I spent most of August at summer festival-academies for new music.
First up was the one and only Darmstadt Internationale Ferienkurse für Neue Musik – the 47th such festival, and so it’s particularly impressive how even with a great tradition behind it, it still manages to be at the cutting edge of music today. What an incredible experience! A mass gathering of composers, performers and new music aficionados from all over the globe, that quickly evolves into a vibrant community of creators and innovators; a hotpot of lectures, workshops, discussions, lessons, and concerts (with the pain of having to choose between multiple options at any one time).
I was there thanks to an Australia Council ArtStart grant, which has also funded my mentorships with Helen Bledsoe (musikFabrik) and Dr Camilla Hoitenga in Cologne earlier this year. By my side were my Kupka’s Piano colleagues Alex Raineri (piano), Angus Wilson (percussion), Liam Flenady and Michael Mathieson-Sandars (composers). We each attended the festival as individuals, but being there together allowed us both to network on behalf of the entire group and to perform in the Open Space program – more on that soon.
In fact, there was a very large number of Australians there – most likely the biggest Aussie contingent Darmstadt has seen so far. There were Australians from Australia as well as the many Europe-dwelling Australian musicians. This is so important for us who are just making it over to The Continent, because it gives us the opportunity to meet and become a part of a community, a real head-start for anyone emigrating to (or even just occasionally working in) a new country. There is another good thing about this group of people, and that’s that Australian musicians playing new music overseas tend to be completely fantastic: successful musicians who are also lovely, and have great tips for young musicians cutting their teeth.
This leads to something of a side note: one thing this made me realise was how not in touch Australian musicians are with each other when they come from different cities. Perhaps there is more contact between Melbourne and Sydney musos, but us Brisbanites – perhaps a slightly more junior group of musicians in a renewed contemporary music scene – found ourselves meeting and hearing of people we’d never heard so much as a whisper of before. This was particularly the case with knowledge of other young composers. With an evident revival of interest in new music performance amongst young Aussie players, I think it’s time we worked to set up some kind of national network that can connect performers with composers and create that sense of community that will serve musicians well at home as well as overseas.
The Australians really held their own, recognised this year with three of them taking out Kranichstein “Stipendium” Prizes: violist Phoebe Green, saxophonist Joshua Hyde, and our own pianist Alex Raineri!
For me, the highlights of my time in Darmstadt were my incredible lessons with Eva Furrer (Klangforum Wien), studying further Brian Ferneyhough’s Cassandra’s Dream Song alongside other flautists, some very special performances (the Scelsi concerts, Lachenmann’s GOT LOST, Phoebe Green playing a James Rushford viola solo), and playing with KP in the Open Space.
Open Space is this great program which allows anyone attending the festival to put on performances, run workshops, and host discussions. Participants made great use of this feature and sometimes it was more interesting than the official program! It allowed Kupka’s to give our European debut performance, playing the works of Furrer, Ferneyhough, Aperghis, and Liam Flenady.
With so much going on, however, things can unfortunately get suddenly dropped, as was the fate of my Chamber Sessions piece Voilages by Misato Mochizuki when there was a clash with another rehearsal for the violinist. This was not the end of my opportunities to play chamber music, however, as while Darmstadt was drawing to a close I was already on a train journey to the village of Mürzzuschlag in the Austrian alps for my second festival adventure: ISA Master Class, which is part of the International Summer Academy (mdw) program that takes place in the small cities and villages between Vienna and Graz.
I was attending ISA with another ensemble – Ensemble Fractales from Belgium, which I have recently joined. Having rehearsed and performed the works of Grisey and Murail with them in June this year, I was excited to revisit some of this repertoire as well as taking on the new challenge of performing Viennese composer Bernhard Gander’s Ö and playing new works by the young composers participating in the course. It was another intense ten days, with two performances in Mürzzuschlag and two in Vienna (at the Schoenberg Museum and the Museum Quarter!).
Here I worked mostly with flautist Sylvie Lacroix, conductor Jean-Bernard Matter, and violinist Barbara Lüneburg. Due to the small number of students, Fractales got a lot of attention and we were pretty closely mentored in our preparation of some difficult repertoire. Gander’s Ö was really tricky to learn but very exciting to play – for me a rather virtuosic bass flute extravaganza, with an extended duo for accordion and bass flute at the opening, requiring a great deal of energy. Gander has a great love of death metal music, and it shows in this piece (named Ö for the “ö” in Motörhead, so I’ve been told), which is truly wild. I listened to some metal to get in the spirit, which was fun!
But by far the best thing about this experience was getting to know my fellow Fractales ensemble members, and I feel really blessed because they are an excellent group of musicians. I am very much looking forward to the next phase of my time in Europe: living in Brussels and working with this group, studying with Ensemble Ictus at the Manama Academy in Gent.