaron Holloway-Nahum and librettist Peter Jones, the opera will star baritone Benedict Nelson and countertenor Rupert Enticknap in the single, tragic character of Donald Crowhurst.

See a full press release here.

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Wired in Amsterdam

Date: Thursday 28th May; 7.30pm
Venue: Orgelpark, Amsterdam
Last year, as part of our Les Citations project, we commissioned UK composer Chris Roe to write a new work for Oboe, Harpsichord, Percussion and Double Bass.  Chris’ piece WIRED was recorded for our first CD, and has now been selected as a finalist for the Prix annelie de Man.  We are thrilled to be heading to Amsterdam – our first international appearance – to perform Chris’ piece in the finals.

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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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A Clockwork Operetta

I’m keen to write a few lines about our ‘Wednesdays at the Forge’ concert next week as we’re looking forward to it hugely and hope there’ll be a fine crowd to enjoy it with us.

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We’ve decided to have programmes for this concert and, although the short notes will tell you everything you need to know once you’re there, the music really speaks for itself.

So maybe it’s sufficient just to impart that we are presenting the works of two American pioneers – computer music guru Charles Dodge and instrument bender-in-chief George Crumb – framed by London premières of works by Manchester’s American representative Kevin Malone, including a dramatic new setting of Anthony Burgess’ pop lyrics for the screenplay of ‘A Clockwork Orange’ (discarded by Kubrick).

We also have two incredible American performers: Emily Howard Cobley (mezzo soprano) and Stephen Upshaw (viola). In fact, the only thing that isn’t American is yours truly (my years studying in Chicago didn’t change my obviously home counties gibber).

Just to make this little offering slightly longer, I’ll sign off with a handful of performance directions lifted from the various scores. I suppose it’s a window into what happens on the other side of the stage and, bearing in mind the example of Erik Satie, they ought not be taken too literally. If they whet your appetite then make sure you’re in Camden on July 1st……

‘lowest notes can be lasciviously grunted…’

‘throw it away in parody…’

‘eerily, with “white tone”…’

‘raucously…’

‘ever so bombastically confident…’

‘return to safety of keyboard when the mosquito swarm thickens…’

‘scramble hands onto keyboard…’

‘re-enter the safety-in-numbers of urbania…’

‘ad lib. (in the style of a Lisztian transcription)…’

‘release finger(s) from node(s) immediately after key is struck or string is plucked (for a more beautiful resonance)…’

‘cold, steely, distant…’

‘beseechingly, with intent, and a childish voice…’

‘malevolently…’

‘with sinister pointing at audience…’

‘like a rock ballad power guitarist with effects pedals (wah-wah, flange etc.)…’

‘Amy Lee becoming Janis Joplin…’

A few moments with Helga Arias Parra

This Monday, at the Spitalfields Music Winter Festival, we give the first performance of Helga Arias Parra in the UK: the World Premiere of Incipit (Omaggio a G.B. Pergolesi).

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This piece – a co-commission between Riot Ensemble and Spitalfields Music – is fourth and final piece commissioned from our 2015 Call for Scores (NB composers, we’ll be opening our 2016 call in January!).

It’s one of our great pleasures to discover and work with new emerging composers from all over the world and it was an additional pleasure to ask Helga a few questions about her music in advance of the concert:

Aaron Holloway-Nahum: Thanks so much for this new piece Helga, and for taking the time to speak to us!  You’ve said that you think of composing as “experimentation, risk and control in that exact order”.  Can you tell us a bit more about what you mean, and what your actual process of composing is like?

Helga Arias Parra: Thank you for the commission!  And for these questions…For me to composing is closely related to the experimentation with sound, concepts, ideas or with instruments and techniques, especially in the early stages of the process, as it gives me a wider range of materials to work with.

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In the early stage, I like to take risks and try new things that I’ve never used in a piece before. This applies to almost everything, from the instrumentation to the sound material.  Eventually (when I say “control”) I mean how I rationalise all this material, which is new for me. I try to understand it deeply in order to be very aware of how I want to use it. For instance, in this stage, I work a lot with sound analysis and resynthesis, and how to translate specific acoustic properties to the instruments.

AHN: Your new work for us is entitled Incipit.  Where does the title come from, and how does it relate to the music?

HAP: Actually the title is a paradox of what happens in the piece. The latin word Incipit means “it begins” and it refers to the first words of a text, which are also used as its title. In music, an “incipit” is an initial sequence of notes, employed as an identifying clause.  In my composition, though, the process is inverted as the musical “incipit” is only heard clearly at the end of the piece.

On the other hand the piece is inspired on some fragments of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, which works as an incipit itself, as the beginning of each of the twelve sequences are named by the initial words of every verse.

On the contrary, in this work the text remains mostly unintelligible until almost the very end, where it appears in the from of a quotation.

AHN: Composers are surrounded – both in everyday life and more and more in the repertoire – by sounds.  Do they influence you and are they in any way significant for your compositional work?

HAP: Absolutely. I like to think of acoustic phenomena rather than of music, I believe is more accurate to my ideas.  In this sense I am extremely influenced by sounds that I hear in my everyday life, specially if I can focus on something very subtle and hear its details.  Then I feel it is alive, and I like to somehow transmit it through my music. I find it fascinating.

I try not to be extremely influenced by the sounds of the contemporary repertoire, because depending on how you use them they can become a “cliché”, but sometimes is inevitable.

AHN: Do you think of your music as theatrical?  

HAP: Not really. At least not for the moment.  As I said before I am very focused on the sound phenomena in itself so right now I find it difficult to work on more layers or to add visual or theatrical elements.

I think this is why it is so hard for me to work with text and voices, as they can easily imply something external to the music…but I’ve just written a work for soprano and ensemble for you so we will see…!

AHN: What else are you working on at the moment?

HAP: I am starting to work more and more with electronics. I believe those are tools we cannot neglect nowadays because they really can extend the possibilities of the acoustic instruments, among much other things. At the moment I am about to begin a piece for piano and live electronics, finishing a piece for three singers, ensemble and electronics, and waiting to hear about a possible new piece for a very beautiful and unusual trio: accordion, double bass and saxophone.  So it’s very busy!

AHN: That’s wonderful Helga.  We’re really looking forward to the premiere, and we’ll see you there!