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Goodbye, EXAUDI 2012

December 15, 2012

The season is over. The tuning forks are packed away, the music is back on the shelf, the black shirts have been tossed into the bottom drawer, and the last shreds of voices are being flogged through a dozen Messiahs before their tattered remains are embalmed in strong liquor. That’s all from our 10th-anniversary season, folks.

By our standards this has been a huge year. At around forty separate projects, the volume of activity has been almost double our previous busiest (2011), and at times it has felt overwhelming, not least as our behind-the-scenes team has consisted only of Juliet, myself, our agent Graham Hayter and our administrator Kathy Dallas. But there’s not a single project among them, not a concert, workshop or even rehearsal that wasn’t worthwhile, and among them there have been several of the best things I’ve ever been involved with.

Readers of this blog will already know some of the highlights: our Cage-athon in June that took in three concerts at Spitalfields and Aldeburgh Festivals in the UK; our Rihm Vigilia in Munich with musikFabrik; our Darmstadt debut in July; the premiere in Paris in November of Brian Ferneyhough’s Finis terrae; and of course the remarkable learning process leading up to the premiere of Aaron Cassidy’s A painter of figures in rooms.

But there have been many more: more Cage (in London, Cardiff and – most memorably – the Muziekgebouw in Amsterdam in November), more Rihm (Vigilia again, in Huddersfield)…more of everything. Perhaps most special of all was our official 10th-anniversary concert at the Wigmore Hall, where our Italian Madrigal Book project was launched with new pieces by Christian Wolff, Evan Johnson, Michael Finnissy and Larry Goves. The process of working towards that – and spending time in-depth with Gesualdo and Monteverdi besides – was one of the most intense rehearsal periods I’ve experienced (our gratitude, as so often, to Aldeburgh Music for a superb week-long Residency). And our final project of the year was not bad, either: Toujours et près de moi, a holographic madrigal opera (our first) engineered and directed by the talented Canadian director Patrick Eakin Young.

There was also time to give numerous student composition and vocal workshops and to make two new recordings: in February we finished our Rihm-Nono disc by recording the Sieben Passions-texte (watch this space for release), and in August we achieved a recording very close to my heart: new works, mostly written for EXAUDI, by Claudia Molitor, Aaron Cassidy, Stephen Chase, Joanna Bailie, James Weeks, Bryn Harrison and Richard Glover. It’ll be released on Huddersfield Contemporary Records in the new year. I’m so happy we’ve made this disc: this is a group of composers whose work we believe in passionately, and I’d begun to think we’d never get the chance to make proper recordings of these superb pieces. Heartfelt thanks to the University of Huddersfield and Aaron Cassidy for making it happen.

What’s next?

We’re taking 2013 as a fresh start. I’m looking beyond short-term plans and outlining some principles that will take us through our next decade. If the first ten years is about establishing, building a name and a reputation, the second ten should be about using them to achieve real artistic freedom. Above all, for us this means developing and deepening our relationships with composers of our own generation throughout the world whose work we believe in, and building new associations with the new generation. We’ve seldom had the opportunity to work with younger composers repeatedly – more and more I feel this is what is important to do, not merely moving in ever-widening circles for the sake of it (though to stop moving is to die, it’s true, we won’t do that).

Alongside that focusing is a determination to achieve bigger, more ambitious projects, and for them to take many and different forms. Much of the work we value doesn’t fit within the standard concert models, nor is our audience (such as it is) beholden to those models – so why bother with them? As for our audience, we need more of you – please spread the word to anyone who cares about new music.

There are some research questions I want to tackle, about vocal writing, about singing, about the art-form as genre. For instance, we need to open up a debate how voices can or might be used sympathetically in music that works at specific extremes – for example, temporal extremes or extreme reduction of material. I want to challenge EXAUDI’s singers still further, to experiment with new, unfamiliar and perhaps initially uncomfortable techniques and modes of expression, to work further beyond what they currently understand as ‘their’ way of singing. And I want to experiment with projects that reimagine the vocal ensemble or place it in new surroundings.

All this requires time and money, neither of which we traditionally possess, but there are some encouraging developments. We’ve had quite a good year for fundraising (arguably our first), and our inaugural full-time Ensemble Manager begins work on January 2nd, thanks to a grant from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation. We’ll be commissioning a bit more, too, so watch out for some very interesting premieres later in 2013. Among several long-term projects we have a particularly exciting one lined up for development throughout 2013, a multimedia installation by James Weeks and video artist Sam Belinfante.

Our more immediate diary, though not as chock-a-block as 2012, is still busy, with a tour of France and Switzerland (Gervasoni Dir-in-dir, with Ensemble L’Instant Donné) in January, new Italian madrigals in Antwerp in February, a Birtwistle rarity in Aldeburgh in March, a Ferneyhough reprise in Porto in May…and then in June Rihm’s Klangbeschreibung II and a new Posadas work with EIC in Paris followed by ten days at the IRCAM Academy.

There is an unbelievable amount more to do. The further we get the further we realise there is to go. It’s exciting to think we could still be doing this in twenty years’ time – and to have made a real mark on the face of 21st-century music.

*****************

This blog was set up to cover EXAUDI’s 2012 anniversary season. There’s been sufficient interest in it round the world to carry on, under a new title, in 2013. Thanks for reading and please continue to follow EXAUDI here, Juliet here and me here in the meantime.

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