How do you celebrate the 250th birthday of an orchestra that has championed the contemporary repertoire all those years? With the creation of a new symphonic work! After the success of Harold Noben’s chamber opera À l’extrême bord du monde, La Monnaie commissioned the Belgian composer to write a ‘concerto for orchestra’, which will challenge our soloists and give them a real opportunity to shine. Music director Alain Altinoglu will conduct the world première at the opening concert of the 2022-23 season, but until then you can follow each stage of its genesis here.
Composer Harold Noben
Conductor Alain Altinoglu
Throwback to the world premiere of Beyond exactly a week ago, and the liberating feeling that beyond all the doubts, efforts and uncertainties that are part of every creative process, a new piece saw the light, much to the satisfaction of the orchestra, the conductor, the audience ánd the composer.
In one week time, Beyond, Harold Noben's concerto for the La Monnaie orchestra, will have its world premiere. How does the composer look at his finished score? And how has it evolved since his working sessions with our orchestra's soloists?
"Overall, the final form of the piece has not changed much from the original draft, but it has changed within the different parts and the way those are elaborated. A lot has to do with the fact that a composition is always a journey, during which there comes a moment when the work itself guides the composer and tells him - if he wants to hear it - which ideas will work and which won't, and that he has to let himself be taken by the hand to explore other possibilities than those initially planned. Working directly with the soloists from the orchestra also allowed me to better assess what would or would not be relevant to the piece, and for those who would perform it. So I tried to reconcile my wishes with the soloists, the piece and my ideas."
In this video, follow Harold Noben during a workshop with three of our musicians, as he explores the full expressive potential of their instruments. Curious to hear the final result? The world premiere of Beyond, conducted by Music Director Alain Altinoglu, is only a few weeks away from now.
From the handwritten notes on paper to the edited score on the orchestra's music stands: what stages does a new symphonic work go through these days? We checked it out for our next creation, Beyond, and put the question to composer Harold Noben.
"My sketchbook remains an indispensable working tools for those parts of the music that I cannot process directly on the computer. So I use it often. Nevertheless, I mainly write with a digital piano keyboard, introducing everything via music notation software (Finale).
On my computer score, I also have additional draft blocks on which I transfer ideas, or different working versions of these ideas, in order to assemble and organise them in the right place in the music. This feature - impossible with a sketchbook - allows me to have an overall view of the result on the score.
Once the text is finished, I edit everything myself in another file, the conductor's part and the instrumental parts separately, which allows me to have another time for rereading and corrections. Ideally, it is always wise, once the whole thing is finished, to have a friend or colleague proofread the score with an outside eye to avoid errors, typos and other details that you can't see yourself when you've had your nose in it for weeks. But often a lack of time does not allow this: a composer who is late is a pleonasm for most of us (smile), and the material has to go through the Music library, which needs to have the time to process it and to pass on the scores to the musicians, especially the principals who are responsible for coordinating all the musical movements (the bow strokes, for example), and the conductor who should have the time to get to grips with the score before the first rehearsals."
"I often choose English titles. Perhaps because they are widely understood, but here specifically also because the French equivalent 'au-delà' has a double meaning that does not fit the piece at all. The word 'beyond' simply expresses the idea that you have to undergo something to discover what it entails. And that idea is embodied in this composition. The idea that sometimes you have to face up to something and confront your fears in order to move on. Rather like a small child who is about to jump into the water, but doesn’t dare. The child has to overcome its panic if it is to experience both the sensation of the water and the joy of conquering its fear. We are faced with these sort of experiences throughout life; they can resonate in each of us in a thousand different ways. That’s why I kept to one word. Initially I wanted a longer title, but that would have been too explicit and reductive. I believe it is better that everyone perceives the piece in their own way and according to their own experiences."
Think 'composing' and many people picture a man or a woman, all alone, in the silence of a study, scribbling notes on large sheets of music paper. A state of fever, of deep concentration, perhaps only interrupted to try something out at the piano. However, for many musical works, and certainly for 'concertos', the creative process is much less solitary. Harold Noben, too, does not write his new composition in total isolation from the musicians who will perform it. He met some of our orchestra's soloists - harpist Agnès Clément, clarinettist Antonio Capolupo, trumpeter Rudy Moercant and percussionist Pieter Mellaerts - to explore the possibilities of their instruments together. A few impressions.
"This commission is the final link in a chain of miracles." (continued). We write September 1 of the 2020 corona year. After months of lockdown, La Monnaie announces its rescheduled autumn programme. The first opera for which an audience is allowed back in the Great Hall? À l’extrême bord du monde, Harold Noben’s chamber opera about the last days of writer Stefan Zweig and his wife Lotte, just before their suicide in Petrópolis, Brazil. Whereas the planning of an opera house is normally fixed for years, this piece now unexpectedly gets the chance to have its world premiere at La Monnaie. The arrival of the piano quartet is hanging by a thread, in just a few weeks a semi-staged production must be worked out and the number of rehearsal days in La Monnaie are very limited. But Leonard Bernstein already knew that "to achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan, and not quite enough time." The creation on 4 October is such a success that General director Peter de Caluwe promptly asks the composer for a new symphonic creation...
This commission is the final link in a chain of miracles.
In 2018, composer Harold Noben, then already the author of several instrumental works, is applying for a project on contemporary creation at the Queen Elisabeth Music Chapel. During his residence, he gets the opportunity to write his first work for the human voice under the auspices of mentor-composer Benoît Mernier. What was initially supposed to be a modest project, through a combination of coincidence, luck and gumption eventually takes the form of a true chamber opera for mezzo-soprano, tenor and piano quartet: À l’extrême bord du monde. This video follows Harold Noben during work sessions with singers and musicians of the Music Chapel.