Of composing and playing consort music

”As a professional composer I primarily write commissioned works – music, that someone is willing to pay for. Obviously, you have a freedom (to a certain extent) to decide which musicians/ensembles/orchestras you want to work with and what kind of instrumentations you prefer, but in the end the composer’s profession is a service occupation. In order to survive you have to have the skill and flexibility to write pretty much for anybody and for any instrumental combination imaginable – from solo instruments to full-sized symphony orchestras and from electroacoustic sound sources to archaic traditional instruments – just some extremes to mention.

However, there comes brief periods of time when a piece is just completed and you have some days or weeks to do whatever you want before the next commissioned project is on. During those ”recreational moments” I have – for the past few years – found myself dealing with various viola da gamba-related activities (or viol, as they call it in England). I love to play the instrument – especially the treble and tenor, which utilize the range that my first instrument cello doesn’t. Through playing and improvising I often end up writing something for viol/viols, as well. There is a fair chance that some of that recreational content will end up recorded and published in the following years, as the total lengh of my viol output has already exeeded 60 min.

Composing for viols is great, but it is even greater to play with someone else, preferably with a viol consort. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to find people that would be willing to put endless hours of their free time on playing music of e.g. John Jenkins, Orlando Gibbons and William Lawes. The problem is that professional violists don’t bother to do it just ‘for fun’ (which is pretty understandable) and in the amateur field the standards and capabilities vary greatly. To be surrounded with four skillful viol players who share your passion doesn’t happen too often.

However, sometimes luck can be on your side. Last Autumn three cellists and one bass player from the Finnish Radio symphony orhestra decided to do something that probably had not previously been done in the history of the radio orchestras: they got together and formed a viol section within the orchestra. Except for the leader of the consort, Jukka Rautasalo, the other Rso musicians did not have previous experience of either consort playing or viol as an instrument. They started pretty much with basics in Autumn 2014.

After few months of intense rehearsing the viol section eventually debuted at the Rso concert on 27 February 2015, playing John Dowland’s Lachrimae Antiquae as an opening number and after the concert giving a consort resital of John Jenkins, Christopher Tye, Henry Purcell and some more of Dowland.

As the fifth consort member was a professional violist working and living outside Helsinki, I had an opportunity to work as a rehearse player in the consort between October 2014 and February 2015, thus getting a chance to see how astonishingly quickly those top professional orchestra musicians were able to learn the basic tehcniques of viol, as well as digest the aesthetics of consort playing. It was a great experience for me – not only as a viol afficionado but also as composer. Next Spring the Rso consort will prepare a concert for Rso’s Chamber music series, where they will premiere my latest ‘recreational contribution’, In nomine ‘Shivering’ (a5) and I hope that this collaboration continues in the future – maybe in some form already in the Rso orchestral commission, which will pretty much occupy my calendar for year 2016. A viol section within an archestra is a resource that my kind of a composer might find hard to resist…

What happens remains to be seen – meanwhile, here’s some documentation of working with the Rso consort: Dowland’s Lachrimae Antiquae, recorded on 23 February.” (11 June 2015, O.V.)