David Gerard Mathews (PhD 2011, comp/theory) was recently awarded an Artist Opportunity Grant from the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council to study the onde Martenot in Montreal with ondist Geneviève Grenier. We asked David to tells us about how he became interested in this unique instrument and how his time of study will help him achieve his creative goals.
I’ve been interested in the ondes Martenot ever since I discovered Messiaen's Turangalila Symphony as a teenager. I kept encountering the instrument at different points after that: as undergrad, I became very interested in the music of Tristan Murail, who both plays and writes for the ondes Martenot, and Radiohead, who has also utilized it extensively.
Unfortunately, the ondes Martenot is such a rare instrument that I never had a chance to see one up close until recently. When I attended a conference in Montreal a year ago, I took a chance and emailed the ondist Geneviève Grenier, who lives there. She was kind enough to let me stop by her house, where she demonstrated it for me and allowed me to play around with it for a bit. This encounter with the instrument and with one of the few people in the world who plays it professionally stoked my interest even more.
When I saw the announcement for the Artist Opportunity Grant, I immediately thought of the ondes Martenot, and I once again contacted Geneviève Grenier to see if she would be willing to do a short immersion course. She agreed, and I sent in my proposal.
During my stay in Montreal, I will have a lesson daily, and I will spend most of the day practicing intensively on Ms. Grenier’s instrument. I have several goals in mind in studying the ondes Martentot. I do hope to eventually have access to an ondes Martenot, but since they are very rare and expensive, that may have to wait for some time. However, I wish to gain a greater understanding of an instrument that has fascinated me since I was 14. As a composer, I am very interested in writing for the ondes Martenot, so learning more about the instrument and getting to know performers who play it is a priority. Another goal is to learn more about the ergonomics and performance practice of the instrument, which unlike most electronic instruments, is very expressive and capable of very subtle nuances of dynamics and intonation; I hope to be able to apply some of what I learn to programming synthesizers and Max patches. Lastly, I hope to gain some insight into interpretation and performance technique from studying with Geneviève Grenier, who is a very accomplished performer in her own right.