Ahead of their August 22 concert at Monk Space, premiering pieces by Jessie Marino and Thomas Kotcheff, I asked Pope and Powell a few “why” questions about the music, themselves, and what it means to play everything but your instrument.
Richard: Why Jessie Marino?
One of the most enjoyable performances I’ve seen in the last couple of years is your performance of ‘Rot Blau’ by Jessie Marino, which I can’t imagine many people have performed besides Marino’s own ‘On Structure’ duo with Natacha Diels. You’ve performed this piece several times, and notably, you don’t play any instruments in it. There is something captivating enough about this piece that compels you two to eschew your traditional instrumental practice, and to pick up red and blue wigs instead.
Indoctrinate the reader into the Church of Marino!
Aperture Duo: (on Rot Blau and taking risks)
We’re so glad you enjoyed it! Some of our favorite memories on stage have been during Rot Blau performances. It’s a feat to learn the piece, and so unbelievably fun to perform it.
We decided to learn Rot Blau at a time when we were in between commissions and looking to find pre-existing repertoire for our upcoming season. But there was (and still is!) only a limited amount of rep for the violin and viola duo ensemble, and we were ready to think outside the box. We were no strangers to pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones – we regularly perform new works that utilize tons of extended techniques – so we were excited to take the leap and learn a piece that was completely off of our instruments. Not only does Rot Blau utilize props, lights, wigs, and gloves, it is written in an entirely new musical notation for body percussion and choreography.
And through learning Rot Blau, we became better chamber musicians. Back on our instruments everything from cueing, to our internal pulse, to body communication, to rehearsal techniques was all incredibly strengthened. It’s amazing what happens when you strip away the instrument that you’ve played for 25ish years!
AD: (on Jessie Marino, Murder Ballads, and commissioning new works)
What we love about Jessie as a composer is not only her creative musical language, but the way she throws herself fully into her conceptual ideas. So it was a no-brainer to ask her if she’d like to write us a piece. We had no idea that she’d write anything like Murder Ballads – you really never know what you’re going to get with a commission, the mystery is part of the fun!
Murder Ballads is a song cycle that combines experimental soundscapes, traditional Sacred Harp hymns, and Appalachian folk ballads. It’s by far the most singing while playing that we’ve ever done. And in a way, Murder Ballads feels like a perfect evolution from Rot Blau. Where Rot Blau requires perfection for its choreography and timing, Murder Ballads is written to be imperfect. We are not trained singers, as Jessie knows, and singing while playing is not a perfect science. So, just the way the piece is written requires us to trust each other, to listen like we’ve never listened before, to be vulnerable, and to catch each other in performance. To us, these are the epitome of chamber music skills.
AD: (on Thomas Kotcheff)
Interestingly, when we commissioned Thomas Kotcheff to write us a piece for this concert we specifically asked for an off-instrument piece. Thomas writes fantastic percussion music, so we thought this would be a fun fit. As it turned out, Thomas had something entirely else in mind for us that he was excited to dig into. The piece that he wrote us is not like anything we could have imagined. Not only is it specifically for our instruments, it also has playback, amplification, and has us playing around (literally!) with a few pop culture themes that everyone will know. It’s nostalgic, dreamy, weird, and wild, and we can’t wait to premiere it.
R: Why a duo? Why this duo?
There’s something about playing with exactly one other person that is special; there’s a simplicity of social hierarchy, a direct communication of ideas, and a clear intimacy and immediacy that is lost even when you add even, simply, a third person. In seemingly every aspect of performance, planning, collaborating and rehearsing, I’ve always noticed that you just get shit done as a duo.
Can you describe if and how the dynamic of a “duo” shapes the way you make art together as Aperture?
We always say that a duo is a conversation. Every moment playing together is an opportunity for listening, reacting, agreeing, disagreeing, questioning, or supporting each other. It’s like having a conversation with your closest friend, and it’s unbelievably rewarding! Performing in a duo requires being present in a way that we haven’t experienced in other chamber ensemble configurations. We each have to bring 50% to the table at all times.
This accountability also spreads to every other aspect of the ensemble, from rehearsal strategies, to concert preparations, programming logistics, and all the nitty gritty details that go into running a chamber group. We each have different strengths – both in performance and on the administrative side – which compliment each other really well. Utilizing our strengths and different skills allows us to divide and conquer in a very compatible way that makes our ensemble sustainable.
R: Why this duo? (violin/viola)
Essentially every chamber ensemble has to reckon with “the past,” a body of work that will always loom over your decision-making in programming, commissioning, the ensembles of your type that exist. This is most true for string quartets, which now has three hundred years of repertoire to reckon with, but this exists even for newer configurations; a group like Yarn/Wire (two pianists and two percussionists), which has a repertoire list almost entirely commissioned and created by themselves, still has Berio, Bartok and Crumb as part of its early canon.
How has the history of violin + viola music affected the way that Aperture operates?
AD: (on Mozart and the duo universe he created)
At first glance, a violin and viola duo seems like it would have a very homogenous sound. The instruments themselves are very similar, so how interesting can a violin and viola duo really be?
When we first began to make music together, we read through the Mozart violin and viola duos. The pieces are well known and well loved, but we didn’t expect them to be so inspiring. As two new music string players who also love traditional repertoire, we thought it would just be a fun experience to read them together. But what we learned is that inside of each of the Mozart duos is an entire string quartet, written for just two people! Nothing is missing, it’s like a compositional magic trick.
Working on the Mozart duos made us realize that anything is possible for two instruments, and made us excited to commission and expand the repertoire for the ensemble. Nine years later we’ve commissioned over fifteen new works that do exactly just that. Not only are they new works for violin and viola, but all of the pieces expand the expectations of what a violin and viola duo can be. Sometimes that means sounding like one instrument, sometimes two, and sometimes four (especially when including our voices!) It’s been a very fun ride and we can’t wait for more new sounds.
Join Aperture Duo (Adrianne Pope, violin and Linnea Powell, viola) in an evening of boundary-pushing new music featuring world premieres by Berlin-based composer Jessie Marino and LA-based composer/pianist Thomas Kotcheff. Join LA’s own Aperture Duo as they explore the shiny, surreal, and sometimes scary depths of chamber music for violin and viola.
7:00pm. Tuesday Aug 22, 2023 at Monk Space (4414 W 2nd St, Los Angeles, CA 90004)