Daniel Kessner

rarescale's Artistic Director, Carla Rees, talks to Daniel Kessner ahead of their performance of Nuance on 10th January 2016
What is it that appeals to you about writing for low flutes?
Actually, I'd like to take this question a step farther. In the mid-1990s, I was still a clarinetist, but did some doubling on flutes. Being called upon to play alto and (especially) bass in various pieces, I quickly fell in love with the delicate, mysterious sounds of both. This led me to adopt the flutes as my principal instruments, renouncing the clarinet from that moment on. Of course this resulted in my writing numerous pieces for alto and bass as well. The sound of the bass still brings me into another world.

Can you tell us the background of nuance?How did it come to be written and what's it al about?
This is an easy one. My wife and I were being invited regularly to Forfest, a festival of arts with a spiritual orientation, in the eastern Czech Republic. The Co-Director, Zdenka Vaculovicova, is a composer-violinist-violist, so I wrote this piece for the two of us. We premiered it at the 2002 edition of the festival, in the original version, for bass flute and viola.

Since these two instruments play in pretty much exactly the same registers, and since both instruments have unique colors and similar dynamic ranges, it seemed natural to write a piece that plays upon these colors and the subtle differences between them. The essence of the work is stating the same musical material, but with a different nuance each time. Since alto and bass flute are pitched a 5th apart, as are the violin and viola, it was obvious that the piece could be played as well with alto flute and violin.

What are your plans for the future?
I just want to keep on doing what I've been doing for as long as I can. I have been fortunate enough to receive fine performances and great encouragement from numerous excellent musicians; rarescale has become my greatest supporter of all. This, in turn, spurs me on to keep on moving forward, always aiming for my best work ever.

What have been your career highlights so far?
I was very fortunate early in my career to receive some major performances. Among them, I would single out the premiere of Equali I (4 flutes & 4 strings) at Gaudeamus International Music Week 1970 in the Netherlands (when I was only 24), five performances of Strata, by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra in 1971, receiving the Queen Marie-José International Composition Prize in Geneva in 1972, eight productions of my chamber opera, The Telltale Heart, by the Netherlands Opera and Utrecht Symphony in 1982 (the last seven of those as part of the Holland Festival), and the first of my three Fulbright appointments, a semester at the Musikhochschule Trossingen, Germany, in 2003, which included lectures and concerts.

What made you become a composer?
I just did. I started writing occasional pieces as a teenager, and by age 17 it had grown into an uninterrupted activity that has gone on for more than 50 years now. Ideas are always arriving in my internal playback system, and some of those ideas just naturally grow into whole pieces. Once I begin a new piece, I generally work on it every day until it's finished. At that point, I usually take a couple of weeks off in between pieces to regroup mentally (composing is both exhilarating and exhausting), and to think about the next piece.

If you could choose three pieces of music that have had a big impact on your life or musical development, what would they be and why?
It's difficult to narrow it down to three, but these are probably at the top of the list. (1) Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. I'm sure this one appears on many musicians' lists. The first time I heard it I was completely blown away. I had never heard anything like it. Even after hundreds of hearings, both live and recorded, the colors, the rhythm, and the sheer impact of the piece still work for me. It's that amazing. (2) This one probably stays under the radar for most people, but its impact on me was and continues to be great. André Jolivet's magnificent work for solo alto flute, Ascèses, simply transports me to a higher plane of existence. I have only performed it once in concert (it is not easy), but I often play through it just for myself. Even when I'm not playing it, it is often with me, and I know it has changed my music forever. (3) Bartok's Fourth String Quartet still takes my breath away. The first time anyone hears this piece, it is an assault to the senses and to the emotions. There is so much in it, on all levels, that I know I will never tire of it. It has been with me almost as long as the Rite of Spring.

My (modest) website is to be found here There is plenty of information about my music, a complete list of works, and links to videos of selected performances.

rarescale performs Nuance for alto flute and violin at The Forge in Camden on 10th February 2016