The composer Anders Hillborg does the impossible and draws masses of public to concerts with contemporary art music. The festival in Stockholm with his music was a great triumph.
Music does not exist in a vacuum. Just like any other art it is a part of our time with all the implications of society, the art scene, technology, media etc. The composer Anders Hillborg show with perfect accuracy that the contemporary art music is highly relevant, while still struggling with preconceptions that is deeply unfair. In an interview I did with Hillborg in the music magazine Opus recently he says that when talking about contemporary music in Sweden people think it’s about someone saw oneself in the leg with a chainsaw. (From a legendary concert at the Museum of Modern art in Stockholm 1964.)
Though he is himself the best sign that the picture is about to change. The latest Composer Festival in Stockholm Concert Hall devoted to Hillborg and his music has been an artistic and public success. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in Stockholm with conductors such as Esa-Pekka Salonen, Sakari Oramo and Baldur Brönnimann has performed at the very highest level and the concerts have been sold out.
Hillborg is without doubt one of Sweden’s internationally most successful composers. In the United States, where he worked with Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic his music has been received with great acclaim from both audience and critics. Some years ago Berlin Philharmonic commissioned and premiered his piece Cold Heat. It was the first time that the Berlin orchestra asked a Swedish composer to compose music for them.
Polar Prize-winning soprano Renée Fleming and conductor Alan Gilbert, former head of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, now the leader of the New York Philharmonic both share a fascination and admiration for Anders Hillborg. They talked about doing a project together, which resulted in The Strand Settings, premiered at Carnegie Hall in New York last year.
Over twenty years ago I wrote that Anders Hillborg ”has the ability to, with a natural confidence of being part of musical history development, and from a traditional views absorb impressions of his own time – from art, latest computer technology, as well as rock and jazz music.”
It still applies. Moreover, he has further sharpened his tools. He can express exactly what he wants and make the orchestra sounds in ways we have never heard before. In the new piece Best Sampler, commissioned by The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Stockholm and premiered with Sakari Oramo at the festival’s last day, we are sucked into Hillborgs musical fantasy world. He has often called the orchestra a sound animal and now we are encounter sounds like from a snorting beast that constantly changes shape. Sometimes it’s intimidating, sometimes sweet. The orchestra heaves in deep breaths and take imaginary long strides like an animated giant in the fictional metropolis.
As always in Hillborgs music everything is perfect down to the smallest detail. The sound surface is like polished marble – smooth, hard, yet soft and appealing. As several of his earlier works – Eleven Gates, Liquid Marble, Exquisite Corpse, the violin concerto – I am sure that also Beast Sampler will be a repertory works and soon be played by other major international orchestras.
Take the chance to listen to it. The finale of the Festival was broadcast live on Swedish radio and can be heard here (Beast Sampler) begins at 9:40:
Here is clip with Cold Heat from a rehearsal with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra for a concert last year.