Thirty years ago, world-leading new music collectives such as Ensemble Intercontemporain, Ensemble Modern and Klangforum Wien conducted pioneering research on performing the music of their era. Today they are amongst many teachers worldwide who are passing on their experiences to the next generation of forward-looking musicians, establishing contemporary music performance practice as a distinct career path for conservatoire students and young professionals alike. Indeed, several specific full time programmes of study and summer academies now exist to fit such a purpose, the LUCERNE FESTIVAL ACADEMY being a leading example, established already over a decade ago.
However, younger musicians are often not aware of the existence and diversity of contemporary music available to them. Within non-professional and school-aged music education, it is very rare to find works which deviate from well-known tonal and metrical idioms and traditional playing techniques. How can the doors be opened to this exciting new world? Fortunately an increasing number of projects are being founded to bring contemporary music to amateur musicians and schoolchildren, many of which are involving members of LUCERNE FESTIVAL ALUMNI.
Face the Music
Face the Music is a youth ensemble program at the Kaufman Music Center in New York City, comprised of 215 students aged 8 to 18 from the Tri-state area (New York, New Jersey and Connecticut), wholly dedicated to music by living composers. Students take seating auditions and can then participate in as many projects as they like. Alongside four large ensembles there are opportunities for smaller chamber music groups, and a Call for Scores programme encourages students to compose music for ensembles of all sizes.
Face the Music Symphony is an intermediate-level orchestra with roughly sixty students, whilst Face the Music Philharmonic is a smaller advanced-level chamber orchestra. The Sound Bite Orchestra is Face the Music’s most cutting-edge large ensemble, exploring diverse forms of experimentation and improvisation, including in the most recent season sound-painting with Walter Thompson, Hindustani Raga with Tanmoy Bose, and graphic notation with Billy Martin and Conrad Kehn. The Samurai Mama Big Band meanwhile is an adventurous collective dedicated to modern jazz and creative music making.
Ari Streisfeld (violin, participant in the LUCERNE FESTIVAL ACADEMY in 2005-06) and John Pickford Richards (violin, participant in 2003-06) of the JACK Quartet as well as Jeffrey Young (violin, participant in 2009-12) are coaches for Face the Music’s string quartet program, Kronos at Kaufman. Eight student string quartets study pieces from Kronos Quartet’s vast repertoire, being coached weekly by New York City-based professional string players, alongside pedagogical oversight from the legendary Kronos Quartet themselves.
Nadar Summer Academy
The Nadar Summer Academy is a five-day summer course for young musicians aged 14 to 20 dedicated entirely to the study of contemporary music, directed by the musicians of the Nadar ensemble (co-founded by flutist Katrien Gaelens, participant in the LUCERNE FESTIVAL ACADEMY in 2005 and 2007) and organized by MATRIX New Music Center in Leuven, Belgium. The ensemble guides participants through the various artistic ideas, concepts and new playing techniques encountered in new music as they explore masterworks of the twentieth-century alongside pieces from younger generations of composers. Music is selected for study which is artistically stimulating yet not overly technically challenging for the participants to tackle during the one-week course. Individual lessons, chamber music and larger ensembles are combined with collaborations with living composers and thematic workshops (for example on improvisation or use of live electronics), all aimed at releasing new modes of expression and creativity.
By focusing on repertoire which young musicians and their teachers are rarely able to look at in the context of a formal music education, a sense for adventure on both sides can be stimulated. The selected pieces must though fit the instrumentation and ability level of the students, often directing the search for repertoire towards works with free instrumentation or non-instrument-specific parts. This in itself can prove highly liberating for the participants, as playing without “normal” parts or in “standard” ensembles enables musicianship to be experienced in a whole new way. The Nadar Summer Academy has been nominated for the YEAH! Young EARopean Award in 2015, and in 2018 it will be held in Darmstadt during the Summer Course for New Music.
Composer Christian Mason (winner of the Roche Young Commission in 2013) teaches at the Music’All Saturday School in West London. In the course of tutoring theory and musicianship to 7 to 16-year-olds, he often uses group composition as a way of engaging his students in their source materials. By focusing them on making creative decisions within specific boundaries, he finds it very effective in developing technical craft whilst simultaneously nurturing aesthetic imagination.
He is currently working on a commission for large ensemble with audience participation, a Europe-wide project funded by the Art Mentor Foundation Lucerne. It will be performed four times this Autumn by the four partner ensembles involved, the London Sinfonietta in the UK, Ensemble Modern in Germany, Asko/Schoenberg in the Netherlands and Remix in Portugal. Members of the audience will be invited to participate, with some attending workshops and rehearsals in advance of the performances, but even those who turn up on the night will be given sound-making objects (tin foil, chains, bouncing balls and so on) with which to join in. The aim is to create new global textures and sounds, but also to involve everyone present in the process of artistic creation, invoking the special kind of listening required when performing music communally.
Since 2013 members of this Paris-based ensemble have run outreach and pedagogical programmes throughout the Île-de-France region, as well as overseas. During their residency at the Raffles Institution in Singapore, ensemble members worked with students on the project Is it this?, launched in 2014 in Picardie, France. Based on the soundinitiative concert program of the same name, Is it this? aimed to explore the processes involved in the creation of a new piece of music, introducing a younger generation of musicians to more complex aspects of contemporary music performance practice, encouraging the use of live media such as video, or amplification and electronics. Working in tandem with individual members of soundinitiative including Winnie Huang (violin, participant in the LUCERNE FESTIVAL ACADEMY in 2014) and Caleb Salgado (double bass, participant in the LUCERNE FESTIVAL ACADEMY in 2012-14), the students wrote their own works and then performed them, either on their own or alongside members of the ensemble. At the Raffles Institution, students were shown the versatility of vocal sounds, everyday objects and materials, and the changes in soundscape that can be created using of microphones and live electronics. Inspiration came from Simon Steen-Andersen’s Difficulties Putting it into Practice for 4 “performers”: each group was given identical starting materials, but wildly divergent musical ideas came out the other end. Over the course of the sessions, the students questioned what they thought to be music, gesture, image and sound, all with the aim of creating truly original artistic works. By showing how new music can be created by recycling the old, the students were able to explore the complete compositional process, as well as presenting original music created by themselves.
Katrien Gaelens, participant in the LUCERNE FESTIVAL ACADEMY in 2005 and 2007