Brussels Philharmonic | Interview Oren Ambarchi

Interview Oren Ambarchi

"we’ll be improvising. It’s an interaction between myself, Ilan and the orchestra."
- Oren Ambarchi

Oren Ambarchi is a fascinating composer. His works are located in the cracks between several schools: from modern electronics and processing, improvisation, minimalism and songwriting, to a style close to the deceptive simplicity and temporal suspensions of composers such as Morton Feldman and Alvin Lucier. His release Quixotism was listed in The Wire magazine’s top 50 releases of 2014, and that same year Pitchfork named him Experimental Artist Of The Year.

On May 25, he's hitting the stage with the Brussels Philharmonic and Ilan Volkov. Together, they'll perform his composition Sous Vide. Want to know more? Be sure to check out the interview below.


live in concert

experience Sous Vide live with Oren Ambarchi, Ilan Volkov and the Brussels Philharmonic during the concert Scelsi Sound Magic at Flagey

[info & tickets]
[discover also: Close Encounters]
[discover also: Curated by... Oren Ambarchi]
[more on Oren Ambarchi]

You composed Sous Vide in 2022. Is it an improvisational piece?

Yes, we’ll be improvising. It’s an interaction between myself, Ilan and the orchestra. At some times, I take the lead, and then Ilan makes the orchestra to respond to what I am doing. And then I will further respond to the orchestra, and so on.

How do you improvise with an orchestra - will they even have scores on their music stands?

Ilan and I have worked out a sort of musical language and a few cues for the orchestra. He will have some signals and gestures that represent different ways of playing, so it’s not a conventional score. We might use a particular tonality or tuning–the one that I use on my guitar–but mostly we’ll be devising the cues.

What sparked the idea to compose 'in real time'?

Ilan is very open, and he is really familiar with experimental music. He’s also very open to unconventional conduction techniques like those from Butch Morris. And he has the ability to translate it to orchestral musicians.

Ilan and I performed the piece several times over the years. The first time was years ago, during the first edition of his Tectonic Festival in Reykjavik. We premiered the work with The Iceland Symphony Orchestra. Later, we also performed it together during other Tectonic Festivals in Adelaide and Athens, but each time it's been completely different.

It makes sense that an improvisational piece is different every time it’s being played. How does Sous Vide change with each performance?

I think it reflects the way my playing has changed over the years. I use the guitar more as a sound generator than as a conventional guitar. The first time in Reykjavik was much more dense and like a big mass of sound. That doesn't really interest me so much anymore. I now play more with silence and space; I love things that take a long time to develop.

The connection between every version of the piece is that it’s slow, and that sounds appear without you realising that they're sort of happening. It takes a while, which is what really interests me. It’s a way of ‘stretching time’.

How did you come up with the title Sous Vide?

Well, I like eating. And I like the idea behind the sous vide cooking technique: it’s a slow way of cooking; it takes time. So there's a bit of humor in the title. I think it's important not to take yourself too seriously, I’m being a little cheeky with that title.

How do you think the musicians and audience will respond?

It's hard to say, because every orchestra and audience is different. I’ve worked with orchestras who were more uptight and not entirely open to it, but also with ones that found it refreshing to do something like this. They don't get to do this often, so it can be unknown territory for them, but some people are really up for the challenge and appreciate it. The last time we performed this piece in Athens, the audience responded positively.

Because of the improvisation, there is a risky element to it: the music is alive and edgy. It stretches people's ears a little bit, it’s different. I think that people in the audience pick up on that element of tension. It’s definitely different from a recital.

The program includes works by Scelsi and Murail. Are you familiar with their music?

Yes, I’m a huge Scelsi fan. I particularly love the way in which he deals with sound and how there is a lot of detail in the limited materials in his music. But it also speaks to me how he was a non-musician and an outsider in the classical context. He is very inspiring. He is very important and yet it’s rare to hear his music live.

SCELSI c Marc Pennartz

Scelsi Sound Magic · 25.05.2024 · Flagey

Ilan Volkov boldly breaks open the boundaries of what music is and can be: anchors are cast aside, conventions are thrown out the window, and music becomes a physical experience - with Oren Ambarchi.

2023 Brussels Philharmonic Kazushi Ono c Lars Bauwens Fuji Superia400 Canon EF 1

Close Encounters: Open Rehearsal · 23.05.2024 · Flagey

Open rehearsals: experience the orchestra up close and feel the power of our collective.Watch the rehearsal from a unique spot: the stalls on our Studio 4 stage. Afterwards, chat with someone from on or behind the stage—be it the conductor, soloist, musician, or a production team member.