An update from overseas: JUMP artist Liam Flenady discusses his time in Paris and work with international mentor Francois Nicolas.
While the European Union enters into what may be a terminal crisis, I knuckle down in the 15th Arrondissement of Paris to develop my ability to create art music, aided by the obscure composer-theorist François Nicolas.
Meeting François was initially a very anxiety-provoking thing. While I have been in regular contact with him for over a year now (I’m co-translating two of his theoretical books), it always gets your heart rate up a little to meet someone you can’t help but idolise. Especially if your French sits between passable and infantile.
Still, I got through fine, and since then have had 5 or 6 one-on-one meetings with François. I dare not call them ‘lessons’ because François believes that a composition lesson “n’existe pas.”
Sessions with François sweep from the concrete to the abstract – impossible to capture in a short blog post. One session was devoted to pointing out a bunch of deep-seated shortcomings in my own music. This was a liberating experience, not a depressing one. Another session was devoted to understanding the music of Elliott Carter – an American composer who is important to both François and myself. Another was devoted to François’ own music, and the various processes he goes through in his composing.
All throughout this are dotted what we, in Gen-Y, might call truth-bombs. François is fond of dropping truth-bombs, and he is good at it. Here’s not the forum for truth-bombs, but needless to say on account of these I’m experiencing somewhat of a musical ‘bouleversement’. Some of the truth-bombs, if you have a taste for such things, are documented on my blog.
François clearly sees in me a very young artist who is only beginning to form himself. François was late to become a composer, but when he made the decision he spent five years systematically studying the music from the 11th century to today. Despite my university training, I have not undertaken such rigorous study. While he cautioned me that it is just his opinion, he also said, “since you have come to me, I will tell you that this is what you have to do.” He tells me in English, “zis is your job.” It’s a job I think I’ll accept upon return to Oz.
It is also a time to reflect on what it means to be an Australian composer. I have no desire to be a French one. François insists that my “job” is to also try to think about what would be an ‘Idea’ of Australia (which would be different to an Australian ‘identity’). I currently have no idea – but it’s nice to think about.
In addition to my sessions with François (and enjoying the French cheeses, wine in supermarkets, and European politics), I have been going to concerts of new music and a couple of newly composed operas. I have also been attending seminars that François organises where his colleagues present papers on music, philosophy, mathematics, language, and their relationships. All this gives François and I more to discuss at our individual sessions, and more for me to think about from the perspective of a young Australian composer.
In the shadow of all this I continue in the construction some new music – pieces that I am writing as part of my JUMP project. One was recently performed at Brisbane’s ‘Crossbows’ Chamber Music Festival. The next one will be premiered on Friday 5 October at the Judith Wright Centre by the ensemble Kupka’s Piano.