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29 September 2020

Visions of Nar: Hymns of New Hope

Zela Margossian and Jeremy Rose Image: Zela Margossian and Jeremy Rose  

Pianist Zela Margossian and saxophonist Jeremy Rose talk about their new collaboration, Visions of Nar, Hymns of New Hope, also featuring tabla player Bobby Singh and the electric soundscapes of guitarist Hilary Geddes. The project title nods to Armenian mythology - Nar was the goddess of water, sea and rain, a fiery creature that would force the heavens to open with her powers. The music takes this female energy as inspiration in a new set of compositions by Margossian and Rose, music that offers hope into the world and a celebration of new beginnings. Visions of Nar will premiere in Penrith's Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre on 16 October. The project will also be recorded for release in 2021.

Tell us about the ideas behind Visions of Nar, please!

Zela Margossian: When Jeremy and I were discussing ideas and inspiration for our project, Armenian mythology and music was a point of reference which we both felt excited to explore. Nar, the goddess of waters and the ocean, is a powerful female force in Armenian mythology. These themes are also timely, given the current state of the world, and so we wanted to embody and reflect upon them in the new music. I consider jazz to be one of the most dynamic musical styles, allowing the possibility for cultures to connect and artists to continuously reinvent themselves. In this case, Bobby Singh is a powerful binding link for our voices to come together using rhythm. Hilary Geddes is the perfect addition to complement what we do and provide a wholeness to the project.

Jeremy Rose: Visions of Nar is a project Zela and I formed as part of the ABC's Fresh Start initiative, and, as Zela said, the title draws from Armenian mythology. Nar is the goddess of water, sea and rain - a female symbol that provides us with inspiration for the new work. We are excited to be joined by Bobby and Hilary. I am drawn to the juxtaposition of various elements, in this case the ancient sounds of tabla against a backdrop of electric sounds from guitar, various woodwinds from myself, and Zela's own exciting style informed by her Armenian background.

How did the two of you come to collaborate?

ZM: Jeremy and I had been in touch for a while, discussing ideas for a collaboration. When the ABC Fresh Start Fund came about, we thought it would be a great idea to work on a project together. I have been a fan of Jeremy's music and his creativity. His consistency and progression in what he does is also very admirable. So the idea of working together is intriguing and it will surely be an incredible experience for me to be on board with him on this journey!

JR: I've been a fan of Zela's playing and composing since hearing her release Transition. She also has a great energy and drive, which is inspiring. I'm always interested in forming new collaborations across cultural divides and backgrounds of style.

How do both of your backgrounds feed into what you do?

ZM: My Armenian heritage and growing up in Beirut, Lebanon, has undoubtedly given me a broad sense of music appreciation and sources to find inspiration from. More so, my classical training and background in performing various repertoire before transitioning to an improvisational adventure and jazz music, has added a stylistic layer to my compositions. Without a formal study of composition, my music uses an intuitive approach that draws on all these backgrounds and influences, making their way out and complementing each other.

JR: My background in jazz music provides me with improvisatory tools to work out ideas whilst I am composing. Jazz is a vehicle to explore diverse influences, active like a sponge to soak up and use influences in various ways. I also have a background in classical music composition, and a PhD studying with composer Matthew Hindson. This has provided me with a range of methods, craft and ability to draw on when faced with a compositional challenge. In this case, the challenge is in working out ways to integrate various musical cultural traditions without sounding contrived or pastiche. I want the music to be fresh and original, charting new territory for all collaborators. For me, we hope to achieve this through the juxtaposition of various elements - Indian tabla vis-à-vis Armenian piano / electric guitar / bass clarinet and saxophone.

How do you imagine these elements will sound together?

ZM: The music will be an amalgamation of various cultural influences resulting in eclecticism and something new. The composed sections will give the compositions their characteristic moods and melodic themes. The improvised sections will be the glue binding us all together and allowing us to explore our similarities/differences.

JR: The music will be melodic and rhythmically vibrant with composed material to create focus and structure. Open improvised sections will provide space for exploration of sound worlds and musical dialogue.

How do you co-compose in practice?

ZM: Composing for this specific project has created a special headspace for me. I go to this place whenever I am 'in the moment' to write down ideas and explore concepts. Composing has always been an emotional journey for me and a way to express my feelings or to tell a story. I can certainly say that this project is triggering new ideas and sounds in my head! I can't wait to give them a form and explore them with Jeremy, Bobby and Hilary.

JR: For this project, we will be composing our works separately and coming together to workshop them further. We have been sharing a playlist of music that we both enjoy as a starting point, and will work on each other's pieces in a workshop period. I tend to spend time listening to music and taking notes of ideas to explore further before I work on a new project. Each facet of a composition will develop in its own way. I have several notebooks full of musical ideas that act as seeds for a new composition. It might be harmonic, a melodic fragment or gesture, or a rhythmic motif, or just an abstract idea that I want to explore musically. I tend to my notebooks regularly and develop ideas like I would to a garden. Next I move to the piano and use software programs, often recording myself improvising to generate material. Once I go back, I sometimes transcribe these ideas and develop them further using old-fashioned pencil and paper. I eventually move the composition to music notation software and revise the composition until I'm happy with it. The title, which is often the most difficult thing, usually comes last!

> Jeremy Rose - AMC profile. See also http://jeremyrose.earshift.com/

> Zela Margossian - homepage (https://www.zelamargossian.com/)

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