In Conversation: Ensemble Three

In Conversation: Ensemble Three

Commissioning, finding time to rehearse and balancing performance and academia with Melbourne's Ensemble Three. 

Ensemble Three
Melbourne, Australia

In Conversation: Ensemble Three

Commissioning, finding time to rehearse and balancing performance and academia with Melbourne's Ensemble Three. 

Your next performance, Aussie Electric, will feature new Australian works commissioned by Three. Do you find collectively there is a difference in performing new works by living composers to those of the old masters?

We are all committed to performing and commissioning new works. It’s exciting to work with composers on new pieces and to help bring them to life. In most cases, we are involved in some workshopping of ideas with the composer, either in person or by sending scores and audio files. In the process we gain a greater understanding of the composer’s methods and aesthetic while at the same time feeding in some ideas of our own.

As far as we are aware our group is the only one of its kind. Trumpet, trombone and guitar is not an ensemble combination we’ve heard anywhere else, and this makes it an exciting prospect. Most composers are fascinated by the combination and how it might work. The pieces we’ve received are very eclectic and use the ensemble in a variety of ways.

How does your approach change when preparing to perform brand new commissions compared to standard repertoire? 

We don’t really perform much standard repertoire! We have done concerts of music from Spain and Latin America, including well-known pieces. In these cases, we’re usually making all the arrangements ourselves so this is quite a different process. Taking a new piece from a commission all the way through to first performances is a rewarding process and often very challenging. One challenge we are negotiating in the current Australian Electric program is working with technology. The first piece, by Fay Wang has a pre-recorded soundscape that the audience hears and also a click we hear in our headphones to ensure we coordinate with the backing track. We need to make sure this is working well and that we are in control of the many changes of sound effects and instrumnetal changes throughout the piece. We now play amplified all the time to enable a consistent balance between the instruments. Loop pedals are also used in a couple of the pieces.

Ensemble Three: Don Immel, Ken Murray and Joel Brennan

Ensemble Three: Don ImmelKen Murray and Joel Brennan

What is your rehearsal process like as an ensemble when preparing for a recital like this? 

We are able to take advantage of the facilities at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music so we rehearse together at work. We’re all full-time lecturers which means we have to schedule performances so they fit in with our teaching responsibilities. Our upcoming concert at the MRC on Feb 23 is just before classes begin for the year. When we tour overseas, it’s usually in the middle of the year during university break.

You are all active musicians and lecturers. How do you balance the different musical areas of your lives?

Balancing different areas of our lives is always a challenge. The key is to have the energy and enthusiasm for the musical task at hand. We are all academics with a strong commitment to music performance and to creating new and interesting possibilities for us as musicians. In fact, as full-time lecturers who come from a full-time performing background, performing is of the utmost importance to us as it informs the way in which we teach and structure our students’ education.

Do you have any advice for small ensembles starting out?

Join forces with players you respect and enjoy working with. Some of the most innovative ensembles on the scene today began as groups of friends in school or in the community who really wanted to make music together – eighth blackbird and Sō Percussion both began at school, Roomful of Teeth formed at a music festival, International Contemporary Ensemble formed as a group of like-minded friends who wanted to perform together. All of these groups have gone on to do amazing things. Your fledgeling group can approach composers to work with and suddenly you have a unique, intriguing endeavour.

Trumpet, trombone, and guitar seems like an eclectic combination of instruments - can you tell us about how Three formed as an ensemble? 

We followed our own advice to the previous question, and are really glad we did!

Ensemble Three performs at the Melbourne Recital Centre on Thursday 23rd February 2017 at 6pm. For more information or to book tickets, head to the MRC website.