A performance featuring a sensitive encounter between music and dance. BCMG's NEXT Ensemble will be showcasing NEXT in Movement on 17 April alongside dancers Jess Williams and Vilma Tihliä. Originally pioneered by violist and composer Nathanael Gubler and oboist Mana Shibata, they give us an insight into the inspirations that led to its curation.


"I used to be a ballet dancer as a young girl so music and dance go hand in hand in my mind" - Mana Shibata


What were your inspirations for the ideas and concepts of NEXT in Movement?


M - The concept came to us quite naturally - Nathanael and I were chatting about music each of us were interested in performing over a cup of tea and everything just fell into place! So all the hard work of coming up with the programme was done in the first few minutes of planning. I had never done anything with electronics before but I'd always wanted to explore that medium, so when my BCMG mentor Melinda Maxwell told me about Edwin Roxburgh's piece, I ordered the score right away. I used to be a ballet dancer as a young girl so music and dance go hand in hand in my mind. It's so exciting to have our friends who are professional dancers on the project and I know we're going to have a lot of fun working together.


N – The main inspiration for me came from a project during last summer in which a contemporary vocal ensemble (Neue Vocalsolisten Stuttgard) collaborated with dancers. It was astonishing how the two art forms naturally combined! What is especially interesting for me as a composer is that in classical music the notation is a core element whilst in dancing almost nothing is notated on paper. This means dancers have to be so proactive and use space for personal expression.


Pioneering this concert, how did you communicate your vision to the rest of the NEXT Musicians?


M - The great thing about NEXT is that we've become good friends as well as colleagues. It feels really natural to share ideas and get feedback from each other. This particular project has mainly been curated by Nathanael and he's been great coming up with artistic ideas and asking us to chip in. It's been a truly collaborative process.


N – I can’t agree more on that! We all have very different things in which we are interested which means we mostly end up discussing in a quite passionate way. This makes curating a concert like this a real experience; people apply their own imagination and the end result is surprising for everyone.


How did you make the repertoire choices for this concert?


N – The initial idea of collaborating with dancers meant that the standard procedure of musicians come on stage, perform and then leave wouldn't really suit this. We wanted pieces which already involve some kind of movement, or place the listener outside the concert hall.


M - In terms of personnel, this is a fairly small-scale project for NEXT - only involving flute, oboe, piano and cello, Nathanael contributing as a composer. Initially Nathanael came up with the idea of his new piece to be performed alongside Oliver Knussen's Masks, which led me to add the Roxburgh to the mix. When Nathanael and I spoke to Laura about the idea, she suggested Rolf Hind's work which also fitted our concept perfectly. It was as if it was meant to be!


Was this a vision you were wishing to aspire to applying for the NEXT scheme and can you see yourself developing it in the future?


M - Meeting other like-minded young musicians and collaborating was definitely one of the main reasons I applied so working together to make this project happen has been great. I know we'll keep in touch and if another opportunity to try a different project comes up, we'll be jumping at it!


N – Once we were asked to curate a concert it was definitely something which came to my mind very quickly. And it developed further than I expected: I used the idea of my piece to apply for a PhD so we will see where this takes us…


Joining the NEXT Cohort has provided you with the opportunity to be coached by composers and musicians featured in BCMG’s concerts. What advice was imparted to you during these sessions that you feel most valuable?


M - Luckily for me, Edwin Roxburgh is a professor at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire where NEXT are based, so I got to meet him and play the piece through to get his advice. He is also an oboist so he knows so much! Because of the array of extended techniques required, it's been so refreshing and a lot of fun learning the piece. At times it felt like I didn't know how to play the oboe anymore but now that I've come out the other side, I feel like I've got to know my oboe even better.

A snippet of Mana's performance of Roxburgh's At the Still Point of the Turning World can be found here


N -  It is always a unique and fantastically fragile moment to perform a piece to it’s creator. You (hopefully) realise your own interpretation of a vision someone had in his mind. Its an experience you carry with you your whole life!

For me, playing Brian Ferneyhough’s music in front of him was an especially important moment for me. People speak so much about how brainy and heavy his scores are, but what struck me when I met him was that he is actually extremely quiet, sensitive – and melodic!


Nathanael – How would you characterise the compositional language of your new piece and how does it compliment the vision you had for NEXT in Movement?


N – For around two years, I have been more and more interested in astrophysics. Especially the phenomenon of jets fascinated me: Streams of particles travelling at (over)-lightspeed, sometimes twisting like lighthouses.

I was curious about how I could translate this into music, and actually got hold of a new loudspeaker technology which allows you to produce a clear-cut beam of sound. This beam can be reflected by a cymbal which our dancer Jess will be holding. Her movements change the direction of the beam, so she becomes sort of an astrophysical object, sending sound through the hall.

It is an exploration for all of us and actually I have no idea what the resulting experience will be like. It brings me to a place where I haven’t been before. That’s what movement means, right?


Nathanael Gubler's new piece Twisting Beams will be featured on NEXT in Movement on 17 April. Choreography and dance to be performed by Jess Williams.


NEXT is an innovative programme of study created by Birmingham Contemporary Music Group and The Royal Birmingham Conservatoire


Full programme details