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Doctors in Performance Conference, 8-9 September 2016, RIAM, Dublin

Doctors in Performance, 8-9 September 2016, RIAM, Dublin


As a guest from outside of Ireland I was greeted to the vibrant capital: the whole city seemed to be a giant construction site. I had to look it up, the city couldn’t possibly be this chaotic. Vibrant indeed…

It turned out that the city is expanding its tramline. The contrast from the relatively small town from which I travelled couldn’t have been bigger. Fortunately I stayed at Trinity College whose protective walls created an oasis of tranquility. Still, the different museums and events made the college vibrant.

I was invited to the Royal Irish Academy of Music to give a lecture-recital on the resistance of the flute in indeterminate compositions. The indeterminacy of the pieces I was performing seemed to coincide with the indeterminacy of the city and the event in multiple ways. For instance, for one of the pieces, Umbrella resistance, I need a second performer who acts as an umbrella operator. Since I couldn’t bring my own performer to Dublin, Dublin had to provide one for me. This was very exciting. The performer I had never met and I had one hour scheduled for rehearsal the day before the performance. Even though the performance should contain elements of indeterminacy, this way of doing it was perhaps on the edge.  The person who was assigned the role of umbrella operator had not been given any instructions, so there had been no preparation of the piece at all.

We met and the energy was right from the start. We rehearsed the piece once and I thought that was enough. You shouldn’t rehearse too much…

Another element of indeterminacy was that the space we practiced in was not the actual performance space. There were no possibilities of rehearsing in the performance space due to the tight schedule. We decided to meet early in the morning to try out the space.

Umbrella resistance is a theatrical piece in which the performers move about on stage. The operator comes in at certain moments in the performance and disturbs the performer by taking his/her umbrella and placing/throwing it in different places. The space turned out to be quite small and it contained lots of stuff such as a fireplace, old instruments etc. We tried a bit of the piece which worked out fine and then we were good to go. One concern was the fact that an audience was to fit in the space too and that the umbrella could fly into someone.

Time for performance. The umbrella did not fly into the audience. It did, however, end up, at one point, very close to an old fortepiano. This worked out to my advantage as I used the instrument as a percussion device against which I tapped my flute. I was also on several occasions very close to the audience which made the performance extremely intimate something that would be harder to achieve in larger venue. Because of this intimacy I could really play softly and quietly thus producing a vulnerability which is one of the cores of the piece; even though the performer is forced to do things by the operator he or she continues playing in calm way.

Umbrella resistance is an indeterminate piece of music but I’ve never performed it with this much external indeterminacy; umbrella operator, performance space (both inside the room and outside) as well as the overall feeling of the city really created a form of freshness and newfound liveness to the piece. This helped my presentation because the resistance between flute-score-performer-(performer) was in away much more distinct and was reflected in my demonstration of it.

My point with this commentary is that as performers we perhaps get to comfortable with ourselves and don’t challenge ourselves enough in order to create interesting performances. Next time you are planning a performance think about how you can add a little spice both for yourself and for the audience.

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About the author

Christian Fernqvist is a flautist, teacher and researcher with degrees from University College of Ingesund, Arvika, Sweden (MA in Music Education, flute pedagogy), and University of York (MA in Music, contemporary flute performance). Christian’s research concerns the relationship between the performer and improvised music with the focus on indeterminate aspects of composition and with a…

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