Posts tagged contemporary art music
"Some kind of a kaleidoscope" | An interview with Jessica Aszodi

The first Kupka's Piano performance for 2017 is rapidly approaching, on May 11th (yes, the Thursday night) at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts. We'll be featuring the spectacular vocals of Chicago-based soprano Jessica Aszodi in performance of works by Beat Furrer, Patricia Alessandrini, and Anton Webern, as well as a new piece by KP members Jodie Rottle and Hannah Reardon-Smith. Before Jessica hopped on a plane headed for Australia, Hannah managed to catch up with her for a quick skype about the upcoming concert.

Jessica Aszodi

HRS: Hi Jess, we’re really looking forward to concerting with you in a few short weeks’ time!

JA: I’m very excited to come and perform with you guys! I’ve known [KP pianist] Alex for a little while now, and have various links to your ensemble. I have been spending quite a bit of time in Brisbane over the last few years, but it will be the first time that I’ve performed in Brisbane off the campus of Griffith University. It’s timely, because I just graduated [with a Doctor of Musical Arts from the Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University]!

HRS: Exactly! I think congratulations are in order on several counts, seeings as you are now Dr Jessica Aszodi, and you’re shortly to be launching your new LP in Sydney, and you’ve just had an article in New Music Box come out that I read only this morning.

JA: You know, it’s a strange thing when you spend a lot of time working on projects that require a long, quiet fermentation – the doctorate and the album took four and seven years respectively, and, you know, the article took a few months – but I had no control whatsoever on the fact that they were finalised within about 30 hours of one another! So it feels odd, because I’ve spent years working on all of these things and now they’re out in the world and I have to figure out what I’m doing with my life in the aftermath.

HRS: Yeah, amazing, also because it’s this kind of wrapping up feeling – the end of an era.

JA: Yes, so I’m excited to be doing some new projects like this one with Kupka’s, which is a different way of thinking than just lots and lots of writing. Because it’s lots and lots of notes! With new people! And building a new relationship, with new repertoire and a new audience.

HRS: The major piece in the concert that we’re going to be doing with you is Beat Furrer’s Aria for soprano and six instruments. I believe this is the first time that you’ve performed this particular piece?

JA: It is. I’ve sung a couple of pieces of Furrer’s before, one of which I believe – auf tönernen füssen – you’re going to hear performed by members of Kupka’s, and the other one is Invocation VI, which I worked on with Beat Furrer, and that was really useful for Aria, as it uses a lot of the same techniques. What took me months of hair-pulling-out when I first looked at them in Invocation, now make sense within his language, given that I’ve had a bit of time to digest it.

HRS: How would you describe that language, in Furrer's writing for the voice?

JA: I think that he breaks down the vocal performer into lots of small parts, and it’s as though he’s put the singing subject through some kind of a kaleidoscope. Most of the time the little wheel is turning but it’s turning really fast and the singer does not come into focus – you have a sense of a person in there but it’s these sort of shards of ideas, and flecks, and moments of breath, and phonemes that pop out. [In Aria] she’s never really intelligible, until – and this is very characteristic of Furrer – there are these sort of expressive break outs, where the singer addresses the audience in a more direct manner. He said himself that the piece is based on this movement towards revealing the voice, so in the beginning the singer is part of the ensemble and the ensemble is part of the singer, and they’re all living in this kaleidoscope together, circulating very very fast, with all of these breaths and sounds and phonemes, and then by the end the singer reveals herself, and together with the clarinettist walks away from the ensemble and the voice is left alone. Which makes sense, given the subject matter of the text: a goodbye letter, albeit an angry one, shouted through the window at an ex-lover by a woman going through a break-up.

HRS: And that original text is from, as I understand, a radio play, so in a way in this piece you’re giving a body to the voice. I don’t know if that’s something that you’ve thought about specifically in this piece, but given that you’ve done a lot of work on embodiment as a performer, as a vocalist, I wonder if you might share some thoughts on that?

JA: I think that Furrer, like some other European avant-garde composers of his generation and a little bit older, has a very careful approach to the way that he presents the subject and the body of the subject that is quite philosophical, and then deconstruct it. So in this piece a lot of that work has been done by the composer for me. I don’t think that I need to do very much, other than perform what’s on the page to the best of my ability, in order to convey the ideas that are present in it because he writes in this deconstruction of the body. In practicing it, I feel as if I’m constantly hyperventilating, but at the same time I’m instructed to be quiet and subdued. The cognitive dissonance of performing this very difficult but very quiet kind of vocality I think – if I can do it correctly – conveys the composers intentions without me needing to do anything too actively expressive.

HRS: Yeah, the sheer physicality of being there and going through these phonemes and the stuttering rhythmic material that he uses, before you can get the words out, before you can eventually reveal the voice, it already creates that for you. On that, the theme of Kupka’s concert series at the Judith Wright Centre this year is “Words Fail”. Given that this is taken from a radio play, which is just the sound, the words, and placed in this context to try to go further – do you think that the way that he’s set this text reveals something new about it?

JA: I think that his approach to timbre and his approach to texture, and to rhythm and metre, they do things that words can’t do in terms of their immediacy. The experiencing of it by the listener is very different to trying to follow a line of syllables that are supposed to make sense to us. I think it’s immediately apparent listening to this music that we are not expected to understand what’s going on in a logical sense, in an ordered sense, but we need to listen generously with our attention in order to make out these small patterns and these moments of expressivity to construct a constellation of meaning for ourselves that isn’t as obvious as words placed in an intelligible order may be.

HRS: You also contributed quite a bit of thought to program as a whole for this concert. We’re covering a lot of ground, from Webern’s Drei Lieder of 1934 to a brand new work.

JA: I think that there’s a nice line to be painted between Webern and his approach to poetry and his approach to texture and rhythm that is kind of a proto-influence to what we end up with in Furrer. And we nicely leap generationally across that by programming Patricia Alessandrini’s companion piece to the Webern, Wie bin ich froh, which uses the same text as the first song of Drei Lieder nach Gedichten von Hildegard Jone. I think it’s a nice journey through the twentieth century for the audience, to hear these different approaches to text and different ways of listening to the sound of text and the messier parts of the timbre of the voice as they relate to the meanings inside texts.

HRS: Before I let you go – you’re a successful Australian artist, and you do perform fairly regularly here in Australia, but you’re based in Chicago. Can you shed any light on the experience of being an Australian performer in America?

JA: I have to say, I don’t have an in-a-nutshell answer. I’ve been thinking about it a lot, especially with regards to current politics, both in Australia and in the US – it’s a strange thing to be a foreigner right now, anywhere in the world. I love that I can come back to Australia and that there is such a strong community that I get to work with over there. And I also love my community here in Chicago, so I feel not uncomplicated about being a foreigner in America right now.

You can find out more about Jess on her website, and don't forget to book tickets for "Words Fail" concert 1: Aria!

Kupkacast episode 1: Hannah, Liam and Michael discuss
Ahead of our next performance, Tautologies, Transitions, Translations, at the Judith Wright Centre on October 7, Hannah, Liam, and Michael caught up via Skype to discuss composing, naming pieces, extramusical influences, different approaches to counterpoint, and whatever else came up along the way.

All three will be having a new composition premiered at the coming concert, so we thought we'd try to give a bit of an intro to the thoughts behind each of the pieces.

 

 

We hope you enjoy this Kupkacast pilot – if we get good feedback we might do this more often!

And don't forget to book your tickets and get along to the show!

 

Around and between the sounds: an interview with composer Corrina Bonshek

On Sunday 10th July, Kupka pianist Alex Raineri will perform 'Nature Spirit' by Brisbane composer Corrina Bonshek. They sit down to talk about inspirations, birdsong and overseas adventures!   Corrina_Bonshek_Composer_with_Score_Photographer_Nick_Morrissey

Alex Raineri: Your music is strongly influenced by Eastern cultures and musical traditions. Could you tell us what draws you to this and how it manifests in your compositions?

Corinna Bonshek: I’m really drawn to different aesthetic approaches to time and space. For instance, the Japanese have the concept of ‘ma’ or the space around or between sounds (actually it applies to different art forms too). But with music, this concept can help create momentum despite a very slow tempo. Tension and release comes from playing around with the space between/around the sounds. Another example is South Indian Carnatic music where set rhythmic phrases (tala) help create an inner pulse that can be felt by the audience and performers even when the musicians are playing highly syncopated, offbeat rhythms/phrases. This means there is a subliminal rhythmic framework that’s perceptible even when the performers are going for it in almost free-jazz style!

These concepts really spark my creative thinking. A big passion for me is writing music is very spacious yet has a sense of directionality or dynamic energy or movement. For example, the opening of Nature Spirit using overlaid rhythmic phrases that are expansions of a 1 | 1.5 | 2 ratio. This creates a subliminal rhythmic framework that, even at a very slow tempo, has dramatic tension. I like experimenting with ideas like this. This is how I express in music experiences I’ve had while meditating.

AR: Nature Spirit was written specifically for a recent solo performance I gave at Gretel Farm (Bangalow, NSW). This was an outdoor show which was presented alongside a choir of varied Bangalow birdsong! Given that this was such an important feature of the works conception, how do sense the transition will be from this setting, to an indoor and slightly more formalised presentation? 

CB: Ah yes, it would be lovely if the wild birds of Bangalow felt like joining this Brisbane performance, but somehow I don’t think they’d enjoy swapping their tree perches for a stage indoors.

With Nature Spirit, I wanted to write a piece that could be performed indoors or out, with or without birds. I think it works well both ways. Of course, there is a transcribed brown goshawk call from Gretel Farm in the piano music, so that bird will actually still be with us just in a different form!

AR: It’s been really great working on this piece with you and it’s a joy to know that any pianistic advice I give you is immediately taken on board! How have you found it, writing for an instrument which you don’t play yourself, and did your conception of the piece change through the course of our workshops? 

CB: Thank you! I really enjoyed collaborating on this piece with you and I have learnt a lot about the piano, especially in regards to pedalling and sympathetic resonance.

A lot of my composing happens in the realm of the mind/imagination and I do have to continually remind myself that the sounds I’m imagining are going to be created by bodies (playing instruments), and the effort/work involved in producing a note will shape the resulting sound quality/timbre etc.

I remember when we were working on the middle 'water' section of Nature Spirit, it was really important for me to understand how easy or hard it was to play those figures and how much of a pause was needed to create a sense of effortless flow.

You were able to give really clear advice on this that helped me shape the phrases in this section and ultimately led to a restructuring of that section as a series of wave-like sequences.

What was fascinating to me was realising that some of my early sketches for that section were very guitaristic. I played classical guitar for 15 years. Of course, what is easy on the guitar, may not be so easy on the piano and vice versa.

Another moment that stood out for me was when you instinctively added a little extra dynamic drama with the very soft ‘pp’ in bar 64, likely from your experiences playing 19th century piano repertoire! This decision really helped bring out the overarching shape of the phrase.

My experiences collaborating with traditional musicians from Thailand and Chinese music traditions has taught me that wonderful things can happen when you invite performers into the creative process. I aim to be open to those moments, and the magical, unexpected things that can happen.

AR: You’ve got some really exciting composing adventures ahead, tell us about whats next for you!

CB: Next week, I’m off to Cambodia for 21 days to participate in Nirmita Composers Institute / Cambodia Living Arts 2016 Workshop and receive mentoring from Chinary Ung. My trip is being funded by a Power Up Your Arts Mentorship grant, a joint initiative of the Queensland Government and Gold Coast City Council.

I’m honoured to be the first visiting scholar for Nirmita Composers Institute. I’ll be collaborating on a new piece with Susan Ung (viola), Yim Chanthy (Cambodia wind instruments) and Ip Theary (Roneat Ek or Cambodian xylophone), and attending lectures and presentations from composers and performers from the Pacific Rim who have a strong interest in Asian aesthetics including Kate Stenberg (violinist formerly of Del Sol String Quartet), composer Koji Nakano (USA/Thailand), composer Sean Heim (USA), tenor Sethisak Khuon (Cambodia) and many more. The workshop participants include traditional musicians from Cambodia, Laos and Burma as well as young composers of western art music from Cambodia and Thailand. It is going to be fantastic to have composers and performers from western art music and Asian traditional music backgrounds spending time together to workshop music within and across traditions. I expect there will be many fascinating conversations, and lots of new and exciting music.

Then right after that I will visit the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh to do a workshop with a pinpeat ensemble (traditional Cambodian court music ensemble) and operatic tenor Sethisak Khuon. This will be the first time I have created music for mixed ensembles with different tuning systems and different traditions. I’m very excited about the sonic possibilities. I hope this experience will give me many new creative ideas for the future.

AR: Thanks Corrina, looking forward to playing your piece! 

Don't miss the concert! 4pm, Sunday 10th July at 'The Imperial Room' (Wynnum, QLD). To book tickets please email avonfun42@gmail.com to reserve a seat and secure some of Helen's 'out of this world' afternoon tea. 

Mixed feelings: returning home

Hannah, far left, working with Belgian group Ensemble Fractales and English composer Olly Sellwood ahead of a concert in Brussels. Flutist and co-founder of Kupka's Piano, Hannah Reardon-Smith, has been living in Brussels for the past year while undertaking an Advanced Masters in Contemporary Music Performance Practice. She returns to Australia just for the month of July this year, and will join KP in their Wynnum concert at the Imperial Room.

I've got mixed feelings about coming back to Australia.

That said, I've had mixed feelings about living and studying in Belgium too. I've had (and in the next year will have) some incredible opportunities, learning with and playing alongside some of my heroes, making contact with many of the composers whose work I'm most interested in, and realising how small (if widely spread) the global community of musicians playing la musique contemporaine really is. I've been mentored by members of Ictus and Ensemble musikFabrik, two of Europe's leading new music ensembles, and have performed extensively in Belgium, England, Germany and Austria. I've met peers from all over the world who are studying and performing here. But being over here has made clear to me just how incredible a group Kupka's Piano really is, and I miss them like crazy!

So coming home to KP is something I am really looking forward to, not to mention catching up with friends and family and enjoying a bit of Brisbane winter (not all that different to the Belgian summer I'm leaving ... only Brisbane will probably have a bit more sun).

But I can't help but feel how bittersweet it is. The current Australian government is taking a swipe at independent and emerging artists and small to medium arts organisations by quarantining funding previously available to them through a rigorous system of grant application and peer review, putting it instead into a fund that will in all likelihood support only conservative classical institutions handpicked by the arts minister George Brandis himself.

Kupka's Piano is one of a select group of Australian ensembles dedicated to playing newer art music, which by definition makes it one of the few ensembles in the country with a strong focus on Australian composition (Australian works are included in every program). Not only that, but KP plays a vital role bringing the new music of Europe, the Americas, and Asia to Australian shores, offering audiences in Brisbane the opportunity to hear music to which they otherwise have no access. Kupka's has a special focus on young composers at home and abroad, and it's rare to see a program without a world premiere (or two, or three...). Several young composers are directly tied to the ensemble, allowing the performers and composers to develop in tandem - a fascinating process for an audience to witness!

Furthermore, I believe KP to be quite unique in an international context. Due to limitations on touring (in comparison to Australia, European cities are really close together, and also very well connected by affordable and high-speed rail travel), Kupka's plays a great many concerts in their home city, which has also forced them to learn great swathes of repertoire from the beginning. The identity of the ensemble has developed without restriction to a single style, something that has been possible due the small number of ensembles playing similar repertoire, which is unlike Europe where young ensembles often feel the need to carve out a niche before they really know what they want to do, in order to set themselves apart and avoid treading on others' toes.

The result is that Kupka's Piano has developed an excellent rapport, a very high standard of performance, and a loyal following*, something I've watched with increasing admiration from afar (it's always so gratifying to see others step into your empty shoes, and at this point I have to offer the highest praise especially to flutist Jodie Rottle, pianist Alex Raineri, and percussionist Angus Wilson for all their incredible hard work). Such a following is rare in Europe, and difficult to cultivate.

There are two particular sources of outside support which need to be mentioned when discussing KP's success: the Judith Wright Centre, which has given the ensemble a home and extensive marketing support, and the Australia Council for the Arts, which recognised very early on the potential of this ensemble, and supported us through a series of small grant programs from emerging artists through to young professionals. Without both of these government funded institutions, Kupka's Piano would likely not exist, and certainly would not be as strong as it is today.

The ramifications of the changes to arts funding in Australia not only endanger ensembles like Kupka's, they rule out the opportunity for younger groups of similarly adventurous musicians to emerge. The JUMP mentorship program and the ArtStart program, two important grants for emerging artists from which our ensemble members have benefitted, have been completely scrapped. The funding available in future to KP and other groups will be greatly reduced. Particularly in Queensland, where arts funding is yet to recover from the previous LNP government's brutal attacks, there are few alternatives to turn to when it comes to paying the basic expenses that make a concert possible.

I'm really looking forward to coming home to play with Kupka's Piano. But I also hope that when I finish my degree this time next year I can return to continuing opportunity for my ensemble in Australia. And I hope that other young musicians can afford to be adventurous in the future.

*I'm not the only one saying this!

Snakes and almglocken: An interview with composer Jérôme Combier

Tomorrow night, Kupka's Piano will give the Australian premiere of French composer Jérôme Combier's Feuilles des paupières in their concert "Outer Sounds" at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts. Percussionist Angus Wilson interviewed Combier on his music, his time in Australia (both past and, possibly, future!), and the idiosyncratic instrument: the almglocken. If you don't yet have tickets, you can buy them here.

Angus Wilson: Hi Jerome, thanks for taking the time out to chat with me! Can you tell us a little bit about your background, and your style? What can our audience expect to hear in Feuilles des paupières?

Jérôme Combier: Well, my 'background'? You mean 'me'? How to answer to such a difficult question? What is the relationship between the 'background' of an artist  and his 'style'?... I can just say that I am an occidental artist, and in that sense I practice music in an intellectual way. I mean my way of living music is quite inner and introspective. On that point of view it's quite abstract (like philosophy and certain kinds of poetry). For me, musical experience is connected directly to an experience of time, a particular time, subjective and unfathomable, the music-time. I'm looking for this particular perception of time when I write music, and such an experience is what I would like to propose to people. A kind of 'contemplative' attitude, as we can feel in Nature. On that point, I'm really 'Debussyist':

On n'écoute pas autour de soi les mille bruits de la nature, on ne guette pas assez cette musique si variée qu'elle nous offre avec tant d'abondance. Elle nous enveloppe, et nous avons vécu au milieu d'elle jusqu'à présent sans nous en apercevoir. Voilà selon moi la voie nouvelle. mais croyez-le bien, je l'ai à peine entrevue car ce qui reste à faire est immense ! Et celui qui le fera... sera un grand homme !

Claude Achille Debussy in interview from la Comœdia on 4 November 1909, published in Monsieur Croche and other writings. In English:

We don't hear the thousands of sounds of Nature around us, we don't look out for this music, which is so varied and offers us so much. This music envelops us, but we have lived without being aware of it. In my point of view, this offers a new approach. But believe it or not, I have only just glimpsed it, and what remains to be done is immense! The one who will do it... would be a great person!

AW: You mentioned Feuilles des paupières is from a cycle of works, I'd be interested to know about the rest of the cycle.

JC: Yes, Vies silencieuses is a collection made of seven pieces, each one using a different instrumentation, all taken from a set of seven musicians: flute, clarinet, guitar, piano, percussion, viola and cello. Vies silencieuses is closely related to my residence at the Villa Medici for which it was imagined and where it was realised between 2004-2006. These 'lives' have been inspired firstly by pictorial universes of various different artists: first and foremost Giorgio Morandi and his still life works made with minimal objects: bottles, vases, pitchers…

I wanted to have such little pieces of music constructed with few elements, always the same. I also wanted to have shorts pieces like small canvases, with a very precise form (duration of time in my case). Usually I prefer these pieces played as a full cycle, because:

Sometimes there are particularly austere, wintry, colours, redolent of wood and snow, which cause one to pronounce once again the fine word ‘patience’, which cause one to think of the patience of the old peasant, or of the monk in his habit: the same silence as under the snow or between the white-washed walls of a cell. The patience which signifies having lived, having suffered, having held on: with modesty, endurance, but without revolt, nor indifference, nor despair; as if, from this patience, one nevertheless expected an enrichment; as if it enabled us to become secretly suffused with the only light that counts.

Philippe Jaccottet, Le bol du pèlerin, p. 57.

AW: Given that the almglocken (several octaves of pitched cowbells) is the main reason we haven't been able to program the piece prior to this concert, can you tell us a little bit about your experience with them and why you chose them for Feuilles des paupières?

JC: I like very much the sound of the almglocken; mixed with piano sounds it gives a strange colour, not very well-tempered. That's the reason why I used it in Feuilles des paupières. I was looking for a non-western sound, very raw, and a little bit detuned. Feuilles des paupières and the whole cycle, Vies silencieuses, looks for specific sounds connected to elements such as: metallic sound, wooden sound, the idea of wind… In this way, the almglocken is really metallic, we can feel the matter inside of the sound.

AW: Liam mentioned that you had a great conversation with him about the spectral legacy - that 'spectralism' no longer exists as such. It would be great for composers/musicians in Australia to hear a little bit about your thoughts on the topic!

JC: I don't really work with spectral material and legacy. However, sometimes I make analysis of a particular sound (for instance clarinet or flute multiphonics) and I try to integrate the result into my harmonic material. But usually I work with scales of pitches, integrating quarter-tones. At the end, perhaps we might believe that the music is spectral, but it is not. My way of thinking music is not spectral at all, even if I very much like spectral music. Here in France, it has become a part of history, very important for us, and absolutely related to two composers: Gérard Grisey (who influenced me for other reasons) and Tristan Murail, who I know a little.

AW: Finally, when you think of Australia... what is the first 3 things that come to your head? Good or bad!

JC: Firstly: My travel in 1997 in Canberra and Sydney. I won a composition competition that was organised by the conservatory of Paris and the School of Music in Canberra. I didn't like Canberra so much, but my house was near the lake and it was nice to live there for a while. Sydney was more exciting, I was very impressed by the town and I would very much like to come back there.

Secondly: My son, Côme, who is 7 years old and who wants to live in Australia for the reason that there is a lot of snakes and dangerous animals! He's fond of the taipan...

Third: Australia's natural environment. I would like to explore the country, especially around Melbourne and in Tasmania. Last year, during the summer time I started to write to Sydney Conservatorium, proposing to work for them as a teacher just for one year. I wanted to live there, with my family, to offer this gift to my son, but in the end I did not send my letter…

AW: Well, I hope you consider sending your letter to the Queensland Conservatorium in Brisbane instead - we'd love to have you, and you can tell your son we have lots of snakes!

Find out more about Combier on the website of his ensemble - Ensemble Cairn.

Implied Dynamics and Vibraphone Gymnastics: A behind the scenes look at the preparation for Liam Flenady’s ‘Quite Early Morning, no. 2’

Kupka's percussionist Angus Wilson reflects on learning Liam Flenady's new work Quite Early Morning, no. 2. Come listen to the finished product at our concert Tempi Espressivi on July 18. Angus vibesHaving just come out of a practise session of Liam Flenady's new piece Quite Early Morning, no. 2, I'm grappling with two points which seem integral to the success of the work. The first is what I call 'implied dynamics', i.e. the notated loudness differs greatly from the loudness and/or meaning of the dynamic. Secondly, the 'gymnastics' of his part, flurries of small and complicated manoeuvres that need to be executed with precision, style and accuracy.

It would be an understatement to say Liam gives the vibraphone a workout in Quite Early Morning. I was expecting a notey part given his latest obsession of contrapuntal writing in the 21st century and his 'jazz' background. However he created something quite different and rather exciting. Quite Early Morning (both in the first and second incarnations) uses a range of extended techniques. These include pitch bending, dead strokes (leaving the mallet on the bar so it does not vibrate after being stuck), mallet dampening, white and black note glisses, striking the bar with the rattan handles and more. These are some of the more standard vibraphone extended techniques commonly used by composers today. Some techniques I did not expect were 'bouncing rattan handle on edge of bar', scraping rattan handle on the bar and to hand dampened 'extreme staccato'. (Have a listen to a recording of the first version to get a sense of what these techniques sound like).

Liam and I discussed the 'bouncing rattan' which he has listed at dynamics from pianissimo to forte. Compared to the vibraphone the technique has a capability of dynamic from about ppp (very very soft) to piano (soft). Liam presents the problem of hypothetical dynamic vs actual dynamic. How do I play an mf or f with this technique? Does this mean that I have to adjust all of the dynamics to fit in with this technique? Or is it isolated in its limited dynamic range and I should play everything else as per normal?

After a few practice sessions it's discovered that the dynamics are merely implied. Forte = 'We want to be able to hear the bouncing,' mezzo forte or mezzo piano would usually mean 'I'm a part of the texture and/or I'd like a bounce with less intensity'. Piano or anything less probably means 'Background texture or a very relaxed open bounce.' The reality is each time I play the technique at different dynamics the actual 'loudness' barely changes, just the speed/amount of bounces. You can only hope you have a good set of bendy rattan sticks to reach your full expressive potential.

The majority of the extended techniques used have a decreased capacity of dynamic, due to changing the purpose of the intended way the vibraphone was to be used. Most involve manipulating the metal in a way that doesn’t promote vibration and resonance.

As I navigate my way through Liam's piece I find myself feeling like much less of a musician and more like an elaborate gymnast or circus performer. Holding three differing sticks, constantly changing between techniques and tempos, I bend and flex my mallets to bend the pitch, cut and manipulate resonance/attack. My technique is pushed to the limit with p-f crescendos over 3-9 notes, meaning each strike must be very carefully attended to in regards to its gradation in loudness (remember a vibraphone cannot increase dynamic once struck). Rehearsals are much more strenuous mentally and physically on the performer than usual.

As I come closer have my part ready for a rehearsal, I begin to consider the co-ordination. While pulling off these 'manoeuvres' I have to be aware of my colleagues in rehearsal, what they are doing, if they are in sync with me, if we are matching dynamics and sounds. Each manoeuvre is often quite short and precise and usually part of a longer phrase or gesture. Whilst an overriding pulse does exist within the music... the success of the piece seems to much more entangled in the ability of the performers to pass these to each other. The writing is very hocketed in an abstract way. As the group becomes closer to the looming performance deadline it appears that more detail that is realised and cared for, the more homogenous the overall outcome.

Overall I thoroughly enjoy playing and learning Liam's music… While at times it can be difficult to navigate and comprehend, it has a very organic and expressive quality that gives the performer freedom to mould their own version of his work. I am honoured to give the premiere of it on July 18 at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Art and to workshop it at the Darmstadt Summer Institute for New Music in August.

Angus Wilson.

'One need not be dictated to by an overbearing sense of tradition': An interview with Brett Dean

BrettDean600In our last concert at the Judith Wright Centre - 'Modern Music in Exile' - Kupka's performed Brett Dean's epic sextet, Old Kings in Exile. The work will be heard in Australia several times this year - Melbourne's Ensemble Cathexis also recently performed it in their May program 'Reckless Abandon'. In a special collaborative interview Kupka pianist Alex Raineri and Cathexis flautist Lina Andonovska both posed some questions to Brett about the work, his life in self-imposed 'exile' in Germany, and his reading list. ALEX RAINERI: The theme of our last Kupka's Piano concert was 'Modern Music in Exile' which is derived from the title of your sextet Old Kings in Exile, a work which is receiving a considerable amount of airtime, with SYZYGY also performing the piece later in the year! Much of the Australian repertoire we play (by established and the younger generation) are by composers who have relocated either to Europe or America and I'm always interested to know whether there is for composers a conscious intention to find a musical language which still represents a uniquely Australian sound, and what kind of role this plays. What are your thoughts and is this something you would associate with your works?

I am interested in creating a sound that is uniquely mine, that expresses something specifically personal. However I'm not sure that necessarily constitutes something uniquely Australian per se, nor do I pursue that consciously. When I consider what sounds around us are absolutely and uniquely Australian, however, then indigenous music and language, the Australian-English accent and birdsong come most readily to mind. Aspects of all of these things have been sources of inspiration for me one way or another; indigenous culture in rather oblique ways, the latter two quite overtly at times in specific pieces. In fact, the last movement of the sextet wouldn't have come about in the way it did without a timely encounter with my most favourite of Australian sounds, the song of the pied butcherbird. There's one particular song that I seem to hear every time I visit my parents' place in Brisbane which closes the piece.

LINA ANDONOVSKA: Following on from this, I'd like to know what excites you the most about Australia's contemporary/newly composed music scene? You obviously spend a lot of time in Europe and know the scene there intimately, but what do you think is different or perhaps unique about the Australian new music culture?

For musicians growing up in Europe, there can be a sense of tradition constantly looking over one's shoulder. Whilst I've loved coming to grips with this wonderfully rich cultural heritage throughout my professional life, it can be a heavy weight to bear and can manifest itself in a very profound conservatism, not only in orchestras (where it's not so surprising) but to a certain extent even in new music circles. In German orchestras for example, the standard repertoire and the western canon seem set in stone for all time, never to be questioned or tampered with. Many players wish, with an almost messianic zeal, to "protect" their cultural heritage and seem to perceive anything "modern" (in some cases this means anything post-Schönberg, even post-Brahms!) as a threat to their long-perfected ways of making music. The new music scene in Germany can, however, also seem stuck in its ways; specifically in the post-war period of innovation where cutting ties with a weighty and troubled past and a redefining of artistic purpose were of such importance. I feel that times have changed and yet new music in Germany still seems to have to fulfil certain expectations and parameters born out of that period. At times, the lack of acceptance of different voices that don't fit in with the overriding, "Darmstadtian" aesthetic can seem every bit as reactionary a world view as that of their symphonic-orchestral counterparts. By contrast, Australia's "outsider" position in the musical world means one need not be dictated to by an overbearing sense of tradition. Whilst the music scene, including the new music scene, has some very conformist aspects to it, In many cases this "traditionlessness" has led to the emergence and flourishing of some highly original thinkers and sonic explorers, genuine mavericks and nonconformists; artists such as Anthony Pateras, Jon Rose, Ross Bolleter, Liza Lim, The Necks and Richard Tognetti come to mind, for example. That is one of our great strengths and something to be cherished.

ALEX: The middle movement of Old Kings in Exile is called Double Trio. It's not uncommon for composers to feature groupings of instruments within works for this 'Pierrot' sextet - such pieces come to mind as Elliot Carter's Triple Duo, Franco Donatoni's Arpège, Gerard Grisey's Talea - and I wonder with this kind of history of core repertoire how you as a composer would approach writing for this instrumentation which seems to have become the 21st century piano trio?!

The Double Trio title of my middle movement is a conscious "doffing of the cap" to Elliott Carter's remarkable Triple Duo, a work that was a particular source of inspiration in writing my own sextet. The colouristic and textural possibilities and instrumental combinations became in and of themselves a significant part of my approach to the piece, especially in that middle movement. I certainly agree with you about this instrumentation becoming a kind of 21st century standard ensemble; in fact, I think that the remarkable sonic possibilities of the Pierrot-plus-percussion combo will see it emerge further as a standard go-to ensemble for composers in years to come, especially as many orchestras retreat away from commissioning new art music in favour of financially more lucrative cross-over projects, live-music cinema presentations and backing-band type appearances, much to our communal cultural impoverishment in my opinion.

The sextet form is a grouping that allows any number of approaches, whereas by comparison it's much harder to liberate the piano trio from its overtly 19th century, romantic salon music laden sonic heritage. It could be argued that Schönberg turned to this highly original and (at the time) unusual quintet formation for Pierrot Lunaire in 1912 because he (and his followers) were either ignored by orchestras altogether, or treated with hostile contempt by them, as they were by critics and audiences as well. He later formed the Society for Private Musical Performances in order to address these problems. Over a hundred works by a vast array of contemporary composers including Debussy, Ravel, Bartok and Stravinsky - as well as by Schönberg himself and his followers - were performed over a three year period before the high inflation rates of the early 20s made it impossible to continue. Even large scale works were presented in specially-made chamber ensemble reductions along the lines of the Pierrot quintet combination, further proof of its durable versatility. (In an interesting parallel to the aforementioned money-making ventures of today's symphony orchestras, Schönberg, Berg and Webern staged an evening of their own arrangements of Strauss Waltzes in 1921 in an attempt to bring some financial security into the society's coffers, with their manuscripts auctioned off after the show. The society lasted only another 6 months...)

LINA: On another topic, I know that your music is often very influenced by the literature you read, so I'd like to know what you are reading at the moment (and what you're listening to as well!)?

I've been delving into the different versions of Shakespeare's Hamlet, with a view to an operatic treatment in a few years. In fact my most recently premiered new work is a take on aspects of the Ophelia character, scored for string quartet and soprano and to be performed around Australia by the ASQ and Greta Bradman this coming November. Also, Harold Bloom's "Poem Unlimited" provides a fascinating analysis of Hamlet and thoughts on the nature of theatrical illusion. I also recently enjoyed reading Haruki Murakami's latest novel, Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage.

I've been listening to quite a bit of new music from Canada in preparation for a residency there as composer/performer/curator for the Toronto Symphony's new music festival in a couple of years and have been enjoying getting to know two new English operas; George Benjamin's Written on Skin and Julian Anderson's Thebans.

LINA: Finally... I would like to ask where your inspiration stems from? Some of us have moments where we are really disheartened with ourselves and our creativity, and it is often hard to find momentum to get the energy levels back up. Do you experience this, and if so, where do you regain the momentum from?

Well, without some honest self-criticism, I don't think any composer or artist of any kind will get very far. But it can be dangerously debilitating as well if it gets the upper hand too much of the time; one has to keep it grounded and real. Three things in the battle with creativity and search for inspiration for which, on a daily basis, I'm very grateful are: firstly, that my wife, Heather, is also a creative artist; secondly, that she has an informed, yet profoundly individual understanding of music and, thirdly, that she isn't a musician herself but a visual artist! The constant, inter-disciplinary dialogue that has evolved between us over the years about what we're up to, where we might be stuck, ways to solve problems, how someone else may see/hear what we're up to, etc, keeps us going and, if needs be, can pick us up from the floor. As a consequence, if something isn't working for me, I find it helpful to distance myself from music altogether and immerse myself in something else creative, be it a film, an exhibition, reading a good book. Not surprisingly, these are common and reliable sources of inspiration for me, to which the titles of my pieces attest. (Cooking a meal while listening to John Coltrane or PJ Harvey also seems to help....!)

Visit Brett Dean's profile on Boosey & Hawkes

'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!

'My building blocks are variations': An interview with Melody Eötvös

meotvos_profile Kupka pianist Alex Raineri chats with exciting young Australian composer Melody Eötvös, now based in Indiana. Come along to 'Modern Music in Exile' this Friday night to hear the world premiere of her new work!

Alex Raineri: We're really excited to be giving the world premiere performance of your new work Wild October Jones at Friday night's concert. Could you tell us a little about the piece? What does the title reference?!

Melody Eötvös: Wild October Jones has been quite a while in the making.  Several summers ago (which was actually winter in Australia) I spent some time in Melbourne.  I was at one of my first record fairs and happened to be curiously browsing through several albums of playing cards these people there had accumulated and were selling.  They were rather special cards because of the particular edition and 'frontispiece' each had.  So I was flipping through pages and pages of these cards and then one suddenly jumped out at me (as pictured above).  It was a reproduction of a beautiful painting that depicted a train passing a carriage at full speed, and the carriage halting to avoid a collision, and a young woman falling off the back of the carriage.

Thomas Hart Benton's "Wreck of old '97" provided the spark of inspiration for Eötvös' new work "Wild October Jones"

The whole image has a very animated perspective to it.  I bought that single card there and then for $3. Anyway, several years later I found it while cleaning out a box of souvenirs I'd gathered over the past 5 years or so, and decided to research it a little. After some intensive googling I discovered the painting belonged to an Indiana artist Thomas Hart Benton, and that we have several of his works throughout the IU Bloomington campus. For me this was too serendipitous to ignore and I knew I had to write a piece based on this painting one day, but it had to be a piece with a particular kind of energy and sound... something I hope I've captured. It was strange though, because I knew I didn't want to use the title of the painting "Wreck of old '97". So I brainstormed a little while staring at the picture for hours. To me the painting has a wild, untamed look about it - I started seriously writing this piece back in October - and of all the references my crazy, film saturated brain instantly connects with Indiana (even after living here for 5 years)... you can probably guess..

AR: Already at such a young age you've got a very impressive list of achievements to your name! After completing a BMus at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music (Griffith University) you went on to study at the Royal Academy of Music (London) and you've just finished up a DMA at the Indiana University (USA). On top of this you've had a significant amount of successful grants and funding opportunities, including a substantial one recently from the Australia Council for the Arts. What are some upcoming projects for you and where to now?

ME: I remember listening into the online streaming of the Soundstream Collective broadcast by the ABC in 2012, and Julian Day saying something quite similar about my collective activities and how they're contributing nicely to my 'mantelpiece' - it's always flattering when somebody points out these advances (so, thank you!).  I'd have to say though that the foundation of that mantelpiece is structured around an uncompromising outlook - for each success there has probably been about double the number of rejections! So, we composers develop very tough hides over time and need to have a very quick bounce-back rate.

I am thrilled about the Aussie Council of the Arts grant - given the changing climate in Australia at the moment with arts funding (and just funding in general) I feel exceptionally lucky to have received one of these - I'll be using it for a collaboration with Bernadette Harvey (Sydney) to develop a large piano work, most likely a Piano Sonata, and this project will carry through in to 2015.  In the meantime I have a wonderful collaboration with Musica Viva and the Red Room in Sydney that will be coming to an exciting conclusion in October this year, and in a few weeks I have a reading/workshop with the New York Philharmonic as part of the American Composers Orchestra Underwood New Music Readings program.  After these I have to make a decision about teaching applications to universities beginning with the 2015-16 academic year... so very exciting times ahead with lots of change!

AR: Extended techniques play a large part in the instrumental writing of Wild October Jones. There's now quite a tradition and a 'repertoire' of sorts for these techniques and I'm interested to know how you personally approach this as a composer and what kind of a role they play in the compositional process? 

ME: For me it's been a gradual building up towards using extended techniques like I have in Wild October Jones. It was also a very dangerous decision as there is only so much you can indicate on the score, and couple that with a brand new piece without a recording to refer to, there's a lot of room for interpretation and many different directions the sound of this piece could be taken in.  So I'm very excited to hear what Kupka's Piano does with it! As for the compositional process, as I mentioned earlier I wanted a particular sound and energy for this piece, and the extended techniques are a crucial part of that.  I think it comes down to a common desire with composers to expand the timbral plane that they're working with.  For me, I wanted both more transparency and a thicker, harsh-block sound as part of my palette.  What happens in between those two extremes could be anything, as long as it works with the structure etc.  My building blocks are variations, and through these I can alter the tone colour around a basic theme, while leading the piece towards its high-point, then releasing that tension away at the end.  That's a really simple, wordy way of putting it though... actually doing that in the music required a lot of thought and fluency/fading of colours across the variations

AR: Lastly, what are some desert island pieces? Top five?

ME: No. 1 is always going to be Bartok's 3rd String quartet.  It's also my "if you have 15 minutes left to live" piece. No. 2 is Shostakovich's 2nd Piano concerto (my mum was learning this when she was pregnant with me... so it kind of stuck) No. 3 Saariaho's L'Amour de Loin No. 4 all of Bach's Well-tempered Clavier (both books) No. 5 probably Stravinsky's Firebird (1910 version)

'Limits are lame': An interview with guest artist Jodie Rottle

Jodie Rottle Whilst Kupka's Piano flautist Hannah Reardon-Smith is momentarily abroad, we're pleased to announce that we're welcoming American artist Jodie Rottle into the ensemble fold for the next concert 'Modern Music in Exile' on Friday May 23rd. Kupka's pianist Alex Raineri chats with Jodie about her musical life thus far and what's ahead in 2014.

Alex Raineri: We're really excited to be working with you for two of our concerts this year in our series at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, 'Modern Music in Exile' (May 23rd) and 'Absent, Almost Absent' (November 28th). We've got some wonderful and challenging repertoire on those two programs, I'm interested to know what excites you about the style of music Kupka's Piano presents?

Jodie Rottle: I'm honored to be working with Kupka's Piano this season. My experience with the ensemble so far as an audience member has been nothing short of inspiring, and I can't wait to share the stage in Brisbane with such a committed group of musicians. I'm particularly excited to perform Brett Dean's mammoth Old Kings in Exile and premier Melody Eötvös's newest work in May. I think the 'Modern Music in Exile' concept is brilliant. To me, it challenges the idea of nationalism in music and addresses the contribution that identity and environment provide to artistic output.

AR: I was really interested to read about your ensemble Dead Language. How do you manage your involvement with the group from afar and what are your thoughts about the composer/performer collaboration? Perhaps could you speak a bit about the role of improvisation in your creative practice?

JR: Dead Language approaches the contemporary classical music realm with a sense of humility. It is a physical embodiment of everything I stand for in new music. We don't care who listens to us; we care that we have something to say and do so through the medium of our instruments. We are open to performing anything: contemporary classical "standards", commissions by our colleagues, graphic or improvisatory works, and self-composed pieces about wolves, white noise, and people who eat noisy sandwiches during quiet moments. I think I have maybe played flute for only half of our performances. I have spent the rest of the time dressing in hazmat suits, playing with stuffed toys, and having a great time.

When I made the decision to move to Australia last year, I was devastated to leave a group that had made such a huge impact on my artistic life. I didn't need to worry, though, because we have learned to accept the distance, and it has further strengthened who we are as an ensemble. The fact that we make music together only once or twice a year has allowed us to realize the importance of quality over quantity. I haven't rehearsed or performed with Dead Language since December, but I oddly still feel as though I am on a 'high' of inspiration from our latest performance. We aren't New York based anymore, we are world-based.

I have always cherished the opportunity to work directly with composers as I believe it is vital for informed performance of new works. Being a part of Dead Language has not only confirmed this belief, but it also has put the composer/performer collaboration in a new light. We grant ourselves full artistic freedom. Anything goes, as long as it is informed and done with conviction. I am not just an instrumentalist in Dead Language, I am an interpreter, a composer, and an improviser. I have really enjoyed taking this attitude out of Dead Language context and applying it to all my playing.

AR: You've spent some time as artist in residence at the Banff Centre and the Bang on A Can Summer Institute and you also have a masters of contemporary performance from the Manhattan School of Music. How would you say living in the States and being exposed to so many new works by American composers has moulded your musical tastes and influences?

JR: Location has definitely played a role in defining my musical tastes, but I don't think that I have ever thought to throw an "American" label on the weight of my experiences. I met my former teacher, flutist Tara Helen O'Connor, while at Banff and her inclusive approach to performing any music from any genre with vibrance and energy radically changed my views about being an artist. She taught me that no limits exist unless I define a boundary, and why set any limits in the first place? Limits are lame.

This attitude helped me digest the quantity of schools of musical thought that you are inevitably smacked over the head with when living in New York. It's almost like choosing sides: are you Uptown, or Downtown? Free improv or art music? Classical or contemporary? I'm not about to completely exclude something just because of a judgement or label. I have enjoyed exploring the musical gamut with an open mind and without any limitations, and I think this has shaped who I am as a person just as much as it has shaped my musical tastes.

AR: Now that you're based in Australia, how would you make a comparison between the new music scene in the USA and Brisbane? For me, the arts in Australia are imbued with a wonderful openness to act as a springboard for interesting thoughts and projects to become realised but I imagine it must seem rather contained having come from the hustle and bustle of the American musical culture?

JR: My life in Australia is still young, so perhaps I do not have enough authority to make a statement on the matter. Given my experiences to date, I completely agree that the arts in Australia are approached with an open and appreciating mind. I'm not sure if the new music scene in the entirety of the USA can fairly be pitted against that of Brisbane. Scope is an enormous factor. The new music scenes are even drastically different on the west coast of America than on the east, which creates a bit of an overwhelming barrier.

I will say that regardless of location, musicians operate within some sort of circle connecting them to resources, people, and an environment that drives personal creativity. Even though the population is much larger in the States and the musical history is quite vast, I believe that Australia and America are similar in respect to this interconnectivity. It is so important to realize the reach of artistic circles and never be afraid to extend it further.

I wouldn't say the life of contemporary music in Australia is any more contained than it is in America. Currently, I've noticed that Americans feel an obligation to do something different that will give an edge to their artistry, and this is actually quite crippling. It detracts from one's innate artistic sensibilities and instead focuses on the importance of an outsider's reception. Gone are the days of the nineties when everyone received a gold star. There is a rising expectation for artists to be different, cutting edge, or revolutionary solely for the sake of doing so. This pressure is the biggest container of all.

AR: Lastly, what are your top 5 desert island pieces?! What music is making you tick?

JR: Steve Reich's Different Trains, anything by The Books (I guess I'm cheating on that one), Luciano Berio's Sequenza XIV for 'cello, Bjork's entire "Vespertine" album, and Tchaikovsky's Trio in A minor op. 50.

Check out Jodie's website here: www.jodierottle.com

'I found myself seeking out the new, the exciting, the different': An interview with Claire Edwardes from Ensemble Offspring

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On March 21, Kupka's Piano will be joined by Sydney's Ensemble Offspring for a concert exploring the mechanical and organical in new music (tickets available here). KP flautist Hannah caught up with one of EO's artistic directors and percussionist Claire Edwardes to talk about their origins, their busy touring schedule, and passing on acquired knowledge to the next generation.

Hannah Reardon-Smith: Ensemble Offspring has been a Sydney fixture for almost twenty years now! Kupka's Piano is just entering our third year. Can you tell us a little about how and why you formed, and what has kept the group ticking for so long?

Claire Edwardes: We formed the group as the Spring Ensemble to showcase the works of then young student composers Damien Ricketson and Matthew Shlomowitz. We were just a group of 2nd and 3rd year Sydney Conservatorium students trying to do something different and we were lucky enough to be invited by Roger Woodward to perform as part of the Sydney Spring Festival which was indeed an exciting start to the journey. Hmm - what has kept us ticking for so long - I think for me personally it is just a deep passion for what we do - this strange and intangible thing we call "new" music - working with composers (i.e. real human beings) - working with wonderful musicians (eg. Jason Noble and Lamorna Nightingale who are an inspiration as people and musicians) and being able to share my vision in programs that take the audience to a wonderful new place that they may have never been before.

HRS: Like us, EO has a very close working relationship with composers - Damien Ricketson is your co-artistic director, and Matthew Shlomowitz was also involved from the beginning. How do you work with these composers throughout the creative process?

CE: Since the early days as the Spring Ensemble we have kept the work of Damien and Matt at the centre of our programming without it being any sort of forced content. Although the group did form to perform their works, Damien especially has always been very staunch about the fact that we are certainly not only in existence to perform the works of these two composers, which has meant that our repertoire choices over the years have been very eclectic. We as musicians really relish our relationships with Damien and Matt as well as the other composers we collaborate with regularly - having that tacit understanding and not needing to waste time with too many niceties can really not be underestimated in my opinion!

HRS: EO stands apart from other new music groups in Australia in that it doesn't restrict itself to a single style or musical aesthetic. How do you find and decide on repertoire for the group?

CE: We define our repertoire choices purely through innovation - this often means brand new works but it could also have been innovative when it was written and still sound new and innovative to the modern ear (such as Stockhausen's Kontakte and Glass's Music in Similar Motion) - that said we don't tend to go back before around 1960 and we also don't spend very long back there - when we program those older works it is usually to give a context to the new stuff - after all what we are truly passionate about is working with living composers and trying new things!

HRS: How do you balance artistic issues against practicalities when EO is touring so often?

CE: Starting out as an almost London Sinfonietta size, EO has gradually turned into a tight core of chamber musicians over the years and this has in part been touring and funding related. Obviously touring is expensive and we have developed our smaller combo repertoire over the years to service for example our European tour at the end of 2013 where we took just 4 musicians. This is practical, but for me also an artistic decision as I personally really get a lot out of working with just a few musicians who have a very close musical relationship rather than in larger groups where a conductor is necessary. This way I feel we all have more artistic input, awareness and we are in a position to mould the music and the program.

HRS: What is your most "out there" new music gigging experience? Surely after 20 years you've clocked up a kooky story or two!

CE: Of course there are many but strangely enough what always comes to mind is an EO gig many years ago (when we were probably still called the Spring Ensemble actually) where I had to hang these wet towels off a boom stand to capture the sound of dripping water - but anyone who has gotten a towel soaking wet will know how heavy they are and of course it kept crashing the cymbal stand to the ground and we ended up with water absolutely all over the floor of the Eugene Goossens Hall. Other memorable moments are playing the thongaphone in the rain (on a musical ship) with Sarah Blasko and a small group of musos in Cooktown for Queensland Music Festival, performing solo on scaffolding over Amsterdam's most famous canal the Prinsengracht with flames lapping at me from either side, and of course the good old super ball falls off the stick and spends half the piece bouncing about the stage whilst everyone is still attempting to concentrate on the music, trick!

HRS: We're extremely excited to have the opportunity to perform with Ensemble Offspring in our upcoming concert. EO has also just begun a mentoring program - "Hatched" - in which you will be nurturing performers and composers from the up-and-coming generation. What interests you most about working with younger/emerging musicians? What is EO's vision for the next generation of new music afficionados?

CE: Obviously we are not getting any younger and I guess we just feel that it is time to start giving back to the younger generation in terms of the years of experience we have clocked up thus far. In working with Jeremy Rose and Callum G'Froerer (who are both in their twenties just like the Kupka's crew) we hope to impart both our vast administrative experience (the highs as well as the lows) as well as programming concepts and of course musical insights. Jeremy will be writing new works for Callum (trumpet) and ourselves and as both of them come from a jazz background we actually hope to learn a bit from them too over the course of the year. 2014 being our inaugural year we are all just trying to stay really open about what it will be - needless to say we are all really looking forward to it immensely.

HRS: I think for a lot of musicians there is a process of discovery when it comes to playing new music, which in turn sparks a love of new sounds that they want to pass on to both their audience and to other musicians. Speaking more personally, was there a piece that for you made you certain that new music was your thing?

CE: I can't recall a specific piece (although it may have been George Crumb's Madrigals now I think about it) but I do distinctly remember, about the time that the Spring Ensemble formed, starting to choose my solo repertoire in a much more open minded fashion. I championed Hans Wener Henze's Five Scenes from the Snow Country in our concert practise classes and found myself seeking out the new, the exciting, the different - repertoire that the other students and even my teacher had never heard of...some things never change!

HRS: Percussionists play such a wide variety of instruments. What will we be seeing you play in our March concert?

CE: As this is one of our touring shows we have kept the percussion side of things minimal - that said we will still feature the good old vibraphone alongside a lovely set of pitched woodblocks (which is a rather unusual phenomenon) and in the Shlomowitz some weird and wacky 'instruments' alongside theatrical choreography for all three of us.

HRS: I'm sure you've got a super busy year ahead! What upcoming projects are you most excited about, both in EO and as a soloist?

CE: Ensemble Offspring has a busy year ahead including exciting collaborations with Jon Rose and Speak Percussion (Ghan Tracks), hard hitting chamber classics in Plekto (which we will also be performing in Brisbane on 11th July) and also Damien Ricketson's amazing showcase for dancers and musicians called The Secret Noise. I am particularly excited that for the next two years I get to focus on myself as a soloist once again as a result of receiving an Australia Council Fellowship. This means that I am planning many and various collaborations outside of Ensemble Offspring including a collaboration with Brisbane based guitarist Karin Schaupp, a brand new children's show and a solo percussion project with electronics featuring a new commission by Marcus Whale and Tom Smith.

Kupka's Piano and Ensemble Offspring present The Machine and the Rank Weeds, the first of KP's four-concert series 'Il faut être', at 7.30pm, Friday 21 March, at the Judith Wright Centre. Tickets are available here.

KP in 2014

This last year has been super exciting for Kupka's - we presented our inaugural four-concert series ("Where in the world is Kupka's Piano?") at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, sold out the majority of our shows (!), made contact with composers from all over the globe while preparing their music, commissioned a bunch of new works, worked closely with Ensemble Interface from Frankfurt thanks to an Australia Council JUMP Mentorship, and performed by invitation at the Brisbane Experimental Art Festival (BEAF). In total we gave ten Australian premieres on top of eight world premieres!

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/83998303]

Hannah Reardon-Smith (flute) and Luara Karlson-Carp (voice) perform the Australian premiere of American composer Kate Soper's Only the words themselves mean what they say (2010-11) at our concert in November 2013.

But now we've hit the new year and there's many fresh projects on the boil. We're extremely fortunate to have continued support from the Judith Wright, where we will be presenting a further four-concert series this year, entitled Il faut être.

The series takes its name from a line in Arthur Rimbaud's 1873 poem A Season in Hell"Il faut être absolument moderne." Our aim is to hold true to this claim, to venture into the possible paths of the musically modern. We will continue to seek out new music by the composers of our generation from around the world, as well as to commission new works from Australian composers and to have a crack at some of the great pieces of the last fifty years.

For our first concert of the year we'll be joined by Australia's premiere new music ensemble, Ensemble Offspring (Sydney), in a performance of high octane, quasi-mechanical, factory floor works. Kupka's will be performing Gérard Grisey's mixed quintet Talea plus a new flute-piano-percussion trio by Michael Mathieson-Sandars. The ensembles will also present a joint performance of Louis Andriessen's Workers' Union. That one's on Friday 21 March, so put it in your diary - tickets will be available in about a week.

For more about the series, visit our Upcoming Performances page.

In other exciting news, several of our members will be traveling to Germany in August to partake in the Darmstadt International Summer Course for New Music! There we will have the opportunity to reunite with Ensemble Interface, which we are very much looking forward to, in addition to meeting a huge number of composers and new music performers from around the globe, hearing and performing stacks of fresh repertoire, and receiving tuition and guidance from the masters in our field. This is an incredible opportunity for us, and one which we will be reporting on regularly as we prepare and then make our journey overseas.

On July 25 (okay, so I'm not being especially chronological here), we will perform Morton Feldman's 90-minute epic Crippled Symmetry for flute, piano and percussion in a concert at the Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University.

We also have a very exciting recording opportunity that we're not yet able to announce... So stay tuned!

There will no doubt be other performances and events involving Kupka's Piano or some of our members. Make sure you check back to our website for updates - or you can subscribe to our email list for timely reminders. See you soon!