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24 April 2014

Creating new works for an old favourite

Alicia Crossley Image: Alicia Crossley  
© Kurt Sneddon

Recorder player Alicia Crossley writes about working with Australian composers, creating new works for her instruments. A premiere of a new work by Paul Cutlan will take place in Blacktown, Sydney, as part of the Aurora Festival on 1 May, and more new music for bass recorder is included on her new CD Addicted to Bass.

The repertoire recorder players are exposed to is a world of extremes. On the one hand we have an enormous collection of early compositions, from Renaissance dances to the virtuosic concerti of Vivaldi and Telemann. On the other hand we have an ever-growing collection of contemporary repertoire, many avant-garde in style, with advanced playing techniques a standard feature. It is these contemporary works that excite me the most, compositions that push the recorder to its physical and musical extremes.

Australian composers have made a great contribution to the recorder players' modern catalogue, consistently writing innovative works for the instrument since the 1980s. What I admire most about Australian composers who have ventured into the recorder world is their unashamed variety of compositional styles: the spritely dance style of Ross Edwards's Ulpirra, the neo-baroque compositions of Stephen Yates (Fandangle Indeed), or the in-your-face energy of Michael Smetanin's Spin (O). Australian composers have embraced the virtuosic potential of the recorder and have thrust the instrument into the twenty-first century.

As a performer I relish the opportunity to collaborate with composers to create new and innovative compositions for the recorder. I believe the collaborative process teaches both the composer and the performer a great deal about their instrument, and find it particularly beneficial working with composers who have never written for the recorder before; with no pre-conceived ideas about how the instrument should sound or the correct extended techniques to use, composers are not afraid to test the limits of the recorder and are keen to explore every timbre, tone and technique possible to best reflect their compositional ideas. This has certainly been the case with my previous collaborations, particularly when it comes to writing for the bass recorder, an instrument that is rarely used in a solo capacity yet has enormous musical potential.

My latest collaborative endeavour is with Australian composer and jazz musician Paul Cutlan. Composing his new work Affirmations for the upcoming 2014 Aurora Festival, Cutlan was faced with the somewhat unusual instrumental combination of bass recorder, cello and didjeridu. On the surface this ensemble provides a range of potential problems, particularly with the large dynamic differences of the instruments, but there is an enormous soundscape available with this unique ensemble, and Cutlan has taken full advantage. A wide range of sound effects, extended techniques and electronics have been incorporated into Affirmations - these were all workshopped carefully with the performers. Cutlan also makes a feature of the instrument's drastically different timbres, resulting in a composition with a rather worldly feel - the traditional didjeridu sound effects so ingrained in Aboriginal culture, the Indian-inspired quarter-tone melodies of the bass recorder, and the cello's grounding rhythmic loops, are all centred around an underlying jazz 'groove'.

Further links

Alicia Crossley: Addicted to Bass - CD details (AMC Online) - see also Crossley's website
Aurora Festival: Ecstatic Dances, 1 May at 6:30pm, Blacktown Arts Centre - event details (AMC Calendar)
Aurora Festival website (www.auroranewmusic.com.au)

Alicia Crossley is one of Australia’s leading recorder players. She performs a wide variety of repertoire from renaissance dance tunes to contemporary electro-acoustic works with a particular interest in bass recorder repertoire.


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