BBC Radio 3: In Tune

Suzy Klein presents a special edition of ‘In Tune’ live from Tate Modern gallery in London, as part of Radio 3’s New Year New Music week. Our performances include Edgard Varèse’s seminal Density 21.5 (alongside Calder’s wire sculpture of his friend), Augusta Read Thomas’ Capricci, Benjamin Graves’ NocturNe, and Patrick Harrex’s …dreams, shadows, and smoke  Also performing on the programme are the Guildhall School percussionists and vocal trio Juice!

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Written for Me (#1)

Date: Saturday 15th November; 7.30pm
Venue: Cecil Sharp House, Trefusis Room.
As part of our Sound and Music Portfolio programme this year, we are hosting international soloists Heather Roche (Bass Clarinet), Marco Fusi (Viola D’Amore) and Rafal Luc (Accordion) in London.  After a day of masterclasses and composers workshops, these three soloists will give a joint concert of repertoire that has been written specifically for them by composers from around the world, including:

Gavin Higgins Kathedrale
Ian Anderson Siren (World Premiere)
John Croft Intermedio iii
Martin Iddon Ptelea
Lorenzo Romano chi ha paura delle maree 
Federico Gardella cinque notturni da braccio
Felipe Lara Postcard
David Young Escurial

The soloists – and the three composers taking part in the Portfolio Scheme – will present the informal concert in conversation with our Artistic Director Aaron Holloway-Nahum.

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she is a myth

Date: Thursday, 6th November; 7:00pm
Venue: 
St. Leonard’s Church, Shoreditch
When The Riot Ensemble and Juice Vocal Ensemble ran a Call for Scores earlier this year, 126 composers from all over the world applied for just two available commissions.  This concert features the resulting works – by Australian composer Holly Harrison and UK composer Ben Oliver – along with the World Premiere of she is a myth by Riot’s Composer-in-Residence, Amy Beth Kirsten.  Amy’s music has recently been described as “wildly imaginative” (NY Times) and “a tour de force” (Washington Post).  Amy, Ben and Holly will introduce their pieces in conversation with Riot’s Artistic Director Aaron Holloway-Nahum.

Other music will include world premieres of works by Luke Styles, Piers Hellawell and Sally Whitwell, along with Georges Aperghis’ Le Corps A Corps.

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The (Fingers/ Eyes/ Brain) United Will Never Be Defeated!

It might seem like all’s gone quiet on the Riot front, but we are actually furiously at work behind the scenes gathering a shortlist for our Sound and Music Portfolio Scheme and preparing music that we’ll be performing this Autumn.

Here are some little musings from a pianist holed up in his garret practising Rzewski’s sprawling opus.  As I write this, I have the words of one of my own tutors, David Fanning, ringing in my ears: ‘I would love to play that piece. The thing is I would need a sabbatical just to put the fingering in.’

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So if you’re in the vicinities of Chichester (November 7th), London (November 11th) or Brighton (November 14th) you may be interested to know the back-story, the hours of preparation, my tales of woe.  Because I don’t have a sabbatical, and I only have just over three months left to go before the concert.

But I should not complain. I am lucky to live in a nice place. Whenever I wish I can walk out on to the balcony and smell the sea air, barbeques and (err…) burning human flesh from the sun-soaked beaches of Hove Lawns. I myself have been swimming in the sea every day since June, alongside jogging, press-ups and sit-ups. (As a result I am now very good at all of these. But I haven’t lost any weight…).

Happily, work’s been relatively quiet too. Even Aaron (our glorious and venerable Riot Ensemble Artistic Director) has lain off sending me a gazillion emails while he is taking the Aspen Music Festival by storm.

And, even more happily, today marks a milestone because it now looks as if I will actually be able to play this piece! Sorry if that sounds a bit churlish. Why, after all, would I have agreed to play it if I wasn’t sure of this before?

Because it’s all about targets, goals, objectives.

The piece itself is a mission. The composer himself says: ‘The extended length of the composition may be an allusion to the idea that the unification of people is a long story and that nothing worth winning is acquired without effort’.

Effort… and rigorous organisation.

So I have a battle-plan. I have separated the 38 strands (36 variations and the theme book-ending at either side) into five columns with different practice methods for each:

  1. ‘Can already play at tempo’. Hmm…. only six of these so far… (and they exclude the whistling bits – I have tried and failed to teach myself to whistle).
  2. ‘Will be able to play eventually’ (i.e. without too much fuss). Seven bits.
  3. ‘Practice X3’. This is a slightly brainless technique of practising I perfected as a student that just involves going through the motions three times every day without worrying too much – it will get there in the end! There are seven such variations that I’ll give this treatment to.
  4. ‘Bits need help’ which means I need to focus on small, tricky passages in eight parts of the work
  5. ‘HELP!’. Intensive focus required. 10 strands.

In two months I want all 38 bits in column number one.

And then I’ll have another month to make sure I give the most committed performance I can of this amazing work. I’ll keep you updated…

 

The People United Will Never Be Defeated

Date: Friday 14th November; 7.30pm
Venue: St. Luke’s Church, Brighton

The Riot Ensemble’s co-principal pianist Adam Swayne presents a unique performance Frederic Rzewski’s The People United Will Never Be Defeated, one of the twentieth century’s most monumental works for solo piano.  Rzewski wrote the piece in 1975 for Adam’s teacher, Ursula Oppens. The 36 variations are based on a song that expressed solidarity with the Chilean resistance to General Pinochet and, in a wild and often bewildering mix of virtuosic piano techniques and motley musical styles, the composer also weaves in other anthems that represent a struggle for democracy. The concert will last just over an hour without an interval and will include a spoken introduction.

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The People United Will Never Be Defeated

Date: Friday 7th November; 7.30pm
Venue: The University of Chichester

The Riot Ensemble’s co-principal pianist Adam Swayne presents a unique performance Frederic Rzewski’s The People United Will Never Be Defeated, one of the twentieth century’s most monumental works for solo piano.  Rzewski wrote the piece in 1975 for Adam’s teacher, Ursula Oppens. The 36 variations are based on a song that expressed solidarity with the Chilean resistance to General Pinochet and, in a wild and often bewildering mix of virtuosic piano techniques and motley musical styles, the composer also weaves in other anthems that represent a struggle for democracy. The concert will last just over an hour without an interval and will include a spoken introduction.

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The People United Will Never Be Defeated

Date: Tuesday 11th November; 7.30pm
Venue: The Forge Camden

The Riot Ensemble’s co-principal pianist Adam Swayne presents a unique performance Frederic Rzewski’s The People United Will Never Be Defeated, one of the twentieth century’s most monumental works for solo piano.  Rzewski wrote the piece in 1975 for Adam’s teacher, Ursula Oppens. The 36 variations are based on a song that expressed solidarity with the Chilean resistance to General Pinochet and, in a wild and often bewildering mix of virtuosic piano techniques and motley musical styles, the composer also weaves in other anthems that represent a struggle for democracy. The concert will last just over an hour without an interval and will include a spoken introduction.

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Aldeburgh English Song Project

At Club Inegales at 7:30pm on Thursday 5th December.

Music composed on the 2012-13 Aldeburgh English Song Project by Kim Ashton, Oliver Brignall, Samantha Fernando, Benjamin Graves, Aaron Holloway-Nahum, Roberto Kalb, Sarah Lianne-Lewis, Stephen Mark Barchan, Chris Roe and Amir Tafreshipour.

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Contemporary Music: Pleasures and Pitfalls, with Brian O’Kane

One of the things I most enjoy about The Riot Ensemble is that all of our concerts and projects are planned and produced by the same artists who perform the music.  This means that the same artist who performs a contemporary work to a new audience has had a real hand in curating both that work and the context that it’s presented in.

Brian O’Kane (cello) and the rest of the quartet rehearse for The Shapes of a Square

I was pleased to have a few moments this week to speak with Riot Ensemble Brian O’Kane, a member of our artistic board, whom you might have seen perform in our recent Shapes of a Square concert at LSO St. Luke’s.  Brian is a highly sought after emerging musician with a wide range of experiences in the classical and contemporary classical profession.  His answers here shed light on what it’s like for musicians to present contemporary music, including some of the most common pleasures and pitfalls.

Brian, thank you very much for being with us. Can you tell us a little about how you came to play contemporary music?

it’s my pleasure to be here, and thanks for having me.  My first performance of contemporary music was as a teenager at the Cork School of Music. It was a piece by Nicola LeFanu and I suppose that’s what garnered my initial interest in contemporary music.  From there and then, interaction with student composers whilst studying at the RAM & GSMD in London made it quite natural to continue playing new music. Other factors were the influence of my colleagues and particularly my professor at the RAM, Philip Shepard, who had a wonderful energy and enthusiasm for contemporary music. It was he who introduced me to more obscure contemporary cello repertoire such as Augusta Read Thomas‘ Fantasy on 2 Klee Studies which if I’m not mistaken, was actually written for Philip!

You play music from the entire spectrum of music history, of course, and I’m interested in asking a bit about the similarities and differences you find in communicating such different styles of music to audiences and listeners. Could you tell us a bit about that?

In theory, the communication in playing contemporary music should not be any different to mainstream classical repertoire. A convincing performance of any work from any period, should ultimately convey a strong sense of structure, style, imagination, sound-world and contrast. In this regard they’re the same. In practice however, they’re not quite on a par due to the fact that contemporary music constantly breaks new ground in sound and its possibilities. As performers, we play catch up. We already have an intrinsic knowledge of how to approach and communicate a Beethoven sonata. Therefore, what has to exist is an initial belief in whatever the genre or work so that our approach remains the same and does not effect our communication.

You’re an experienced chamber musician and currently play in the Navarra Quartet, could you tell us about some of the particular challenges that a String Quartet faces when performing contemporary music?

Where to start! Obviously, there are some string quartets such as the Arditti and Kronos quartets who focus primarily on contemporary music. These quartets have a unique skill set, honed through decades of immersion in sound-worlds of the foremost composers of today with constantly evolving extended techniques. What challenges a quartet which doesn’t specialise, like Navarra, is to get to grips with these sound-worlds and techniques in a manner that doesn’t dictate interpretive choices or restrict musical ideas.

The merits of Beethoven, the grand-master of the string quartet idiom, are rarely questioned or divide opinion among a quartet’s members. Beethoven’s quartets have obviously passed the test of time! For contemporary music on the other hand, there are four opinions on the merits of whichever contemporary piece the quartet is working. Judgements cannot be avoided on whether a work is a success or failure, whether it will remain in the repertory for centuries or whether the composer’s language lacks a unique voice. It’s a big challenge to let go of that baggage and approach it strictly for what it is and what the most effective way is of expressing the music.

On the other hand, we also have the luxury of being able to question and understand the intentions and writing of today’s composers. This presents a challenge in itself as some contemporary music specialists prefer to be told exactly how to play or interpret a phrase or note which doesn’t leave much room for any kind of interpretation. This is the complete opposite to the approach of classical repertoire where one has to trust the score and interpret as best they can. As for performance practice, the concentration required when performing contemporary music is different. It’s neither less or more, it’s the simple difference in musical language which creates the challenge.

Thanks so much Brian.  Maybe you could finish up by telling us what’s coming up for you in the next few months?

Coming up next is predominantly chamber music concerts encompassing travels to Ireland, France, Austria, Canada and South Korea. Highlights will be a recital at Ireland’s National Concert Hall, a cycle of the Britten Quartets at the Aix-en-Provence Festival and at the Lockenhaus Festival for the Austrian premiere of “Sparge La Mort” by Australian composer Brett Dean for cello, five voices and tape.