IEMA in Austria

It has been a few weeks since I returned home from the stunningly beautiful Austria, from the International Ensemble Modern Academy and Klangspuren festival. Let me tell you about it! These were ten intense, challenging, creatively stimulating and fun days spent with a whole bunch of super talented and all-round wonderful people!

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Knussen’s Ophelia Dances @ Vier un einzig, Innsbruck

A definite highlight of this whole experience was working with a British composer Rebecca Saunders, and especially on two of her pieces:

  • Quartet for accordion, clarinet, double bass and piano
  • Stirrings for nine players: alto flute, clarinet, oboe, crotales, piano, harp, violin, violoncello and double bass

Performances of the former included two house concerts early in the course, which were part of festival’s Rent a Musician scheme. Participants of the Academy were divided into small chamber groups up to 6 people; these groups then went into peoples’ homes to play a short programme of modern music. I had not done anything like this before, but what a fantastic idea and sincere welcome!

Of course, this also presented certain challenges. A pianist never knows what piano he/she will arrive to when dealing with new concert venues, but it is even more of an uncertainty when it is a house concert. Never before did I have to think so quickly on my feet during a performance to realize a piece as closely to its notated intentions as possible in circumstances far from ideal! But I am happy (and a little proud too, if I am allowed) to say I managed, and believe that situations like this only stretches one’s musicianship further.

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With composer Rebecca Sounders (first on right), @ Knappensaal, Schwaz; © Nefeli Galani

Quartet surprises the listener with various unexpected combinations of sound. It uses and explores the weight of silence, the resonance of piano and that created by the ensemble generating fascinating effects of tension and release. In Quartet Saunders constantly tests the technical possibilities of individual instruments, as well the limits of players’ virtuosity and skill. It is fair to say it is one of the most exciting and complex pieces of chamber music I have ever played.

The second Saunders’ piece I was involved in – Stirrings – offers a completely different perspective. Its hypnotic, introspective temperament draws both the listener and the performer into a very special sound world entirely remote in space and time. Studying, rehearsing and performing Stirrings with my fellow IEMA students allowed us to delve into the smallest nuances and delicacies of sound and explore the boundaries and meaning of ensemble playing.

For a while now I have had an interest in contemporary music, but I believe this course has taken this curiosity further allowing me both to enrich my knowledge, stretch my technique and open up the doors to the endless creativity embedded in recent music a little wider.

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IEMA 2018 performers and audience after the last performance @ Vier un einzig, Innsbruck

A list of repertoire I was involved in at IEMA 2018:
Kurtag Hommage a R.Sch., op.15d
Knussen Ophelia Dances, op.13
Carter Asko Concerto
Saunders Stirrings
Saunders Quartet

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