The players did not waste a second of our time. We arrived early, had coffee, chatted for a while, and then worked without interruption. Sometimes a long discussion would follow a point of contention. If Joel, the ensemble director, felt that we might gain something valuable he gave the discussion space, and demanded concrete examples if points made by players or composers seemed too general to be of use.
Until this year, I have had little experience of developing material in a workshop with a contemporary music ensemble. In the first workshop I was reluctant to present the sketches that were not typical of my style. Even though these were the sketches I was most curious about, I kept putting them off until the last available opportunity to hear them. That was the turning point. In the second workshop I began to feel less self-conscious - it was about the music, and how we could collectively make the ideas work, or improve on them. Realising that narrative and an association with the visual are defining features of my piece, I tried to communicate some of my ideas verbally - asking the players to characterize the musical material in certain ways, and describing their respective ‘roles' within these narratives. They responded well, and I could hear the music beginning to come to life.
The four of us - Andrea, Helen, Maurizio and I work in such different ways. I'm stunned by the clarity with which my fellow composers hear their respective sound worlds. I soak up information. How could the pieces end up being so different, when the ensemble has such a distinctive sound? I start thinking about the hcmf// performance and become a little nervous.
My musical ideas are becoming less ‘approximate'. I'm beginning to appreciate the value in working in detail from the outset, and this is opening up new musical possibilities for me. The players were amused and a little bewildered by my constant shifting of entire sections of music up and down octaves and by my last minute re-orchestrating on scraps of manuscript. I like the conductor's take on this - ‘your music is imaginative but your orchestration is a bit random...that's just inexperience. Don't worry so much about that'. Of course, I did worry, and have since worked tirelessly on the piece in the hope to put that right. I hope I managed it. I'll find out - a week from now.
Jonathan Brigg - ECPDP Composer working with the Nieuw Ensemble