Ensemble Nikel Visits the Music Department

Third year undergraduate Alex Garden reports on a recent composition workshop with Ensemble Nikel.

On Monday 28 November Ensemble Nikel – a quartet consisting of piano (Antoine Francoise), saxophone (Patrick Stadler), electric guitar (Yaron Deutsch) and percussion (Brian Archinal) – visited our department. Following their inspirational performance at the Music Department Monday Lunchtime Concert Series, they ran workshops in the Turner Sims Concert Hall and green room, performing and recording pieces by third year Composition Portfolio students Joe Barr, Will Duxton, Robert Maycock, Charlie Chart and myself. The afternoon ran incredibly smoothly, with an eclectic mix of duos being performed by the ensemble, written either for piano and saxophone, or electric guitar and percussion.

Ensemble Nikel    ( credit: Markus Sepperer)
Ensemble Nikel (credit: Markus Sepperer)

My piece was for Yaron and Brian and involved a poly-temporal process that involved the use of multiple simultaneous click tracks. They handed the technical aspects of the piece with ease as well as adding their own uniquely insightful views on the music. I learnt a great deal about the value of composer/performer interaction and they gave me some good advice about part writing. They then worked on Joe Barr’s piece, which involved challenges such as running across the stage during the piece and using extended electric guitar techniques. No challenge was too big for these guys! As composers, we felt as though we were working in a friendly and informal environment in which every note on the page was effortlessly taken seriously and given the time it deserves.

A particular highlight for me was hearing Will Duxton’s piece performed by Patrick and Antoine, a Theme and Variations Sonata for piano and saxophone. The skilfully sensitive and incredibly mature piece was met with delight among the performers and fellow composers. It triggered a provocative, yet refreshingly informal discussion afterwards regarding the connection between youth and composition in today’s society, led mainly by guitarist Yaron. I felt as though everybody left the room afterwards with a somewhat altered perspective on the meaning and intentions of their works as young composers.

Everybody made time to ensure that the atmosphere was always friendly and that no question couldn’t be asked. The ensemble made the effort to share frequent wise words about performing in their scene of the industry and tips on working with performers and other composers in the future. I would highly recommend working with these musicians to anyone wishing to compose for this instrumentation. They are focused, skilful and incredibly fun people to work with – I look forward to meeting them again one day hopefully.