Tag Archives: new music

Meet the Artist……Charlotte Bray, composer

Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?

I came to composing by a rather unusual route. I was studying cello at Birmingham Conservatoire and during a musicianship course was asked to compose a piece in the style of Bartok. I quickly realised how much I had enjoyed doing this and within a few weeks had an interview to change onto the composition course. In the following couple of years I became familiar with Mark-Anthony Turnage’s music and this inspired me to keep going and find my own voice. Two years later, after accepting to teach me for my Masters Degree at the Royal College of Music, Mark continued to inspire me, this time in person.

Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?

My family have been the most significant influence. Without their continual support and understanding I am sure I would not have a career as a composer.

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

I find the greatest challenge to be balancing my time between composing and all the other things a composer must do to maintain one’s career. Being able to do this successfully whilst still finding the concentration and imaginative space one needs should not be underestimated.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?

Imagining the sound of the musicians and the process of working together with them on a new piece is something that I find incredibly motivating since this is a highlight of the whole process. When the ideas are flowing, I find the working process of composing very pleasurable.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras?

Building a long relationship with a particular ensembles make the experiences of working together all the more pleasurable. Birmingham Contemporary Music Group stands out for me in this regard. I got to know the ensemble and organisation as a student, received opportunities to develop my compositional voice through working with them, and continue to have a strong relationship now in my career as a professional composer. Their virtuosity and brilliance makes every encounter special.

Of which works are you most proud?

When I achieve something in a piece that is ‘new’, adventurous or challenging for me, that is when I am most proud.

How do you work?

I start composing first thing and work through until I feel my concentration diminishing. I work with pencil on paper for much of the process, moving to Sibelius when I feel I have enough of an idea about the piece. I use a keyboard and sometimes my cello too, especially to try things out later on.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

My friends. I find nothing more enjoyable that hearing and watching a friend perform or a friends’ music being performed; feeling their sound, expression and interpretation, each time knowing them a little deeper.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

My Proms debut in 2012 with ‘At the Speed of Stillness’. I’ll never forget the feeling of standing on that stage for the first time to take a bow.

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

Write the music that you want to hear.

And performers?

Play music that is being written now, before it is too late.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Somewhere unexpected.

The composer Charlotte Bray has emerged as a distinctive and outstanding talent of her generation. Exhibiting uninhibited ambition and desire to communicate, her music is exhilarating, inherently vivid, and richly expressive with lyrical intensity. Charlotte studied under Mark Anthony Turnage at the Royal College of Music and previously under Joe Cutler at the Birmingham Conservatoire. She participated in the Britten-Pears Contemporary Composition Course with Oliver Knussen, Colin Matthews and Magnus Lindberg, and at the Tanglewood Music Centre with John Harbison, Michael Gandolfi, Shulamit Ran and Augusta Read-Thomas.

Read Charlotte’s full biography

(picture © Michael Wickham)

Meet the Artist……Stephen Upshaw

Who or what inspired you to take up viola and pursue a career in music?

Growing up, I was often the slightly withdrawn aesthete picking up beautifully coloured leaves on the football pitch rather than playing the game, so in a way I think I was just waiting to find the right creative outlet. The moment came when, aged 10, I decided to play the viola in my school orchestra. It became clear immediately that I had found the medium and instrument that sparked my imagination. Unusually, I never played the violin or indeed any other instrument before the viola – my first read notes of music were in the dreaded alto clef! It seemed that EVERYONE else wanted to play the violin, and my lanky limbs and desire to be different made the sultry viola a natural choice. My parents are not musicians but are great appreciators of music of all styles and so I always loved listening to (and dancing around to) music from an early age so was thrilled to finally be able to make it myself.

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

Throughout my musical development I have had a number of inspiring teachers and mentors. I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, home of Marilyn Seelman, violist and pedagogue extraordinaire, and she completely changed the course of my musical life (and the flexibility of my bow hold), seeing a future brighter and bigger than I had ever envisioned for myself. I then went on to the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston where Carol Rodland taught me all about co-ordination, tension-free playing and musical abandon, Martha Katz guided me in the great art of chamber music playing and how to search for the perfect and most creative sound at any given moment, and Katarina Miljkovic opened my ears to and sparked my passion for the vast array of music written since 1950. I then finished my studies in London with the great David Takeno whose irrepressible enthusiasm about music and unbelievable work ethic continue to be a daily inspiration.

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

Confidently forging my own musical path, trusting my instincts and not being afraid to take musical and career-related risks.

You’ve recently joined the board of The Riot Ensemble, tell us about your work with them?

The Riot Ensemble is a wonderful group of virtuoso musicians from across Europe who I was excited to discover upon my arrival to London. Their focus on the newest and most exciting music from across the globe was an immediate draw and after playing a few projects with them over the years, I was thrilled to be invited to join as an artistic board member and regular player. We produce and commission new work across the UK and abroad from a diverse selection of composers and aim to present a wide array of musical styles in contexts both traditional an unusual. We’ve just selected 7 composers from our 279 Call for Scores applications and are always on the lookout for new and interesting compositional voices – it’s always so inspiring to see the wonderfully wide range of work that’s being created!

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I particularly relate to anything which showcases the extreme, beautiful and huge emotional/ sonic range of the viola.

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

Often these choices are made based on a number of logistical factors such as commission schedules, artist availability, etc., but one strategy I love to employ is to construct a programme around a single work that is particularly special to me. For example, the recital I have coming up in June, centred around Debussy’s Sonata for flute, viola and harp (with the wonderful Gabriella Dall’Olio and Anna Noakes). The Debussy has long been one of my favourite pieces of music and I’m particularly interested in placing canonical works of the past in dialogue with music of our time, in this case Saariaho’s stunning ‘Vent Nocturne’ for solo viola and electronics, Garth Knox’s duos with viola powerhouse and fellow Atlantan Jennifer Stumm and a new work for solo viola and sampled sounds by a student composer from Trinity Laban.

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

I’ve played in a wide variety of venues in recent years, from celebrated concert halls to clubs, basements and living rooms, and it would be hard to pick a favourite. Generally, I love playing anywhere with an excited and attentive audience. In terms of enthusiasm and energy, I remember being blown away by the audiences in Japan and Korea and for full houses of seasoned concert goers up for the most challenging of new music night after night, Vienna’s Konzerthaus.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

To perform: I love the quicksilver energy, vitality and youthful fearlessness of Mendelssohn’s chamber music, the beauty and power of Jonathan Harvey’s ensemble works and the primal pyrotechnics of Luciano Berio’s viola music (I’m looking at you, Sequenza!).

To listen to: Beethoven symphonies and violin concerto, Brahms chamber music (early Cleveland Quartet recordings particularly), Mozart Requiem

Who are your favourite musicians?

Gidon Kremer, Kim Kashkashian, Joseph Szigeti, Helmut Lachenmann, Whitney Houston, Little Dragon, Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter

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

Try to understand why you are making music, what you want to say in your interpretations and to whom you want to say it. Without getting too fluffy, I really do think it’s also important to always remember what a privilege it is to make art professionally and to never take it for granted – the world needs more gratitude and we can start with being grateful for the enlightening task we as musicians have been set!

Stephen Upshaw performs a recital with Trinity Laban students and staff at St Alfege Church in Greenwich on 8 June – more information here

Since making his concerto debut at 17, violist Stephen Upshaw has played in prestigious halls (Carnegie Hall, Barbican, Wigmore Hall, Vienna’s Konzerthaus, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw…) and festivals (Lucerne, Salzburg, Huddersfield, City of London, Aix-en-Provence…) around the world. A recognized interpreter of contemporary music, he has worked regularly with ensembles such as Klangforum Wien and Ensemble Modern, collaborating with composers such as Heinz Holliger, Julian Anderson, John Adams, Helmut Lachenmann and Michael Finnissy, who recently wrote a new solo piece for Stephen.

Stephen has a strong interest in synthesizing music with other fields and has helped realize collaborative projects with the Boston Architectural College, Transport Theatre Company, Hofesh Shechter Company, Rambert Dance Company and Parasol Unit Art Space. He is also the founder and Artistic Director of Sounding Motion, a company combining contemporary music and dance.

He holds a BMus(Hon) from the New England Conservatory of Music (Boston) and completed his Postgraduate studies in the class of David Takeno at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. In 2016 he was awarded the Richard Carne Fellowship for solo artists at Trinity Laban.

www.stephenupshaw.com


Let there be Love (Songs)

william-howard-plays-sixteen-love-songs-for-piano-lst198567

Love, in its infinite variety, was in the air at Hoxton Hall on Wednesday evening for a concert of newly-written love songs for solo piano, performed by British pianist William Howard. The event was the first of three marking the culmination of William’s Love Song Project, which began with the release of William’s album of romantic songs without words, Sixteen Love Songs, in June 2016. Having commissioned and performed music by living composers throughout his career, William wanted to explore the possibility of creating a contemporary version of his Sixteen Love Songs, modern songs without words on the theme of love which would connect to the composers featured on the Sixteen Love Songs disc. From an idea discussed while hill-walking with composer Piers Hellawell, the Love Song Project came to be and was met with great enthusiasm by the composers whom William initially approached.  Alongside the commissioned pieces by leading British composers including Robert Saxton, Judith Weir, Bernard Hughes, Cheryl Frances-Hoad and Howard Skempton, William launched a composing competition which yielded 526 entries, of which we heard the first, second and third prize winners in the under 25 and over 25 categories.

The subject of love is, of course, the major preoccupation of pop songs and composers of the Romantic period, but has rather fallen out of favour amongst modern and contemporary composers whose focus seems to be more abstract or concerned with the big issues of the day such as climate change or political upheaval. In his introductory talk, William explained that this  “very indulgent” project had revealed a great variety of compositional languages, imagination, moods and character. Many of the works are very meaningful, or highly personal, are easy to relate to and travel far beyond the confines of the strictly defined genre of “classical music”. What the works share is their brevity, and “an overwhelming tenderness for the piano” (Piers Hellawell), and reveal the infinite lyricism and resonance of the piano.

Aside from the championing of contemporary composers, the project has produced a wonderful body of new repertoire for solo piano to suit all tastes.

The audience was invited to give feedback and select favourites from the programme of 12 pieces, but it would be hard to choose one stand-out piece from such a broad range of very fine music. The winning competition entries had clearly been selected with thought, the judges careful to avoid imposing their own stylistic agenda on the pieces, and these were interleaved with commissioned works to create a programme of great charm and variety. The works reflected the myriad facets of love – from tender pieces written for babies or children (‘Camille’ by Joby Talbot, ‘Daniel Josiah is Sleeping’ by Simon Mawhinney) or a partner (‘For Teresa’ by Robert Saxton, which quotes Beethoven’s ‘Fur Elise’, another love song for piano, and is redolent of Schumann’s heartfelt outpourings to Clara in its melodic lines and rich textures). Other works focussed on more abstract aspects of love, or love other than the human kind (‘Arbophillia’ (love of trees) by Samuel Cho Lik Heng, third prize winner in the under 25 category). The programme ended with Cheryl Frances-Hoad’s ‘Love Song for Dusty’, which pays homage to both Dusty Springfield (“a temporary obsession of mine when I discovered that other types of music existed other than ‘Classical’“) in its song structures (verses, choruses, bridges) and pop-infused harmonies, and also to the nineteenth century composers of sweepingly romantic piano solos and songs without words such as Mendelssohn and Liszt. It had a wonderful warmth suffused with wit and humour. William’s sensitive, graceful playing brought to the fore the individual characters of each piece, not an easy task when one is moving between very short pieces of contrasting mood and style.

This was a really delightful evening, made more so by the number of friends and supporters in the audience who together created a very friendly and convivial atmosphere: it felt like a concert for friends and amongst friends – the best kind of music making – and pianists can look forward to the opportunity to explore some wonderful new repertoire.

The Love Song Project concerts continues at Leighton House Museum and Cheltenham International Music Festival in May and June, and include music by Judith Weir, Howard Skempton and Nico Muhly. Details here

Young talent blooms at St John’s Smith Square

PLG Young Artists Spring Series 2017, St John’s Smith Square, 24 April 2017

Joy Lisney, cello

Laefer Saxophone Quartet

Programme:

Gyorgy Ligeti – Solo Cello Sonata
Jan Vriend – Symphonic Dances for solo cello (world premiere)
Richard Rodney Bennett – Saxophone Quartet
Charlotte Harding – Sub to Street, to Scraping the Sky (world premiere)
Joy Lisney – ScordaturA for solo cello (world premiere)
George Crumb – Sonata for solo cello
Giles Swayne – Leapfrog for saxophone quartet (world premiere)
Mendelssohn – Capriccio Op. 81 No. 3 (for saxophone quartet)

The PLG Young Artists Series 2017 at SJSS has a special focus on young artists who are also composers, and the concerts include a number of world premieres by leading composers, as well as young artists performing their own works. A shame, then, that with so much young talent on display, this concert was so sparsely attended. We should be supporting young artists such as these – and composers too, young and old – for by doing so we future proof classical music for the next generation and beyond. Sadly, I suspect the modern and uber-contemporary repertoire, which featured in this engaging programme, was the deal-breaker for most potential audience members – it’s that recurrent “problem” with new music, the anxiety that it will be too esoteric, inaccessible, atonal, discordant, impenetrable….. In fact, this programme contained nothing to offend nor assail the ears, and much to delight and intrigue. There were melodies and lyricism aplenty in all the works performed, and the combination of performers – a solo cellist and a saxophone quartet – made for a varied and interesting evening of music which complemented and contrasted, and all of it was highly accessible, even to the novice listener.

I first heard Joy Lisney at SJSS in 2011. Back then, in her first year at Cambridge, she impressed with her musical maturity and poised stage presence in music by Lutolawski and Chopin. Six years on, she’s now working on her doctorate while sustaining a busy career, as a soloist, chamber musician, conductor of the newly-formed Seraphin Chamber Orchestra, and a composer. This multi-dimensional approach to music making is refreshingly enterprising, but also harks back to nineteenth-century composer-musicians like Franz Liszt and Clara Schumann. And there’s something really special about hearing a composer perform their own music – the sense of ownership is very potent and this was certainly the case with Joy’s work. In fact, as Joy explained in her introduction to her piece ‘ScordaturA’, named after the technique of tuning the strings of the cello out of their usual sequence of perfect fifths, and receiving its world premiere at this concert, she found writing for her own instrument particularly difficult, and that spending time writing at the instrument (rather than at her desk) enabled her to find a distinct voice in the music rather than be too heavily influenced by the other repertoire she plays. Having said that, the work pays homage to the Sonatas for Solo Violoncello by Ligeti and Crumb which she also played – it opens with pizzicato figures and strummed strings, motifs which are found in the sonatas. The Scordatura tuning produced striking colours and timbres, while the bariolage string-crossing technique created some very haunting and ethereal sound effects. After a climactic con moto middle section the work subsided back into the harmonic figures of the opening, its ending enigmatic and uncertain. An intriguing and thoughtful work which sat very well with the other music she performed.

The other work for solo cello receiving its premiere at this concert was ‘Symphonic Dances’ by Jan Vriend, a composer with whom Joy has a long-standing creative relationship. This work is dedicated to her and is redolent of Bach’s suites for solo cello (indeed it references the Suite No. 1 in G) in both its motifs and organisation – a sequence of dances of different meters and distinct characters. The work was delightfully varied, virtuosic but never overblown, engaging, witty, and melodically colourful, with much harmonic, textural and rhythmic interest which the composer employs to drive the impression of “symphonic” writing for a single line instrument. The work gave full rein to Joy’s formidable technique while also demonstrating how such technique should always serve the music. This is clearly the type of music she relishes – she’s very alert to rapidly shifting moods, contrasting motifs, expansive writing and technical challenges – and her enjoyment was evident: this was playing suffused with style and energy.

Similarly, her approach to the sonatas by Ligeti and Crumb demonstrated an ease with this type of repertoire. The Ligeti was wonderfully voiced, with a clear sense of dialogue between melancholy phrases and questioning pizzicato chords, and it proved an impressive opener to the concert. Both the Ligeti and Crumb draw inspiration from folk melodies of their native countries, the innate lyricism and expression highlighted by the warm resonant tone of Joy’s instrument and her sensitive shaping of motifs and phrases.

In constrast to the rather more darkly-hued, melancholy works (with the exception of the Vriend) performed by Joy Lisney, Laefer Saxophone Quartet (their name comes from the Anglo-Saxon for “reed” and “sheet metal”) presented works more upbeat in character, performed with style and panache. The saxophone is more usually associated with jazz or big band music, but in these works by Richard Rodney Bennett, Charlotte Harding, Giles Swayne and Felix Mendelssohn (arr. Martin Trillaud), Laefer proved the instrument’s importance, and success, in classical repertoire with fine ensemble playing, crisp articulation, contrasting vibrant and warm tones, close interplay between performers, and a sense of wit and playfulness – most evident in Giles Swayne’s ‘Leapfrog’ (2017). In Charlotte Harding’s ‘Sub to Street, to Scraping the Sky’ the buzzing, bustling, honking of New York City is atmospherically evoked: from the baritone sax’s low rumblings to suggest the rattle and grind of the subway trains, to the soaring skyline, lyrically portrayed by the soprano sax.

This was an impressive opener for a week of concerts at SJSS by PLG Young Artists, with all performers revealing deep commitment to their music making in a wide-ranging and very imaginative programme. In fact, these young people are not the musicians of the future, poised on the threshold of their professional careers: they are the musicians of here and now, fully fledged and ready to make their mark on the world. Please go and hear them and support them.

PLG concerts continue at SJSS until 28th April

Joy Lisney performs her own new work and Vriend’s ‘Symphonic Dances’ in London and Tetbury – further details here

Meet the Artist……Richard Barnard, composer

richardbarnardhvrehside

Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?

Probably many things. I remember sitting at home at the piano, playing (I use the term loosely) Bach’s Preludes and Fugues, trying to work out how the hell he did it. Also my parents, teachers at sixth form and university: Martin Read, Michael Zev Gordon, Vic Hoyland and then Diana Burrell at GSMD.

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

Unfavourably comparing myself to other composers and artists. It’s so easy to descend into a Facebook-style Scroll of Shame where every successful and sparkly new thing makes you panic and think ‘I should be doing that!’ It is challenging to learn how to be influenced by other people’s ideas and techniques without feeling you have to follow their path.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?

First of all, commissions are fantastic. Everyone should commission composers AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE! Pieces often take ages to write and there won’t be much decent new music that defines and enriches our time and culture if people don’t commission it.

It is also incredibly motivating to have that deadline and the vision of a future audience at the first performance anticipating your new work.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras?

I write for a variety of people and situations, from professional singers and ensembles to school or community groups who have to learn things quickly and have fun doing so. Learning what works in what context is a tough skill. It takes a long time to master. I love writing for voice and I’ve been working a lot with solo singers recently. It’s great to have their voice in your head as you write and to think about the shape of the text, the breathing, the pacing and the drama of it.

Of which works are you most proud? My two recently commissioned song cycles, ‘Woolf Letters’ and ‘Early Stroll Songs’, which set Virginia Woolf’s letters to her sister and Ian McMillan’s Early Stroll tweets. I’m also very proud to have produced three performances of my opera ‘The Hidden Valley’ at St George’s Bristol this year, working with an incredible team of artists – I did, however, need a very long lie down in a darkened room afterwards.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

I like to think it’s an English sound, rooted in nature, often starting from melody and the voice.

How do you work?

I work best early. I have a lot of ideas doing other activities (gardening, showering etc.) as it gives space and time for the brain to process ideas. When I was writing ‘Early Stroll Songs’ I got into a routine of starting composing first thing (6.30-ish) for a few hours: At the keyboard, with pencil, Manuscript paper, black tea. I could usually complete 1 short song each day or two. My wife often acts as an editor, offering a second pair of ears to help me hear the music from an audience’s perspective. Later in the day, if not teaching, I would do computer / admin-type work: Typesetting, emails, checking twitter too much, grappling with a labyrinthine funding application etc.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

Starting out, my heroes were Bach, Stravinsky, Messiaen, Britten and Steve Reich, but I’ve recently been more drawn to the vocal music of Purcell and Handel, Mozart’s Symphonies, Schubert’s song cycles and the music of David Lang and Laurence Crane. I’m always interested in opera composers and I enjoyed Tansy Davies’ Between Worlds at ENO and Fairy Queen at Iford recently.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

When I was 16 or 17, I went to a performance of Britten’s War Requiem in Southampton. We sat right at the back. After the concert, walking out into the car park, I couldn’t speak. It was such a visceral experience.

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

Listen to and interrogate lots of good music. Like what you write. Befriend performers. Don’t follow advice too much.

Richard Barnard is a composer based in Bristol. He studied at Guildhall School of Music and Drama and University of Birmingham. He has written operas, song cycles and choral works for Welsh National Opera, Opera North, BBC Singers, Bristol Ensemble, Juice Vocal Ensemble, Siân Cameron and others. He has composed music for dance and theatre, and his chamber pieces have been performed internationally by groups including Delta Saxophone Ensemble, Juice Vocal Ensemble and Kungsbacka Trio.

Richard curated the acclaimed new music series Elektrostatic at Bristol’s Colston Hall and Arnolfini for five years. He has taught orchestration and composition at University of Bristol and is one of the UK’s foremost composition workshop leaders, working with WNO, CBSO, London Sinfonietta, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Philharmonia Orchestra and Eighth Blackbird.

Richard Barnard on YouTube

Twitter@richardmbarnard

richardbarnard.com

I Musicanti at St John’s Smith Square

I Musicanti, an ensemble formed in 2013 by double bass player Leon Bosch (formerly principal double bass with the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields Orchestra), launched their triptych of concerts at St John’s Smith Square with an afternoon recital featuring the world premiere of a new work by South African composer Matthijs van Dijk as the centrepiece. This arresting piece was bookended by Mozart’s Piano Quartet No. 2 in E flat, K493 and Schubert’s evergreen Quintet in A D667, the ‘Trout’.

I Musicanti includes artists who are all distinguished performers, who play in and with the best orchestras in the world, as soloists and chamber musicians. Sunday’s line up featured pianist Peter Donohoe, cellist Richard Harwood, violinist Tamás András and violist Robert Smissen, with Leon Bosch on double bass.

cw-14719-medium
Leon Bosch (photo: Hyatt Studios)

St John’s Smith Square (SJSS) is now my favourite London venue, alongside Wigmore Hall, and while I and my concert companion were waiting for the recital to begin (there was a slight hiatus due to some mysteriously missing piano music, which was, luckily, found!) we perused the SJSS programme of forthcoming concerts and decided what we would like to hear next….. It really is a lovely venue, with a fine acoustic for chamber music, solo piano, choral and orchestral music, and its staff are friendly and helpful.

This elegant programme was guaranteed to dispel any lingering post-Christmas blues. The Mozart was elegantly-turned, warm and affectionate, while the Schubert rippled along as cheerfully as the eponymous fish, all holiday melodies and sunlit rhythms, with some charming interplay between the piano and the other instrumentalists. Peter Donohoe’s touch was bright and joyful, as befits the character of the music. Throughout the concert, there was a very palpable sense of all the musicians thoroughly enjoying both the music and the act of performing together, creating a lovely atmosphere in the venue. When I commented on this to Leon Bosch after the concert, he declared “I can choose who I work with” and he must be applauded for selecting musicians who display not only equal talent but also a shared sense of purpose and musical friendship.

The new work by Matthijs van Dijk, But All I Wanna Do Is Dance, was composed as a response to the extraordinary and unsettling events of 2016 which seem, in the composer’s own words, to have unleashed “a never-ending wave of anger, frustration, hate and bigotry in all shapes and sizes – all issues that need to be addressed, of course, and, once one is aware of them, unable to ignore”. The work is not intended as “a joyous declaration”, but rather a plea against the enormity of world events, an elegy to our inner child, and a wish to be allowed to forget what is going on, if only momentarily.

A haunting solo on the viola begins the work before it begins to open up with the addition of the piano and the rest of the ensemble. This meditative section is interrupted by febrile rhythms, suggesting lively dancing but always tempered with a sense of frustration and a yearning for the innocence of childhood, a time when one didn’t really know or understand what was happening in the world…..

I Musicanti returns to St John’s Smith Square on 5 March with an afternoon concert featuring another world premiere by South African composer Werner Bosch. Further details here

X is for……..

dantobinsmith-432-h1100-q90-rz3-b75Xenakis

Iannis Xenakis (1922-2001) – composer, architect, boffin. Fearsomely experimental, he linked his disciplines by writing and designing co-dependent music and listening spaces. He arguably laid the foundations for modern electronica. And he was one of the first composers to use mathematical theory in creating music.

iannis-xenakis-008
(photo: Ulf Andersen/Getty Images)

Why does Xenakis belong in a pianist’s alphabet? Because his first longer-form work for the instrument has been called ‘the most difficult piano piece ever written’. Clearly seeing this as underperformance of some sort, 12 years later he produced a second piece for solo piano that is, strictly speaking, ‘impossible’. What’s not to like?

In both pieces, Xenakis uses certain mathematical techniques or theories to shape and generate the music. When I heard about this kind of composition in my teenage years, I was suspicious in my ignorance. 1: If it was all down to maths, was it really composition at all, or just some kind of automated exercise? And contrarily, 2: Surely all music – including the really tuneful, harmonious stuff – has mathematical perfection at its root… so why does THIS have to sound so deranged?

I recently decided to go back to Xenakis’s piano music, purely as a listener. I wanted to satisfy myself that without considering ANY of the scientific background – deploying my ear over my brain – it still worked for me, had something non-clinical to offer.

Here is the earlier piece, ‘Herma’:

 

and the later one, ‘Evryali’:

 

I was genuinely surprised by some of my reactions.

* I found both pieces enjoyable and invigorating – but I wasn’t expecting to hear such a world of difference between the two. I think in ‘Herma’ you hear the maths, and in ‘Evryali’ you hear the music.

* The unpredictable dance to the extremes of the keyboard in ‘Herma’ make it feel like performance art – raindrops one minute, rubble the next. As a result, the piece attains a kind of spiky ambience.

* In ‘Evryali’, however, I think the sweeping curves in the structure are audible, the notes – however dissonant – seem to belong together, journey with each other. The images it conjures up in my head are geometric, symmetrical – spirals, waves.

There’s a twist in the tale, however. ‘Evryali’ is ‘impossible’ partly because in places it’s written using more than two staves (as you can see on the YouTube video). The pianist must create their own version based on which notes they want to cover and which they can live with leaving out.

Of all things, this reminds me of jazz. Jazz has very little to do with mayhem; rather it is (as the critic Whitney Balliett put it) ‘the sound of surprise’ – the unexpected choices players make within the established parameters. With ‘Evryali’, we seem to have a truly original hybrid: a composed framework through which the pianist can follow their own unique path. I love the idea that from mathematical principles, Xenakis has created a piece dependent, like so much other music, on flexibility, spontaneity and feel.

Adrian Ainsworth

Adrian Ainsworth writes for a living, but mostly about things like finance, tax and benefits. For light relief, then, he covers his obsessions – overwhelmingly music, but with sprinklings of photography and art – on the ‘Specs’ blog, which you can find at

Twitter:

 

(letter picture Dan Tobin Smith)

Meet the Artist……Moritz Eggert, composer

Photo: Christian Hartlmeier
Photo: Christian Hartlmeier

Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music? 

I was taken by surprise – I had always enjoyed music and played the piano for quite a while, without becoming truly excellent. Then I was asked to play keyboards in a school band and suddenly found I enjoyed both playing and composing much more than I had thought. Soon I became absolutely obsessed, practicing 10 hours a day to make up for the lazy time before. And then I became increasingly frustrated with the limitations of band playing and veered more towards contemporary and classical music. I think that impressing the girls was also an extremely strong motivation. I was 15.

Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer? 

I listened to a lot of classical music LP’s when I was a kid, also to more progressive pop music like Emerson, Lake and Palmer (which impressed the hell out of me back then). My mother is a theatre photographer, so I was confronted with long and boring operas from a very early age on. I guess I like them more now. My favourite record for 5 years was a recording of “Pictures at an Exhibition” played by Svjatoslav Richter, I played that record so often it completely wore out. I was distinctly aware that composing music was something magical and important, and I constantly heard my own music in my head but didn’t really know what to do about it. Later Erik Satie was the first composer I fanatically loved. I was always – and I still am – especially interested in the outsiders and eccentrics of music. Charles Ives was also very important. I was also lucky to have teachers who showed me interesting music and widened my horizon.

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

Realizing that not everyone will love what you do, regardless of how hard you try. And then having the constant courage to give a damn about it, to follow your own instincts, to follow your own intuition. Dealing with envy, your own and that of others. All of this is a constant challenge. Every morning I wake up and try to handle it a little better.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece? 

I only work on commissioned pieces, so I don’t really know the difference anymore. But of course I remember a time when I didn’t have commissions at all, and back then it was much more difficult to focus and to work with discipline, as there was no real goal, no performance ahead. Dealing with deadlines is harsh, but it has made me a better composer. The secret is to not accept commissions for which you cannot find inspiration, or even better: to have ideas that actually create the commissions you want.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras? 

It is always an advantage knowing who will perform your music, especially in the case of singers. But then you should always write in a way that everybody can perform your music, at least in theory, so I try not to get too carried away if great virtuosos perform my music. Of course that doesn’t always work. An orchestra too can be like a person, either you get along well or you don’t. I write easier for an orchestra that I already know, that has already played my work. But it is not essential, I also had very positive experiences with performers who I didn’t know before at all.

Which works are you most proud of?

I try to not give anything to anybody that I am not proud of in a way. And then I actually also try to not be too proud, to not constantly look at what I have done. I never listen to old pieces and bask in my glory. But in general the things I am the most “proud” of are my operas, my songs, my orchestra music, my chamber music. Which is already a lot of different things. It would feel strange to single out something, which does of course not mean that everything is equally good. But I really do not contemplate my work, I’m too busy writing it.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers? 

Too many to list here. This is not a cop-out – I truly feel that music history (including the present) is so diverse and rich that singling out anybody feels strange. All the names we know from the past usually deserve to be known, which still doesn’t mean I’m a big admirer of Richard Wagner. But I also respect his work of course. I constantly discover new things, and I also change my mind about composers. I used to loathe Feldman, now I like him. I used to like Prokoffieff, now I find him a bit dull. I felt nothing for Mahler, now he is extremely dear to my heart. I loved the first piano sonata from Kabalevsky, now I feel it’s a horrible, vacuous piece. If there is one composer who I always greatly admired and have never felt any different about it is Schumann. But there are more like him!

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

Playing a mixed program of contemporary and classical music to an audience coming from a slum in Lomé, Togo (West Africa). They had been lured into the concert hall by free food and had never heard any piano music in their life. I think they were the most open-minded and enthusiastic audience I ever had. But there were other memorable experiences – like failing to play a concert in Tijuana, Mexico, because there was no piano chair to be found…anywhere. True story, but I’ll tell it another time.

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

To never make the mistake to believe that anybody actually really knows what they are doing. To not listen to people who think they know what they are doing. To instead listen to people who are honest in their constant curiosity. To not listen if somebody says you shouldn’t do something, because then you should do it. In art – other than in life – it is really important to do the things that people do not expect from you. And this might also mean breaking rules that everybody thinks are set in stone. To realize that nothing is set in stone. To realize that all the music world is nothing but a big meaningless circus of vanities and to find the strength to believe in the musical truth that many don’t dare to confront because they take the easy way, because they are too scared. To acknowledge that the wonderful thing about music is that a lot of it is coming from a great unknown that we can (luckily) not map or fathom in its entirety. To be generous, to your friends and also to your colleagues. To absolutely believe in your own inspiration, no matter where it will take you. To take example in musicians and composers that you admire. To love. To write about what you love, not about what you think others might love.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time? 

At home with my family, working on a new opera.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Being at home with my family, working on a new opera.

What is your most treasured possession? 

Sadly I have a collector’s heart and have many treasured possessions, among them a collection of 1500 board games, single malt whiskies, comics, films, books…sometimes it becomes too much. So I would probably answer that my single most treasured possession is my firm belief in the freedom and necessity of imagination.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Living and learning.

What is your present state of mind? 

Hoping that the idiots don’t succeed.

Moritz Eggert was born 1965 in Heidelberg, Germany. After early piano studies he began his music education at Dr.Hoch’s Konservatorium in Frankfurt, first in piano (with Wolfgang Wagenhäuser) and theory, then in composition (with Claus Kuehnl). After finishing school he studied piano with Leonard Hokanson at the Musikhochschule Frankfurt. 1986 he moved to Munich to study composition with Wilhelm Killmayer at the Musikhochschule Muenchen. Later he continued his piano studies with Raymund Havenith in Frankfurt, and his composition studies with Hans-Jürgen von Bose in Munich.

In 1992 he spent a year in London as a post-graduate composition student with Robert Saxton at the Guildhall School for Music and Drama. His main duo partner is the cellist Sebastian Hess. In 1996 he presented the complete works for piano solo by Hans Werner Henze for the first time in one concert, a programme that he continues to play with great success. In 1989 he was a prizewinner at the International Gaudeamus Competition for Performers of Contemporary Music.

As a composer Moritz Eggert has been awarded with prizes like the composition prize of the Salzburger Osterfestspiele, the Schneider/Schott-prize, the “Ad Referendum”-prize in Montréal, the Siemens Förderpreis for young composers, and the Zemlinsky Prize. 1991 he founded – together with Sandeep Bhagwati – the A*Devantgarde festival for new music, which has taken place for the 6th time in June 2001. His concert-length cycle for piano solo, Haemmerklavier, has been a great international success with reviewers and audiences alike. Moritz Eggert has covered all genres in his work his oeuvre includes 5 large-scale operas, ballets, and works for dance and music theatre, often with unusual performance elements. 1997 German TV produced a feature-length film portrait about his music.

Among his more recent important works are the concert-length cycle for voice and piano Neue Dichter Lieben featuring 20 love poems by contemporary german authors, and the orchestra piece Scapa Flow. His next projects include the children’s opera Dr. Booger’s Scary Scheme for the opera Frankfurt (with Andrea Heuser) and the ongoing internet project Variations IV.XX for 21 composers and live musicians.

www.moritzeggert.de

An evening of firsts in Shoreditch

My first visit to Spitalfields Music and the first time I’ve heard pianist Melvyn Tan live. More importantly, the concert included three premieres, by Rolf Hind, Judith Weir and Jonathan Dove, including a new addition to the ‘Variations for Judith’ which opened the evening.

Composed as a special gift for Judith Serota when she left the Spitalfields Festival in 2007 after nearly twenty years at the helm, the Variations comprise 11 short reflections on ‘Bist du bei mir’ (G H Stölzel arr. JS Bach, realised by David Titterington), composed by other Spitalfields Festival Artistic Directors, all people with whom Judith worked. An initial collection of seven variations was presented to Judith and a further four were added, all by composers associated with the Spitalfields Festival. The Variations hark back to a precedent probably set by J S Bach – a collection of short pieces of varying difficulty – and rather like Anna Magdalena’s Notebook, which Bach presented to his wife, the Variations for Judith were presented to Judith Serota to encourage and inspire her own piano studies.

The pieces which make up ‘Variations for Judith’ are often described as “music for amateur pianists”, and while they may be short and mostly roughly Grade 4-7 level, I would refute the suggestion that these pieces are exclusively the preserve of the amateur pianist. Nor should they be: the suite works very well as a complete concert piece. Each work is unique, portraying its composer’s distinctive compositional style and soundworld, yet they are all connected by the opening theme. In some variations the theme is obvious, in others it is fragmented or subtly veiled. The works are varied in their individual characters, some displaying sparkling wit and humour (those by Anthony Payne and Judith Weir, for example), while others are fragile, tender or lyrical (Thea Musgrave, Jonathan Dove).

home-page-title-image-final
Melvyn Tan

Pianist Melvyn Tan originally premiered the ‘Variations for Judith’ in June 2012 and he is evidently very at home with this music, adept at drawing out each variation’s individual character and alert to the swiftly changing moods of the pieces. In addition to a creating an appealingly translucent sound (helped by a beautiful Steinway D and the acoustic of the venue, St Leonard’s Church), his playing was gestural and sensitive: each miniature was elegantly shaped and coloured. The newest variation by Rolf Hind, premiered at this concert, began with a fleeting sound in the bass and stamping feet, before the main theme emerged. There were chiming bells and plangent bass chords, utilising the timbre and decay of the piano.

The Variations were followed by two more premieres of works by Judith Weir and Jonathan Dove. ‘I’ve turned the page….’ by Judith Weir was a witty musical take on the phrase “I’ve turned the page”, implying that one is start afresh, and each turn of the page in the score brought fresh ideas, from a boisterous dance (page 2) to a haunting twirling melody, then a frenetic rising figure, culminating in treble flourishes and clusters redolent of a Chopin Etude.

Jonathan Dove’s ‘Catching Fire’ was written as a birthday gift for Melvyn Tan (who turned 60 this year), a work which combines elements drawn from the toccata and perpetuum mobile genres, with passages which flicker and shimmer at the far reaches of the keyboard. At times the insistent throb of the music was almost industrial in its sound, while the clever use of repetition and pedal effects called to mind other instruments such as drums and horns rather in the manner of Somei Satoh’s atmospheric ‘Incarnation II’. Tan’s sensitive pacing, dynamic shading and colouristic nuancing ensured the work remained “musical” at all times, and the piece provided an interest complement to Liszt’s three Concert Etudes, which Tan executed with understated bravura.

(picture of Melvyn Tan by Eoin Carey)

Meet the Artist……Shiva Fesharecki, composer

shiva-feshareki-8-e1466601768353

Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?

I’ve always been obsessed with making music. I was improvising with pots and pans when I was a toddler and a small child. I had set-up a station in the corner of the kitchen that I would use to experiment with sounds. Since then, it’s simply been the same idea but in different contexts.

Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?

My everyday surroundings, the spaces I occupy, and my friends and family are my biggest influences. My idols are Eliane Radigue and James Tenney.

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

I constantly re-shape and re-think the way I compose and the contexts and people I work with. All in all it is hugely rewarding, but it also feels like I am starting from scratch all the time.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?

Challenges on working on commissions are making sure that the organisers and funders trust and respect your vision and don’t try to compromise it (although I do pick commissions carefully). The pleasure is having the space and time to be able to be truly creative on a daily basis and make a living out of it.

You’ve recently been announced as a London Music Masters Award Holder – tell us more about this?

It’s really amazing receiving this award, and it’s brilliant that it has been sculpted to suit each individual recipient in terms of the resources we receive from it. I have spent the last few years working in experimentation and as a collaborative composer; meeting loads of different people, experimenting in a whole host of settings, in different disciplines and different worlds, and constantly re-shaping and re-defining what I do. Thanks to London Music Masters, I now have the resources to refine my practise, and come back to my classical routes to compose a purely orchestral piece for the London Contemporary Orchestra, with a fresh new perspective due to all my explorations in other contexts.

I am also incredibly inspired by the creativity of children. Having worked in a variety of creative and educational settings with young people, and been massively influenced by the way they think, I am looking forward to applying my own ways of working with young people on the LMM Learning programme: I hope I can offer some interesting approaches.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras?

I have this new rule now that I only work with people who are down to earth and easy to get on with, so that the creative process feels free and not rigid. I don’t really mind if they’re musicians or not, or what their background is, as long as they’re nice and we can form a bond. Only then can creativity flow and can we utilise each other’s strengths.

Of which works are you most proud?

I don’t really have a singular work that I am most proud of, but I am proud of the way I have grown immensely as a person and composer in the past year especially. I feel like I understand things more clearly and what things are truly important in life and art.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

Physical.

How do you work?

I try to change-up the way I compose constantly, so that nothing is ever on autopilot. Sometimes it’s with a manuscript, or at my turntables, or maybe I’m in a club dancing and composing at the same time. But my music is experiential, so I try to really mix-up my processes.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

I think my favourite artists are the people I have recently collaborated with such as Haroon Mirza. I am forever grateful for how he has transformed my attitude on art and experience.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Probably performing my composition for turntables and orchestra at the Roundhouse in front of the LCO way back in 2010. We were all so young and relatively inexperienced then, yet so much drive, commitment and a unanimous want between us all to take risks. It was incredible. I didn’t know it was going to be such a big gig. People were queuing up literally round the roundhouse to try and get returns when I was arriving.

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

To stick to your ideas, have faith in them, and commit. Don’t waste your time getting frustrated. Go with the flow. Enjoy.

 

Shiva Feshareki (b. 1987) is a composer and turntablist working closely with the physicality of sound. With electronics, she focuses on sampling, as well as analogue and bespoke electrics that generate ‘real’ and pure sounds of electricity, over computer products. With acoustic instruments, she is concerned with the interaction of tone, orchestration, texture, movement and space. Since 2013, Shiva works mainly as a collaborative composer, and uses deep improvisation, explorations into different worlds, or chance events, to create her collaborative teams. She also works with children and young people in a variety of creative environments, and does seminars and projects at universities and music/art colleges.

A scholar and graduate of the Royal College of Music under Mark-Anthony Turnage, Shiva has awards ranging from the Royal Philharmonic Society Composition Prize, to British Composer Award shortlisted works. She has had performances at major UK venues such as the Royal Festival Hall, Royal Albert Hall, Institute of Contemporary Art, Barbican, Roundhouse, and has had working relationships with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, London Philharmonia, London Sinfonietta and London Contemporary Orchestra. She also works in and around a variety of contexts and bespoke environments to create spatialised site-specific works. Additionally, Shiva has worked and toured with musicians ranging from cellists Natalie Clein, Oliver Coates and Colin Alexander, to video-gamer/youtuber Freddie Wong, jazz organist Kit Downes and artists Simon Fisher-Turner and Haroon Mirza. She sometimes DJs, and presents experimental classical music on NTS Radio in Dalston.

Future projects include a realisation of Daphne Oram’s groundbreaking work ‘Still Point’ for Double Orchestra, 78 rpm vinyl discs and microphones in collaboration with composer and Oram-specialist James Bulley. ‘Still Point’ predates the work of an entire generation of composers and artists in its radical use of live electronics (including turntable manipulation and sampling with live orchestra) and is one of the earliest known examples of a work for turntables and orchestra.

London Music Masters