Creative strategies in composer/performer collaboration
This is a longitudinal study carried out in collaboration by Stefan Östersjö and David Gorton, associate head of research at Royal Academy of Music. Within the frame of the project, launched in 2010, a series of compositions by David Gorton will be developed for and in collaboration with the guitarist Stefan Östersjö. The project will see the completion of a series of new compositions written for and in collaboration with Stefan, resulting in a number of performances and eventually the production of a commercial CD. It is planned that the new compositions will be written for different instruments from within the guitar family, and that most of the new compositions will also involve additional performers.
Professor Eric Clarke and his research assistant Mark Doffman have been involved in the first phase of the project as researchers within the frame of the CMPCP project and contributing to the analysis of video data from the creative process.
As well as having artistic aims, the project also addresses the following research questions: i) How do the processes of a composer-performer collaboration evolve over a sustained period of time and across several contrasting artistic projects? ii) How are the individual musical personalities of composer and performer shaped in the processes of collaboration? iii) How is creativity distributed between composer and performer? iv) How do our cultural tools (including notated score and instrument) exert an influence on the creative process and the collaborative relationship? v) How can compositional and performance authorities be negotiated for artistic ends?
Further discussion of the three conceptual threads
iii. Virtuosity and the agency of the score and the instrument
The third topic in the project addresses the dynamics of the relation between composer and performer, and the many cultural tools that exterts an influence into this force field. The interaction between the agents of instrument and score is reflected in the following quote from an interview with Luciano Berio (Berio, Osmond-Smith, Varga, & Dalmonte, 1985), in which he considers how virtuosity becomes a parameter in a musical work:
"Virtuosity often arises out of a conflict, a tension between the musical idea and the instrument, between concept and musical substance [...] As is well-know, virtuosity can come to the fore when a concern for technique and stereotyped instrumental gestures gets the better of the idea, as in Paganini’s work — which I'm very fond of, but which didn't really shake up the history of music, although it did contribute to the development of violin technique. Another instance where tension arises is when the novelty and the complexity of musical thought — with its equally complex and diverse expressive dimensions — imposes changes in the relationship with the instrument, often necessitating a novel technical solution [...] where the interpreter is required to perform at an extremely high level of technical and intellectual virtuosity." (pp. 90-91)
This ‘tension between the musical idea and the instrument’ can take place in different ways in the field of the work. What is the function of virtuosity in contemporary music? Indeed, one may very well understand Berio to be discussing two different kinds of virtuosity here. The different functions of the two or more ’virtuosities’ is a topic that will be addressed in the project. We find that Berio is getting at here is that this tension will intensify if the agent of the score is allowed to have a strong impact. The dynamic that Berio is discussing here is a force-field in which the agent of the score and the ‘resistance’ of the instrument creates a tension that demands from both ‘composer’ and ‘performer’ to turn to unusual or novel solutions to a musical problem.
The project has seen the completion of two works to date, Forlorn Hope for 11-str alto guitar and optional electronics and Austerity Measures I for 10-string guitar. The premiere of Forlorn Hope took place at the Research Festival at the Orpheus Institute in October 2012 and the Austerity Measures I is scheduled for performances in Belgium and the UK in October 2014. A book chapter on the collaborative process in the making of Forlorn Hope is forthcoming in a book edited by Eric Clarke and Mark Doffman for Oxford University Press. At the completion of the project a portrait CD with the entire cycle of works will be released.