22. February 2024

Making the Voices Audible

Marco Blauuw in conversation about his Monday concert “In the Cage“– on his motivation to focus on contemporary music from Ukraine and his collaboration with the composers Anna Arkushyna, Anton Koshelev and Anna Korsun:

Why are you now focusing on artists and composers of contemporary music from Ukraine?

Marco Blaauw: It’s been ten years since Crimea was invaded. And now the war has been spreading across the whole country for two years and the whole world is more or less involved. However, I feel that it is being discussed less and less in the media.
I myself have the feeling that we as observers don’t really know what we can do.
I believe that our most powerful weapon against war is perhaps culture, in our case music.
That’s why, since the invasion of Ukraine in February 22, I’ve started to focus much more on new music from Ukraine. I also got help from Anna Korsun, among others – she gave me a kind of signpost.
I also thought that it would be good and important to actively commission composers.
Initially, I was able to commission Anton Koshelev with my own budget. Adrian Mokanu then received a commission, financed by the I&I foundation and premiered as part of the “Wavespace” concert last November. With the help of the Kunststiftung NRW, I was then able to award commissions to Anna Korsun, Anna Arkushyna and another one to Anton Koshelev.

How has the collaboration been so far?

MB: Anton Koshelev’s work is very much determined by the consequences of the war. He had to leave his home in Odessa and was welcomed in Switzerland. The Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts helped him to find an apartment there and slowly build up his life. But I realize how difficult it is. The work is progressing correspondingly slowly. He has a lot of plans, but it’s very difficult to put anything concrete into practice in these circumstances. It’s clear that when your roots are pulled out of the ground, you don’t have much of a foothold and you float in your mind and body. You can’t get a foothold – your family is far away, the language is foreign, the culture is alien. “Where am I?” is the big question. In his case, this also manifests itself in his composing, as he is constantly searching for the right language. We have been in frequent contact since 2022. He has repeatedly sent me sketches, which we have talked about and which I have also tried to perform – there has already been a concert.
In the first version of his solo work Lonely courage, he deliberately used two very different notation styles. A graphic one, which also contained a lot of language, and one, as we know it, in conventional notation. After the first rehearsal, he was unhappy with this and continued his research. Now the score is a kind of mixture of both notation languages.
The collaboration with Anna Arkushyna is also super interesting. She is a very productive composer. She lives in Graz and also studied there. Before she started with the Crown Shyness trio, she was at IRCAM in Paris.
This is the first time she has composed chamber music for brass instruments. You can tell from everything that she is already very experienced. She mainly writes for voices. What she had in mind for us brass players is very unique, virtuosic and colorful, but not everything was physically feasible for us. After the first rehearsal, she made a lot of corrections and rewrites. But that’s normal in a process like this.

Are the themes you mentioned earlier, such as loss and uprooting, something that is currently on the minds of all three composers?

MB: I’m very hesitant about that; it’s our view of the situation. We look at Ukraine as a large country, but of course it is a country with many cultures and different perspectives, different relationships to the war. But what I think is extremely important, and what we as Musikfabrik can perhaps do more of, is to reinforce and address these cultural changes, developments and reactions to the war. I have the feeling that we could learn a lot more and perhaps give many Ukrainians a voice.

It is an absolutely horrific situation from which there seems to be virtually no way out at the moment. And how do you actually survive? How can you process everything that is happening, so much destruction? I still believe that music is a very powerful tool for dealing with trauma, it can help you gain distance and perhaps even understand something, or simply offer comfort. A person needs comfort and beauty, otherwise there is no reason to look to the future.

In the concert, we will hear two works by Anna Arkushyna, “The Song of Future Human” from 2015 and a world premiere of “Crown Shyness” from this year. Have you already listened to both pieces and can you say whether anything has changed in her work? Or how they differ?

MB: I would like to ask the composer that. I can’t judge that at the moment, but that’s an interesting question for her at the introduction, where all three will be present.
I have heard many of her works and have gone through her list of works as thoroughly as possible. There is a lot available on the internet, on YouTube and Soundcloud. Together with Maxime Morel, I selected works that would be interesting and suitable. And then I looked at what would suit us in the ensemble. So, who of the musicians is available and how can we involve colleagues? That’s how the work was chosen.

And how did you come across Anna Korsun?

MB: I already knew Anna’s work. I knew that she was often in Amsterdam to teach. I think she is a super interesting composer. That’s why it was relatively easy for me to make contact there. We spoke directly after the Russian attack in 2022 – which still sounds so absurd when you say it. It can’t be true that this really happened, but it did. After that, a lot of things suddenly got going for Ukrainian culture. But I fear that interest will wane because the war will last longer. But there is absolutely no reason to let up in any way. On the contrary, if we were to invest as much in culture as we do in weapons, I would be very curious to see what would happen. On a human level, but also for Ukraine’s identity. I believe it would be much stronger if it had more presence.

Is that also your goal with this concert? To increase Ukraine’s presence?

MB: Well, a Monday concert can’t achieve that much. But they are small drops, tiny little drops. And for me personally, it’s super interesting to keep getting to know new cultures. But also getting to know new composers, getting to know new musical languages and seeing what we can contribute.
The concert is about making the voices audible.

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