A few moments with Arne Gieshoff

ArneThe Riot Ensemble is gearing up for our upcoming Les Citations project, programmed in memory of Henri Dutilleux, with an array of premieres from around the world.  One of the pieces coming from closer to home is from emerging composer Arne Gieshoff.  Arne’s currently a Sound and Music Embedded composer with BCMG, and a fellow-member of the New Voices Scheme.

I’ve known Arne’s music for a couple of years now.  It’s a pleasure to have been able to commission and programme his new solo oboe piece Wucherung, and to ask him a few questions about his work in general.  As with all the composers in this project, Arne will be with us at both Les Citations concerts so look for him if you’ve got any further questions on what he says here!

Gieshoff, Arne - Wucherungen_2

Aaron HN: Thanks for being with us Arne, and for your new solo oboe piece.
We commissioned this work for a project including Dutilleux’ Les Citations.
Did his music effect/influence you at all as you composed your new piece?

Arne Gieshoff: First of all, thank you very much for commissioning this piece! I’m very excited to be hearing Wucherung at the Forge next week. Rebecca is playing it brilliantly!

No, there is no direct relation between Dutilleux’s work – Les Citations in particular – and the oboe piece. However, his music has been a constant in my musical development and in that sense is influential on my compositional outlook. I sang the children’s voices part in a performance of The Shadow of Time something like thirteen years ago. This had a great impact on me and I guess the excitement for his music and contemporary music in general started around that time.

AHN: You worked closely with the oboist in writing this piece.  Is that a normal part of your composing process, and what do you do differently in writing a piece when you’re working with a specific musician?

AG: Wucherung explores the lower register of the oboe and its microtonal capacity. Those sounds require specific fingerings which vary in their success to produce a certain pitch on different instruments. On that level it was invaluable to work with Rebecca – especially because it is a solo piece. It can often help to know who will be on stage in order to get a better grasp on the material without necessarily tailoring it to preferences beyond my own.

Wucherung is part of a cycle of works which also comprises the string quartet Unwuchten (‘imbalances’), verdreht (‘contorted’, ‘distorted’, ‘perverted’, ‘pixilated’, ‘wry’…) for Trombone, Melodica and Scordatura Melodica and Umschreibung (‘periphrasing’ / ‘alteration’) for chamber orchestra. In German, the term ‘Wucherung’ describes the uncontrolled growth of structures such as tumours.

AHN: Do you have a specific, daily routine for composing?

I have a daily routine but try to avoid a composing routine.

AHN: I think it would be fair to say that your music focuses on ‘musical’ parameters (pitch/rhythm/melody/form/etc…) eschewing extra-musical things such as noises (rustling paper, key-clicks, breath sounds, etc….)  But 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?

While I acknowledge a difference between sounds produced by instruments which were built for that purpose and sounds stemming from unconventional sources, the divide is not that clear cut for me, and is not an idealogical one. I think the issue of anecdotal qualities of sounds is technical: the creation of a meaningful context for them poses different demands compared to conventional instrumental colour. However, for me all sounds have ‘musical’ potential and in the same way that the Lupophon hasn’t featured prominently in my work, a hoover hasn’t either. But this could change tomorrow.

AHN: What other projects are you working on/do you have coming up in 2014?

AG:Throughout the year I am Apprentice Composer-in-Residence with the BCMG as part of Sound and Music’s Embedded scheme and am spending time in Birmingham gaining insights into the ensemble’s work in preparation for a 2015 commission.  I’ve also just finished Umschreibung for chamber orchestra (part of the same cycle as the oboe piece) which will be performed as part of the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s Debut Sounds Concert on 9 June at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, and have received a fellowship for the Tanglewood Music Center.  I’ll spend the summer there studying as part of the composition programme and having a few works performed.  In the Autumn The Ligeti Quartet will premiere my string quartet Unwuchten (also part of the cycle; commissioned by Anthony Bolton through Third Ear) at the Little Missenden Festival.

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In addition to that, fellow composer Nicholas Moroz and myself are busy organising performances for explorensemble, a contemporary music group we run. On 23 June there will be a concert at the RCM featuring works by Sciarrino, Furrer, Romitelli and young composer Edwin Hillier.  And in September we will be performing Fausto Romitelli’s Professor Bad Trip (Lesson I, II & III).

A few moments with Drew Schnurr

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The Riot Ensemble has had a busy month of May – from an outdoor performance of Workers Union (to which the police were called!) to Vox Balaenae and the UK premiere of Djuro Zivkovic’s I Shall Contemplate… on the Platnauer Concert Series at Brasenose College, Oxford.

Next week, though, is where we really get going.  Our Les Citations project, programmed in memory of Henri Dutilleux, will feature an array of premieres from around the world.

One of the furthest afield comes from Los Angeles-based composer Drew Schnurr whose new piece Linda’s Wake sets a libretto by Richard Sparks. It was my pleasure to ask Drew a few questions about Linda’s Wake, and his work in general.  Drew will be with us at both Les Citations concerts so look for him if you’ve got any further questions on what he says here!

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Composer Drew Schnurr

Aaron HN: Thanks so much for being with us Drew.  We can’t wait to give the world premiere of your work Linda’s Wake, which you wrote with librettist Richard Sparks. Can you tell us a bit about your work with Richard, and how you collaborated on this piece, specifically?

Drew Schnurr: First, I want to say how excited I am for the opportunity to work with the Riot Ensemble on this project. I had a great experience working with Richard last year, so when the commission came in I knew right away I wanted to ask him to be involved. I was happy he said yes. He took a few weeks and wrote the text specifically for this piece. I had no idea what he would be coming back to me with, and was blown away when I read the text for the first time. He had built a mountain for me to climb.

AHN: Setting text is always a particular challenge for composers, and Richard’s libretto sets some specific challenges for you as it moves in and out of rhymed verse.  Was this a decision you guys made together, and how did you approach the different formal styles within the text?

DS: You’re right. For me, Richard’s treatment of text and narrative is almost cubist—constructed periods of formally rhymed verse adjacent to more freely flowing structures. These correspond with abrupt intersections of time, place, and emotion within the narrative. All his conception. It did make the text a challenge to set. It would have been easy to do in musical abstraction, but my intention with this piece has been to support the heart of the protagonist’s (the soprano’s) story while also keeping the work interesting musically. One way I did this was to try to think of the text itself—inflections, rhythms, and formal structures—as musical material that can compositionally developed “as music.” This gave me some of the flexibility I needed to make the whole thing work.

The opening of Linda's Wake's Libretto by Richard Sparks

The opening of Linda’s Wake’s Libretto by Richard Sparks

AHN: You were a professional contrabass player yourself for many years – and indeed there’s a contrabass in Linda’s Wake.  How do the experiences you had as a performer effect your composing today?

DS: It’s another layer. I spent many years cultivating my skills as a performer and then working professionally. I personally feel one danger of the performer turned composer is that the “performer” can take over in the creative process which can narrow the range of compositional expression. When I turned my focus to composition some years ago, I worked consciously to try to bring my compositional technique to the same level I had achieved as a performer. It took some time, but I finally feel these two aspects of my musical DNA as being integrated and working well together. I wouldn’t have it any other way. When composing, I’m always conscious of how it would “feel” to perform the music within the ensemble, which I feel is of tremendous benefit to my process.

AHN: In addition to being the world premiere of Linda’s Wake, this will be the first UK performance of your work. We live in such a globalised society, yet contemporary music is often a very local phenomenon. Could you tell us a little bit about the contemporary music scene where you live (Los Angeles) and what you’re looking forward to in working in England?

DS: One of the distinctive traits of the new music scene in Los Angeles is it’s diversity. I’ve always been very attracted to that—both for how it stimulates creativity in my own work and for the freedom it allows. It’s rare. And we are experiencing a kind of surge here. New music series are sprouting up all over. Many of my L.A. composer colleagues have re-located recently from other parts of the U.S. traditionally considered more “happening” in terms of contemporary music. People recognise something significant is happening here. I’m very excited to be having my UK premiere. London continues to be so important to what is happening in new music today, and my musical encounters in London are always inspiring. I’m really looking forward to working with the Riot Ensemble for this project!

AHN: Well we’re very much looking forward to working with you, too, Drew.  As we sign off, tell us what other projects do you have coming up in the year ahead?

DS: It’s going to be busy. Work wise: I have a documentary film that I scored coming out this summer, along with a couple of other films in the pipeline. UCLA also hired me this year to develop a new curriculum in “sonic arts” at the Herb Alpert School of Music so I’ll be busy with that this fall. On more personal artistic fronts: Richard Sparks and I are planning another project, and I’m also working on a series of piano etudes. Any day composing music is a good day. I plan to have many more of those this year!

A few moments with Djuro Zivkovic

This Saturday we make our Oxford Debut, with a programme stretching from J.S. Bach’s Second Cello Suite, through to the UK premiere of Djuro Zivkovic’s I Shall Contemplate….  (The programme also includes the magical Vox Balaenae and two preludes of Claude Debussy).

We were incredibly lucky to have Djuro with us for rehearsals of I Shall Contemplate… this week, and it was my pleasure to sit down with him and ask some questions about this piece and his other work.

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Djuro Zivkovic works with The Riot Ensemble on ‘I Shall Contemplate…’

AHN: Djuro, In your introductory note to I Shall Contemplate…, you talk about ‘composing this piece through improvisation’, could you tell us more about how you work when you’re writing?

Djuro Zivkovic: Each piece has its own working path, but there is a routine in my working environment that I feel very comfortable.

I think of two approaches in composing: analytic and synthetic.  In my improvisational composing, I confront the synthetic aspects of composing against the analytic ones.  When working analytically, I’m determining processes/techniques.  It’s all about a knowledge of HOW to compose. On the contrary, the synthetic approach is focused on an understanding of the wholeness and the question of WHAT you compose. I’m normally more focused on “What” I compose, because the knowing of “What” is the very thing that ultimately determines how I write it.

For me, the improvisation is a way of getting to know WHAT to compose.  I spend a long time – many hours – improvising, and eventually the final idea crystallises in my mind. The improvisation gives me total and unlimited freedom in expression. Then, later in the process, I use the more analytical techniques to help me shape the score in the desired way.

AHN: There’s a vocal part in I Shall Contemplate…, how does it relate to the instrumental ones?

DZ: I have attempted to create a vocal part that is as simple as possible. It is not an opera, but a very solitary voice that descends deep in its heart. It is like being naked and alone in a desert asking God for forgiveness and help. It’s drama comes from how simple it is.

AHN: Where does the text of I Shall Contemplate… come from?

DZ: The texts are partly from the Divine Liturgy and also from Dionysius the Areopagite – a very mystical figure of the early church. I am always looking for unusual texts, because they inspire me and make me want to compose music for them.

These texts are very, very far away of daily worries and activities in our lives, that’s why I love them. Although they’re Christian texts, in these sentences there is no name of the God, and so they can serve as a cantata for any human believer, or at least musically – for anyone.

AHN: It’s lovely how you refer to it as a ‘cantata for anyone’.  You do mention Bach in your note about the piece (and, in fact) we’ve programming your piece alongside movements from Bach’s Second Cello Suite).  Could you tell us a bit about how Bach’s music relates to I Shall Contemplate…?

DZ: Bach played a huge roll in my youth. When I was little I decided to be a baroque violinist and composer after listening to Bach’s organ prelude E-flat major!

In the German cultural centre Göte-Institut in Belgrade I had chance to borrow famous Archive editions of recordings of Bach’s cantatas, with small scores that follow along the LPs. It was a great experience in my childhood, and I always wished I could compose cantatas. This piece is far away from that period, but I hope still very close in the spirit of Bach’s works.

AHN: There are a number of beautiful extended techniques in your piece.  Microtonality, multiphonics, and singing by the flute and piano player.  Composers today are surrounded – both in everyday life and more and more in the repertoire – by extra-musical sounds.  Do these sounds influence you or play any role in your work as a composer?

DZ: They do play role, but I always try to filter these sounds. Some sounds can be dangerous for my composing and some are fruitful.

AHN: Thanks so much for being with us Djuro.  We’re really looking forward to giving the UK premiere of I Shall Contemplate… this Sunday!

DZ: Thanks for having me, and good luck! 

 

 

 

A few moments with Scott Lygate

3_1615Well, tonight is the night!  Tonight at The Forge we unleash The Flatulence of the Gods: pieces for 5 bassoons, 4 trombones and tenor, and 5 Bass Clarinets.  The lineup is – so far as we know – a totally unique one, created by drawing upon various existing pieces for groups of low instruments.  The final grouping of 5 Bass Clarinets comes from Scott Lygate’s piece Earth Tremors.  This piece was recorded previously but has never been performed live in concert.

One of the fascinating things about Scott is that alongside his work as a composer, he’s an active performer, working regularly with ensembles like the London Sinfonietta and LPO.  With this in mind, I was particularly interested to ask him about how his experience as a composer influences his work as a composer.

AHN: Scott, thanks so much for joining us. In addition to your work as a composer you are the founder and artistic director of the Azalea Ensemble and, I think it would be fair to say, your primary activity up until now has been as a clarinet performer. Can you tell us a little bit about your work, and tell us how your work as a performer and promoter of music has affected you as a composer?

SL: It’s sometimes easy to lose sight of what lies behind yourself as a performer, because you are so focused on the instrument; the technique, the sound, and also the interpretation of the music.  I get a huge kick out of performing, which I love very much and have dedicated much of my musical life to so far, however my personal voice can be heard most clearly through my writing, and I get enormous satisfaction from having complete ownership over the creation of something.

I’ve been extremely fortunate to have worked with and trained by some of the great interpreters of modern repertoire, both as a clarinettist and composer, and I’ve also gained a huge amount from running Azalea: programming music, creating a sense of identity and family within an ensemble, and the business side of running a large group.

All of this this does contribute to one’s approach as a composer. You are more aware of what is possible technically on each instrument, and the practicalities of rehearsing to a time schedule. So I always make sure my parts are as tidy as possible, and as I write each part I try to feel the physical sensation of what it would be like to play it; the breath, the attack, the intensity of line, the direction, and the character.

Rehearsing Earth Tremors at LSO St. Luke's. From left to right the players are: Lorenzo Iosco, Duncan Gould, Mark Van de Wiel, Oliver Janes and Max Welford.  Riot Ensemble Artistic Director Aaron Holloway-Nahum is conducting.

Rehearsing Earth Tremors at LSO St. Luke’s. From left to right the players are: Lorenzo Iosco, Duncan Gould, Mark Van de Wiel, Oliver Janes and Max Welford. Riot Ensemble Artistic Director Aaron Holloway-Nahum is conducting.

AHN: This piece is for 5 bass clarinets – one of your primary instruments. Is it difficult to write for your own instrument? Does it change how you approach the composition?

SL: I actually wrote Earth Tremors 5 years ago when I was 19. Earth Tremors was a gateway for me to stretch my boundaries, improve my technique and extend my palate. Since then my writing has inevitably changed, hopefully matured, and expanded on some of the ideas in Earth Tremors which I began to explore.

As for the instrument itself, I naturally have certain things that I like to do on the bass clarinet. I love exploiting its incredible range (obvious in Earth Tremors), writing soaring melodic phrases in the extreme high register, beautiful warm cantabile lines around the middle range, punchy, earthy and razor sharp stabs at the extreme bottom end of the instrument, and creating haunting, breathy, ghostlike sonorities. One of the huge advantages of writing for your own instrument is that, of course, you know what is possible, how things will sound, and how to create more specific colours and effects. In ‘Earth Tremors’ I was able to write all the things I love about playing the bass clarinet.

AHN: As someone who is now composing more and more, what do you wish some performers of contemporary music new about composing that they often don’t?

SL: When it comes to performing I have a huge interest in the context of a piece of music, and how that effects my individual part. I demand a lot of myself in terms of the accuracy of executing every articulation, dynamic and performance direction printed because I know that a composer has had to spend a great deal of time considering every one of those details.  Colouring it in, as it were.

Beyond the notation, the composer as a person interests me because understanding them helps you understand the context of their work, and gives you the starting point for bringing the music to life. I sometimes feel that performers who aren’t composers underestimate the value of gaining a broader understanding of a piece. Why the composer wrote it, their inspirations behind the piece, and how their individual part contributes to the overall picture.

AHN: When Witold Lutoslawski heard John Cage’s Second Piano Concerto on the radio, the encounter changed his musical thinking and ushered in a new creative period for him (the first result of which was his Jeux Vénitiens). Have you ever had a similar experience with a piece or composer?

SL: Yes, I’d say I have had this experience several times with various composers. Some important works for me have been: Shostakovich’s 5th Symphony, Rachmaninov’s 3rd Symphony, Kenny Wheeler’s ‘Sweet Time Suite’ for Big Band, John Adams ‘Son of a Chamber Symphony’, Steve Reich ‘Double Sextet’, George Benjamin ‘Into the Little Hill’, Colin Matthews ‘Suns Dance’, and particularly important for my ‘Earth Tremors’ was Louis Andriessen’s ‘Zilver’.

AHN: What is ahead for you in 2014?

SL: This year I have some interesting projects lined up. I am a London Sinfonietta Emerging Artist for 2014 – 2016, I have a commission for solo cello from Swiss soloist Gerard Pawlica.  I have 4 feature films to orchestrate!and, and a commission for bass clarinet and piano from Lorenzo Iosco (Principal bass clarinet of the LSO, and 1st clarinet in Wednesdays performance of ‘Earth Tremors’).