Svend Hvidtfelt Nielsen turns 60

Svend Hvidtfelt Nielsen turns 60 and is celebrated with two portrait concerts this March. We spoke with Hvidtfelt about the new works written on occasion of the upcoming concerts, about turning 60, and about making a lot of noise just to enjoy the silence afterwards.

Read the interview in Danish here.

Svend Hvidtfelt Nielsen. Photo: Susanne Hvidtfelt Hansen

Svend Hvidtfelt begins the interview by puncturing the idea about the big, important birthday and the question whether turning 60 represents a milestone or calls for taking stock of your career. "I don't really feel that way. I mean - I am still on my way!" he says and adds: "Nevertheless I am very touched that Athelas and Århus Sinfonietta are planning these concerts." Milestone or not, Hvidtfelt traces a certain development in his own music, which he ascribes to age and experience.

Turning towards tonal
"The thing that tends to happen to all old composers is now happening to me," he tells. "I remember that we had quite a laugh when Lutoslawski and Penderecki started writing some rather tonal works in the 80's. Now I am starting to think that I am not the one who should write the very complicated works anymore. I prefer to write what I personally find more pleasing to the ear. It is still very contrapuntal but with far less dissonance," he explains. " So I am slumping - it is one long process of decline!" he laughs.

As a young composer, Svend Hvidtfelt was much more concerned about how his music would fit the new music scene. "Obviously when you are trying to make it as a composer, you want to write music like the one you hear around you. Music which will match certain ideas of the current developments in that environment," he tells.

Today he will rather write the music he wants to hear himself, and throughout the years he has developed his own characteristics as a composer, his own style. "There are certain things I do again and again, and if you do the same thing often enough, I guess one day you would call it a style," he reasons and concludes that the Hvidtfelt style is characterised by small melodic figures used repeatedly, distinct polyphony and often a movement towards a centre of silence which holds an important place in many of his works. "I care very much for pauses, I love silence, "he says and continues: "Some of my music builds up simply to make room for silence. This is why there is sometimes a lot of noise at the beginning of a piece because then it is even nicer when it stops."

Århus Sinfonietta

New works for Århus Sinfonietta and Athelas
Svend Hvidtfelt has written two new works for the upcoming concerts, and they contain lyrically tuneful as well as noisy aspects.

Alt imens (sommeren uafvendeligt går på hæld) (All the while (summer inevitably fades)) is commissioned by Athelas Sinfonietta, and Svend Hvidtfelt describes it as a small song for piano and ensemble. "The starting point was a small melancholy piano part derived from a single chord, that I was very captivated by," he says. "It is a polyphonic piece, and the other voices rise from the piano piece as independent movements, creating a counterpoint to it." As the title reveals, the piece is written in late summer, and the title refers to the popular song by CV Jørgensen, Sæsonen er forbi, (The Season is Over) and the sadness that a fading summer can cause. "The first part of the title, Alt imens, refers to another aspect of the piece - it keeps stalling over and over. There are small breaks as if you are waiting for something to happen. The piece breaks apart and starts over again," Hvidtfelt explains.

Begyndelser Og... (Beginnings And...) is written for Århus Sinfonietta and consists of two movements, that can be performed separately. "The atmosphere of the first movement, Begyndelser, is similar to that of Alt imens," Hvidtfelt tells. "It is lyrical and gloomy, and there is a sense that it starts over again and again - it is a lot of beginnings." The inspiration comes in part from a piece in the movie Youth, starting with a small violin solo with lots of breaks. "The motive from the violin solo is used again in the second movement, Og..., but in a completely distorted version. Where Begyndelser is a movement in delicate nuances, Og... is square, noisy and brutal - a large metal machine.

Athelas Sinfonietta. Photo: Christoffer Askman

Intuitive and logical
Svend Hvidtfelt Nielsen’s works span from solo pieces, choir works and chamber music to symphonies and operas. His music has been performed across the world and throughout his career Hvidtfelt has been awarded a number of prizes and awards. As if this was not enough he holds a position as organist in Mariendal Church, he teaches musicology at the University of Copenhagen and for the past 3-4 years he has been very interested in research of musical theory and has a yet unpublished book ready. “I am looking into the fundamentals of Danish harmonic theory from 1698 till now. It sounds pretty boring, but I’m telling you it is extremely interesting,” Hvidtfelt proclaims and stresses that he tries to keep his different lines of work separate from each other.

Thus it isn’t theories of harmonics guiding him when Svend Hvidtfelt composes a new work. “It is an elementary feeling,” Hvidtfelt says and continues: “I compose in a way where I listen a lot. I write something down and then I listen, and listen, and listen. And think. I know that I want certain elements here and there, and I might have a sense of the direction I want the piece to take, and then I will listen my way there. In that way you can say that I am very intuitive but I channel my intuition through logical lines of thought.

The portrait concerts take place in Aarhus with Århus Sinfonietta on March 4th and in Copenhagen with Athelas Sinfonietta on March 18th. Later this year a portrait CD will be released at Dacapo Records with recordings of Svend Hvidtfelt Nielsen's works performed by Århus Sinfonietta and Aarhus Symphony Orchestra. 

Århus Sinfonietta
Bjarke Mogensen, accordion
Jutlandia Saxofonkvartet
Henrik Vagn Christensen, conductor
Sunday, March 4 , 3 pm
Lille Sal, Musikhuset Aarhus
Read more

'Begyndelser' (2017) (World premiere)
'Ofelia danser' (2012)
'Og...' (2017) (World premiere)
'Ghostlands' (1997)

Athelas Sinfonietta
Henrik Vagn Christensen, conductor
Sunday, March 18, 4 pm
Johan Borups Højskole, Copenhagen 

'Sang for klaver og ensemble'  (2007)
'Dance and Detours' (2002)
'Alt imens' (2017) (World premiere)                
'4 Remix'  (2007)