Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Charlotte New Music Festival, USA - Day 1 (properly this time)

So I made it to Charlotte, safe and sound, if not a little groggy and tired from a long days travel - and man, does the heat hit you when you get off that plane! Right now the average temperature is around 35C every day, so it's taking a little bit of getting used to!
- That being said, I had an excellent first night in Charlotte - I was met off the plane by a fellow workshop composer (Daniel Choi), and subsequently we were picked up by another one (Jeff Nicholas) - and once we were all checked in at the dorms, a group of us decided to go get to know each other over a couple of pints and some BBQ chicken wings. What an introduction to Charlotte and the festival!

Home for the next two weeks
For the run of the course I'm staying in a dorm at the Queens University Charlotte (QUC), and I
must say, it is so idyllic. Charlotte, as far as cities go, is incredibly green and the buildings are rather beautiful in themselves. Lots of typical southern housing, like something out of a Tennessee Williams play: rocking chairs on the porch, swing-seats on the lawn, it is a completely new atmosphere to be in. And speaking of new, a completely new experience for me was being surrounded by fireflies walking through the campus at night. Definitely found some imagery inspiration there!

Now that's a good thinking spot if ever I saw one...
Most of the sessions are taking place in the Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC), which in itself is another really lovely building, with great facilities. Our welcome session began with all of us introducing ourselves: who we are, what we do, where we're from and why we got into composing, and other little anecdotes like hobbies - which, apparently for composers, Netflix is a common theme..... that, and cats. I have also established myself as the 'token Brit', with my cute accent and reels of sarcasm, which all seems to be going down a treat. And, because there is actually another Lydia on the course, I am now affectionately known as 'Lydia with an accent' - which I doubly love because of the delicious musical pun!
- Continuing the initial presentation the three program directors gave us brief insights into their musical works and compositional styles. Adam Scott Neal demonstrated the bizarre side of composing with a showreel of his works (which you can watch for yourself here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7M7wQaowX40), including a piece of 'resonating spaces' which involved spinning objects in other objects to make it induce feedback - all rather unique, and equally entertaining, but I think the highlight of his presentation was his live performance of a piece for Toy Piano, something I now immediately want to add to my ever growing collection of musical instruments. A truly unique sounding instrument (and very cute and silly to look at) this is definitely something I want to explore musically. Elizabeth Kowalski then presented her work to us, focusing on her writing for film and dance, but also the way she got into orchestration, which was arranging pop/rock songs for orchestra. I'm not sure why I've not done something like this myself yet, as I'm a big fan of rock music, and I'd personally love to see the Guernsey Symphony Orchestra play some Led Zepplin or Slayer! Or even a large scale concert with a local rock band and orchestra, I could absolutely arrange, or even write music for that. Something to think about for the future, absolutely! The final presentation of the morning was David Schneider, who's music, I would say, resonated with me most. He talked about his love of Baroque music and the way he likes to infuse that with more modern techniques (something I've done quite a bit of in my composing), and the absolute cherry on the cake of the shown works was a 'Mathematical Rock Song', using orchestral and pop instruments, and a set text by Euclid, the 3rd Century BC Greek Mathematician - both equal parts genius and insanity - just my cup of tea! (Have a listen for yourself here: http://davidschneidermusic.com/compositions/elements)

Yes, this is a proper instrument and people write for it!
The afternoons presentation feature the Beo String Quartet, one of the professional groups who will be performing as part of the festival, and performing new works written by the composers in the workshop. It was really great to be able to talk in-depth with a professional group like this, not just about writing for a string quartet, but the nitty-gritty of performance techniques, especially as an ensemble. It's something all groups, classical and popular music would actually benefit from doing: really scrutinising the way each member of the group plays something, be it note-length, articulation, vibrato, sustain or dynamics. Care and attention to detail like that, as demonstrated by the Beo String Quartet really do make a profound different to the sound of the music, and it's things like that which take music, and a performance, from being great to exceptional.

It's been an excellent first day at the composers workshop: a gentle start, which I am sure is not going to last for long. And, it's safe to say I am really enjoying myself. This is a really beautiful city, and I'm surrounded by fun and talented people - can't wait to see what the rest of the workshop brings :)