Ahead of their visit to Sounds New in May, I put Three Questions to James Weeks, conductor and founder of EXAUDI:
Tell us about your ensemble.
I started EXAUDI in 2002 with Juliet Fraser. We wanted to do the most extreme, interesting and challenging new vocal ensemble music around, something we didn’t see anyone else really doing at the time in the UK, and we’ve basically been doing exactly this ever since. For a new music ensemble we are actually quite catholic in our tastes, in that we are just as interested in tackling conventionally-notated music (Xenakis, Ferneyhough, Sciarrino et al.) as working with more so-called ‘experimental’ paradigms from Cage and Cardew onwards. We enjoy microtonality as much as white-note modality – essentially if the music is questing in spirit, imaginative and thoughtful and outside boring conventional style then we’re in. Our singers are all steeped in early music practice and we do a lot of medieval, Renaissance and early baroque repertoire as well; recently we’ve focused in depth on Gesualdo madrigals in combination with contemporary Italian madrigal repertoire (one of several active commissioning schemes). But our main focus is on the music being composed today, especially of our own generation around the world. We hope to make a real impact on the development of vocal ensemble music in our time.
What excites you about contemporary music ?
The fact that it’s contemporary music, it’s being made by us and the people around us and is concerned with what it’s like to be alive now, today. Much as it can be comfortingly escapist to live surrounded by the past in a historicist culture like ours, I can’t think of anything more urgent or more deeply rewarding than to produce new art and make new discoveries that speak to and define our own time.
What can we expect from your performance at Sounds New ?
We’re bringing a new programme called ‘Austerity Measures’, a phrase we hear a lot these days although our programme isn’t explicitly political. It’s more of a pun, measures meaning musical bars, and the austerity is in the music. Matt Wright asked us for a programme that involved Tallis and also music of the Low Countries, and I thought it would be interesting to start from the famous Tunes for Archbishop Parker’s Psalter and explore the idea of a pared-down, rather austere music – which is something a lot of composers today are concerned with in a variety of ways. So we have Reformation-era Tallis, Josquin at his most laconic, and pieces by Claudia Molitor, Aldo Clementi and me which are similarly restrained in their materials. We are also doing a lovely piece by Dutch composer Arnold Marinissen involving percussion. I hope it’ll be a really beautiful show.
Find out more about EXAUDI at Sounds New 2014 online here.
With thanks to James Weeks.