In Conversation: Jakub Jankowski

In Conversation: Jakub Jankowski

On commissioning, the writing process and the future of new music in Australia. 

Jakub Jankowski
Adelaide, Australia

In Conversation: Jakub Jankowski

On commissioning, the writing process and the future of new music in Australia. 

You’ve recently been commissioned by Musica Viva to write two new works, including your octet for the Music Viva Festival, performed by the Goldner and Elias string quartets. How did this relationship come about and what has the experience been like working with the musicians you've been commissioned to write for?

My relationship with Musica Viva began as something of a surprise. Carl Vine discovered some of my music and upon finding out that I was a cellist, contacted me with the invitation to write two new works: a string octet for Musica Viva's 2017 Festival and a cello sonata for the 2017 International Concert Season. 

I feel very honoured as a young composer to be able to write for and work with some of the leading musicians of the international chamber music scene at such an early stage of my career.

It was a complete joy to work with the Goldner String Quartet and the Elias String Quartet as they brought my string octet to life at this year's Musica Viva Festival. The total dedication of all the players to my music and their sympathy with my musical intentions was incredibly inspiring. Their professionalism in rehearsal was very impressive and I was amazed at how well these two quartets - who had never played together before - were able to immediately synchronise so well as an octet. 

What does your writing process look like when you're working to a commission? Is it different from your approach when you're working on your own projects? 

I feel as though every piece I work on has a unique writing process, regardless of whether it's a commissioned work or part of a collaborative project. There's always a different musical focus in every new piece, and my interests are always leading me into new musical territory. For instance, my last two commissioned works were conceived very differently and required me to find very different solutions in writing them. I generally suspect that if what I'm doing feels too familiar, I'm probably not on the right track.   

How does your background as a cellist inform your works and compositional process?

The compositional process for me is a somewhat mysterious one and I'm not altogether sure to what degree my background as a cellist informs how and what I write. However, I'm sure that a composer's musical fingerprint is greatly shaped by their main instrument - for instance, Olivier Messiaen's music would be completely different if he wasn't an organist. 

It seems to me that my approaches to ensemble writing are very much informed by my background in performing as a cellist in chamber groups and orchestras. From a practical perspective, I often use the cello as a compositional tool to test out and generate musical material, especially when I'm writing for cello/strings.

Do you have a fondness for writing for any particular type of ensemble? Why?

I can't say for sure because there are so many types of ensembles I haven't had the chance to write for yet. 

As a cellist, I suppose I'm most comfortable in writing for strings, as I'm very familiar with the strengths, limitations and all the subtle tone colours available. However, I equally like writing for mixed ensembles, traditional chamber groups and large ensembles. Every instrumental configuration comes with its own joys and challenges, and each presents unique compositional obstacles to overcome.         

What do you think about the current state of new music in Australia? Do you think the future is looking bright for young composers and performers?

I think there are a lot of fantastic new music ensembles and organisations in Australia which are constantly reaching out to their respective audiences and which offer great opportunities for young composers and performers. It's very inspiring to see plenty of young composers and performers start up their own new music ensembles and curate their own concerts. The future is always uncertain, but I believe there will always be an audience for composers and performers of new music who are deeply immersed in - and tirelessly committed to - what they're doing.

Finally, what advice do you have for fellow young composers who are taking the first steps in getting their work out there?

My advice would be to keep writing, and to take any chance you can to get your music out and into the hands of performers. I think working regularly with players, and hearing and seeing how your music works live in concert is the most effective way of learning and improving compositional 'craft'. But one must not forget that the music will not be performed if it isn't written. So get writing.