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Q&A with Gabriella Swallow

Ahead of the release of Curved Form (No. 11), I spoke to Gabriella Swallow about the process behind bringing a new piece of music to life.

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Firstly, I’d love to know what this piece feels like from the inside. I’ve experienced it as both composer and listener, but I’ll never know how it feels to perform it. Could you describe your experience of playing it?

I would say it’s a pretty unique experience playing this piece, as you feel when you perform it almost like you have three sets of ears; the ears of the composer, performer and audience which then in the end come together and feel very organic. As the electronics are slightly out of my hands, I feel as though I become a member of the audience too and react to what I’m hearing as a performer and then, with the freedom you give me, I can also add my own expression and voice on top of what you have so eloquently put in the score.  I love this about the piece, I take the journey with the audience but also help steer it too.

Your work takes you through a whole host of music and genres, from classical to pop to jazz to musicals, and from centuries-old works to brand new pieces and improvisations. Do you approach these different styles with a different headspace each time and, if so, how do you get in the zone for performing Curved Form (No. 11)?

 

For me as a performer, my first passion has always been presenting new works to audiences, preferably for the first time. There is nothing more exciting for me than when a new piece of music arrives in the post (or by email to be more honest!). I enjoy the first hours alone with the piece making sense of  something,  and then working with the composer to bring the piece off the paper. I’m lucky in my career that I get to wear a lot of different hats, though this does mean that a lot of the time I don’t always have the luxury of the composer being alive! I take pride in bringing the same care, preparation and attention to detail that I put into a Beethoven sonata as I do to your music and that’s what - for me - being a performer is all about. The genre becomes irrelevant as you are trying to be faithful to the score and do your best to interpret it in the most truthful way.

If you were to perform it tomorrow and could pair it with one other piece, what would you choose and why? Would you go with something that compliments its slow moving, meditative soundworld or choose to cut across it with something completely contrasting?

The obvious choice would have to be one of the Bach Cello Suites. I would love to explore how the solo cello is used and compare the approach by Bach and then you many years later. Your piece takes the instrument back almost to basics and in some ways pre-dates the Bach by exploring textures, harmonics and pure single notes first before adding harmonies and layers. I feel very similar emotionally playing both Bach and your music, the cello becomes my voice and it feels intensely personal.

Finally, as the world begins to open up this Summer, how does it feel to be back on stage performing with others to live audiences?

It feels like a huge part of my life makes sense again! I’ve enjoyed my digital work and recordings but nothing feels quite like it does with a live audience. That dynamic and relationship is incredibly special and important. I’ve been lucky to be on tour with saxophonist Jess Gillam and the buzz on and off stage has been incredibly special and I’ll never take it for granted again. 

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Curved Form (No. 11) features the title track performed by Gabriella Swallow alongside remixes by Mira Calix, Sarah Davachi and I. It's out on Friday 6 August and can be pre-ordered via Bandcamp now.