Meet the Ensemble……The Hermes Experiment

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(photo credit: Thurstan Redding)

Who or what inspired you to form the ensemble and pursue a career in music?

As an ensemble we wanted to create something completely new and innovative, and believed we had creative ideas that could make us different to other groups.  The aim was ultimately to build something that could become a central part of our careers as freelance musicians.

Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?

In the two years since we formed our ensemble, we have been lucky enough to meet and work with a number of individuals and organisations that have inspired us and influenced our work. There have been so many, but a notable experience was a gig we did with the experimental composer collective, Bastard Assignments; we saw such bizarre and new things and this was so eye-opening for us musically! Equally, we continue to be inspired by the composers we work with; we all remember a workshop with Stevie Wishart during which she pushed us to discover so many new techniques and completely challenged our approach to the sounds we made.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

There have been several challenges we’ve had to overcome as an ensemble, and there continue to be new challenges as the group moves forwards. Initially, it was getting started in London and balancing studying with developing as an ensemble. A constant challenge is developing concepts and programmes that encourage people to come and watch us: attracting an audience for experimental music. And of course one challenge we continue to face on a regular basis is learning extremely complex pieces of music!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

Our season concerts are always a feat to bring together, but also hugely rewarding and inspiring; we get to explore our own themes, and every organisational element lies with us from the beginning. One we are particularly proud of was our LOVESCAPES concert in June 2015 which brought us together with six young composers and a photographer, and culminated in a concert-exhibition in a beautiful crypt in Clerkenwell.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

We are very proud of our semi-improvised (devised) pieces, which require an unconventional approach in their preparation in that we as an ensemble take on more of a compositional role.  These are works that more traditional ensembles might perhaps struggle with, but we find they bring us much closer together as an ensemble. Similarly, we really love improvising and experimenting with our sounds.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

We start off by choosing themes for our season concerts (which have included Metropolis, Sonic Visions, Soundscapes, Rhythm…) and we then commission new pieces around these themes, and choose pertinent arrangements to supplement them. We always try to think as creatively as possible and nearly always have full control over our repertoire choices.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

We really enjoy playing at The Forge in Camden, and will be playing there for the third time on 16 February. The Aubazine Abbey in France was also a fantastic and beautifully atmospheric venue to play and sing in. We have been very lucky to perform in some amazing museums (the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, New Walk Museum in Leicester, and looking forward to the National Portrait Gallery in May). The Wigmore Hall, albeit full of kids for For Crying Out Loud and Chamber Tots, always has a special atmosphere too!

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

We love performing Giles Swayne’s Chansons devotes et poissoneuses, one of the first large-scale pieces written for us, as well as our more upbeat arrangements, for example Meredith Monk’s Double Fiesta, Bernstein’s I Got Rhythm and Richard Rodney Bennett’s Slow Foxtrot (we do most of the arrangements ourselves) – and of course our free improvisation!

Who are your favourite musicians? 

We all have our own individual heroes that we look up to: instrumentalists and singers who inspire us to bring something different and unique to the group and to aim for the highest possible musical standards.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

We all had different answers to this! We vividly remember our first ever gig at the Rag Factory in December 2013, as well as the marathon that was our Soundscapes concert in November 2014.

Héloïse’s (accidental) improvised singing at Aubazine Abbey at the start of the concert was also pretty memorable! One of the audience members came up to us afterwards saying ‘Hallelujah!’ so it must have made a good impression regardless.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

We’re learning a lot still but here are a few things we have learnt already:

  • Don’t take shortcuts with any aspect of work (e.g. learning pieces / publicity), it’s not worth it in the long run
  • Dare to be different
  • Be confident in what you are doing and why
  • But consider carefully all advice you are given (even if you then choose to ignore it!)

The Hermes Experiment presents ‘Sonic Visions’ at The Forge, Camden, London NW1 on Tuesday 16th February 2016. The concert includes premieres of new works by Kate Whitley and Soosan Lolavar, together with works by Ed Scolding, Richard Rodney Bennett, Claude Debussy and Don McLean

Full details and tickets

The Hermes Experiment is:

Oliver Pashley, clarinet

Marianne Schofield, double bass

Anne Denholm, harp

Héloïse Werner, soprano / co-director

Hanna Grzeskiewicz, co-director