WITH a name like High Heels and Horse Hair, it might be guessed that the Australian-Scots duo of violinist Alice Rickards from New South Wales and cellist Sonia Cromarty from Aberdeen take a different approach to classical music.
Although found playing separately or together in the ranks of several other ensembles, including the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, the Capella String Quartet, Scottish Opera, Daniel’s beard, the Amici Cello Trio, Beinn Artair Piano Trio and the Rhona Mackay Trio, it is as High Heels and Horse Hair that they can give free reign to their creativity, playing not just familiar classics, but lesser known contemporary work from Scotland and Australia, as in their Alba to Oz concert, or their most recent commission Transplanted.
This took inspiration from Scottish Enlightenment composer James Oswald to challenge contemporary composers to see what they could create on just one sheet of paper.
Alice Rickards tells us more.
For a classical duo, you have a very striking and playful sounding name – so why did you decide to become High Heels and Horse Hair?
ALICE: Our first gig as a duo was in 2010 when we entered ourselves into the Edinburgh Fringe. So that we wouldn’t get too lost in the vast festival brochure we decided on a name that was memorable enough to stand out from other classical ensembles that tend to attach themselves to Italian prefixes! We’ve had a lot of fun with the name from decorating our heels to reflect the music to gaining shoe sponsorship from the wonderful designer Helen Bateman.
We’ve attracted a bit of criticism as some have thought our name isn’t marketable or serious enough! But (excuse the pun) it’s a bit horses for courses, we always put a lot of thought, creativity and commitment into our programmes and love to perform music.
You met while playing with the BBC SSO and play in a number of other ensembles between you, but is chamber music where the heart lies or an interesting diversion from other projects?
ALICE: For us, to have a fulfilling musical lifestyle we need to have a balance of orchestral and chamber music – not always easy to achieve! Playing chamber music is really very enjoyable but it requires a strong commitment that often takes you away from home so being part of the orchestral world gives us some stability and an opportunity to interact with a wide group of musicians that together make a lot of noise, so we can enjoy getting lost in the crowd.
As a Scottish-Australian duo you’ve also highlighted music from your homelands with your Alba to Oz project. Is there a conscious effort to be musical ambassadors in a way?
ALICE: Alba to Oz was the first time we started to programme more creatively. We knew there wasn’t as much repertoire for violin and cello duo as for string quartet or piano trio. So we decided to explore music that interested us, away from the Viennese tradition that traditional chamber music is steeped in (no insult to Mozart or Beethoven intended).
It is important to play contemporary music and we have concentrated on Scottish composers in recent years. To date we have performed Transplanted 15 times all over Scotland giving audiences a unique opportunity to hear music by 8 living composers in one concert.
Another thing that seems important to you is playing or commissioning new work. Is this a particularly satisfying side of your music?
ALICE: The commissions have come about out of necessity, as way of getting music for the programmes that we wanted to create. Transplanted was a very definite idea, we wanted highlight the importance of native plant conservation and thought we could do this through performances of James Oswald’s Airs for the Seasons, a remarkable collection of botanical miniatures published in 1755.
To connect with current times we realised it was important to carry Oswald’s legacy into a contemporary language and in doing so extend his musical compendium to include some of Scotland’s most unique wild plants, fungi and lichens.
We asked eight composers to contribute to the new set of duos; we were interested in how each could use their own musical language to evoke a plant’s distinctive characteristics and how, like Oswald, they could achieve this on one side of paper. When we received the new works (a very exciting moment of us) we were amazed by the individual ingenuity of each composer and by their colourful and descriptive writing.
Each miniature tells a unique story and it is a joy to journey through this curious set of Scottish seasonal plant pieces at every performance.
And finally, what about the violin/cello dynamic? Is this a particularly fruitful musical match?
ALICE: It is a very fruitful musical match – like peas and carrots, sweet, colourful, simple, with a certain individuality to each and good fun sticking together on stage.
• High Heels and Horse Hair perform Transplanted at Smithton Culloden Free Church at 7.30pm on Friday, February 19 as guests of Inverness Chamber Music. Ahead of the evening concert they will also be giving workshops at Smithton Primary School on Friday morning.
For more info on High Heels and Horsehair: http://www.highheelsandhorsehair.com/#!about1/c1y8b