With the LSO Soundhub Showcase just weeks away composer Robin Haigh takes us through his thinking as he developed his explorative project Twenty One Minute Pieces.
The instruments of history have always fascinated me. By the time I applied to be an LSO Soundhub member, I had already written three pieces involving historical, ‘pre-classical’ instruments (including recorders, lutes, harpsichords and viols). What I had never attempted was writing music which allows historical and modern instruments to interact, and that conversation between old and new quickly became the focus of my Soundhub project, Twenty One Minute Pieces. The goal was to discover new textures and colours by combining instruments both very old and quite new (and most things in between).
It was a quick and easy decision to select the recorder as my piece’s primary historical instrument. When writing my earlier work In Feyre Foreste for five recorder players, I had a wonderful experience collaborating with students of Royal Academy of Music and recorder soloist Tabea Debus, and I still felt there were a lot of expressive and technical discoveries to be made. So I incorporated Tabea (and a whole lot of her various instruments!) into this new piece. As for the more modern instruments, I recruited Carla Rees, who will be playing flute and microtonal bass flute, Heather Roche with E-flat, bass, and contrabass clarinets, and Paul Stoneman on a relatively modest array of drums, gongs (commandeered from the LSO’s Community Gamelan Group), blocks, and marimba.
Excerpt of In Feyre Foreste for five recorder players
Twenty One Minute Pieces took a little while to come together. I started at the beginning of January, working on and off until May of this year. That’s quite a bit longer than I would usually spend on a piece of this length. Once I had my unusual instrumentation, I turned my attention to the structure of the piece. Twenty minutes or so is a long time to be subjected to anyone’s music, and most pieces require some chopping up in order to make any sense to anyone, composer included! In the past, I probably would have done this by separating the piece into movements ranging from three to ten minutes, deeming these to be ‘acceptable’ amounts of time for a movement or unified section to be. But as I started writing the first few three to four minute movements, a rather more extreme movement division began to emerge.
I was quite sure early on that I wanted each movement to showcase a different lineup of instruments, or feature a different solo instrument. As the concept took shape, I began to imagine the piece as a kind of variety performance, and that idea ended up becoming one of my main aesthetic goals. I wanted to present a series of different ‘acts’, each one individual, some familiar and some unfamiliar, not in an attempt to create a cohesive whole, but instead to give the audience a series of little objects to peruse. In the end, the piece became more of an exploration of structure than the use of the instruments. Somehow, the creative constraint of writing for such an unusual ensemble pushed me towards experimenting with unusual forms as well.
Rehearsal recording of one of the very short movements, here for two soprano recorders (played by one Tabea Debus). Notice the masking tape on the black recorder which locks it to a specific pitch, and, less visibly, the wrist-strap which is used for a quick and safe change from two recorders to one.
I don’t want to spoil too much more about the piece. I think it’s best experienced for the first time live, so I won’t give anything else away for now. What I can say is that I’m very excited to hear these four extremely talented performers bring a work of mine to life, and I’m very grateful to the LSO Soundhub Scheme. It has supported me in pursuing such diverse ideas and aesthetics as those that will be presented by me and the three other composers on the Phase I showcase on Saturday 14 July. I hope we see you there.
An excerpt of the score to the above recording, including microtonal fingerings and stage-movement instructions for the other performers.
Hear the world premiere of Robin's piece at the LSO's Soundhub Phase I Showcase at LSO St Luke's on Saturday 14 July. Click here to find out more and book tickets
The LSO is currently recruiting for two of our composer schemes, LSO Soundhub and Jerwood Composer+. The deadline for applications is midday on Wednesday 18 July 2018. Click here to find out more and apply