Four concerts. Two days. A whole bunch of talented instrumentalists performing at their best.
This is the ANAM Chamber Music Festival. It’s a chance for skilled early career performers to show Australia what they’ve been working towards — and a chance for you to watch. The concerts will take place from 25-26 November, starting in the Heart of Bohemia before Crossing the Atlantic, moving into Remembrance and wrapping up with A Soiree in Vienna. It’s going to be grand, but also intense for its starring players. That’s why we wanted to chat with a couple of the musicians who will feature in ANAM ensembles with their friends, all mentored by the brightest in the industry.
In this interview, we sit down with Aditya Bhat, who — as claimed in his unusual artist bio — “developed an early and alarming predilection for tapping on his own head”. You can see where this is going: the young Aditya grew up to be a talented percussionist who graduated in music from the University of Melbourne before starting his first year at ANAM in 2022. He’s into jazz, he’s into improvisation, he’s into Indian music of his heritage, and he’s about to perform Morton Feldman’s American work Instruments III when the big weekend arrives.
Aditya, percussion doesn’t often find its way into standard chamber music concerts — think your typical wind quintet, string quartet, brass configurations, and so on. Then again, this isn’t a standard chamber music festival! What do you think is really special about percussion in this style of event?
At this sort of event, when audiences are listening to a lot of music in relatively little time, I think percussion really stands out — not just because our instruments introduce radically different timbres into the mix of what is being heard, but also because of the aesthetic contrast between our repertoire and the standard ‘classics’. This sort of event is wonderful, since it opens a window onto the limitless possibilities that exist within percussion!
I sometimes get envious of the dizzying amount of music that has been written for instruments like piano and cello, but there is an undeniable joy to be had as a percussionist when you hear people tell you after a concert: ‘Wow, I’ve never heard that before!’
How do you navigate what seems like a big challenge: performing music designed for a small space, but with an instrumental section known for its sheer dynamic power?
It’s funny you should ask that, because the highest dynamic marking in the work we’re playing — Morton Feldman’s Instruments 3 — is pianissimo!
People often think of percussion as the loud instrument family, and though we’re capable of playing the loudest, we’re also arguably capable of playing the softest. The chamber setting means that we have to be especially disciplined so as to maintain a balance of sound with the other instruments.
While we relish our big moments — the triumphant cymbals crashes and resounding bass drum hits — it’s also nice to show audiences our refined side — an unexpected treat for them! — in contexts like this one.
One of the benefits of chamber music is the way it offers audiences a glimpse into the nuances of each instrument and section — nothing like the experience of seeing them all combined in one full-force orchestra! What are some of the instruments, techniques, or even moods you’re looking forward to exploring in the chapel?
I’ve really enjoyed exploring a substantial swathe of percussion instruments in previous chamber projects this year — including a rather acrobatically involved one in which I was literally encircled by an enormous set-up — and others for which I’ve had to source and choose my own ‘instruments’.
What’s interesting about the Feldman is that the percussion instrumentation is stripped right back to the basics — just glockenspiel, cymbals, and triangle. This economy really forces you to think about the sounds you’re producing — for example, through varying the playing position on the instruments, using different implements, or type of stroke.
Feldman sets up an eerie otherworldly atmosphere in Instruments 3, so I’m excited to explore the resonances and diverse timbres offered by these metals to help bring out this character. The metals are particularly unique for the scintillating harmonics they produce, and this piece provides the perfect opportunity to make the most of those!
When did you first encounter the Feldman, anyway?
My first encounter with Feldman was through his work Bass Clarinet and Percussion. Not unlike Instruments 3, it’s an extended exploration of timbre at almost impossibly quiet dynamics. The ethereal soundworld, with its delicately shimmering softness, was captivating, so I soon delved into Feldman’s other works and grew intrigued.
When my teacher Peter Neville asked if I had any requests for this festival’s program, I said ‘Feldman please!’, and he proposed Instruments 3, which was written for a friend of his, Jan Williams.
The peculiar instrumentation is quite compelling, and I was definitely struck by the interaction between these sounds I’d have never thought to put together. And, of course, the minimal gear requirement also meant a welcome change from pushing around huge set-ups!
What’s involved in workshopping this piece at ANAM in order to get it to a place you’re really happy with?
The main challenge of this work, I think, is the virtuosically quiet dynamics! Giving something a good whack to produce a loud sound is fairly easy; sustaining the control necessary to play at quintuple-piano for 15 minutes is pretty taxing.
Next, I would say the incredible rhythmic nuance. The time signature changes just about every bar, and there are some rather awkward three-way polyrhythms to navigate. Feldman actually makes a point of notating some of these rhythms in such a way as to make them completely incomprehensible at first glance!
As percussionists, there’s nothing we love more than a rhythmic doozy, but when it comes to making that kind of thing sound convincing in an ensemble setting, it can take a lot of effort. The main thing I’ve learnt from Peter for this sort of repertoire is to be rigorous, and take the time to pull the music apart to the ‘atomic’ level!
At the end of the day, what’s it like to be part of this huge chamber music celebration with your colleagues and friends?
Honestly, it’s great fun. There’s a definite sense of warmth and mutual support at this kind of event, as everyone makes an effort not only to go and watch each other perform, but also to cheer enthusiastically at any available opportunity! So, in that regard, you do feel part of a community in which we all want each other to play our best and improve as musicians.
And, of course, the idyllic surrounds of Abbotsford Convent complement the vibe nicely, with a café or pub never too far away for destressing beforehand, or celebrating afterwards.
I hope plenty of people come along to hear this wonderful, underperformed repertoire, and can’t wait to hear the fabulous music everyone has been working on!