Posts in Darmstadt
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.

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.