Our first public performance of the piece was on Friday 13th May at the Guildhall. Several rehearsals had taken place before, and Dan and Stephen had even performed their 'movement' in a Platform, a time allocated for students to perform in front of their peers, with great success. The pre-concert run was a rushed and slightly bodged affair (for me anyway!) leaving us with a slight sense of dread. However, thanks to my sudden ability to count, the real thing ran fine, both Dan and I beginning to expand on our 'characters' dramatically and musically.
The audience's reaction seemed positive but there is still work to do before the main event on the 26th at the Wigmore Hall. Now all of our efforts need to concentrate on the finer details that will really bring the piece to life. We will get one more warm-up attempt at the Society of New Music concert on Monday 23rd May at the Guildhall, which I think is particularly useful. Every performance we do, something will inevitably change or adapt which is interesting but also useful for making the piece the best that it can be.
We decided we wanted to make a site-specific work, and the best way to do that was by investigating the history of the Wigmore Hall.
A little googling soon turned up an interesting and contested history, as the Wigmore Hall was originally the Bechstein Hall, built as a showcase for the Bechstein pianos sold next door. During the First World War, the company and hall was taken over as an enemy interest, and sold at a knock-down price to Debenhams, of all people. It soon re-opened with a new name.
Visiting the Royal College of Music's Centre for Performance History, we found some interesting materials in their archives, including the programme notes for a concert held exactly 100 years before our Wigmore performance, on the 26th May 1911, in the Bechstein Hall. One of the pieces was the overture to a comic operetta by Wolf-Ferrari, The Secret of Suzanne. Other scraps we gathered included synopses of Theosophic lectures, amazing examples of graphic design, comedic skits, and promotional materials for the Bechstein companies.
They don't make pianos like this any more:
Exploring an interest in found text:
Donna and Dan made some rhythmical fragments, and I used these to produce a couple of texts. Listening to Donna tapping out a rhythm, I hit a stop-watch in time with the taps. I used the numbers produced to select words from a Thomas Campion poem, and then cut these up, figuring some of them as lyrics and some as performance directions:
Pale to farre eyes with
And starke what the Pilgrimage
whose faine lift seale
[in an agonie]
an powt – lovely
Thus slip now discerne
Loves or Such is
Meeting one took place in the Fix coffee house and we used it to get to know each other and how to begin, over a coffee (or hot chocolate).
The thing that most interested me about Jamie’s work was his use of found material. This is something I am currently exploring in a piece for ob. vla. perc. and pno. entitled The Night Goes Out and Under. I was interested in this piece to use found material in a Bergian sense (e.g. Wozzeck), as if it were a ghostly memory of past events. There are also many other ways to explore found material, but the question of originality is always present. I plan to further explore Jamie’s use of found material because when used well it can make for very interesting results.
We decided to go away with tasks that we set ourselves. Dan and Donna were to go away and devise a rhythm which Jamie and I would work with, more on that later. Jamie and I were to find items relevant to the discussion and display it at meeting two.
Meeting two took place at GSMD. I started by giving examples of composers who had implemented found material in ways I found most striking. The first was John Adams On the Transmigration of Souls (2002) a piece written to commemorate the 9/11 attacks. He sets the missing posters which cover ground zero in New York, the piece is best described by Adams himself: “Transmigration means ‘the movement from one place to another’ or ‘the transition from one state of being to another.’ But in this case I meant it to imply the movement of the soul from one state to another. And I don’t just mean the transition from living to dead, but also the change that takes place within the souls of those that stay behind, of those who suffer pain and loss and then themselves come away from that experience.”.
The second piece I played was the third movement from Luciano Berio’s Sinfonia (1968-69) - In ruhig fliessender Bewegung. Pretty much the whole piece is found material, and takes passages from pieces ranging from Beethoven to Boulez, Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Ravel, Berio himself and many more. and the text is taken largely from Samuel Beckett, James Joyce and Berio’s diary. The genius of the movement is the way Berio weaves them together, using the Scherzo from Mahler’s 2nd symphony. Berio describes the movement as a depicting the “Voyage to Cythera”; a boat full of gifts journeying through a historical musical landscape.
Jamie brought some of his own work, but he also introduced us to some poets and poems which he is most struck by. I’m afraid my ignorance was such that I did not fully understand the things he showed. One thing that did strike me was a recording on ubuweb.com of Ezra Pound reading some of his own work. It was amazing how musical the recitation was, not unlike Schoenberg’s sprechstimme.
Donna and Dan both brought in the rhythms they had devised and I have taken some of Jamie’s work (one published book that I’m very impressed with) and I will set a short amount of it for solo voice using Donna’s rhythm as a starting point. I hope this will give some idea to the group of how I work compositionally.
I will comment further on Jamie’s poetry as I read more of what he has leant me, but the small amount I have so far read is very striking. Intelligent, witty and at the same time very moving.