Collaborations between composers and ensembles can begin in many different ways. The collaboration between Richard Barrett and ELISION began nearly thirty years ago with Australian composer Michael Whiticker, freshly returned from the Darmstädter Ferienkurse, presenting Daryl Buckley with a cassette containing works by Barrett. The cassette was delivered with a warning: no one in Australia would ever be able or willing to play such ‘heavy dots’. A warning on these terms was of course the perfect way to excite Daryl’s curiosity (indeed it still is!), and before long the first letter suggesting a collaboration was on its way. The result was the trio another heavenly day – horrendously difficult at the time (and playing havoc with Buckley’s wedding preparations…) but by far the most modest of the many works by Barrett ELISION has commissioned over nearly three decades.
Many of these works involved collaborations between ELISION and other performers: sometimes guest performers of particular importance to Barrett’s work (Mary Oliver, Ute Wassermann, Barrett himself), sometimes entire ensembles (the cycle Dark Matter combined ELISION with the Norwegian ensemble Cikada). It is thus entirely appropriate that we combine members of two ensembles, ELISION and Ensemble Musikfabrik, this evening – not least because the ensembles share a surprising amount of membership given that they reside on opposite sides of the planet.
Paul Jeukendrup, Richard Barrett and Hannah Weirich preparing for the world premiere of natural causes I, IV, X, XIV at the WDR Funkhaus (Copyright: Klaus Rudolph)
Such combination has indeed long been central to Barrett’s compositional practice itself. Another heavenly day remains a purely free-standing piece but practically everything else Barrett has composed for ELISION (and not only for ELISION) forms part of one modular cyclic work or another. The guitar solo colloid acquired an accompanying ensemble part to become colloid-E, and was then combined with four other sections to form the cycle negatives. World-line is made up of split and recombined versions of five smaller works. And as its title makes clear, natural causes I, IV, X, XIV (Musikfabrik’s Barrett commission from 2017, first performed almost exactly a year ago, in our WDR concert series) is both a combination of smaller parts (two of which are heard this evening for the first time in their independent form) and part of a larger whole – whose premiere some day would certainly be a more than fitting subject for a subsequent meeting of my ensembles on a much larger scale.