COLLABORATING on a new work for double bass with composer Angela elizabeth slater (written by maggie cox)
In May of 2020 I received an email from the faculty at Tanglewood Music Center that looked to gauge interest in a collaborative project involving that summer’s double bass and composition fellows. I immediately responded that I would love to participate, and requested to be paired with a woman composer because I have a real passion for finding more works for the bass that are not written by men. Six months later, I could not be more delighted that that project resulted in a wonderful and productive working relationship with the brilliant composer Dr. Angela Elizabeth Slater. I am so thankful for the opportunity to share this performance of her amazing new piece, The aching space between.
After working together all summer on A door to yesterday – Angela’s set of seven miniatures for solo bass – Angela informed me that she had received Arts Council England funding for her project Connected Skies: solo series challenge project, an initiative that requires her to write six new pieces over the course of several months (Oct 2020–May 2021). Each piece will be performed by a different solo instrument, and she invited me to premiere a new work for double bass. I was immediately energized and excited, and also felt a significant amount of trepidation, because A door to yesterday had been one of the most challenging projects I have ever worked on. I felt sure that Angela would push the double bass to its limits and explore sound-worlds that were entirely new to me on this new commission. This new piece, The aching space between, did not disappoint, and in many ways this project was even more challenging and stimulating than A door to yesterday, both because of the expedited timeline and the addition of a vocal line.
For both A door to yesterday and The aching space between, the process was basically as follows:
Working with Angela was such a joy and a privilege. I had never worked so closely with a composer before, and I did not know quite what to expect, but Angela blew away any expectations that I did have. Both personally and musically, working with Angela was a delight. This was my first semester of graduate school, and it has been all virtual, so I am currently living at home with my parents. Before the semester started, I was a bit lost and wasn’t sure what to work on. Working with Angela on this project gave me a real sense of purpose and something to look forward to. Because of the time difference (Angela lives in the UK and I am currently based in Cleveland, Ohio) I was a bit worried about communication, but it was always very smooth (although, because I am working and living mostly out of one room, I had to experiment with propping up my phone and computer on my bed or on a shelf while I shuffled furniture around trying to get my bass in the shot while still being able to see the music).
Once we met on FaceTime or Zoom, we would first chat about how “things” were going in our respective countries. It was interesting to hear about her experience in the UK and comparing our different national experiences of Covid. This has been a very lonely time for everyone, and it was comforting to feel a sense of solidarity with the experiences of many artists across the pond.
After becoming significantly discouraged about the status quo, it was a delight to move on to the music. Our chats felt collaborative in the truest sense of the word, and we would discuss ways to merge Angela’s vision with my knowledge of what was realistically possible on bass. There were several times that Angela wrote techniques and harmonics that I had never seen before. We would meet, and she would greet my skepticism with a wonderfully thorough explanation, usually aided by a number of stunning charts that she has that enumerate every possible note and technique on the double bass. I have a love/hate relationship with these charts because they often proved me wrong when I said something “didn’t exist” or “wasn’t possible”. I am so thankful to have had this opportunity to learn about techniques I had never heard of and harmonics that I didn’t know existed. Halfway through the process, Angela also added a vocal line to the bass part. This was a unique challenge and was very exciting to figure out, although I am sure my family resents having to listen to the entirety of that preparation process (I am not a singer). Throughout these meetings, Angela was extraordinarily gracious and flexible, and I never felt like there was any ego involved. This was so exciting and made the whole process a real joy, as I felt we were both working towards the goal of bringing the music to life.
I am very excited for the virtual performance of The aching space between. This performance was pre-recorded at the AV Club, a recording studio in Akron, Ohio. The experience of recording in a studio was also entirely new to me, and I am so thankful that the Connected Skies: solo series challenge project provided funding to produce such a high-quality recording.
This performance of The aching space between is especially dear to me because the piece is about the longing for human connection that we have all experienced over the past 10 months. I miss performing concerts for live audiences very much, but this performance is very special in a different way, and I am so delighted to share it with you all.