Interface Intensive: Day one

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So! Ensemble Interface have arrived in Australia (as of last Wednesday, when I met them in Sydney – they gave a wonderful workshop at Sydney Con and then we flew up to Brisbane on Friday evening) and today marked the formal beginning of our two week intensive. During this time we will be rehearsing together a number of new and more established Italian works and two brand new pieces by emerging Australian composers Michael Mathieson-Sandars and Luke Paulding.

We’re working together courtesy of a JUMP Mentorship (a joint initiative of the Australia Council for the Arts and Next Wave), and as such Interface will be ‘mentors’ to Kupka’s Piano for this two week period, guiding us through the music they are very familiar with – such as Donatoni’s Arpège and Maderna’s Honeyrêves – and the learning process for fresh works. In two weeks we’ll have some twenty rehearsals, along with discussion sessions exploring ensemble identity, organisational questions, solutions to current and anticipated issues, and showing them some of what we think are the most exciting things happening in contemporary Australian composition. It’s going to be, well, intense, but also freaking incredible. At the end we’re performing our co-designed program twice, on September 27 and 28 at the Judith Wright Centre.

Today was the first day we all got together – Kupka’s and Interface around the one table – and talked through the pieces we’ll be playing and how we will make this period best work for all of us. As we started our rehearsals, their response to one of our questions really stuck with me (for reasons that will become immediately apparent). One of the major hurdles with playing this repertoire is the limited time allowed for preparation compared to the sheer difficulty of what is to be achieved – whether because of late submission by a composer or limited funds to hire scores in advance or other time constraints and commitments – and when asked how to deal with this, Interface members Anna, Bettina, Christophe and Agnieszka gave a clear and considered reply:

Working from the score provides the best opportunity for full collaboration, as in chamber music (with or without conductor) it is vitally important to know who is doing what when. This might mean practicing from the score and marking up your part for rehearsals (for practical reasons), or doing a full cut-and-paste score. When working in a limited time frame, efficiency comes from clarity, therefore making definite decisions together as a group and clearly marking them from the beginning saves a great deal of time. There is also a hierarchy to what musical elements need to be strong by the first rehearsal, and in particular rhythm and dynamics are the priorities. As there are some difficulties that will take time to practice in (such as microtonal/other alternative fingerings, or many runs in unfamiliar patterns), focussing instead on these two key elements means that ensemble work can meanwhile begin. Confidence, however is key – play ‘wrong and strong’! Being unsure renders you useless.

For me this was driven home by our first rehearsal of Mauro Lanza’s Skin of the Onion – as the work is really quite considerate of the performer and involves a great deal of repetition, I have put it a little way down my list of practice priorities. A little too far down, as it turns out, as I was most definitely unsure when we came to rehearse the work this morning. Worrying about whether I was putting down the right fingers or how to angle my air to make the multiphonic speak meant my rhythm and attention to dynamics was compromised. I felt disappointed in myself and quite under-confident, which of course fed back and contributed further. I didn’t play appallingly, but I wasn’t really there in the rehearsal in a way that best contributed to the ensemble. On the other hand, I now have a very clear idea of what I need to do in order to be better readied for rehearsal #2, especially after also spending a brief session with Bettina this evening checking all my bass flute techniques and working to increase the volume I could give on the instrument.

In the Donatoni we worked firstly Kupka’s-only for one hour, before being joined by all four Interfaces. I personally was more on top of the sections we worked on (although I’m quaking in my boots thinking about what will happen when we get to bar 207!), as was much more able to play an active role in the rehearsal. Even when the tempo pushed beyond what I felt I could do in terms of clean sound production, I was definitely able to play ‘wrong and strong’ in a way that was ‘right’ for this stage of rehearsing! We did, however, decide that for the next rehearsal Interface members will sit in from the beginning, as they know the work so well and can offer us a great deal as we work through each segment.

One more thing before I end this post – I’m not sure there are lovelier people in all the world than these wonderful musicians, and it is a true honour to work with them. Just about every project I have been involved in with musicians who play contemporary art music has been especially rewarding on account of their generousity and friendliness, which for me has really driven home that this is the right path for me to pursue in music, but these four seem to have taken that to an all new level. This is a very, very exciting time.

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