31 October 2011

Composer in Residence Season: Report!

This autumn I've hugely enjoyed curating my 4-part Composer in Residence season at Handel House. It's a lovely addition to workshop-leading and composing and working with other musicians in this way is always something I've loved. What I thought was really successful about this season was how the artists really responded to the atmosphere and character of the House.

First up I invited composer/artist Claudia Molitor to bring her brand of immersive, tactile work to the House. Along with pianist Sarah Nicholls, she installed all sorts of interactive, thought-provoking pieces all inspired by the idea of touch in music (using Handel's blindness as a starting point), from video works to a triptych based around a paper cut-out score; embroidered notation - white cotton on white linen so you had to feel the score rather than read it; music created by eating (popping candy naturally being the highlight); and an exploration of the weight needed to play the main harpsichord, demonstrated through a lovely, slow-burning performance by Sarah and a load of pound coins! Most gorgeous to look at was Handel's bed, festooned with a ribboning score, as if Handel was reclining there with all his musical ideas spilling out uncontrollably.

A week later, improvising demon Leon Michener, along with jazz bassist Olie Brice and wonderful singer Seaming To brought a sense of hushed spookiness to the House, focusing on Baroque-inspired improvisations, ghostly songs and tiny sounds wrought from the harpischord, Leon's wurlitzer and clavichord, sometimes played with an e-bow. Seaming, who possessed a voice capable of whispery flutterings and near-operatic swells, was clad in a stunning high-fashion take on gothic Victoriana, and manipulated Leon's homemade magic lantern music box to project abstract cut-outs suggesting insects and animals onto the wooden shutters. 
The RNIB's talented young composers whom I'd worked with in July returned to hear soprano Juliet Fraser perform their solo songs - see my previous blog for details but here's a photo of some of us!
Finally, a heart-warming folk gig sent us rosy-cheeked into the autumn night. Olivia Chaney, a musician with an assured voice reminiscent of Sandy Denny and something of a Waterhouse's Ophelia about her, sang mostly original songs self-accompanied by muted harpischord (for a lute-ish feel), Indian harmonium or guitar. Sam Lee, who had to dash off on his bicycle to present his own folk series up the road afterwards, had a similarly off-kilter edge with his travellers' songs backed by violin, 'cello, Japanese koto and shruti box. Sam has a wonderful way with words and demonstrated a love of the roots of his songs and a respect for those he learnt them from; he told us he thrived off bringing these rough-edged songs into our intimate, but formal, space. It strikes me that Handel's rehearsal room is the perfect setting for some more acoustic folk...