Today – 20th May – is the (first) culmination of our Les Citations project. Programmed in memory of Henri Dutilleux, tonight’s concert is at The Forge, and we repeat the concert tomorrow in Cambridge. Among an array of World and UK premieres, we are very pleased to be presenting Wired, by emerging English composer Chris Roe.
We first played Chris’ music on our Transatlantic Collaborations concert last year, with his fantastic saxophone solo Schism, and it was my pleasure to ask Chris a few questions about Wired – and his work in general – ahead of these performances.
Aaron HN: Hello again Chris! It’s wonderful to have you with us for the Les Citations project and thank you for your new piece, Wired. 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?
Chris Roe: Thanks! It’s fantastic to work with the Riot Ensemble, and wonderful to get a chance to engage with Dutilleux’s music, which I was first introduced to while studying with Ken Hesketh (also featured in this programme). I think two of the most persistent influences on my composition have been from jazz and early 20th-Century French music, so I was immediately drawn to Dutilleux and I’m sure that he’s in there somewhere in this piece! But I think the most conscious link between Wired and Les Citations is in its ritualistic, almost obsessive quality.
AHN: This isn’t the first Riot Ensemble performance of your work, as we performed Schism last year in our Transatlantic Collaborations project. Wired is another concise title for a piece – how do you go about naming your pieces?
CR: Yes, thanks for asking me back! I usually decide on a title about half way through the writing process, and I find it always propels me forward to finish the piece. I think the title has a crystallising effect for me a this stage, and makes what can be vague ideas more concrete and ‘meaningful’ in some way. I think the directness of a short title is therefore as useful for me in writing the piece as for the audience. I don’t want the title to spell out everything, so I’m always drawn to words with more than one meaning; in this case Wired reflects the relentless, ‘caffeinated’ energy of the music, as well as the constant, unbroken thread which I tried to join through the whole piece.
AHN: The Harpsichord is a rather unusual instrument in contemporary music. Certainly not unheard of, but still generally unfamiliar. How did you go about writing for the instrument? Do you normally have a set routine around your composing?
CR: It was certainly unfamiliar to me, and one of the most challenging things at first was to work how it would sit with the rest of the instruments. I think my breakthrough came when working on the piece in a practice room at one of the schools I teach at (fortunately a student hadn’t turned up so I had a half-hour window!), and there happened to be a harpsichord sitting in the corner. It was incredibly out of tune with one key playing several strings at once, but it made me see the instrument in a different light, as more of a percussion instrument. I also find it fascinating how there is a definite attack at the start and end of the note, and the effect this can create when writing rhythmically for the instrument.
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?
CR: I don’t think I deliberately avoid extra-musical noise, but yes I think that’s fair to say that I often focus more on the conventional parameters of music. However, whilst the written music on the page it may look like completely ‘notes-based’ music, without extended techniques etc., the main impetus for this piece was the harsh, rattling sound of the low harpsichord at the start (borrowed from that faulty practice room harpsichord!). Whilst the pitches in this section are still important to me, the harmony is obscured by the low cluster chords, and we do focus more on the sound, rather than how each note leads to the next I think.
AHN: Well we’re certainly looking forward to recording and performing it over the next two days. Just before we go, tell us, what other projects are you working on/do you have coming up in 2014?
CR: I’m currently finishing work on a large chamber piece for the London Graduate Orchestra Chamber series, premiering at the Forge next month. Then my next projects are a piece for baritone, organ and cello, and a large orchestral piece for the City of Cambridge Symphony Orchestra as part of the Adopt a Composer Scheme. It’s one of my longest pieces, and I’m also incorporating electronics into the piece for the first time, so I think it’s going to be a busy summer!