What does a taxi driver, an architect, an insurance clerk, and a fungus collector have in common? Read on for the answer…
When asked to curate this season’s concert with pianist Ian Pace, it felt right to celebrate the great Xenakis’ 100th birthday, which was in May 2022. Xenakis is known for writing music with exceptional demands on performers and his solo piano works are no exception to this. As a listener, for me Xenakis’ music is not a style I have particularly warmed to, given its demand on the ear through its seemingly controlled chaos. Xenakis applied his mathematical skills to his music, which is evident in his polyrhythmic writing leading to almost unachievable performance goals, particularly in pieces like Evryali and Herma. Another good example of this is Mists, which will kick-off the programme. There is no doubt that the formidable Ian Pace will fulfil the brief and deliver an astonishing performance.
The challenge here-forth, as with any concert programming, was to try and create a contrasting and appealing programme and if possible, to create a theme to entice an audience and tie everything together. This got my grey matter working. Xenakis started life as an architect. I was also asked to write a piece for the concert and my day job is an insurance claims handler (okay, I might be giving the answer to my question now). What if I programmed a concert with music by composers who either started life in another profession or those who continue to work in another profession whilst moonlighting as a composer?
This naturally led me to composers Philip Glass (plumber and New York taxi driver), Morton Feldman (who worked in his parents’ clothes factory), Charles Ives (a fellow insurance clerk), and finally John Cage (a graphic designer and fungus collector (mycologist)). Choosing these composers’ works naturally led to an eclectic mix of musical styles, providing contrast to Xenakis’ ‘dense’ musical landscapes from Feldman’s sparsely noted Extension 3, a witty selection of Ive’s short piano works, to Cage’s ethereally meditative In a Landscape.
The last piece in this eclectic ‘mix-tape’ is my new piece, Neon, commissioned for the concert. I suppose the piece aesthetically lies (loosely) between Feldman and Glass. Much of my recent work uses minimalist visual art as a creative stimulus as a starting point. In this case, I have used the work of Dan Flavin, known for his visually spectacular light sculptures. Flavin referred to his pieces as “situations”, that being his intention to create an all-encompassing experience. My interpretation of a “situation”, is to take a singular musical idea, and to get as much material out of this as possible to create a larger musical landscape. I use three simple ideas which repeat in various ways throughout the piece. The piano’s sustain pedal is held down for the entirety of the piece, which for me paired with the chosen musical materials, simulates a shimmering and reverberating light, as Flavin’s works flooded light within the spaces they inhabited.
If the above tickles your pickle, spread the news with your plumber or your taxi driver at the end of a night out and grab yourselves a ticket! I will also be giving the informal pre-concert talk at 6.45pm, but don’t expect any insurance advice…
(Oh, the answer to my question…you guessed it, they’re all composers!)