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Anna Clyne

Introduction by Paul Griffiths

"My passion is collaborating with innovative and risk-taking musicians, film-makers, visual artists and, in particular, choreographers. Creating new works through a fluid artistic dialogue has consistently fueled my music from new perspectives and has maintained a fresh and exciting creative environment. Inspired by visual images and physical movement, my intention is to create music that complements and interacts with other art-forms, and that impacts performers & audiences alike." —Anna Clyne

           It would be easy to think of a piece by Anna Clyne as a landscape with a strange machine in one corner, or perhaps as a strange machine generating a landscape. It is the immediate sense of a scene – a scene of danger, perhaps, a scene of desire, a scene of memory. And it is how all these things, so human, are manifested by something manifestly artificial: a sound world aglow with electronics. And it is how that dichotomy, of human and artificial, is at once and constantly challenged. How can we think, in the twenty-first century, that circuits are different in kind from wooden boxes with strings stretched across them?

            Narrative force is a key point, too – how the music tells a story, and takes us with it as it does so. This, as much as Clyne’s collaborative disposition, is what has made her contacts so fruitful with artists in the domains of dance, theatre, and film – though there is something also in her creative personality that inclines her music to spill over into other art forms. A fascinating clip posted by the Chicago Symphony shows her working on her orchestral piece Night Ferry with, tacked to the wall, a collage of her own making, in which a broad line snakes through color fields and Gustave Doré illustrations. Image is part of this music as well as narrative.

            And yet what she creates is, after all, music, and its stories and images are first and foremost musical: stories and images about the orchestra, about the violin (Prince of Clouds, her concerto for two solo violins and strings), about the string quartet (Primula vulgaris). And though a lot of her pieces involve electronics, a lot, too, are thoroughly traditional in their resources. Night Ferry, Prince of Clouds, and Primula vulgaris, all works of the last five years, are significant examples.

            Born in London in 1980, Clyne has effectively been a U.S. composer since she moved to this country in 2002 to take a master’s course at the Manhattan School, where her teachers were Julia Wolfe and Nils Vigeland. She found many of her early opportunities in downtown venues in New York, and has retained a foot there while, since 2011, pursuing an association with the Chicago Symphony, which next month gives the first performance of her violin concerto The Seamstress, with Jennifer Koh as soloist. A portrait CD on the Tzadik label includes several of the pieces on tonight’s program.


Program Notes by Anna Clyne

Fits + Starts for amplified cello and tape (2003)

            Fits + Starts was commissioned by the Hysterica Dance Co. of  Los Angeles. The original tape version was premiered at the DUMBO Dance Festival, New York, in 2003, and the live version was premiered by cellist Benjamin Elton Capps at Greenfield Hall, New York, in 2004. The tape part comprises acoustic recordings of harpsichord, cello, and viola, which have been layered, manipulated, and transformed to create a backdrop for the solo cellist. (AC)


1987 for bass flute, bass clarinet, violin., cello, and tape (2008)

            Memories tucked away and tangled in threads of beads in the corner of her glass box. The tape part for 1987 comprises a melody and winding sounds from a music box that my father gave my mother in their early days of courting, and the sounds of the carousel and pebbles at Brighton Beach in the South of England – a place of fond memories. The vocals were recorded by engineer Alan Labiner with vocalists Caleb Burhans and Martha Cluver at Carfax Abbey Studios, Brooklyn.

           1987 was commissioned and premiered by the Seattle Chamber Players at “Ice Breaker IV: The American Future,” a concert curated by Alex Ross at On the Boards, Seattle. (AC)


Rapture for clarinet and tape (2005)

            Rapture was composed for Australian clarinetist Eileen Mack and was premiered at Symphony Space in New York City with live visuals created by Joshue Ott and his custom program, superDraw.

            In performance, the live clarinetist is processed in real time with a combination of effects often associated with electric guitars; namely distortion and reverb. The transformed sound of the clarinet is supported with an intense tape part that comprises vocal recordings and recordings of Mack playing sounds that range from sustained tones to multiphonics. In a similar process to painting, these recordings were then spliced, manipulated and layered to create the music of the tape part. (AC)


from As Sudden Shut for three female voices and ensemble (2012-14)

1. As Sudden Shut

2. The Lost Thought

3. Postponeless Creature

           Set for three female voices and chamber ensemble, these are the first three of five poems by Emily Dickinson intended for a multi-disciplinary evening. The complete cycle is being created in collaboration with animators/visual artists, a choreographer, and a librettist. There are moments in the music where room is left for the other elements to be explored, and this balance will likely be further exaggerated as the work develops to completion.

            Through the settings of these poems, Dickinson is portrayed alone in her room; a confined space wherein magical worlds are imagined, remembered, and incarnated. They breathe into the space, and bleed through the walls and windows to the sky. The instrumentation was selected to create an intimate unveiling of, and window into, Dickinson’s world.

            On the surface, the two opening movements are marked by simplicity and a sense of playfulness, through lilting melodic cells and buoyant rhythms, but with a sinister undertone always lurking and never too far away. At moments, the music fractures to reveal more chaotic passages or outbursts, guided by the text, both the image and the articulation and sound of the words. Pre-recorded electro-acoustic layers are eventually incorporated within the chamber ensemble, as the depths of the poet’s psyche are unveiled.

            After writing her poem “The Lost Thought,” Dickinson revised it, capitalizing key words, adding her signature dashes, which would often indicate missing words or gasps, and even changing words, most notably replacing “reach” with “Sound.” These revisions dramatically alter the poem, both in meaning, and also in terms of how the poem appears visually on the page and how it is heard in recitation. Dickinson went on to write another, much more dramatically different version of this poem ten years later, at the request of her sister. It is the first two versions that are explored in this setting.

            The incredibly eerie poem “Postponeless Creature” is set sparsely to create space for the other visual and staging elements to be explored. (AC)