Hans Abrahamsen workshop at New Music Dublin

David Collier with Hans Abrahamsen and the ConTempo String Quartet

Working with Hans Abrahamsen and the ConTempo String Quartet (via Seán Doherty)

It’s been almost two weeks since New Music Dublin ended and I’m just starting to recover. The festival was a collage of all things new music with concerts, installations and workshops happening over the course of the 4 days. As well as the main festival itself there was a conference on new music hosted by the Music Composition Centre in Trinity College. Needless to say it was a hectic weekend. I didn’t get to go to everything but I was luck enough to be selected as a participant on a string quartet workshop with featured composer Hans Abrahamsen.

Myself and five other composers were selected to be mentored by Hans Abrahamsen on a string quartet we were writing. The work would  be workshopped  by RTÉ quartet in residence, ConTempo, so we could hear how it sounded and adapt our ideas as a result. The five other composers involved in the workshop were Deirdre McKay, Seán Doherty, Patrick Connolly, Norah Walsh and Breffni O’Byrne. As part of being selected for the workshop we were all given ticket to the opening concert of the festival. This was a performance by the Arditti quartet of quartets by Hans Abrahamsen, G.F. Hass and Iannis Xenakis. It was amazing to hear an ensemble of that standard playing such interesting music. It certainly opened my eyes to some techniques that I hadn’t considered.

Photo with Hans Abrahamsen

(l-r) Seán Doherty, David Collier, Hans Abrahamsen and Breffni O’Byrne

The following day we each had an individual lesson with Hans Abrahamsen. At the lesson I brought a quartet which I’ve been working on called Smacht. It’s a piece I’d been developing from a piece I originally wrote for Dublin Laptop Orchestra for fiddle clarinet and live electronic but which I have continued to develop as a quartet. In the lesson Abrahamsen spoke to me about the importance of notation, one of my weaker areas, and about being specific and clear in how I presented my ideas. He talked me through aspects of what I had written. Probing at my intention and suggesting ways which would make the idea clearer to the performers. It was also an opportunity for me to ask about some of the technique which I had heard in the concert the previous night and to write them into the score for the workshop the next day. We had time for the rest of the day to revise our scores based on lessons before the play through by the ConTempo String Quartet.

On the Saturday morning we arrived bright and early for the workshop. It was a really great experience for me to have the quartet in front of me to try out ideas, particularly timbral ideas. It allowed me to try out different shadings of sound. Like using less pressure in the left hand, playing artificial harmonics in different positions to affect the colour and using different string for their different qualities. These types of timbral shadings are very difficult to imagine without hearing them. It was great to have the quartet there so we could work towards exactly what I am looking for and to try out combinations of these timbres.

The workshop was a very insightful experience and I learned a lot from listening and watching as the other composers had their workshops as well. I find being able to look through their scores and listen as they made changes or clarified details a wonderful way to see the miriad of ways that people perceive music. A massive thanks to New Music Dublin and the Contemporary Music Centre for organising the event. To Hans Abrahamsen and the ConTempo String Quartet for their expertise and guidance and to my fellow composers for their company along the way.