Interface Intensive: day I’ve-lost-count, but it’s going well!

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These kinds of rehearsal/learning intensives come with their ups and downs (hey, we’re all about extremes in new music), and I’ve had my share of stress, panic, frustration, disappointment (at myself), and exhaustion this past week and a half, but yesterday we got all the way through the Donatoni without stopping for the first time and improved of our full run of the Lanza that we first trialled on the weekend. Exhilarating!

Check out some photos of our first week on the Ensemble Interface blog – taken by their cellist Christophe (and a few that I took!).

Our first performance is Friday night, and while we’ve still a way to go, I personally feel more on top of things coming into a Kupka concert than I think I have ever before. After rehearsing for 6 hours yesterday afternoon I felt surprisingly invigorated – it was the first evening I didn’t drag myself home and collapse into my bed, forcing myself not to worry about ALL THE NOTES. (There’s been rather a bit of panic practicing, impatiently trying to play passages faster than I’m ready to. But now I think I have the space to settle back and just take it slowly. I know well the sections that present the most extreme challenges for me – fourth reg F slurred to an Eb anyone? semiquavers dotted with articulated grace notes at MM100? violent! – and how I will approach them, and have Interface flautist Bettina to thank very muchly for this.)

In addition to rehearsals of our concert repertoire, this mentorship period has included a number of other extremely fruitful activities: lessons with our corresponding Interface member, workshopping some short duos by my partner Liam Flenady (he write about this on his blog), Interface workshops given at the Qld Conservatorium and University of Qld (Bettina is giving a circular breathing class at the Con this evening!), and two of what we have dubbed “Bildungsforums” – structured sessions for discussion of personal and ensemble identity and direction. So far we have had one of these, focussing on each of us as individuals, and what we think are our personal roles and talents. It was very useful to hear exactly where everyone felt they were at, the direction of their self-development and some career ambitions. Tonight we embark on our ideas of how we operate as an ensemble, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what this brings up, and how we will deal with questions of stability and ambition into the future.

This entire intensive only continues to confirm for me that this is what I most want to do, and I’m starting to feel a new layer of determination set in. I suspect I will have a lot of thinking to do as this draws to a close as to my next steps, and how I will best use my time in Europe next year (I’ll be spending at least three months in Cologne studying with Camilla Hoitenga, with the ArtStart grant I deferred from this year).

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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.