On 29th Jan our BCMG NEXTies performed their first concert of the year at Symphony Hall! Cellist Finley and Violist Alma share their experience performing Aileen Sweeney's The Wooden Web, how the tree network inspired them to consider their environmental impact, and the challenges of performing a new piece. 

Finley Spathaky, Cello for BCMG NEXT 22 - 23

Preparing "The Wooden Web" for a performance with the NEXT ensemble was a unique and rewarding experience for me as a cellist. The piece, composed by Aileen Sweeney, is for flute, viola, and cello and takes inspiration from the underground fungal network that connects trees, known as the wood wide web.

One of the biggest challenges I faced while preparing the piece was trying to convey the idea of the wood wide web through my instrument. The composer had included a glissando motif (a musical phrase characterised by pitches that glide continuously from one to the next) that was passed around between the three instruments. Our task was to find a way to make it sound like the trees communicating with each other. After several rehearsals, I found that by using different bowing techniques and playing with the phrasing, I was able to create a sense of the trees communicating underground.

Another challenge was the use of my voice in the piece. As a cellist, I am not used to singing and the thought of it made me feel a bit nervous. However, the composer had created a sound world at the end of the piece to represent what she imagined talking trees may sound like, and I found that it added an extra layer of depth to the piece. It was a new experience for me and I was happy with the final outcome.

One of the most striking things about this piece is the balance with the close harmonies, which required a lot of precision and attention to detail. Additionally, the pianissimo double stopping sections (quiet/soft two-note chords) required a great deal of focus on intonation to make sure that the sound was pure and in tune.

The piece itself is incredibly beautiful and relaxing, with slow-moving sections that required us to listen to each other very closely. The lack of pulse in some sections also made it challenging to maintain control of the bow, but I found that by focusing on creating a pure sound, I was able to overcome this difficulty.

As I played this piece, I couldn't help but think about the environment and how it is affected by our actions. The idea of the wood wide web, and the way in which trees communicate and share resources, made me appreciate the natural world in a new way. It made me realize that we have a lot to learn from nature and that we should be doing more to protect it.

It's super important to educate ourselves about the environmental issues happening in the world today so we can do our part in helping to save the planet. One of the easiest ways to make a difference is by looking at what we're eating. I'd recommend trying to reduce the amount of meat you consume, whether that's by going full veggie or just having meat-free meals a couple times a week.

Overall, preparing The Wooden Web for performance with the NEXT ensemble was a challenging but rewarding experience. I am grateful for the opportunity to play this piece and I hope that it will inspire others to think differently about the environment and the natural world around us.



Alma Orr-Ewing, Viola for BCMG NEXT 22-23

A beautiful piece for flute, viola and cello inspired by the secret sounds of trees communicating with each other underground. Dissonances resolve stunningly to consonances, making the piece a joy to play… until you reach the end! The piece ends with all three instrumentalists singing rather than playing their instruments, creating a beautiful yet eerie sound world.

It was quite a learning curve. Whilst all three of us could have confidently played the material on our instruments, when we had to sing it our sense of pulse just totally vanished. When we play together we instinctively breath together, so we start and end almost perfectly together without even thinking about it, but when we were singing together we had to work hard to achieve this.

We played it through a few times on our instruments so we knew what it should feel and sound like. This reminded me of many times that teachers have told me ‘if you can sing it you can play it’ and have made me sing in my viola lessons. I thought it was quite amusing that we had to play it to be able to sing it. We did manage to sing it in the end, although singing such exposed parts in front of an audience definitely put me outside of my comfort zone! Which is probably a good thing…  Being able to confidently sing is essential to all musicians and I would strongly recommend this piece.

There was something quite beautiful and raw about returning to our voices rather than hiding behind our instruments, and I felt that it was a very appropriate ending for a piece inspired by the sounds of nature.


See what concerts our NEXTies have coming up



Birmingham Contemporary Music Group and Royal Birmingham Conservatoire join forces yearly to offer a unique training programme for music students and professional musicians looking for a career as performers of contemporary music. As part of this, our talented early career musicians perform throughout the year along with our BCMG Musicians, come and support the next generation of musicians.

Read more about BCMG NEXT at www.bcmg.org.uk/next