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Time - Space - Sound - Light

Christian Mason - Composer Portrait Internationales KĂźnstlerhaus Villa Concordia 12.08.19 at 19.00


Time - Space - Sound - Light Christian Mason - Composer Portrait Internationales Künstlerhaus Villa Concordia 12.08.19 at 19.00

piccolo, flute - Audrey Milhères cello, scordatura cello - Corentin Chassard rin (bells), harmonica, electronics - Christian Mason piano - Joseph Houston A kingfisher dives into the sun… (2019) electronic soundscape with video (James Stephen Wright) 25’ (…already happening when you enter…) … just as the sun is always… (2006) solo piano 7’ I wandered for a while… (2019)* flute, cello, electronics, bells, piano 7’ Remembered Radiance (2018)** cello, bells/harmonica and piano 12’ Incandescence (2011, rev. 2019) solo cello 9’ Heaven’s Chimes are Slow (2010) flute and piano 7’ Bird learning to fly (2017)*** solo scordatura cello 7’

Dedicated to… *Audrey Milhères **Joseph Houston ***Corentin Chassard …Gewidmet


Time - Space - Sound - Light The time of year, the time of day, the intensity of light; the warmth, the cool; the breeze, the wind, the rain; the touch of the air, the rippled flow of the river; the presence and activity of people and other beings going about their lives: a paradoxically unpredictable mix of expected and unexpected happenings that contributes to the precise conditions of the moment in which we find ourselves… To be here, now, has a particular feeling and a unique soundidentity - the coincidence of so many layers of life - that could not quite be any other place at any other time. Of course we do not always notice these things, cannot maintain a constant condition of alertness, but still, life sometimes affords an opportunity to dwell on details that might normally escape our attention. For me these weeks and months at Villa Concordia have proved to be such a time. Among the various projects that have been occupying me here, one that I hadn’t planned on was A kingfisher dives into the sun… which is made from edited, organised and processed ‘field recordings’ made in - or near - the villa garden at different times of day and night (and a few other related sounds). The soundscape here accompanies (or is accompanied by) video footage of a local kingfisher (Eisvögel), organised into a semi-narrative looping sequence [approaching - waiting - watching the bird dive] in three simultaneous panels, each of which share some ‘clips’ and have others which are unique. To venture a reason for making this piece: it is an attempt to locate the sonic - and extra-musical - interests of my instrumental music in a wider context, in a world beyond the boundaries of the concert hall. On one hand most of my pieces are ‘about’ the nature(s) of the instrument(s) for which they are written, but on the other they are also grasping at a recollection of sounds from elsewhere, aspiring to the transformation of one state-of-being, or one cultural context, into another. The particular ‘natural’ sounds that I choose to emphasise when recording seem already to have roots in my abstract sonic imagination: crickets chirping, frogs croaking, swifts screaming, birds singing, the wind in the trees… Or is it, more likely, the other way round? Music as a tool for the location of self in environment has been happening since I-don’t-know-when… The image of the sun is another recurrent strand in my work, even when there is no such literal representation as in the video. The sun as a constant presence, a source of light, energy, warmth - of course - but also inspiration, motivation and indeed the very possibility of being. That sense of presence is denoted simply in … just as the sun is always… (one of my earliest pieces, written in 2006 In memoriam Heidi Beer) by the note ‘E’, which begins and ends the piece, and influences the harmony throughout. I did not plan at the time that this note would continue to have a defining role in my work, but thirteen years later it still holds a special significance. Maybe because it is the first letter of many favourite words: ethereal, elemental, exuberant, ecstatic, erratic, exquisite, eternal… Or maybe for practical reasons: it is the top string of the violin, and the bottom note of the particular harmonica that I have used in many pieces since buying a box of 50 on ebay in 2008 (one of which is featured tonight in Remembered Radiance). But there are also more fundamental musical reasons: E is the 5th/ 10th/20th partial (compound major 3rd) of the harmonic spectrum on C (bottom cello string), and the 3rd/6th/12th partial (compound perfect 5th) of the A-spectrum (top cello string). You can hear this C-E and A-E relationship most directly in the solo cello piece Incandescence which is composed largely from the melodic use of the natural harmonics of the C- and Astrings. Here again there is an evocation of nature through the melodic style (influenced as it


is by Humpback Whale-song - albeit in mediated by recordings - and also traditional Tuvan Khoomeï throat-singing, which I was studying at that time); but in this case it is more nature as ‘mysterious other(worldli)ness’ which lives in the imagination. Even in the absence of the cello the harmony stays firmly ‘in C’ for Heaven’s Chimes are Slow, originally a song setting a Christina Rossetti poem of the same name for soprano and piano: Heaven's chimes are slow, but sure to strike at last: Earth's sands are slow, but surely dropping thro’: And much we have to suffer, much to do, Before the time be past. Chimes that keep time are neither slow nor fast: Not many are the numbered sands nor few: A time to suffer, and a time to do,
 And then the time is past. By the end of Heaven’s Chimes the C-E dyad has been replaced by C-Bb (emphasising the 14th harmonic above bottom C, albeit in ‘un-natural’ tempered tuning on the piano), which serves to prepare the scordatura cello tuning of Bird learning to fly. The modified cello needed for this piece is re-strung with four A-strings which are re-tuned to correspond to partials 12, 13, 14 and 15 of an imaginary very-low C (one octave below the lowest C of the piano, which you just heard). The title refers not so much to the musical aspect of birds as to the pervasive fluttering/flickering technique - somewhat like erratically flapping wings - of rapidly alternating (with the left-hand) between very high natural harmonics and open strings. This solo piece was extracted from a larger work for string orchestra with two horns, Aimless Wonder, which was written for the Munich Chamber Orchestra in 2017. That piece explored the idea of ‘wonder’ (in the sense of being amazed) being strongly connected to the act of wandering (it also involved musicians walking into/away from the hall whilst playing). Normally I think of this wonder-wander relation in terms of the flow of energy that is stimulated by movement: if i’m sitting still my thoughts are more likely to stagnate, whereas if I take a walk the ideas also seem to flow with a more enticing fluidity - as well as providing an opportunity to see kingfishers! In I wandered for a while…, however, there is a different angle implied which relates to a music theatre piece I am currently developing, called (Dis)embodiment, on the subject of Near Death Experiences. An initial phase of research by writer Chris Goode resulted in various fragments of verbatim text including the phrase: “I wandered for a while in what used to be my life… Fragments deeply buried in my memory scrolled”. So the implication here is, I suppose, a state of disembodied wandering through ones past experience. I’ve never had a Near Death Experience, but am nevertheless fascinated by them. Whether one posits a ‘physical’ (rapid chemical reaction at the point of brain-death) or ‘spiritual’ (glimpse of an afterlife or other reality) interpretation of the many testimonies, there is something creatively compelling about such liminal spaces and the invisible thresholds between different dimensions of human experience that they imply. Christian Mason (July 2019)


The Octandre Ensemble, founded in 2011 by composer Christian Mason and conductor Jon Hargreaves, focuses on music written since 1945, with an emphasis on timbre and ritual. Sound is an eternally fascinating phenomenon, and music can harness its power in ever original ways: new music, ancient ideas. In 2018, they performed a series of three Composer Portraits (Nicola LeFanu, Frank Denyer, Rolf Hind) at The Coronet  Theatre, London, and recorded Frank Denyer's CD The Fish that became the Sun, due for release on 'Another Timbre’ in November 2019, alongside the world premiere performance at HCMF. The ensemble played at  the 2016 Principal Sound  festival, in a concert that was  subsequently broadcast by BBC Radio 3. The programme featured UK premieres of Christian Mason's Layers of Love and Claude Vivier's Samarkand, as well as rare performances of Frank Denyer's After the Rain, and Green Plastic Vase by the ensemble's composer-in-residence, Sinan Savaskan. In December 2015, Savaskan's  Many Stares through semi-nocturnal Zeiss-blink (Module 30),  commissioned by Octandre,  won a British Composer  Award. Previous festival appearances include Little Missenden Festival (2014, 2016); and York Spring Festival of New Music  (2012). In 2012 they also hosted an Anglo-French Composers Forum, in association with LSO Soundhub;  and performed “Medieval Modernist”, a programme focused on the work of their patron Sir Harrison Birtwistle.

Audrey Milhères trained as a flautist at Bordeaux Conservatoire, graduating from the specialised cycle with distinction. Following this she pursued a Masters at Guildhall School of Music and Drama/City University, studying flute with Rowland Sutherland and subsequently studied privately with Sam Coles. Audrey is a founding member of The Octandre Ensemble, and has performed at venues and festivals including LSO St Luke, The Forge, York Spring Festival, St John's Smith Square, JW3, BBC Radio 3, The Coronet Theatre, among others. Audrey is Director of Music at the London Youth Conservatoire.

Corentin Chassard is a London-based cellist and a founding member of The Octandre Ensemble. He was born in Brittany and studied in St Malo, Paris and London, with renowned musicians such as Florian Lauridon, Aldo Ripoche, Xavier Gagnepain, Henri Demarquette, Emmanuelle Bertrand, Alexander Boyarsky and Jérôme Pernoo. Corentin has performed across France, Belgium, England, Ireland, Switzerland, Spain and China, in the Royal Festival Hall, the Cadogan Hall, Saint Martins in the Fields, the Jacqueline Du Pré Music Building, and has appeared at festivals including Festival de Lacoste, Festival des Abbayes, The Chelsea Schubert Festival, The Rosemary Branch Festival and the Dartington International Summer School.  A passionate teacher, Corentin has taught cello, piano, and chamber music at the London Youth Conservatoire since 2008.

Joseph Houston is a British pianist whose wide-ranging curiosity has led to activity in a variety of fields, particularly contemporary and experimental music. With a repertoire extending from Scarlatti and Bach, to Jennifer Walshe and Rebecca Saunders, he has been broadcast on BBC Radio 3, BBC Radio 4, BBC Radio 6 Music, Radio Cemat Rome, and Albanian national television.  After undergraduate studies in Music at the University of York, Joseph attended the Royal College of Music, London, where he was awarded the Frank Merrick Prize, 2nd Prize in the Beethoven Piano Competition, and an MMus in Advanced Performance with distinction. Future projects include a CD recording of Thomas Simaku's chamber music with Quartor Diotima, to be released on BIS; a collaboration focusing on American experimental music with mezzo soprano Lore Lixenberg; and a solo performance at Donaueschinger Musiktage 2019.


A 2015 winner of an Ernst von Siemens Musikstiftung Composer Prize, Christian Mason is enjoying a prolific career with an array of prestigious commissions. Recent premieres include Zwischen den Sternen for Ensemble Recherche, which was described by the journal MusikTexte as a “highlight of the festival [Ultraschall Berlin]”, and Eternal Return written for hr-sinfonieorchester, celebrating Breitkopf & Härtel’s 300th anniversary in January 2019. This was the first part of an orchestral cycle Time and Eternity which will be completed by Christian’s recent work for Vienna Philharmonic (conducted by Christian Thielemann in April/ May 2019) and a forthcoming commission for Konzerthausorchester Berlin (conducted by Christoph Eschenbach, touring Germany in June 2020). Other current projects include Inner Landscapes for solo piano, written as test pieces for the Concours International de Piano d’Orléans ‘Brin d’Herbe’ (April 2019), and new works for the Arditti String Quartet (to premiere at the Paris Philharmonie in January 2020), Birmingham Contemporary Music Group with Neue Vocalsolisten Stuttgart (setting a new text by Paul Griffiths), and Ligeti String Quartet (Books III and IV of the Songbooks cycle). In addition, Christian is developing a musictheatre project called (Dis)embodiment on the subject of Near Death Experiences, initiated by the Royal Opera House, London. Recent years have seen the premieres of: Man Made with soprano Anu Komsi and the Philharmonia for the ‘Music of Today’ series in May 2018; Aimless Wonder by the Münchener Kammerorchester and Remnants for Opera Erratica, both in June 2017; and In the Midst of the Sonorous Islands composed for the participative CONNECT project, which was performed around Europe by the London Sinfonietta, Ensemble Modern, Ensemble Remix and Ensemble Asko-Schönberg during Autumn 2016. Christian is a visiting teacher of composition at the University of Cambridge and is Composition Support Tutor for the LSO Panufnik Young Composers Project. He is currently in residence at the Internationales Künstlerhaus Villa Concordia in Bamberg, and in the past has been invited as a resident artist at Civitella Ranieri (Italy) and SWR Experimental Studio in Freiburg. He was ‘Composer in Residence’ at Eton College (2014-15) and has worked as Composition Assistant to Sir Harrison Birtwistle. He completed a Ph.D at King’s College London with George Benjamin in 2012, following which he was awarded the 2012 Mendelssohn Scholarship to study privately with Frank Denyer. He previously read music at the University of York and has studied composition with Sinan Savaskan, Nicola LeFanu, Thomas Simaku and Julian Anderson. His works are published by Breitkopf & Härtel. 

Acknowledgements Sincere thanks to James Stephen Wright for collaborating on the production of the video for A kingfisher dives into the sun…


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Time - Space - Sound - Light: Christian Mason Composer Portrait  

Programme booklet for "Time - Space - Sound - Light: Christian Mason Composer Portrait" performed by Octandre Ensemble on 12.8.19 at Interna...

Time - Space - Sound - Light: Christian Mason Composer Portrait  

Programme booklet for "Time - Space - Sound - Light: Christian Mason Composer Portrait" performed by Octandre Ensemble on 12.8.19 at Interna...

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