Joe Cutler has a new CD coming out on the Birmgham Record Company label through NMC. Hawaii Hawaii Hawaii includes the piece title of the album performed by Trish Clowes and the BBC Concert Orchestra, alongside three recordings from Orkest de Erepris.
Joe tells Composers Edition’s Késia Decoté about the works and collaborations featured in this album:
Késia Decoté: This album features works spanning from a two-decades period. What was the impulse for this release right now?
Joe Cutler: Well, initially I wanted to find a way to release the live recording of my recent BBC commission, Hawaii Hawaii Hawaii for saxophone and orchestra. It was such a wonderful project for me, working with Trish Clowes, the BBC Concert Orchestra, Ross Stanley and Ben Palmer. Then I started thinking about what to include alongside it, and Orkest de Ereprijs very kindly allowed me to use recordings of three pieces written for them. Wim Boerman, de Ereprijs’ artistic director and conductor, is retiring in December after over forty years with the group. Wim is a great friend, and he commissioned all these three pieces. So again, I thought it would be wonderful to have these works included on this album.
KD: The first word that came to my head when I was listening to the recordings was: ‘energy!’ Particularly in Bad Machine I felt an amazing dynamic of contrasts between super dense textures, big gestures, and more sparse materials. Can you tell us about the fun to explore such aspects in orchestral music?
JC: Bad Machine is the oldest piece on this album and dates I think from 2001. It’s interesting for me to see how my work has changed over the years. Bad Machine is in some ways quite brutal! I wanted to try and capture a sense of the pianist, Aljosja Buijs, becoming trapped inside the mechanisms of the machine-like orchestra, desperately trying to escape.
KD: Your collaboration with Orkest de Ereprijs began when you were still a student in the 1990s, I find this amazing! Can you tell us how you feel about such long relationship, how you feel your musical paths and collaborative dynamics have change throughout these years?
JC: I first heard Orkest de Ereprijs perform in 1995, whilst studying in Warsaw. I wrote to them after that concert to ask if I could re-write a recent piece, Sal’s Sax, for them, and that has led to one of my most important musical friendships. They really are a very special and unique group, with a family-like working dynamic. It’s been a joy to write five pieces for them over the years. Holland has become almost like a second home for me really, and that’s especially due to the treasured relationship I have with de Ereprijs.
Késia Decoté: Chorale for Wim Megens is so beautiful and moving, I do hear lots of affection in it. As a work written as a memorial to Wim Megens – the founder conductor of Ereprijs – could you tell us about the inspiration behind the musical ideas of this work?
JC: Before Wim Boerman became conductor of Orkest de Ereprijs, their original conductor was Wim Megens. I first met Wim Megens when the group performed Sal’s Sax in 1997. Wim Megens in his early life was a hugely talented horn player, gaining a position in De Residentie Orchestra of the Hague whilst in his teens. Sadly, an injury to his lip limited his performing career and he moved to conducting and teaching. This is a tribute piece to Wim, beginning with an expansive horn solo, before opening into a gently undulating chorale where harmonies eb and flow between instrumental groups.
KD: My impression from listening to Hawaii Hawaii Hawaii is of a strong sense of imagery, even a sense of narrative evoked in the music… were these elements present in your compositional process? Can you tell us about the unfolding of the creative process this amazing work?
JC: The starting point for Hawaii Hawaii Hawaii was the short story Somni~451 by David Mitchell which forms part of the novel Cloud Atlas. I would say it resonates out of the story, rather than being formally narrative, but the imagery and ideas that emerge from that story, very strongly informed my piece. David Mitchell’s story is set in the near future, in an East Asian dystopian empire called Nea So Copros, where extreme excesses of consumerism and corporate culture are widespread. Most of the rest of the world consists of “deadlands”, places full of disease, ruins and radioactive contamination.
Somni~451 is a fabricant waitress at a fast-food restaurant called Papa Song’s. Fabricants are used as a widespread source of cheap labour. Society is divided into purebloods, those who have been born naturally, and fabricants. Fabricants are required to work for vastly long days, and their full consciousness is supressed through the nightly ingestion of chemicals, known as “soap”. After twelve years of slavery (each year gaining a “star”), the fabricants are promised freedom in Hawaii.
I was deeply moved by this highly plausible story and wanted to create a musical response that would explore some of the ideas contained within. It’s certainly one of the most ambitious pieces I have written, and was very much written for Trish Clowes who is the saxophone soloist. Trish is an amazing musician, very much at home with improvisation, and we worked together very closely throughout the compositional process. When I first heard Trish play with the orchestra, I really was completely blown-away!