Low-flute specialist Carla Rees has been running rarescale since 2003, championing new chamber music for alto and bass flutes. With their Premiere Series 2010 starting on Saturday 18 September at Shoreditch Church in London, I asked her to tell us more about what rarescale do, and how composers can get involved with their work.
RF: rarescale has been around for a number of years, energetically championing new music by a very broad range of composers. For those readers who haven't come into contact with you, who are rarescale, and what is your mission?
CR: We are a chamber music ensemble with flexible instrumentation, which specialises in music using alto and bass flute. I began working to develop repertoire for low flutes and received pieces for a wide range of chamber music combinations, so I wanted a group with flexible instrumentation which could build programmes around the works rather than developing a narrow repertoire with limited instrumentation. I am passionate about the alto and bass flute and they have a lot of potential within a solo and chamber music context, so my aim is to work with composers to develop as wide a repertoire as possible. rarescale is a registered charity, and one of our aims is to educate composers in terms of how to write successfully for these instruments, as well as doing what we can to promote their works.
RF: Can you tell us more about the quarter-tone flutes you play? Who makes them, and how common are they? What draws you to them?
CR: My instruments are made by Eva Kingma in the Netherlands. They have full quarter tone system key work and are capable of achieving a full range of quarter tones without compromising tone colour. They are still relatively rare instruments – the alto was made in 2000 and is the first of its kind, although there are a few others around now, and the bass was made in 2007 and is the first with an upright design, which means the weight of the instrument is taken up by the floor rather than my arms! C flutes are now being made with the quarter tone system by two different makers and are becoming a little more common. It’s a fantastic design, because the extra keys don’t get in the way of standard playing – I’d use my quarter tone instruments for Bach or Mozart, just as much as I would for contemporary music. They offer a wide range of possibilities for alternative fingerings, timbral trills and contemporary techniques (especially multiphonics) and are incredibly versatile with microtonal tunings too. On top of that, they are very well made and have a beautiful tone and response.
RF: In the past, you had a remarkable open call for new works, through which you undertook to try to premiere any works with suitable scoring which were sent to you. Is the call still open, and are there any restrictions or guidelines about sending in scores?
CR: The call for scores is still open. I’ve received around 600 pieces since rarescale was founded in 2003, and on average I receive one new piece a week. As a result of that, I have to be selective about what we can perform, but I learn every piece I am sent, and it goes into the database so that it can be considered for a particular performance opportunity. I tend to build programmes around instrumentation, so it can sometimes take a while before we have enough pieces to justify including a certain instrument in one of the concerts, but I programme as many of the pieces that are up to standard as I can. Generally speaking, we rarely use more than 4 (or at a push) 5 players in a concert, for financial reasons, more than anything, and it is always easiest to programme works for alto or bass flute solo or with electronics or guitar. Other core instruments are soprano, bass clarinet, cor anglais and piano, but I am willing to accept music for any combination. I prefer to receive scores as PDFs or Sibelius files by email, and I am more than happy to receive a very wide range of compositional styles – I am trying to build a repertoire for the instruments, so variety is essential. This means the works need not include the full capabilities of the quarter tone system instruments, and I will also consider works which are suitable for educational use; I run masterclass courses for alto and bass flute players so I am also always on the look out for works my students can play.
RF: Saturday 18 September sees the first concert in rarescale's Premiere Series 2010. Can you tell us more about the series, and in particular Saturday's concert? What other performances and projects do you have coming up?
CR: We hold the Premiere Series every year, in Shoreditch Church. We usually do two or three concerts every autumn (this year there are two) which we use as a platform for some of the new works received during the year. The first concert (on 18th) is for alto/bass flute, soprano, bass clarinet and electronics, and we’re playing a range of new pieces and second performances, including by Michael Oliva, Rob Fokkens, Scott Wilson, Thomas Simaku, Jay Batzner and Kaja Bjorntvedt. We also usually include something by a well-known composer, and this concert, Rosie Coad will be performing La Fabbrica Illuminata by Nono, which is a fantastic piece for soprano and electronics. The second concert, on 6th November, is for alto flute, guitar and electronics, and includes pieces by Claes Biehl, Elizabeth Winters and David Bennett Thomas. In place of a third concert in this year’s series, we’ll be performing the premiere of Michael Oliva’s Requiem at St Albans Abbey on 20th November, with the fantastic chamber choir, Mosaic, under Nicholas Robinson. The piece is scored for choir, organ, alto flute and electronics. Also coming up is our 2011 masterclass course on the Isle of Skye, which has both an electroacoustic composition masterclass course, led by Michael Oliva, and a composers retreat, to enable composers to come and work in an inspirational environment and to meet other composers and some of the rarescale players.
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