“Composing is my life“

The composer Anna Thorvaldsdóttir in interview

Her music sounds as if from another world: atmospheric, mysterious, intense. The Icelander Anna Thorvaldsdóttir is considered one of the most interesting composers of our time thanks to her distinctive sound language. Following the European premiere of her orchestral work Metacosmos by the Berliner Philharmoniker in 2019 comes the world premiere of Catamorphosis, which will be streamed live in the Digital Concert Hall on 29 January under the baton of Kirill Petrenko. In our interview, Anna Thorvaldsdóttir reveals why she became a composer, what role nature plays for her, and what message her new piece conveys.

What made you decide to become a composer?
When I was little I was often making up songs and music without thinking about it as such, it was just quite a natural part of me to do so. When I was around 19 years of age I started to write down the music that I was hearing inside my mind. At that point I had also got to know more and more contemporary music and to experience new textures and sounds in music and I found that really intriguing. I almost feel like I did not really decide as such to become a composer but that it was deeply quite a natural part of my life.

Why is nature for you such a important inspiration for your music?
I believe growing up close to nature, like I did in Iceland, has probably helped to fuel the natural inspiration in my music and the way that I approach the creative process. There are so many interesting elements to draw as an inspiration from nature, such as proportion and flow, textures and structures. For me it is not about romanticising the inspiration, and not about trying to portray nature through music - nature can be powerful and dramatic and also subtle and nuanced and everything in-between and that I also find very inspiring.

How did you get the idea for Catamorphosis?
When I was initially starting to work on this piece, I was very inspired by the powerful energy of the Berliner Philharmoniker and their virtuosity, which I find really captivating. As I was starting to work on the music, the inspiration of our fragile relationship to the earth became more and more important. It started to fuel the energy of the music, particularly the urgency and intensity that comes with the fact that if things do not change, it is going to be too late, risking destruction. The core of the music circles around a distinct sense of urgency and orbits a vortex of emotions, driven by the shift and pull between various opposing forces. It's a very personal piece and a very personal reflection and it's quite a dramatic piece but also full of hope.

Your music sounds atmospheric, meditative and at the same time powerful. How do you manage to unite these opposites?
In my music I work a lot with fundamental harmonies and harmonic structures combined with ethereal textural of often non-pitched materials. I spend a lot of time working on and finding a structure for each work and to generate a sense of flow in and out of focus and between various atmospheres in the music. Orchestration naturally plays a big role in striking the balance between the materials in the overall structure. When I have a clear idea about what the music is and where it is going, I work on the music from all perspectives, from the tiniest details in each instrument to the whole overall structure of a piece, and on combining these into a whole that flows naturally from beginning to the end.

What emotions do you want to generate with your music?
It is perhaps not possible to decide what emotions it should generate in others. I believe that some of the emotions felt when writing the music will perhaps communicate in one way or another through the music. In Catamorphosis, which is quite an emotional piece, the core emotions in the music are generated by the balance between various polar forces: power and fragility, hope and despair, preservation and destruction. But ultimately the core of the piece is about the relationship between urgency and hope.