Last month, at the Croatian Composers' Society the international jury (Johannes Kalitzke, conductor and composer, Germany; Berislav Šipuš, conductor and composer, Croatia; Daan Vandewalle, pianist, Belgium) chose 10 finalists of the 5-Minute Piano Concerto Competition which will present their works in April 2017 at the next edition of the Festival. The winner will get a valuable prize – a comissioned „real“ piano concerto which will be premiered at the 30th jubilee of the Music Biennale Zagreb 2019. This creative breakthrough in the programme planning has started in 2014 when the idea of a 5-minute music forms competition was created. The composers have a demanding and challenging task to face which resembles to so called „fingerprint music“: an idea which works well has to be explained in just five minutes; there is no time for its development which means the composer has to be clear and precise from the beggining. According to jury members, within those limits, composers struggled with form, technical aspects of the instrument (the piano), development of the musical material. Nevertheless, there was a large number of those who successfully mastered all those limitations. Ten chosen finalists stand for ten artistically quality works, ten different scores and certainly an interesting concert evening at the next Music Biennale Zagreb.
This month, the Music Biennale's production team continued their work in realization of this programme initiative. The moment has come when the initial preparations for the opera of the 5-Minute Opera Competitions 2015 winner have started. Polish composer Martyna Kosecka stood out among other finalists with her 5-minute opera Kochawaya, based on a short Chinese fable. Croatian singers soprano Monika Cerovčec and bass-baritone Krešimir Stražanac embodied the Chinese characters settled in Kosecka's imagination and with their performance won the jury as well as the audience.
As the winner, Martyna got a chance to write a feature-lenght opera, the form which she had first encountered at the Biennale's Competition. Recently she sent to the Croatian Composers' Society the libretto for her opera Klothò which reflects a very intriguing, complex and above all, interesting piece. That was the reason for an interview with this creative, young artists, dedicated to contemporary music and bold interventions in the field of the musical experiment. The premiere of Klothò will also represent the collaboration with Croatian National Theatre Ivan pl. Zajc from Rijeka. Its ensemble and soloists will revive the fairytale world from Kosecka's opera. The premiere will also be the solemn opening of the 29th Music Biennale Zagreb on April 22nd 2017 at the Komedija Theater in Zagreb. Her opera was also the motive for the collaboration between Music Biennale Zagreb and Polish embassy in Zagreb and having Poland as the partner country for the next Festival, a more intense cultural collaboration between the two countries and more intense exchange between Polish and Croatian artists will hopefully arise.
After her masters degree in composition at the Music Academy in Krakow, Martyna Kosecka enrolled conducting in the town of Katowice (Poland). Her works had been performed at the 52nd, 56th and 57th contemporary music festival called Warsaw Autumn, at festivals AudioArt and aXes in Krakow (Poland), SoundScreen Festival in Bydgoszcz (Poland), Ostrava Days in Czech Republic and at Gent Bassoon Festival in Belgium. With Iranian composer Idin Samimi Mofakham in 2013 she founded the new music center Spectro where they organise musical workshops and concerts of contemporary music.
How did you find out about the 5-Minute Opera Competition and was it your first encounter with Music Biennale Zagreb?
Once, while searching through the internet, I came across the announcement about the 5-Minute Opera Competition, which really sounded different from the other competitions. The subject was challenging and that much promising that I have immediately took a decision to write for it. Of course I knew the Music Biennale Zagreb Festival before, it is one of the most important festivals focusing on contemporary music in Europe nowadays, although I have never had a chance to be at this Festival before.
How and when did you begin to compose?
My first composition attempts started during first two years of music school in Gdynia, my hometown. I was learning piano as my main instrument, and since being very little, I really liked to play on this instrument, not particulatly practise every day, but still, there was something dragging me more and more towards the world of music. I was around 9 years old when I finished my first piano pieces, mostly inspired by the music I played at the class with my teacher. I still have them somewhere hidden as a reminder of the days when my journey as a composer has started...
What does it mean to be a contemporary composer today in a world where mostly everything is defined by commercial values?
It is so hard to give one straight answer to this question. Everyday you figure out different answer, look at this issue from a different point of view. For now I would deffinately say that being a contemporary composer nowadays is to undertake a challenge against the surrounding us world. It is an attempt to look at the things around us from a different angle and try to catch those details that are important for us. Because composing is the act of creating a statement on the values that we composers feel that are important to be said out loud in a musical way. To sum up, it is a lifetime task, which never stops to surprise you and always gets more and more difficult.
You also are a conductor. Do you conduct mostly contemporary music?
I try to conduct all kinds of music and not limit myself only for contemporary repertorie. I believe there is so many compositions from various eras in music that keep inspiring us musicians and make us more sensitive while interacting with our surrounding that it would be really a shame to leave some music unexplored. As a conductor I equally admire perfmorning Mozart, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky or Webern, I find it as a huge plasure when I get a chance to take a peek into the world of those artists and many others, challenge to interpret them or at least try to understand them.
Which influences on your musical language would you highlight? Who were your musical role models and inspiration?
There were always many things that kept inspiring me during my composition studies, till now I see that the hunger of learning more and discovering more leads me towards new roads and offers brand new ideas in music. Taking a look back into my biggest fascinations, for sure I need to say Luciano Berio. The art of using a detail, manipulating with strictly chosen musical material and building a narration out of it, were one of those inspirations that built me a base under my own researches. Then I entered the world of Polish sonoristic school, compositions of Penderecki, Górecki or Serocki, which allowed me to open myself towards all the timbral experiments I could desire to create. This road led me to Lutosławski and Ligeti, whose compositions for sure are one of the most important sources for my studies. The most recent and for now ongoing love of mine is a music of Salvatore Sciarrino – an artwork of details, nuance games and a bow towards sound itself. Those several names that I have dared to mention, enabled me to create my own crossroad of choices that I try to follow for now, so my compositions can be unique, different, challenging and fresh in musical thinking.
Could you maybe describe your opinion about the future of contemporary classical music? Its directions into the future...
That is a truly hard question. I am sure the contemporary music is not going to die, but its evolution towards the future depends on the world's situation, to say more, it depends on the needs of the modern human beings. Our expectations started to grow way more beyond the music as a melodic or rhytmic pattern. Now we prefer the journeys into the sound itself, or, we want to experience so called „engaged music“, or – which is another popular angle nowadays, we turn ourselves towards the intermedia art, where music can, but doesn't have to, be the main source of cultural information for the audience. I am sure that the time will show us if contemporary music goes deeper into those several fields I named before. Or surprisingly, maybe it will take a step back into the things we have experienced before, start being the repetitive art? I am not a foreteller but just believe that all the situations that trigger the world right now, step by step will shape the type of classical music humans need to express in future. How it will sound like? We will get surprised and notice it as always at the end of its era, to then finally name it and speculate about the next one to come...
I read you are interested in other cultures – do you have a sort of an ethnomusicological perspective which you use in composing as well? Is your music influenced with some other national traditions?
Yes, that is right. I like to learn about other cultures in general. I try to understand the everyday life, the ritual, the ways of thinking of all the cultures I come across. Somehow here music many times happens to be in the background. While composing I try to follow my own set of rules and if I happen to use some of the traditional music, I still use it in a very specific and not obvious way. If I shoud name any traditional music that I descretly added in some of my compositions, that would be deffinately a music of Iran. My husband is an iranian contemporary music composer. When we met for the first time almost four years ago, he introduced me the iranian traditional music, the scales, instruments, forms and meanings. I fell in love not only with him but also with the sounds he showed me. Iranian music is full of microtones and very complicated rhytmical structures. Although it differs from Arabic maqam scale system or indian ragas, the traditions one could think dominate in the Middle East area and towards the Indian Pennisula. The music of this quite big country, in territorial context of course, stands as a never ending story for the ethnomusicologist and I need to add that it is a subject really worth exploring and diving into.
Correct me if I am wrong, but in some works of yours I sense a sort of a theatrical element. Have you had afffinity towards musical drama or was the 5-Minute Opera Competition your first encounter with these sort of forms?
To be honest, this feeling for sure was somewhere inside me, but it was the 5-Minute Opera Competition that enabled me to express it finally out loud. Kochawaya somehow happened to be my first deep study in voice techniques. Also it helped me to look at the opera as a theatrical event. Singer, except the ability of performing the material written by composer, needs to have a set of values that help him to make a creation of this into music, so artistically he/she can drag the listener into the new world of experience. Singer is an actor, a showman, an exhibitionist (same as the conductor), who does not hesitate in his/her performance and gives all his/her strength to interpret, to make a creation. Now, whenever I write music, where voice is involved, I have this need to think „theatre“. It is not thinking about a show, it is rather thinking about the „musical situation“ that by accompanying theatre actions adds more meaning to the sound itself. It is a musical speech of the whole body and soul!
Your opera Klothò has a very interesting libretto (written by you) based on different fairy tales. Could you describe the process of writting the opera?
In my opinion, whenever starting a new opera piece, the first decision to establish is to choose a subject and a general atmosphere of the music one needs to create. It is the ability to imagine yourself the „feeling cloud“ of the composition that later you are destined to write. This very much idealistic beginning has to be later transformed into a very hard reality – the months spent on a research. Speaking about myself, I have read thundreds of stories from around the world, myths, legends, fables and fairy-tales. So many of them are tempting to orchestrate, but in here I needed to make a choise. How many of them I could use, how to use them, finally, what personal thoughts I want to put into this opera? I write now from the point of view of librettist and a composer, as I have decided to create the text by my own. After establishing a base, one experiences even more the reality – the hundreds of hours of sitting, lying, standing, walking, driving or even flying with only one task to accomplish – try to pour as much as you can previously created ideas into the piece of paper, so they can become alive during the performance.
After reading Klothò's libretto, I was amazed by your talent in writing. Is writing also one of your talents you are developing?
Thank you very much for such a kind words. Actually no, I do not work with text every day. When I was in high school, I made several writing attempts, but they were more like an extra adventure for me. I never thought seriously about that, it was just a nice hobby. Which unexpectedly occured to be quite useful now. The ability to find the right word connections and what is more, meanings that follow it, is a precious thing. I really enjoyed writing libretto for my own opera, even if it was not written in my mother-tongue, which actually makes it more difficult to make. By the way, I still somehow easified my task, because while creating my own text base for a huge work I could already start faster all my imaginations about how this text will work with music and what atmosphere will it add to the sound.
In Klothò, listeners can find lots of hidden truths about life. This also reveals your maturity as a person. Do you think working on yourself and one's personal development is crucial for an artists?
Well it definately is. Without self-developement I can never achieve new things, I can never get deeper into the subjects that truly matter to me. Which could state that I am staying in one spot, already having it all. Maybe it is good to give several examples to it. During olympics a swimmer not olny challenges the other competitiors to win the race but also tries to make his own personal record higher. Why the conductors in XIX-th century tried to evolve their conducting technique more and more? It was for achieving better results in the art of performance, additionally this progress enabled them to open themselves more in front of the orchestra and establish a new profession in the field of music. So thinking this way, I believe that all of us, artists or not, by self-developement and constant work on ourselves, can learn more about all those truths that lay around as and make us more concious and mature in our lives.
I know dance is one of your passions. How important is dance in your composing? Do you have in mind body movement as an important musical category as well?
Dance was one of my passions for many years. Unfortunately now I do not have any more time for practice, being busy with composing and teaching music. Anyway, I included dance in one of my early compositions, focusing mostly on the contact improvisation technique or inspired by the art of Pina Bausch. Referring to my recent work, while writing libretto and music for Klothò, I have always tried to keep in mind where dance should stand out and become most important element on stage, although it is beyond my power to control it all the time. That is the moment where really a help of a director and choreographer comes in handy. Maybe I master the language of music and word, but I truly believe in a succesful and inspirational collaboration with other artists that are masters in their specialties, composing a movement and acring of a body in the flow of sounds.
Klothò's premiere will also be the opening night of the 29th Music Biennale Zagreb and you will collaborate with lots of Croatian artists from the Rijeka National Theatre? Is this you first encounter with Croatian artists? Where you pleased with the choice of soloists?
I am thrilled and really looking forward to work with Croatian artists! I had a pleasure to collaborate with artists engaged into the 5-Minute Opera Competition finals, which took place last year in Zagreb. Unfortunately I could not make it to arrive to Zagreb on the night of the premiere of Kochawaya, but I was constantly in touch with artists taking part in this performance and was impressed by the great job they did performing my Kochawaya. Now I look forward to meet new artists from Rijeka National Theatre. I am really happy of the choise of the soloists and I deeply hope that all of them will find their roles challenging and interesting!
After Klothò, what are your future projects and in which part of the world will they lead you?
Who can fortell it for now? I have started to develop some projects of a smaller scale for different European ensembles and soloists. Together with my husband, we create an electronic duo called SpectroDuo, where we focus on live electronic improvisation plus live video experiments. We hope to manage some decent tour in Europe, where we can show the result of our research. And also, I guess that after the Klothò I will really miss working with voice. My dream would be to manage to create a work more in a genre of instrumental theatre, where I could boldly experiment on sound matter and research how to manage and engaging artwork for a smaller group of performers. Well, we will see about that. And where is it going to happen? Who knows? As Chaya Czernowin says, we musicians (composers as well) are the citizens of the world. No matter how politically complex it gets, we work in the world and we inspire or are being inspired by the constantly changing world. No matter if it is Asia, Africa, America or Europe. We create. We do not give up. And we never can know where it will lead us.