Home and Rainbow Lorikeets | An interview with Deepa Goonetilleke

Kupka's Piano is super excited to be featuring the incredible Deepa Goonetilleke in our final performance for 2017: False Cognate, at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts on Friday 15 DecemberOriginally from Brisbane, Deepa is now based in Frankfurt, Germany. She will be joining us for some challenging and exciting repertoire – György Ligeti's trio for horn, violin, and piano, and codex XII by Richard Barrett.

Hannah Reardon-Smith: Hi Deepa, we're really looking forward to working with you in a week's time! You're going to be playing one of the most iconic late-20th century works for your instrument with us, the Ligeti horn trio. We thought we'd ask you a bit about this work, and about your life in Germany.

Ligeti had something of a fascination for the horn – writing not only the trio but also a horn concerto towards the end of his career. Could you give some thoughts about what makes Ligeti's approach to the horn unique?

Deepa Goonetilleke: Ligeti shows an intimate understanding of the horn and I believe the horn trio was revolutionary in it’s use of natural harmonics. His writing inspired other composers such as Thomas Adès and Georg Friedrich Haas in their treatment of the horn. The trio exploits the entire register of the instrument and requires huge demands on the player in terms of both flexibility and strength. It is rare to find a contemporary horn part which is so technically challenging but still keeps the character of the instrument. For example, in third movement the horn player must take the hand out of the bell and play a melody across the natural harmonic register. The instrument captures many overtones from the piano and although it is quite a frenetic, wild moment, the sound is reminiscent of an Alphorn.

HRS: This horn trio is so rarely performed, especially in Australia. As someone who has played it before, would you say that's because of ... its extreme difficulty? (!!)

DG: The challenge of programming this piece is that not only is the horn part rather difficult, the violin and piano parts are also quite virtuosic. It isn’t always easy to find the right combination of players to play this piece. That’s why I am so excited to be playing it in Brisbane this week! The horn part requires many hours of preparation and I think the challenge is to show that you are having fun whilst playing something incredibly difficult.    

HRS: The horn is not usually seen as an instrument for contemporary art music, unlike, for instance, the flute. It generally seems still more attached to German late romanticism. What are some major works involving horn by contemporary composers? Do you think the 21st century will see more of a role given to the horn?

DG: There are some wonderful contemporary solo pieces written for the horn as well as some beautiful pieces of chamber music. One of the most famous works involving horn which is now an older piece in the contemporary cannon is Des canyons aux étoiles by Messiaen, which is scored for piano, horn, xylophone, marimba, and orchestra. One of the movements – 'Appel interstellaire' – is purely a horn solo and explores a variety of extended techniques. Another work which I would love to learn in the future is Nebadon from Karlheinz Stockhausen. It is written for horn and electronics and is part of the huge composition cycle Klang – Die 24 Stunden des Tages.  

Thanks to some fantastic horn players across the world such as Saar Berger and Christine Chapman, there are many great new pieces composed for the instrument.  Furthermore, due to the generation of new music programs such as the International Ensemble Modern Akademie in Frankfurt, we are seeing a growth of hornists who are interested in contemporary music and able to handle the pressures of such difficult music. Therefore, more composers will have more musicians who will help inspire them to explore the complex and vibrant sound world of the horn.

HRS: On a more personal level, you did your undergraduate studies here in Brisbane at the Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University. What led you to Germany, and what does your musical life in Frankfurt look like? What are your current projects over there?

DG: It seemed like a very natural decision to move to Germany after completing my Bachelor of Music at the Conservatorium. During my first week of studies at the Con, I met a visiting German horn professor and he inspired me with his wonderful teaching. From that point on, I wanted to move overseas to study horn and I started saving for this dream that very week! I moved to Germany in 2008 and have been living in the Frankfurt area for the past 7 years.  

As a freelance musician, my work is constantly changing.  In one month, I can play a wide range of music from baroque to contemporary and this is exciting though at times can be quite challenging. I am often travelling, working with different ensembles, mostly in Germany but sometimes in Switzerland and France.  

One of my current projects is my horn trio for clarinet, cello and horn, Trio Radial. This is a new project which successfully toured throughout Germany and Switzerland this year, commissioning two new works, one each by Iranian-French composer Alireza Farhang and Scottish composer Neil Tòmas Smith. We hope to premiere and tour a new musical theater piece in 2019.  

I also have an ensemble called Heroica – an education project formed through Lucerne Festival Alumni which combines music with dance and theater. I have been very lucky with Heroica as due to its popularity we have played in some fantastic concert halls including the Elb Philharmonie (Hamburg), Wiener Konzerthaus (Vienna) and Luxembourg Philharmonie. Although we currently don’t have any concerts scheduled for next year yet, I hope that we will keep touring in the future.

My first concert of 2018 is in January with Ensemble Ascolta.  This is my first project with this ensemble and I am very excited to be performing at Ultraschall Festival in Berlin.

HRS: You studied at the International Ensemble Modern Academy (Frankfurt) – can you tell us a bit about that experience? What would you say to young musicians thinking about studying contemporary art music in Europe?

DG: I had a fantastic experience at the International Ensemble Modern Academy (IEMA).  Though it was sometimes stressful dealing with such a range of repertoire and a diverse group of people, it was a wonderful opportunity to spend a year studying contemporary music. Because of this experience, I gained contacts with a variety of other different ensembles in Europe and I always love to go back to play with Ensemble Modern.  

I think it is a great decision to study contemporary music in Europe but I think it is important to find a program which not only has great teachers but an interesting and challenging course of studies.

HRS: Final question, since the Guardian have been running this important poll: Favourite Australian bird and why?

DG: My favourite bird is the Rainbow Lorikeet. My parents have massive palm trees in the garden and the lorikeets flock there in the morning. When I hear their calls, I know I’m back home.

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