Meet composer Anna Clyne

Ahead of our concert on 13 May, composer Anna Clyne tells us about her creative process, finding inspiration outside music and the piece she dedicated to her mother, Within her arms.

Read the full programme notes.

“One of the exciting things about each new performance of a work is that each conductor and orchestra will create their own interpretation and I love this”

You’re known as a composer who brings in different disciplines into your process, like painting and dancing. Can you describe your method when starting a new work?

I really thrive on collaboration so the compositional process will often begin with bouncing around ideas with my collaborators. Once a solid concept is in place, I almost always begin composing at the piano. Here I’ll find melodic or harmonic ideas that catch my ear, and from thereon begins the compositional process. If I am collaborating with, for example, a filmmaker, they will likely send their imagery for me to respond to. Or for a choreographer I might write a few minutes of music, create a MIDI mock-up, and send that to them for feedback as the piece unfolds. If I do not have a collaborator for a new work, I will often look to other sources for inspiration – from art to poetry. Sometimes I am asked to respond to music by other composers, such as for Beethoven’s 250th anniversary last season where I looked to his late string quartets.

You composed Within Her Arms in 2008, as an elegy to your mother. How do you look back on it now, over ten years later; has its meaning evolved for you?

I am always very grateful to hear this piece performed live and I still feel as connected to this music as I did when I wrote it back in 2008 after the unexpected death of my mother. When I listen to it, it conjures memories of her, which is a special and unique quality of this piece. It’s not so much that the meaning has evolved but that it remains a very personal piece and one that often connects with audience members.

What is it like to listen to a programme that includes your own compositions? Are you ever surprised by other people’s approaches to your score?

It’s always very exciting to hear my music come to life in the context of programmes with a range of music. One of the exciting things about each new performance of a work is that each conductor and orchestra will create their own interpretation and I love this. Changes in musical elements such as tempo, phrasing and dynamics can alter the delivery and experience of music and sometimes this will also inform revisions to a work at a later date – musical compositions are living, breathing things!

You often write music for friends and close collaborators, people with whom you have a relationship. What is it like composing for an orchestra you might not know as well, do you find it freeing or rather impersonal?

If I am writing music for an orchestra that I do not know, I will sometimes ask to connect with musicians from the orchestra to get their feedback on certain passages. I find that musicians are generally agreeable to this collaborative approach and that it makes for a much more personal experience, and often a stronger piece.

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