SOUNDINGS 2014: we interview Mary Dullea, curator

SOUNDINGS picEvery year, we invite six composers to get together to talk, rehearse, discuss, perform, and bounce ideas off each other. This is SOUNDINGS, now in its 11th year, and one of the ACF’s most beloved projects. We love giving young composers the opportunity to reflect and create in the tranquil environment of our salon. Next week, from the 28th to the 31st October, SOUNDINGS is back – and this time we’ve teamed up with the Royal College of Music! This year’s featured composers include Tom CoultJoanna Lee, and Rúaidhrí Mannion from the UK and Arturo Fuentes, Julia Purgina, and Šimon Voseček from Austria. SOUNDINGS is curated by Mary Dullea, otherwise known as the wonderful Fidelio Trio’s pianist. We sat down with her to ask her a few questions about composing, performing, collaborating, and all things in between.

Hi Mary! You’ve been curating Soundings for several years now. How do you choose composers? Is there anything that you’re particularly drawn to?

Soundings is a pretty unique event in that it is very much about facilitating time for a group of six composers to get together, reflect, discuss, compare and make connections – and also to spend time with performers in rehearsing their pieces and presenting their work. Soundings, as a cultural exchange that invites composers from Austria and the UK, is also now like an extended family.
There are many factors to be considered in choosing composers such as programming, output, representation, dynamic, innovation. The success of Soundings is in getting six composers together who bounce ideas off one another, share experiences and also get their pieces performed by some of the top UK performers.

Have you been able to observe any changes in terms of composers’ styles over the past few years? Any trends?

I wouldn’t say changes but it is always fascinating to spend time with composers from Austria and hear them speak about their work, environment, ‘traditions’ and beliefs (this as a performer living in London). And the world of composition in the UK is certainly thriving. In terms of getting to know about and researching composers, the publicity machine that has been emerging in the last ten years certainly has helped with access to information, hearing possibly unpublished composers’ works and even seeing their scores. Composers are generally very aware of the importance of self-promotion and access to their work.

It is probably fair to say that the popular perception of composers is that of the reclusive genius: cerebral, lonely. Soundings is based on the idea of collaborating and exchanging ideas. How do these two things go together?

Soundings combines performance with plenty of time for talking. And the obvious point that the composers are from different backgrounds offers much for initial discussion as our moderator, Piers Hellawell, probes more deeply and unravels potentially hidden connections. Of course, the music speaks for itself which is why the concerts are an integral part of Soundings but the intimate setting for the Composer Presentations in particular offers a platform which is non-competitive and freely shared.

Mary Dullea (c) Sophie Dennehy 2
Mary Dullea (by Sophie Dennehy)

What do you expect from this year’s group of composers?

I am expecting lots of opinions and ideas and am excited to programme a world premiere [Rúaidhrí Mannion‘s Scáil Cruach] and a number of UK premieres! The composers each of course have a strong and confident voice. In the pieces programmed there are approaches to sound involving the role of electronics, extended techniques, real attention to colour and timbre, and hugely varied instrumentations (from bass clarinet and electronics to a trio for harp, flute and percussion and a quartet for guitar, viola, clarinet and piano!)

Soundings is not just a project for the participating composers, but also for performers. This year, students from the Royal College of Music are involved as well. What can they expect from Soundings?

It is a very exciting development to be working with the RCM this year. This allows Soundings to move outside of the wonderful ACF Salon for one concert and also programme larger ensemble pieces (e.g. Joanna Lee’s Pierrot! for voice, violin, cello, flute, clarinet and piano or Ruaidhri Mannion’s new work for two quartets and electronics). The RCM students will no doubt play music by composers that they might not yet have encountered but also will have the experience of rehearsals with the composers as well as being mentored and conducted by Darragh Morgan. A trio of RCM students will perform at the ACF on Thursday 30th. The RCM students will experience first hand, by being part of it, the wonderful collaboration that is Soundings.

Thanks Mary! We can’t wait. 

You can find out more about all SOUNDINGS event on our website. Join us for concerts at the ACF and the RCM, open rehearsals, composer presentations and a panel discussion about the importance of communicating new music with audiences.

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