An inspiring Spring Festival

25 April 2022

Once a year, there is a week, that the conservatoire is turned upside down and taken over by the students of the Composition department. In the Spring Festival, a week packed with premieres, composers show the results of projects they’ve been working on for months. The halls of Korzo and Amare are filled with new notes, sounds and experiments. After two online editions of the festival, students, teachers and audiences were very happy that they could go live again this year. Four students who premiered pieces in different projects tell us about their experiences.

For Arefeh Hekmatpanah it was the first year to experience the Spring Festival, as a first-year bachelor's student, she premiered no less than 3 pieces in different concerts. Traditionally all first-year bachelor’s students are linked to singers to write a piece for the VOCO-NIGHT. The concert took place on Wednesday evening in the Conservatoriumzaal in Amare.

‘This was my first time working closely with a singer to bring an idea to life and I really enjoyed it. We worked together and elaborated the first sketches in a way that we both felt like "our" piece. We both learned a lot about collaborating. You have to be able to communicate clearly about what you exactly want from each other.

The vocal project was guided by Noa Frenkel, from the vocal department and Mayke Nas from the composition department.
‘We enjoyed a really informative lecture by Noa on contemporary vocal music and had two workshops with Mayke and Noa, working both on concepts of the pieces and technical aspects as well as how to have it performed on stage in a way that it serves the idea of the work. I gained even more ideas on how to work on the piece after each workshop.

During the Spring Festival, I noticed how students helped each other out with performing or organizing the events and I really admire the active spirit of the composition department.’

Juan Montero Palma is in his first year of his Master. So, this was also his first Spring Festival. He took part in a collaborative project with the KABK. The results of this project were performed on Tuesday evening during the concert ‘Madame Jambone’ in Korzo.

‘The Spring Festival was a very exciting experience. I enjoy very much how student-centred the approach of the conservatoire is. I had the chance to perform my own piece, but also to listen to the pieces of my colleagues. I was fascinated by how differently each of them approaches their composition practice. Very divergent pieces coexisted in the programs of the concerts I attended. There was not a sense of opposition, however, but a spirit of exchange. This was very valuable for me.

Our assignment for the KABK project was to create “wearable instruments”. We got a lot of freedom in interpretation. The project started in October. We would go to the art academy every Wednesday and would work in groups on short pieces we performed that very same day. This helped us to get in touch with each other. On top of that, we got lectures from guest teachers. Later in the project we got to do presentations about our work in progress, this allowed us to get feedback from our peers.

I met Katherine Teng, my composer partner, during the first workshop week. Our ideas and personalities matched very well, and it was just a natural step to start working together. Later she asked Shelene Low, her roommate, to join our team as the graphic designer, and Magdalena Michalko as our singer and actress.

The Color Language Course is a piece that reflects our ability to create connections and derive meaning from them. Sound and visual elements are linked during the piece. A singer-teacher performs and presents all different “lessons”, starting with plain colours and finishing with tridimensional objects flying in space and creating familiar elements such as hearts and faces.
We are reflecting on notions of signs and language. It was fun to see how we became acquired with the “language” we were creating.

We divided the work and developed the piece from different sides. We got involved in the composition of the different lessons. I was working intensively with the graphic designer and editing the scores, whereas Katherine was in total control of the electronic part of the piece. There were some decisions I would have never made if I had worked alone, but that made the piece work better than I would have ever expected. Communicating with the graphic designer was at some points challenging, as we come from different disciplines, but at the same time stirring. We all learned a lot and I’m very happy to have had the chance to work with them. Working together changed in a way how I approach music.

The moment in which I heard the public laughing for the first time during the performance of our piece, will stick with me. Introducing humour in music was something new to me. Listening to the audience laughing meant they understood the fun of what we were doing. It was thrilling.

Rose Connolly got her own timeslot in the festival to perform her audiovisual work Border Stories.
‘The idea for this piece had been brewing for 8 months now. I worked with my teachers on and off with the project and was able to receive some great ideas. When I presented the work in my Studium Generale (a weekly gathering with all students of the composition department), my peers were very enthusiastic about it which made me very excited about the outcome. They also gave me a lot of great ideas about spatialisation and gave me the confidence to pursue some of my more ambitious ideas as well.’

Rose presented a very personal piece in the festival:
‘I grew up on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. During The Troubles, from 1969 until around 1999, British military 'checkpoints' were situated on either side of my house, causing a great deal of indignation from Catholic families, like my own. This would be the beginning of 30 years of war in Northern Ireland, and 30 more years of division.
Over the past months I have collected and recorded stories, conversations and 'ceili's' with friends and family from around the border that I grew up in, Newtownbutler.
The piece highlights the obscurity and ambiguous nature of an 'invisible' border and what immense trouble and impact it can have on the people living near it.
It will be accompanied by moving images, capturing the invisibility of each border running through backroads, lakes, valleys and winding rivers.

Overall, the atmosphere during Spring Festival was so inspiring, hearing the beautiful pieces from my peers after we talked about them in Studium's or in the Canteen was a lovely experience. But I suppose the highlight was being able to spend more time with friends; performing great improvised and conceptual music with them and them helping me out during Border Stories’

Even though Charles Baumstark is already in the second year of his Composition Master, because of corona, even for him it is the first time to be part of a live Spring Festival. One of his pieces was premiered on Friday evening in the last concert of the festival by New European Ensemble.

‘Spring Festival is a wonderful and crazy time for composers! Everybody is busy with their projects, it just creates this amazing emulation in the department. During that week, if you see someone running from one rehearsal to another across the Hague between Korzo and Amare, that’s probably a composer from the KC!

The project with the New European Ensemble (NEuE) was actually initiated back in November when we had the opportunity to bring a small one-minute sketch. All participating students had 20 minutes with the ensemble to work on the piece. Afterwards, we worked on the pieces with our teachers. We then gathered again throughout the week of the Spring Festival to rehearse and change a few details in the pieces if needed.

It was a great opportunity to be able to work with musicians of the NEuE. Standards are obviously incredibly high, and I think we were all very grateful to the ensemble for their patience and curiosity as we tried out different ideas on our pieces. The NEuE is one of those few amazing contemporary ensembles that not only constantly thrive for the best in everything they do, but also dare to come and work with composition students to put on a full program (!) of world premieres. For a composer, such flexibility is a real blessing!
The piece I wrote for them, Échappée Iridescente, is a very peculiar one in my catalogue. In all my pieces so far, there was always some fast passages or motives that would rhythmically challenging the players and the audience. In the early sketches I brought to our first meeting in November, there was actually a passage like that. But some recent reflections I had the past few months have made me fundamentally question and renew my view on what I do as a composer, and during the composition of this piece, I just found myself removing fast passages, scrapping rhythmical motives, and smoothing the overall piece towards a sort of contemplative poetry.’