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Heather Roche Interview

Posted on 14 November 2010. © Copyright 2004-2023 Composition:Today

C:T talks to clarinetist/bass clarinetist Heather Roche

Tell us something about your background.

I'm Canadian, born and bred and did my first degree at the University of Victoria. Following this, I moved to London to study, where I stayed two years (at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama) before beginning my PhD at the University of Huddersfield. I now live in Cologne, Germany, where I'm freelancing and finishing up writing my doctoral thesis.

> > How did you become interested in Contemporary Music?

As with a lot of people who do what I do, I was lucky enough to make friends with composers at an early stage, and discovered that new music was a way to get a lot of performance experience; something I really felt I needed, as I got a little bit of a late start as a performer. I also discovered recordings of clarinettists through the ensembles they worked with, clarinettists like Ernesto Molinari, Shizuyo Oka, Carl Rosman. Incredibly inspiring stuff. However, what finally tipped the balance into a kind of specialization was attendance at the IMPULS courses in Graz, Austria. I met a lot of other young performers who were getting really excited about new music. Not only that, but they were dedicated to giving very, very fine performances.

What excites you about a piece of music - what keeps you interested?

A lot of what has got me excited lately has sprouted out of the research I've been doing for my thesis. I'm really fascinated by what can come out of the performer-composer dialogue. So I get really excited by talking to composers and finding out what excites them about my instrument. It breeds a kind of infectious creativity. Not only that, of course, but when someone has written something after this process, I feel completely invested in the work, tied to it in a unique way that I find very satisfying.

I've also got an interest in the playful, as of late. I'm learning a great piece by a Canadian composer I've just discovered, Samuel Andreyev. He's written a really nice little solo piece for clarinet. I love the sense of line he has, and the way the articulation breaks it up. It's great fun to work on and I hope great fun to listen to.

And what turns you off ?

Things that cause me physical pain. Pages and pages of articulated high notes with no rest, for example Even when I'm in really good shape and have been playing 6 hours a day, 30 minutes of this kind of playing can wipe me out. I think other players can handle this a bit better. We're all different. But I find that tiring and painful and not at all fun.

You have lived variously in Canada, UK, and now Germany. How would you characterise and distinguish the differing new music scenes in each country.

Well, I would hate to generalize about any of these countries, but I will do my best to make some comments. I think there are some amazing thing happening in Canada. Take my hometown for example. Sleepy little retirement-based community, but there's a new music ensemble there (called Aventa), made up mostly of professional musicians from the Victoria Symphony Orchestra. Last I checked they do something between 6-10 concerts a year, a lot of work with young composers, and some very good programming. I think more Canadians need to get out into the world and fight to get their stuff played. There are some great composers coming out of the country, but unfortunately if you ask anyone involved in new music on the continent to name a Canadian composer, the only name you'll hear is Claude Vivier. (Who seems not to get played in Canada? musikFabrik are giving the world premiere his Hierophanie shortly. This was written in the '70s! Why haven't we done it first?!)

As for the UK. Well, we have the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival. An amazing festival! And I've been lucky enough to study there, where one has a lot of opportunities and is easily able to come into contact with composers from all walks of life. Unfortunately the composers that I became interested in while I was living in the UK are not the ones I remember hearing about when I was growing up. The ones that have achieved a kind of 'fame' are not necessarily doing the most interesting work, and I think it gives an unfair picture of what the compositional scene in the UK is like. A retrospective of the work of Rebecca Saunders, or Bryn Harrison, at the Barbican; that's something I'd pay good money to see.

And as for Germany, well I've only been there for four months. It's difficult to make any kind of specific comments. I feel quite reluctant to try. So I'll just say that there is a lot going on. And I've managed to keep myself rather busy, which is amazing to me, given that I've only been there for four months. And interestingly, I've been to a number of concerts of new music, where I happen to sit by, for example, some little old couple who just happened to see the concert advertised and came along. It just seems much more embedded in the cultural life of the city.

How do you go about programming your concerts?

Well, my next concert will be a lunchtime recital (with pianist Kate Ledger) of four new works (two of them world premieres) by four composers I happen to know. I'm really happy that I'm in a position where I can promote their work, but I do have the feeling that I'm squeezing it in a little bit. I would love to have the opportunity and resources to programme more of my own concerts, to promote more work, to have a venue to play pieces established in the repertoire, etc. But since this only happens at most a couple of times a year at the moment, it starts to become quite a focused endeavor. Most of the time, I'm booked to play specific works, it's not often up to me.

How do you respond to unsolicited work- do you give feedback? Do you ever commission new work yourself?

Certainly, feedback, if it's desired! I've also been known to share scores with my fiancé, who is a well-known clarinettist in the new music world, and that's often really helpful. Mostly for me, since I get to learn a lot about it from him. It's really difficult to give constructive feedback, actually. Composers ask a lot of questions about their notation. And I feel that notation is something that's really personal, so I always want to be very careful about what I say. But I really do believe in talking about it all, anything that breeds creative dialogue...

What are you working on at the moment

Well, as I said I'm preparing for this recital with Kate Ledger in Huddersfield on October 21st. Pieces by Alec Hall, Sam Andreyev, Joe Lake and Nick Williams. I've also got a few wonderful projects with musikFabrik and Ensemble Garage to look forward to soon. Not to mention a November wedding! So it should be a busy and exciting autumn.

How can people find out more about you?

You can visit my website!

Interview by Composition:Today © Copyright 2004-2023

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