Number Ones: An Evening of Beginnings

At Club Inégales on Friday 24th January. Bar open from 7pm, music in two sets from 8pm.  We take a look back at where a number of today’s most exciting composers began, with first pieces from Harrison Birtwistle, Thomas Adès, Amy Beth Kirsten, Luciano Berio, Richard Causton and Joanna Lee.  We’ll also have additional wind quintets by Harrison Birtwistle and Alastair Putt.

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More Hands: Patrick Harrex

We’ve got a concert coming up tonight (!) at the Friend’s Meetinghouse (in Brighton) where we’ll be recapping some of our favourite pieces of the 2013 season and also playing some pieces by composers from the New Music Brighton collective.  We’re gearing up for the concert by asking the NMB Composers a series of questions, so you can get a feel for who they are and what they do. The fifth and final interview in our series: Patrick Harrex.

patrickharrex

Thanks for being with us Patrick.  First up, are you a Brighton composer or a composer that lives in Brighton?
The latter – I’ve lived here only since 1979 so need to stay around a bit longer to meet the naturalisation criteria!

Could you give us a little insight into how you compose?  (Do you have a set time you work at?  Do you write at the piano?  Etc…)
Ideally I like to set aside mornings (8am to 1pm) for writing, but too often other things have to take priority. I’m a hopeless pianist so can’t, and don’t want to, compose at the piano – it irritates me that so many young (student) ‘composers’ think they can sit at a keyboard and play around until something turns up. Mine is the old fashioned approach – sitting at my desk with paper and pencil. Inspiration often comes from images/ paintings or words – even now a blog! If I am travelling – long or short distances – I usually take a note book and pencil with me so I can jot down ideas at any time. Trains are great for this – but I do sometimes get funny looks, and occasionally get into interesting conversations.

When you compose, who do you think of most: the performers, the audience or other composers?
Performers and audience on more or less equal terms – thinking about how to draw each closer to the other. Very occasionally, for example in my Voices and Instruments, the audience is invited to join in the performance – something I’d like to explore further.

What is your favourite piece of your own work and why?
I think of my pieces a bit like my children: I don’t have favourites but am very fond of them all – and once they have reached maturity and go out into the world, they are on their own!

Do you consider blogs (such as this one) a useful way of interacting with your audience?
I have no idea – this is the first one for me, so let’s see what happens. But see also (2) above!

Have you ever had an experience similar to Witold Lutoslawski’s: When he heard John Cage’s Second Piano Concerto on the radio, the encounter changed his musical thinking and ushered in a new creative period (the first result of which was his Jeux Vénitiens)?
Hearing my tutor at York, Robert Sherlaw Johnson, playing the piano music of Messiaen and Boulez opened my ears to the sounds and thrill of contemporary music – a formative experience (1965). More recently, walking on the Downs, near Firle beacon, on a very windy day and quite alone apart from the sheep, the sound of the wind whistling through metal five-bar gates was amazing – rather like an organ (flute stops) but most mysterious. An effect I have since returned to and echoed in some of my pieces.

Describe Riot Ensemble’s Artistic Board Member (and NMB composer and performer) Adam Swayne in three words.
(apart from: ‘Not enough words’?) – Inspiring, encouraging, convivial

Have you ever participated in a Riot?
No – but I have experienced the after effects (Paris, 1968).

Thanks very much Patrick!  We’re looking forward to your music tonight!

More Hands: Phil Baker

We’ve got a concert coming up this month at the Friend’s Meetinghouse (in Brighton) where we’ll be recapping some of our favourite pieces of the 2013 season and also playing some pieces by composers from the New Music Brighton collective.  We’re gearing up for the concert by asking the NMB Composers the same series of questions, so you can get a feel for who they are and what they do. The third in this series of interviews: Phil Baker.

Thanks for being with us Phil.  First up, are you a Brighton composer or a composer that lives in Brighton?
I’m not sure what ‘Brighton composer’ might suggest: composers are composers wherever they’re from and I have never thought there was any suggestion of there being a ‘Brighton School’. I am, technically, Brightonian but haven’t lived in the city for some years. I used to dislike being called a ‘local composer’ which seemed already to consign one to parochial anonymity. I suppose that if being a Brighton composer the chances of increased financial support were forthcoming, the title could be worth it.

Could you give us a little insight into how you compose?  (Do you have a set time you work at?  Do you write at the piano?  Etc…)
Having begun a new work, I make a point of writing every weekday and, if needed, weekends too. There is always a point when the work becomes slightly obsessive and preoccupying together with the sense of wanting it to be finished and out the way (Out the Way being, incidentally, the title of my Jazz Suite). Inspiration comes largely by being asked to write a work (a rarity), being asked to write a work for a particular performance (more common) or to be paid to write a piece (very rare); on the whole, I like to think I can pick up the thread of a piece each day partly as a matter of having a technique which can be brought into play to generate ideas if nothing presents itself. I often work on two pieces at once but I’m not sure why that happens so often.

When I first started to compose, it was at the piano with a pencil and rubber and I find that now at least some of the tentative steps at the start of a piece often happen that way; writing songs are most comfortably written at the piano but I’m not sure why that should be. With the advent of notation software, I also use that either to transcribe from penciled manuscript or directly into the system.  Needless to say, much of the work is about listening to silence in your own mind in order to find the sounds. Orchestral music is usually written direct to score but with much sketching and scribbling besides on paper. (One of the pieces I am currently writing is, however, in piano reduction for later orchestration but there is a particular reason for that). My opera The Bayeux Tapestry was also produced in that way.

Sometimes the work will progress against the odds ignoring that nagging feeling that it’s going in the wrong direction: several pages can be discarded by not listening well enough to the musical conscience. Creativity generally, I think, is a complexity of processes which involves spontaneity, rigid control, aesthetic judgements and luck. When the ideas flow, it’s usually a sign to stop and wait for a new day.

Echo’s Antiphons was worked on over a period of about three years in part because there were other pieces to be written but in part because I wasn’t sure which prison I was in at the time. My hope is that it will sound free.

When you compose, who do you think of most: the performers, the audience or other composers?
In a nutshell, my attention is on the unfolding of the piece itself. It’s a question of putting an idea down and then combing through it in order to remove the knots; or to shape it more satisfactorily; or to change an interval here or there or to tweak a rhythm or two. The trouble is that, by making a single change, many others have to follow and I quite often make changes to works written some time ago simply because there is a different perspective over time. On the whole, Brahms’ advice to finish a work and put it in a drawer for a month or two is very sound if only to forestall the pitfalls of vanity.

I have written some Gebrauchmusick and, as such, those works certainly take into account the prospective performers. That is an enriching factor since it provides limitations. Also, some performers have particular characteristics which can be enriching to tap into and especially where singers are concerned. It is equally difficult to write difficult music for gifted executants as straightforward music for the competent but it is an aspiration to be able to write for anyone and anything. I don’t think it follows that one should write technically demanding music just because the performers can manage it; and, to some degree, it’s important not to write patronisingly simple music for the less experienced. I also will change parts (if permitted) as a result of performance because sometimes, composing is about making leaps into the darkness where aural imagination perceives one thing but receives another.

There is a sense in which music has to be perceived in order to exist and the fact that that will be by an audience of one kind or another makes consideration of an audience important. It is always important to be true to the music one wants to make so that it is not necessary to allow consideration of any hypothetical audience into that particular creative equation if only because judgements about an audience are impossible to make prior to a performance and perilously condescending to make during or afterwards. However, I do believe that there is little point in presenting a piece if there are no – absolutely no – points of contact whether emotionally or aesthetically. Tradition is a primal factor for generating points contact and I like to think I link to traditions without becoming a slave to them.

If there is no connection with an audience, we might as well not bother and all go home.

What is your favourite piece of your own work and why?
What would it mean if a composer didn’t like anything he had written?

There are a few pieces I am concerned about but mainly because they fail in one way or another – usually at a technical level.

I feel positive about the series of works written from fragments of ancient Greek music such as Chronophagos for Two Pianos (premiered by Adam Swayne and Terence Allbright) and the Epinikia on Pindar for reciters and ensemble. My Cabaret Songs of Misery and Hope I enjoyed writing and because they show a difference of style and voice and the Sinfonietta which I think still sounds funky and entertaining in a ‘serious sort of a way’. The Murals at Albi also still sounds interesting although I have yet to re-write the alternative ending. My Piano Quintet (Epiphanies of Silence ii) I think has some effective passages.

Do you consider blogs (such as this one) a useful way of interacting with your audience?
Well – you can interact all day with strangers but it won’t make them your ‘friends’ although it might encourage them to trot along to your concerts. Then the real interaction can begin at the performances as long as there are connections to be made.

Have you ever had an experience similar to Witold Lutoslawski’s: When he heard John Cage’s Second Piano Concerto on the radio, the encounter changed his musical thinking and ushered in a new creative period (the first result of which was his Jeux Vénitiens)?
Yes, I think that happened some years ago. I’m not sure how it came about but I was at a rehearsal of Shostakovitch’s Quartet No8 in a very small room at the University of Sussex. In part it was the sheer proximity of the sounds (it was a very small room) but, of course, the intensity of the work itself which shocked me into wanting to produce a string quartet. But the work also revealed (after later consideration) a tight web of relationships within the composition creating a coherent formal unity and that too had its attraction.

A close encounter with Stravinski’s Les Noces was another epiphany but, this time, about the cumulative power of music which sustains its energy over a long time span. Messiaen’s harmonic practice continues to fascinate but it’s one which won’t allow imitation. Keith Jarrett’s Köln Konzert is still something I like to hear once in a while: Sibelius improvised.

Apart from music, certain writing has also made a difference such as Webern’s Pathways to the New Music, 1922.

But this is beginning to sound like Desert Island Discs so best stop…

Describe Riot Ensemble’s Artistic Board Member (and NMB composer and performer) Adam Swayne in three words.
Talented – Enthusiastic – Short

Have you ever participated in a Riot?
I have been present at a riot but I did not think I was participating in it.

The riot in question was at Grosvenor Square outside the American Embassy and proved to be quite alarming. Finding oneself confronting a thin blue line and being goaded by horses a mile high is not comfortable. Now, was it an American war or was it Thatcher?

I once had a work performed which had reached the final of a competition and, in the interval, I was quizzed about the work’s apparent links to the current civil unrest and rioting and discontent in society at large. I couldn’t make sense of the questions and, what’s more, didn’t win either.

‘We had the experience but missed the meaning’.

Phil

Thanks very much Phil!  We’re looking forward to your music on the 31st!

Songs and Haiku Resonance FM Broadcast

Yesterday evening, our Artistic Director Aaron Holloway-Nahum and Artistic Board Member Celeste Cronje spoke on Resonance FM about our recent Songs and Haiku concert at the Warehouse.  The discussion ranged from advice for composers in writing for the voice, to thoughts of programming and presentation, and included a number of the live performances from the concert including:

Seven Haiku – John Cage
Five Songs – Witold Lutoslawski
At Last the Secret is Out (from Three Auden Songs) – Huw Watkins
In Thy Beauty – Marc Hyland
Three Venus HaikuMartin Suckling
Seven Haiku (2nd live performance) – John Cage

Unfortunately we can’t play the entirety of the broadcast (due to copyright restrictions) but we’ve broken down the hour into a few usable snippets which you can listen to below.

The broadcast opened with Claudia Racovicean’s first performance of John Cage’s Seven Haiku, before Celeste gave a short introduction to The Riot Ensemble and our artistic aims.  This section concluded with Lutoslawski’s Five Songs:

The middle of the broadcast included some advice for composers writing for voice, and for young vocalists working with contemporary composers:

The broadcast ended with Martin Suckling’s Three Venus Haiku (with Riot Artistic Board Member Kate Walter playing Flute) and the second performance of John Cage’s Seven Haiku:

Thanks so much for joining us for this broadcast and we’ll be back to you soon with videos from the concert, and blog posts from composers featured in our upcoming Transatlantic Collaborations concerts!

The Holst Foundation supports The Riot Ensemble!

We are pleased, proud and very grateful to announce that The Holst Foundation has generously made a grant toward the remainder of the 2013 Riot Ensemble Season.

The grant comes less than halfway through our first full season, and will be a significant help in successfully completing all of our 2013 concerts.

If you’d like to hear what we’re up to you can see videos from our previous concerts on our media page, or purchase a ticket for the next Riot event: Songs & Haiku. 15 June 7:30pm, The Warehouse.  Individuals can also support the Riot Ensemble – financially or ‘in kind’ and if you’re interested in getting involved please do visit our ‘support us’ page!

The Shapes of a Square – Tonight!

Tonight is the 2nd concert of the 2013 Riot Ensemble Season: The Shapes of a Square. Here is tonight’s exciting programme:

and a short video trailer to introduce the evening to you:

We hope you can join us at 7:30pm at LSO St. Luke’s for the Navarra Quartet and 5 string quartets from around the world!

The Magic Bass Flute in Pictures

Thank you for all who came along to our concert this past Saturday (26.01.13).  It was great to have you with us, and we hope you enjoyed hearing the music as much as we enjoyed playing it for you!  One of the highlights of the concert this past weekend was having composer Amy Beth Kirsten around to work with Adam and Kate on her engaging and dramatic piece,Two Monologues.

We’ll be back next week with audio and video from the concert, along with a blog post from flautist Kate Walter on what it’s like to work on a piece with a composer.  In the meantime, we hope you’ll check out our next concert – The Shapes of a Square – at LSO St. Luke’s, 7:30pm on Friday 8th March!