Always something violent with something fragile. Rune Glerup in interview

Photo: (c) IRCAM - DR With our 'Modern Music in Exile' concert coming up this Friday, our violinist Adam Cadell speaks to young Danish composer Rune Glerup (b. 1981) whose work La Rose Pulverisée we will be giving the Australian premiere of. We're pretty chuffed to be presenting the first ever performance of a work of Rune's in Australia. Come along and hear his amazing music!

Adam Cadell: Rune, since you are a Danish composer living far away from Australian shores, I fear few people would know much about your work here. Indeed I believe our performance of your piece La Rose Pulverisée is an Australian premiere. Could you please give us a brief introduction of yourself and your compositional endeavours up until this time?

Rune Glerup: My first impressions of contemporary music was of Danish contemporary music. 10-15 years ago, almost all contemporary music performed in Denmark was Danish. Fortunately this has changed since then, but at the time I felt a need to get to know what was happening elsewhere, and as old-fashioned it might sound, the internet was not what it is today, so it was more difficult to orientate oneself. That's why I left for Berlin when I was twenty-one, and later to Paris. I felt I had to leave Denmark to get a wider horizon. I think living abroad so much has made an impact on how I consider many things, and of course especially my music.

AC: You speak of your music as being minimalist in a way. To me, rehearsing your piece La Rose Pulverisée, it seems that in this piece you start with a larger idea, a more complex idea, and gradually pull it apart until the final movement is like the thematic material has been pulverised into dust. It’s almost as though the minimalism is a literal process within the piece, a minimising of the material during performance. Would you say this description represents well the process behind the piece? What would you say is the essence of your compositional process?

RG: Yes, in a certain way you can say my music is minimalistic, but it has very little to do with the American minimalism. It is minimalistic in the sense that I often tend to use a reduced and static material. I almost never use these large organic forms. Usually I define some elements that I can combine in different ways. I should say though, that La Rose Pulverisée is an earlier piece, and I'm not sure that the term "minimalistic" applies very well to it. It's a piece closer to the modernistic idiom influenced by surrealism, and you are right in your analysis that the piece begins with a large idea that gradually gets pulled apart. I was also interested in some contradictions, or a certain kind of inertia: The lyrical and violent in the image of a rose that gets pulverised, and the predominantly violent style of the writing, but for two very classical instruments that cannot produce that much sound. Always something violent with something fragile. You can find these oppositions in many aspects of the piece.

AC: Would you call your desire to “short-circuit” the known a subversive act? And is the known you are conducting a frontal attack on the traditions of Western classical music or a broader metaphorical notion of the known?

RG: I think the idea of short-circuiting interest me because if it's successful, it can reveal something new about what we thought we knew already. I think this is what happens when you invent something. You have all the known in front of you, and short-circuiting it - doing something you are not supposed to do with the material - can be a way to create this new aspect that was impossible to think before. You can apply this to musical thinking, but you can also apply it to everything else.

AC: You talk of abstract expressionists such as Jackson Pollock being an influence on your work. How important do you think the legacy of the post-war avant-garde is to contemporary composition?

RG: Pollock was an inspiration for one work in particular: a piece for cello and live-electronics. I think the avant-garde of the 1950's and 60's has been extremely important for the development of the musical thinking up until today because those composers - Stockhausen, Boulez, Cage among others - opened up a new world of possibilities. However, the world we are living in is post-modern, and we don't just have one singular development to focus on, but a multitude of things to take into consideration. We cannot say that there is only one true way. Therefore I would say that the legacy of the post-war avant-garde is very important, but there are many other things that are equally important.

AC: This upcoming Kupka’s Piano concert, at which we will perform the Australian premiere of your work La Rose Pulverisée, is themed around exile. Exile has been a potent state in which artists have produced great work throughout history – indeed some artists of the abstract expressionist era (Burroughs in Tangiers, Nancarrow in Mexico for example) are a good example of this. How relevant do you feel the theme of exile is to art in our current time in which millions of people live in forced exile, and is it something that you have or would like to address in your composition?

RG: I don't really think the theme of exile is so relevant to art itself in general, but only in particular situations where artists are living in exile. Of course, if an artist is isolated from the rest of the world, I'm certain the art he/she produces will be different from what others, who can always be updated on the latest development, produces. In that way exile can make a very big impact on the artistic result. In another way, I don't consider art as a kind of commentary to politics, and therefore I will say that I don't address political questions in my works, and I doubt that music is even capable of doing so.

AC: And lastly, other than yourself of course, which Danish composers should we be keeping our eyes and ears on?

RG: Well, I think there are actually many interesting composers in Denmak right now. Christian Winther Christensen, Nicolai Worsaae and Simon Løffler among others in the younger generation. And I would especially like to mention Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen from the older generation, who has enjoyed a growing reputation the last few years. I think his music and ideas deserve to be more known, also outside of Denmark.