Postgraduate composer Ben Jameson reports back on a recent trip to Belgium for a trio of our PhD composers:
Our collaboration with the performers from Ictus Ensemble’s MaNaMa course began in
December of last year, when Camille (flute), Tomonori (clarinet), Yukari (saxophone), Maria (harp) and Adam (percussion) came to visit us in Southampton. At this first workshop the musicians performed for us some of the repertoire that they had been working on, as well as some improvisations, to give us an idea of their musical interests and the sounds that they were capable of producing. They then played through some initial ideas for the new works that we were writing for them. We were all very impressed by these extremely skilled performers, and keen to finish our pieces ready for our next meeting. We were also pleased to learn that the next phase of the collaboration would take place in Brussels, where we would not only hear our pieces played in a workshop, but would get to see them performed in a concert at ‘Q-O2’, a venue for contemporary music and sound art in the city.
Our journey to Belgium began with an early train to London on a March morning, to catch the Eurostar to Brussels Midi. Our party consisted of myself, my fellow postgraduate composers Alex Glyde-Bates and Máté Szigeti, and Dr. Ben Oliver. Getting an early train had its advantages, as we were able to see a little bit of the city before getting down to the real business of the day,
which was of course working on our pieces. We attended the musicians’ final rehearsal of our new works, and were able to make suggestions and clarify our intentions, although it was clear that they had been putting in a lot of practice, and the performances were already very good. The venue was a small loft space hidden away near Brussels’ canal, and we found the acoustic to be surprisingly good and appropriate to our works.
The evening concert began with two pieces by Swiss composer Michèle Rusconi for a trio of harp, flute and percussion, and then for harp solo. We enjoyed these works, which explored various interesting playing techniques and timbres possible with these instruments, although I
must admit at this point I was starting to feel a little nervous. The first piece by a Southampton composer to be performed was Máté’s Nap. Futás (‘Sun. Running’). I really liked the harmonies that Máté wrote for the wind instruments, which often used triadic materials in unexpected ways, and I found the interactions between the marimba and the other instruments to be particularly interesting. The next piece was my own Passacaglia, which was performed very well, despite some difficult rhythms that the musicians had to navigate. The final piece was something a little different. Alex’s One and Four Canons substituted ‘non musical’ gestures, such as holding up coloured cards (with each colour representing a degree of a diatonic scale) and semaphore signals, for the musical parameters of a very well known canon from music history. I was impressed with the conviction that the musicians were able to project in performing these gestures, which perhaps fall outside the scope of traditional classical musical training.
Our work with the MaNaMa musicians was a great experience for us, and rather different to the usual experience of having a piece played in a workshop. I hope that the collaboration was mutually beneficial, and I am very grateful to all the musicians involved, as well as to Ben Oliver, Matthew Shlomowitz and Tom Pauwels from Ictus Ensemble for making this project happen.
You can watch the performance of Alex Glyde-Bates ‘One in Four Canons’ here:[youtube http://youtu.be/dusyorY_Plc]