Kupka reflects on Darmstadt (part 1)

Kupka's Piano sent a 'crack squad' (Hannah, Alex, Angus, Liam and Michael) to Darmstadt this year to participate in the 2014 International Summer Courses for New Music. Going to Darmstadt is something of a rite of passage for performers and composers of new music. The Summer Courses were in many senses the birthplace of post-war European modernism - where Boulez, Stockhausen, Nono and other musical innovators met and developed their radical ideas for musical creation - and they remain a focal point for new music around the world. Across the two weeks, Kupka's musicians rehearsed, workshopped and performed new repertoire, participated in masterclasses, had lessons, listened to lectures, joined in debates, went to as many as 5 concerts a day, and met many amazing young new music makers.

Now that the dust is settled, each of the KP crew who went will reflect on their experiences and give a sense of what the whole thing was about. Alex and Liam give us their thoughts in this instalment - keep a look out for the rest!


Alex Raineri reflects...

A week on from the turbo-charged 47th International Summer Courses for New Music I can recall many fond memories from our time in Darmstadt. Whilst the festival was totally action-packed to the point of facilitating attendance at what amounted to only a small percentage of festival activities, I was quite surprised and excited by the aesthetic and stylistic diversity of programming at the festival.

Far from constructing programs solely around compositional giants (although they were ever present, both in actuality and in performance), many of the concerts focused on works by younger composers. This gave the two weeks a wonderful sense of immersion in truly ‘active’ music making, with composers and performers of all generations playing their respective roles in both creative and mentoring capacities.

For me this is something we often miss out on by necessity in Australia due to our cultural isolation from the rest of the world. Although, ‘flying solo’ isn’t always such a terrible thing when it allows for a sense of being less rigidly restricted in conforming to the current trends and tastes of the musical scene.

Alex, Hannah, and Angus perform Liam's 'Quite Early Morning' in an 'Open Space' workshop at Darmstadt.

I strongly feel that there is a responsibility for Australian artists in the contemporary music field to be informed and inspired by our peers and counterparts elsewhere but also to maintain integrity in the way in which we present our ideas and the music that drives us. Of course we lack in Australia the context of the Darmstadt Festival, but perhaps we can recreate the driving essence of sharing our music-making in a similar fashion.

These thoughts are of course rather broad, unclear and somewhat unrelated to Kupka’s activities in Darmstadt (which I spoke about in my previous blog post). I found myself reflecting through the festival on these points and am inspired anew to continue exploring and presenting new contemporary works to Australian audiences and inversely bringing Australian works to foreign audiences.

I was very honored and equally surprised to have been awarded a Kranichstein Musikpries (bring on the 2016 Festival!). I hope to stay in touch with all of the incredible people I had the pleasure of meeting and working with over the intensive two weeks of the festival. Particular thanks go to the musicians I worked with; fellow Kupka crew (Liam, Michael, Hannah & Angus), Jessica Aszodi, Eun-Ji Lee, Ensemble Nikel & Arash Yazdani. I had some wonderful lessons and coachings with such luminaries as Georges Aperghis, Nicolas Hodges, Eva Furrer, Christian Dierstien, Arnold Marinissen & Ulli Fusseneger.

Thanks to Anna, Christophe, Bettina, Aga & Andrea from Ensemble Interface for the breakfast & beer conversations and a shout out to the legendary Darmstadt falafel truck which fuelled almost everyone’s schedules over the two weeks it seemed.

My warm thanks also go to the Ian Potter Cultural Trust for funding my trip to Darmstadt.

Liam Flenady meditates...

Of course there were many highlights at this year’s Darmstadt, but naturally, for me my composition lessons were the most exciting. Across the two weeks, I had four lessons, one each with: Brian Ferneyhough, Jorge Sanchez-Chiong, Oliver Schneller, and Clemens Gadenstätter. Each one was rather different from the last, from fairly abstract discussion around politics and broad aesthetic questions (Sanchez-Chiong), to discussion of general compositional strategies (Gadenstätter), to questions of form and time (Schneller), and a mix of technical and aesthetic questions (Ferneyhough). In general, a really good mix of encouragement, criticism, probing questions, and provocations. There’s heaps to mull over coming out of these (see my post at 'usage and continuation'), and I can already notice how I’m digesting some of the lessons in my preliminary work on my next pieces (stay tuned...).

The other thing that I really enjoyed were the chamber sessions. These were performances of student composers by the student participants at Darmstadt. Beyond my egoic identification and rivalry with the young composers (also known as ‘benchmarking’), these were really enjoyable sessions because I had no prior knowledge of many of the composers or performers and could really engage my listening brain without expectations as to what I should or shouldn’t like. In fact I found a good many things to enjoy amongst the young composers, which I’ll be lobbying the rest of Kupka’s Piano to try to program in 2015.

Of course there were many more facets of Darmstadt to enjoy, even if enjoying meant really working out exactly why you hated a particular piece or performance. The various discussions, debates, and diatribes were all very stimulating, and I had the good fortune of meeting some astoundingly intelligent and principled people, with whom I’ll certainly keep in touch.