November’s guest editor, Alex Burns, interviews Sheffield-based collective Platform 4. See all of Alex’s editorial content here).
Celebrated for their innovativeness, diverse collaborations, and daring musical projects, Sheffield’s composer collective Platform 4 are at the forefront of new music in South Yorkshire and surrounding regions. The composers behind the music are Jenny Jackson, Chris Noble, Tom James and Tom Owen, with each of them possessing their own unique styles of composition – making them a true tour de force. I was able to pin down these busy musicians to talk about their favourite projects of 2018, and the work they have in the pipeline. You can read our discussion below.
AB: Recently you ran a project in conjunction with The University of Sheffield Concert Series to perform Terry Riley’s ‘In C’ in the famous Paternoster lift. How did you go about organising some of the intricate logistics of this performance?
We began by doing a general call-out to musicians in Sheffield, using social media and emails to local orchestras, choirs, ensembles, the universities and other musicians we knew via our own network of friends, inviting musicians to join us.
Probably the most important considerations were the practicalities of; a. physically being able to play in a confined space, and; b. the safety aspects around entering and exiting the constantly revolving lift capsules whilst holding on to instruments. This informed the idea to limit lift players to those with small wind or brass instruments and vocalists. However, we also felt that we needed to project a more consistent and solid ensemble performance of the piece and so we positioned static ensembles on the Mezzanine and 13th floors which could project the sound up and down the lift shafts and give the lift players support, with the audience sandwiched on the floors between them. The instruments in these ensembles were strings, keyboards, electric guitars, and large wind and brass. The lift capsule players revolved around the floors so the audience experienced sound from above and below, producing a constantly evolving audio and visual performance.
We kept in time by using a taped loop of repeated piano Cs which was amplified on the Mezzanine floor. To ensure that players were able to keep within a certain number of cells, as per the instructions, and to maintain the one hour performance target, we used a timer and a board which the lift players could see as they passed by the Mezzanine floor. Keeping to one minute per cell, we pointed to the number of the cell on the board as it changed, so players could aim to keep loosely in front or behind of it. In order to perform the unison crescendo/ diminuendo ending, all lift players, plus the upper static ensemble players, descended via the paternoster lifts to create one big ensemble on the Mezzanine floor.
The applause rippled up and down the lift shaft at the end – a magic moment.
2018 has seen you all be a part of some exciting new music concerts – do you have any particular highlights?
We were approached by the Berlin-based Passepartout Duo last year, asking whether we would like to collaborate with them. They are touring Europe whilst commissioning new work and looking to collaborate with ensembles through residencies and concert performances, to generate new repertoire and audiences for percussion and piano. We each composed a piece for a concert they gave at the Upper Chapel, Sheffield, earlier this year. The programme included other works that they have commissioned en route. We chose to write for combinations of piano, vibraphone, glockenspiel, snare drum, drum pad, and tape (one of the stipulations was to keep resources limited).
We also had fun writing pieces for the mini Classical Sheffield festival in the Winter Gardens – a nice little warm-up for next year’s main festival. Tom J was also particularly chuffed to have his piece Barn Dance given another play on Radio 3. The piece was one of four pieces we actually wrote in 2017 for Music In The Round’s Russia In The Round festival, performed by Ensemble 360. Again you can hear the results on our Soundcloud!
What are some of your favourite venues that your music has been performed in?
Tom J: Performing site-specific works is something we’d love to develop further in the future – for example, it was great for Platform 4 to be invited to write works alongside Gillian Brent’s metalwork sculptures in the Hepworth Gallery, Wakefield.
Chris N: I love the intimacy of two Sheffield venues, the Upper Chapel and the Crucible Studio. Really special, unique settings. And then (forgive the clang) – my piece
Jazz Journeys for Dennis Rollins leading 600 kids from South Yorkshire (as part of the Music For Youth proms) was performed in the Albert Hall last year – that’ll take some beating!
Jenny J: I’ve premiered a piece (Self Portrait) in Amsterdam with the Nieuw Ensemble; closer to home I very much enjoyed assembling a massed choir for my Classical Sheffield Festival commission Kraal which brought the whole weekend to a close in the resonance of Sheffield Catholic Cathedral.
Tom O: The Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall in York has a nice acoustic.
Do you have a favourite instrument/collection of instruments you like composing for? If so, why these choices?
Tom J: I have written extensively for chamber groups and wind ensembles,
but my first my commission of 2019 is an orchestral overture – it’s been a steep learning curve but immensely rewarding to paint on a bigger canvass.
Chris N: Outside of the ‘classical’ world, I love writing for big band – my own band Straight 8s plays my own unique arrangements of soul and funk music alongside new works for the group. I had to multiply this by about 6 when I was commissioned last year to write for the Music For Youth proms (see above)!!
Jenny J: I like working with string ensembles – pieces such as [Surge] and Teeter explore the huge landscaped textures available – this in turn has inspired me to found the Sheffield Viola Ensemble, who play a small amount of established repertoire for multiple violas alongside new pieces.
Tom O: For a long time it was sumptuous combinations of wind instruments. I have put that to one side for a bit, though. I’m thinking about large cycles of works for piano and bolt-ons; Piano and percussion, 2 pianos, piano and tape. I’m also increasingly drawn to including spoken word.
Do any of you have any new music or concerts in the pipeline?
The best thing about being a collective is the ability to attract new commissions whilst still working on individual projects.
Next year promises to be a big one for Platform 4; Jenny has been commissioned by Hallam Sinfonia to write a viola concerto, and Tom J will similarly be working with orchestral players on his new piece Mad Meg. Chris continues to write for his big band Straight 8s but is also working on a top secret project involving a huge big band of international forces…! Platform 4 as a collective are writing again for Classical Sheffield in March, something we always enjoying creating new works for.
You can hear more of our work on the Platform 4 SoundCloud, including ‘Melodrama’ – our most recent Music in the Round commission
There are videos of past performances on our YouTube channel.
Platform 4 website: http://www.platform4composers.co.uk/