Emerging Directors - Q&A with Maja Pluta (Kaleidoscope)

Emerging Directors – Q&A with Maja Pluta (Kaleidoscope)

Maja Pluta is a current student in her final year at RBC, and is the project director for the and event titled Kaleidoscope which will take place in The Lab on Friday 26th of January.

I was able to catch up with Maja and speak to her about her upcoming event…


RC: So Maja, can you tell us a little about Kaleidoscope?

MP: Kaleidoscope is a name of the concert that we are currently preparing for – a showcase of a few months long collaboration between 14 musicians, composers and performers (instruments: recorder, strings, piano, harpsichord/ chamber organ).

I think the name of the project describes our music quite well: we have a big variety, the music is definitely colourful, full of references to folk music from all around the world, as our group members all come from different countries and backgrounds. Also a little unpredictable and quickly changing – as each piece has an improvisatory element to it. A lot of the music we play is being created in a moment (we are using skeleton scores, each musicians has an opportunity to play an improvised solo), so there is a degree of spontaneity. Each time we play the same piece of music, it sounds differently.


RC: What is your role or roles in the ensemble?

MP: I have been directing the project from the beginning. I invited musicians and composers to this collaboration, organised rehearsals, booked rooms, invited tutors for workshops. Also administration side of the project, its promotion. Being in control of many little details and making sure they work – that is my job and my main responsibility. But I am also a full-time member of the ensemble.


RC: How has it been collaborating with both performers and composers?

MP: It definitely has been a journey, a challenging one, but also very creative and rewarding. When we first met, nothing was clear – it took us a while to get on the right track. We have started as a team of people – fantastic composers and performers, all coming from different backgrounds, and we had to find the best way to work with what we had.

This project is definitely not only about music, it is also about communication and learning from each other. It took a lot of talking – about instruments and the sound effects available, what the performers feel most comfortable with, also about the scores’ presentation (composers didn’t find it easy to design and then write down a piece with improvisatory sections in it)- to find the right balance between giving instructions and freedom to musicians. It really wasn’t as simple as saying to the ensemble: ‘and here just improvise’. We had to get used to the idea and to playing with the others.

Everyone in the team was challenged to get out of their comfort zone, as we all had to do things we don’t usually do and think outside the box.

We had to get to know each other musically, but also personally. The sessions with tutors we had definitely helped us to open up and find ways to talk about music, also to explore some new improvisation techniques (it was useful for both performers and composers – we needed to add a few words to our musical dictionary, such as ‘scribbling’ or ‘shadowing’, definitely useful when talking about improvisation).

Now, a few days before the concert, it feels like the music we play is really ours – we all own it,  it is a result of many discussions, trying things out without judgment and keeping what works best for us.

The music would have a completely different shape with different people, we were all involved in creating it from the beginning.

Always time for a photo: Maja (third from the left) with fellow performers and composers from the ensemble.


RC: Are there any other performers, ensembles, or composers that you feel have influenced you and the group?

MP: As a group we definitely have been influenced by the tutors who coached us in some of our sessions – Howard Skempton, Matthew Forbes, Trevor Lines and Ben Markland.

As individuals, we all came to this project with a wide palette of music experiences and we influenced each other strongly.

For me it is difficult to name specific people, so I can talk more about the experiences that inspired me and led to starting the Kaleidoscope project.

I have always been interested in improvisation and composition. I grew up making a lot of music with my friends at school and in a scout group, singing songs from the album Kayah i Bregović (balkan music with the lyrics translated into Polish). Coming from Krakow, the South of Poland, traditional music from the mountains (muzyka góralska) has always been close to my heart. I listened to Kroke (klezmer/ world music band from Krakow) and Atom String Quartet, who play mostly jazz but also connect it with Polish folk music.

At the Conservatoire I attended the Free Improvisation elective with Matthew Forbes, then in third year again the Free Improvisation and World Music modules with Trevor Lines. I got exposed to music from all around the world, which fascinated me. Also in these classes I discovered Paul Simon’s album Graceland and the idea of using traditional songs/ chants in a pop music context really resonated with me.

Among other important experiences are the BCMG composition/ improvisation workshops for children- ZigZag and Music Maze, where I am volunteering. Also the involvement in the Young Composers Project with the LEAP Ensemble last year.

And last, but not least-  Pavel Fischer, my violin teacher, who himself is also a composer and a member of a band called Bardolino playing gypsy music.


Words of wisdom: The ensemble with Howard Skempton during a rehearsal


RC: What has been your favourite moment when you’ve been working with the group?

MP: Seeing how the enthusiasm spreads and how we start to bond together as an ensemble and as a group of people. Seeing the pieces coming together and hearing beautiful improvised solos from those of us who at the beginning were maybe a little bit less confident to improvise.

Every time something that didn’t seem possible before, actually happens- there were quite a lot of these moments in our project.

For me this project as a whole is a favourite thing. I love how flexible it is and how we all shape it together. It is freeing not to follow any set route, but to do things our own creative way.


Taking it from the top: Members of the ensemble play together

RC: What can people expect from the works in the ensemble’s debut performance on Friday?

MP: Definitely a big variety: of styles, characters, approaches to improvisation and composition in general. Also the folk music element is treated differently in each piece – but I can reveal some of the melodies are inspired by Lebanese, Arabic music, as well as Polish and Spanish.

Most of the pieces are acoustic, but we also have one electronic piece.

It is probably going to be a surprising performance for classical music fans – it would require some openness from the audience.

Even though the repertoire is so varied, I think it makes a coherent programme. Everyone should be able to find in our music something interesting, something they can relate to or at least some entertainment! We are serious about what we are doing, but we also enjoy doing it, so I hope this joy of making new music spreads to our audience.


Lets make music: Student composer Oliver Farrow hears his piece come to life


RC: What do you see for the future of the ensemble?

MP: I have a few dreams – one of them is to record all of our music in a studio and release as an album. I am also thinking of organising another concert in the summer -it could be really interesting to collaborate with some other artists – maybe we could team up with dancers, visual artists or jazz musicians?

In a longer run, if we carry on playing together, maybe some outreach work in schools or performing in contemporary music festivals?

But for now, my biggest hope is just to keep it going. I think our ensemble has a lot of potential, I would love to carry on.


This event will take place in The Lab at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire on Friday 26th of January.

For more information about what’s going on at RBC in January and February, read our online Frontiers brochure here: