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!