Field Reports

Bethan Morgan-Williams (2020)

This is a fabulous band made up of truly insightful and informative individuals whose main objective for the duration of this project has been to share what they know with us youngsters. I didn’t become an ‘active composer’ until the final year but even before that point, I enjoyed a multitude of sessions with players – both individually and collectively – experimenting with various sounds and trying out ideas. These sorts of interactions are invaluable to composers, irrespective of where one is in ones career, and to be offered a series of such interactions over an extended period of time sounds like a thing of make-believe to most of us (especially when considering the calibre of the musicians involved). Now that we have reached the end of this journey it is hard to understand where the four years have gone, but I have learned a huge amount and have made new friends along the way.

From the word go, it has been as though the word ‘no’ doesn’t exist. Even when asking questions I’d heard the answer (‘no’) to before, I was being met with responses akin to, ‘oh hang on, I’m going to need a bit of time with that.’ I have honestly never come across an ensemble in which each and every member is so selflessly devoted to the practice and realisation of new music before. There has been a near-continuous dialogue between composers and players and the fruits of that are in the music. Collectively, we have formed the sorts of memories that will last a lifetime and I will miss everybody dearly moving forward. A huge thank you to everybody involved!

Menghao Xie (2020)

First of all, I would like to express my sincere thanks to all the staff, the player, the conductor and professors of Composer Collider Europe for holding rehearsals and recordings for us in this difficult year 2020. 

Like everyone else, I was very excited when I learned that I could join CCE and work with Ensemble Musikfabrik. And just as expected, they always strived for perfection and are willing to provide composers with the possibilities as much as possible. I learned lots of things from them, not only about skills of music but also their attitude towards music. 

Over the past few years, I’m also glad to have had the opportunity to share ideas with composers from different backgrounds. And I feel very fortunate that, at my age, I have the chance to work with this team and meet those people. 

There is a poem from ancient china that reads: “If only I could get a great mansion of a million rooms, broadly covering the poor scholars of all the world, all with joyous expressions…“

Wesley Troeger (2020)

My active phase as a composer in CCE had to be conducted remotely because of the Covid-19 crisis. The other active composers and I had individual meetings with the musicians in late April and early May. In June we had an ensemble rehearsal, which was somewhat difficult to do as a video conference, but I still got helpful feedback and the rehearsal was recorded.

Our planned concert in November also had to be canceled, but we had recording sessions with a higher quality internet connection.

In previous phases of CCE I attended rehearsals of the other composers’ pieces. I also participated in SpielBar sessions and had individual consultations with the performers. I enjoyed getting to know the musicians, the other composers and the staff at Musikfabrik. In the 2017-2018 academic year we met in Cologne twice, and the next year we met in Thessaloniki in November and once more in Cologne in the Spring. In the Fall of 2019, I had completed my Master’s in The Hague and moved back to the New York City area, so I flew to Cologne from there and attended rehearsals and the performance that took place during that phase.

I learned a lot over the course of the CCE project and very much enjoyed the exchange that took place between everyone involved. I got helpful advice in each phase and my artistic education was enriched by interaction with the composers from Thessaloniki and Cologne.

Antonis Rouvelas (2020)

Since 2017 I participate in the project Composer Collider Europe, a unique experience in my musical education and career. During the first two years as a passive participant, I had the opportunity for regular meetings with the performers, exchanging valuable information about instruments, as well as other
musical aspects. I have been also intensively watching the rehearsal sessions of the active composers, realizing effective ways to work in a rehearsal with a professional ensemble of such high level and respectively high understanding and deepening to the music, which from the first moment impressed me a lot.

Another great factor of the project is the schedule arrangement, which was providing the necessary flexibility in order to be productive and not under stress, taking the advantage of all involved people (musicians, composers, technical and organization team) for fruitful interactions. I must not forget to mention also the generous access of the ensemble to their facilities, where I had the chance to experiment with numerous percussion and other special instruments.

The project was based in Cologne, where we spent the most of our time, while during 2018 we had the chance to travel to Thessaloniki for the first premieres of the project. 2020 would be the year of a big 2-weeks tour between the three involved cities and a great chance for us to get the maximum out of this experience. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic the plans should be changed, putting all involved members of the project to the position of finding alternatives in order to complete it successfully. The process was not easy and many of the decisions to be taken were at some points difficult, especially for the active composers of the last part of the project, to whom I also belong. I met the musicians online during the preparation phase in April 2020 for checking a draft of my score and then later in November I had online rehearsal sessions for
recording my completed work Still relief. The premiere of the work was unfortunately canceled in the last moment due to the urgent lockdown in Germany. This experience left of course mixed feelings behind but I am however happy that we were flexible and the organization was standing next to the decisions and needs of everybody. While I am writing the report, I have not the results of the recording sessions in my hand but judging from the great work that we did online, everything should have worked in a maximum level under
the current circumstances.

Last but not least, the side project Spielbar, which was running in parallel with all other activities. Spielbar’s focus is to make the music accessible to every interested human – a great conception which worked very good during the preparation and it had great results in the public presentations. This year it
would be my turn to try out a work of mine in one of the sessions, but unfortunately this was also canceled. In order to continue the project in the lockdown circumstances, an idea came out for creating videos expressing with the visual media the core ideas behind the Spielbar pieces. The videos are still in progress and I am very motivated to see the results.

Even if things turned out unexpectedly different in the end, I consider myself more than lucky having had the chance to work for three years in such an ideal environment. I hope that the project will continue existing, giving the opportunity to as many composers as possible to experience the higher artistic results arising through long term artistic interactions.

Georgia Koumará (2019)

Being a composer often means spending a lot of time alone in your desk and in your head, with numerous sketches, crazy sound ideas and experimentations laying all around. Sounds that you want to try and you don’t know how to notate, thinking about how they will actually sound or how or if they will eventually work in the global form of the piece.

The ideal situation would be of course to try everything you wish for with the musicians that will perform the piece and let yourself get inspired by them. See how they react, how they move, how they breathe, how they communicate with each other…

Furthermore push yourself -as a composer- to communicate the piece to other people who didn’t spend months creating the score and be aware that things that are crystal clear to you can not be that clear to anyone else.

Try to hear and understand the problems of a specific notation, try and overcome technical difficulties and by all means try to get the piece out of your composer point of view and try to perceive it with different ears, those of the musicians and those of the audience. Learn how to be quick, effective and helpful during a rehearsal. Learn from the other composers, who have different aesthetics and other musical needs, than your own. Watch how they rehearse, learn from them and witness a new piece in the making.

Being a participant of CCE these last two years helped me enormously not only to realise all the factors mentioned above but also increase my awareness of them and put them into a new perceptive. Each piece required a different approach and each composer was unique, in the way he or she communicated his/her ideas and structured his/her musical world.

Spending so much time with so many different people from other countries contributed in the most positive way on my creativity and I am sure I will miss them all, when the project comes to an end.

My happiest observation was seeing the renowned members of Musikfabrik being an enormous help to all of the composers, suggesting new ways of notating new techniques, or trying to find solutions while simultaneously being genuinely curious and energetic. The whole try-out session period with them felt like a high-intensity running-up-and-down-marathon, grabbing different objects, mallets, cables, effect pedals, or other unique strange instruments to try out on. Getting answers to a never ending amount of questions and engaging into many different conversations: from extended techniques notation and the instrument’s construction and flexibility to different approaches in life, art, philosophy and local restaurants recommendation.

Another part of the CCE that I quite enjoyed was the Spielbar workshop, led by Melvyn Poore. Not only do I personally find the concept of making “new music” approachable to everyone a necessity but also being part of a group which gives the participants the chance to become deeply involved in the compositional process, let their creativity flourish and let their ideas be heard, can contribute into creating stronger relationships and more importantly spread the word, that contemporary/experimental music can be a lot of fun! I cannot wait for my turn to present a Spielbar workshop in den Haag next year!

Last but not least, I would like to express my deepest gratitude to Musikfabrik’s percussionist Dirk Rothbrust (also my mentor during the CCE phases) for the endless hours of picking up and trying different metal objects, his dedication, his energy and his helpful comments not only during the realisation of the piece but also until the very last rehearsal. Seeing and observing the way he performs and reacts with the other musicians of Musikfabrik shaped the piece in a way I couldn’t have imagined before.

In closing my report I warmly wish to see this international project repeated again in the future, bringing together new music universities, connecting new young creators and inspire people around the world.

Julian Maple Oliveira (2019)

Working with the Ensemble Musikfabrik was one of my best musical experiences so far.
As a student, it is very rare to have an opportunity to work with such a professional group of players, therefore this was a very special occasion for me.

At first sight, the work ethic and technical capabilities of the players were the things that impressed me. However, during the project it pleased me to realise that in addition to being great virtuoso players, the group is filled with positive energy and friendliness. During the time spent with the ensemble and staff, friendships were formed.

The composition I wrote for the group was one of high technical difficulty, therefore I was very fortunate to have such a skilled group of musicians to help me improve the notation and musical ideas of the piece. I believe that their patience and input played a fundamental part for my development of the composition and me as a composer.

Being present for the rehearsal process of the compositions was awesome. Seeing the musicians decode the complex musical materials gave me great lessons on ensemble playing, as well as composition.

I am very glad to be part of the CCE and to have written a composition that Ensemble Musikfabrik really enjoyed playing. I was very happy with the concert in Cologne. The concert had a high level, all pieces had great quality and it was clear that the composers weren’t the only ones to thank.

I hope to get the chance to work with the ensemble many more times in the future.

Mihali Paleologou (2019)

Entering the Composer Collider program I was excited to have the opportunity to work with one of the leading new music ensembles of our times and at the same time have the chance to share ideas with professors and composers from a diverse cultural and artistic background.

After two years, I am still equally excited about participating in the program. Being a member of the CCE project has been an exhilarating experience thus far. At no point, I felt that this was a purely educational program, on the contrary, this program had all the qualities of professional experience. Given the extended amount of time that we have, lasting relations have been established and knowledge has been gained by experimenting and exchanging new ideas within this artistic hub.

Through this process, the first ideas and musical material for my piece ‘An inch above the ground’ were created. The unique timbral characteristics and musical qualities of the musicians of Ensemble Musikfabrik played an integral part in the composition process. The chance to work closely with the musicians as well as the opportunity to get feedback in a relaxed environment gave me a greater sense of freedom to experiment and push boundaries related both to the individual instrumental techniques but also to the greater aesthetic aspects of an ensemble composition.

In this phase of  CCE, my piece was performed in Cologne and you could sense that this was more than simply a performance of musical ideas, the togetherness of the group was present throughout. I feel very grateful for being part of CCE, and I look forward to developing and spreading the ideas and culture created during this time.

Benjamin Grau (2019)

The CCE project was my first collaboration with Ensemble Musikfabrik. The ensemble as well as the individual musicians were already known to me as enormously renowned – so I was excited to be able to work together with such gifted musicians. I also felt pressure to live up to the situation as I wanted to use this opportunity in its entirety. However, the nervousness soon disappeared after the first personal meetings, as all ensemble members are very communicative, interested and helpful.

Working on my ideas with this level of support was a special experience for me. I was confronted with an almost limitless repertoire of playing techniques and musical expression, which has not given me any creative boundaries, and has made me think even more of my own compositional interests. The individual consultations also had an effect on my composition homologue and have given me interesting material that I will use in upcoming projects. Also, purely practical aspects of making music and rehearsing have been addressed too, e.g. the font size of the page and bar numbers, or readability, this includes size and layout, of notation in the parts and score. During the previous phases I learned a lot from the rehearsals of my colleagues and my own tryout, which enabled me to make my final score precise and appealing.

Another enriching experience were the conversations with the other participants. To talk to people with different backgrounds, biographies, perspectives on music and composition, approaches and aesthetic preferences is a great opportunity to reflect on one’s own positions. 

Of course, I hope to see all participants again sooner or later after completing the project. Whether in a joint work or in friendly exchange. But for now I’m looking forward to the last project phases, the last pieces of the other composers, my composition for the Spielbar Workshop and the concert tour.

Vladimir Guicheff Bogacz (2018)

There are three main types of experience I can distinguish during these past phases of the Composer Collider Europe Project. Deeper human relations, an approach to a different society and increase of musical knowledge.

Spending more time with the other students of the project, was a great opportunity to get to know fascinating people which I would have hardly met in another situation. This also happened with the musicians of the ensemble and I think that the fact of being out of our city (Cologne), was also very important for this to happen. Although this might be seen as not absolutely necessary for the music, it is also true that making music is a social action, and therefore the deep understanding of the colleagues with whom you work, makes also the music sound better.

Living for some days in another city, it’s also a great opportunity to experience how other people live and work and also to reflect about one’s own conditions. In Thessaloniki, I even learned some Greek and through the Spielbar project I could contact some local musicians, jam with them, and invite them to our concert.

Then the development of my musical knowledge during this period is very important. I had the opportunity to test every single material separately and let the ideas grow side by side with the musicians, so each sound was not only in accordance with my aesthetic ideal, but also suitable for each musician.

I tried to take advantage of being able to write music in these conditions with such good musicians and then look for musical processes that lead some aspects of music to their boundaries.

It was no coincidence that Melvyn Poore and Peter Veale both referred to the piece at the same time as a kind of tuba / oboe concerto. Also, it was very challenging to write a percussion part only with a woodblock, an idea which was also very suitable for Dirk Rothbrust.

We also had a very interesting (and also for me moving) idea exchange on the issue of having or not having a conductor. For me the fact that musicians defended one or the other idea with such a passion and commitment for bringing out the best result was very nice.

I’m also very happy with the results of the piece, which involves the very difficult idea of having two independent but coordinated music pieces sounding together, the ensemble reacted very well to the concept of following one colleague but trying not to follow other ones.

Nevertheless, I’m also looking very forward to further performances of the piece, since I think (and also many musicians of the ensemble told me) there are things that still can mature, I find the decision very important of having all the pieces being performed at least once again.

Finally, I should also say that the place where we worked in Thessaloniki was wonderful. The working atmosphere was very good and I think that part of this was the beautiful environment. During these very intense sessions of hours and hours of rehearsals, having those little pauses in front of the sea was very refreshing. Prof. Lapidakis hospitality also helped this excellent conditions, who showed us some of Thessaloniki’s culinary treasures.

Petros Leivadas (2018)

Since I was an active composer on the first circle of Composer Collider Europe and considering the fact that the first concert of the circle would take place in Thessaloniki, this first phase was quite a challenge. Thessaloniki is my hometown and Musikfabrik is one of the best ensembles for contemporary music, so this concert was a matter of grave importance to me.

First of all, one of the most important aspects for me was working in an intensive way with the members of the ensemble and the conductor. I realized many different ways of musical praxis, while the ensemble led me to a more professional and fast way of working with the material of my piece. Furthermore, I had the chance to work closely with the musicians and the conductor not only on the level of sound itself but also on a very deep level of what interpretation is. We worked on the gestures of the performers and the physicality of their body during performance (Köperlichkeit), the articulation of musical phrasing and the duration of a specific musical idea, elements which seem to be neglected by the contemporary music scene. Another important fact of the rehearsal time was that the members of the ensemble were open to aesthetic conversations and interpretations of the pieces and they were more than interested to enrich their understanding considering the motivation of the composers.

On the other side lies the performance of the concert itself. It was the first time for me to attend such a good organisational process. The ensemble was prepared for everything with sound technicians and stage management. This situation led the performance of the four pieces to clarity and honestly convinced the audience. I grew up in Thessaloniki and I have attended many concerts of contemporary music there, but this was the first time that I saw the audience so concentrated and devoted to the ritual of a concert. From the very first moment that the ensemble entered the stage, they transmitted a very imposing energy which we have never seen again in a concert of contemporary music. In addition, the ensemble approached every piece individually, allowing the authenticity of each composer to appear on the surface, an element which communicated to the audience a great flow of a concert and not another new music performance.

Last but not least, I was really amazed by the results of the Spielbar workshop. Spielbar is a parallel side of the project which in my humble opinion makes it more vivid. The people, students and artists who participated were thrilled and the results of the creative process were really satisfying.

I am very much looking forward to continue this journey in the next years, to learn and to collaborate more with such amazing musicians and composers in such a wonderful environment.

Zesses Seglias (2018)

The first circle of Composer Collider Europe closed with the concert in Thessaloniki. This was exceptional for me, since I was an active composer and also had my piece performed in the city where I have been living in the last seven years.

This last phase of the first circle, the preparation and the performance of the concert was of course the pinnacle of the programme so far. To work within a professionally organised context (altogether the CCE staff, the AUTh administration and all the participants with their attitude) with Ensemble Musikfabrik was a unique experience in seeing how a highly professional ensemble can handle their rehearsal time in between four completely different pieces; apart from solving very different problems that occurred during the rehearsals, they paid much attention to the musical aspect of the pieces, the interpretation. This last aspect gave the concert a very special atmosphere, making the audience (in a full house) embrace the event with warmth. Having attended quite a few contemporary music concerts, Ι can confirm that this was one of the most intimate, warm and enthusiastic concerts in this venue over the last years. The same atmosphere was prevailing the room during the Spielbar sessions.

Besides the concert, the last phase was actually the most important stage in the process of working on the piece with the ensemble. Since the programme runs over a period of many years, its ultimate essence in my opinion is to have the chance to take the relationship between composition and performance practice a step further. Having a first performance (and a private recording) is an important help in the process of correcting things and developing the piece. This is something that used to be a common place among musicians, but nowadays only in a few occasions occurs (definitely not in an educational environment). This is something new that Composer Collider Europe brings and in this sense, I feel lucky to have my piece performed already in the first concert.

I am looking forward to meeting the ensemble and the composers again and continuing the journey around Europe.

Sara Zamboni (2018)

I am Sara Zamboni and I am an Italian composer and pianist based in The Hague (NL). Being a participant of CCE from 2017 till 2020 with Ensemble Musikfabrik has given me a lot personally, professionally and creatively. This project started when I was a student and it came to its conclusion after my graduation. It helped me to grow from the student’s point of view to the professional one.

I had the chance to compose a piece for Ensemble Musikfabrik (Lumen de Lumine – 2018) that took me a lot of time to finish because I initially embarked in a series of recording sessions with single players and I ended up in a score for 11 players, 6-channels fixed media with the manipulated recordings of the same instruments. It has been performed at the State Symphony Orchestra of Thessaloniki (GR) with all the meticulous attention of the players, the conductor Christian Eggen and all the people working for that concert. I have learnt to be patient and to anticipate the musical situations in my mind before they happen in order to solve potential problems and be prepared to the questions of the performers.

Then, composing a spielBar piece (Aggregation – 2019) has added and refined some steps in my thinking process that were necessary to make a piece to be performed by any audience member as well as by trained musicians. I could test it in a workshop at the HfMT in Köln (DE) and I have learnt a lot thanks to the coaching of Melvyn Poore (Ensemble Musikfabrik). It is a piece where feeling the space and communicating non-verbally with other people are crucial. The external participants have added variations to my spielBar piece and stimulated me to make decisions that were practical for the situation and find creative solutions to musical issues that were appearing during the process. People were trying to follow the rules of my musical game but at the same time were finding spontaneous ways to communicate and come together at the end. It was an experience that gave me a lot to think about and also a lot of satisfaction.

The coming of Coronavirus has of course affected the entire project, especially the final performances but what I could learn from that was about finding alternative solutions to critical problems. Having to adapt the concept of my spielBar workshop to a new medium (audiovisual) has really challenged my way of thinking and I found very enjoyable collaborating with Melvyn and Janet (the video maker). Composing soundtrack for this short trailer has added an extra layer, hopefully allowing the audience to make its own story out of it. Finally, due to the impossibility of making a tour, I had the chance to collaborate with Wolfgang, a professional recording engineer who took care of the recording, editing, mixing and mastering my piece Lumen de Lumine when everything seemed to be impossible.
Sara Zamboni, final report 2017 – 2020