Saturday, April 27, 2013

An interview with Emma-Ruth Richards

Please tell us a little about who you are and your background
I am currently completing my PhD in composition at the Royal Northern College of Music whilst studying privately with Alexander Goehr and I completed my undergraduate degree and Masters in composition at Cardiff School of Music under the supervision of Arlene Sierra and Judith Weir. During my time in both Cardiff and Manchester I have studied in seminars and workshops with Pierre Boulez, Henri Dutilleux, Simon Bainbridge, Julian Anderson, James MacMillan, Frederic Rzewski, Howard Skempton and in the Cardiff BBC Studios with Michael Berkley and Jac Van Steen.

I have been commissioned and performed by Opera North, London Philharmonia, BBC NOW Chamber Players, Håkan Hardenberger, Colin Currie, Nicholas Daniel, Paul Silverthorne, The Rhodes Piano Trio, Ebor Singers, Navarra Quartet, Dudok Quartet, Ligeti Quartet, Aurora Percussion Duo, HM Royal Marines Windband, Camerata Pacifica, Manchester Camerata, and The Absolution Saxophone Quartet amongst others. 

I am a Royal Northern Gold Medal composer and have been featured in festivals including Music of Today 2009, James MacMillan 2009, RNCM Chamberfest 2011, Sounds New Canterbury 2010, HCMF 2011, Queen’s Belfast 2012, North West 2012, St. Magnus 2012, IC Hong Kong 2012, Internationaal Kamermuziekfestival Den Haag 2012 and Banff 2012. 

I am a member of the LSO's composer soundhub; the composer in residence with Milton Keynes City Orchestra and London Arte Chamber Orchestra; a co-director of Collectives and Curiosities; and a member of the Chetham’s International Summer School Faculty. 

My string quartet has recently been published by Donemus in Amsterdam. 

What/who inspires or motivates you?
For me, music is clarification and I always try to refine and almost purify an idea so that it has as much authority and impact as possible. I love to write music that musicians want to play and communicate with and therefore each project has a different motivation / inspiration depending on who I am working with. For example, over the last 2 years I have been working on an opera with librettist Nic Chalmers and therefore there has been a strong collaborative drive as well a wonderful opportunity to share ideas in the form of texts, images, dance and theatre. 

It is also true, however, that I am deeply disturbed by the dissolution of the human condition and across most of my work my inspiration is drawn from painful reflections on the state of humanity all over the world in every type of society and race. I think of sonority metaphorically carving out shapes within a space / cutting through a space / defining a particular type of space within a piece of music and it is from this starting point that I try to, metaphorically, create a space that I feel that best resonates with the magnitude of the subject matter. 

Proprioception – [kinesthesia (sense of body motion) is sometimes used interchangeably with proprioception (sense of body within an environment / a particular space)] – links to my choice of instruments and my approach to writing for them, for example, for me the trumpet timbre is a powerful sonority and I am drawn to it because it is textured, “rough” around the edges, direct, physical, unpredictable, visceral, potent, and immediate.

How would you describe your style?
I have long since been obsessed with the concept of space in the temporal art form, music. In my practice I approach this by taking something concrete in an architectural structure, and translating it – or filtering it – through the specific notion of timbre. The way that I conceive of line, space, light and direction is through the medium of a particular instrument creating a space within a composition; a kind of aesthetic synaesthesia perhaps not too dissimilar to Messiaen’s medical synaesthesia. Music that draws on register and timbre of instruments in order to ‘represent’ or draw a concept of space into music has been considered by several contemporary composers. Brian Ferneyhough’s Carceri d’Invenzione I provides an example of fluent, translucent and extreme registral lines and was conceptually based on Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s etchings of Rome and imagined surrealist prisons (Carceri d’Invenzione) from the mid Eighteenth century where the lines of the paintings appear to travel beyond the page itself. However, in the music that I write I have set out to explore the particular timbre of the trumpet. I aim to capture and create an audible darkness and light that represents a particular visual and / or spatial awareness of striking shapes or acoustics of particular buildings and structures that make an impact on me. 

What is your composing routine. When do you like to write?
I write whenever I can - sometimes, especially early on in the creation of the piece, I have to block out complete days to work from early morning right through into the night - sometimes, if I have already worked out a plan and know my material well then I know where I am going with a piece and it is much easier to fit in a few hours here and there in between other engagements and private teaching etc. 

What were the challenges in writing the piece for the New Dots concert?
It was my first wind quartet! I also wanted to work, a little, with multiphonics - this is also an area that I haven't had any experience with previously so I needed lots of time to work with the players on the first movement of the quartet in particular. 

What does the future hold?
I am currently working on a few chamber music / solo commissions as well as my first chamber opera. I also co-direct Collectives and Curiosities and this year we have a residency with LSO on their soundhub scheme so we are working hard on curating our main event for the 21st June. 

What makes you smile?
Children; young animals; deliberate kindness; any expression of innocence

Sunday, April 21, 2013

An interview with Aaron Holloway-Nahum

Please tell us a little about who you are and your background
I was born in Chicago in 1983 and began my life in music as a singer.  I sang in choirs and played the piano throughout school and it was only when I was 17 that I discovered composition.  I entered Northwestern University, actually, as a voice major  - but within the year had changed to study composition and an ad-hoc orchestral conducting degree.  I moved to England in 2005 to do my Mmus in composition at the Royal Academy, stayed to do my Dmus (which I finished in 2012 at Guildhall) met my wife (we were married in July 2011) and have settled here!

What inspires or motivates you?
In terms of motivation, I find it takes very little to get me to the drafting table.  I have so much music I want to write and so many other things that I need to do in a day that I'm out of bed most days by 6am and composing for as long as I can before the other requirements of the day kick in.  Even starting at that time it's hard to get more than 3 or 4 hours in before I need to be heading on to the next thing, and so it's always a real joy to wake up and come back to it the next day.

There are many things that inspire me – all the normal answers like painting, film, poetry, travel, listening…these all apply – but the most inspiring things for me are actually people.  I just love musicians.  These people have dedicated their entire lives to being able to create the exact sound they want from an instrument – to the point where the instrument just becomes an extension of their will – and this is just not something that happens overnight.  It's every day, day after day, year after year and they just keep going to the point where they are capable of creating this incredible beauty.  And that's what I aim for, in composing.  Music that will challenge and reward them, will draw them into new ideas, and will bring us together as collaborators in creating something new.

What is your favourite piece of your own work and why?
I'm not really sure I can answer this question directly.  Pieces of music that I compose are very personal, and close to me.  I don't (yet) have children myself but I've heard many older composers describe the feeling as being similar to that of a parent.  I spend a lot of time making a piece of music – for How to Avoid Huge Ships one could conservatively estimate I spent about 50 hours composing for each minute of music – and so every single note in the work is precious to me at the time I create it.  Then I'll go back, five years later, and its like somebody else wrote the piece entirely!

So each piece becomes a sort of frozen statement about what music is at that particular time in your life.  And they're each precious.  I suppose the one thing I could say is that – as a young composer – I think you learn more and more to be an honest version of yourself.  And in my recent work, in particular, I see more of myself and less of the other composer(s) I hoped I would be. So the music gets more honest and I think that its scary, but I do like it more and more.

How would you describe your style?
I think style is a really hard thing to describe from the inside-out.  My immediate response is to want to tell you about my technique, but technique is a far thing from style.  I guess one of the things that you can really hear in my music is the voice – I sing all the time when I compose, improvising lines and rhythms and then transcribing them as I get them closer and closer to what I want.  So whatever the instruments in the piece, you hear a lot of this in the music I write. 

What is your composing routine? When do you like to write?
I've already kind of touched on this – I have to write, have to write, first thing in the morning.  If I'm not at my desk by 6:30am it's a very unusual morning.  I find this is the time when I can most clearly find the music – without the hundreds of other things that constantly come up during the day – and it's a really precious time to me.   

What were the challenges in writing the piece for the New Dots concert?
Well I set myself a very pressing challenge in choosing the write for the Wind Quintet itself, because it is a very traditional ensemble with a long history – and a long history of causing composers insurmountable problems!  But the truth is that this piece came very easily to me as I know a number of players in the Atea Quintet (we spent time at the Academy together), so I was aware of their very high quality, and there's nothing more exciting than writing music for players who inspire you. 

What does the future hold?
I'm headed to France for the Etchings Festival with the East Coast Contemporary Ensemble and Georg Friedrich Haas in July, have a premiere of a new orchestral work (The Deeper Breath to Follow) with the BBC Symphony Orchestra in November, and have been commissioned by the Britten Pears Foundation & RVW Trust to write a Clarinet Quintet for Timothy Orpen.  I'm also the Artistic Director of The Riot Ensemble, and we have four concerts left this year along with establishing a new series of educational concerts and a full concert schedule we're planning for 2014 so it's shaping up to be a very busy year! 

What makes you smile?
My wife's laughter.  


Concert preparations

It’s exactly a month to go until the next concert and I’m now starting to get properly excited about it. And also a little bit worried. Not for any specific reason, just that it’s our second one and a bit like second albums, you get all the buzz from the first one but then maybe the second doesn't quite live up to expectations. 

The preparations are all going fine: scores written, rehearsal schedule all sorted, invites out, tickets selling ok, programme being designed (it’s looking awesome again!), etc. We've included a few different things this time compared to the first concert - unfortunately Aaron Holloway-Nahum (one of the composers) can’t come to the concert so he’s making a short film to talk about the inspiration behind his piece (hopefully not quite like a video thank you message at the Oscars!). Also different, we've decided to include another piece on the programme that is not by one of our emerging composers selected for the concert - Richard Uttley (our fabulous pianist) is going to play Mark Simpson’s Barkham Fantasy, which Mark wrote for Richard in 2009. It’s on soundcloud if you want a preview -’re hoping this will complement the other pieces on the programme and the solo piano sound will contrast with the wind ensemble. The other difference is that we’re inviting 3 audience members to write their own reviews of the concert in exchange for the price of their concert ticket and travel fare. I’m really interested to see how this goes, hopefully people won’t be too worried about not being “musos” and will write what they actually think!

We have 4 new pieces on the programme (from Emma-Ruth Richards, Piers Tattersall, Michael Cutting and Aaron), which I heard parts of in the collaboration work shop in January. Back then, some of the pieces were quite well formed and some of them less so. It’ll be interesting to hear how they developed and what the finished pieces sound like. As a set, they are mixture of instrumentation and aesthetics and I think different pieces will appeal to different people. There’s also a solo flute piece by Yuko Ohara, which was premièred in Israel last year and this will be the UK première.

So is there anything that I'm actually worried about? It turns out, not really anything. I love finally getting to the reason we do this - to showcase amazing new music, feel the buzziness, see all the connections being made and the reactions people have to the music. Roll on 21st May!