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INTERVIEW | Composer Anna Clyne Talks About Music & The Canadian Premiere Of Glasslands By NAC Orchestra

By Anya Wassenberg on May 21, 2024

Composer Anna Clyne (Photo: Christina Kernohan)
Composer Anna Clyne (Photo: Christina Kernohan)

Anna Clyne’s composition Glasslands will receive its Canadian premiere on June 19 in Ottawa with the National Arts Centre Orchestra and conductor Alexander Shelley. The composition is a co-commission of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, BBC Radio 3, the National Arts Centre Orchestra, Artis-Naples, Naples Philharmonic and the Orquesta Sinfónica de Castilla y León.

From the Composer’s Notes: “Glasslands conjures an imaginary world of three realms governed by the banshee — a female spirit who, in Irish folklore, heralds the death of a family member, usually by wailing, shrieking, or keening in the silence of the night.”

We spoke to Anna Clyne about composition, career, and the work that had its world premiere in Detroit in 2023.

Anna Clyne, Composer

Anna Clyne has been named one of the top ten most performed living composers in the world, and the most performed living woman British composer in 2022 and 2023. Beyond the headlines, it means her work has been heard by audiences across the globe — including in some of its most respected institutions, like Carnegie Hall, the Barbican, Philharmonie de Paris, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, and many others.

She is known for her many collaborations, including working with pop icon Nico, as well as multi-disciplinary projects. Along with Jess Gillam, she has collaborated with noted artists such as Jess Gillam, Jeremy Denk, Martin Fröst, Pekka Kuusisto, and Yo-Yo Ma.

Anna often writes works that are choreographed for dance productions, including the Royal Ballet’s world premiere of choreographer Pam Tanowitz’s dance set to Breathing Statues in London. Her projects often involve visual arts, such as Color Field, which was inspired by the work of artist Mark Rothko.

Anna’s work veers from acoustic to electroacoustic, depending on the project. The Augmented Orchestra, which Clyne is developing with sound designer Jody Elff, explores the use of technology. The AO premiered in performance in 2023.

This past season (2023-2024), Clyne held the position of Composer-in-Residence with the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra as part of their Artistic Team; as Composer-in-Residence at the BBC Philharmonic, and as Artist-in-Residence with Symphony Orchestra of Castilla y León.

The Interview

Clyne says she knew she wanted to be a composer at a very young age.

“I started composing when I was seven,” she says. She recounts that friends of the family had gifted them with a piano, albeit with a few keys missing at the top. She began to write music not long after.

“It’s just something that I’ve always loved,” she adds. Still, it didn’t necessarily follow that she’d pursue it as a profession. That revelation came later on.

Anna says she was studying as an undergraduate in Edinburgh, and took advantage of third-year exchange program to study at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario under award-winning Canadian composer Marjan Mozetich. She went on to a Master’s at the Manhattan School of Music, and makes her home in NYC today.

“Coming out of that degree program really put me on that road,” she says.

With a varied style and output, it’s difficult to pinpoint a single style or genre when it comes to her work. “I put it under the bracket of contemporary music,” she says, also noting the many collaborative projects. “There are lots of external influences.”

Purely acoustic or with live electronics, the choice is always dictated the project itself — with one possible common thread. “Melody is increasingly at the heart of my music.” Anna notes that her own musical influences and background include exposure to pop, folk, and jazz, Pink Floyd and Fleetwood Mac along with Beethoven. “That sense of melody is important to me.”

At the moment, she’s devoting a lot of time to developing Augmented Orchestra, and a performance with live electronic processing, dance and theatre to take it to the next level. “I’m definitely looking at lager scale project.”

Composer Anna Clyne (Photo: Jennifer Taylor)
Composer Anna Clyne (Photo: Jennifer Taylor)

Glasslands, Clyne, Anna (2022)

The 25-minute piece is written for orchestra and saxophone soloist, specifically Jess Gillam, who premiered the piece last year with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and conductor Han-Na Chang.

“I’m very drawn to folklore and mythology,” Clyne says, noting that through her grandmother, she has a connection to that heritage.

She has written concertos for several instruments, including the cello. “I’m a cellist,” she says.

Clyne’s cello concerto DANCE was recorded by soloist Inbal Segev in 2020 with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Marin Alsop. The recording has racked up more than 11 million plays on Spotify.

For other concertos, Anna enjoys the prep work, which involves getting to know the instrument, and talking to the soloist. “I wanted to know, what is the lowest note you can reach first,” she says. As she points out, the highest note often depends on a player’s skill. She’ll go through various aspects of technique, including, as with the saxophone, alternate fingerings and other details.

Did the instrument in this case have a bearing on Glassland’s folkloric theme? “It’s very piercing,” she acknowledges. “It’s the connection with the cry of banshees in the night.”

Compositions

“I’ve been writing a lot of concerti,” she says. Her piano concerto ATLAS was premiered by the Dallas Symphony and soloist Jeremy Denk in March 2024. “The next logical step is a concerto for orchestra.”

She used social media to recently announce Palette, a new project for augmented orchestra. The movements are titled Plum, Amber, Lava, Ebony, Teal, Tangerine, and Emerald, and she will be producing seven paintings, one to go along with each.

It will be a 35-minute work, consisting of seven movements of five minutes each. Each will explore the relationship between sound and colour.

Both the paintings and the music will explore the concepts of colour, texture, and gesture through the emotions she attaches to each. The St. Louis Symphony will premiere the piece on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2025, performed by the orchestra with custom software that allows for real time augmentation.

“I’m also an artist,” she says. “It’s very much a symbiotic process between the music and the art.” Collaborations and projects like it break down the barriers we’ve set up between disciplines. “They’re all connected.”

Ottawa Concert Dates

“I think people really connect with music that has a strong melodic core in it,” Clyne says of her work and its worldwide popularity. “It’s always there, whether it’s obvious or not.”

Ottawa audiences will get a chance to hear Glasslands first in the country. The program also includes ᓂᔭ niya (I Am) by Winnipeg composer Andrew Balfour, and Beethoven’s perennially popular Ninth.

With a combination of virtuosity and upbeat charisma, British saxophonist and BBC radio broadcaster Jess Gillam has created a unique profile in the music world. She was the youngest soloist to perform at the prestigious Last Night at the Proms broadcast, and the first saxophonist to sign an exclusive contract with Decca Records.

  • Find more information on the Ottawa concerts with the National Arts Centre Orchestra and conductor Alexander Shelley on June 19 & 20 [HERE].

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