This article was written on 12 Mar 2014, and is filled under Perspectives.

Perspectives // nu:nord at Kings Place

by Stine Sørlie

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Sunday 26 January 2014. I found myself on a turbulent flight to London, UK, on my way to introduce nu:nord to the British public at Kings Place, where a special concert featuring Tre Voci Cello Ensemble and soprano Silje Aker Johnsen took place as part of the venue’s Out Hear series.

While the plane bounced like a roller coaster, the man in the seat next to me put on his headset and started tapping his foot to a fast beat, while conducting heavily with his hands in the air. Even though the turbulence was an intense experience, there was indeed something highly musical about it all. People around me were agitated, but the common experience created a bond between all of us who were present, as we shared a moment in time and space that never seemed to end.

Safely on the ground, I discovered that the trains from the airport in London were cancelled, so my turbulent journey continued by bus, train and taxi, before I finally found myself on stage at Kings Place, arriving just in time to officially introduce nu:nord to the British audience. Throughout the concert I once again felt how everyone in the room connected, this time quietly, through a common musical experience.

Many people, places and new works have crossed paths as a result of our nu:nord journey so far, and this London concert highlighted how nu:nord participants, past and present, have crossed geographical borders, pushed creative boundaries and formed fruitful new relationships since we first started out.

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The Kings Place concert presented works by Gregor Riddell, Georghes Aperghis, Therese Birkelund Ulvo, John Lely, Tyler Futrell, Colin Alexander, Johannes Ockeghem, Jonathan Cole, Lasse Thoresen and John Dunstable.

Below, let’s zoom in on a couple of these works and the collaborations behind them.

Tyler Futrell: For Silje (2013)

It was really rewarding to work with Silje on the piece for last years nu:nord performances in Oslo. The piece should really be called For Silje, as it utilizes her rare combination of considerable talent in both dance and music. 
– Composer Tyler Futrell on working with performer Silje Aker Johnsen.

Backstage, the performers Colin Alexander, Gregor Riddell, Torun Stavseng and Silje Aker Johnsen are warming up before the concert, and Silje’s newborn baby is perfectly relaxed with all the sounds around her, probably very much used to it since before birth. Last time I saw Silje on stage, she was very pregnant, and performing live in Oslo. During our nu:nord workshop week in Oslo in August 2013, she premiered a piece by Tyler Futrell, who lives and works in Oslo. Tyler is participating in nu:nord 2013-14 for the first time. Backstage at Kings Place, Silje is warming up for a UK premiere of Tyler’s piece, “For Silje, which consists of different body movements as well as vocal sounds.

“I touch my stomach a lot during the piece, so when I premiered the piece in Oslo the audience might have wondered if those movements were motivated by the piece only, or if it was something I did because of the pregnancy”, says Silje and laughs.  “So tonight here in London, the same movements will probably look very different”.

Silje Aker Johnsen performing in Oslo, 2013. ©Stine Sørlie

Tyler’s piece is made up of two sets of six items, woven together in a cyclical pattern. The first set is made up of silent physical gestures, mostly taken from real life (rather than classical ballet position). The second set of items consists of four pitches, as well as pronounced breathing.  In performance, Silje starts by repeating the first set over and over in her mind, each time performing more of the items, so that eventually the full pattern emerges for the audience. Then she starts substituting in items from the second set, until they have completely replaced the first set, and the piece is finished.

“The order of the items in the pattern is specified in the score, however the order they are introduced to the audience was left to Silje, as well as the order of substitutions from one set to the other, and the exact tempo”, the composer explains. “After working on the piece for a while, we decided some of these specifics together, and some remained improvisatory in performance. We also decided to permanently add a humorous ending Silje came up with, and I really feel that the piece is just as much Silje’s as it is mine”, says Tyler Futrell.

Tyler Futrell: For Silje score fragment.

For Silje pattern[1]


 John Lely: During (2013)

John seems to approach rehearsals more like an improviser than a composer in the sense that every element of his music factors in room for interpretation and freedom whilst also being extremely clear. The music is beautiful, moving and other worldly. I remember performing his piece in a concert in Aldeburgh in which Torun had to introduce the piece following John’s music. She was so evidently taken off into another galaxy as a result of John’s piece that her speech was frankly unintelligible!” 
– Cellist Gregor Riddell on John Lely’s music.

British composer John Lely is also a new participant for the 2013-14 edition of nu:nord. He created a complete new piece for Tre Voci during our 2013 workshop in Oslo, which the cellists performed each night during their UK tour, including at this concert at Kings Place. The title of the piece is “During”, and it consists of long chords, played extremely quietly by the three cellists.

“We first heard John’s music at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival in November 2012, performed by the Bozzini Quartet. We were immediately struck by its quiet intensity and ability to draw the audience in to listen to microscopic musical details”, says cellist Gregor Riddell. “Performing the music is even more demanding – we need such a refined control of our instruments to pull it off that it requires extremely intense concentration. When this works in performance it is also highly rewarding, as if we’ve completed a long musical journey. I’d go as far as to say the experience has been life changing!”

IMG_3517Workshop: John Lely and Tre Voci in Oslo, August 2013. ©Mira Benjamin

“For me, working with Torun, Colin and Gregor has been a very satisfying and convivial musical experience, one which I hope to have again, and one which makes me optimistic about what a musical collaboration can be”, says John Lely. He explains that during the workshop with the performers, he already had a general sense of the sound world, but that his initial sketches contained no tempo or dynamic markings. “Through playing and talking we arrived at a suitable tempo and dynamic, and the musicians found their own way to play the piece. These solutions seemed to emerge very easily – mostly, I think, because of the musicians’ sensitivity and open-mindedness”, says the composer. “I would find it impossible to convey accurately all the thoughts and processes that go into making a piece, but I suppose I am particularly interested in the variety of sounds, correspondences and experiences that can emerge through the use of a limited set of musical building blocks.”

Mingling in the bar

After the concert, it was time to mingle in the bar, celebrating all of our ‘babies’ – Silje’s little daughter, all the new musical works created, and Tre Vocis  brand new album, which was produced by Rob Lewis, who performed behind his laptop as a guest artist at the concert. In the bar we also met Tre Voci’s album artwork designer, Daniel Draper, for the very first time in person.

Gregor Riddell explains: “I saw Daniel’s artwork at an event in London, and I was so struck by his work I decided to contact him.”

The album cover speaks for itself:


At the end of this perfect evening, it was time for us all to gather for a photograph, to capture yet another defining moment along our nu:nord journey, reflecting upon all the places we have been and all the possibilities that lie ahead. Once again nu:nord is getting ready for takeoff, and I can’t wait to meet all these wonderful artists again at our next destination!

nunord Kings Place

L-R: Silje Aker Johnsen, John Lely, Gregor Riddell, Rob Lewis, Colin Alexander, Jonathan Cole, Daniel Draper, Torun Stavseng and Stine Sørlie. ©nu:nord.

The 2014 edition of nu:nord will take place 7–14 August in Oslo, and 15–17 August in London.

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Stine Sørlie is an Oslo-based composer, and co-director of nu:nord.

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