Quartet for the End of July: An interview with Jakob Bragg

IMG_2199 Jakob Four Kupka musicians will be presenting a short program at this year's Brisbane Emerging Art Festival (BEAF) on Saturday 27 July. As part of this performance, we will be giving the world premiere of young Brisbane composer Jakob Bragg's Quartet for the End of July. Our pianist Alex Raineri caught up with Jake to talk about starting out in composing, the Brisbane new music scene, and future ambitions. You can find out more about Jake by visiting his website: http://jakobbragg.wordpress.com/

Alex Raineri: You're a young composer studying at the Queensland Conservatorium in Brisbane. What first interested you in composing and was there a pivotal moment at which you decided this is what you want to do?

Jakob Bragg: I suppose I first started composing when I began piano lessons, improvising on scales and bringing in my own variants of the piece I was supposed to be learning. In high school I started writing more seriously, however it wasn't until studying Business & Economics at Uni that I decided I wanted to pursue music professionally and to perfect my compositional craft.

AR: Following on from the previous question - how do you feel your composing has evolved since you first began your studies? Are there particular composers or works that have been significant to you in shaping your musical taste?

JB: Significantly! Starting my studies at the Conservatorium, I attempted (rather unsuccessfully) to imitate romantic works, tried my hand at film scoring - the most avant garde composer I could name would have been Philip Glass! I then went from experimenting in minimalism, immersing myself in Australian works and eventually succumbing to Schoenberg, and have since found love with 20th century modernism and the 21st's emerging composers. Today, a healthy diet of Stravinsky, Messiaen, Carter and today's young up-and-coming consist of my daily intake.

AR: The work you've written for us Quartet for the End of July bears an obvious tip of the hat to Messiaen! When writing this piece for Kupka's Piano, what influences did you turn to and what were the main ideas you wanted to get across?

JB: Indeed. My first port of call when asked to write this piece was Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time. In particular, I drew a lot from the first 2 movements: loving Messiaen's hauntingly beautiful chords, the long, slow developing idea of each movement, almost improvisational rhythms, and his unique tonal world. Fleshing out one main idea, my own work features the flute and clarinet, almost operating as their own independent duet (switching roles halfway through the piece), whilst the piano provides a vague harmonic centre and the vibraphone ostinato keeps the group together.

AR: Brisbane has a burgeoning new music scene, with some old favourites being joined by up-and-coming groups. Have you been to any interesting concerts lately, and what has piqued your interest?

JB: Absolutely, just last night I was at the Best of Brass concert at the Conservatorium, featuring new music of Australian Composers. Other concerts such as yours (Kupka's Piano), the Queensland Saxophone Orchestra, Southern Cross Soloists, The Australian Voices, Collusion Music and Clocked Out, plus many more, have been at the centre of promoting contemporary works, at a high quality, within Brisbane.

AR: Something our ensemble really enjoys is having the luxury of interacting with composers such as yourself on new works, especially workshopping and experimenting with different approaches to material - getting under the skin of the piece. What has been your experience working with performers and ensembles and how do you define your role in such interactions?

JB: It has been incredible working with you, Alex, as well as Hannah, Annie & Angus. Working with performers and ensembles is an absolute pleasure, and to see a work take shape, evolve and come to life is incredible - all the better when's its your very own creation! Often I don't try and nose my way into saying too much during rehearsals, I love to see and hear how ensembles respond to the score and work through the issues it may present. Answering any questions and giving a guide as to what on earth I've written is all I mention, otherwise I love to hear the unique interpretation of each performer.

AR: And to wrap up with the $65,000 question - what does the future hold for Jakob Bragg! Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?

JB: Hmmmmm. That I wish I knew! I have many ideas and thoughts however so many choices and paths... Over the next year and a half I will finish my studies at the Queensland Conservatorium, in which I hope to further develop my craft through private study with a few established composers. Plans for travel, lessons and workshops overseas is defiantly on the agenda - particularly England & Germany. Postgraduate study eventually is also an option, whether in Brisbane, Australia or overseas is another matter all together. I suppose all in all, I hope to continue composition study, writing and immerse myself into as much music as possible.