Solo Flare: a beautiful collaboration

We spoke to composer Farangis Nurulla-Khoja and pianist Jane Hayes about their upcoming collaboration taking place January 28 & 29, as part of Turning Point Ensemble’s Solo Flare concert. Jane will premiere Farangis’ composition for solo piano, Les envolées.

Tell us about working together. Are there specific qualities that informed your choices?

FN-K: I had a fantastic time working with Jane. She is not only a performer, she is a musician, a composer, an interpreter, therefore I was happy to compose a solo piano work for her.

I think the piece, Les envolées, represents Jane’s ability to be able to embrace different aspects of life. Some time ago before starting composing, we had an exciting conversation about from the most profound to the banal, at the same time… it helped me to discover her not only as an artist, but also as a thinker and a person. She told me that during the pandemic, she performed often Piazzolla, Scriabin – it motivated me to approach the piano both virtuosically as well as look at it as a force of sonic exploration.

 I also think Jane’s approach to piano produces a unique way which gives a composer the innovative ideas to work with. She explores the dynamics, the pedal, creating a resonance, all these nuances were articulated in this composition.

I am pleased to dedicate this work to her!

Farangis Nurulla-Khoja

JH: This was easy! TPE had worked with Farangis several times, and I found her music spoke to me – especially Le jour ma nuit about motherhood, and Ni d’ici ni d’ailleurs about displaced persons.

Then we performed and recorded her concerted work “Blind” and we had a chance to talk about her work, her experimentation with sound. Her passion and exploration of sound possibilities on the piano appealed to my own sensibilities and sources of inspiration.

Has the COVID-19 pandemic changed anything about your process? How are you both doing during these peculiar times?

FN-K: In the piece, I versed in the melody of my grand father, a composer, Ziyodullo Shahidi. Since the piece was composed mostly during the pandemic, it was a nostalgic period not being able to visit my country of origin.

JH: I have felt so blessed during these COVID times. Pianists tend to be solitary musicians given the demands of solo repertoire and often the complexity of our parts so we are kind of used to being alone!

Combined with my resignation from my “day job” at Kwantlen, I suddenly had time to return to solo playing and relived the joy of being a student – time to practice, time to think, time to research. Live concerts were quickly replaced with video recordings and other multi-media projects that I would not have had time to do.

Is there anything you’d like audiences to know about this piece?

JH: This piece has all the elements of contemporary keyboard music that I relate easily to – the opening page sets the scene for the blending of old and new by featuring raw sound – Farangis’ past and present is heard immediately on the 2nd page with melodic fragments from her grandfather merged with Farangis’ own brand of dissonance and virtuosity. Coming from improvisation, I am free to become one with the notes, making the rhythmic shape my own, allowing the emotional moment and the venue to play a vital role in the timing between sections.

Tell us about some of the challenges and joys of composing a solo piece.

FN-K: I think this piece became like a storytelling with its contradictions, jumps, and wonders – in fact it is a lively story, because the atmosphere of the piece is inspired of the personality of Jane, every conversation we had was joyful, surprising, intriguing.

How does it feel to premiere a new, solo work?

JH: It’s both exciting and nerve-wracking! Exciting because you are bringing something to life that no one else will have heard until that very public moment of performance. Nerve-wracking – because you want to do the work justice, give it the best possible first hearing.

Jane Hayes

The work is being filmed later this month for release as part of 1+1+1… a film series. How are you faring with the visual aspects of filming the music?

JH: The title will probably lead us to a vision – a flight of artistic fancy!

FN-K: It is still in process – but Jane and I discussed it and we would like to work with the light, the sound (inside and outside of piano), to try to make an impression of a flying piano… well, we’ll see…

Are there any upcoming performances that you’re looking forward to?

JN: Using stethoscopes in the next TPE concert while revisiting Rachmaninoff Second Piano Concerto – how’s that for extremes?