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Yfat Soul Zisso

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What attracts you to rarescale as an ensemble?
The mixture of instruments capable and incapable of playing microtones – it's a fun challenge writing a piece where the soundworld is a combination of very different instrumental capabilities.

What is your musical aesthetic?
I enjoy working with microtones and am currently exploring various microtonal soundworlds as part of my PhD at Birmingham Conservatoire.

Who are your main influences?
Radulescu, Saariaho, Beethoven, Prokofiev

Who inspires you?
The musicians I work with. With every piece I write I try to imagine the specific players/singers performing it, which can only be done by working closely with them and/or watching them perform and practice.

Tell us about the background of your piece – how did it come to be written and what’s it all about?
When asked to write this piece I was excited about exploring how the Kingma system alto flute could be used in different ways with a piano, but then my grandmother, who was terminally ill, passed away, and an elegy theme crept into the piece, becoming a strong, calming, element that can't be ignored.

How does this work relate to your other compositional output?
After spending over two years mostly composing with microtones in the context of the harmonics series, this is one of the first pieces exploring a completely different microtonal soundworld.

What are your plans for the future?
As part of my PhD research, I'm hoping to find out how singers can most easily learn to hear and pitch different types of microtones in order to be able to write microtonally for both instruments and voices.

What have been your career highlights so far?
Having my first orchestral piece, From the Darkness, chosen to be performed by BBC National Orchestra of Wales only a year after finishing my undergrad was certainly a memorable highlight, as was being fortunate to work with many other talented musicians in the last few years.

What made you become a composer?
When I was 14 I started writing songs, though I didn't have the musical knowledge to write them down in music form. I realised there was all this music I could hear in my head and I just had to be a composer. This made me decide to go away to boarding school at age 15 to study music from scratch, practising the piano for 4-5 hours a day and completing A-Levels in music in 3 years, all in order to learn to compose.

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?

Beethoven – Piano Sonata no. 14, Op. 27 'Moonlight', 3rd movement – Since I only started studying music at the age of 15, the only classical music I heard growing up was on telly – and especially in 'The Smurfs'. It may sound silly but there was a great deal of quotes from really great pieces that have stuck with me to this day, and the 3rd movement of the moonlight sonata is one of them. Starting out as just a piece I adored from infancy, it became my first great challenge – learning to play it bit by bit only a year and a half into learning the piano. To me it is now both an influential piece musically and a symbol of overcoming enormous challenges and obstacles.

Radulescu – Piano Concerto, Op. 90 'The Quest' – Listening to this piece overwhelmed me in ways I can't describe. The harmonic-series based soundworld it uses rang so beautifully and in a way so different to what I was used to hearing, that it inspired me to begin experimenting with the harmonic series and microtones, leading me to where I am today.

Berio – Sequenza III for female voice – I've always been a singer, but unlike composing and playing the piano, it was never as much of a challenge. I never had to spend hours and hours on getting something just right - there was just no challenge. UNTIL I started working on the Sequenza. All of a sudden I was acting like a crazy person walking in circles inside a practice room mumbling syllables for hours on end – and loving every second of it. It opened me to a new world of challenging and bizarre vocal repertoire, which made me a performer again and also influenced my composing in a brand new way.

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rarescale premieres Hidden Elegy for alto flute and piano at The Forge on 6th September 2016. Book tickets here.

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