Mark Barden: Personae


This piece was suggested by my great friend the clarinet player Heather Roche for a concert we were doing at Cardiff University (in our trio with Xenia Pestova). I have to admit to having some doubts about it at first. One of my crusades in life is helping composers to understand how to write effectively for low flutes, and I'm particularly sensitive with the bass because it's so easy to get it wrong.

The piece had been performed before, so that was one potential bonus, in that everything theoretically should work, or have a work around. However, I came up against a common bass flute problem, which is that the instruments are all subtly different sizes and some things that will work on one instrument simply won't work on another. In this case, many of the extreme high notes, which are technically out of range, were very definitely out of range for me and my flute (I play a small bore bass, so it should be better than most at going high, but the bass flute just isn't designed to play super Ds). It was a frustrating experience to begin with, because I could see exactly what sort of sounds the composer wanted to hear, and knew they would be expressively and dramatically excellent - I just couldn't do them on my instrument (I also tried some of these sounds on two other bass flutes, but without success)

However, the musical ideas were great, and as a performer, my job is to convey them as best I possibly can in performance. I made the decision to go with the maximum musical effect, and did what I could. The music and the ideas are effective and I think we gave a convincing performance, and even had a lot of fun in the process. It's an enjoyable piece full of extended techniques and an imaginative array of sounds for both instruments (bass flute and bass clarinet) and makes a nice contrast in a concert programme. In the end I enjoyed the experience of performing it, and the theatricality created from the wonderfully expressive sounds used. With pieces like this I always learn a lot; both about the limits of my instruments but also how to overcome them in a way that preserves the musical ideas. Performing new music is often as much about creative approaches to getting the message across, and trying to understand exactly what the composer is trying to convey. This is one of the aspects of my job that I love, even if it does get a little frustrating at times!

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