Text: Andrew Mellor
Do you ever feel like you’re constantly being asked what’s most important to you? That you’re perpetually pushed to define your own priorities and act on them? Yes, that’s the narcissistic world we’re in. Thankfully there’s art to remind us that it isn’t all about us…even when, actually, it is. Musica Nova 2021’s resident composers take their responsibilities in that regard seriously. It has been noticed: both are recipients of the prestigious Ernst von Siemens award.
Simon Steen-Andersen was born in Denmark, lives in Berlin and studied in Aarhus, Copenhagen, Freiburg and Buenos Aires. He is known for theatrical, choreographic works including the symphony/puppet-show mashup Black Box Music and the piece in which he literally plays a building, Run Time Error.
As a composer, Steen-Andersen encourages us to look at the whole world in his works, in the hope that we’ll see it a little differently as we do. He takes notated ‘music’ out of its abstract paradigm, making it visible, relating it to the everyday, helping us fathom the gulf that seems to exist between the avant-garde of today and that of two centuries ago.
Lisa Streich, on the other hand, invites extreme reflection. She was raised in Sweden and Germany and trained as an organist and composer in Berlin, Stockholm, Salzburg, Paris and Cologne. She now lives on the Baltic island of Gotland, where she self-builds contraptions that can play acoustic instruments without the aid of human hands.
Streich’s music creates miniature lands of the imagination, infused with beauty, spirituality and fantasy. Its occasional hard contrasts only serve to emphasize what’s left in the spaces between – the stillness after the storm, the beauty of restraint. We get plenty of perspective along the way.
Steen-Andersen could be described as a theatre director masquerading as a composer. Each of his pieces pursues a single idea, made manifest in music, sound, film, physical performance and more. Action is always material: the fundamental ingredients of a piece like Study #2 are the physical movements of its two musicians. The sound they make is just one manifestation of the processes, but only a composer could ensure that sound is so perfectly timed.
In the miniature domains conjured up by Lisa Streich, total aural focus is everything. Detail reigns supreme, from colour-matching across the orchestra to deep consideration of exactly how a bow should be drawn across a string. As the guitar concerto Augenlider taps, plucks and exhales, it reminds us that we all form part of this beauteous world, simply by existing.
Andrew Mellor is a journalist, critic and Nordic music specialist based in Copenhagen, where he writes about music, architecture, design and travel for publications in the UK, USA and across the Nordic and Baltic region. He is a juror for the International Opera Awards and a regular guest on BBC Radio 3’s Record Review.
Photo: Christian Vium