Mandhira De Saram

Mandhira De Saram started with the violin and began a career in investigation. It began with classical music, but it has led to a lot of rabbit holes. After studying music in Sri Lanka and North London, she graduated from Oxford in performance. She was initially interested in classical music and chamber groups, but found herself drawn to improvisation and other extended techniques. Her work is marked by a sense of musical egalitarianism. She sees the same value in even the most divergent sounds. De Saram is not content to sift through these many styles. She has often chosen to balance them, creating performances for solo or ensemble that reflect diverse ideas and dynamics. Her performances are vast in scope: it is just as common to see de Saram play a piece from the 20th century as to hear a full-on jazz skronker. Jazz Mann described her appearance at Emulsion Festival as a classically trained musician who improvises with the skill and fearlessness that a seasoned free-jazzer. This all is a mistake. It makes de Saram appear a polymath. Instead of trying to tick off each musical form one at a time, she brings them all together and creates a balance beyond what is possible. De Saram is a model of fearlessness in collaboration. Every partnership is a chance to be wilfully displace, a divergence. To the Sampler, she described her collaboration with Benoit Delbecq as “very different to many of the music that I play”, considering the fractious structure, crystal sound and slow tempo. Steve Beresford is the forebearer of Britain’s ever-flourishing, innovative improvisation scene. She forms one half of the violin and piano duo, with Steve performing with the same curious abandon that his work typifies. She met Beresford while she was at London’s Strange Umbrellas, an improvised music music club that she frequents. De Saram describes it as a place where she can be ‘thrown into’ performance without having to prepare or rehearse for a classical concert. De Saram performed at the event with Maggie Nichols, a legendary singer, creating a performance that was both spontaneous and harmonious. De Saram has been making a lot of progress in the current music scene. She formed the Ligeti Quartet in 2010 with cellist Val Welbanks, violinist Patrick Dawkins and viola player Richard Jones. It is a project that not only reveres, but also transforms the string quartet. She has refined the collaboration ideas and experiments she tried in Ensemble ISIS, her university group, as well her piano trio, TableMusic. The Ligeti Quartet, like TableMusic, where de Saram plays her secondary instrument, is attempting to break new ground’ in the world of performed music. The quartet became a household name right from their inception. Wadada LeoSmith’s Ten Freedom Summers was an early project for the quartet. It’s a 30-year-long endeavor that’s part contemporary opus and part jazz essay about America’s civil right movement. Smith’s work was brought to London’s Cafe Oto by the quartet. The piece was a difficult piece to tackle. It required sensitive musicians who could help reimagine it and render its maximalist qualities in a way that was appropriate for the setting. Smith and de Saram have a great relationship, and they continue to collaborate on string quartet pieces. It is clear that Smith and de Saram share similar views on the string quartet. They continue to perform together as a duo. Smith spoke of his desire to take the European tradition of string quintets and adapt it to his Mississippi experience. De Saram, on the other hand, described the string quartet as an historical vessel with a modern purpose. She told the Sampler that ‘historically it was a very important medium’ but also noted its vital role in today’s music landscape for ‘twenty first century music, collaboration, and experimentation’. The Ligeti Quartet performed a piece by Stef Conner for their hcmf// concert. In it, she distills the essence and character of the string quartet, Singing Strings. This is a meta composition about the string quartet that critiques its potential and history. Mandhira de Saram’s reverence for the string quartet is coupled with an interest in investigating and trespassing on its tradition, in collaborations with artists from outside the contemporary-classical framework – and even outside of music altogether. Their recent work proves it, as if their involvement in Ten Freedom Summers was a sign of this. Their performance at the hcmf// includes a rendition of Tanya Tagaq’s Sivunittinni. This is a track from her 2016 album Retribution. It was originally part of the Kronos Quartet’s 50 for the Future commissioning project. Tagaq, an Inuk throat-singer who was also a political activist, composed her music at a crucial moment in Canada’s history regarding its treatment of its Indigenous people. Reviewers have noted that de Saram’s string quartet brings vital confrontations to the forefront of concert experience. De Saram has envisioned a long-term, slow-releasing quartet, with a focus on important relationships with composers. Christian Mason is currently helping the quartet to create a series of songbooks for quartet. Each one will honor a different singing tradition. Although it sounds unlikely, Mason draws strong parallels between vocal sound u0026 string music. This is the kind de Saram appears to be capable of masterminding with ease. This is also in line with their mission statement which aims to provide contemporary music to a ‘diverse range’ of people. They are challenging the conventions of concert curating in part. Their music pushes the boundaries of what four musicians with strings instruments can do. Mandhira has never been content with one type of music and is now the leader for the string quartet. From

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