HANDS ON (hands off)

splender_solis.wav (2021-22)

Jennifer Walshe (1974- )

Commissioned by Thomas R. Moore, Nadar Ensemble & De Singel

Co-produced by Nadar Ensemble & De Singel

Premiered on 19 February 2022, De Singel Arts Campus

Made possible thanks to a generous grant from the Ernst von Siemens Foundation. 

Program notes

Why Jennifer Walshe

The performance


Serge Verstockt (1957- ): DRIE, part I, for 2 soloists, local musicians surrounding the audience, and conductor (2007)


Alexander Schubert (1979- ): Point Ones, for small ensemble and augmented conductor (2012)


Alexander Khubeev (1986- ): Ghost of Dystopia, for flute, clarinet, piano, percussion, violin, cello, guitar, conductor, and acoustic sensors (2014, rev 2019)


Jennifer Walshe (1974- ): splendor_solis.wav for ensemble, conductor, live video, and electronics (2021-22)


Conductor is the subject

This corporeal program ignites with the strike of a match by the conductor-apparent. As the silent hall returns to its initial darkness, Verstockt’s DRIE surrounds the audience. The match, providing the basic human need of fiery light also serves as a visual passage of time. The conductor, striking and blowing out each match serves as time’s keeper.


Exploration of the subject

The body of the conductor, the gestures associated with the role, and the audience’s expectations thereof will be played with and explored throughout the program. Both Khubeev and Schubert have bound their conductor to self-made instruments. The one grants more freedom than the other: Khubeev has literally strung the subject to 16 plastic boxes arrayed across the middle of the stage while Schubert’s link is more of the virtual sort. However each clearly expects the conductor to somehow transcend their instrument.


Redefining the subject

Walshe is known for diving into the depths of a subject and pushing the performers to see things from their newfound perspectives. This newly commissioned work for ensemble, conductor, live video, and electronics will play with the established relationship and hierarchy of conductor and ensemble. Walshe has proposed to focus especially on the hands of the conductor, including: super close-ups, doing a series of poses, actions, and movement sequences. Her references are hand modeling, home shopping network jewelry infomercials, the Japanese 'girlfriend hand', and YouTube channels about manicures.

In an attempt to further define and develop the conductor’s role in new music, I asked Jennifer Walshe to work on a new project with Nadar Ensemble and myself, an ensemble with which I have premiered many of the pieces that catalyzed my doctoral studies. [1] Walshe graciously accepted and proposed to write a piece for ensemble, conductor, live video, and electronics. The piece will play with the established relationship and hierarchy of conductor and ensemble and how that may be deployed artistically. More specifically, Walshe has proposed to focus especially on the conductor’s hands, including super close-ups, a series of poses, and movement sequences. Her references include hand modeling, home shopping network jewelry infomercials, the Japanese phenomenon ‘girlfriend hand’, and manicure YouTube channels.


Together with Nadar and deSingel International Arts Campus, I decided to offer Walshe this commission because not only is she an internationally acclaimed performer, composer, and educator, but she is alsowell-known for diving deep into the depths of a subject and pushing the performers to see things from newfound perspectives. My research aims to reconsider conductor’s performance practice and to find new ways in which to develop and even instrumentalize the role. Conducting is a movement-based musical practice, though it is normally not associated with directly generating sound. According to Nadar’s artistic directors, Stefan Prins and Pieter Matthynssens, conducting may even be considered as venturing towards another performing arts discipline:


The conductor is a visual element, so if you program concerts in which you think the visual element is really important, then putting it simply, with a conductor, you have a dancer on stage. [2]


It therefore seemed fitting to enlist the help of Walshe who, according to her compositional manifesto, The New Discipline, embodies a ‘rigorous approach to making and critiquing compositions where physical, theatrical and visual elements are as important as the sonic’. Her work is a strict practice of ‘finding, learning and developing new compositional and performative tools’. [3] Musicologist Monika Voithofer describes Walshe’s compositions as being ‘characterized by the (…) revaluation of the body and physicality’ and calling for a ‘multisensory, instead of a merely auditory, perception’. [4] The concept of a note, or music, is much broader for Walshe than simply an auditory value. For Walshe, the tilt of the performer’s head can communicate as much as the intense sound of a fast moving bow. Or in our case, the conductor’s cueing gestures and inhalations can hold as much musical value as the resonance of a gran cassa.

Both in the literature and during the many in-depth interviews I conducted during this research, I found that the presence of a conductor creates a perceived hierarchy on stage. [5] Some of the composers with whom I talked accepted this ‘performance ritual’ [6] as is, but most attempted in one way or the other to utilize it to their (artistic) advantage. When we discussed this aspect of my research, Walshe was more than keen to put this to use in our project. Her works such as THMOTES (2013), a snapchat piece, and the completely composed (and fictional) Historical Documents of the Irish Avant-Garde (2015) [7] challenge long-standing and accepted, even romantic, hierarchal roles of the composer and historian, respectively. She was only too happy to take on the conductor’s assumed position.

I came across many new themes during my doctoral studies, but perhaps one of the more personally resonant concepts is the manner in which Håkon Stene, during his keynote address at our ARIA conference, Framing the Normal, described his ‘post-instrumental practice’: a ‘hybrid performer aesthetic’ in which we as musicians step away from our trained instruments and apply the same learning methodologies across the new instruments and playing techniques that we are tasked with playing by today’s composers. [8] To that effect, Walshe’s closing statement to her compositional manifesto served as a key motivator for offering her this commission and involving her in my final artistic presentation:


Perhaps we are finally willing to accept that the bodies playing the music are part of the music, that they’re present, they’re valid and they inform our listening whether subconsciously or consciously. That it’s not too late for us to have bodies. [9]


[1] Examples of works premiered include AMID (2004) by Simon Steen-Andersen, Point Ones (2012) by Alexander Schubert, and Ghost of Dystopia (2014, rev. 2019) by Alexander Khubeev.
[2] Pieter Matthynssens, interview by Thomas R. Moore, January 21, 2020.
[3] 'The New Discipline', Milker Corporation, accessed 20 July 2021, http://milker.org/the-new-discipline.
[4] Monika Voithofer, '“That It´s Not Too Late for Us to Have Bodies". Notes on Extended Performance Practices in Contemporary Music', Music & Practice 6 (July 2020): https://doi.org/10.32063/0602.
[5] Thomas R. Moore, 'The Instrumentalised Conductor', Tempo 75, no. 297 (July 2021): 48–60, https://doi.org/10.1017/S004029822100022X.
[6] Elliott Schwartz and Daniel Godfrey, Music Since 1945: Issues, Materials, and Literature (New York: Schirmer Books, 1993).
[7] 'Aisteach | Preserving the History of Ireland’s Avant-Garde', accessed 20 July 2021, http://www.aisteach.org/.
[8]  'Schedule', Framing the Normal, 29 March 2021, https://framingthenormal.wordpress.com/schedule/.
[9] 'The New Discipline'.

The piece will be premiered during the artistic presentation of my doctoral studies on 19 February 2022 at 21h in the Blauwe Zaal in De Singel in Antwerp, Belgium. 

The premiere will be played by Nadar Ensemble and is a co-commission of Nadar Ensemble, De Singel, and myself. 

It was made possible by a generous grant from the Ernst von Siemens Foundation and is co-produced by Nadar Ensemble and De Singel. 

Commissioned Work 2 

Jennifer Walshe

Commissioned Work 2 

Jennifer Walshe