School of Music alumnus, Michele Abondano. Michele is stood against a neutral background and is looking directly at the camera and smiling.

Michele Abondano

Please tell us a bit about yourself and your current career?

I am a Colombian composer and researcher. During many years, I have been focused on the development of a timbral composition approach for both instrumental and electroacoustic music. From this perspective, I work with ensembles and performers on the composition of timbral experiences, as I call my pieces. It is also important for me to document the process of research for my works, thus in the future it may be possible to write a book on timbre in which I can share my compositional perspective.

Please tell us about any other roles you’ve had since graduating from Leeds.

Since I finished my PhD at the University of Leeds, I have had my most active period as a composer. My music has been commissioned and performed at international events including PoznaƄ Music Spring Festival (Poland), Arsmondo Roma Festival (France), SONIC MATTER Festival (Switzerland), Festival Sur Aural (Bolivia), ARS Musica Festival (France), and Unerhörte Musik (Germany), which has allowed me to extend my professional network and continue my timbral explorations.

Recently, I have been awarded the Ibermúsicas Prize of Composition and Premiere of Work with SUONO MOBILE Argentina. I have also been a fellow of the Stiftung Künstlerdorf Schöppingen (Germany), and one of the composers selected by Low Frequency Trio to be part of their project 'Nuevas Músicas Latinoamericanas' (Mexico). Currently, I am a commissioned composer at TRAIECT – Traditional Asian Instruments and Electronics and Frauen im Licht, both projects based in Germany.

Notwithstanding, an important part of my professional development is also consolidating an academic career, thus I would like to teach composition at a university. Hopefully I will find the right opportunity to be able to do this.

How do you think the skills and knowledge you developed at Leeds helped with your career success?

During the development of my doctoral research at Leeds, I found in my supervisors the support needed to explore and find answers to my compositional inquiries and creative ambitions. Undoubtedly, this experience allowed me to broaden my perspective on timbre and extend my approach in ways I would have never imagined. Moreover, the practice part of my research demanded to work with performers and ensembles in the realisation of the pieces. One of my most successful collaborations started at the School of Music with Collective Lovemusic (France), who offered a workshop and a concert in February 2019. After a couple of months, Lovemusic premiered one of my pieces in Strasbourg. Since then, I have received two commissions from them: ‘Just An Attempt To Dissipate’, premiered at the Bibliothèque nationale et universitaire de Strasburg, and ‘ya no soy yo’, premiered at Opéra national du Rhin.

Other amazing performers I met at different academic activities at the University of Leeds were the cellist Séverine Ballon, the clarinettist Heather Roche, and the pianist Kate Ledger. In fact, recently I wrote a piece for Ledger, titled ‘One Is Too Few’, which has been performed at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and the University of Leeds Contemporary Music Festival. These experiences have been fundamental in my professional development because it has been through my PhD research that I have consolidated my own perspective on timbral composition. Moreover, the recognition of the pieces that constitute my doctoral portfolio has led to more commissions and performances around Europe. Each form of artistic or financial support results in a new musical project. Thus, now I want to work on expanding my interest towards other ways of approaching timbre such as performative sculptures, electronic installations and mixed media.

What made you want to apply to your course and to Leeds?

I had been thinking to start my doctoral studies for a long time, thus I approached the work of composers teaching at postgraduate courses in different places in order to find the right place. However, I found it absolutely necessary to receive a scholarship, for which I limited the search to those institutions offering funding for international students, like the University of Leeds.

It was a great satisfaction to know that Professor Martin Iddon was a part of the faculty at the School of Music. I had listened to his music and read some of his articles, which made me feel that I could have greatly enriching conversations on timbre in terms of technical, conceptual and aesthetic constructions and approaches with him. Professor Iddon was very receptive and committed to my ideas from the beginning. His comments on my research proposal were invaluable to make a better version for the application. This experience was remarkable to understand if the programme, the faculty and the institution itself were the best option for my aspirations and needs. Now, I am sure I made the right decision.

What aspects of the course did you enjoy the most?

The PhD programme at the School of Music is particularly interesting if compared to others of the same kind. Here, Postgraduate Researchers (PGRs) are independent and autonomous to develop their research. Most of the academic and artistic activities are available for the whole community, thus it is upon each person to participate. This makes it possible to completely focus on the research without the distraction that mandatory and unrelated courses could cause.

In my case, the monthly supervision meetings were very convenient to work at a consistent pace and have enough advances to discuss with my supervisors. Of course, every time that extra time to talk was required, it was possible to find other opportunities to meet or even have extended written communication. One of the greatest advantages I found were the workshops, concerts and the Symposium of Postgraduate students (even those organised by other Schools). Because, as I mentioned before, these experiences were opportunities to develop international networks, nourish my knowledge with other perspectives and prepare myself to present the research advances in external events like international conferences or festivals.

What would you say about the learning and the support facilities in your School and at the University in general?

From my experience as a PGR, I think the university provided with everything that could be needed for the development of a music research, including spaces to work, seminars and workshops with professionals in a variety of subjects. My years in Leeds coincided with the pandemic, thus I had to virtually work most of the time and the university still allowed us to access the library for both hard copies of books and PDFs, access databases, etc., as well as have online supervision meetings in order to support the work at home. Although it was not possible for the School of Music to develop virtual practice-related events during that period of time, I had the opportunity to present my work at several external events online, such as the 2nd International Conference on Timbre, the 56th Royal Musical Association Conference, I realitätsverschwinden solo concert series by Sylvia Hinz, and the Verdant Vibes Concert Series, which was fundamental for the completion of my practice-led research.

What would you say to anyone thinking of applying to your course?

I would encourage anyone thinking of applying for postgraduate studies at the University of Leeds to contact the faculty members and find the right team of supervisors. It is important that you feel supported and inspired by an expert in your research area, and it is even better if you find affinities in the current research groups or projects at the School of Music. It is also important to keep a participative attitude because if things are not completely developed in your specific area of interest, it could be an opportunity to contribute and enrich the academic and artistic community with your own experience.