EXCLUSIVE: 2015 MATA Festival Interview Spotlight - Ann Cleare on 'Eöl,' Talea Ensemble and J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth

By Maria Jean Sullivan on Apr 22, 2015 12:00 AM EDT

Founded by Philip Glass, Lisa Bielawa and Eleonor Sandresky in 1996, the MATA Young Composers Now! Festival strives to present emerging compositional talent sourced from across the globe. The 2015 edition at The Kitchen continues in that very tradition, featuring quite the varied array of exemplary young voices. So, with a nod to the spirit of MATA, itself, Classicalite has chosen three composers to speak with about that career-defining opportunity: a MATA commission.

Our final entry is Ireland's own Ann Cleare, whose MATA-commissioned piece Eöl closed out the festival Saturday night, as part of the "Incomparable Contrivances" program performed by the Talea Ensemble. Cleare's percussion-heavy mini-concerto expertly explored the resonant qualities of handmade sculpture and proved to be one of this year's highlights.

2015 alone is serving up a fever of activity for Cleare: a chamber opera for Taschenopernfestival in Salzburg, new works for Ireland's National Symphony, a commission from clarinettist Carol McGonnell and the Argento Chamber Ensemble, even a solo horn piece for Samuel Stoll.

We snagged a few minutes of her time to discuss Eöl, J.R.R. Tolkien and how Talea fits somewhere in the middle.

Classicalite: For those that, sadly, didn't hear it, tell us a bit about your MATA piece: the peculiar instrumentation, the origin of the title, etc.

Ann Cleare: Eöl is a piece for a newly built collection of small percussion instruments surrounded by a chamber ensemble of clarinet, saxophone, accordion, cello and double bass. The collection of percussion instruments is based around the melding of different metals to create unusual timbres and resonances. These include metallic arm and hand pieces that the percussionist simultaneously wears and plays and a metallic table instrument with rods that detach on to the percussionist's fingers, creating a solo for metallic hands. The spectacle of moving between these different metallic instruments is mirrored in the percussion's relationship to the ensemble.

The title serves to evoke many facets that are at work in the piece. In a geological sense, the word "eolian" signifies something borne, deposited, produced or eroded by the wind. This particularly connects to the porous role that the accordion plays in the piece. It is like a medium that the other instruments of the ensemble transform and interact through. And in a mythical sense, the title alludes to Eöl, an elf from J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle Earth writings, who skillfully wove metals into various magical armors. The ensemble enacts a similar type of sonic weaving, leading to the formation of the percussionist's metallic hands.

Clite: And how did you get Eöl comissioned by MATA? Was it as simple as answering the call?

AC: I entered the annual call for scores. And from the work I presented the panel, they suggested that I write a new piece for the festival.

Clite: How soon did you know the Talea Ensemble would be performing your piece? And did that influence your process, writing for those specific players?

AC: MATA coordinates the partnering of composer and ensemble. I learned that I would be writing for Talea about eight months ago. Yes, knowing this does affect my compositional process. I write music that's very concerned with timbral detail and creating unusual motions and forms. It's crucial that it is played by musicians who can execute and interpret this detail. Knowing that Talea has so much experience in playing repertoire like this allows me the freedom to explore the ideas I have in depth.

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TagsEXCLUSIVE, MATA Festival, Ann Cleare, Eöl, J.R.R. Tolkien, Talea Ensemble

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