Leonore Nelson interviews Artemisz Polonyi on her upcoming premiere
LN: What is your inspiration for Te?
AP: My inspiration for Te is Hungarian folk music, both instrumental and vocal. I’ve listened to a lot of original folk recordings and I tried to bring that type of singing into our performance. In this piece, the choir is using a brighter more forward sound that is typical of folk music, rather than a rounder choral sound. Another very characteristic element of Hungarian music is a type of singing like a musical yelling, often done by women in folk song settings. It is comprised of sections of shouted phrases over the instruments in the middle of a folk song. There are a few sections in Te where the women get to do this.
I also used imitations of instruments within the piece. I wanted the singers to mimic the sound of the folk viola or violin, as if they were bowing or humming. Also, very typical of Hungarian folk music are odd meters or an off-beat feeling, which I tried to include in my piece.
LN: What do you want the listener to take away from hearing your piece?
AP: I would like to open a new window for the listener on what choral music can be. I would like to break listeners from the stereotypical idea of choral singers standing straight and singing in one way. Music is about fun; it is about games and exploration. You can make sounds in many different ways — yelling, using your tongue or your teeth, the way you say the words. I want the listener to explore sound.
LN: How has C4 helped you grow as a singer?
AP: C4 has definitely made me a better musician. When I joined C4, I was looking for a group to sing with that would challenge me and allow me to grow as a musician in many ways. In C4, I have to think about different ways to produce sound that will fit the character of the piece. It is not just about singing with a great choral tone, but finding many different ways to express the music. On top of thinking about the vocal technique, it is also really challenging to think about how to make a piece musically moving, especially when the piece is technically very difficult. Singing with C4 has definitely made my sight-reading much better as the repertoire we sing is much more challenging than in other groups I sing with. I feel much more engaged while singing with this group and that I really have to think while I’m singing.
The other thing I like about C4 is the many opportunities one has to grow and learn within the group. Not only can I grow as a singer and a performer, but I can also try being a composer or conductor. I’d like to learn as much from this group as I can and try all the different things I can here. It is a way to grow as a musician. It’s very inspiring.
LN: How has C4 helped you grow as a composer?
AP: Well, C4 really made me a composer. This is my first piece that I’ve composed for choir. I’ve written simpler forms before, like choral arranging and some jazz tunes, but this is my first fully composed piece. I’ve really wanted to compose for a long time and had many different ideas for a piece. But as this cycle came up and C4 started the collaboration with our Artist in Residence Szuszanna Ardó, I felt that it was the right time. Both Szuszanna and I are Hungarian, so when she sent me a Hungarian poem, I felt like it really struck a chord with me and I began to have lots of musical ideas about how to make this come alive. As we talked about the poem together, it became clear that we both wanted to collaborate and had a musical vision for this piece. That’s what set me off on the path to composing my first piece. ~