Loevendie, Toensing and Tuur – oh my!!

March 26th, 2011

Ladies and gentlemen, we are off. In ten days (oh dear Lord!), Laila, Julia and I are boarding a plane for Amsterdam to take part in the 2011 Gaudeamus International Interpreters Award – a competition that seems to fit us hand in glove being, as it is, one that is geared towards the performance of music of the 20th and 21st centuries.

The lovely Laila and Julia have just left my house after a day of intensive rehearsals. I don’t know if it was the chilli pecorino cheese and peppercorn pate I provided as sustenance, if it was the delirium induced by playing the opening bars of Bruno Mantovani’s ‘L’Ere de Rien’ approximately 107 times consecutively (‘we can get it better on the 108th, we can!’), or even if it was the mild amusement at seeing Julia have to continually piece her instrument together with masking tape, but by the end of our marathon session we were laughing heartily and emboldened by the day’s efforts. “We’ve turned a corner!” I announced, perhaps prematurely. “Great – write a blog”, Julia responded with characteristic drollness. Which leads me back to you, ladies and gentlemen, and our trip to Holland.

It’s been a long road up to this point. Fulfilling the repertoire requirements in itself was like trying to complete a challenging Su-do-ku (‘There must be at least 6 pieces, but no more than 80 minutes worth of music, with all but one piece written after 1945, but at least 3 written after 2002, and 5 must have an ‘i’ as the second letter of the third word of their title, unless the title is less than three words in which case subtract the number you first thought of and, hey presto, all the rows and columns will magically add up to 67!’). Then there was ordering the repertoire from the four corners of the globe so we could begin learning it. With modern music this process is actually a lot of fun, often involving interactions with still living composers who brush off old pieces, revise them, and even provide us with recordings of past performances! In our case, we were actually lucky enough to have a composer write a piece especially for us, ensuring that at least one of our works for Gaudeamus will not be doubled-up on by any other group!

Then, of course, there’s learning the notes. Criminy. So many notes. We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto, and there’s no room here for anything that doesn’t seem to stretch us to our musical, technical and temperamental ends. Our families, loved ones and work colleagues deserve a medal in this regard:

“Um… is your instrument broken?” asked Julia’s work colleague as she practised a section in quarter-tones.

“Oh, there’s only two people in this practise room. Sounds like about 20,” said someone to Laila and Julia as they blared out a third-register screechy passage in rhythmic unison.

“Um… do you actually *like* that piece?” asked the lovely C as I struggled valiantly through a particular passage at half-speed, cursing all the while.

It took us four hours to read through the first piece as a trio at our first rehearsal, with said piece lasting for ten minutes. Many more hours have gone in since then with many more swears, possibly a bit of crying, definitely a lot of laughter, a couple of bottles of wine, lots of nice cheese and, most gratifyingly, the process of seeing this wonderful, complex, emotional and multi-faceted music gradually take on a life of its own and reside within us. Whatever the outcome of this competition, preparing for it has irrevocably changed us for the better. Someone far smarter than me once said that “life isn’t the destination, it’s the journey”. And I guess that’s certainly true – even if the destination is as somewhere as awesomely funky as Amsterdam.

For those of you who are interested, we are going to make a video blog of our time in Holland at the Gaudeamus competition, and we’ll keep you updated with regular tweets – become a follower of Syzygyensemble on Twitter if you aren’t already!

And for those of you who are as nerdy as us and want to know our entire playlist for the comp, here it is:

* Jennifer Higdon: Dash (a five-minute zing of hectic virtuosity)

* Piet Ketting: Trio Sonata (Ravel meets Hindemith for a night on the ballroom floor)

* Andreas Kunstein: Almost a Tango (a complex deconstruction of a famous dance form)

* Theo Loevendie: Plus One (Inspired by experimental free jazz)

* Bruno Mantovani: L’ere de Rien (‘The Age of Nothing’ – a 21st century masterpiece. Our Everest)

* Ron Mazurek: A Time To… (Based on the reading from Ecclesiastes, with spooky CD accompaniment)

* Richard Toensing: Children of the Light (if George Crumb and John Williams had a baby…)

* Erki Sven-Tuur: Architectonics VII (heavy metal for bass clarinet)

Watch for selections of these pieces in our upcoming Oz concerts when we return – and see you all soon!!

Yours in anticipation of great cheese,
Leigh :)

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