There has been a short period of silence from the ‘Bog-blog’ primarily due to the intensity of this noisy festival schedule of back-to-back rehearsals and a concert each day. It’s unrelenting but here is a recollection of the past few days which have seemed to me much longer than just “a few days.”
I will start with Pangkur, a piece selected from the ‘Call for Scores’ submissions by Juro Kim Feliz. When I first received this piece I looked at it, trying to decipher its language of notation, with arrows from instrumental line to instrumental line and changes from piccolo to alto flute. I was so incredibly in awe at how it had been scored as I had never approached anything like it before. The scoring was reminiscent of Crumb (many logical spaces in relativity to other parts) but involved many more indications. Pangkur is originally intended to be for sextet of piano and percussion on stage with the quartet (flute (alto and piccolo), clarinet (Bb and Bass), violin and violoncello) offstage. The quartet is without measured time whilst the duo is written using metre and is conducted. Whilst both components form the piece, they may be performed independently of each other, that is as just a quartet or a duo. For the festival we performed the quartet which certainly alleviated the challenge of having to coordinate with a conducted part on the other side of the hall. We still performed offstage, playing on the balcony with the hall lights off. This piece which had previously made me question how on earth I would pull it off revealed itself to be a work of incredible nuance and beauty. Whilst I did miss the beautiful complexity of the interactions between the two ensemble groups of the piece, particularly the vocalisations in the percussion and piano parts the quartet stood as a complete work in itself. It was such a pleasure to put it together as well as perform and premiere the quartet in the presence of the composer who was overjoyed to hear it’s premiere as a quartet. Jonathan, the violinist I have been working with during the festival expressed that he wanted to perform the piece again in LA where he lives. Who knows, I may just be coming back to America sometime soon…
HAVE A LOOK AT SOME OF THE HIGHLIGHTS FROM CONCERT 5.
Working with living composers on their works is always such a privilege. It gives insight into the character of the composer as well as immediate feedback and communication which is an integral part of realising their musical language and expression. I have been in awe of Nief-Norf’s commitment to contacting living composers and communicating with them in regards to pieces of theirs which we are performing at the festival and even inviting them to listen to their works being rehearsed and performed. Another instance of working with a living composer during this festival was in Nox by Drew Baker. Like Juro, Drew arrived on the day of performance to give some final notes and any tweaks to how we were executing the parts of the score. This piece was another exploration of the space of the concert hall. It is written for four groups: stage, centre, left and right hall. Each group has their own set of sections which are cued by the conductor and each section corresponds to new musical idea or material which builds off the previous idea. This was an incredibly straightforward work to put together and it was made so much easier through the way it was scored in ‘sections’ of sound ideas. It was certainly one of lesser demanding works in regards to note content. The works to come certainly demanded more time and attention.
HAVE A LOOK AT SOME OF THE HIGHLIGHTS FROM CONCERT 6.
stacking sound: a trombone, alto flute and piccolo, oboe and cor anglais, makeshift celesta and a battery of percussion…
I’ve always wanted to play Feldman. When I first received the score for Instruments I (1974) I found myself straining my eyes to distinguish between minims and crotchets as the notation program had kindly printed them with as much distinction as the facial features of an ant. Feldman’s writing is so incredibly idiomatic and intricately explores how timbres of each instrument combine to form a new compound timbre. Flutes, oboes, trombone, celesta and percussion? A unlikely combination of instruments which each suffer from being characteristically obvious. All is intended to be “extremely quiet” in Instruments I (and a large majority of his other works) with a focus on the sustain of sound rather than on the initial attack. Personally, I found this piece an exercise in heightened awareness of focus in sound, sustain, rhythm and timbral blend. Third octave alto flute is a challenge to execute especially at a more delicate dynamic as I often find that the timbre of alto flute is characteristically rich in harmonics and at that register a pianissimo sustain becomes rather difficult. The piece served as a wonderful exercise to explore the physical commitment required to execute such demands and I must say my alto flute tone truly evolved. This piece gave me the opportunity to focus on tone quality in for auxiliary instruments which often don’t receive the careful attention to nuance of tone and colour which I invest in my concert flute.
On another note, the reason I said makeshift Celesta was because we did not have access to a real celeste so we used a keyboard with a celeste patch instead. It did the job just like the real thing, just with less physical majesty.
The concert seven recap can be found below. This concert also featured Static by Vanessa Tomlinson, who had convened the Queensland Conservatorium New Music ensemble and is my primary new music mentor. It is a great piece with plenty of sandpaper action and lots of great percussion sounds and actions.
…I use my mouth as a mouthpiece…
Concert eight was THE CONCERT. It was certainly the most demanding for me and contained two of the pieces which I had invested an enormous amount of time and commitment into. The Erin Gee and the Kaija Saariaho. It was an undeniably cathartic and noisy evening.
I use my mouth as a mouthpiece. This is a direct reference to Erin Gee’s Mouthpiece 28 and her mouthpiece compositions which utilise the voice as “an instrument of sound production.” Scored for voice, bass flute, bass clarinet, violin and percussion the piece is highly interwoven and is truly a work of chamber music. So much of the piece is dependent on the interplay of different instruments with different voices filling in the gaps to form the piece that is Mouthpiece 28. I had a wonderful time playing bass flute. I rarely have the opportunity to do so in Australia as I do not have access to a usable instrument. The bass flutes at the Queensland Conservatorium are mouldy and are not the right instruments to be executing new and experimental music on as this music demands a lot of contact with the instrument (breathing in and through the instrument, tongue rams and other highly specific actions which require hygienic instruments as to not contract disease from the last 100 players who did not have cleaning cloths and swabs provided and left tuna sandwich residue which has fermented over two years). Ok, I am aware that this is highly graphic but I have smelt tuna residue in the communal flutes before. I was thankful to have Lisa Cella bring the bass flute from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. This flute looks gold (it’s actually brass but still so very impressive in appearance) and is so responsive and easy to play. It also didn’t give me extreme wrist pain but that was mainly because I was wise enough to support it with a chair during rehearsals. My flute teacher, Virginia Taylor once gave me a stern warning that if she ever saw me practice bass or alto flute without the support of a chair she would come into my practice room and lecture me on my lack of sensibility. I have truly taken this advice to heart.
Gee’s Mouthpiece 28 was a pleasure to perform. It was a privilege to perform alongside Felicia Chen once again especially in a piece where the flute player has to match the nuance and character of the intricate and highly quirky vocal part. The ensemble members Jonathan Tang, Alexandra Hecker and Kevin Zetina were so incredibly easy to work with and made a piece with complex rhythms and constant time signature changes less intimidating. Also our wonderful conductor (and professional cellist) Ashley Walters was the bedrock of the ensemble and made all the changes in time signature incredibly clear.
…how to put together a concerto in three days…
Taken from her flute concerto, Kaija Saariaho’s ‘Terrestre‘ is a piece which maintains the demands of a flute concerto but is scored for a smaller ensemble of solo flute, violin, violoncello, harp and percussion. When I first received the email that I was playing this piece I remember feeling my stomach do a huge backflip. I stood up, approached my CD shelf and took out Claire Chase‘s album Terrestre and listened. I received the sheet music for the piece the week before the Nief-Norf festival and was so incredibly thankful to receive guidance from Hannah Reardon-Smith on executing double trills and the spoken lines. I had to start learning this piece immediately because I knew Terrestre is one of the monumental contemporary flute works and all the praying to the bird gods would not make it any easier. It is a truly unrelenting piece but so undeniably rewarding.
I had thought the piece was programmed for the last concert of the festival, the marathon concert and felt that this was somewhat ample time to really have the work solid under the fingers. However, when I discovered that the performance had been moved to concert eight (Wednesday 20th) my jaw dropped. I felt like I needed Lisa more than ever but she had departed form the festival to prepare for the Soundscapes Festival in Italy (I certainly will be applying for this next year!). I was left to my own devices, just my flute, a practice room, my metronome, my manuscript and I with limited time to put together this large and demanding work. Help did come and I was privileged to have Jennifer Ellis arrive for week two of the festival to coach the Saariaho chamber group. She was suprised that they had not assigned the work to a flute player who had played it previously, but none of the three of us flutes at the festival had ever played it before. Jennifer had played it before with Claire Chase so she knew the exact demands of the piece especially from the perspective of a chamber player. She had done it unconducted and expected that we would too but also said that it was unusual and most unheard of to perform this piece after only three days of rehearsals. So Ashley Walters became our conductor rather last minute and that was when the ensemble was able to truly make music. What I mean by this is that we had previously been so caught up in trying to stay together as an ensemble and by having a conductor we were able to have that grounding and focus on the intricacy of Saariaho’s musical narrative.
The ensemble was such a pleasure to work with and their solidity as an ensemble made the piece a lot easier to put together. I was absolutely stoked to get to work with two-thirds of the other members the Pangkur ensemble, cellist Ashlee Booth and Jonathan Tang on violin. I was lucky to be joined by Kevin Zetina on percussion in the same concert and play with the harpist Celia van den Bogert for the first time in the festival.
We waited to go on stage. The self-made mohawk man opened the doors and we assumed our places. A purple light bathed the stage and I could feel a fiery intensity. L’oiseau dansant was about to appear, dance and set the stage ablaze and then ascend to the satellites above…
Terreste is so infused with lush colours and narratives. As an ensemble we decided on stories to match with Saariaho’s adjectives dappled throughout the work. I was so overjoyed when after the perfomance audience members and peers expressed how they felt that a story was unravelling on stage that they felt enraptured and entranced. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so much energy in one room. Whilst there are elements of my performance that I felt I could have done better (as I always feel with all performances I ever do!) I felt that I was not choked by nerves and that I was free to express, to enjoy and dance. IMy vocalisations alongside the flute line felt heightened and I found myself feeling like thirteen minutes had been swallowed up in my very first breath. It went by so quickly.
I want to play this work again. I want to play it many more times and share Saariaho’s wonderful and strange musical language. She knows how to write for the flute and I want to keep playing and sharing her works. Now that I have learnt and had my first performance of Terrestre I will seek out an ensemble of musical friends to play this when I return to Australia. I am so very thankful to the Nief-Norf Summer Music Festival for having programmed this challenging work (although it gave me quite the scare!). After the performance, Jennifer came up to me and said that this work is a favourite to program in concert and now that I have leant and performed it I will have the opportunity to do so again and again. So it turns out that this work will be on my concerto and repertoire artillery alongside the notoriously requested Mozart concertos. It has imparted on me a fiery intensity that I will revisit again and again. I look forward to also hearing how it evolves in future performances.
You can listen to some snippets of Concert eight below. They cut out the very opening of the Saariaho so it’s contextually a bit odd but I’ll post the full video once that has been published.
The remaining days of the festival are rather quiet for me. Tomorrow I am performing one of the composer fellow pieces, Arithmetic by Jonathan Newmark and then on Sunday I will be performing Injunctions by Christopher Burns in the marathon concert. Tomorrow night I’ll also be doing Sharehouse I again in a late night ‘Norf-Space’ performance. And on Sunday I’ll be attending the Knoxville Pridefest to stand in solidarity with the LGBTQIA+ community. Hopefully I’ll also get the chance to explore Knoxville a little further and maybe even the Smoky Mountains before I leave.
Till next time.