I’m on my way to Aldeburgh (where, incidentally, by the end of the day, I’ll have given two concerto performances with a cat’s tail attached to my trousers – but that’s another story), and now seems as fitting a time as any to pen a few words about the Aronowitz Ensemble; for Aldeburgh is where the Ensemble really began, in November 2004, when Magnus assembled seven of us there for what, at the time, was set to be a one-off rehearsal residency and concert. It was an extraordinarily wonderful week: we rehearsed, chatted, ate, drank, put conch shells on our noses and marvelled at the unusual lyrics to Katie Melua songs. It would have felt a great shame to have left things there.
This is why, six years on, we find ourselves having lived through a staggering amount together – a multitude of performances at memorable concert halls and festivals, featuring a plethora of repertoire ranging from the conventional to the unheard of; some wonderful (and occasionally mildly terrifying) experiences as BBC New Generation Artists; the recent release of our first CD, Climbing the Skies – while outside of the ensemble, we continue to grow through our own diverse musical projects and lives, developing ideas and picking up influences which we can share when we regroup.
Unlike many other chamber groups, we’ve never aimed to operate as a full-time ensemble – we come together for a few intensive periods each season, and between times, we disappear off, lead orchestras and quartets, perform concertos, play in jazz clubs, write music, travel the world, produce babies, sit in fridges and so on. Every time we come back together, I’m always amazed at how much everyone else has done, and this richness seems only to feed positively into our work as an ensemble.
And what of current Aronowitz projects? A major focus this year is the series we’re devising and presenting at The Forge, Camden (for which we owe enormous thanks to the BBT), beginning this October. The four-concert series, From One to Seven, aims to showcase a versatility which I think is pretty unusual to the Aronowitz, drawing on our huge collective range of activities. We’ll be opening each of the Forge events with just one of us on stage, playing a solo work, and concluding with music for the full septet line-up, with all manner of familiar and unfamiliar riches in the middle. We’re keen to make the events as informal and welcoming as possible, and the repertoire will be as wide-ranging as any we’ve ever offered. Among many excitements, we’re particularly thrilled that Mark Padmore will be joining us for our December date.
A word about our slightly unusual instrumental combination, which comprises two violins, two violas (though both our viola players also play violin), two cellos and piano. Until our existence, I’m not aware that any work had ever been written for this exact combination, and our core repertoire has tended to consist largely of string quintets/sextets, piano quartets/quintets and works with guest musicians. However, we’ve been thrilled to put an end to the dearth of string-and-piano septets, as three-and-a-half such works have now been written for us: we’ve performed both Huw Watkins’s Sad Steps and Gwilym Simcock’s Contours at the BBC Proms, and earlier this year we premiered Martin Suckling’s To See the Dark Between at the Wigmore Hall. The newest septet, by Mark Simpson, is taking shape as I write – we’ll be giving it its first outing at the Two Moors Festival this October. Additionally, I’ve personally enjoyed making a number of transcriptions for our sevensome, often indulging my long-time passion for American songs of the early twentieth century – I’m delighted to find a way of programming the great music of Gershwin, Kern and Weill alongside Mozart and Schubert. You can hear some of the results at The Forge.
From One to Seven is proving an incredibly exciting project for us, and we were thrilled when Anna Picard commented in the Independent on Sunday that this is “a series likely to be the hottest of hot chamber music tickets”. We’d love to see you there – details below.
Anyway, I must stop writing, otherwise I’ll get carried away – soon I’ll be in Aldeburgh, and already the memories are flooding back; it’s a powerful place, and I’m looking forward to a peaceful pre-concert stroll through the reed beds at Snape Maltings. As I sit here, reflecting on the Ensemble and looking forward to our next meetings, I can’t help being struck once again by the way in which our seven lives have somehow become so happily intertwined, through the shared sense of purpose and unwavering love for chamber music which always draws us together; and all of a sudden it seems no time at all ago that we were sat together in Aldeburgh for the first time, wondering if there was a way we could turn it all into more than a one-off concert.