Mezzo-soprano Rosie Middleton and Loki Ensemble conductor Daniele Rosina answer questions from Composers Edition’s Isa Gibbs on recording Ryan Latimer’s song cycle, Speaking of Letters and Dancing, more CE collaborations and visions for Loki.
Speaking of Letters and Dancing was recorded in May 2021 for Ryan’s debut album Antiarkie, out now on NMC Recordings and all streaming platforms.
Rosie Middleton, mezzo-soprano
Isa Gibbs: What’s been your highlight of collaborating with Ryan and Loki Ensemble on this recording?
Rosie Middleton: Ryan’s music is so beautiful and intimate. After 18 months of working mostly alone, it felt amazing to be singing live with other musicians. The isolation so many of us have felt through the pandemic makes chamber music feel very special. Loki Ensemble comprises some of the best contemporary classical players in the UK and it was a joy and privilege to sing with them.
IG: What aspects of the voice does the song cycle draw on the most?
RM: Ryan’s vocal writing is very lyrical and instinctive. Vocally it sits in the world of classical singing, but feels very contemporary in its pacing, interplay with the ensemble and soundworld.
IG: How would you describe the relationship between the vocal part and the ensemble?
RM: This is chamber music, with the vocal and instrumental parts taking equal roles. The ensemble writing weaves around the voice, sometimes supporting and sometimes playing off it. This creates subtly nuanced storytelling, with the ensemble adding layers of anxiety and excitement in A Letter, a sense of play in Dancing and painting a beautiful landscape in ‘Summer Night’.
IG: Have the performative elements from your experience in experimental performance and opera influenced your approach at all to this recording – and if so, how?
RM: A lot of the more experimental work I do combines voice and body: though this is a vocal song cycle, it feels like dance music. When I prepare more lyrical work, I find it helpful to move while I practice – so in this case I found myself dancing round my flat!
IG: You’ve also been collaborating with Catherine Kontz on the upcoming marathon work 12 Hours, exploring performative endurance – would you like to tell us a bit about the project so far, including any preparation involved?
RM: This work is part of my series voice(less) which explores voice loss, voicelessness and communication. Catherine and I wanted to explore the extremes of vocal and physical endurance. 12 Hours was workshopped at Snape Maltings and Somerset House, where we presented a four hour work-in-progress performance in 2020. In advance even four hours felt daunting and the preparation included lots of mindfulness and yoga to help slow my brain down. In performance however, it felt playful and fun – this is an immersive piece, and it felt like the audience were part of the ensemble at times.
Daniele Rosina, conductor
Isa Gibbs: What’s been the highlight for you of working on the song cycle?
Daniele Rosina: Getting to work with Ryan on his piece is such a joy for me as we’ve been friends for many years but this is the first time I’ve conducted a piece by him. The piece is typical Ryan – fantastically inventive, imaginative and beautifully crafted. The poems he has chosen are wide-ranging in atmosphere and emotion and are brilliantly set. The disturbing and fraught first song leads to the humorous and slightly absurd second. In the final song – “Summer Night” – for me, time and space dissolve – it is such a beautiful song.
DR: I put the group together to play in a music festival in Birmingham. I really wanted some new pieces and also to perform Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire. We were able to get some high profile commissions and also BBC Radio 3 recorded us for broadcast. At the time I was just about to go on a trip to Iceland and was rereading some of the Norse myths and Loki just sounded like a really catchy name. Loki stands out as a brilliant character and was, for me, by far one of the most interesting of the gods. Loki is able to change shape and character and that was a metaphor that resonated with me when thinking about the group.
IG: What is it about the ensemble that makes you excited about future projects together?
DR: They are an amazing collective of creative musicians who have such a wealth of experience and musical curiosity. Not only are they fantastic instrumentalists in their own right but many of them compose, arrange, improvise, play and write folk music, play in some of the world’s most renowned orchestras, are music directors of their own ensembles and festivals, chamber musicians and teachers.
IG: You’ve also been working with Ed Bennett as the conductor of his 10-piece ensemble Decibel – what do you enjoy most about collaborating with composers on new work?
DR: Ed first asked me to work with Decibel after seeing me conduct a 70th birthday concert for Louis Andriessen in 2010. Since then we’ve given many concerts in the UK and Europe and have made some great recordings together. Ed has such a unique voice as a composer and his music travels between complete stillness to high energy and sometimes goes to some very dark places. This has defined the sound of the group which performs with unbelievable intensity and commitment. We are so positive, creative, curious, open-minded, hard-working and generous when collaborating with composers. Discovering how to play a new piece with this mindset and approach is such a joy.
IG: What future plans do you have in mind for Loki?
DR: To carry on commissioning and being able to add new works to the repertoire and certainly working with composers who are just starting out and helping them find their voice. Also to work with younger instrumentalists on performing new music. Opera is really important to me and I would love to be able to commission one for the group. I would also love to have a piece that collaborates with other art forms – acting, dancing, puppetry – the list goes on!
Composers Edition is proud to publish Ryan Latimer’s music, which is available for perusal and purchase through our website.