Anna Clyne, composer

Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?

My mentors have been significant influences on my musical life – in particular Marina Adamia, with whom I studied at Edinburgh University, and Julia Wolfe, with whom I studied at Manhattan School of Music. Both also introduced me to rich creative communities, such as Bang on a Can, which built a supportive foundation for my musical life and career as a composer. In 2005 I was a fellow at the Bang on a Can Summer Festival and here I met the Bang on a Can All Stars. Here they are performing A Wonderful Day, which I wrote for them as part of a field recordings project.

What have been the greatest challenges/frustrations of your career so far?

I love projects that challenge me to think about music in new ways, be it incorporating non-classical elements into an orchestral context, or integrating electronics in new and organic ways.

The Seamstress (for violin and orchestra) incorporates folk fiddling elements and pre-recorded and processed speech. Here is a recording with violinist Jennifer Koh and the BBC Symphony Orchestra led by Sakari Oramo:

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?

A commissioned work often incorporates specific elements, such as a soloist, collaborator or ensemble and I love the artistic dialogues that these spark. It could also be commissioned for a specific occasion, such as PIVOT which has been commissioned for the opening concert of the Edinburgh International Festival 2021 so for this I wanted to conjure the spirit and excitement of the festival and festivities.

An equally festive piece is Masquerade, which I composed to open the 2013 Last Night of the Proms – heard here with the BBC Symphony Orchestra led by Marin Alsop:

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles or orchestras?

When I am working closely with a musician it allows me an opportunity to really get to know that individual and the idiosyncrasies of their instrument. If I am writing an orchestral work, it is really helpful to work with the musicians from the orchestra – to share the music in progress and receive and incorporate their feedback.

I wrote Sound and Fury as part of my residency with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and their feedback was invaluable during the compositional process:

Of which works are you most proud?

Within Her Arms, a work for 15 individual strings, is my most personal piece. I wrote this music for my mother after her sudden death in 2008 and it is a piece that is frequently performed and connects with audiences.

Here is a performance with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra:

How would you characterise your compositional language?

I hope that my musical language is both accessible but also unpredictable – that I take the listener on an unexpected journey. This Midnight Hour is an example of a narrative work that takes the listener on a journey – performed here by the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra led by Ben
Gernon:

How do you work?

I almost always start at the piano – improvising until I find a melody or a harmonic progression that catches my ear. I then use the playback of my notation software to guide the pacing and development of this musical material. If I am writing an electro-acoustic piece that incorporates pre-recorded elements, then I will move between the written music and the recorded sounds. An example of an electroacoustic piece is Steelworks, performed here by contraBAND:

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

For myself, success as a composer is creating music that connects with others in a meaningful way.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians/composers?

To remain open to collaborating with musicians, artists, and people from a wide variety of cultures and genres.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences/listeners?

Music is an exciting, living breathing art form. Programming new music is equally as important as programming the great classics. Keeping programming relevant and representing the diversity of voices today is essential.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Composing music – getting lost in one’s imagination and losing sense of time is a magical experience.

BBC Symphony Orchestra with Dalia Stasevska give the world premiere of Anna Clyne’s PIVOT at the Edinburgh International Festival on 7 August 2021.


London-born Anna Clyne is a GRAMMY-nominated composer of acoustic and electro-acoustic music. Described as a “composer of uncommon gifts and unusual methods” in a New York Times profile and as “fearless” by NPR, Clyne’s work often includes collaborations with cutting-edge choreographers, visual artists, filmmakers, and musicians. In October 2020, AVIE Records released Mythologies, a portrait album featuring Clyne’s works recorded live by the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

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