A few moments with Amy Williams

Tonight we welcome Helena Bugallo and Amy Williams (the Bugallo-Williams Duo) to London to perform a concert of virtuosic and exciting music for four-hands piano at MeWe360.

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Amy Williams (left) and Helena Bugallo

In addition to being a fantastic pianist, Amy is a composer, and was one of my first composition teachers at Northwestern University.  It’s a pleasure to welcome her and Helena tonight, and Amy was kind enough to answer a few questions in advance of their performance:

Aaron Holloway-Nahum: Hi Amy!  We’re so excited to have you with us in London. You work internationally as a pianist and as a composer, how does your performance influence your own composition?

Amy Williams: Thanks for having me!  We’re excited to be playing in London on the Riot Ensemble series.  My performance influences my composition very directly—I think very much about the role of the performer, sometimes specifically (what would she or he want to play, what is his or her sound at the instrument), but also performative issues such as physicality and coordination. And I analyze pieces that I play very much from a composer/theorist’s perspective.  So it works both ways.

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A passage from one of the Nancarrow transcriptions

AHN: Amazingly, you and Helena will be performing four transcriptions of Conlon Nancarrow’s player piano studies. Could you tell us a little bit about how you transcribed these really complex studies?  Have they gotten any easier to perform?

AW: We first discovered one arrangement that our teacher, pianist/composer Yvar Mikhashoff, had made in the late 80s for piano four-hands (which we will play on this concert).  And so we wondered if there might be more that was humanly possible.  We worked with composer Erik Ona, who looked through the scores (yes, there are scores!) of all 50 or so Studies for Player Piano.  He determined that there were about 10 that could be arranged for piano duet, without sacrificing notes, rhythmic relationships or tempo.  He arranged 3 of these for us and then we started arranging them ourselves.  

We currently have 13 arrangements, including one for two pianos and one for two-pianos/eight-hands.  Other musicians in the future might determine there to be more—but we are pretty ecstatic to have this much of Nancarrow’s incredible music to play live for audiences.  They are always difficult to play, since they were written for a machine, but they have certainly become easier over time and many, many repetitions.   

AHN: What advice do you have for composers looking to write for piano duo?

AW: Work with the pianists as closely as you can!  Especially with four-hands, think very hard about the physicality of the medium.  A chord in the middle of the piano feels very different to play when you are sitting way up at the top of the piano.  

AHN: What’s coming up for you next?

AW: We are recording our second volume of Stravinsky’s arrangements for piano duo—this will include Petrushka and Concertino (which we will play on the concert), as well as Agon and Scherzo a la Russe.  And our CD of the complete original works for piano duo of Gyorgy Kurtag (and some transcriptions) will come out in the next few months, also on Wergo.  

AHN: We can’t wait to hear it Amy!

A few moments with Nina C. Young

*NinaCYoung2015-04We are thrilled to announce that Nina C. Young will be our 2016 Composer in Residence!  During the course of 2016 we will give the UK premiere of a number of Nina’s works, alongside a co-comission (with Ensemble Échapeé) of a new viola concerto. Nina’s has a unique background in engineering, and she describes her music as being obsessed with sound itself.  Her careful sensitivity to timbre and the vibrant immediacy of her music have been widely commented on, but it is the way these details fuse with her wonderful sense of storytelling and form that really drew us to her music.

Nina is the current holder of the Rome Prize, and so we are hugely excited about bringing more of her music to the UK, and grateful that she took the time to sit down with our Artistic Director Aaron Holloway-Nahum to answer some questions!


Aaron Holloway-Nahum: Hi, Nina!  Thanks so much for taking the time to chat to us.  I believe you are currently in Rome, where you’re living for a year with the American Academy.  Can you tell us a bit about what life there is like?

Nina C. Young: Thank you so much for having me!  I am overwhelmed with gratitude and surprise (still) at being one of the two composers selected for the 2015-16 Rome Prize (Christopher Cerrone is the other composer, and you should totally check out his work).  The American Academy in Rome (AAR) is pretty much the best place ever.  The 28+ other fellows (in artistic and scholarly disciplines) and I have been granted the most precious thing – the gift of time.  Here we are given the opportunity to press pause on our busy lives (sort of, the internet makes this a little trickier) and focus on our own projects and growth in an supportive and welcoming environment that takes care of all of life’s time-consuming essentials.  However, this is not a typical artist-colony in the middle of nowhere.  Instead, we live in a magnificent complex that perches itself on a hill looking out upon The Eternal City – this offers endless sources of inspiration and distraction.  We are really well taken care of – living a cushy existence with two decadent meals served per day (by the Alice Waters initiated Rome Sustainable Food Project), ample private living and studio space, and weekly housekeeping.  Oh yeah, and there is a bar on premises, which obviously gets well used by all.  I suppose the biggest hurdle here is diving my time between my musical projects, vibrant conversations with my colleagues, the hefty list of activities and opportunities offered by the AAR, and the treasures (both obvious and hidden) of Rome.  With a little less than half the year-long residency under my belt, I can already tell that this is a life changing experience that will offer artistic fodder for decades to come.    

AHN: Composers are surrounded – both in everyday life and more and more in the repertoire – by sounds, and I suppose we are even more aware of this in new/unfamiliar places.  Do sounds influence you and are they in any way significant for your compositional work?

NCY: I adore sounds and am endlessly intrigued by them.  Every moment presents itself as some sort of sonic experience and my mind is constantly collecting and cataloging the sounds of my environment and how they resonate in different locations.  While this provides a great deal of mental entertainment, it has also encouraged quite a bit of insomnia!  Anyhow, I try to spend time focusing and taking mental sonic “photographs” (though sometimes, I just use a recorder) and save this memory data for use in my music.   I like this famous Stravinsky quote, “Good composers borrow, great composers steal.”  I don’t consciously steal/borrow from the repertoire, but I certainly harvest the sounds of my environment and then translate them into the seeds of my work.

AHN: Even though you are a young composer, your music struck me from the first time I heard it as having a very strong and distinctive voice. Do you think you have a ‘personal style’ of composing? Could you describe your own style to us?

NCY: Thanks, Aaron, I am humbled by your comments, as I am a great admirer of your work, too.  I would say that my “style” of composition is constantly evolving, though, as hinted above, it’s primary focus is sound itself.  I have a background in tech (my undergrad was in ocean engineering), and my artistic focus in composition straddles the worlds of acoustic and electroacoustic music.  Within my own practice, these worlds are seamlessly entwined and have resulted in a personal musical voice that draws equally from elements of the classical canon, modernism, spectralism, American experimentalism, minimalism, electronic music, and popular idioms.  I am always striving to create unique sonic environments that can be appreciated by a wide variety of audiences while challenging stylistic boundaries, auditory perception, and notions of temporality. 

I write instrumental, electronic, and mixed music, but my working methods in all three are very similar.  The process is always concerned with the sculpting of sound and the creation of an auditory experience that is constantly leading the listener into new sonic areas.  When I’m writing for purely acoustic combinations of instruments, I try to employ methods that are influenced by electronic studio production techniques.  I’ll often start pieces by improvising on my laptop with recordings which I’ll then process until I find that particular sonic “seed” that sprout to create a piece.  This will get integrated with sound experiments using my voice, the piano, my violin, and various other instruments.  Eventually I’ll start to write things down, always in full score.  Orchestration is an integral and often primary element of my compositional process.  I find it akin to working in an electronic production environment in which I am always aware of balancing the horizontal frequency spectrum.  Every instrument has its own natural resonance and filtering characteristics – when you begin to combine these different effects, an infinite world of sonic possibilities evolves!  Lately, I’ve also become very concerned with rhythm and its relationship to form.  I think that’s something you can hear evolving in my pieces over the last several years.

AHN: As our Composer-in-Residence next year you’ll write a co-commissioned Viola concerto for Riot Ensemble (with Stephen Upshaw) and Ensemble Échappé (with Jocelin Pan).  Can you tell us a bit about how you start a new piece?  What will it be like to write for two different soloists?

NCY: I’m really excited about this project, especially because I think the “concerto” is a challenging form.  I’ve taken a strong liking to the trompe l’oeil optical illusions of the Italian painters of the late Quattrocento.  A really powerful example of this is in the “dome” of the Chiesa di Sant’Ignazio in Rome.  In this viola concerto, EarPlay, I will use the relationship between the soloist and the ensemble to explore sonic and spatial equivalents to this optical illusion.

I’m looking forward to writing this piece for two fantastic violists and ensembles.  The idea for the project came from the long-term collaboration that I have had with Jocelin Pan (who is also the co-Artistic director of Ensemble Échappé) – we met at Tanglewood back in 2013 and have been working together ever since.  In fact, the initial impetus for our ensemble was as a result of conversation that Jocelin and I had with Jeffrey Milarsky (EÉ’s conductor) about how to make this concerto come to life.   I have a really intimate knowledge of Jocelin’s approach to the viola and this will certainly have a big influence on the music.  The fact that this is a co-commission is even more exciting.  I’m really curious and enthusiastic to see how piece expresses itself through the interpretations by two different, stellar groups.  I’m hoping to get to know Stephen Upshaw before I begin really working on the piece, as I like to incorporate musician’s personalities into the music I write.  It’s always more fun to write for friends!

AHN: As you mention, you were involved in founding Ensemble Échappé.  What will your ongoing role with the ensemble be, and what are you hoping to accomplish with these players?

NCY: Jocelin Pan and I are the founding members and Co-Artistic Directors of Ensemble Échappé, a New York City based sinfonietta.  We basically gathered together a group of friends who are exceptional soloists and collaborative musicians that love working together to explore diverse sonic palettes.  We are really trying to showcase a wide swath of stylist approaches by not rooting ourselves in a set aesthetic camp.  Our goal is simply to share great music with our audience.

In addition to my role as Artistic Director, I am currently serving as Composer-in-Residence with Ensemble Échappé (2015-17) and am spearheading a commissioning initiative to promote a dialogue between the musicians and living composers.  The musicians are not only collaborators, but also rotate as solo artists.  This season (our 1st!) we have selected repertoire that highlights individual ensemble members (such as percussionist Sam Budish in Andy Akiho’s LIgNEouS, harpist Emily Levin in Carter’s Mosaic, Jocelin Pan in Derek Bermel’s Soul Garden).  Staring next season, we want to begin showcasing our solo talents with specially commissioned concerti.  EÉ’s is first commissioning Doug and Brad Balliett to write a bassoon – double bass duo concerto for themselves, The Brothers Balliett, to be premiered during our 2016 season opener.  Our next spotlight will be EarPlay (later to be premiered by you, the Riot Ensemble!) and a new concerto by Jonathan Dawe for pianist Conor Hanick.

AHN: It all sounds totally fantastic.  As we finish, could you tell us a bit more about the music you are writing in Rome?

NCY: I’m working on a wide variety of projects; I’m really trying to take advantage of the opportunity to replenish my well of artistic fodder while utilizing this undistributed time to write music that maybe falls outside of my typical comfort zone.  Upon arriving in Rome I finished a bassoon pocket concert for Brad Balliett and the Metropolis Ensemble’s Multiphonics show that was premiered at (Le) Poisson Rouge in NY in October.  I’m writing a short solo piece for a series commissioned by cellist Anssi Karttunen of Columbia-affiliated composers (Taylor Brook, Zosha Di Castri, Bryan Jacobs, Yoshiaki Onishi) that have been involved in his Creative Dialogues Symposium over the past several years.  He’ll premiere the piece in February in Paris at Columbia’s Reid Hall.  I’m involved in another group project spearheaded by Marilyn Nonken.  She has commissioned a series of solo piano pieces that use the same tuning as Grisey’s Vortex Temporum (one of my all-time favorite pieces).  The other composers are Richard Carrick, Marcos Balter, Edmund Campion, Christopher Trapani, Victoria Cheah, and Brian Erickson.

An exciting new work came to fruition upon arriving in Rome.   Miro Magloire, the artistic director and choreographer of the New Chamber Ballet, and I decided to collaborate on a Rome-based music-dance project.  Miro came to the Academy with dancers Elizabeth Hudec Brown and Daniela Giannuzzi in early December. Together we created a new location-specific piece (working title Temenos) for dancers, violin, and electronics that will be premiered at the Bramante Tempietto on March 3, 2016 as part of the AAR’s Cinque Mostre curated by Ilaria Gianni.

I came to Rome to write the music (commissioned by the Koussevitzky Music Foundation) for my multimedia cantata Making Tellus: A Mandala for the Anthropocene, a collaboration with The Nouveau Classical Project (NCP); impresario, pianist, and producer Sugar Vendil, and bass-vocalist/librettist Andrew R. Munn.  Imagine collecting an ice-core sample from a glacier. This cross-section contains thousands of years of information – data that depicts the history of Earth’s climate. With this information, scientists become chroniclers as they discover and tell the story of our planet.  In Making Tellus the artistic team creates a metaphorical sample of human time and tells of our species’ experience in sculpting the Earth, pointing to the many processes that have led to our new geologic epoch – the Anthropocene. Our goal is to deepen the public understanding of the Anthropocene and its implications through a marriage of arts, technology, and environmental activism.  Making Tellus is an evening-length interdisciplinary performance piece that invites audiences to meditate on their role in writing Earth’s story. The work presents moments, both historical and contemporary, that illuminate our complex and ever-shifting relationships within Earth’s ecological and geological systems.  The music is scored for solo bass voice, female vocal trio, chamber ensemble, and mixed electronics.  In performance, the work incorporates costumes by sustainable fashion designer Titania Inglis, generative video projection by new media artist R. Luke DuBois, staged choreography by Miro Magloire, and a set piece kinetic sound sculpture that I’ll design.  This is a fascinating project to work on in Rome, a city whose every corner is a cross-section of thousands of years of human history.

AHN: Thanks so much, Nina.  We can’t wait to hear all of it!

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!

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.

Introducing: Sarah Mason

6-2 - SarahPercussionist Sarah Mason is the newest member of the Artistic Board of The Riot Ensemble.  Sarah has consistently performed with us since our earliest days at Guildhall.  She is also the principal percussionist of the Ossian Ensemble, has toured China, Russia and America with the LPO, and played on the recording for Howard Shore’s score for ‘The Hobbit’.  Sarah will be performing in a trio of Riot Ensemble concerts in 2015, including our day of multiple performances of David Bird’s Fields in unannounced parks and venues throughout London. Get to know Sarah a bit better, in her answers to our questions below.

What is the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you as a percussionist?
There have been so many…it’s hard to know where to start!  I once had to chase a 6″4 fellow off the stage whilst wearing a black executers mask and beating a drum with whips…oh, and Aaron once made me run into a pile of chairs! It hurt but it was worth it – way more fun than embarrassing.


What is the loudest instrument you know of?
Weirdly the loudest sound I’ve ever heard was sitting next to a suspended cymbal while someone did the loudest roll on earth. It was epic, but I thought my head was going to explode. Again, totally worth it.

What are you looking forward to in 2015?
I can’t wait for the new commissions that come out of our Call for Scores. It’s brilliant working on a premiere with the composer. I feel like a piece is still a little bit mailable before it’s been performed/set, and it’s exciting for you to discover together what it will be like in 3D.

What is your favourite Riot Ensemble story, so far?
Again, there are just so many!  Recent great Riot moments include giant breakfast butties during percussion rehearsals, watching everyone getting their rage faces on for the Riot photo shoot (perhaps I got particularly carried away…). Oh and Aaron keeps asking me how the really hard solo piece is going for the concert tomorrow… When there is no solo piece. Terrifies me every time.

Introducing: Goska Isphording

4 - GoskaHarpsichordist Goska Isphording joined the Artistic Board of The Riot Ensemble after our Les Citations projects in 2014.  Goska is one of Europe’s top contemporary specialists on the harpsichord, previously winning first prize as a soloist at the Krzysztof Penderecki International Competition of Contemporary Music 2002. Goska will be performing in two Riot Ensemble concerts in 2015, including our end of year concert, where we will premiere a new work by Jose Manuel Serrano, along with the two pieces chosen in our 2015 Call for Scores.  Get to know Goska a bit better, in her answers to our questions below.

What is the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you at a harpsichord?
During a recent chamber music concert in Tallin, I was performing a piece an approached a very busy – and specifically notated passage.  Unfortunately, just before I began this, I accidentally switched off the needed registers on the harpsichord – so I ended up playing on a silent keyboard, moving my fingers all over the place with no sound.  It was some time until a suitable moment came to get my sound back!

What are you looking forward to in 2015?
So many things, new things, that’s what makes playing contemporary music so exciting! Firstly, as an Artistic Director myself, I’m looking forward to the competition and festival Prix Annelie de Man, in Amsterdam.  It’s a wonderful full week event, completely devoted to contemporary harpsichord music with special focus on presenting and promoting newly written repertoire performed by some of the world’s most talented young players.

Of course there are also all this season’s premieres: premiering new works is always like taking a journey to unknown landscapes.  And of course this is what I’m always doing in the great projects of The Riot Ensemble: seeking to bring this exciting new repertoire to the audiences with the surprising twist (see the picture above, for example…)

What is your favourite Riot Ensemble story, so far?
Definitely the Les Citations rehearsals where we had a harpsichord, double bass, soprano, oboe and an entire array of percussion (including marimba and vibraphone) in the front room of your (Aaron’s) flat!  Thankfully we had great weather those days so we could have lunch in the garden! I’m very much looking forward to the new stories of 2015!

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Introducing: Adam Swayne

3 - AdamPianist Adam Swayne has been on the Artistic Board of The Riot Ensemble since our very first concerts at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama in 2009.  In addition to his busy performing schedule, Adam teaches piano at the Junior Royal Academy of Music and is Senior Lecturer and Head of Chamber Music at the University of Chichester. Adam will be performing in a number of Riot Ensemble concerts in 2015, including our June Portfolio Concert, presented in conjunction with Sound and Music. Get to know Adam a bit better, in his answers to our questions below.

What is the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you at a piano?

Probably playing a wrong note at your (Aaron’s) wedding. It was only one note out of several hundred, but it seemed somehow to resonate louder than a thermonuclear explosion. And it found its way onto the official wedding video too. Other than that, probably having to impersonate two female goddesses in Amy Beth Kirsten’s ‘Speak to Me’.

What are you looking forward to in 2015?

Playing/ vocalising Amy Beth Kirsten’s ‘Speak to Me’ again on January 30th. I suppose it’s pretty kinky to be humiliated. After all, if I didn’t enjoy it then I wouldn’t have agreed to let Aaron release that ridiculous picture.

What is your favourite Riot Ensemble story, so far?

I enjoyed hearing the sharply divisive audience reaction when we performed Michael Daugherty’s Le Tombeau de Liberace in one of our first concerts at Guildhall. I also enjoyed playing Workers’ Union in the rain in Dalston and having the police turn up halfway through.

Introducing: Claudia Maria Racovicean

2 - DiaPianist Claudia Maria Racovicean has been on the Artistic Board of The Riot Ensemble since our very first concerts at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama in 2009. Claudia is currently preparing to record her first album, which will include Aaron Copland’s Piano Variations, which she started learning this summer while living at Copland House.  Claudia will be performing in half-a-dozen Riot Ensemble concerts in 2015, none less than our series of concerts with Breathe AHR, which brings contemporary music into hospitals with live visual artists. Get to know Claudia a bit better, in her answers to our questions below.

What is the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you at a piano?

I was in my final year of my Masters at the Royal Academy of Music – and before the concerto exams every student gets about 20 minutes on their fantastic Steinway in the Duke’s Hall (where the exams eventually take place).  I was the very first pianist to practice on the day, and I ran through my concerto (Saint-Saëns Second Piano Concerto) and on as I played the final fortissimo chord, a string on the piano snapped!  It was this incredible, thunderous sound and my accompanist and I had no idea what had happened.  When we saw a string had broken we quickly gathered our things a slipped out to let the piano technician know.  I wondered if the rest of the pianists that day thought someone was trying to sabotage them…!

What are you looking forward to in 2015?

I’m really looking forward to recording my first full-length album.  It’s going to include some works I’ve been playing for many years, such as the Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, but I’m placing those pieces alongside much lesser known (but no less beautiful) works such as Matthias Pintscher’s On A Clear Day.  With Riot Ensemble, I just look forward to every concert because there’s always some sort of crazy excitement happening on the day, and it’s just great to be making music with such close friends in concert after concert.

What is your favourite Riot Ensemble story, so far?

You know, I really love the concerts we do with Breathe Arts Health Research.  It’s great to perform this – often very serious and high-minded – music in a venue where it has a very real affect and impact on people’s lives.  The music always speaks really well in these concerts because of the informality of the event – and I also really like the experience of sitting down to play something, and then finding this artist has created this wonderful painting that you can look at and enjoy long after the music has finished.

Introducing: Celeste Cronje

1 - CelesteSoprano Celeste Cronje has been on the Artistic Board of The Riot Ensemble since our official launch in 2012. In addition to being a soprano up for absolutely anything voice-related, she founded and runs the foreSOUND School of Music in North London, where we will be hosting the 2015 ‘Riot Young Composer of the Year’ project in 2015.  She’s going to be singing a huge array of repertoire with us in 2015, not least, Jose Manuel Serrano’s Velado in our October Concert: My Life on the Plains. Get to know Celeste a bit better, in her answers to our questions below.

What is the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you while you were singing?

Burping mid-note…okay, it was when I was 17 but it was hilarious and I’ll never forget it! I was ‘test running’ my diploma repertoire at a local charity concert and felt a little ‘rumble’ in my tummy as I approached the ‘F#’ in O del mio dolce ardor….I managed to hold on to about a quaver worth of the pitch before the naughty little belch made its way north! The audience were stunned and I had to make a split second choice. Do I carry on or do I stop and apologise? I carried right on. Apparently I only missed about an extra quaver worth of time! *sing-burp super loudly-sing* A lady came to me afterwards and asked if I was feeling okay. Very funny.

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What are you looking forward to in 2015?

No longer having to teach on Saturday mornings, learning how to make muffins that aren’t as arid and dry as the Sahara, getting my amazing students excited about writing music for our Young Composer Award, and last but not least SINGING all the epic music I get to sing with Riot Ensemble!

What is your favourite Riot Ensemble story, so far?

I can’t give just one!  Here are my top three (so far…)
1) Realising that my lips are too fat to make flutelike whistle harmonics and/or having to bellow at a snare drum because my microphone broke! (Jenna Lyle!)

2) Hitting any sweatshop we could find in Brighton to ask for anything ‘grim looking’ so that we could decorate the piano at our NMB Halloween event in 2013 (Watch out, Brighton, we’re coming back for Halloween this year!).
3) Burning a thousand candles in one of our earlier concerts, which took place in London’s craziest venue, run by London’s craziest woman.  It took a while to get the place into concert shape, but it ended up being a hilarious and really fun night!