Micro-commission: Parallels by Moss Freed


On Thursday 6th May, we were lucky enough to watch an exclusive premier of ‘Parallels’, a piece by composer, guitarist and improviser Moss Freed. The Q&A which followed really allowed the audience to dig deeper into the music, and gave us a lot of food for thought. Freed has studied composition extensively, attending Goldsmiths to study for a masters in composition, and is currently researching composition for the Universities of Hull and Huddersfield. Freed’s newest composition, ‘Parallels’, was premiered as a performance by Alexander Hawkins on piano, Elliot Galvin on piano, kalimba and kazoo, and Maria Chiara Argirò on piano.

A composition for three pianos, ‘Parallels’ was a challenging yet beautifully explorative piece which intended to bring together three different improvisers in order to see how they would interpret the piece differently, and without being able to hear one another. Freed explained that the musicians were working at different tempos, and were often given notated instructions to freely improvise without any restrictions. This made the piece extremely interesting to listen to, with new ideas and tonal centres featuring all the time. Although ‘Parallels’ may be a challenging composition at first glance, every listen illuminates something new – it’s a really stimulating and thrilling piece of music.

The piece itself features moments of unity and of individuality, through both the elements of structured composition and free improvisation. It was fascinating to discover that some of the unifying moments during the performance were not necessarily composed, and that even though each musician recorded their part at home without being able to hear one another play, there were moments of unity regardless. The silences or rests within the piece were also extremely impactful, as they provided great contrast with the busier moments in which all three pianists improvised together. During the Q&A, Alexander Hawkins explained his thought processes in trying to interpret the piece: as a musician, he was constantly second guessing what the other improvisers were doing. Hawkins stated that it was a very new and exhilarating experience to be told to improvise freely whilst knowing other musicians were doing the same, but not being able to hear them. It was really interesting as an audience member to hear this insight into the rehearsal process. Hawkins also explained that there were extremely difficult sections of the composition which he had to work at in order to find a perfectly neat and clean way to play them. In response to this, Freed explained that his approach to composition was often like problem solving, and that he enjoyed giving musicians ‘impossible’ tasks or complicated ideas, in order to allow the discovery of new and interesting ways to jump over (or out of) these boxes.

‘every listen illuminates something new – it’s a really stimulating and thrilling piece of music’

‘Parallels’ also features lots of different timbres, rhythmic ideas, tempos, tonal centres, and extended techniques. Hawkins noted in the Q&A that ‘Parallels’ is interesting in part because of the sounds being made which aren’t typical in a piano trio. The added instrumentation of the kazoo and kalimba are obvious, but Hawkins also noted the different resonances created by the diversity of the pianos, and also the fact that when plucking the piano’s strings, he added a completely different timbre and texture. It was also interesting to listen to the piece and understand how a sense of climax, tension and release were created within a composition based partly upon chance. There was definitely a sense of tension when all three players improvised in contradiction and yet as a unified ensemble, and a sense of release in the abruptness with which this ended. Hawkins mentioned John Cage as an influence, because of the elements of chance involved within the piece, but suggested that Freed was expanding on this well-worn path by challenging the musicians in new and exciting ways.

The premier of ‘Parallels’ was a pleasure to experience, especially when followed by such an insightful discussion about the piece’s intentions and outcomes. The sense of isolation and second guessing oneself which Hawkins discovered when interpreting the piece is extremely reflective of the times we are living in. Freed explained that this composition directly responded to lockdown – he discovered the perfect format in which to explore the strangeness of our contemporary world. The difficulties of improvising alone yet also as part of a collective (from afar) were explored in a very beautiful way through ‘Parallels’. Freed noted that although he hadn’t necessarily realised it, the way in which the musicians introduced themselves at the beginning of the piece and told us their geographical locations was very important, and was part of the performance itself. With this in mind, the piece took on a new profundity – what an innovative and brilliant reflection on contemporary life.

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