Anna Meredith on Anno

Ahead of the world premier of Anno at Spitalfields Music Summer Festival in London, we caught up with Anna Meredith to find out more about the work.

3 June 2016

A few years ago, Scottish Ensemble commissioned Anna Meredith, one of the most intriguing and individual composers of her generation, to write a new piece for string orchestra and electronics. The idea came from a conversation between Anna and SE Artistic Director Jonathan Morton, in which Jon was musing upon new ways of performing Vivaldi’s famous, and often-performed, seasonal concerti.

The result, Anno, was published in May 2016 and will be performed for the first time as an audio-visual performance experience at London’s Oval Space as part of the Spitalfields Music Summer Festival.

On the eve of rehearsals, we caught up with Anna to find out a little more about the background of the piece.

Scottish Ensemble (SE): This new commission, Anno, mixes old music with new sounds. Can you talk us through to process of developing this piece?

Anna: I think we’re so used to The Four Seasons as a sort of identity in itself that I, for one, slightly forget about the picture of the calendar year that Vivaldi was trying to paint. We’ve taken that idea of a year as our guide, too, but tried to remove the Vivaldi-ness (and the Anna/Ellie-ness) from the picture so that everything – all the music and all the visuals – are working together to create this flow through a year. We’ve drawn up a map of a journey through the year using most, but not all, of Vivaldi’s movements and interspersed them with my new material.

I knew from the beginning I didn’t want to write on top of the Vivaldi, but instead imagine that we were almost collaborating on making a piece together. My aim was never to rework it – sometimes I’ve linked things together or added a small electronic element, but the material mostly stands as is. Ellie’s visuals also link the two together by running over both my music and Vivaldi’s movements. The original Four Seasons comprises 12 short, varied movements so we’ve just extended and tweaked this same format to create a different approach to this journey through the year. I’ve haven’t felt too concerned about the mix of old and new – it’s all working together on a bigger goal!

SE: What was the inspiration behind using the Four Seasons?

Anna: The original idea didn’t come from me – it came from Scottish Ensemble’s Artistic Director and Leader, Jon Morton. We met a few years ago and chatted about this idea of hearing The Four Seasons in a new context. Jon said that he could hear quite a few connections between the way I write and with Vivaldi’s writing, which I hadn’t thought about – but the more I’ve got to know the material, the more I could see what he meant. The Four Seasons is a collection of short focused movements, each with a differing and distinctive sense of character – which is how I try and approach writing. I hear lots of connections in the material now!

SE: Are there any challenges about developing a cross-arts piece?

Anna: Yeah – the Scottish Ensemble are really amazing, engaging players and as with any music-and-visuals collaboration you’ve got to get the balance between creating an immersive, convincing environment, and not being so distracting that you don’t feel the relationship with the performance happening in front of you. I think what Ellie’s made is perfect though, and really adds to the experience by giving space in the right places and adding energy in the right places.

SE: What challenges do you face when writing for an unconventional music venue (i.e. Oval Space)?

Anna: I love the Oval Space and have been to many gigs there – I was really pleased it ended up being our venue as it’s primarily flexible, rather than unconventional! As a big warehouse space, it gives us the space to really make it our own.

SE: How do you find working with your sister? What are the benefits, and the challenges?

Anna: I love working with Ellie – we work really well together and have worked hard on this project to keep our material in sync. We’ve collaborated on many projects before – everything from pieces for orchestras, to visuals, projects, animations and live drawing, to the artwork Ellie made for my album Varmints. We’re wired pretty similarly so can tend to see what the other one means and where we’re heading with our material.

SE: Can you give us a hint of what to expect at the performance?

Anna: I’d say the best way to approach it is not to come expecting to hear The Four Seasons, or some new music by me, or visuals by Ellie – if you come with an open mind to the connections and the journey of the whole thing, that would be ideal…

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