Sebastian interviewed composer Andrew Smith about his Norwegian Requiem which features improvised parts for trumpeter Arve Henriksen. The London performance is on the 26th November at LSO St Lukes. The performers will be joined by the LSO St Luke’s Community Choir. More information and tickets HERE.
Sebastian Scotney: Can you just tell us something about yourself?
Andrew Smith: I’m a British-born composer and I specialise in choral music. I’ve written music for choirs in Norway, Europe and the US, and I’ve collaborated with ensembles like Trio Mediaeval (Norway) and New York Polyphony. I use a lot of influences from Gregorian chant and medieval music in my work, which is perfect for groups like the two I’ve just mentioned because their focus is on early and contemporary music. Sometimes I feel as though I’m recomposing the old music, bringing it forward a thousand years into a contemporary context.
SS: And you’re not Norwegian, right?
AS: I grew up on Merseyside and moved to Norway at the age of 14 with my parents and brothers and sisters when my father got a job there.
SS: What’s the piece about?
AS: It’s not so much about anything. The idea behind the piece was to create reflective spaces around the sung texts. A Requiem is a mass for the dead, and I wanted there to be space for contemplation. There are two contrasting ideas – the composed sections sung by the choir and Arve Henriksen’s improvised sections – two separate worlds that merge in and out of each other.
SS: Is there a story or have you followed the normal sequence of the Requiem?
AS: I’ve followed very loosely the structure of the Requiem mass but exchanged some of the texts for references to the suffering of children in the Bible – Rachel screaming at the abduction of her children by the Babylonians, Herod’s brutal infanticide after the birth of Jesus, and Mary crying at the loss of her son. After I had started work on the piece, the tragedy at Utøya took place and it was unavoidable that those events would influence the music in some way or other. Norway is such a small country that everybody knows somebody who was affected by the tragedy. So it felt very close. But I didn’t want to make it a political statement specifically about the Utøya tragedy and therefore the work is dedicated to child victims of conflict everywhere.
SS: What drew you to this story?
AS: Having grown up as a chorister I’ve sung a lot of sacred music and I’ve always been drawn to the music of Lent and Passiontide – the crucifixion of Christ, music of suffering. There’s something universally human about physical and emotional pain that we can relate to regardless of our religious views. And you can feel that in the music. So I’ve always known that sooner or later I wanted to write a Requiem.
SS: Have you written with particular performers in mind?
AS: Definitely. The whole idea for the Requiem came about because I had written a piece for Arve Henriksen and Trio Mediaeval in 2008. I wanted to try something on a larger scale and approached Arve and Nidaros Cathedral Girls Choir. Arve is an amazing musician. He brings so much to the music, the way he encourages and interacts with the other performers, and in the way he connects with the audience. Even though I didn’t notate the trumpet part, the whole work was conceived with the improvising in mind. Having written the choral and organ parts, I left Arve’s part open. Which gives the work more flexibility, and means every performance is different. And the result is something far better than anything I would have been able to write down. It’s the piece I dreamt of when I first started out.
SS: Tell us about Choralia
Andrew Smith: I’m thrilled about the forthcoming UK performances. Choralia, from Wells Cathedral School, is one of the leading girls’ choirs in England and I really look forward to hearing them together with Arve Henriksen and keyboardist Ståle Storløkken. The Requiem will be conducted by Choralia’s musical director, Christopher Finch. For the London concert the performers will be joined by the LSO Community Choir (an adult mixed choir), adding another dimension to the work.
Sebastian Scotney: Thank you so much for taking the time to do this, and all the very best for St Luke’s on 26th November. !
Read Alex Roth’s Review HERE