PREVIEW: The Hermes Experiment - including Misha Mullov-Abbado composition. "Rhythm" at the Forge, 18th Feb

Marianne Schofield, bassist of The Hermes Experiment
Photo credit: Thurstan Redding

The Hermes Experiment is a quartet of singer, clarinet, harp and double bass, which is active in commissioning new works from composers. Sebastian interviewed three people involved in their 18 Feb concert “Rhythm” at The Forge in Camden by email: the bassist of the ensemble Marianne Schofield (above), Hanna Grzeskiewicz, co-director, and composer Misha Mullov-Abbado. Mullov-Abbado, who has won both the Dankworth Composition Prize and the Kenny Wheeler Award, has written a new piece for the group, which will be performed at their concert: 

LondonJazz: First Marianne, tell us about the Hermes Experiment and what brought you together?

Marianne Schofield: We all met through studying music at university in Cambridge, where we regularly performed together in orchestras and other ensembles. The music course was very popular with composers, and three of us also studied composition during our degrees, so there was a definite 'buzz' around new music. After graduation, we were each beginning to individually pursue careers in performance on our different instruments through further study when the idea of forming a contemporary chamber ensemble came to Héloïse, our soprano.

LJN: Is Héloïse leader or is it a collective or how does all that work?

MS: Héloïse was definitely the initiator, the one who came up with the original concept of the ensemble in terms of its unique instrumentation and the fundamental emphasis on commissioning new works and collaborating with composers. But I think we'd all agree now that the most artistic and professional decisions are made collectively, with each musician and Hanna, our co-director, having an equal say. We meet quite regularly as a five to discuss future plans and the direction of our work, and I think this is especially important as there's definitely no set career trajectory for an ensemble like ours, we're very much forging our own path.

LJN: Hanna, what enthusiasms provide the glue?

Hanna Grzeskiewicz: Aside from our musical interests, we all want to explore contemporary music in relation to other art forms - how these different elements can work together to enhance the audience experience as well as our understanding and perception of the music we are performing. Last year we did a project that was largely based on graphic scores, and we have been exploring the use of visual imagery as a stimulus for improvisation and performance. To this end, we are collaborating with a photographer later in the year in a ‘musical exhibition’. An event that is compelling in both the visual and auditory aspects has the potential to create a more immersive experience, which is what we want to achieve. Of course we are a quartet and what we predominantly do is perform music, but we want to break musical barriers - we don’t want people to come to our concerts and for us to play ‘at them’. We want to play ‘to them’ and ‘around them’, to engage other senses, which is why we often experiment with space, and using different artistic stimuli is another way of doing that. It also helps that having a double bass and a harp is visually pretty stunning!

LJN: Misha, you have the challenge of unusual instrumentation to write for here...

Misha Mullov-Abbado: The instrumentation is indeed quite strange, though it vaguely resembles the jazz line-up of singer, horn player, piano and bass. In this case the horn player is the clarinet and the piano is replaced by the harp, giving the group more of a chamber feel to it. Often jazz singers requite amplification when singing alongside a trio, but the softness and blend of all three instruments (and players!) enables Héloïse to stand out and project brilliantly.

LJN: And what is the new piece?

MM-A: In my piece “The Linden Tree” I’ve taken the lyrics of the English folk song and written my own melody to it. For most of the piece the instrumental trio are playing rhythmic patterns underneath a much looser and flowing rendition of the folk song melody, but I then inserted some instrument-only sections where I’ve subtly introduced more of a jazzy and swing element. In particular the harp is a very interesting instrument to write for when it comes to the jazz idiom - I tried to avoid writing essentially a piano part, and came up with some little figures more suited to the instrument. Also with the use of pedals you can create different modes that in a jazz idiom would imply very strong and specific chord-scale sounds, which I have made use of in a couple of instances.

The Hermes Experiment. L-R: Anne Denholm, Oliver Pashley, Héloïse Werner,
Marianne Schofield. Photo credit: Thurstan Redding

LJN: And finally Hanna, what is in the rest of the programme at the Forge?

HG: The whole concert is based on the theme of ‘rhythm’. All the works explore a different aspect of the theme, including minimalism and jazz. In addition to the commission from Misha Mullov-Abbado, there are also rhythmically inspired new works by Gareth Wood and James Brady, complemented by our very quirky arrangement of Gershwin’s I Got Rhythm. We’re also performing an arrangement of Meredith Monk’s wonderful minimalist piece Double Fiesta as well as Bernstein’s I Hate Music! As a final treat, the group has been working on a devised piece with composer Lloyd Coleman, which in the group’s true style experiments with various rhythms.

LINKS: The Hermes Experiment. Rhythm at The Forge on February 18th BOOKINGS

The next concert by the Hermes Experiment is on March 3rd, in the Fresh Klang series, opening Kammer Klang at Cafe Oto

The Hermes Experiment Website

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