Looking back on Composing Spaces 2

17 May 2023

The second Composing Spaces festival was a huge success. Three days long Sonology students and anyone else who was interested could surround themselves by music in many different ways and follow lectures about the element of space in music. On the program were pieces by 12 composers who all dealt with the aspect of space in a special way. Leslee and Kalina were part of the festival and tell us about their experiences.

Learning by listening
Leslee Smucker is the coordinator of the Sonology department, she also played violin in two concerts of the festival.

‘Many people in Sonology work with spatial music, so having concerts, lectures, and even a film, showing different kinds of spatial practices, was a great learning opporunity for everyone. I think it is interesting to experience both historical spatial music alongside current practices. There were also lectures throughout the festival. Students from the Sonology department always show up for concerts, which is a nice aspect of the community. Students and teachers are very involved.
During this festival, the students were able to get a lot out of the information given as well as the opportunity to listen.’

Leslee is a violinist, but last year she came to The Hague to do the one-year course in Sonology. She liked it so much that she wanted to stay and applied for the job of coordinator.

‘I am really happy that I also got to play two pieces in this festival. On Friday I played La lontananza nostalgica utopica futura by Luigi Nono, a piece for violin and tape. To do this, together with Veniero Rizzardi , was an amazing experience for me.
I also loved the collaborations that happened between the Sonology department, Classical Music department, and Art of Sound department. It was really successful in creating good conversations and experiences across departments. The festival brought people together and showcased pieces that are not played that often.’

Musicians on the balcony

Around the Concert hall
Kalina was one of the many students from the Classical Music department who took part in the festival. She is in her first year of master's studies and played percussion in two concerts. On Thursday the symphony orchestra played 4 pieces by Ives, Nono and Varèse in the Concert hall of Amare. The hall was completely filled with audience.

The first piece Kalina played was by Luigi Nono: No hay caminos, hay que caminar... Andrei Tarkovskij, she stood on one of the balconies of the Amare Concert hall.

‘There were seven ensembles around the whole Concert hall. Playing on the balcony requires a lot more focus and attention. You are part of something big, but you are far away, so it takes more focus and attention to contribute in that way. You have to really know your part so you can give all your attention to the conductor and the other groups you are playing with on the other balcony. I really liked that. You have an even stronger feeling of connection with others because you really have to be in search of it.

We first rehearsed in the Conservatoire hall, but the day before the concert we were able to rehearse in the Concert hall. It was a very different feeling because all of a sudden, we were a lot further away from the conductor and we could only see his back, instead of his side.
But playing in the Concert hall felt really good. The sound wasn't muffled by the acoustics, and the hall really helped to get the sound to the audience, so you didn't have to imagine how it would sound to them. It sounded the same everywhere.'

Connecting with the music
Kalina: ‘Contemporary music has a really big place in this conservatoire. I noticed that the students who were in leading positions in the orchestra already knew how to deal with the music. There were a lot of complex and weird rhythms in the pieces we played, but they were really good with them from the very beginning of the rehearsals.
We have a lot of people in the percussion section who really love this music, but it was quite a heavy program. After a six-hour rehearsal, your head is buzzing and you feel like: “Wow, what just happened?”

It is super nice to realize that an ambitious project like this is actually possible. The conductor, Gregory Charette, was a perfect fit. I got the impression that he really knew and loved the pieces. From rehearsal one he took us on the journey of understanding what we were playing. He took the time to take us through the pieces in so much detail that you felt comfortable with it. He deconstructed the pieces in different sections and took the time to work with everybody, giving really good tips and stories. In the end, when it all came together we could actually experience and realize what was happening. His method of working was a really valuable learning experience for me and I will take some things for myself to future rehearsals.

Ameriques by Edgar Varèse is written for a huge orchestra. You can really feel the sections being sections, that might also be one of the spatial elements of this piece. Everybody is really focused on playing with their own group. With the percussionists we already were a group of eleven, so we took up the whole back of the stage. We do get trained in playing together, but usually you don’t have more than 4 or 5 percussionists playing together. We were standing in a line, so it was an extra challenge to make connection. Ameriques is such a busy piece, so you cannot take your eyes of the score or you will be immediately lost. My sight was just focused on the score and the conductor and I had to connect with all my colleagues only through hearing or breathing.
But as the rehearsals progressed I could really feel the focus expanding towards hearing the whole orchestra.’

Gregory Charette

Dream coming true
Friday's concert also sensibly incorporated the theme of space. I played in Pleïades by Xenakis. We were in the Conservatoire hall with 6 percussionists, all equally spaced around the audience at the edge of the hall. We could feel very clearly how a particular note or motive would move from player to player.

Pleïades is one of the largest percussion works in existence. It has four movements, 45 minutes long. Playing it is like a dream come true. It involves so many different skills and levels of ensemble and percussion playing. We started rehearsing in September, so it has been a very big build-up to this moment and the journey has everything in it. Sometimes I was very excited, but other times I was scared and extremely frustrated. When we got it right for the first time, it felt like we had achieved something huge, but then I realised that was just the first movement and we would go through the same process for the other three movements. It was an amazing process, it was very beautiful to see all the layers happening and developing in the piece.
We had a very enthusiastic audience, I think it was a success. It was definitely a powerful experience for us.

Playing contemporary music challenges you to expand your mind. Because there is so much in it. It is so much more than just creating a melody. You really have to spend time with it to appreciate it and that gives it that extra layer.’