Carrying music as a delicate flower

23 March 2022

Looking back on the Thorvaldsdottir concert by the Ensemble Academy
The Ensemble Academy (EA) is a Master Specialization that consists of a stable contemporary music ensemble of the Royal Conservatoire, formed by Master students. All through the year, EA students are guided into the contemporary repertoire and general skills by teachers of the Royal Conservatoire and professional guests. The EA year calendar is rich in exciting projects.

On the 26th of January, for example, students of the Ensemble Academy gave a concert with music by the Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottír. Caterina Beve​gni, the Coordinator of the Ensemble Academy and Porter Ellerman, an EA-student look back on the project.

The program consisted of 3 pieces by Thorvaldsdottir: Ró, Spectra and In the light of air.

String players of the Ensemble Academy during a rehearsal.

Porter: ‘I really enjoyed the process of putting these pieces together. Contemporary composers are becoming much more comfortable exploring the total sonic possibilities of each instrument and Anna Thorvaldsdottir's music is a great example of this. Every instrument in the ensemble has to find a solution to play these extended techniques, some of which are very tricky to reliably perform, requiring us to practice just that one motion or sound like you would prepare an excerpt for an audition.

'Every instrument in the ensemble has to find a solution to play these extended techniques.'

I have not experienced her music before, so to jump into her music was quite shocking. It is as if you're exploring landscapes and nature through music. I really liked her concept of carrying a flower delicately in order to not disturb it, as a metaphor for how to perform her music. It can be intensely beautiful, but must be confidently and performed with calm, even when incredibly quiet.’

Caterina: ‘Anna Thorvaldsdottir's music is indeed very special and beautiful, at the same time not immediate nor easy to perform as it deserves. For this project, it was necessary to plan many rehearsals to explore extended techniques, to research sound textures, to create the right balance between instruments, and finally to understand the "ecosystem of sounds" Thorvaldsdottír creates in her compositions.

Students were guided during the whole process by our teacher and Asko|Schönberg member Joseph Puglia, by New European Ensemble artistic director and violist Emlyn Stam, and veteran cellist of Asko|Schönberg Hans Woudenberg: to have them on board was with no doubt a great learning opportunity for EA students to get valuable insights and indications on each piece.’

Emlyn Stam
Emlyn Stam during the Gender in Composition Panel before the concert.

Porter: ‘It's an incredible opportunity to be able to work with professional musicians and ones who have played her music before too! Their experience and leadership often help to inspire more musicality simply by their presence, as many of us will react with how we play based on how they may play. We tend to play with more intent and confidence than if we were on our own or conducted even.

I am always so grateful that the Royal Conservatoire and the Ensemble Academy are able to bring in musicians from these professional groups to work with, as playing alongside them is perhaps the most effective learning experiences we get as aspiring chamber musicians of contemporary music.’