Steve Newcomb is one of four Brisbane composers to be featured in Kupka's Pianos first Brisbane performance for 2015, he is also married to our wonder flutist, Jodie Rottle. Steve took some time out of his busy schedule to let us know a little bit more about himself and his upcoming collaboration with Angus Wilson and Caitlin Mackenzie from MakeShift Dance. See Steve's new work this Friday 10th of April, 7:30pm at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts. Angus Wilson: Firstly, You have one of the most interesting and diverse careers of any musician/composer I know. Could you tell us a little bit about some of your current and upcoming projects? What is the focus for you at the moment? Stephen Newcomb: I balance performing (as an improvising pianist), composing, arranging and teaching. They all intersect in different ways and inspire one another. I’m currently arranging music for a show at the Queensland Conservatorium in May (where I teach) which will combine the Con Artists Jazz Orchestra with strings, harp and french horn section. I’m also editing some arrangements that I’d previously completed for Chris McNulty and her recently released album ‘Eternal’. I’m currently collaborating with drummer Isaac Cavallaro in a duo project that explores beats, electronics and improvisation. I’m kept busy with my role as Head of Jazz and Program Director of the Bachelor of Music at Griffith University, but there are a lot of writing projects on the go with Queensland Music Festival, Bernard Fanning, and others. AW: I've really enjoyed collaborating on your piece Kicking Goals that will be performed in it's first permutation this Friday night. Could you tell us a little bit more about it? SN: I’ve enjoyed the collaboration too! I find the thrill of collaborative work the same feeling no matter what the genre or setting. I get the same buzz from mixing a record where there are different creative decisions to discuss and agree on. I started on this piece with a plan to develop some audio manipulation techniques (using Max/MSP) I had used in an earlier solo flute work, but the process of collaborating with yourself on vibraphone and Caitlin (dance) has allowed the work to grow and adapt. The title is a play on the word ‘gaol', and the work explores the concept of ‘the human detained’ which is a theme for the collaborative work between Kupka’s Piano and MakeShift Dance. In arriving at the Kicking Goals title I reflected on the slogans we often see in the media relating to the asylum seeker detainment, which are all too triumphant when you think that they relate to the lives of families in asylum from war-torn countries. AW: Is it your first time working with a dancer and/or solo percussionist? What parts of the collaboration have been interesting to you? SN: It is the first time working with solo percussionist, so the immediate question concerned is which instruments (or objects) would be used in the piece. In the end I chose only vibraphone to be symbolic of ‘the human detained’ theme as it applies limits to both myself as a composer and yourself as the performer. I have worked with dance and movement (in a work for Circa) before, but this was a chance to really collaborate on minute structural and specific emotionally linked concepts in the work. Caitlin brings a totally different perspective to the work with staging concerns, such as how a slight movement here of there can translate to meaning. I suppose the visual element is something I consider less when writing music as it’s concerned mostly with sound so that realisation has been interesting. AW: Having studied and performed and collaborated across the world, including an extensive amount of time in New York, what is it that excites you about the Brisbane music scene? SN: I think the Brisbane scene is constantly growing so there are always options for new pathways to be created. There seems to be more underground activity and people just doing their thing, just the same as they do in a large city like NYC. The population scale is just always going to be greater in the bigger cities. I’m excited by the diverse experiences you can have as a musician here, because many players straddle styles, genres, etc. AW: Finally, what are your three favourite places in Brisbane? SN: I like food, so Mondo Organics West End needs to be in this favourite’s list. Also, Fundies whole food store in Paddington is a winner and I feel like a kid in a 'healthy candy store' when I’m there. When I’m not eating, the Brisbane bike paths are another favourite place.
Andreas Ottensamer & Alex Raineri on BBC Radio 3
Having recently returned from a months travel in Europe on study scholarships, I'm left with many wonderful experiences and memories to reflect upon. I was very fortunate to have received generous funding from the Theme & Variations Foundation and the Joyce Campbell Lloyd Scholarship (University of Southern Queensland). My sincere thanks go to these organisations for making this endeavour a possibility!
These scholarship funds allowed me to pursue a number of private piano lessons with sixteen different teachers in Brussels, London, Paris, Manchester & Graz. Also, I was able to spend time in Brussels with Kupka's composer Liam Flenady workshopping our new work for piano & tape Si el clima fuera un banco which I will be premiering in 'Outer Sounds' on June 19th (at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts).
In addition to working with these inspiring musicians/teachers, I also gave my first UK performance, a live broadcast on BBC Radio 3 of the Brahms Clarinet Sonata in F minor with Andreas Ottensamer (pictured above). Andreas and I had worked together numerous times in Australia and it was so fortunate that our schedules collided, allowing us to perform together again!
Reflecting on the benefits of the trip, it was extremely useful at this point in time to have the opportunity to work with so many great teachers and start to build overseas networks. It was enlightening to notice how often advice was contradicted from teacher to teacher. I felt like I gained many useful things from each lesson individually but perhaps the greatest learning experience of the trip was, in studying with so many different people, to realise just how much ideas about interpretation and pianism differ (sometimes quite radically!).
This might seem like a rather obvious realisation but for me it was quite confronting to face on a day-to-day basis within the context of an intensive study trip. The actuality of discussing my own thoughts and ideas about the repertoire I was working on, whilst also soaking up all kinds of new ideas and approaches became something of a blur and overload of information.
Thankfully I recorded my lessons so am able to slowly go back through the files and incorporate new ideas into my practice. Speaking more broadly, I feel now that in approaching whatever music I'm playing, more of a need to have formulated a very thoroughly structured approach to every facet of the interpretation. This was already how I approached repertoire prior to the trip but I hadn't ever had to so consistently validate, justify and discuss whether the ideas I had worked into my interpretations were as successful as they could be.
Within the Australian music scene and my generation of colleagues in particular, there is a common conception that 'the grass is greener' on the other side of the world and that furthering studies in Europe or America is a logical progression for a serious young musician. I found it was really useful to have this taster (albeit brief) of overseas study to begin to explore this notion.
It was very interesting to catch up with some very talented and entrepreneurial colleagues and friends to discuss how they have facilitated working professionally in a new country, having come from Australia. Without coming to any real conclusion or concrete opinion on this matter, it was good to scope out future possibilities. I'm certainly not planning on leaving Australia on a permanent basis anytime soon!!
Whilst overseas I saw some really fantastic concerts. Some highlights were; Anna D'Errico & Ian Pace performing Enno Poppe's Thema mit 840 Variationen and Lost by Richard Barrett, the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra & Leonidas Kavakos playing the Sibelius Violin Concerto, Klangforum Wien presenting new works by young composers at the IMPULS Academy (particularly interesting were the pieces by Wojtek Blecharz and Ashley Fure), Louie Lortie performing Preludes of Faure & Scriabin, the London Philharmonic Orchestra in Scriabin's Poem of Ecstasy and Belle Chen in 'Kiss of the Earth'.
I would like to conclude by acknowledging the numerous people that made the trip such a stimulating and maturing experience, and for being excellent people! There wasn't a dull moment! Whether we worked together or simply hung out in new and exciting places, many thanks to; Andreas Ottensamer, Ute Pinter and the team at the IMPULS Academy, Liam Flenady, Hannah Reardon-Smith, Bethany Shepherd, Katherine Philp, Gian Ponte, Anna D'Errico, Christophe Matthias, Ian Pace, Aquiles Delle Vigne, Leslie Howard, Murray Maclachlan, Vanessa Latarche, Joanna Macgregor, Mark Knoop, Charles Owen, Alexsandar Madsar, Rolf Hind, Christopher Elton, Peter Hill, Pascal Nemirovski, Francoise Thinat, Ian Jones and Graham Scott.
Alex Raineri took some time out post-performance to find out a little more about the brilliant Jason Noble from Ensemble Offspring, whom Kupka's Piano had the pleasure of performing with for the second time, at our recent performance in Sydney.
Alex Raineri: You've just recently come out of a huge national tour with Ensemble Offspring (EO) and Ironwood. Tell us about your experiences!
Jason Noble: The project was "Broken Consorts", a collaboration between early music group Ironwood and EO, performing at the Sydney Opera House, Fortyfivedownstairs Melbourne, Newcastle Museum, Bahai Centre Hobart and Burnie Art Gallery. A few firsts in this project - first EO gig in Tassie, first gig at Fortyfivedownstairs (a great venue!), and first time performing alongside Ironwood, our early music colleagues. At the centre of this program was a new work written by Felicity Wilcox, alongside Mary Finsterer's Silva, and Damien Ricketson's Trace Elements - both seeking inspiration from early music. Throw in a prepared piano and percussion version of Locke's The Tempest (1674) and you get a varied and very well received show.
AR: As a relatively young ensemble, Kupka's Piano is constantly in a state of flux in relation to how we function on a musical, professional, organisational and logistical level. I'm really interested to know more about how Ensemble Offspring operates. Are certain jobs within the organisation of the group delegated to members and how are programs and projects conceived?
JN: It really takes perseverance to keep a new music group existing, and to have some continuity with personnel. The nature of freelance musical work and players leaving the country can cause headaches for planning.
To be honest, the most important thing is having people who get along throughout the rehearsal process and who are prepared to make the group a priority in the pecking order of work commitments. This doesn't mean we don't disagree from time to time, but more relates to dealing with differing views or opinions on how things should be interpreted or performed.
EO has always had artistic directors leading the way with project conception and I think you do need some structure or hierarchy to get things done. Having said that, there has always been a forum for the input of the core players, both in terms of the direction and repertoire of the group or whom to work and collaborate with.
These days EO is fortunate to have Australia Council funding that contributes to the provision of a general manager. There is always an endless amount of work though, and the players meet every few months for meetings to discuss previous and forthcoming shows.
AR: I read online that you've done some teaching and mentoring in Afghanistan. How did this come about and your what were your experiences with it?
JN: Yes, I have travelled to Kabul, Afghanistan for two of the past three years to teach and perform as part of the Winter Academy at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music. This opportunity came about quite by chance. I was getting my fix of documentaries at the Sydney Film Festival in 2012 and attended the screening of "Dr Sarmast's Music School", (it was also screened on ABC television). An inspiring teacher of mine, Mark Walton, had attended the school previously and asked in December of that year whether I would attend in his place. I knew immediately that I wanted to help out, and so three weeks later I was on a plane to Kabul.
The school itself is an amazing place. Firstly that it is able to exist, given that music in Kabul was banned under Taliban rule. The school has a Western music focus running alongside the traditional Afghani music and general studies. Visiting musicians are instructed to teach what they can, in a volunteer capacity. I had a class of about 8 clarinet students from ages 8 to 20 , but also helped out with the flutes, oboes, harmonium, triangle player, yoga, theory, whoever needed help really. The interesting thing is once you are inside the school, you could be at any musical institution in the world . The students needed the same help as ones I instruct in Australia, the only difference perhaps being the desire or eagerness to absorb knowledge. There are both boys and girls at the school, and special emphasis is given to orphans and to underprivileged children, some of whom have a background selling plastic bags on the chaotic Kabul streets.
There are weekly concerts at the school, where visiting musicians from across the world perform alongside each other and with students. There are many wonderful Afghani string instruments to listen to, such as the rubab and dilruba.
I still keep in touch with some North-Indian musicians I met there. We gave a premiere of a work for two sitars, tabla , clarinets, and piano. I just returned in February 2015 from one of these musicians wedding in Assam, India. Together, we managed to record a track for television the day after the wedding, the cross cultural experience lives on.
Unfortunately a suicide blast in late 2014 upset my plans to return in January 2015. The blast at a French Cultural Centre injured the principal of the school. A timely reminder what Afghani's experience on a regular basis.
Most importantly though, the regular trips to Afghanistan remind me why I ended up in this profession in the first place: the power of music to go beyond borders and to communicate hope and humanity in unimaginable circumstances.
AR: What are some upcoming projects? You mentioned a Dance collaboration in Germany?
JN: I have been involved in a project with Nick Wales and dance group "Shaun Parker and Company" called "Am I". This show toured the Australian festival circuit last year and this year goes international with tours to Germany, Luxembourg, Sweden and Malaysia. The music is a new score which is difficult to define or categorise - but at its premise seeks to find a new music that represents all humanity - part acoustic and part electro, lots of drumming and Armenian music at its core. Great to work with a band who have skills across a broad range of areas too, from Indian drumming, opera, contemporary classical, electronic, jazz and pop.
Another project I will revisit this year is Ngarukuruwala, a return visit to the Tiwi Islands. There is an incredible group of "Strong Women" who sing the traditional songs and play an important role in preserving the traditional culture of the Islands. We will be working on a new disc of collaborations, and reworking old field recordings of Tiwi women singing.
AR: What are your current top 5 desert island pieces?
JN: Reich's "Music for 18 Musicians", Beethoven's "Piano Concerto No.1" (my first ever CD), any track from Anouar Brahem's Astrakan Café, "Raga Parameshwari" the amazing sitar playing of Abhishek Adhikary, and a new Finnish clarinet piece I have been working on, "Eliangelis" by Antti Auvinen.
Benjamin Marks took some time out from composing, performing and teaching this week to speak to Kupka's Piano percussionist Angus Wilson. Angus performed his new work 'The Circular Ruins' with guest saxophonist Sami Mason last Friday night at Absent, Almost Absent. Angus Wilson: You are a regular audience member and follower of Kupkas Piano, what excited you the most about writing for Kupkas Piano on this occasion?
Benjamin Marks: Writing music to be included in a Kupka programme is a big challenge. The music programmed (Lim, Ablinger etc.) is exceptional so I feel pretty daunted. Coupled with that I feel like I can write with a great deal of freedom, knowing that so much repertoire has been digested by the ensemble over the last few years. I feel like this is an ensemble which can locate the aesthetic or musical concerns a new piece has and articulate that understanding with intelligent and sensitive performances.
AW: Sami and I are very excited to play your new work.... Can you tell us a little bit about the project? Where did it draw it's inspiration from? Does it have a life beyond it's current format?
BM: Best to quote my programme note here:
Two (The Circular Ruins)
This piece takes as its raw material the sound of water running under a bridge. The sound was recorded and slowed down sixty times to reveal intense rhythmic and pitch activity. This was transcribed and became one of the primary means of organizing the piece.
Two explores the problems of creating an evolving musical landscape from a static sound source. Different notions of flow are explored within static constructs, and different notions of stasis are explored in more flexible, expressive constructs. The expressive capacity of the music lies in the movement between these various states.
In the context of the larger scale outdoor piece, The Circular Ruins, this duo constitutes part two. The piece, when removed from the outdoor context, is accompanied by a tape part that draws directly from sounds found in Southbank, Brisbane, the intended location of the four part work The Circular Ruins.
Jorge Louis Borges' story The Circular Ruins tells of a dreamer who dreams another man into existence only to find himself the dream of another. In the outdoor work for Southbank my goal is to bring to life often ignored environmental sounds, or, more generally, to bring about active engagement with our sounding environment. The composed pieces, including Two, engage with specific environmental sounds and acoustics creating an intense listening experience which is gradually expanded to include the limits of the acoustic horizon.
AW: You have an interesting little setup of percussion in the piece, ceramic bowls, temple blocks, woodblocks and a bass drum. Can you tell us what you were envisaging when you selected these instruments?
BM: I was thinking of sounds that most resembled my idea of water noise slowed down, other than the usual wash of white noise. This is purely imaginary, and these sounds also link into quite a ritualistic sound space. There is a naturalness to these sounds (wood, ceramic and skin) that I feel drawn to and a quiet complexity of timbre. The bass drum has a slightly different function to the other instruments in that it articulates a large scale pulse, which runs through all four pieces that makes up The Circular Ruins. Only a fragment of the pulse exists in Two.
AW: I first met you as a trombonist, playing Pines of Rome in a brass band. Can you tell us a little bit about your activities other than composing? How do you find living and working in Brisbane?
BM: I moved to Brisbane (from Melbourne) in 1998 to do my masters in performance at the QLD Conservatorium. My undergraduate was in composition from the University of Melbourne. I've always moved between composition and performance in some way or other, although my professional life has been mostly as a performer with ELISION. When I moved to Brisbane ELISION was also based here so it helped kick off a wonderful time of learning and recording new repertoire and broadening my improvisational experience which has carried through to the present day. I studied with Simone de Haan at the time and this experience changed me in many fundamental ways and brought me, through various activities, into contact with the Brisbane cultural scene. Since that initial period of study I've developed a strong low brass teaching base (which I love) and I continue to strive to play a creative role in the cultural life of my home city.
AW: Finally, what other interesting projects do you have coming up, where can our audience hear you play, or hear other compositions by you?
BM: I'm currently working my way into a Doctorate of Musical Arts in which I'm exploring multilayered spatial composition and performance in an outdoor context. By developing musical strategies that engage with environmental sound (some of which you'll hear in Two) I hope to create, for a listener, a shifting network of perceptual frames. My research should result in various performances, the first being early next year in Southbank. This is the project alluded to above The Circular Ruins. I'll be giving a trombone recital on February 25th next year, at 6:30pm, at the QLD Conservatorium, partnering with my wife Ysolt Clark on French Horn. We haven't quite settled on repertoire yet although Scelsi and Richard Barrett are likely starting points.
This Friday, Kupka's Piano clarinetist Macarthur Clough gives the Australian premiere of Chikako Morishita's solo clarinet work Lizard (shadow). Chikako has kindly taken a moment of her time between composition deadlines and premieres at Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival to give us a quick intro to her life, music, and guilty pleasures.
Liam Flenady: Let's start at the start. Tell us a bit about yourself. What's your story?
Chikako Morishita: I’m a Japanese composer, occasionally a pianist. I was awarded a BA and an MA from Tokyo University of Arts, and an MA (research) with distinction from University of Huddersfield. I’ve been based in Berlin since 2011. At the same time I’m doing a PhD at Huddersfield under Liza Lim and Aaron Cassidy.
LF: You say in your program notes in fact that Lizard (shadow) is a work about silence. You mention that one of the ways of writing 'lizard' in Kanji is with the characters of 'shade' and 'gate'. How do you draw upon this compositionally?
CM: For me, silence is not just a soundingly absent space, it is a space fully filled by one’s imagination even if materially empty. We call it 'pregnant nothingness' in Japan and I wanted silence in my composition to be like that. As for the title... The score of lizard (shadow) contains various degrees of determinacy and indeterminacy -determinate musical materials function as a framework to illustrate something unstable or indeterminate as if the gate (a fixed object) lets shadows exist.
LF: Lizard (shadow) has something of a 'moment'-like structure, How did you come up with the different sections - were they planned in advance, or did you find the structure intuitively?
CM: Firstly I made variations of some original materials (all passages in this work were derived from a single starting material), and then I made fragmentary moments by combining them. I then shuffled the order, added and removed notes or fragments, and so on.
LF: You've dedicated this piece to the works original performer, Heather Roche, and say in your notes that the layered material 'frames the performer's own interpretative sensibilities'. What do you feel the role of the performer is in your music?
CM: I hope my music to be a device to frame performer’s heightened sense of presence, and also to reveal their unique being.
LF: In Kupka's, we have a running joke that we'll do a 'guilty pleasures' concert at some point, playing pieces or songs that each of us hate to admit that we love. My song is Toto's Africa, a sophisticated, but thoroughly corny piece of early 80s pop. What is your musical guilty pleasure?
CM: Easy. AKB48, the Japanese idol group.
LF: Well I look forward to your modernist arrangement of this classic hit: [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dFf4AgBNR1E]
Our upcoming concert ‘Absent, almost absent‘ at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts on Friday November 28th features guest artist Tristram Williams (trumpet – ELISION Ensemble). Kupka pianist Alex Raineri catches up with Tristram amidst rehearsals to chat about Liza Lim, ELISION Ensemble and the Australian music scene.
This performance is almost sold out so be sure to book tickets now to avoid being absent!!
ALEX RAINERI: We're really excited to be welcoming you as guest artist in our upcoming concert where the centrepiece is Veil by Liza Lim. You've had the opportunity to work with Liza personally before, I wonder whether you could tell us a bit about her character and her manner of composer/performer interaction?
TRISTRAM WILLIAMS: I've been friends and colleagues with Liza for about 15 years now and worked with her on around 6 new pieces, including the solo wild winged-one and the tpt-perc duo, Ehwaz.
She is a fun composer to work with, she is always intensely interested in new things one is figuring out on the instrument then she uses them in ways you never imagined possible! I can honestly say I have learnt a lot about the trumpet from her. In so much of her work I've encountered things I thought were not possible, then in finding a solution extended my own playing.
She is also an intently spiritual person. I think this is what I most enjoy about her music, the sense of striving for some kind of spiritual transcendence or transformation. It's powerful stuff.
AR: Having had experience performing contemporary music all over the world, I'm interested to hear your thoughts on the new music culture in Australia. There's certainly a very vibrant scene in this country for exploring challenging and rarely performed works but this music is largely absent within tertiary music institutions and the programming of major concert series (eg. orchestras and established ensembles). In your opinion, how do Australian audiences react comparatively to European or American audiences who might feel more of an association or stronger affinity with the history of contemporary repertoire?
TW: I think Australian audiences are different from the Europeans in positive and negative ways. We don't have the same connection to the culture as Europe in the sense we can't say Brahms lived in our city, or Stravinsky wrote Sacre where we take holidays. (We could have said Ravel taught at Sydney Con, but for the incredible prejudice and stupidity of the administration there in the 1920's. My how universities have changed...).
In my experience many Euro composers relate themselves directly to Brahms, Wagner et al. And the audiences see it that way too. New music as merely an extension of the existing tradition.
The negative side of this (and the positive for Aussies) is a conservativism and reluctance to embrace something whose connection to the past is not clear. I think Aussie audiences are open minded and don't mind hearing something whose provenance is unclear!
AR: Also in this concert we're featuring a new work by Benjamin Marks whom you've worked with on numerous occasions, both being members of the ELISION Ensemble. Kupka's Piano has a really nice link to Elision through the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts who are currently hosting us as ensemble in residence and for a number of years was home of the Elision ensemble. Having been an active member of Elision (among other groups) for a number of years, in your opinion, what kind of role do arts organisations like the Judy play in supporting ambitions young ensembles? How did the residency at the Judy affect and influence the development of the Elision ensemble?
TW: It's fantastic that KP is at the Judy now. Elision certainly had many important years there and it's great that such important music making is still going on there. The Judy will make the history books!
AR: Lastly, what are your top 5 favourite pieces?
TW: Very difficult! At the moment, I'd say;
1 - Schubert die Winterreise
2 - Richard Barret World-line (premiered by Elision in Oct, for tpt, perc lap, steel guitar and electronics)
3 - Enno Poppe Speicher
4 - Messiaen Visions de l'amen
5 - Tippett 4th Piano Sonata
Find out more about Tristram on his website and book tickets to 'Absent, almost absent' before time runs out and we're sold out!
Hannah Reardon-Smith writes about our upcoming concert Tempi Espressivi, which will take place this Friday night at the Judith Wright Centre.
This coming Friday we're presenting a special performance by Kupka's Piano "sub-trio", consisting of Angus Wilson (percussionist), Alex Raineri (pianist), and myself (flautist). I guess it comes as no surprise that it is an ambitious program! And each of the works has a special significance for the performers.
One of the great pleasures for me has been revisiting 'Presto con Fuoco' for flute and piano by Swiss-Austrian composer Beat Furrer. Alex and I first played this work in 2011, giving its Australian premiere at the Campbelltown Arts Centre in Sydney. We performed it several more times that year, and the result is that as we return to it now we find its hockets and breathless drive are written into our bones. What took us a good many weeks to learn the first time through now requires only the fine tuning of extra details and communications. We're very much looking forward to performing this, and our security gives us the freedom to take it at a cracking speed.
Those among our audience at the last concert would have noticed that the lovely Jodie Rottle had taken my place on the stage. This is because I was spending several months over in Cologne, Germany thanks to an Australia Council ArtStart grant, studying privately with Helen Bledsoe (flautist with musikFabrik) and Dr Camilla Hoitenga (the flautist who worked with Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho on the vast majority of her works for the instrument). It was an incredible time for me, and I worked closely with these teachers on a large amount of repertoire - in particular Stockhausen's 'In Freundschaft' and Gérard Grisey's 'Talea'. With Helen I also worked on a piece that has been on my to-do pile for several years: 'Cassandra's Dream Song' by English new complexity composer Brian Ferneyhough. A piece like this requires intense commitment and patience. Ferneyhough packs an enormous amount of detail into every gesture and line. A flautist himself, he wrote the work with flute in hand, finding ways to cross the established 'limits' of the instrument. There is also work for the musician on the level of interpretation, as some of the ordering of parts of the work is left up to the performer. This work is now one of the new 'standard repertoire' pieces for the flute, and single-handedly expanded our knowledge of what the flute can do. It was written in 1970 but not performed until 1975! For many flautists it is the kind of piece that you keep on working on throughout your career. I am just starting that process, and this Friday will be my first performance of 'Cassandra'.
In this concert we will giving the premiere of Liam Flenady's trio 'Quite Early Morning No. 2'. Liam has written about it here, and Angus has weighed in on the process of preparing Liam's music. I'm not sure we've rehearsed anything so intensively as we have this piece over the last few weeks. Liam does not write especially easy music, and realising the complexities, particularly those of the communication between members of the ensemble, presents many challenges. The opportunity to work so intensively together on a work like this is, however, extremely rewarding. Liam has been sitting in on every rehearsal, which brings a very different process into play - one where we can negotiate solutions to instrumental and ensemble issues with the composer at hand, and receive insight into the process and ideas behind the music. It's always both terrifying and exhilarating to premiere new music, and this piece will be no exception.
Angus and Alex have also been preparing 'Quatre pièces fébriles' ('Four feverish pieces') by Georges Aperghis. The three of us (along with composers Liam and Michael Mathieson-Sandars) will actually be heading to the Darmstadt Summer Festival of new music a few short weeks after this concert, and there we will have the opportunity to play these works for the composers: Furrer, Ferneyhough and Aperghis are all tutors at this year's festival!
In short, we hope you can join us on Friday for Tempi Espressivi, a concert that teases out the many subtleties that exist between 'fast' and 'slow'.
With our 'Modern Music in Exile' concert coming up this Friday, our violinist Adam Cadell speaks to young Danish composer Rune Glerup (b. 1981) whose work La Rose Pulverisée we will be giving the Australian premiere of. We're pretty chuffed to be presenting the first ever performance of a work of Rune's in Australia. Come along and hear his amazing music!
Adam Cadell: Rune, since you are a Danish composer living far away from Australian shores, I fear few people would know much about your work here. Indeed I believe our performance of your piece La Rose Pulverisée is an Australian premiere. Could you please give us a brief introduction of yourself and your compositional endeavours up until this time?
Rune Glerup: My first impressions of contemporary music was of Danish contemporary music. 10-15 years ago, almost all contemporary music performed in Denmark was Danish. Fortunately this has changed since then, but at the time I felt a need to get to know what was happening elsewhere, and as old-fashioned it might sound, the internet was not what it is today, so it was more difficult to orientate oneself. That's why I left for Berlin when I was twenty-one, and later to Paris. I felt I had to leave Denmark to get a wider horizon. I think living abroad so much has made an impact on how I consider many things, and of course especially my music.
AC: You speak of your music as being minimalist in a way. To me, rehearsing your piece La Rose Pulverisée, it seems that in this piece you start with a larger idea, a more complex idea, and gradually pull it apart until the final movement is like the thematic material has been pulverised into dust. It’s almost as though the minimalism is a literal process within the piece, a minimising of the material during performance. Would you say this description represents well the process behind the piece? What would you say is the essence of your compositional process?
RG: Yes, in a certain way you can say my music is minimalistic, but it has very little to do with the American minimalism. It is minimalistic in the sense that I often tend to use a reduced and static material. I almost never use these large organic forms. Usually I define some elements that I can combine in different ways. I should say though, that La Rose Pulverisée is an earlier piece, and I'm not sure that the term "minimalistic" applies very well to it. It's a piece closer to the modernistic idiom influenced by surrealism, and you are right in your analysis that the piece begins with a large idea that gradually gets pulled apart. I was also interested in some contradictions, or a certain kind of inertia: The lyrical and violent in the image of a rose that gets pulverised, and the predominantly violent style of the writing, but for two very classical instruments that cannot produce that much sound. Always something violent with something fragile. You can find these oppositions in many aspects of the piece.
AC: Would you call your desire to “short-circuit” the known a subversive act? And is the known you are conducting a frontal attack on the traditions of Western classical music or a broader metaphorical notion of the known?
RG: I think the idea of short-circuiting interest me because if it's successful, it can reveal something new about what we thought we knew already. I think this is what happens when you invent something. You have all the known in front of you, and short-circuiting it - doing something you are not supposed to do with the material - can be a way to create this new aspect that was impossible to think before. You can apply this to musical thinking, but you can also apply it to everything else.
AC: You talk of abstract expressionists such as Jackson Pollock being an influence on your work. How important do you think the legacy of the post-war avant-garde is to contemporary composition?
RG: Pollock was an inspiration for one work in particular: a piece for cello and live-electronics. I think the avant-garde of the 1950's and 60's has been extremely important for the development of the musical thinking up until today because those composers - Stockhausen, Boulez, Cage among others - opened up a new world of possibilities. However, the world we are living in is post-modern, and we don't just have one singular development to focus on, but a multitude of things to take into consideration. We cannot say that there is only one true way. Therefore I would say that the legacy of the post-war avant-garde is very important, but there are many other things that are equally important.
AC: This upcoming Kupka’s Piano concert, at which we will perform the Australian premiere of your work La Rose Pulverisée, is themed around exile. Exile has been a potent state in which artists have produced great work throughout history – indeed some artists of the abstract expressionist era (Burroughs in Tangiers, Nancarrow in Mexico for example) are a good example of this. How relevant do you feel the theme of exile is to art in our current time in which millions of people live in forced exile, and is it something that you have or would like to address in your composition?
RG: I don't really think the theme of exile is so relevant to art itself in general, but only in particular situations where artists are living in exile. Of course, if an artist is isolated from the rest of the world, I'm certain the art he/she produces will be different from what others, who can always be updated on the latest development, produces. In that way exile can make a very big impact on the artistic result. In another way, I don't consider art as a kind of commentary to politics, and therefore I will say that I don't address political questions in my works, and I doubt that music is even capable of doing so.
AC: And lastly, other than yourself of course, which Danish composers should we be keeping our eyes and ears on?
RG: Well, I think there are actually many interesting composers in Denmak right now. Christian Winther Christensen, Nicolai Worsaae and Simon Løffler among others in the younger generation. And I would especially like to mention Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen from the older generation, who has enjoyed a growing reputation the last few years. I think his music and ideas deserve to be more known, also outside of Denmark.
Kupka's Piano composer, Michael Mathieson-Sandars, will have his first piece for 2014, Character Motions, premiered by Kupka's Piano at our concert 'The Machine and the Rank Weeds' at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts. Here are some of his thoughts!
Hélène Cixous, in her 1975 essay The Laugh of Medusa, calls for a feminine writing (écriture féminine) which combats and reframes what she argues to be a masculine discourse inscribed into writing and language (and thinking). She offers the following advice: “Write your self. Your body must be heard. Only then will the immense resources of the unconscious spring forth.”
While I believe similarities between language and music to be much more complicated than a clear parallel, there is a clear masculine discourse within western classical composition. It goes without saying that this should be challenged here as it should be challenged in other appearances of patriarchy and phallogocentrism. (I should probably also note that, for Cixous, a feminine writer need not necessarily be female “there are some men (all too few) who aren't afraid of femininity”). There are lessons to be learned from Cixous for any artist, let alone composer – and there is even more at stake here because to write “from the body” concerns the subject and the subject's relationship to music.
The subject's relationship to music is, of course, something about which I have very little understanding and I imagine it will continue to escape me for some time yet (probably indefinitely). Nonetheless, I feel, largely intuitively (physically? Pre-intellectually?), that a physical, bodily approach to the way I compose will increase the possibility of creating music which carves its form from its own material – which represents, at least partially, the complexity of the modern subject in its multiplicity of relations.
Which I guess brings me to my new piece, Character Motions. My musical implementation of this thinking is, of course, quite naïve, but, at the same time, quite exciting. (It's also quite an interesting experience to attempt to write in a less conscious, more physical way which can only be achieved by becoming conscious of physicality!). In many ways, it is not such a grand or radical departure (Rome not built in a day, climbing to stand on the shoulders of giants, etc.), but I feel the material of the music in this piece contains a vibrancy and depth beyond what has appeared in my music previously. The piece itself is quite short, and moves very rapidly. This, in part, is for future plans to expand the piece for performance by the ensemble later in the year, but more broadly to build material which will allow me to create more expansive works in the future.
As always, it's a great pleasure to work with the musicians in Kupka's Piano, and I'm looking forward to kicking off our series ‘Il faut être’ next Friday. Feel free to come along to the concert and let me know what you think!
Michael Mathieson-Sandars and Alethea Coombe were fortunate enough to chat in person with featured composer Clara Iannotta. Conversation meandered through topics diverse as train rides, contemporary art, housing prices in Berlin, and the supremacy of Australian vs. Italian coffee. Here is a more formal follow-up with Clara about her broader musical ideas as well as her trio 'il colore dell'ombra' (the colour of the shadow), which will be featured in our upcoming concert 'To Roam with Love'
Alethea Coombe: Could we have a brief biographical sketch - where have you lived? Who have you studied with?
Clara Iannotta: Born in Rome in 1983, I spent my whole childhood studying to become a flautist. After my harmony teacher more or less forced me, I started taking composition classes in 2003, and after one year I realised that composing was the art that represented me the most. Looking for a good teacher, I travelled around Italy and I stopped for three years in Milan to study with Alessandro Solbiati, to whom I have dedicated my pieces Clangs and D’après.
Since then, I have had inspiring discussions with many composers: I talked about material with Franck Bedrossian, about form with Chaya Czernowin, and about silence with Steven Takasugi. I am particularly interested in music as an existential, physical experience – music should be seen as well as heard. This is one of the reasons why I sometimes prefer to talk about the choreography of the sound rather than about orchestration.
A lover of the cultures, I have had the chance to work with amazing musicians in many countries, including France, Germany, Great Britain, Russia and the United States. I lived and studied in Paris for five years, and since January this year, I have been living in Berlin as a guest of the Artist-in-Berlin Program of the DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service).
AC: In the next installment of "Where in the World is Kupka's Piano", we are focusing on works from Italy. In your opinion, who have been the most important Italian composers writing in the last 20 years, and why?
CI: Pierluigi Billone is definitely the composer who marked me the most. I am fascinated by his sounds, his way of dealing with time, and also what he thinks about composing. Once I had a lesson with him, and he told me we have already too many pieces, we don't need more music, so, we should try to be as personal as possible.
Other Italian contemporary composers who marked me in the last years are Francesco Filidei and Mauro Lanza. I really like the incredible sense of humor and 'lightness' you can find in their works.
AC: Tell us a bit more about the piece that we're playing - il colore dell’ombra (the colour of the shadow). What were your intentions with this work?
CI: It took me several months to start composing this piece.
Every contemporary composer has written at least a string quartet, but there are a only few contemporary piano trios. I think the reason is because this instrumentation no longer has a good balance — the sound of the piano we have nowadays is way more powerful, compared to the one Brahms used, and to balance it we would need a string quartet, instead of just a violin and a cello.
Writing this piece, I was influenced by Ravel's piano trio. You can feel, in the whole piece, the shadow of a fundamental sound, A, and in the third movement the material I used comes completely from Ravel's Passacaille.
AC: What has changed for you since you wrote this piece? Are you moving in new directions?
CI: I always had a strong interest in sound, as a living, complex organism in which you cannot distinguish between pitch, tone-colour and harmony.
Luciano Berio used to say that we should look at the music and listen to the theatre. In my opinion, this sentence does not mean just that musicians have to do extra-musical gestures on stage; I really think that there is theatricality in the sound itself.
Nowadays, I am looking for a sound that can represent me, through which the audience might enter inside it almost physically, within its nuances.
AC: Certainly some food for thought! Thanks Clara!
As part of our upcoming concert on May 10, Giants Behind Us, focussing on the next generation of German and Austrian music, our clarinetist-extraordinaire Macarthur Clough and brilliant guest soprano Tabatha McFadyen will perform Gerald Resch's composition Splitter. The next in our series of interviews, composer Liam Flenady has a chat with him about being a composer today, the contemporary music police, and Arabic Pop music. Check out his music here: http://www.geraldresch.at/
Liam Flenady: Firstly, a bit of background. Where are you from and where did you get your musical and compositional education?
Gerald Resch: I was born 1975 in Linz/Austria and consider myself educated in a quite Central European way, with a mix of traditions and influences. My teachers in composition, with whom I studied at various times between 1993-2001, were the Swiss-American Michael Jarrell and the Hungarian Iván Eröd in Vienna, the German York Höller in Cologne and the Swiss Beat Furrer in Graz. Because of quite long stays in France and Italy, I feel a certain affinity to these cultures as well.
LF: In these interviews for our concert, we’re asking our featured composers what a 'day in the life' looks like, to give a sense of what it’s like to be a young composer today. Would you care to indulge us?
GR: In my opinion, the profession of a composer has changed a lot over the last few decades. Nowadays, all the composers I know are very busy not only with composing, but also with organising concerts, writing articles, teaching, etc.
For example, my average 'day in the life' consists of bringing the kids to school, then going home to compose for a few hours, then answering emails, writing letters, contacting ensembles, etc, preparing my lessons for the students at the music university, going to teach, afterwards going to 'Kunstverein Alte Schmiede Wien' where I organise concerts with contemporary music, coming home at night to talk with my wife. If possible, I’ll then try to continue to compose for some more hours at night (or falling into bed instead).
LF: Sounds exhausting - I can relate. But let’s turn to the inside of the musical practice. What are you currently composing? What kinds of ideas or musical questions are you looking at?
GR: At the moment, I am writing some 'Madrigals' for solo voices and accordion on contemporary German love poems. The main question for this piece is how it is possible to transport the content of the poems in such a way that the pieces have on the one hand a specific 'Resch-sound' (e.g. use sonorities I like), but on the other give the singers the opportunity to shape my composition in a way that allows them to really express themselves while singing - so that my music can become their own music.
LF: One of the main themes of this concert is how the next generation of Germanic composers deals with its traditions and its history. From the Australian vantage point, it seems that composers from Germany and Austria have a heavy weight of tradition bearing down on them. Does this impact on what you do? Do you feel you have to grapple with your tradition?
GR: I think that it is a very special situation in Central Europe (and especially in Austria, and even more especially in Vienna), where these 'old traditions' still are quite alive, in a certain way. For example, here in Vienna it is quite easy to hear the Brahms Symphonies in live concerts several times a year. Me personally, I find it interesting to draw upon music of several traditions in order to develop a personal musical voice that is contemporary - one that tries to find a musical tone that is somehow relevant for today.
For example, I had a challenging commission by the Wiener Musikverein to write an orchestral piece, "Cantus Firmus", which would be the first part of a concert that would have as its second part a performance of Mendelssohn-Bartholdy's Symphony "Lobgesang": I tried to understand the Mendelssohn piece (even its weaknesses) in order to find a personal solution which has nothing to do with Mendelssohn but nevertheless matches with it. A kind of reflection – and contradiction. I think that nowadays the interest for such 'permeabilities' of old and contemporary is indeed an important issue.
LF: Over the years we've seen different 'schools' emerge in Europe, associated with different regions (spectralism in France, Lachenmann-influenced music in Germany, etc). Do you think this is still the case in Europe? What would be the major dividing lines now, if any?
GR: In general, I think that this idea of belonging to 'schools' is no longer as strict as it used to be some decades ago. For example, it is possible – and quite common today – to be influenced both by spectralism and by Lachenmann. I feel (or wish?) that the authority of a self-appointed 'contemporary music police' is being doubted more and more.
LF: But while these schools may be in decline (or hopefully), do you still feel there are key musical concerns facing the new generations of composers in Germany and Austria?
GR: Difficult to say… For me, one of the most central questions while composing is to be able to build a consistent individual and distinctive work, but stay at the same time open for unexpected influences, surprising detours, etc.
LF: What about your piece Splitter that we're performing in our May 10 concert. What is behind the choice of text? What ideas informed your composing?
GR: The template for Splitter is a text by the Austrian avant-garde poet Waltraud Seidlhofer. She composes texts in such a way that the words on the paper are distributed in a very well calculated manner: it makes a big difference whether a word is at the beginning, in the middle or at the end of a line. Although the text does not ‘tell a story’, it is instead the case that groups of particles build little ‘islands of context’ that are multi-layered: it is quite difficult to explain...
Anyway, the text inspired me to use it as a very rigid pattern for organising the rhythms of my piece. Although this was very helpful for me while composing the piece, I hope the listener will not perceive the strict skeleton of the construction which appears in the background of the piece, but will simply feel that the musical things that happen have a certain logical alliance that he or she doesn’t need to figure out, but will be touched by.
LF: Just finally, what music are you currently listening to? Any tips for our audience in Australia?
GR: I have recently been to Jordan in the Middle East and am at the moment fascinated by contemporary Arabic Pop Music. Perhaps I will write an orchestra piece in which I try to merge some Arabic idioms with a kind of abstracted Bossa-Nova-feeling, brought together with my own harmonic, melodic and rhythmic idiom...
LF: Sounds fascinating. Thanks for the chat Gerald. Looking forward to hearing your work performed at the concert!
Tonight we'll be joined in performance by the lovely Tabatha McFadyen, a talented lyric soprano and a regular guest with the ensemble. She'll be premiering Liam Flenady's new song-cycle, Stars, Not Far Off.
Tabatha is completing a Bachelor of Music (Advanced Performance) with Honours at the Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University, and is currently a pupil of Prof. Lisa Gasteen. She is a recipient of the Elizabeth Muir Memorial Undergraduate Award, a member of Griffith Honours College, and has been a recipient of the Griffith Award for Academic Excellence for each year of her study.
In 2012, she has competed as a semi-finalist in the McDonald's Operatic Aria, and has been a finalist in the Opera & Arts Support Group Scholarship and the Italian Opera Foundation Award. As part of the 2012 Australian Singing Competition, she was the recipient of the Mozart Opera Institute Award and the Nelly Apt Scholarship. In 2011, she was the winner of the South East Queensland Aria & Concerto Competition and the Margaret Nickson Prize (with pianist Alex Raineri), a finalist in the 2011 Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge Vocal Scholarship, and performed as part of the New Music Network’s ‘Generation Next’ project.
Her operatic roles have included Zerlina (Don Giovanni – Mozart), Titania (The Fairy Queen – Purcell), Suor Genovieffa (Suor Angelica – Puccini), all for QCGU, and Prilepa in Tchaikovsky's Queen of Spades with Sydney Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Vladimir Ashkenazy.
She regularly performs as a guest artist with contemporary music ensemble Kupka's Piano, and is a founding member of The Sydney Opera Co., playing the role of Suor Genovieffa in their upcoming production of Suor Angelica.