Introduction to The Loop Project with Benjamin Oliver


On Sunday 5 February, we launch our Spring 2017 Season with The University of Southampton Music Department presenting the final event of a weekend of performances and workshops exploring musical loops. Leading jazz musicians Ivo Neame, Jasper Høiby and Jon Scott join the HARTLEY Loop Orchestra to perform a major revision of Benjamin Oliver’s Loop Concerto, which was premiered by Neame and Kent County Youth Orchestra in 2013. Now rescored for jazz trio and large ensemble, the work finds a musical space somewhere between jazz and contemporary classical languages. Also on the programme is the world premiere of Andrew Fisher’s Piano Concertino, Mozart’s Piano Concerto in D (after J C Bach) in which Mozart loops a J C Bach Sonata, and Gavin Bryars’ 1972 seminal work Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet.

Our intern, Katie, spoke to Benjamin Oliver – composer, conductor, and lecturer at the University of Southampton – to find out more about the event…

To start with, I was wondering if you could give us a bit more information on the other events taking place during the weekend of 3-5 February?

There are two other events in the Loop Project aside from the Grand Finale concert on Sunday 5 February.

The first is a lunchtime concert at 1pm on Friday 3 February. This will feature a Southampton student pianist performing J.C. Bach’s Piano Sonata in D Major (Op. 5, Nr. 2). This sonata was used by Mozart to develop the Piano Concerto that will be performed in the Sunday concert. Mozart both orchestrates the original material and repeats the material, creating loops using Bach’s Sonata. The Friday lunchtime concert will also feature a performance by Southampton Early Music performers, led by Professor of Early Music Elizabeth Kenny, and a solo set by our special guest jazz pianist Ivo Neame.

The second event will take place at 10am on Saturday 4 February and is a workshop led by Ivo Neame with jazz and pop students from the Music Department. Student performers will receive coaching from Ivo to help them with their improvisation, composition and ensemble skills. All are welcome.

What triggered the project? As it contains a major revision to your Loop Concerto, as well as the World Premiere of Andrew Fisher’s Piano Concertino and a number of students from the department, I wondered if you could briefly summarise how this project came to be?

Since the premiere of my Loop Concerto in 2013 I have wanted to revisit the piece. Each year faculty members can propose performance projects that we would like to run within the Music Department and it seemed to me that this project fitted excellently with the eclectic approach to music making that we have at Southampton. I proposed the project to my colleagues and students at the Staff-Student Liaison Committee and was, thankfully, greeted with enthusiasm.

The starting place was my piece and the rest of the project grew from the premise of exploring musical loops in various ways. I’m excited that such a wide range of music will be performed as part of the project the renaissance to the premiere of really recent pieces including my colleague Andrew Fisher’s excellent Piano Concertino.

I found this quote online pre-empting this revision of your Loop Concerto;

“I am generally happy with Loop Concerto but I would now like to do a revision of the piece in which there is more space for the piano. I think the notation needs to allow more flexibility and opportunities for the music to be more tangential.” Source
As this was written back in 2013, was this (still) the main goal behind the reworking of this piece, or has it grown into something more than that?

Great work finding that quote! Yes, the revision of the piece does leave more space for the piano but there is more to it than that now. Adding the bass and drums and reducing the size of the orchestra has led to a range of new ways of thinking about the piece; in fact I’d say the new version of the piece is a major reworking of the original piano concerto!

Having the jazz trio gives much more of a chance of groove. The Kent County Youth Orchestra did an amazing job on the piece back in 2013 but everything was, through necessity, written out for the players (apart from Ivo). This perhaps led to the groove-based ideas being a little rigid. The parts for the trio in the new version are intentionally often left quite free so that Ivo, Jasper and Jon can bring their own particular musical abilities and jazz sensibilities to the piece. I think this will provide the possibility that the piece breathes more and has the potential to really take off and go off on tangents. I’ve also added more ‘jazz’ instruments such as a saxophone quartet, electric guitar and electric piano. These colours diversify the soundworld and root it more in a jazz idiom than a full symphony orchestra. The smaller orchestra forces also mean there will be more sonic space for the trio to work in.

Finally, there are a great deal of changes to the actual materials in the piece. For example, I have developed the first movement a lot and I actually deleted the original second movement completely. I wasn’t happy with this movement and sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and start again!!

Ivo Neame has been the pianist behind both the Premiere in 2013 and the revision in 2017. Was it important for you to work with the pianist who already knows the piece; considering it is written for improvised piano? And how has his playing style influenced the revision of your piece?

It wasn’t so important to me that Ivo Neame performs the piece because he already knows the piece but rather because he’s Ivo! We met around twenty years ago when we both played in the Kent County Youth Orchestra (KCYO). We stayed in contact a little over the years but when I had the chance to write for KCYO my first thought was to ask whether Ivo could be involved. He is a fantastic musician, a killer pianist and is really open minded in terms of music too – these are qualities I love as a composer!

His musicianship certainly informed the development of the original piece and the revision; when working with improvisers I like to have specific players in mind. He also fed back on drafts when I was developing both versions. Loop Concerto is dedicated to him and while I think it would be possible for another pianist to play the piece in the future Ivo would always be my first call!

Both versions of the piece involve young musicians. How important is it for you to involve not only professional musicians, but those who are just starting their career as students?

This is really important to me. The majority of my work as a composer is with leading professional musicians who specialise in performing contemporary music but I love working with young musicians too from very young children to young adults. There is an energy and spirit you get in working with young players that is sometimes missing in professional contexts.


The Loop Project, Sunday 5 February 7pm – Book Now


Lunchtime concert (mentioned above)
Friday 3 February, 1-1.50pm, Turner Sims
Free admission, no booking required

J.C. Bach’s elegant Piano Sonata in D Major (Op. 5, Nr. 2)
This sonata was used by Mozart to develop the Piano Concerto that will be performed on the Sunday evening of The Loop Project. Mozart both orchestrates and repeats the original material, masterfully manipulating and looping J.C. Bach’s Sonata.

Tarquinio Merula – Ciaccona
Lutenist and Head of Early Music at Southampton Elizabeth Kenny will then lead an ensemble of undergraduate and postgraduate performers in Ciaccona, a looping ground bass for two violins and continuo by the early seventeenth-century Italian composer Tarquinio Merula.

Finally, MOBO-award winning jazz pianist and composer Ivo Neame will perform a solo set featuring his own material.


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