Last weekend myself and Croissants and Whiskey (the wonderfully-named ensemble I’m working with for this commission) had our first long awaited catchup, now that a few obstacles had finally cleared!
First and foremost it was lovely to be able to hang out with the group and get to know a couple of the members who are new acquaintances of mine. For an ensemble which take their name from their before/after rehearsal libations, it felt right for our collaboration to start in this informal way, and I can confirm that there were croissants present (you can see Miranda holding up one in the photo!)
At this gathering I was able to give the group my ‘elevator pitch’ as it had formed in my head over the last few months, and talk them through some of the ideas I have in mind for the piece. At this stage these ideas are quite broad and thematic, as it’s difficult to think of specific things when I’m still in the early stages of learning about these instruments!
To give you an example of what it can look like to start the process of discovering an unfamiliar instrument, Ryan (the ensemble’s recorder specialist) sent me a comprehensive document listing all the different recorders (and ocarinas!) that he plays, as well as information of what they’re capable of, and many links to recordings and demonstrations. It’s a lot to take in at first, but it’s great knowing that since this is an ongoing collaboration I can always come to Ryan with my intentions and ideas and he can help best realise them with his wealth of knowledge about his instruments.
Other ensemble members spoke about some of the important features of their instruments, and importantly how they differ from their more ‘contemporary’ versions. To give an easy example, a big difference between the G violone which Miranda plays and the modern cello is that the violone’s fingerboard has frets like a guitar. It also has 6 strings rather than 4, and is tuned completely differently!
I won’t speak about the thematic aspects of the work here, but I can say that it’s planned to be like a mini concert unto itself — multiple movements which will use different combinations of the ensemble. So, in addition to movements which use all four players there will be some duets, and perhaps trios and solos as well. I know that this will not only highlight different colour combinations within this intriguing group, but also continually energise my creativity as I go throughout this lengthy writing process. Artists often love constraints! I’m hoping for this combination of movements to add up to an overall length of 20 – 30 minutes — essentially half a concert. My favourite experiences with music are ones where I have time to really enter the world of the piece and go on a journey over an extended period of time, and my own composing in turn reflects this.
In a fun coincidence the group told me that they’d recently been saying they’d like to incorporate more duets and other smaller subsets within their programs, so this idea of mine seems to have come at the right time! Since the meeting I’ve been doing a lot of brainstorming about the overall structure of the work, and turning my attention towards the very first movement. As soon as my ideas about it became more specific a host of instrument-related questions enter my head, which I’m now aiming to have a chat with individual members about. It’s actually wonderful to have this challenge of never having written for these instruments before; it will be an ongoing process of discovery that will have a two-way relationship with the work as I write it.
I’ll be in touch soon about how things are developing!