“Hey isn’t this great, we have an unusual instrumentation people are going to love it, we are so trendy and new!” GREAT! But. “Hey come to think of it, I’ve never heard of this ensemble before either…and I’m part of it….what are we going to play? Is there anything for us to play!!!?”
It’s time to pick repertoire, it’s time perform, what are we going to do? As an ensemble this it the issue we’ve had to work with over the years. We’ve learned to love our abnormal instrumentation and how it ties in very well with our vision to bring composed music to relatively unknown spaces and audiences. I’d like this blog to encourage any of you to follow through on something that isn’t necessarily easy to put together, because in our process of finding and creating new repertoire we have learned a lot about ourselves, and about the people in our community.
Step one. Find out what is already out there. For this I had the advantage of a former guitar teacher, Selwyn Redivo, who has lots of experience with chamber groups and was able to recommend some repertoire. Our first piece was Joseph Kreutzer’s Trio in D Major (yes for flute, violin and guitar! YAY!), a classical trio. We also found Paul Angerer’s 1961 trio for recorder, violin and guitar. These two pieces are important parts of our repertoire, but two pieces is not enough for a concert program! What else is there? Trios for treble instruments and guitar? We’ve done our fair share swapping instrumentations for pieces for two recorders and guitar, or two violins and guitar to fit our trio. We have found some beautiful music this way and have been able to bring a new sound pieces by Cesar Bresgen, Folk songs from different cultures and more. Certainly when we play music from the 19th century and earlier the possibilities of interchanging treble instruments are greater. Many pieces in the repertoire were published for flute (or violin) and guitar of vice-versa, so we have found a delightful choice of repertoire from the baroque period of music for treble instruments and continuo. Music by Telemann and Rosenmuller for example. The keyword for our initial search is certainly diversity, it would have been practically impossible for us to have started a concertizing ensemble with this instrumentation trying to specialize in one area of music, there simply was not enough repertoire in a certain area. This taught us to enjoy playing music of many styles and solidified the unusual trajectory of this abnormal ensemble! Pairing folk songs with 19th century music wasn’t only a matter of taste, it was even a necessity!
Step two. Arrangements! This was a really fun step for me because it challenged me to engage myself more in the creation of scores and to think more seriously about the roles of each of our instruments. It has also been liberating because it engages more of the composer side of me, which has been otherwise relatively dormant in the past few years. I enjoyed arranging several folk tunes (allowing myself to be quite liberal harmonically and structurally) for the ensemble, and Erica also worked on rearranging a part for violin in a trio version of Astor Piazzolla’s “Le Grand Tango”. Arrangements are an opportunity to provide a fresh perspective on existing tunes, a way that we can relate personally with the piece, especially if it is being expanded from a single melody line to an ensemble. Questions like, “which instrument does this line belong to?” I think about timbre and variety, or “what harmony belongs here?” I love this work, and it allows the ensemble to be a new part of this wider, ever-changing and shifting world of music.
Step three. New music. I think I can easily say that this has been at once the most exciting, challenging and rewarding part of the process. We believe that it is our duty to expand the repertoire, to collaborate with amazing artists, and to inspire artistic creation. Our first experience of this type was in 2013, before Erica had joined our group. My teacher Selwyn had commissioned music with his trio “Wind in the Woods” a few years earlier for the Meadowlark Festival, a weekend nature festival in the Okanagan Valley. One of those pieces was by Okanagan composer Anita Perry titled “Trio for two recorders and guitar”. With movements “Through the Valley Soaring”, “Desert Plains Shimmering” and “Of Rivers, Streams and Waterways” it is a beautiful musical portrait of the landscape of the Okanagan Valley. Selwyn recommended we try it with our instrumentation, and Anita was happy to tweak the score to accommodate this. The effect was magical, we were hooked on creating new music. We continue to perform this piece now, which was renamed “Okanagan Vignettes” last summer. Now when the three of us were planning our 2016 concert series, Erica proposed we engage composer Charles Zoll to write us a piece. Eagerly we agreed, and in May we had fresh parts and a score. There is nothing quite like getting brand new music in your inbox and printing it off to read through it the first time. The piece pushed us as an ensemble and getting to work with Charles was such a privilege. We premiered AMALGAM by Charles Zoll on August 13th 2016 in Montreal and continued to give four more performances last year. Having Charles with us for three of the concerts to introduce his piece and take questions from an interested audience made the whole experience a huge success. We learned that though this new music didn’t have the advantage of being well known and loved like music by Beethoven or Bach, what it did was expose audiences to something they’ve never experienced before and were maybe uncomfortable with, so when we had time for questions, there were lots, and it is still something we hear back about, very positively, from the communities we have played for. New music has this wonderful ability to arouse curiosity in people, you feel a direct connection to the time at which it was written, which can be a very powerful tool when programming a concert. Since then we have worked with three other composers. We participated in the 2017 Fresh Inc festival, whose emphasis on collaboration between composers and performers (not to mention collaboration IN general) really appealed to us when we were applying. We were paired with Patrick Walker who wrote “Trio for four Instruments” (flute/recorder, violin, and guitar), which was an elegant and clever way of using the instruments available to us. We also worked with Karalyn Schubring on her quintet for flute, oboe, guitar, cello, and violin entitled “Music for a Particularly Sparkly Afternoon”. With both of these composers we benefitted from many opportunities to rehearse together and learn about their pieces and personalities. It was an amazing experience! Currently we are working on a brand new piece “Algoma Miniatures” by Arie Van de Ven, a close friend of mine whose music I admire. We will be premiering this in our 2017 season. Something that is truly inspiring about all the composers that we’ve been able to work is they are all the pieces are so different from each other, yet each one is beautifully composed. We have the delightful pleasure of being able to perform these pieces and create an incredibly diverse program that is yet unified by honesty of the composers’ creations. We are certainly not done collaborating, and are always on the hunt for new music!
So as you can see, we have built a repertoire for ourselves. At times it has been challenging to program. How do we find a way to put so much variety in a cohesive program? But this challenge has developed our ideas about music and performing, and we have certainly become a much better ensemble by exploring so many possibilities. I also think, that because we are not a group that people are used to seeing, we are given more freedom from the audience to show them something new. So if we play a baroque trio sonata, we can follow it with a brand new composition, and then maybe some folk music, and the public will be enjoying themselves. It’s been great for us, since each of us have very diverse tastes in music, and would really love to play all the music ever!
Who knows what we will discover next? There is so much out there if you are willing to look.
We’d love to hear what you think about these subjects. Do you have experience creating something new? Have ever been worried how that might be received? Are you a musician with a similar ensemble and have ideas to share?