“I set up rarescale in 2003, as a way of demonstrating that low flutes (at that time just alto, but we now include bass too) are viable instruments within a chamber music context,” says Rees. “We’re a flexible instrumentation ensemble, which means we have a pool of around 12 players that we can call on for any of our programmes, and can work in different chamber combinations as the repertoire demands.”
“New music is at the centre of what we do, partly because we’ve been actively developing repertoire for low flutes in different chamber combinations, from solos to mini-concertos, but also because we passionately believe in the music of our time. There’s a great energy that comes from the dialogue between composer and performer, and we love to showcase the wide range of music being written by living composers, and to demonstrate that there really is something in contemporary classical music for pretty much all-musical tastes.”
Rarescale are more than a performing ensemble, “as well as the main ensemble, we have an educational arm – rarescale Flute Academy,” Rees explains, “which teaches advanced flute students about the things we do – how to play low flutes, how to put on a concert, how to collaborate with composers and how to approach new music.” She continues, “we teach in workshops and masterclasses and also run an annual summer school for flute players and composers. We also have our own record label (rarescale records) and associated publishing company (Tetractys) which publishes the best of the works written for us.”
We asked Rees if she felt that women are still underrepresented in the genre? “Female composers have historically been given something of a raw deal,” she replies, “and I think they sometimes have a tougher time being taken seriously than male composers. We believe in quality, and celebrate excellent repertoire, irrespective of the age, sex, or nationality of the composer.” Rarescale are performing as part of #thegirlsare weekend at The Forge, Camden – their programme will showcase new music by women composers. Rees says, “it’s fantastic to have this opportunity to show that there’s some real strength in female compositional talent that really deserves to be heard. I’m particularly excited in this programme to combine music by a younger generation of composers alongside pieces by some of the leading living women composers – and we had so much to choose from for this programme that it was quite a challenge to narrow it down to these ten works.”
Chamber music often receives criticism that it doesn’t appeal to younger generations, what draws Rees to the genre? “Chamber music is a huge passion for me,” enthuses Rees, “I love the intimacy that you can create with an audience, especially in fantastic venues like The Forge.” She continues, “there’s a vast variety of repertoire being written all the time; I get a new piece sent to me from somewhere in the world at least once a week, so there’s plenty of choice and some very high quality music being created. I think there’s a practical reason for this too; in the current economic climate, where funding is difficult, chamber music is a relatively low-cost way of promoting new music, and I think composers are often drawn to ensembles like ours as they have more chance of performances than with a full orchestra.”
Low flute scores must be difficult to come by? “When we first formed rarescale, there was very little published work for low flutes,” answers Rees, “I studied composition as well as the flute, and knew several composers who were interested in exploring the wonderful sonority of the alto flute, and the repertoire grew from there. I’ve almost lost count but I think we’ve had over 800 pieces written for or sent to us so far. The flexible instrumentation approach really gives us a chance to hear how different combinations of instruments sound together; although the focus of the group is low flutes, this approach really enables us to explore contemporary chamber music in different ways. For example, in this concert [Sunday 19 October 2014] we’ll be using eight performers and we have solos for bass flute, violin, cello and electronics, a newly commissioned quintet, a trio of alto flute, bassoon and cello and some duos with acoustic instruments and electronics. It’s a great mix and it really shows different facets of all of the instruments.”
You can catch Carla and rarescale live this Sunday 19 October at the Forge, Camden.