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Contemporary Orchestra Works

Writing a piece for a large orchestra is an assignment that for most contemporary composers will trigger a great deal of consideration. Writing a symphony or a solo concert inscribes you in a proud tradition reaching back hundreds of years.

Edition·S’ catalogue is bursting with large orchestra works spanning from Weyse’s “Symfoni no. 6” (1798) over Niels W. Gade’s “Sinfonie für das grosse Orchester” (1842) and Carl Nielsen’s “Symfoni no. 6 (1925) to Ib Nørholm’s “Fluktuationer” (1962), Lars Hegaard’s “Symphony no. 3” (1998) and Jesper Koch’s “Snedronningen” (2004). The variety of the works demonstrates that composers today still manage to rethink and renew the old formats. In this feature we highlight some of the contemporary works in the category.

The latest large orchestral piece in Edition·S’ catalogue is Rune Glerup’s commission for The National Danish Symphony Orchestra premiered in November 2016. The work is simply titled “Symphony,” and we asked the composer a few questions about the piece.

Formally your symphony looks different from most symphonies with its 11 parts consisting of an introduction and a number of expositions and interludes. What is the thought behind this?

It was never my intention to write a symphony in the classical understanding of the word – I am way too devoid of nostalgia to do that and too interested in coming up with something new. The question was whether it is even possible to write a symphony, when you do not want to write a new piece in an old style, which I did not. To answer that question you have to ask another question: What is a symphony? And confronted with that question you soon fall short of answers. Even though there are some common features, the differences between symphonies by J.C. Bach, Brahms, Mahler, Stravinskij, Webern, Messiaen… are enormous. 

Therefore I find it impossible to outline a static model of what a symphony is. On the contrary I see the symphony as a dynamic concept with a definition that changes over time, as the many different symphonies written over the past couple of centuries show. [...] As a composer, luckily, you don’t have to make the scheme fit – you can make your own.

Read the whole interview with Rune Glerup here

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The composers writing large orchestra works today meet the challenge in various ways. Some reach out to other genres to integrate aspects from i.e. popular music, others include elements of video or electronics and many composers reach back into the long history of orchestra music to play with bits and pieces from canonical works by Beethoven, Schubert and others. Some of these approaches can be seen in this selection of orchestra works in our catalogue written and performed over the past 5 years. 

Allan Gravgaard Madsen: Beinta (2016)
“Beinta” is written by the composers Allan Gravgaard Madsen and Anna Katrin Øssursdóttir Egilstrøð. It is a symphonic song cycle that explores and combines sonorities from contemporary classical music and alternative pop. The music is accompanied by projections of the raw, atmospheric work of the Faroese film duo RAMMATIK. Read the reviews from the world premiere of “Beinta” here. 

Simon Steen-Andersen: Piano Concerto (2014)
In “Piano Concerto” the perfect, classical grand piano is confronted with a battered, almost completely broken, grand piano in a sort of virtual double concert. 

“Piano Concerto” was premiered by the SWR Symphony Orchestra Baden-Baden and Freiburg at Donaueschinger Musiktage 2014, where Simon Steen-Andersen received the German SWR Orchestra Prize for the composition. Watch SWR’s multimedia report about the work.

The Danish premiere of the work took place in Aarhus in October 2016 in a concert that received great reviews. Read the reviews here.

Niels Rønsholdt: Me Quitte (2014)
“Me Quitte” is a song cycle based on the classic love song by Jacques Brel: “Ne Me Quitte Pas” from 1959. According to Rønsholdt, Brel’s chanson represents the quintessential ideas of romantic love; love as pure, beautiful and good. In “Me Quitte” Rønsholdt turns this cliché upside down, since love is just as often both destructive and cruel. He borrows fragments of text from Brel’s chanson, but sings them backwards, and most importantly – the unschooled Rønsholdt is one of the singers, displaying all his fragility and powerlessness.

“Me Quitte” was written for ensemble and 2 singers in 2013, and the orchestra version was written in 2014.

Christian Winther Christensen: Chromatische Weltmusik (2013)
In “Cromatische Weltmusik” Christian Winther Christensen succeeds in making the symphony orchestra light as a feather and merge completely with the two solo instruments. Orchestra, accordion and cello melt together as one breath and underneath it all lies a ghost of Schubert’s “Winterreise”. 

Read reviews from the Danish premiere of “Cromatische Weltmusik”
Hear a recording from the final rehearsal by The Danish National Symphony Orchestra.

Rune Glerup: Waiting. Counting (2013)
“Waiting. Counting” is a piece in three movements or rather consists of three variations of the same piece. The first movement is written for percussion solo and electronics, the second movement is scored for orchestra and electronics, and the third movement is a combination of the first two. The music is delicate and rather fragile, and features the small inherent noises of the instruments. 

Nicolai Worsaae: Eight And A Half Pint (2012)
“Eight And A Half Pint” is an orchestra piece containing a lot of references: i.e. to Beethoven’s 8th Symphony, and to Fellini’s movie 8 ½. Worsaae plays the main character in a silent movie, screened during the performance of the piece. He sits in a bar emptying one pint of beer after another. Worsaae reveals a possible interpretation of his own part in the performance: ”I imagine the movie to be about a composer who is not making any progress in his writing process. Instead of staying home and finishing the piece he tries to ignore the threatening deadline by getting drunk.”

Read a short interview with Nicolai Worsaae about “Eight And A Half Pint.”

Collaboration with the Royal Danish Academy of Music

In 2016 Edition·S collaborated with three composition students from the Royal Danish Academy of Music, assisting them with the process of preparing parts for their orchestral pieces to be premiered by the Danish National Symphony Orchestra during the PULSAR festival. The results of the collaboration are three short works for symphony orchestra demonstrating the new generation’s take on symphonic works. 

Martin Stauning: Burlesque (2016)
When “Burlesque” was premiered, Politiken’s critic emphasized the young composer’s impressive understanding of writing for a symphony orchestra. The work consists of three movements, and in a conceptual play with the rituals of the concert situation. The third movement simply consists of the applause of the audience.

James Black: Ground Moves: (2015-16)
The composer describes “Ground Moves” as follows: “The work is rhythmic, melodic, at times sentimental, but more often aggressive. I have been interested in working with trance states and our perception of time, and how a short time can seem to be a long time (or vice versa) if you can get engrossed in musical material.” 

Aya Yoshida: Double Face (2015)
Aya Yoshida is often inspired by fashion, and this is reflected in the titles of her works. “Double Face” means a reversible piece of clothing, and inspired by that concept, the climax of this piece is in the very beginning.

Read a short interview with James Black and Aya Yoshida. 

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