Plumbing the depths: Rarescale summer school

by 5:4

It would be pretty remiss of me not to make some mention of the Rarescale summer school, which was my home and my entire focus for the entirety of last week. Rarescale is a chamber music ensemble founded by flautist Carla Rees, which specialises in new music for the deeper members of the flute family (alto, bass and, most recently, contrabass) alongside works for woodwind in general. Rarescale’s contemporary focus extends to a yearly summer school, where a small group of flautists and composers are thrown together for an intense five-day period of creation and collaboration. The composition side is overseen by Rees’ long-term collaborator (and Rarescale’s composer-in-residence) Michael Oliva, enabling composers to explore a variety of aspects of electronics alongside acoustic writing. i described the school as intense, yet the entire setup is extremely relaxed; classes are timetabled each day, but performers and composers are free to shape the week according to their needs and whatever direction seems fruitful; the only caveat being that everyone’s labours are channelled towards a Friday evening concert showcasing everyone’s work. This unavoidably leads to an acute intensity of focus, but in the best and most beneficial of ways.

This was the first time i’d attended the Rarescale summer school, but i have to say i hope it isn’t the last. It was impressive in so many ways: composers and flautists of lesser and greater experience took part, and the age range was considerable, encompassing (i would guess) at least 30 years. The range of compositional interest was also extremely wide, embracing conventional studies in variation and harmony, explorations of shape and line, interactive electronics, acousmatic soundscapes, in addition to my own highly questionable acoustic and electroacoustic shenanigans. Despite this considerable range of outlook, the inclusivity and openness shown by both composers and flautists was remarkable, creating a stimulating atmosphere in which one’s creativity could flow with complete freedom. And speaking as someone whose work has on more than one occasion led performers to, to put it mildly, pull a demurring face, the genuine interest and unflappable determination shown by the performers was extraordinary. Personally, i have to say a huge thank-you to flautists Gavin Stewart and Laura Kox, who were subjected to my new alto flute duet After St Kilda, which proved to be infinitely more daunting than i had expected—despite, or perhaps because of, its dependence on memory rather than notation—and also to Carla Rees herself, who gave a lovely rendition of the first part of my work-in-progress of the whispered deep, for contrabass flute and electronics.

The icing on the cake is the school’s location, in the heart of rural Lincolnshire at Harlaxton Manor, a building so jaw-droppingly spacious and ornate that it could well pass for the Hogwarts of the East Midlands. If it sounds like i can’t recommend the Rarescale summer school enough, i really can’t; composers and flautists of all and any persuasions would do well to consider it (full details here). And don’t be put off if your tendency is to compose slowly; for my part, this is the first time in my life i’ve written anything in under a month. Somehow, at Rarescale, stuff just happens, everything seems more possible. Rare is the word.

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