Lauren Marshall, NYO’s Principal Composer, takes time out of her very busy NYO schedule to tell us about her new work Suspended between earth and air, commissioned by NYO and being performed during our Winter concert tour in Theatre Royal, Nottingham; Symphony Hall, Birmingham and Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall, London.
Thank you! I wanted a title that related to nature to convey that it’s about a garden and about things developing organically. The first place I turned to was poetry about nature – especially Chinese nature poetry. I can’t read Chinese but my mum can and I remember her reading me poetry by Li Bai, the Chinese poet. His poems capture the essence of nature so much more than any other poets that I’ve read. I was originally looking at translations from Chinese into English but sadly most of them aren’t that good! Interestingly, as I continued to research these translations, I started to notice how simple the language became. This appealed to me as I wanted a title that didn’t have obscure vocabulary in it. So the title is influenced by that world of poetry and things that are maybe slightly mystical, real and of this world.
At NYO we workshop ideas and create one page scores that are performed by the orchestra. The idea for this piece came out of this. My idea comprised of a single musical line which was played by all of the different instruments in the orchestra but in a slightly different way for each instrument. It was an experiment to hear what the culmination of all these sounds – all different instruments playing the same thing – would come out to be. So I took this idea, and the overall concept of the unity of the instruments and focused that into three different types of material – essentially three layers - in one piece. I also created an illustration to demonstrate this…
The difference between writing the early sketches in my one page score and the piece you’re hearing today is that with the sketches, I was experimenting with just the sound itself, whilst the piece you are hearing today has intention and my idea of the overall sound and structure built into it. I very much wanted the sound of something that blossoms organically. The sketch suggested that. Writing the piece, I had to add different things, to really emphasise that idea. And also of course, in the piece, I’ve taken the material from the workshop we did but also added onto that different material and different sound worlds to make it something more interesting and exciting.
I’ve tried to make the development of the piece relatively smooth. So there isn’t one real climactic point, but there are definitely moments in the texture where different layers stand out. So there are three main layers and each of them have their moments of fame. Listen out for those moments as they’re climactic moments in the piece.
I approach things from a simple standpoint. I write music and sounds that I like and if that gives me a voice then that’s just coincidental because I’m just writing things that I like the sound of and whether or not it’s simple or complex is almost irrelevant. The important thing is to convey the intention of the music. As to whether this piece is simple or complex, it depends on how you look at it. There are only three things in that piece that grow and maybe listening to it without thinking about those things as separate entities, it might actually sound very complex.
This is something that I focus on a lot – the emotional impact of the music. I think it’s something in history that composers have considered a lot and perhaps recently people have considered less in music, especially following the development of compositional techniques such as serialism* for example. But it’s something that I really relish. The music’s potential to impact people when listening to it. My hope is that I want people to feel very peaceful when listening to it. There are though points when builds up and I want there to be some tension between the audience and the music. Interestingly, what I’ve done with the piece is to include this static line running throughout which disappears in the middle because it’s been covered up by different things. It then suddenly reappears at the end even though it’s been there the whole time. It appears in our consciousness because the other things have faded away. For me that’s the feeling of nostalgia but also remembering that things are always there even if you forget about them sometimes. Exposing something by taking things away, rather than making something louder.
*For those who maybe aren’t familiar with what serialism is – it is a way of composing music using a series of notes in a particular order and using this to build up a whole piece of music.
It’s really big! All of the sounds are hyper so you can really bring out some really extreme tones. Also – teenage musicians are willing to do things that are a little more experimental. As teenagers, they’re more open to learning as they’re performing.
I love Charles Ives. I also love Messiaen, especially his music relating to birds and nature and the way it’s all linked. I like the celestial and spiritual nature of his music. So the L’Oiseau Exotiques for example. Liszt – late Liszt especially. Especially La Prédication aux oiseaux. It features birds again…I obviously love birds! Also have to say Contemporary Electronica – Electronic artists who create delicate soundscapes. The idea of layering is used so much in electronica and I’ve really used that a lot in this piece.