Over the years Hvoslef has written chamber music for a variety of ensembles. Now that it is to be recorded – a first for most of the works – audiences at the 2013 Bergen International Festival will have the pleasure of attending the start of the recording project: a series of concerts presenting the music to be recorded later in the year.
Hvoslef has used the opportunity to give many of the pieces a little brush-up. He does not subscribe to the view that a completed work should be left alone. On the contrary, he constantly tries to improve his music.
‘The Percussion Quartet in particular will almost be a new premiere. I hardly ever hear my work performed without finding weak points. I patch, paste, cut and mend,’ he says of his way of working.
A keyword is balance: balance between instruments and balance in how much to instruct performers in the score.
‘Unbalanced information can create difficulties for musicians who reproduce the music. Experience teaches us that an instrument may sound very different in different registers, and may sound completely different in different concert halls. I am interested in balance because my music is so transparent. It is essential that what is said is clear,’ he says.
Those who have followed Ketil Hvoslef’s career often emphasise his versatility. He has composed for everything from pop band to drum band, from opera to television music. He claims that he repeats himself just as much as other composers, but that people fortunately rarely notice that he does so.
‘The ensemble that I write for limits the language I can bring into the situation. Creation demands limitations. Without limitations you have nothing to struggle against,’ he believes.
The only first performance in the series, a piece for solo violin, is for instance based on unused material from a composition for military band. ">‘When you notice that something is unsuitable for wind band, it is quite natural,’ Hvoslef claims, ‘to think it may be suitable for violin, which is probably the closest you can get to the opposite of a military band. The background of a composition may be that simple.
‘I am an intuitive composer, without too many philosophical musings behind what I do. Any unusual combination of instruments gives me ideas. Not only sound, but also sight: I often imagine the performance situation. I am also very open to signals from outside while I am composing. Once I was sitting on the bus, looking at an empty plastic bottle someone had dropped in the aisle. As it rolled back and forth, I wondered when it would roll down the steps by the door. The tension when you are sitting waiting for something to happen is a phenomenon I later tried to recreate in music.
The concert series consists of pieces for a variety of instrumentations: strings, percussion and wind. Several of the pieces are for instruments in the same class; in them Hvoslef tries to use them as a composite body, but with different ‘cracks in the joints’, as he puts it. After the premiere of the Trombone Quartet a member of the audience said he thought an air-raid alarm had gone off. ‘In that case, the Flute Octet may remind some people of a smoke alarm,’ says the composer. The artistic directors of the project, Ricardo Odriozola and Einar Røttingen from the Grieg Academy, are responsible for putting the repertoire together.
‘These two men are of unique importance to culture in Bergen. The concert programme is supposed to be varied for the audience. I am myself always least nervous about what the musicians do, and most nervous about how the music goes down with the audience. I hope to be able to be satisfied with my own efforts. That’s how self-centred I am!’ says Ketil Hvoslef.
Interview: Kjerstin Gjengedal
English version: Roger Martin