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Across the Frontiers

 

ACROSS THE FRONTIERS – PART 1

A writing journey in co-operation with the KAZ Fast Forward / Bregenzer Festspiele, Austria, 19 – 23 March 2007.

London Contemporary Opera and Bregenz Festspiele invited a team of young composers and writers to participate in study groups to work in the field of vocal and dramatic writing.

Composers and writers were invited from both Austria and the UK - some of the composers and writers were already established but wanted to have the opportunity to study with well-established composers, and members of LCO artistic team.

The aim of the week was produce a showcase of “snatches” of works which would be developed further through this “writing journey”.

Course Director

Andrew Watts - Artistic Director London Contemporary Opera

Master Composers

Sir Harrison Birtwistle
Liza Lim
Paul Patterson
Richard Ayres

Artistic Team

Andrew Watts
Singer (Counter-Tenor)/ Artistic Director LCO
Nicholas Broadhurst
Director/ Artistic Director LCO
Miranda Jackson
General Manager Ricordi Publishing (London)
Timothy Redmond
Conductor LCO
Louise Cannon
Singer (Soprano) LCO
Omar Ebrahim
Singer (Baritone) LCO
John Paul Gandy
Piano

Composers

Raymond Yiu (UK)
Philip Venables (UK)
Samuel Smith (UK)
Joanna Wozny (Aus)
Thomas Walley (Aus)

Writers

Lee Warren (UK)
Adrian Ormond (UK)

 

Participant Feedback

A Composer - I thoroughly enjoyed the LCO Opera Writing course in Bregenz. As a composer I have not worked in opera before, but it is a genre that I have procrastinated, studied and thought about at length. To be given a chance to write opera scenes with the a company of the highest calibre is gold dust. It was an opportunity to experiment with ideas in a protected environment, without judgment and with the chance to get things wrong before getting them right!
The week consisted of sessions with great opera writers of our time - Birtwistle, Ayres, etc - and with singers from the company, and plenty of time to work individually and with our paired librettist. Although my librettist and I come from very different backgrounds and have very different aesthetic ideas, the contrast and debate between us was exploratory, investigative, enlightening and, at the end of the course, hugely productive. The catalyst for this was LCO and the stimulating environment that Andrew Watts and his team had created for us. We wrote one opera scene of about 5 minutes which explored ideas of loss, nostalgia and sorrow. It was performed magnificently by LCO in a showcase concert, and the singers were extremely engaging and constructive during rehearsals.

This experience has been a great springboard for me into more developed ideas for a larger scale piece - something that I am actively thinking about now and for which I have LCO to thank. LCO must be able to continue this ground-breaking and all too rare work.

A Writer - I enjoyed the format of the week. Not only was it great to have people of such calibre coming to work with us, it was also wonderful that they represented a wide range of approaches and opinions. In addition, given that there wasn't an experienced librettist available, I expected there to be passages of time that were solely of interest to the composers, and not the writers; but happily I didn't feel that was the case.

In fact, I felt there was a strong emphasis throughout the week on the value of words and the value of a good libretto. This was carried through to the weight and attention given to text in Friday's performance. I thought it was a smart idea to read the texts, and then perform them; not a dry exercise at all, but something that involved the audience in the creative process, and the decisions made by the composers. I've never heard of a librettist being commissioned and having to find a composer; it's always the other way around - perhaps for good reason?

I was glad to be asked to work with two composers, not least as it provided me with the opportunity to work in two different styles. As I said, a real challenge of the week and the creative process was that it felt slightly like a relay race - the librettists had to run a lap as fast as they could while the composers (more or less) had to wait, and then once the baton was passed on to the composers the librettist's work (more or less) was done. I was also conscious of how essential it is to find the right collaborators, and allow a process of collaboration to emerge. Inevitably, that would take more time than was possible here. Similarly, I didn't get the chance to listen to the music and discuss it with the composers in much depth before our rehearsal.

I thought it was great that the whole event took place alongside a full production. Not only did it make for a better spirit around both hotel and theatre (and make the whole thing feel like part of a larger enterprise), Cricket served as a reminder of the ultimate aims, and for me was a piece that served as a real confirmation that this art form can work! Likewise, the facilities at Bregenz served as a real spur - proving that our poor conditions in the UK aren't replicated across the globe. The layout of the room, laden with scores, was great too.

Time constraints made it difficult to have proper rehearsal time with the performers, and while this was wholly understandable, I'd suggest it's a vital part of the process to know how to work with the musicians on a brand new piece. While I'm experienced in working with musicians and performers as a director, it's a rare thing for me to be a writer only. In a different format, longer rehearsal time might allow aspects of the pieces to be revised; but that might lead to further complications on all fronts.

As always, it made a huge difference that everyone in our group were really lovely people, and any sense of competitiveness was kept to the bare minimum.
Above all, I was grateful to be reminded that I'm a writer. With all the demands of life, it can be a challenge to find the time to focus on creating for wholly "artistic" reasons (ie not driven by any mercenary or career-making incentives). So it was wonderful to get away from all other pressures and identify & address some of the bigger questions around how & why we might create new operatic works. Thanks again for all your generosity, encouragement and belief. It means so much to me.

 

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