Writer and performer Taylor Edmonds reflects on her collaboration with Dutch string outfit the Nescio Ensemble on their tour of Wales this summer, adding live spoken word to their experimental soundscapes.
Recently, I spent a week with Nescio Ensemble, a 13-person classical string orchestra from the Netherlands, on their Welsh tour. We spent the week at Chapel Cottage Studio, a beautiful self-built open home and artists’ retreat nestled in the Welsh countryside. Spending the week outside of my city-reality, surrounded by farm animals and the sounds of violins was idyllic. It also served as a reminder of the importance of stepping outside of yourself, to talk and eat with strangers from different walks of life to you, and the ways this can enrich your perspective of your own life and environment.
Before our first gig, we spent an intense day-and-a-half rehearsing. Taking my poetry and their music apart and working to make them fit as one coherent performance. We worked to modify the music and my words to accommodate each other. We were all surprised by how naturally they fitted together; their instruments amplifying and complimenting my words, my words adding another layer of meaning to their set. The more I write and perform, the more comfortable I am with sharing this part of myself with people who are complete strangers — I thrive on this strange intimacy.
Over the week we performed nine gigs in different parts of Wales; from small village churches to city architects’ offices. Before the tour, I knew nothing about classical music. To be honest, I thought of it in a generalised, stereotypical way as being snobby, intimidating and ‘not for me’, an attitude I think many share. Nescio, though, an innovative group of passionate and talented musicians, have encouraged me to think of the genre in a different light. They work to break down the barriers between performer-audience and challenge the formal conventions of classical performances. Each song is introduced to the audience and explained with a personal approach. Nescio also seek to collaborate with artists of different mediums on their tours (luckily this time they found me), and aim to create something unique to bring to their audiences. They were all clearly very passionate about bringing classical music to everyone, especially those, like me, who viewed it as not for them or inaccessible. I think their personal approach, performing outside of the typical concert hall environment, and the fact that most of the gigs were free to attend helped to make our performances more accessible.
Performing with the ensemble was a completely different experience to how I’m used to performing. Instead of just getting up, reading a piece from start to finish then moving onto another, my pieces were picked apart and spread out between musical interludes. I had time to really savour the experience, to reflect on how the music was informing the words and how the audience were reacting. It was a challenge for me to bring my work to people that may not be my typical audience, or knowing that many would have been attending primarily for the music and not for my poetry. But our audiences listened intently and gave useful, positive feedback post-concert.
Lately, I’ve been lucky to work on some collaborative projects. This year I’ve worked on other music collaborations, made videos and co-written an audio story. It’s opened me up to the different ways in which my work can grow and develop under the influences of others. With the ensemble, my performance was more than just standing up and reading but a shared experience between us as performers and our connection with the audience. I’m certain that my work and myself personally will benefit from the tour and everything I learned along the way.