Solo – Programme Note

Ollie Smith and I have been working on a new show for Frequency Festival in Lincoln at The Lawn commissioned by Lincoln Performing Arts Centre. This is the programme note.

‘Apart we are together, together we are apart’ – Jacques Ranciere (after Mallarmé)

A solo is often thought of as a virtuoso’s moment in the spotlight. But in this piece there’s two of us and two of you and no one is quite sure who is watching whom. The spotlight is focussed on us all.

Throughout the process of devising Solo we’ve enjoyed the contradiction of two people making a piece together about being alone – and then performing to two other people at a time. We have spoken a lot about how this show will make itself. Like no piece we have made before, either together or apart, it speaks in a very intimate way about the creative process. How one person, an author or composer, might write something, like words or music, for another person, an actor or musician, to perform. This piece explores that fragile relationship between the writer and the performer, the process and the product, the player and what they play.

In this encounter, you are the protagonists, following a score that has been composed for you. De capo al coda, from the beginning to the end. The piece of music that inspired us – Tzigane – is only 10 minutes long and this has been our structural handrail throughout. Indeed, when you are doing something on your own, this is where the piano or violin play solo, and when you are together, this is where the two duet.

We have taken old text fragments, sounds and images, and reimagined them within a fresh context. The analogue and obsolete sit alongside the digital. Solo reuses and reinterprets its material in such a way as to breathe new life – just as Ravel did by borrowing from gypsy folk to create Tzigane. The present wears its history.

Like all music, we don’t know exactly what Ravel was thinking when he wrote it, or what Jelly D’Aranyi was thinking about when she played it at the premiere at the Aeolian Hall in 1924. But it translates, like its title, into a gypsy-infused narrative, where displacement and migration is both evident in the discordant, jazz-like glissandos we hear and evoked by the melancholy sound they make. In these uncertain times, post-Brexit, post-Trump, where we question our own notions of belonging it is interesting to note that music, like theatre, cuts across boundaries and takes us to a place where we can be with ourselves, where we can be alone together.

Michael Pinchbeck and Ollie Smith
October 2017