Peter Wiegold writing in 2019 on his journey to The Third Orchestra
The idea for The Third Orchestra was spontaneous. After many years of working with musicians from across the world, suddenly the thought came that there could be an orchestra that brought many of them together. A 360° world orchestra saying - no boundaries, no preconceptions, everyone is welcome.
Three years ago, I was on a delegation in Hohhot in Inner Mongolia. I heard some very fine musicians then someone said, the best horse-hair fiddle player is in town. Somehow we found him, and he and I ended improvising together late at night in the foyer of a very large karaoke house, with me on a white grand piano. Finding the chords to accompany this soulful light stringed instrument, exchanging melodies, there was a simple delight in all of us there, that we could speak to and hear one another, and create a new music together.
My journey into intercultural music-making began back in the 80’s when I was privileged to work alongside the late Dipak Choudhury, a leading sitar disciple of Ravi Shankar. We worked at the Bhavan Centre, London along with members of my Gemini Ensemble. The depth of subtlety in the bending of a single note, the rigour and complexities of the tabla rhythms opened our ears to another music. One in which, within these rigours, they would go on long journeys of improvisation.
At this time in my life I was reviewing my own classical contemporary music background. I had been successful, with commissions and my own ensemble, but something in me wanted a broader canvas - not just a sonic canvas but to find a different, more open means of interacting with musicians. So, inspired by the Bhavan project, I was determined to understand more about how different musics beyond my own worked, how they were led, the role of a score, the role of improvising and so on.
I spent many years studying. Especially, studying Gamelan in the academy in Surakarta, Java, seeing the different roles in the orchestra, watching as everyone decorated the central melody, the balungang. At the end of my stay the academy invited me to write a piece for the main orchestra, using their number sequence notation. As soon as the session began, the players took over the piece. Inventing an opening, adding layers, adding solos. There was no sense of ownership, all got on with sorting it out, and it was totally heart-warming that the music suddenly belonged, not just to the composer, but to all present.
Since then, especially in the last ten years at Club Inégales alongside my band Notes Inégales, I’ve been lucky to work with musicians from many world traditions. The more than 100 guests at Club Inégales have included Shri Sriram (India), Cheng Yu (China), Sura Susso (West Africa), Maya Youssef, (Syria), Lionel Loueke (jazz, New York), Horo Horomona (Maori shaman, New Zealand) Leveret (British folk), Jill Purce (recorder), the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and performers from other art forms: Ria Lia (comedian), Woodrow Phoenix (cartoon artist) and Benjamín Zephaniah (poet). Two NMC Recordings releases arose from ideas generated on club nights, With writer Will Self (‘Kafka’s Wound’) and folk singer Sam Lee, (Van Diemen’s Land’).
A particular highlight at the club was in 2017 when, together with the EFG London Jazz Festival and festival director John Cumming, we commissioned 25 new ‘one-page’ scores to celebrate 25 years of the festival. We performed them in two marathon days, with most of the player-composers joining Notes Inégales. With so many new pieces, we decided not to rehearse at all, just fix one or two cues. These were wonderful performances, the music jumped off the page, took so many unexpected twists and turns.
Several of The Third Orchestra's Barbican performers were there: Alice Zawadzki, Jaak Sooäär, Byron Wallen, Hyelim Kim, Matt Bourne, Martin Butler, Simon Limbrick.
So to The Third Orchestra. I feel this will sound wonderful just playing the same note together - there is such a wealth of talent, and a wealth of deep knowledge of particular genres, particular cultures. A Korean musician whose court tradition says that each note is a whole piece in itself. The classical violinist who can articulate a single note in a hundred ways from a whisper to a passionate vibrato. A jazz musician who can negotiate the most entrancing chord patterns. The oud player whose subtle lowering and raising of conventional tuning opens up another world of poetic sensibility. The electronics musician who takes a pure sound and turns it into a torrent of sonic waves then returns.
There are many answers to why it is called The Third Orchestra. This is not about classical meets jazz, or East meets West. It is about each individual bringing their unique heritage and lineage into the work and creating a fresh new music together.
How will it work? Most traditions (including Western classical) play in some way with pre-prepared material meeting devising and improvising. I love the baroque term ‘realisation’, where a score can be newly decorated with the musicians there that day.
In fact, that reminds me of another important inspiration. As student at Durham University I played guitar in Raymond Leppard’s realisation of Monteverdi’s ‘The Coronation of Poppea’. Too much for purists, but I loved being surrounded by the free-form spinning lines he created around the Monteverdi on harpsichords, guitars, strings. I suspect I have been trying to re-create that florid exuberance ever since.
So, the Third Orchestra will work with ‘one-page’ scores’. Then, in rehearsal, we will colour them, explore routes through them, fix some moments, whilst opening doors to solo and group improvisation in performance.
The theme for the concerts is, ‘the space between’’. I have invited members to work on core ideas with titles like: ‘love far away’, ‘the moment before dawn’, ‘the poisonous fire’. And,, as we have been sharing the materials it has been fascinating to see the same ideas in a piece travel from India to the Middle East to Spain to Britain - and back to China, Korea and Japan.
‘The space between’ has been a long fascination for me. Between composition and improvisation, composer and performer, performer and audience. Between horse-haired fiddle and grand piano. Entering a liminal space, where there is both form and freedom, and you wait to see which moves you.
Somehow when I’m in that generous space I relax, because of the balance of focus and openness, because in a moment one thing might turn into another. A tight rehearsed groove overtaken by an explosion of colour, followed by a breakout solo where the player takes us through to a whole new landscape. I hope the audiences will also not only feel the pleasure of this music, but see these pieces being made before them.
“It is about each individual bringing their unique heritage and lineage into the work.. ” - Peter Wiegold