Alex Groves on preparing for the LSO Soundhub Showcase: 'Composition has to be collaborative'

Alex Groves sat on a bench

One of the multiple premieres we'll hear in this Saturday's Soundhub Showcase is Curved Form (No. 23) by Alex Groves. A former Member and now Associate of the LSO's scheme supporting early-career composers, Alex reveals what the final preparations before the concert will be for a piece that, before this week, he's never heard before!


'I've found myself in the slightly surreal and very exciting position of having a new piece premiered in an actual concert with a live audience! After over a year away from the concert hall, it's a strange feeling knowing that a piece of mine is finally going to see the light of day, and that I've got to get back into the flow of preparing a work for performance.

Curved Form (No. 23) will get its first outing as part of the LSO Soundhub Showcase at LSO St Luke's on Saturday 17 July. The piece was originally written for a call for scores run by a string quartet and, for this gig, I've adapted it for two violins and two cellos. What's odd about the piece is that I've never heard it before! I'll have one rehearsal with the musicians in advance of the gig, a soundcheck on the day and then it's the premiere.

It's quite a daunting prospect imagining the piece going from dots and lines on the page to a fully-realised performance in such a short amount of time. Having not heard it before, I don't yet know whether the things I've written will create the effects I wanted. The piece plays around a lot with timbre (or sound colour) and there's lots of subtle shifts and gradual transformations that I've yet to hear live.

 

Curved Form No.23 Alex Groves 

It's always an exciting process bringing something from page to stage. Sometimes things you obsessed over in composing a piece become less relevant in performance, and elements that seemed inconsequential at the time have a big bearing on how the whole thing comes across. Whenever I'm working with musicians in this way, I tend to focus on guiding the atmosphere that I want to create as opposed to getting bogged down in technical details.

The musicians know their instruments best and, if I start trying to give them tips on how to play them, it's rarely going to endear me to them. But by talking about the mood or atmosphere that I want to conjure up, or by giving them images and ideas to focus on, I give the players the freedom to interpret the score in a way that brings the performance in line with how I imagined it.

Sometimes someone will turn around and say 'if you want this sound, I need to do something different to what's written' and we'll try out the new way of doing it. If it achieves my goal in a more satisfactory way, then we'll make that change. Composition has to be collaborative like this. At the end of the day …

… I'm relying on the performers to bring the piece to life and I have to empower them to make the decisions which allow that to happen.

As I prepare for the rehearsals for Curved Form (No. 23), I have to let go of my expectations for the piece. That way I can enter into the room and accept the piece as it actually sounds as opposed to how I think it does. From that point, I can then shape the piece with the performers and create the effect that I'm looking for.

The piece itself treats the ensemble like one amorphous organism, with notes seamlessly blending from one to another and gradual shifts in sound creating a shimmering, effervescent texture. In order to create this, I'll ask the players to imagine a time-lapse view of the night sky – the stars’ motion suddenly visible to us as they pass over our heads. Or to imagine a rolling ocean wave whose motion began long before we saw it and will end long after it’s passed us by. These ideas of a kind of constant imperceptible motion will hopefully help shape the piece into a seamless web of interwoven lines.

If you'd like to hear how it turns out, I hope you'll join me on Saturday evening at LSO St Luke's.'


Alex Groves Curved Form (No. 23) will be premiered at LSO St Luke's on Saturday 17 July, alongside further premieres and works by Soundhub Members and Associates. Tickets to join us in the Jerwood Hall are available online, and must be purchased in advance. This event will also be streamed live on youtube.com/lso.

Soundhub Showcase: Phase II
Saturday 17 July 7pm, LSO St Luke's

Clare Elton Under the shadow (world premiere)
Robin Haigh 
Nasubi (world premiere with live audience)
Alex Groves
 Curved Form (No. 23) (world premiere)
Lillie Harris Elsewhen
Bethan Morgan-Williams
 Traces of a Disco
Ruaidhrí Mannion Clapsholas [na Maidine] (world premiere)

Darren Bloom conductor
Ben Gittos video designer
LSO Musicians & friends

LSO Soundhub is generously supported by Susie Thomson and The Garrick Charitable Trust.


Blog originally posted at patreon.com/alexgroves

Image © Sam Le Roux

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