Proms 2018: pre-première questions with Suzanne Farrin and Simon Holt

Tomorrow afternoon’s Prom concert at Cadogan Hall features percussionist Colin Currie with the JACK quartet. Alongside two classic works by Xenakis, they’ll be performing two world premières, Simon Holt‘s Quadriga and Suzanne Farrin‘s Hypersea. In anticipation of these first performances, here are their answers to my pre-première questions, together with the respective programme notes for their pieces. Many thanks to Suzanne and Simon for their responses.

Suzanne Farrin

1. For anyone not yet familiar with it, could you give a brief summary of your music, i.e. characteristics, outlook, aesthetic, etc.?

Sometimes I project into my music what I wish for the world. Sometimes I project what I feel it is – with all its paradoxes, conflicts and sudden points of resonance. I also feel that I project the past, but as a living force, not as a flash-back.

2. What led to you becoming a composer? Did/does it feel like a choice?

For some reason, composing music is something I have done for as long as I can remember. My writing actually was the reason I received music lessons as a child. Music is the language that is most specific for me in terms of expressing the joy/confusion of living. I guess I sort things out in that acoustical space.

3. Where did you study? Who/what have been the most important influences on your work?

My first composition teachers were my piano teachers. They were always insecure about telling me things, but the truth is they were amazing in the way they gently opened doors for me. After that I kept going and I have a doctorate, etc., but the studying never stops for me.

4. How do you go about writing a new piece? To what extent do you start with a ‘blank slate’ and/or use existing methods/materials?

Every beginning is different, but even with purely instrumental works I usually have some sort of text that I am working with, even if it’s in secret. I slowly write away from this concrete place into something “else” that is harder to define. I always look for the irrational element in what I am doing.

5. How does the piece sit in relation to your previous work? Why did you particularly compose this piece at this time?

This piece stands out as something new for me mostly because I’ve spent the past few years working primarily with voice. In Hypersea, I’m attempting to create a visceral experience of an idea, which in this case is the theory that life on land is actually the sea folded onto itself.

6. If people really like your piece, what other music of yours would you recommend they check out?

I think my best work prior to Hypersea is dolce la morte, a short opera for chamber ensemble and counter tenor based on the love poetry of Michelangelo. A digital release of the studio recording comes out in October, and until then there are videos of the premiere available for viewing on my website.

7. What’s next?

I am taking some time to write some music only for myself before my next piece commissioned piece, which will come together during the upcoming year. I also love my life as an interpreter and find it necessary to balance the “inside voice” of my composing self. I am currently preparing two recitals with ondes Martenot for the fall-winter in New York City and Buenos Aires.

Hypersea – programme note

“Sixty to ninety percent of your bodily matter is composed of water. Water, in this sense, is an entity, individualized as that relatively stable thing you call your body. But water has other logics, other patternings and means of buoying our earthly world, too. Not least, water is a conduit and mode of connection. Just as oceanic currents convey the sun’s warmth, school of fish, and islands of degraded plastic from one planetary sea to another, our water bodies serve as material media. In an evolutionary sense, living bodies are necessary for the proliferation of what scientists Mark and Dianna McMenamin call Hypersea, which arose when life moved out of marine waters and by necessity folded a water habitat “back on itself.” Today, when you or I drink a glass of water, we amplify this Hypersea, as we sustain our existence through other “webs of physical intimacy and fluid exchange.”

A good friend of mine, Aroussiak Gabrielian, pointed me to above text by Astrida Neimanis (“Hydrofeminism: Or, On Becoming a Body of Water”) after a late-night conversation about the water in and around us. The essay turned my world upside down. What does it mean that we did not leave the ocean behind, but rather, brought it with us when life walked out of the sea? What does it mean to think that our bodies, bacteria, and most spectacularly for me, trees, are like packages of water, reaching three dimensionally across the surface of the earth, like a water planet?

In this piece, I tried to express a sense that material dissolves but does not disappear. I wished for a sound world where the sine wave-purity of the vibraphone would sink into the wood and hair of earthen string bodies. I imagined that the movements of the bow across all five players would visually display momentary synchronicities and evaporation. I dreamed of a physical realization of our undeniable connectedness: a musical hypersea.

—Suzanne Farrin

Simon Holt

1. For anyone not yet familiar with it, could you give a brief summary of your music, i.e. characteristics, outlook, aesthetic, etc.?

I find trying to describe my pieces almost impossibly difficult and when I try, it always ends up seeming rather reductive or constraining. As regards outlook, I have spent most of my creative life trying to make whatever has taken over my imagination, using music as a medium, to make it apparent, alive and as clear as possible.

2. What led to you becoming a composer? Did/does it feel like a choice?

It became more and more obvious that for me very little else would be as all consuming as writing music.

3. Where did you study? Who/what have been the most important influences on your work?

I studied at the RNCM with Anthony Gilbert. I was there for four years, but Tony was only there for about two and a half of those years as he kept disappearing off to Australia. The second year was the most productive in any case and that’s when my work and creative direction began to take shape with very many thanks to him for his excellent mentoring (as good teaching, especially Tony’s, is mostly mentoring and nurturing). I always felt and still do that he will give me a considered answer to whatever enquiry I make of him. A superb natural as a mentor and a person who understands the meaning of the word friendship. But there was also an excellent tutor at Bolton Art College where I did a year-long foundation course, who, in the simplest and most direct way imaginable, pointed out how little is needed to make an actual statement of whatever kind and that the less fat on it the better. I’m afraid I can’t remember his name, much to my eternal shame.

4. How do you go about writing a new piece? To what extent do you start with a ‘blank slate’ and/or use existing methods/materials?

I literally sit down and start at the beginning and plough on till it’s done. Sometimes I might use an element from a previous piece, especially if I want to create some kind of cycle of pieces and make a web over the top of all of them in order that they cohere. I have a handful of simple games that I bring into action that are like a kind of scaffolding, but they disappear as the ‘house’ appears.

5. How does the piece sit in relation to your previous work? Why did you particularly compose this piece at this time?

I have wanted to write another piece for Colin Currie for years since his amazingly fine performances of the percussion concerto, a table of noises, which I dedicated to him. The JACK quartet also threw themselves into my 3rd Quartet with a kind of unleashed abandon that took my breath away. The idea of the combination of the two elements was almost beyond exciting. It also helped that they said yes, despite it not being a commission, but all thanks to the Proms directors for also saying yes to giving it a première in Cadogan Hall.

6. If people really like your piece, what other music of yours would you recommend they check out?

I would suggest that they consider listening to some of the NMC CDs that have appeared over the years, but I personally only ever listen to live performances of my pieces as I’m infinitely more interested in hearing the latest interpretations. This can sometimes mean that I have to wait quite a few years.

7. What’s next?

Very good question. With luck a commission might come my way, although its been a while. I wrote five pieces last year and did eventually manage to place most of them. One lives in hope. I’ve started two things . . .

Quadriga – programme note

I had wanted to write another piece for Colin Currie for some time after finishing a table of noises, the percussion concerto which I wrote for him and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in 2006/7, the première of which was a remarkable event to say the least. One of the finest musicians alive and now a great friend, Colin is somebody I hope always to be able to write for. Factoring in the idea of writing another piece for the JACK quartet after hearing them première my 3rd Quartet in early 2015 to devastating effect, was like some extraordinary chemical reaction, which I found difficult to contain. I’ve wanted to write a piece about the idea of a quadriga since seeing the Eileen Agar painting (with the same title) years ago. Her painting takes the form of a panel split into four sections each with the profile of a horse’s head of exactly the same shape, but each one elaborated in a completely unique way.

A quadriga (in classical mythology) comprises four horses abreast drawing a chariot. Apollo’s quadriga was often depicted bringing daylight or banishing the night. Quadriga may refer to the chariot alone, the four horses without it, or the combination. Each of the four pieces has, as a subtitle, the name of a move in dressage. The idea of dressage helped me to keep the music in the air as much as possible; I at no point wanted it to settle, but to be always turbulent and on the move. The shape of the piece is as follows: four movements; 1] (Levade) solo marimba (with sparse interjections from the quartet; 2] (Croupade) the quartet (with interjections from the percussion); 3] (Ballotade) three members of the quartet entirely in pizzicato with low marimba and then 4] (Capriole) an extended, unleashed fantasy which revisits previous elements from the piece.

The piece lasts approximately 16′.

—Simon Holt

Posted on by 5:4 in Interviews, Proms
Tags: , , ,

Add a Comment

Anti-Spam Quiz:

%d bloggers like this: