Composer Lab 2017 - Instrumental Workshop

Composer Lab workshop

Composer Lab is an initiative of the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, in association with CMC, to encourage composers who want to learn about composing for a professional symphony orchestra. A workshop involving some of the sectional principals of the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra and the composers took place in March 2017. The project culminates in two public events - workshops on 10 April and the premiere of the new works on 9 May. Both events take place at the National Concert Hall, Dublin.

The following are brief descriptions from the participating composers on each of their pieces.

Matthew Whiteside

The, as yet unnamed, piece for the Composer Lab is pretty much finished pending revisions from workshopping with the players and the orchestra as a whole. I see the piece as the fifth part of a larger scale work which starts off with my Solo for Viola D’amore and Electronics. The orchestral work is based on the expanding and contracting rhythmic gesture which is overtly present throughout the solo through the writing and changing speed of ring modulation. However in the orchestral piece it is more part of the structure, with climaxes throughout the piece coming with increased frequency, and texture, through slowly building accelerandi from a standstill and small gestures interjecting in a similar way from the viola d’amore solo.

Francis Heery

The guiding image when writing this piece entitled Contours for Orchestra was creating various reverberant chambers, where impulses are diffused and echoed and transformed in different ways. I wanted to explore the more rarified sonorities that the orchestra can produce, and to use the orchestra as a frame rather than as a medium to create solid sonic ‘content’, which is where the title comes from. So the spaces that can be created with the orchestra were of interest to me; the gaps that can emerge in relation to time and timbre and of course in relation to the actual physical size of the orchestra.

David Bremner, Seán Doherty, Francis Heery, Matthew Whiteside

David Bremner 

I was looking through a book of Abstract Expressionist painting just as I was starting work on the piece, and was particularly fascinated by elements of blurriness and uncertainty in these paintings. They often resemble landscapes, and maybe their emotional impact comes from this element of approximation, which instinctively brings to mind an unknowable, mysterious environment. These thoughts led to considerations of nature references in late-Romantic orchestral writing and how these are achieved technically; these often include heterophony: concurrent different approximations of the same underlying line.

With that in mind my intention was to create a large immersive soundscape, re-juxtaposing a few abstract gestures: microtonal passages that hover around, but never alight upon a pitch; drone-melodies, cycles of separated chords, a gesture that rises and falls at the same time.

My parents used to organise an amateur orchestra, and some of my earliest memories are of wandering around at rehearsals, so it's a significant medium for me with a lot of personal associations.

Sean Doherty

Since its invention, the orchestra has been used as a metaphor for smaller entities that work together to produce a greater whole—for civil society, the army, the human body, nature, and machines. I wanted to update these metaphors for the twenty-first century when I wrote my last orchestral piece, Hive Mind, in 2015, so I devised a survey in which the orchestra made suggestions such as the brain, a giant jigsaw, a multi-layered conversation, and a railway terminal, and the European Union. The last of these suggestions now seems hopelessly quixotic after the Brexit vote, the Trump presidency, and the rise of the alt-right in America and populist movements across Europe. All Against All is the evil twin of Hive Mind; a Mr Hyde to the latter’s Dr Jekyll. The title is derived from the seventeenth-century philosopher Thomas Hobbes’s famous description of human existence in the state of nature as

... that condition which is called War; and such a war as is of every man against every man. […] And the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

(Leviathan, Chapter XIII)

In All Against All, instruments are pitched against each other: in a nod to the title of Hobbes’s masterwork, the heart of the piece depicts the stately battle between two sea monsters (the heavy brass vs the celli-bass); the war is waged on multiple levels: at first between families of instruments, and then among instrumental families, and then, finally, all against all.

Details of the public Composer Lab events: Public Workshop - Monday 10 April 2017, 10am–12.45pm & 1.30pm–3.15pm, National Concert Hall; World premiere performances - Tuesday 9 May, 1.05pm National Concert Hall