(UK) World Premiere · Allan Gravgaard Madsen · Ouvert' · Interview

In Ouvert’, Allan Gravgaard Madsen makes music out of elements that usually take place before the first notes are even played – without the audience paying much attention. The work will be premiered by the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra on Thursday 1 October and initiates an extensive collaboration between the orchestra and the composer. 

Photo: Malthe Folke Ivarsson

Ouvert’ is taken from the word ‘overture’, i.e. opening”, says Allan Gravgaard Madsen. “My task here was to make a small mini-starter for a concert, and I thought it might be fun to look at what the musicians are actually doing: they come in, they sit down, they open the score, they tune their instruments, the conductor enters the stage, and THEN the music begins.” Allan Gravgaard Madsen has focused in particular on the opening of the sheet music. The musicians do this repeatedly in a musical choreography across the entire orchestra, with the movement and sound of the page-turnings making up the music itself in the first few minutes of Ouvert’

“When the musicians finally pick up their instruments, they only play on their open instruments”, Gravgaard Madsen continues. “The wind instruments are converted into open tubes that the musicians breathe air through, the strings play only on the open strings. Later, as the piece develops and tones begin to appear, only open intervals like fifths are played – and just as the work is about to open up, it ends abruptly in a lovely large A major chord.” 

Allan Gravgaard Madsen acknowledges that it might be a little upsetting that some of the musicians hardly play their instrument at all during the piece, but at the same time he believes that a symphony orchestra can accommodate it all. “I am deeply fascinated by the way that 70 to 110 individuals somehow dissolve into the orchestra and become one large organism with the goal of conveying something to an audience”, he says, and continues: “I like to work with the solo and group dynamics of the orchestral sound, as a kind of foreground and background. Just like playing with the spatial aspects of the orchestra itself is exciting. That’s what I do in Ouvert’. I try to make something that can show the orchestra in a different light than that we are used to. Both as a musician and as an audience. I hope they understand that intention”, he says, adding: “And of course I will be there to take it if they think it’s stupid.”

“Now I may be revealing too much about the elements of the piece, but it ends on an A major chord quite abruptly, and out from that chord the first oboe hangs on with the tone A. A tone that you might recognise from the tuning ritual that usually initiates a concert. In Ouvert’ there is also a tuning ritual, and following that the orchestra goes straight to the next work, which in the case of this concert is Beethoven’s 7th symphony – which starts with an A major chord. Hopefully the audience will hear Beethoven’s first ‘A major’ as part of my work or as an echo from it, before they realise that it is actually Beethoven. It may not work out that way, but I like to play with the audience’s expectations and if I could trick them just a little bit, that moment of realisation is all worth it.” 

As mentioned, Ouvert’ marks the beginning of an extensive collaboration between Allan Gravgaard Madsen and the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra. He is composer in residence 2019–2022 and will write a total of four works for the orchestra. “As a composer, I am privileged in that in recent years I have established close and long-lasting collaborations with ensembles and now with Aarhus Symphony Orchestra. This gives us the time and opportunity to explore things together. It is especially in contact with the musicians and their professionalism that I learn the most.” 

The next time it says ‘Allan Gravgaard Madsen’ on the music stands of Aarhus Symphony Orchestra, it will be quite different from Thursday’s initial Ouvert’. He is currently writing a Concerto Grosso for string quartet and orchestra, which the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra will premiere with the American JACK Quartet as soloists in 2022.

Allan Gravgaard Madsen: Ouvert'
Aarhus Symfoniorkester
Thursday 1 October · Symfonisk Sal, Musikhuset Aarhus (DK)
Friday 2 October ·  Viborg Katedralskole (DK)