Posts tagged composition
'Everybody goes about it in a different way': An interview with guest artist Nick Harmsen

KP percussionist Angus Wilson caught up with clarinettist Nick Harmsen, who will be performing with the ensemble in Brett Dean's sextet Old Kings in Exile this Friday at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts. Here's what he had to say. Angus Wilson: Hi Nick, welcome to your debut performance with Kupka’s Piano! We are thrilled to have you on board for ‘Modern Music in Exile’. What excites you the most about performing in this concert with Kupka’s Piano?

Nick Harmsen: I've been a fan of Brett Dean’s music ever since I first played some of his works for larger orchestral combinations like Beggars and Angels.  Playing new, recently written music by excellent composers is always a thrill but Brett’s Australian connection makes his music even more appealing - he’s a friendly face who’s popped up over the years at concerts where I've been playing his music and he’s always so encouraging and embodies everything that’s good about classical music. One of the great things about playing music is working with different musicians - everybody goes about it in a different way - and watching what certain personalities can create together is always fascinating and sometimes really uplifting.  Other times it doesn't work so well and you learn a lot from that.  And I’ve heard around town that you are bunch of guys who are really passionate about bringing life to new music which is a vital part of keeping music making alive.

AW: The centerpiece of this concert is Dean's Old Kings in Exile. As a musician who’s played several of his works before (including one earlier this year), what interests you about his work and what has been your experience performing it?

NH: Earlier this year I played a trio by Brett Dean for piano, viola and clarinet called Night Window.  As the title suggests it’s all about dreams and nightmares.  It’s extremely difficult to get together.  It is often rhythmically very intricate.  However it also has sections which are slow and expressive.  Contrasting with that it has other sections which are jazz influenced and others have virtuosic cadenzas.  In the orchestral pieces I’ve played of his I’ve noticed too that he's not afraid to push the boundaries of possibilities and experiment whilst importantly keeping a really strong sense of a piece as a whole which I think is very important.

AW: On top of being an awesome Bass Clarinettist with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, word is on the street that you also pursue other musical ventures including composing. Can you tell us a little bit about some of your recent compositions?

NH: I don't really consider myself a composer, but occasionally I have dabbled with it.  The last piece I wrote was for two ocarinas, and before that a piece for bass clarinet, vibraphone, irish whistle, gong and kalimba.  I also play occasionally with a bush band on banjo.

AW: You mentioned during a rehearsal a few weeks ago that you were a part of a charity concert raising funds for the continued relief and support of tsunami affected people in Japan. Could you tell us more about this?

NH: It seemed immediately after the tsunami first hit Japan in 2011 it was constantly in the news.  However now we hear about it very little.  The problem has not just gone away - people are still trying to repair the damage, and to get their lives back on the rails.  And the effects of the leakage of nuclear waste from Fukushima may be felt for many many years to come. I wrote a piece which I performed in this recent benefit concert based on a story of a 93 year old woman who lived in Fukushima with her family.  After the nuclear plant was damaged in the tsunami her family decided to flee Fukushima to find a safer area to live.  The woman decided to stay in Fukushima - she was old and frail and couldn’t fathom the idea of leaving the place she had such a deep connection with.  However eventually she committed suicide because she was so devastated about what had happened to her home town and the break it had caused with her family.

AW: Finally what projects have you got coming up? Any performances with your brilliant significant other percussionist Nozomi Omote? Will the Brahms Quintet get another outing? Will we get to hear a concert of all Harmsen works in the near future? Where can our audience hear you next?

NH: Anyone wanting to hear fairly ordinary renditions of some great Chad Morgan, Paul Kelly and Red Gum classics should camp outside my window in the next week or so.  Failing that, Nozomi is working on the follow up concert to her extremely successful Marimba Galaxy!

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.

'I wanted to involve the body more, the senses, the physicality of sound…': An interview with Katharina Rosenberger

katharina_020_300 As part of our upcoming concert on May 10, Giants Behind Us, focussing on the next generation of German and Austrian music, we bring guest musician Samantha Mason to perform Katharina Rosenberger's composition phragmocone for solo saxophone. The next in our series of interviews, composer Peter Clark has a chat with her about being a composer today. More on her music here: http://www.krosenberger.ch/

Peter Clark: Let's dive straight into your life as an active composer! Tell me about how music and composition intersect with your day-to-day activities. What does a day in the life of Katharina Rosenberger look like?

Katharina Rosenberger: I count myself amongst the lucky beings, where one day never entirely resembles another. I feel a little less lucky when I am haunted by dreams with compositional problems, where I am stuck in a piece and with every breath I try to break away from troublesome harmonies or congested counterpoint. A perfect day starts when all that I have on my agenda is composing. Then I love to drift into a piece and lose myself entirely into music for hours and hours. The reality is that production work, teaching preparation and commuting rapidly consume most of my day - if I don’t block out hours I don’t get to sit down and compose at all.

I do, however, always carry a notebook with me, as I easily get carried away in my thoughts and thus solutions to my nightly weariness come up in unexpected moments. I need to be able to capture these…

PC: We should give all of this a context. Where are you from? Who did you learn from? Is there anything else new listeners should know about your formative musical years?

KR: I was born in Zurich, Switzerland and was involved in music from an early age. My formative years show a wide range of music making: jazz, world music and free improvisation. Equally important was my involvement with theatre, the visual arts, literature … in fact, I would say getting a sense of culture, understanding the cities I lived in, living together in general influenced me a lot in the way I figure out relationships within my compositions, within the music and the performer, and the listener.

Teachers that have marked me immensely are Michael Finnissy and Tristan Murail.

PC: So you are a Swiss composer taught in America by Frenchman Tristan Murail. Most of the composers in our concert are German or have strong German ties. Do you feel you do? If so, do the great figures of German composition - Beethoven, Brahms, Schoenberg, Lachenmann - have an sway in your writing and thinking? Do you ever grapple with a particularly Germanic history of music composition?

KR: Ha! You really got me there… I realised that for many years I was trying to run away from a Germanic contemporary approach to composition, which I perceived as overly rigid and kopflastig ("top-heavy, overly intellectual"). I wanted to involve the body more, the senses, the physicality of sound… but I also recognise that I never shook off an obsession over details and how these relate to the entirety of a piece, and passing out the inner logic of a composition. I truly love the above-mentioned composers and hope to have in my music some of their boldness, lyrical beauty, and visionary mindset.

PC: As a fellow composer, I know I have found the work of other composers and artists provoking for my own development. Would you say you have been strongly influenced by other composers? Have creators in other artforms prompted your work? Can you perhaps bring all of this together into a clear vision of what your music is (a very hard question I know!)?

KR: Absolutely yes, I have been influenced by all sorts of creators. I like to see my music as a connective tissue between events, actions, and people. Music is vital and relational, it cannot stand alone and hence should always evolve and be aware of its surroundings.

PC: I discovered your music through New York ensemble Wet Ink's recent CD, entitled TEXTUREN. It is fantastic. How - if at all - does phragmocone, your solo saxophone work heard in the upcoming Kupka's Piano concert at the Judith Wright Centre here in Brisbane relate to the works on that disc? Where did phragmocone come from and what is it concerned with?

KR: I am very, very happy to have phragmocone performed in Brisbane! This piece is actually closely related to the music performed on TEXTUREN. The CD presents a musical journey through a collection of chamber pieces, spoken text and electronic interludes that are all based on the interconnectedness of the aural and the visual. Lines, textures, and forms are derived from and inspired by visual art, geometry, and the anatomy and morphology of plants. The structure of phragmocone, the contours of the melodic lines and the overarching rhythmic incidents, follow closely logarithmic spirals as they are found in the chambered proportions of a nautilus shell.

As contemporaneous life moves more and more towards the digital, the ephemeral and the make-believe, the importance of nature, of real things that I can touch and smell, have become increasingly important to me.

PC: I'm always listening broadly and often to some pretty weird stuff. It interests me greatly to hear what other composers listen to and are consumed by. Are there any recordings you are currently obsessing over?

KR: Oh yes, it ranges from noise music (e.g. Sonic Youth – silver sessions) to the beautiful madrigals of Cipriano de Rore and Adrian Willaert (I am in the middle of an extensive project here…) to one particular piece Toques para difuntos, a traditional song of the Hñahñús living in the central altiplano (Hildago) in Mexico. The INAH (Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia) of Mexico has launched an incredible initiative a decade ago to record and preserve the music of Mexico’s indigenous people and an extraordinary series of CDs has resulted from these efforts.