A blog by Ailie Robertson, RSNO Composers’ Hub 2016:17
Being part of the RSNO’s Composers' Hub has been a huge learning experience for me over the last 6 months. I was in a slightly different starting position from the other four participants, having never written for such a large ensemble before, so the opportunity to have my first orchestral piece workshopped by musicians of such high calibre has been an incredible, if rather terrifying, prospect.
Although we knew early on that the theme for our pieces was to be ‘War’, I decided to wait until mid-January to approach the piece; wanting to be able to use the experience from the first piece we wrote and take that forward. It also took me a while to decide how to approach the piece – war is something that is so ever-present, yet intangible in our own lives. We see it every day on TV, read about it, hear about it, and yet our generation has been lucky enough to never have had any direct experience of it. Thus, I didn’t want my piece to reference any particular war or culture, feeling that my cultural appropriation of something I had no experience would be inappropriate.
As a folk musician, one thing that interests me greatly is the effect of conflict on the traditional culture of regions. Indeed Stravinsky wrote in 1941 that ‘political interests are constantly brought to bear on musical folklore’. It seems like conflict is often brought about as a result of tensions between old and new systems, between tradition and progression. This idea thus became central to my piece – while not referring directly to any one folk music culture, solo ‘traditional’ voices are constantly pitted in opposition to the more ‘modernist’ orchestral unit, each vying for dominance.
The opportunity to get feedback from Stuart MacRae, Holly Mathieson and the orchestral players has been of tremendous value to me over the last few months. While the musical ideas have come relatively easily, they have helped me find the best, most efficient ways to communicate my ideas to the players and conductor, to make them easy to read and understand quickly.
I’m really excited for the workshop next week to hear it all come to life, and get the players’ reactions! Hearing 60 musicians play one of my pieces will be an incredible experience, and I know I will learn even more during the process.