In October 2016, I collaborated once again with my American composer friend Aleksandr Brusentsev. It had been just over two years since I first performed one of Alex's works - '...what's left when...' - which he wrote for me as part of his final Masters project at the Academy. I then used this piece for my own Final Recital in May 2015 and it has since been through a number of revisions.
Having reached its final incarnation in 2016, Alex decided that he wanted to record ...what's left when... and create a film to go with it. He got in touch with British filmmaker Sky Ainsbury and together they came up a concept for the film.
As soon as Alex landed in London, we began rehearsals to prepare for our recording at the Royal Academy of Music. The piece is full of complex rhythms and extended techniques but, the more I got to know it, the clearer and longer the musical lines felt. My aim was to get my performance to a point where I could accurately play what was on the page yet be able to lose myself in the music and not have to think about specific notes or techniques.
An adjustable cup mute is used for the whole piece, creating both gritty and mellow sounds at different points. Alex used a lot of quarter tones and pitch bending, as well as asking for half-valves (creating a choked sound), valve clicks, tongue clicks, pedal notes and flutter tongue (rolling your r's as you play). I highlighted each of these techniques in different colours, so that my brain would recognise what to do as the music was flying past!
The week after the recording session, I met with Alex, Sky and his team (cameramen, a choreographer and an actor) for a day of filming in central London. I felt overwhelmed by the huge amount of energy and time being invested into this project by so many people, and it was amazing to see Alex and Sky's vision coming to life.
Whilst the film crew set up the main room, Alex and I went next door with Siobhan (choreographer) and Stephen (actor). We watched as the two of them listened to our recording and let the music dictate their movements. Before filming began, I also gave a live performance of ...what's left when... for the crew, to enhance the raw emotions of the music and keep it fresh in their minds during filming.
I feel so grateful to have worked with a composer like Alex, who hands over complete ownership of his music to the performer and doesn't try to impose his own ideas on the performance. During our hours of recording and filming, Alex didn't check the score once. He trusted me to play what he'd written but in a way that was meaningful to me, and this made it a truly rewarding experience.
I am delighted to finally be able to share the result of our project. Have a watch of the video and, if you enjoy it, please do give it a share. I really recommend listening to this through headphones and immersing yourself in the video right until the end. (Be aware - if your volume settings are on loud then the first trumpet entry might be a bit of a shock..!)