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Reuben Jelleyman
on recent success and studying at the Paris Conservatoire

Composer Reuben Jelleyman was recently awarded the 2021 Edwin Carr Foundation Scholarship and an Arts Foundation Springboard Award. We caught up with Reuben to talk about his recent successes, and about life in Paris as a composition student at the Conservatoire de Paris.

Kia ora Reuben, congratulations on being named an Arts Foundation 2021 Springboard Award recipient. What does this achievement mean to you?

Tēnā koe! For me, it is summed-up succinctly in the name of the award: it is a means of getting to the next step of my career as an artist. I see the Springboard as a tool – it’s the mentorship and financial support that are helping me to progress in my projects and in my formation as an artist in a way I wasn’t able to do before.

What are you looking forward to about working with and being mentored by 2014 Arts Foundation Laureate Ross Harris?

I’m already greatly enjoying our exchanges! Ross is unafraid to ask me provocative questions about my music, and so we’ve been sending each other scores and recordings of our new projects, as well as talking a bit about developing compositional methodology through technology and talking a little about what I might be able to do in the future to support myself.

Can you tell the SOUNZ audience what it has been like to study at the legendary Conservatoire de Paris (CNSMDP) under Gérard Pesson?

Gérard Pesson is undoubtedly one of the most unique and influential composers of our time. Even if his music is very seldom played in NZ, he has inspired many of my generation – notably perhaps in France – but those who have been looking for a kind of music different from the post-serial and spectral influences of the later C20. He is a wonderful teacher, and a dear friend; we also talk about all sorts of things besides composition.

Regarding the conservatoire, it is simply full of wonderful musicians, of whom you typically meet at the canteen, or over coffee. You can imagine the surprise when you see someone you just met playing the next week at la Philharmonie, or has just won a prestigious international competition. But I would say that it’s mostly my fellow composers here, all with unique and fresh musical directions, who have been my subsistence here. The desire to work hard and make something special happen is the thing that is so encouraging, even contagious.

The projects here are very well supported. I have worked a number of times with the very skilled production staff to put our concerts together. We work with students of the conservatoire specialising in contemporary music performance, as well as projects with professional ensembles such as Intercontemporain and Multilatérale.

In what ways have you found that being based in Paris has helped you to grow as a composer?

In these last few weeks with the loosening of social restrictions I have been able to go to a fair few concerts! I live about five minutes walk from la Philharmonie de Paris and Cité de la musique at la Villette (next to the conservatoire itself), and I can often get a ticket for cheap. The tangible experience of live music constantly reminds you how you should and shouldn’t shape music on the page, as well as being an absolutely thrilling experience when the music is good.

Quite a bit of my lock-down time here was spent researching, mostly in the form of hands-on experimenting playing techniques, or with musical mechanics in the form of simple ideas or computer-assisted procedures. There’s still a lot to be done in this laboratory mode of working, and I feel like I’ve just started on many fronts.

Can you tell us about a defining moment in your music career that you are really proud of?

There have been many! I have been really honoured to present monographic concerts in New Zealand and also in Vienna, and also to be presented with awards for my contributions to music, such as receiving the CANZ Trust Fund Award and the Springboard. Also the thrill of putting together Portalfest in Wellington in 2019 on a shoestring budget. But also, every time you work with fantastic musicians who help you overcome your fears in the music you’ve written, and each time you encounter the magic a skilled performer brings to a piece, those are moments that are special.

Further congratulations are in store for you, Reuben, for receiving a 2021 Edwin Carr Foundation Scholarship. What does this award mean to you?

Kia ora! I feel rather connected with the Edwin Carr legacy actually, seeing as I have also had projects in France, Italy, and Germany – key places for Edwin’s own career. Edwin Carr’s desire to pass on to the following generations was born through similar experiences to what I am having right now, so there is a lot of “feeling” to being given this award. It goes without saying that living in Paris is incredibly expensive, and that without the support of the numerous scholarships I have been lucky enough to receive, as well as considerable support from my family, I couldn’t complete my education here.

Can you tell us about your long term goals and career aspirations?

I think I’ll remain relatively vague in my response by saying that I would love to continue the “artistic project”; I do think my musical direction is only just beginning to take its bearing, and hopefully that direction takes a few interesting and surprising turns in the future. Concretely, I think I could say that at some point in my life I’d love to work on a larger-scale project, but I couldn’t really say what kind of form that might take – this kind of thing requires a careful mix of the right ingredients!

Who have been some of the key influences in your career so far?

Certainly my formal, and informal, teachers (I have had so many); including at the New Zealand School of Music and at the Conservatoire de Paris. But also family: my aunt and uncle, Dorothy Ker and Jeroen Speak, in particular. I have friends from all sorts of disciplines who work so tirelessly and creatively on their projects, and I’ve always tried to apply this work ethic as well – they’ve been a huge influence on the way I’ve tried to apply myself. There are also many friends and supporters of my career who may not be so familiar with contemporary music, but have very faithfully taken interest in what I’m doing; I’ve been working on a kind of “scrapbook” of demonstrations and little experiments that I publish on a Patreon site. It is an interesting project trying to myth-bust the sometimes bewildering experience of a rather complex musical form like contemporary music, and expose it’s more interesting features with clear examples. At the end of the day, as I see it, this amazing and vast musical genre has become about what music could be; it’s about imagination.