Matthew Bourne – improviser, innovator and all-round inspired pianist/composer – is currently collaborating with the London Sinfonietta players to create new material for the ensemble’s Written/Unwritten festival.
With the world premiere on the horizon (3 June), Matthew tells us how things got started at his first workshop session with the players, including Karen Jones (flute), Gareth Hulse (London Sinfonietta Principal oboe), Timothy Lines (clarinet), Ollie Coates (cello) and David Hockings (London Sinfonietta Principal percussion) …
Matthew Bourne (r) starts his collaboration with the LS players. Images © Briony Campbell
I was incredibly nervous before and on the day of the initial workshop sessions in April. Even though this is a collaborative project it is always a daunting prospect presenting one’s ideas to an ensemble of new musicians for the first time. After arriving for the first session my nerves were put immediately at ease by Gareth’s arrival on a BMW GS1200 motorcycle (having become a recent convert to the many facets of motorcycling – with some spanner rash and plenty of dirty fingernails to prove it), with whom I talked to (or bored him to death…) until the other members of the ensemble arrived.
We started by working at some improvisation ideas and then tried some scored sketches/structures that I’d brought along. At one point, Karen, after trying to work around the sample phrases that I’d written for her in Idea I, took the music and turned it over so she couldn’t see the notes at all – preferring to find her own way of doing the same thing without being a ‘slave to the stave’, so to speak. This was a great moment – as this is the kind of collective approach I hoped we would achieve: losing the written music once the principles behind it are uncovered, leaving the musicians to trust their intuition, creating often better ideas than what was written in the first place!!
Over the course of the sessions, the improvised pieces became stronger and more varied and the structured elements began to change with various suggestions from the ensemble. I hadn’t written a great deal for David (sorry, David – I’ll make it up to you in the next sessions!) but I learned a lot from his input and we had some good conversations about sound(s) and the role of the percussion in the pieces and about notation – with reference to Elaine Gould’s incredible (and surprisingly addictive) book Behind Bars.
Snapshot of one of Matthew's scores in progress ..
My main aim for this part of the collaboration was to try and learn as much as I could from the London Sinfonietta musicians and it was humbling to be working alongside players with such high standards of musicianship. After reflecting on the rehearsal recordings, work has started on a further set of notated ideas, so I’ll be bringing a few more things along that will challenge and stretch us all a little – and hopefully bring our collaborative efforts to fruition on 3 June.