Click the play button above to listen while you read!
Earlier this spring, I had the honor a wonderfully immersive residency with the City of London Sinfonia, which used me to my full potential as a composer and performer. Over the course of about ten days in London, we played ten performances and a radio broadcast, each concert featuring my music and performances. (The overture to this collaboration was a rather innocent tweet by Matthew Swann, their director, upon hearing a concert of my music in Montréal performed by Warhol Dervish & yours truly.)
In all, we played:
— a concert at a club venue, The Village Underground, which was live-streamed online with a dazzling 3-camera shoot (private link on request), featuring over an hour of my music including the premiere of “Elegy”, which was commissioned by the City of London Sinfonia for the occasion (hear excerpt above).
— a live performance on the BBC, featuring a collaboration with vocalist Inna Barmash and the Welsh accordionist Edward Jay (hear above)
— a show of string quartets by composer dynasties at another hip venue (Rich Mix), featuring music by my father, Alexander Zhurbin, the young composer Gabriel Prokofiev and his grandfather Sergei, and Russian-British composer Lena Langer (co-produced with Dash Arts)
— a children’s concert at Cadogan Hall, featuring my music enveloped in a great new script by animateur Claire Henry
— four concerts at elder care homes, featuring my music alongside Gershwin, Tchaikovsky, and yes, selections from “Fiddler On The Roof”
— two concerts for several groups of absolutely jolly school children
— a private event for donors in a very intimate chapel
A couple of things struck me about this residency —
1) We played at least one concert for almost everyone — for those who could come out to a club on a weeknight, for families with children, for rooms with a dozen wheelchairs, for Holocaust survivors, for those who watched the video stream at home, and for those stuck in traffic listening to the BBC. Never before have I been part of a performing residency so inclusive and immersive.
2) The wonderful dedication of the CLS players. My music is not about the notes on the page but about the energy between performers. Many of my pieces grew out of improvisations and depend on a performer’s individual style, on listening, on flavor, many of them invite a playful approach — such as when the cellist Joely Koos took a breathtaking vocal improvisation towards the end of my “Plume”. In the newly-commissioned “Elegy” (excerpted above), the score is a collection of unmeasured repeated material which unfolds in conversation with other performers. We also performed my piece “Healing”, re-arranged for live looping fadolín & the ensemble, in which I asked the players to use the vaguely stated chordal changes of my looping as their tempo map, adding their lines as they saw fit. It takes a leap of faith for an orchestral player to do all this — and they did it brilliantly, with great abandon.
3) Finding a composer’s voice in all contexts. Composers are often put in the context of other composers (romantics, minimalists, indie rockers), their schools of thought (New York School, Viennese School, Yale, Princeton, Darmstadt), their main instrument (violists, pianists, guitarists) — but it is perhaps the audience that shapes and teaches us best. If your audience is a university crowd, you are more likely to write something that is worthy of dissection; if your audience is full of children and their families, you’re more likely to write something that would excite and inspire; and if your audience is a room of wheelchair-bound seniors, it may be unwise to choose something terribly loud and discordant. It was my great privilege as a composer to find a different context for my music nearly every day in this residency, to build new relationships with music that could be challenging, inspiring, comforting, provoking, and personal for everyone in the room.
Thank you to everyone at City of London Sinfonia for putting their trust in me, all the performers and staff for making this a reality. Looking forward to continuing this journey with you.