Why composers make the best lovers

Posted by Nicole Canham

Originally published on Monday 15 October, 2012.

At the moment, much of my work centres around new music performed in environments that are somehow altered or enhanced from a traditional concert experience. I’ll give a few ‘standard’ recitals this year, but for the most part my work has involved me dancing and playing or singing and playing or working with video and sculpture and surround sound. My attraction to extending the performance space for both myself as a performer and for audiences is simple: I’m a contemporary artist. Although I happen to have a traditional, classical music training, and all the great things that come with that understanding of musical craftsmanship, I prefer to apply those skills in ways that push the boundaries of tradition with a creative ‘family’ of people that I’ve gathered around me. Some of them I meet at festivals or other performances, many I have met overseas.

I know, however, you might be curious to know why composers make the best lovers? ‘Not saxophone players? Or Trumpet players?’, you might ask… 🙂 Well, when someone writes a new piece, or writes for a specific performer, there is a lot of love in that transaction regardless of the final selection of sounds. We can understand new music very differently if we listen to it and approach it as a lover’s gift instead of something to be tolerated when sandwiched between the Mozart and the Beethoven.

I’ve commissioned and/or performed a lot of new works in recent years.
So much so that I wanted to reveal something of what it feels like to play music that is written for you by a person that you know well enough to get glimpses into their compositional process. Three current works I’m preparing for premieres in December all have that characteristic. Drew Crawford, Sydney based composer, has written me a gorgeous, joyful work for tarogato and electronic sounds which are entirely sourced from the instrument itself. We made a sound library together. We’ve discussed ideas for about 18 months and last week we had the first rehearsal of his piece. The same day, I sat at the piano with Elena Kats-Chernin until midnight while she revised a piece she wrote as a gift for me in 2011, painstakingly going over every note and chord to make sure everything was just right. Just this morning I woke up to a new work from Carlos Lopez Charles for clarinet, electronics and video. I live with Carlos, and I’ve lived through much of the early life of this piece, the ‘a ha!’ moments, the beginnings of ideas and sounds. Drew and Elena are friends so I have a slightly different insight than simply asking for a piece and receiving it in my inbox sometime later. So I have some sense of how much time these works took to write – and it is both thrilling and humbling to get to be the person who is going to perform these works and sharing them with audiences for the first time. It is very fulfilling as an artist to share in this process, and it makes me wonder how audience views of new music might change, and indeed new art works of any kind, if they had a greater sense of the level of effort that goes into their creation. I’m seeing it first-hand everyday in my own work. I find these new works – both sonically and conceptually – really inspiring. To me they are love letters to creativity, both in terms of honouring one’s own, and in sharing that with others.

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