Kupka reflects on Darmstadt (part 2)

Welcome to part two of our reflections on Darmstadt! Herein Angus muses on hot air balloons, Michael contemplates the essence of Aussie-ness, and Hannah wraps up with a wide-ranging rumination. Angus Wilson muses...

Darmstadt consisted of four parts for me: Concert-going, percussion class, opera workshop, and discussions at the pub afterwards.

The diversity of music on offer at Darmstadt was exceptional. Concerts and workshops ranged from complex, gestural, performance art, theatre, electronic, club music, spectral, ultra soft, techno, political, improvised, computer controlled music, a lights show and even some HOT AIR BALLOONISTS had a piece that I'm pretty sure every resident of Darmstadt was watching. The festival had a hugely positive attitude and had a enormous emphasis on showcasing all the emerging performers from Europe today. Furthermore the OPEN SPACE (a format whereby you book a space for a concert, workshop or discussion led by yourself/others) was a really well respected part of the festival that people engaged with.

Percussion class, led by the humble Christian Dierstein and Arnold Marinissen was refreshingly familiar. With about three conservatoriums worth of gear (including multiple sets of 4 octaves of cowbells and Thai gongs) and 30 percussionists each doing a handful of projects, Darmstadt percussion was organised with skill and friendliness. For me this was a real highlight. No percussionist seemed to speak up too often, and when anyone did speak... it was always interesting, productive and useful. There was a comfort about the place, respectful of each other's ideas, thoughts and requests. There was a great variety of percussionists from varying backgrounds, Spanish, Hungarian, American, Russian, Dutch, Japanese, Korean!

Lessons with Christian/Arnold proved to be very inspiring and I was afforded the opportunity to ask some very pertinent questions about the direction of things I am doing for the Contemporary Opera workshop I was a guest of ensemble interface (Awesome people, who mentored us last year!) as their percussionist Agnieska is about to have her second baby :) I played several new opera scenes with them, all with starkly different voices. I initially expected it to be perhaps a shake-up of the current opera traditions. After discussions with the artistic directors of this project Hans Thomalla (also a fabulous composer, look out.... you'll be hearing him soon at KP concerts) and Patrick Hahn, it turned out the project was intended perhaps more for a voice for contemporary sounds to exist within an operatic context. It was great to spectate as the young composers battled with some fantastic opera stage directors to ensure their sentiment of their piece was realised as much in the music as on stage.

Many thanks to Christian Dierstein and Arnold Marinissen for lessons and organising the percussion extravaganza, along with the percussion team organising all the gear Aram and Peter. To all the composers' music I played whilst abroad and the musicians I played them with. Ensemble interface for good times, great music making AND encouraging us to come. To the rest of the opera team, Georges Aperghis for the workshop and Nicolas Hodges for an intense lesson. To the Ian Potter Cultural Trust for making my trip possible. Finally to the Thomas Schafer and the Darmstadt administration team for making things happen easily and working ridiculous hours. It was a great experience!

Angus Wilson with members of Ensemble Interface and other participants in the Opera Workshop at Darmstadt 2014. © IMD, Daniel Pufe

Michael Mathieson-Sandars contemplates...

After having a couple of weeks pass since attending Darmstadt, it's been highly beneficial to look back and reflect. It seems like a lot of the others have really summed up a lot of the activities at the festival (though it would be impossible to mention everything!), so I thought I might be a bit elliptical and try to articulate one thing which has interested me a fair bit.

This is that there is a definite sense of "being an Australian composer". This was obvious at the festival not in the least by having so many Australians in attendance ("where are you from? Oh, another Australian..."), but also by the general discourse of the festival. It's fairly clear that, without trying to "be" Australian, Australian composers and musicians are nonetheless in a fairly unique position. There is a level of critical distance which we seem to have, and no sense which suggests this music should be taken for granted. This all leads to differing aesthetic sensibilities.

I'm unsure how this thought will come out in my compositions, of course, but there's certainly a level of conviction which has been granted to me by seeing what's happening on the ground in Europe. It'll take time to process all of the lessons, concerts, lectures and discussions, but I'm sure it'll lead to a fairly interesting place for how I make music.

Finally, I have to say a huge thanks to the Ian Potter Cultural Trust for funding my trip over.

Hannah Reardon-Smith ruminates...

Darmstadt - what an incredible experience! A mass gathering of composers, performers and new music aficionados from all over the globe, that quickly evolves into a vibrant community of creators and innovators; a hotpot of lectures, workshops, discussions, lessons, and concerts (with the pain of having to choose between multiple options at any one time).

This year saw most likely the biggest Aussie contingent Darmstadt has had so far. There were Australians from Australia as well as the many Europe-dwelling Australian musicians. This is so important for us who are just making it over to The Continent, because it gives us the opportunity to meet and become a part of a community, a real head-start for anyone emigrating to (or even just occasionally working in) a new country. There is another good thing about this group of people, and that’s that Australian musicians playing new music overseas tend to be completely fantastic: successful musicians who are also lovely, and have great tips for young musicians cutting their teeth.

The Australians really held their own, recognised this year with three of them taking out Kranichstein “Stipendium” Prizes: violist Phoebe Green, saxophonist Joshua Hyde, and our own pianist Alex Raineri!

For me, the highlights of my time in Darmstadt were my incredible lessons with Eva Furrer (Klangforum Wien), studying further Brian Ferneyhough’s Cassandra’s Dream Song alongside other flautists, some very special performances (the Scelsi concerts, Lachenmann’s GOT LOST, Phoebe Green playing a James Rushford viola solo), and playing with KP in the Open Space.

Open Space is this great program which allows anyone attending the festival to put on performances, run workshops, and host discussions. Participants made great use of this feature and sometimes it was more interesting than the official program! It allowed Kupka’s to give our European debut performance, playing the works of Furrer, Ferneyhough, Aperghis, and Liam Flenady.

I owe a great deal of thanks to the Australia Council's ArtStart program, which funded my time in Darmstadt as well as my earlier few months in Cologne studying with Dr Camilla Hoitenga and Helen Bledsoe.

If you want to read more on my time in Darmstadt, as well as a subsequent festival academy I attended in Austria, please visit my personal blog.