The following post was written by Austin Wulliman, violinist in the JACK Quartet, who was awarded a 2018 Paul R. Judy Center Grant.
This August, JACK took the stage on the TIME SPANS Festival in New York City alongside the technicians and producers of the incredible SWR Experimentalstudio Freiburg to present a concert of music for string quartet with immersive live electronics. We worked with three monumentally creative composers resulting in American premieres by Felipe Lara and Georg Friedrich Haas and a world premiere by Sabrina Schroeder. Throughout, Thomas Fichter, the Artistic Director of the TIME SPANS Festival was in close conversation about the collaboration and planning of the program.
Headlining this wild, multivalent work was the world premiere of Sabrina Schroeder’s piece UNDERROOM. Let’s contextualize just how many artists and administrators it took to create this project to get a picture of how many layers of relationships come together in a successfully groundbreaking piece of new work by an imagination like Schroeder’s. First, there’s Sabrina, who JACK had been in conversation with for some time about creating a new work together. TIME SPANS commissioned this piece under the auspices of its parent-organization the Earle Brown Music Foundation Charitable Trust. The administration of TIME SPANS also acquired commissioning funds from the Canada Council for the Arts, where Sabrina is a citizen and teaches in Vancouver.
In the commissioning stage, the project was immediately connected to further institutional support. Creating a technically advanced, but easily performable work with cutting-edge sound dispersion takes incredible expertise and the SWR Experimentalstudio is one of the world’s leading centers for electronic music. Schroeder had lengthy collaborative time with the artist-technicians of the SWR to develop the live electronics for the piece.
Next, there are the four players of JACK. Our relationship with Sabrina goes back many years to works created in her student days at Harvard University. We have played her piece Slip Trains many times and have kept a keen eye on her current projects. So, we certainly did not start from zero on this collaboration. We maintained close contact in the months leading to the concert, planning for the unusual scordatura applied to the instruments and the new developments to her extended instrumental sound world used in the piece.
By the time the score was delivered, we were quickly ready to rehearse and put the work together. One composer (with an assistant), two members of the SWR team, one New York City technician hired by TIME SPANS, two full-time administrators of the TIME SPANS Festival (and their support staff at the DiMenna Center). It truly takes a village, right?
So, why would I tell you all this? Because I assume a lot of the readers of a blog from Eastman are younger musicians themselves. Navigating these relationships can get you to the point of really creating something unique. Take every chance you have to learn about how to communicate with professionals throughout the music field. What mentors do you have that can guide you through talking with a composer about the outlines of a commission? Who do you have in your life that can help you think about how to convince a presenter to take an interest in the project you’d like to create? And, once you have that project in the pipeline with the presenter, remember to use all your best communication to maintain that relationship with the kind of professional courtesy you should always be trying to develop. Keeping all those conversations positive, drama-free, and life-affirming like the art you want to create will lead to many more projects in the future with those same collaborators.