Tuesday 8 December 2015

OPUS2016 Instrument Focus Session

On Friday 4 December, OPUS2016 shortlisted composers met with musicians from Britten Sinfonia and composer Julian Phillips to discuss their first drafts and sketches and to explore the idiomatic techniques of each instrument in the piano trio they have been writing for. James Hoyle and Emma Wilde share their experience…

Last Friday was the first workshop for Britten Sinfonia’s OPUS2016 scheme, and was the first opportunity to meet Britten Sinfonia musicians, mentors, and of course my fellow composers. Although each composer approached the workshop in their own way, my own plan was to compose a number of short fragments of contrasting materials from which the final piece will be assembled. It was an extremely useful (if luxurious!) experience to be able to hear my materials in the flesh so early on in the composition process, as it not only allows me to fix problems and elaborate on successes, but being confronted with sound allows me to step away from the notes on the page, and to treat the materials with greater freedom.

I was fortunate to work with three musicians (Marcus Barcham-Stevens, violin; Ben Chappell, cello; Huw Watkins, piano) who approached everyone’s work with considerable understanding and virtuosity, and they were readily able to offer useful suggestions as to how I might be able to better realise my ideas on their respective instruments. As a composer it was such a pleasure to work with musicians who are so able and supportive, and I feel this has given me greater confidence to take risks with my materials, whilst also writing idiomatically for the instruments. When writing with specific players in mind, I often find that the unique playing styles of those musicians deeply informs the music I compose, even acting as a form of muse. For me, among the most important aspects of the day was being able to familiarise myself with them, and being able to do so with my own music was particularly informative.

James Hoyle, OPUS2016 shortlisted composer
I really enjoyed the initial workshop day with Britten Sinfonia musicians and Julian Philips. Often as composers we don't get the opportunity to test out ideas with musicians at the start of the composition process and now I have heard how my initial ideas sound I have a better understanding of how I can develop these ideas into a full 5 minute piece for the January workshop. The musicians were very helpful and were willing to respond to any questions we had. I realised that some ideas were working really well, for example using the piano's resonance to complement the sustained sound of the strings and this is something I can now take advantage of and develop further. On the other hand, I realised that sometimes I had misjudged the use of the piano's pedal and can now change this for the final draft.

Another aspect of the day that was particularly interesting was getting the chance to hear the other shortlisted composers' music and have a group discussion session with Julian Philips where we presented our ideas and offered each other thoughts and advice. It was interesting to see that we had all had issues concerning how to approach composing for piano trio due to the 'historical baggage' associated with this ensemble (due to the amount of great works written for this combination) and the problematic issues of composing for piano. However, I think that after this session we all went away with more ideas for how to compose effectively for this ensemble and for how to turn our initial fragments into full pieces.

Emma Wilde, OPUS2016 shortlisted composer

OPUS2016 shortlisted composers will be presenting their works in January 2016 for two days of workshops at the Barbican in London, with discussions and performances of the pieces these composers have been working on. Find out more and how to reserve your place here.

No comments: