Post image for A love affair with the new: Lamorna Nightingale meets Jonathan Blakeman

A love affair with the new: Lamorna Nightingale meets Jonathan Blakeman

Ensemble Offspring flautist Lamorna Nightingale and Jonathan Blakeman, the supporter of her new Noisy Egg Nest, explore their mutual passion for new music

We love sharing music, thoughts and ideas with individuals who are just as passionate about the new as we are. We’re working with some amazing individuals to support our unique musicians through our new Noisy Egg Nests, where donors have been building meaningful and lasting relationships with their chosen musicians.

Mr Jonathan Blakeman was one of our very generous early supporters. He sponsored our flautist Lamorna Nightingale and before his passing in late 2014, the two allowed us to eavesdrop on their virtual coffee date as they get to know one another. They talk about their interest in the use of the flute in contemporary composition, Jonathan discovered the reasons behind Lamorna’s love of performing contemporary music and Lamorna asked Jonathan about his obsession with new art forms – especially new music! We thank Jonathan for his commitment to contemporary music and his wife Heather for their continuing support of Lamorna and Ensemble Offspring.

Jonathan and Lamorna on the flute

Jonathan: I’m really pleased to sponsor Lamorna. I think the flute is a good example of how modern composers have changed our understanding of an instrument and what it can do. In my (amateur and prejudiced) view composers of the 18th and 19th century deployed the flute in quite a limited way, conveying a relatively narrow band of emotions and sounds. However, I think that the flute is an instrument where modern composers have really taken a more open mind to what you can do with the flute, and employed it in much more diverse, interesting and exciting ways. [I hope that doesn’t offend any flautists fond of their parts in Beethoven or Brahms.]

Lamorna: I think you are correct about the exciting ways the flute has been involved in the development of the many modern sounds. It probably stems from the great flute school that sprung up in France in the 1860’s when flautists started to really explore and experiment with colour possibilities of the new silver Boehm system flute. Before then there was a bit of a gap in repertoire because more effort seemed to be going into the technological develops of the actual instrument and there wasn’t 100% agreement of what the instrument should sound like or could do. I’m quite interested in these romantic period flutes actually because when you play Brahms and Beethoven on the period instruments with some stylistic understanding the music does seem to come alive. They actually sound really beautiful too! The repertoire doesn’t seem to work so well on modern flutes in my opinion. It’s also interesting that the flute was such an important instrument in the Baroque period…. Anyway, as you can see this is a bit of a hobby-horse for me, could talk for hours!

Jonathan asks Lamorna:

Lamorna, what led you to specialise in performing music of the 20th and 21st centuries?

Lamorna: I’ve always had something of an interest in new music. My father is a percussionist and used to play in Synergy Percussion so I remember as a kid enjoying going along to hear their concerts and being exposed particularly to great performances of new percussion music. When I was studying for my Masters at the Sydney Con my research subject was on Australian flute music. I suppose what interested me back then was a sense of wanting to connect with the music that was closest to us, the music written by composers that I knew, and about places I knew. I think around that time I’d played some orchestral pieces with the Sydney Symphony that I really loved like Sculthorpe’s Sun Music and Kakadu and Ross Edwards’ Violin Concerto along with some Ligeti and other great European stuff. This really inspired me to explore further.

As a performer, what is special about working in a group like EO, compared with solo or orchestral performance?

Lamorna: As a performer I enjoy many aspects of playing new music but mostly I enjoy the variety of approaches and constantly being stretched in new directions. Ensemble Offspring really does this for me!

For example at our rehearsal last week we worked on three pieces – all totally different in approach and sound. We started by workshopping Jeremy Rose’s new piece. Working directly with a composer whilst they are creating a piece gives you a real sense of ownership and sense of connection with the here and now. The second piece was also workshopping a new work but this was with Cor Fuhler. Cor mainly works in the improvising scene and his pieces provide the musicians with a structure in which to improvise. This is creating music in a way that is quite different to how most classically trained musicians work. The third piece we worked on was Stockhausen’s QUITT – this is a graphic score which we as performers have had to realise. It focuses on an extremely narrow range of notes and requires very small and detailed movement between microtones. This has meant becoming familiar with many more fingerings than I would normally have to use and being directly connected with creating a very exact and detailed part for myself based on a drawing.

Playing in an orchestra is a wonderful experience particularly when you are playing great repertoire but the process of preparing new repertoire is always the same, the conductor is always the boss and therefore you have to be creative within quite a narrow framework.

Working as a professional musician must be quite intense and demanding. So can you also listen to music for relaxation? If so, what?

Lamorna: It can be tricky to draw the line between work and play when listening to music that’s for sure! After a big day of teaching, examining or rehearsing I do often prefer the quiet or just watching a bit of TV to listening to music. I find it hard to switch off the critical musician voice and just enjoy the music—particularly classical music with a flute in it! On the positive side, I recently attended the Sydney Symphony’s Bruckner 6 performance and was totally taken away by it. There is something so special about being a part of an audience and experiencing a deep connection with the music being made. It doesn’t happen all the time but when it does, it’s awesome! I suppose this isn’t really ‘relaxing’ but it’s something better in my opinion!

When watching an ensemble—large or small—perform I often wonder what led each musician to choose the instrument they’re playing. How did you choose the flute?

Lamorna: Ha-ha – analyse this! My mum is a flute player and I’m the eldest of four children all born within 5 years. To be honest, the standard flute repertoire and style of playing doesn’t excite me that much, but over the years I think I’ve found my own niche and have come to love the possibilities the flute has to offer. I love how as a flautist I can play in an orchestra or chamber ensemble and I find the new music for flute I play is diverse, challenging and exciting. I’ve also been enjoying recently learning to play classical and romantic repertoire on the 8-keyed flute. This is bringing to life repertoire that I previously didn’t feel a strong connection to.

What other musicians (not necessarily flautists) have inspired you, or do you see as role models?

Lamorna: There are so many amazing musicians out there—where to start! The people that keep me inspired to keep practising and performing though are the people I work with on a daily basis. All the musicians in Ensemble Offspring for example are amazing and I’m privileged to be able to play with them. They are so committed to presenting new music to a high standard and in a fresh and engaging way and I feel like we are in the process of changing the face of music in Australia. It feels incredibly worthwhile and exciting to be involved in such an enterprise!

Lamorna asks Jonathan:

I’d like to ask you about your interest in new music. Where does your enthusiasm for the style of music that Ensemble Offspring plays come from?

Jonathan: I have what might be a slightly quirky view on listening to music – which may be why I like EO so much! I don’t think that music has to be beautiful, or have big themes that you can hum in the shower. I really like music that is interesting, exciting and innovative. I’d much rather hear something that I haven’t heard before, or hear a performance that makes me think about the interesting things the composer is doing and the different sounds that the performers are creating. That really leads me to music of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, and that’s where you find EO working.

I believe that everyone is creative in their own way. Sometimes it’s not in an arty way. In what ways are you creative in your work or play?

Jonathan: I am an accountant, so creativity at work is not necessarily a good thing! But I try and be creative in finding solutions to problems, and also do the best I can to support the creative and brilliant academic staff where I work, the University of New South Wales. Outside of work I love to cook, and although that’s a great outlet for creativity I do tend to find I get the best results from following a recipe pretty closely. And if my golf game were a little less creative and a little more orthodox, I think that would probably be better.

Do you prefer attending music live or listening to a recording?

Jonathan: That’s really hard to say. Each has its own advantages. With a recording, you can choose just what you want to listen to, and when and where you want to listen to it. But the sound quality of a recording will never match the immediacy and presence of a live performance. And I do like to watch a musician performing, and to see the interaction amongst the performers. But the reality is that a fan of newer music is forced to rely on recordings. If I wanted to hear Beethoven 4 or Tchaikovsky 6, I’d be pretty confident of seeing either or both on the SSO program pretty much every year. But Glass 9? I don’t think so.

Are you interested in art forms other than music?

Jonathan: When travelling I’ll often go to a city’s modern art museum, and I’ll go to just about anything at the Sydney Festival, because their programs are so interesting. But music really is the art form that interests me most. Apart from new ‘classical’ music, I’m also interested in several corners of ‘popular’ music. For example, I’m just amazed at how much interesting indie rock and other music is being made in Iceland (there’s far more to it than Sigur Ros and Of Monsters and Men) and I was just so disappointed to have been in Europe when Einstürzende Neubauten played in Sydney last year. The way they innovate in making sounds (especially percussion, Claire) you don’t hear anyone else making is fascinating.

Lamorna performs David Lang’s lend/lease for piccolo and percussion with co-Artistic Director Claire Edwardes (Three and Under, Raffertys @ Riverside Theatres Parramatta, March 2014)

To find out more about the Noisy Egg Nests, contact Janine Marshman (General Manager) and Claire Edwardes (co-Artistic Director) on janine@ensembleoffspring.com or 0421 238 636.