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Interview – Psappha gave me free hands to do whatever I wanted to do

Since his residency with Psappha in Manchester last year Icelandic composer and pianist Halldór Smárason has not stopped. This summer he’s been touring Iceland with a male vocal quartet and recently got selected among two other composers to write a new piece for the Iceland Symphony Orchestra through the Yrkja residency programme. As if that was’t enough, this autumn he will head to a studio in Gothenburg to record an album with his art collective – Errata Collective before heading to Finland where his work will performed at the Ung Nordisk Musik Festival. We asked him few questions on his experience as composer in residence with Psappha Ensemble.

Why did you apply and what did you expect from the project?

I was graduating from my master’s studies in composition when I saw the call for composers and found the opportunity extremely interesting. I was excited to both work abroad professionally and get the chance to work with world-class musicians. I was expecting a good performance and a recording, but the real experience went way beyond my expectations. I was treated extremely well, worked closely with the ensemble and made great contacts, received a fantastic performance and highly professional audio/video recording and have stayed in touch with the ensemble and the curators.

How did you find using literature as inspiration for the work and how did you approach that?

I found working with Anthony Burgess’ legacy a very interesting starting point. After going through an extensive amount of Burgess’ personal belongings, including handwritten poems, camcorder recordings, musical sketches and instruments I decided to base my piece on video footage from one of Burgess’ numerous interviews on American television – where acoustic music and quotes from the interview echo each other to create a unity.

How did the residency/travel experience add to your work?

Travelling abroad and meeting the ensemble and the curators, getting instant feedback on my ideas from the early stages of the work, as well as receiving answers to both practical and artistic questions had significant influence on my work. It also gave me a boost of confidence in the piece itself, and somehow made the process more alive and almost tangible.

What should our future composers know about being sent abroad to work with your ensemble?

I enjoyed immensely working with Psappha. The workshop, rehearsals and performance supported my development as a composer significantly, as I gained much professional experience and was able to try out things with the group that I hadn’t done before. Their professional and positive attitude gave me free hands to do whatever I wanted to do and really helped me developing as an artist.

Moving Classics seeks to reach and engage new audiences for contemporary classical music – What do you believe are the main challenges of that for a composer?

While it’s extremely important to reach new audiences in the contemporary field, this doesn’t mean that as a composer you have to make music or art that everyone likes. I think it’s essential to remember to let the pressure of reaching new audience not make a direct impact on the creative process of the piece. To me, the essence of the work always has to come from the artist himself/herself.

In your opinion, what are some of the greatest challenges faced by young composers of today, and what can be done to overcome them?

I think the biggest challenge is the one described above, how do we get more people engaged in contemporary art? We live in very exciting times where the smallest ideas can travel around the world in seconds, and this notion is something that I think contemporary artists could use more frequently and take further. Larger groups of audience can therefore be reached easily through social media, but only if the material they present is interesting enough. One of the most successful ways of presenting new music today, I think, is through music videos. This can easily be done and distributed online.


We have an open call for composers 2016!

Moving Classics – European Network for New Music invites young and mid-career European composers who have achieved national impact to develop & perform new compositions internationally. A second Moving Classics Call for Composers now open – Application deadline: 16 of August (midnight)Go to application.

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