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8 September 2010

ASQ National Composers' Forum: composer blog - Adam Starr, part 2

Adam Starr Image: Adam Starr  

From the moment I heard the Australian String Quartet's first run-through of my piece Agether, several things became immediately clear. Firstly, this is a wonderful ensemble, thoroughly worthy of their name and reputation. Secondly, they were extremely professional in the preparation they had done for all pieces. I was actually surprised and impressed by their thoroughness, evidenced by their excellent performances, as they presented the pieces to the composers for an initial listening. We each had 45-60 minutes to pick apart any salient details and make suggestions. I was able to make extremely nuanced comments, and I felt that the quartet was as committed as I to achieving the optimal performance.

I also had the benefit of receiving Carl Vine's insights, as well as ideas from the other composers. We had the opportunity, on another day, to workshop our pieces at the performance venue, which was invaluable - each space has its own idiosyncratic acoustic properties, and Elder Hall possesses a unique reverberative quality, which compelled me to change a few dynamic markings, but not much else. By now, I was able to focus on such micro detail as a single note in a three-note phrase played by the second violin, so I knew it would be a great performance, and it certainly was.

It was perhaps even more instructive hearing what the other composers had come up with, and the way they responded to the ensemble. They are all a talented bunch, easy to get along with, and I picked up a few tricks from following their scores in rehearsal.

asq forum group photo The composers got the chance to better acquaint themselves with each other, and the quartet, over dinner and drinks on the first night. As a composer, talking shop with other composers is something that I don't get to do a great deal, but it was especially enjoyable and educative, perhaps all the more so for the lovely South Australian wine.

We have all had different experiences, and approach things in different ways, which is perhaps one of the reasons we were there - the quartet read through all the pieces submitted, and made decisions based on what comprised an interesting and varied program. It was no surprise that Tom's piece closed the new composer's bracket, at which point Carl Vine's string quartet was unleashed.

After each day's activities, we attended performances of new music at the Soundstream Festival, which was very well programmed. The highlight for me was John Addison's performance of Alex Pozniak's new work.

In terms of evolution of the piece, I would liken the workshop, rehearsal and performance process to adding icing and a cherry to a cake - nothing fundamental changed (although a single note was added in the cello part for the sake of resonance and ease of playing), but subtle changes were made in notation and dynamics.

Before the concert, Agether was the middle movement, flanked on either side by movements in which the string quartet was joined by electric guitar and drumkit. After hearing John Davis (CEO, Australian Music Centre) speak, I have been inspired to reconsider the whole work. I will probably rewrite the outer movements so that they are just for string quartet, and have already had some ideas.

Image: Forum participants (from left): Julian Day, Melody Eötvös, Alison Beare (ASQ GM), Rachel Johnston (cello), Mark Holdsworth, Anne Horton (violin II), Ross Carey (NZ), Adam Starr, Sophie Rowell (violin I), Carl Vine, Thomas Green, Sally Boud (viola)

Further links

Adam Starr - website
Adam Starr - ASQ National Composers' Forum, composer blog, part 1
Thomas Green - ASQ National Composers' Forum, composer blog, part 1
Thomas Green - ASQ National Composers' Forum, composer blog, part 2
Melody Eötvös - ASQ National Composers' Forum, composer blog, part 1
Melody Eötvös - ASQ National Composers' Forum, composer blog, part 2
Mark Holdsworth - ASQ National Composers' Forum, composer blog, part 1
Ross Carey - ASQ National Composers' Forum, composer blog

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