The New Music Ensemble rehearsing

New Music Ensemble is University Music's contemporary music group who perform new musical works by staff and students each year. In advance of the upcoming performance, we asked each of the composers to talk about their piece.

Sara Cavena – Crumpled Questions

Crumpled Questions is crammed with questions! The piece is about presenting a kind of musical object made of these different textures in a way that’s crumpled. The flautists will recite text from my PhD research but it’s through the flute so there is an additional filter to the sound. There are also extended techniques, a rope tied to a very low string in the piano on which the pianists should slide their nails, producing a sustained sound, a resonance. There is a quotation of a theme very low register in the cello, so its barely recognisable, like a crumpled piece of paper. My PhD focus is audio-visual ambiguity so this piece fits in a way as there is definitely ambiguity, probably mystery as to where some of the sounds are coming from.

The most enriching aspect to me of working with any ensemble is the individual background that everyone brings into new music, because it’s new for everyone and when it’s performed it’s new for the composer too.

Ryan Latimer – Speaking of Letters and Dancing

This piece is made up of three songs and the title came at the end. The final song is called Summer Night, a setting of a traditional Haiku by Kobayashi Issa that I wrote for a folk duo when I was eighteen. A few years later, following the Manchester Arena bombing in 2017, I had the opportunity to write an ensemble piece, so I orchestrated this song and looked for other texts to set it with. I came across a poem called A Cup of Tea by Maria Pawlikowska which is all about the coming together of the community following the Manchester Blitz in the Second World War. I picked two of her other poems – the first called A Letter and the second called Dancing – to set for the other two songs. I think all of the songs say something about intimacy, the physical proximity in relationships. The first is about receiving a letter, presumably from an absent loved one, so there’s lots of anticipation and ultimately a heartbreak resolution to it. The second is about the intimacy of closely dancing with some, so it’s much more sensuous. The last one sets a scene of stars, which are obviously galaxies apart but speaking intimately with each other.

What interests me about the New Music Ensemble is several of the players aren’t from the music department, so it brings people together around a mutual interest of performing new music. I think it’s quite commendable to make that sort of commitment outside of your core studies.

Daniel Carpenter – Clair Deluge

Clair Deluge is an electric guitar piece backed by an ensemble. There’s an array of sounds that are coming from the guitar and other instruments are answering the guitar’s melodies or doubling the guitar. The title is a reference to Debussy’s Clair de Lune. I come from a non-classical background so sometimes find it harder to navigate a non-classical space. A lot of my work is a bit tongue-in-cheek like that. I’m going to be performing the guitar part of the piece, which I’ve been working on for the last few months, so I’m really looking forward to the final baton going down where we can all relax at the end of it.

The best thing about working with the New Music Ensemble has been hearing the music come alive. Especially because of the pandemic, a lot of us composers have gotten used to working on computers by ourselves. It’s amazing to actually be able to communicate with the musicians, to see how they interpret the notation and if it sounds how I first imagined it. It also lets me learn so much more about music and how I can better myself as a composer.

All of these pieces will be performed by New Music Ensemble and Suzie Purkis on 25 February, 7.30pm, in the Elgar Concert Hall. This performance will include a screening of Peter Greenaway’s film M is for Man, Music, Mozart which features music by Louis Andriessen.

You can get tickets here.