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Composer Anna Clyne interviewed by Barry Mitchell

December 2, 2020

London-born Anna Clyne is a Grammy-nominated composer of acoustic and electro-acoustic music. Clyne’s work often includes collaborations with cutting-edge choreographers, visual artists, filmmakers, and musicians.

Clyne has been commissioned by a wide range of ensembles and institutions, including BBC Radio 3, BBC Scottish Symphony, Britten Sinfonia, Carnegie Hall, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Houston Ballet, London Sinfonietta, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Seattle Symphony, and the Southbank Centre.

From 2010–2015, Clyne served as a Mead Composer-in-Residence for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Music Director Riccardo Muti lauded Clyne as “an artist who writes from the heart, who defies categorization, and who reaches across all barriers and boundaries. Her compositions are meant to be played by great musicians and listened to by enthusiastic audiences no matter what their background.” Clyne serves as the mentor composer for the Orchestra of St Luke’s DeGaetano Composer Institute. Clyne is currently serving a three-year residency as Associate Composer with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, through the 2020-2021 season. The residency includes plans for a series of new works commissioned over three years.

Clyne’s latest album release is Mythologies

Opening up with a question about Mythologies

1. In your violin concerto The Seamstress (one of the tracks on Mythologies), what attracted you to the poem used in the piece and why did you have the text spoken instead of setting it to music?

I have been fond of this poem for a while and the Irish connection suited this piece, and it provided a structure for the work. Whilst it is a one-movement work, it has clear sections marked by the lines of the poem. The musical voice in this work is the solo violin, hence I chose to have the text spoken.

2.  The pieces in Mythologies I would describe in broad terms as tonal: is that a fair description of your approach to melody and harmony?

Yes.

3. Do you make use of any of the traditional forms of tonal music such as sonata form?

I nearly always compose music using a through-composed method, though I do sometimes sketch out the structure of a work using notes, imagery, literature etc.

4. The Seamstress and Night Ferry in Mythologies are works that are over 20 minutes long: how long does it take you to write an orchestral work of this length?

It depends on the nature of the work. As far as I recall each work probably took about 4 months to compose. Sometimes I compose music very quickly (Sound and Fury in two weeks) and sometimes it takes more time (DANCE in nine months).

5.  When working on a complex symphonic work, such as those on the Mythologies album, do you make arrangements for two pianos or some equivalent?

I orchestrate as I compose. I have tried writing a short score in the form of two pianos, and a string reduction, but the orchestration is so integrated into the sound world, that I have found that it needs to be a fundamental part of the process from the very beginning.

6.  There are features of your work that remind me of Stravinsky’s Russian ballets and even Rimsky-Korsakov: are you particularly interested in Russian music?

Stravinsky is one of my most significant inspirations for orchestration.

7.  The earliest piece on Mythologies is Rewind from 2005: how do you feel when you listen to a piece you wrote 15 years ago?  What are you doing now that you weren’t doing then?

I remember elements of the process of writing Rewind such as sitting at the piano to find chords for the slow section, incorporating glitches from my out of date laptop, and exploring looping and delay effects through the orchestration. In Rewind I stay with one idea for the majority of the piece and I tend to jump around a bit more now – such as in This Midnight Hour.

8.  Do you think it is necessary for composers to keep developing their style?

I think it is important for composers to remain curious and to explore new techniques, which in turn can help in developing a unique voice or style.

9.  What are you working on at the moment?

I am currently working on two projects simultaneously. The first is a work commissioned by LA Opera for soprano and string quintet in collaboration with choreographer and filmmaker Kim Brandstrup – based on the poetry of Emily Dickinson. The second is a work commissioned by the Orchestra of St Luke’s for string quartet to accompany a film by artist Jyll Bradley.

10.  What are your plans for the future?

I am currently Associate Composer with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and I have two more orchestral residencies following that, which will take me through until 2026. I am exploring a new opera and have a few more concerti and orchestral works on the books.

11.  What instrument or instruments do you play?  What instrument that you don’t play would you like to be able to play?

My main instrument is the cello. I also play some basic piano (I compose at the piano). I play a bit of fiddle and I started learning the banjo this past Summer.

 

 

One Comment leave one →
  1. December 4, 2020 1:49 pm

    To me, nothing beats the piano for composition. Maybe because it’s simple to play? Even someone who doesn’t know anything about music theory can plink out a melody after an hour of practice.

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