Susannah Self tells us about the potential in creative connections between composers, and her most recent projects.
When I was studying at The Royal College of Music as an undergrad I always marvelled at the stories of artists and composers in history forming groups, working together, meeting in Paris cafés, Darmstadt, Mahler publishing and performing Bruckner’s symphonies or Leonard Bernstein championing Charles Ives. All these stories held great sway in my imagination and yet in reality I did not experience at college or beyond much of this interface. Perhaps I was too distant or was it that I sensed composers being secretive, guarding their patch?
As I moved out of College into the high-octane world of being an international opera singer, I experienced the elixir of camaraderie with conductors, producers and singers. We indulged in gourmet dinners in Strasbourg, gorged ourselves on Mozartkugel in Salzburg and gloried in champagne-fuelled fun on first nights in Ghent. However this bonhomie eluded me with composers until I recently returned to education as a mature student at Cambridge and Royal Birmingham Conservatoire.
Now I am in the gang. I have a wide range of amazing supervisors and colleagues who I regularly draw on for advice and inspiration. As lockdown has continued many of these relationships have intensified via social media and in more practically reciprocal ways too. A good example of this is my developing friendship with Errollyn Wallen OBE which led to my commission last year from Spitalfields Festival for FAST.
Even more recently the British composer Andrew Lovett who lives in USA has invited me to perform his opera Sinuhe with funds from Princeton University USA. I commissioned him a good while back to compose a scena about Jackie Kennedy for my opera Extraordinary Women. Last Autumn through long distance technology I recorded this short extract of Sinuhe.
But in addition to singing Andrew’s work he has also invited me to compose a companion piece for the project based on the female Pharaoh Hatshepsut interfaced with Hillary Clinton’s predicament when she lost her bid to be president. I find this symbiotic relationship between composers really exciting and supportive. We have more to gain by empowering each other and if our style of composing is very different then that is even better. My new work Hatshepsut will be scored for voice and clarinet interfaced with electronics using Ableton Live.These modest forces remind me of my scena Freedom Bridge commissioned by Birmingham Opera Company in 2017 which is composed for soprano, violin and cello.
My other growing connection to a composer is that I have just been commissioned to create piece for the iconic Andy Ingamells who I met and worked with while we were researching for our PhDs at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. Last year Andy recorded my voice for the living clock to be situated at the new train station in Birmingham. Andy’s incredibly inventive out-the-box work has inspired me in particular to create a proliferation of sound/ film installations, especially during the lockdowns. I am really excited to be creating a work for his amazing duo with Kathryn Williams.
For this commissioned work I will be drawing on my practice of creating video interfaced with soundscapes created with Logic Pro and Ableton Live such as this recent one Cosmic Forest.
To conclude I would encourage composers to roll up their sleeves and get involved in each other’s work by going to it, performing it and where possible commissioning each other. With Arts Council funding I have commissioned Peter Wiegold, Priti Paintal, Steve McNeff, Avril Anderson and David Bedford to compose new operas for my company Selfmade Music.
Tags: Andrew Lovett, Andy Ingamells, collaborative project, Cosmic Forest, Extraordinary Women, FAST, Fast Food Fast Music, Freedom Bridge, Hatshepsut, Kathryn Williams, Private Hire, Sinuhe, Spitalfields Music, Susannah Self, The Birmingham Opera Company