Earlier this month I was interviewed by Samuel Cottell about the upcoming premiere of my work Atmosphoria, commissioned by Matthew Schwarz for the Queensland Philharmonia Orchestra. The interview can also be found here: CutCommon Jakob Bragg.
Imagine a hot summer’s night in Brisbane.
“It’s almost midnight, it’s an unforgivably still 28 degrees and worst of all, it feels so much more uncomfortable with 90 per cent humidity,” composer Jakob Bragg describes.
“The fan is only moving hot thick air around, you can’t fall asleep and the only reprieve you get is the eventual sound of the chimes singing from the apartment upstairs; the wind picks up. Soon you get the tapping of rain from the neighbours’ tin roof and not long after, a torrential storm hits with fierce winds and heavy rain.
“A reprieve, yes, but concerns of where you parked your car, the possibility of hail, or falling tree branches soon plague your thoughts.”
This is the starting point from which Jakob created his newest orchestral commission ‘Atmosphoria’ to be performed on September 20 with the Queensland Philharmonic Orchestra.
The orchestra’s conductor and founder Matthew Schwarz has commissioned works every year since establishing the orchestra.
“When I was approached to write an orchestral work for QPO, I immediately wanted to create a piece that really conjured up Brisbane,” Jakob says. “’Atmosphoria’ is a portmanteau of ‘atmosphere’ and ‘euphoria’ but also refers to the two works that influenced how I wrote this particular piece: Ligeti’s Atmospheres and Penderecki’s Polymorphia.”
Jakob is a Brisbane based composed who studied with Gerard Brophy at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music. He has also been taught by Liza Lim and Stuart Greenbaum. “All of these phenomenal teachers have had such a massive impact of my music and how I approach composition,” he says.
“Each has focused on different areas in compositional craft and all have widened my gaze and appreciation of music.” Jakob’s works have been performed by the Australian Youth Orchestra, Kupka’s Piano, the Queensland Mandolin Orchestra, Queensland Saxophone Orchestra, the Conservatorium New Music, Brass and Chamber ensembles and workshopped by The Australian Voices.
Beyond the concert hall, he has composed music for film. Early this year, Jakob was a participant in the Australian Youth Orchestra’s composition program and had his work ‘Dissent’ premiered. His musical influences come from a wide range of sources and are mostly concerned with spectralism and new complexity aesthetics. “My music has a strong focus on a morphing of colour and timbre, exploring the spectrum of sound between Western tunings and a constant blurring between cluster and clarity.”
Jakob has a three-fold process in creating a piece and generally begins by sketching out ideas. “I start very vaguely and very graphically, drawing lines, scribbles, shapes… getting an idea on how the piece will build, where it will be most intense, and at what point in the overall duration this will occur,” he explains.
For his new work, he started to make sketches before thinking about instrumental colour and timbre. “Only then did I think about pitch material, sketching an opening cell then allowing my material to flow from there – either mimicking the intervallic relationship or fleshing out the pitch direction. Overall and rather simply, the piece moves from long static lines, to faster and more intense cells, progressing from clear and balanced textures to clutter and thick textures.”
For young composers, having works commissioned and performed by an orchestra is a great learning experience and can provide many invaluable lessons about music making. “You soon discover that readability, clear notation, lack of basic errors and knowing each instrument thoroughly is so important and often completely overlooked,” Jakob says. He also loves the amount of noise you can create in an orchestral piece, though it’s much more than noise that Jakob likes to create when composing music.
There are many challenges for emerging musicians to having new music performed and commissioned, particularly by a symphony orchestra. “It can be a combination of fear and uncertainty over something new and untested, a lack of funds to commission something new, perhaps – and wrongly so – a fear that audiences won’t respond, and a lack of awareness of the rich and diverse music available from living composers.” But Jakob is optimistic that more audiences are coming to listen to new works.
“I think communication is the best way to reach audiences new to ‘difficult’ or ‘avant-garde’ music. It’s important for ensembles and or the composer to introduce new works, show that this music has come from a human being, and give an insight into how or why this work has come into existence. I’d also encourage listeners to give new music a chance.
“Music, and all art, has constantly evolved and progressed, responding to the present day and new ways of creating sound. Many listeners are shocked at the idea that people didn’t appreciate the ‘great’ classical composers in their day, yet are completely guilty in the very same act of dismissing music of today, without at least giving it a go or attempting to understand why.”
‘Atmosphoria’ also has a special meaning for Jakob, who is moving to Melbourne later this year and is continuing his studies in composition. It is a sort of ‘parting gift’ to Brisbane. Aside from his move to Melbourne and further study, Jakob has a few pieces to write.
“I’m working on a new work for the Kurilpa String Quartet as part of the Silver Harris & Jeff Peck prize I received from the Queensland Conservatorium, and about to start a new work for new music extraordinaire group Kupka’s Piano.”