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Barely Dry Ink (2): Amarante Nat

During the many concerts at the Gaudeamus Festival, multiple new works whose ink has only just dried will be played. We talk to a number of composers who tell us about the compositions that they have written for us. We spoke with Dutch native, Amarante Nat about her string quartet commission, which will be performed by Adam Quartet on Sunday 11th September in Tivoli’s Club Nine.

by Niamh Leneghan

Amarante Nat is no stranger to the Gaudeamus Festival. Nat reflects on when she attended the festival in the first year of her bachelor studies, a whole new world of innovative compositional methods opened up in front of her. In 2018, she remembers being mesmerised by works from Thanasis Deligiannis and performances featuring bicycles and lightning strikes. Fast forward a few years and now she has been commissioned to create a 3-part string cycle with the Adam Quartet. In a conversation with Nat, we discuss her educational journey that has brought her to where she is today, the concept of her commission and how she has found the experience to date.

Having started her higher education studies in Amsterdam, Nat is now completing her bachelor programme in The Hague, finding the personality of its institution a better fit. Nat finds comfort in the strong history surrounding The Hague and feels this has shaped her teacher’s methods of education. Talking with teachers about their own material, Nat feels like she is figuratively ‘walking along with someone – then I can go’ on her own journey and expand her compositional language. She tells me that in her current course ‘there is some sort of demystification about being a composer; we are shown that it is really something you can learn and become better at. It’s not just something you’re born with or have some super talented skill; it’s a growing path’.

The concept of Nat’s Gaudeamus commissioned work centres around the theme of love and for the first part the phrase: ‘I listen to the ocean and all I hear is you’. Such a broad and profound concept can take a piece of music in any direction, but for Nat she is focusing on its lightness. She elegantly mentions how she finds the ‘act of giving a song to someone else is something very beautiful’.

With her initial starting point  for this work in the aforementioned phrase, Nat develops this thought to consider how we can give love in any kind of situation: ‘how you caress a cat, how you open a door; these very small things, if you do this with some kind of softness and attention, then there is already love’. From this point, Nat has aspired to write music that invites the listener to ‘surrender to some kind of softness’. Having a string quartet to perform this work then feels like the perfect collaboration, with the techniques and timbre of the instruments fitting perfectly into Nat’s vision of how to sound the concept of love.

Nat has found the process of working with a string quartet very organic. The timbre enables a well blended, organ-like texture, which is a comfortable fit for her sound. In previous pieces that have incorporated more diverse instruments, she tells me ‘I focused on finding some sort of homogenous organ kind of sound that moves through the air’. Therefore, writing for a string quartet has helped Nat to focus more on the material than worry too much about how to blend contrasting instruments together. Although she is not a string player, Nat does not let this hold her back in her compositional process. She tells me, ‘in the process of composing it is important to be able to have your musical goals as a priority, and not not the technical goals. Because then you will get dragged down by that focus’.

Part of the cycle has already been performed by the Adam Quartet at the National Day of the Composer event in June and Nat tells how they were already performing with the kind of love she had in mind for the piece: ‘it was really nice to see them being tender in the music while playing it’. Composing for a string quartet also enables Nat to consider a chamber music space like the intimate Cloud9 to see the work come to life, ‘it’s very different to a big hall for an orchestra’.

Autumn 2022 sees Nat beginning a bachelor in classical singing, alongside completing her final year in composition. When asked her reasons for this, Nat answers, ‘I think it’s such an energising activity for me to study music from composers as a mezzo soprano and as a composer, because somehow I feel much more connected to a group of musicians. When I’m just alone composing, I somehow miss sharing a physical space and I can feel isolated. I think that my main goal over the next year is to feel more connected, because that is what energises me.’

We are very excited to hear Nat’s work performed by the Adam Quartet at Gaudeamus Festival this year, and to see how her compositional style grows alongside her new vocal trajectory!