Swedish composer B Tommy Andersson is the Composer-in -Association for BBC NOW for the 2014/15 Season. His last big piece to be performed by them is a new commission from the BBC to be premiered at the BBC Proms on 3 September 2015.
Pan is the piece to be performed:
The music is inspired by the ancient Greek myths about the god Pan; the god of Nature, of the Wild, of Shepherds, and of Rustic Music. He is also known for his sexual powers and for playing the pan pipe. The large organ is used as an element in the orchestration. In a way, the organ becomes sort of a gigantic pan pipe, representing the god Pan.
Nordophile wanted to know about this Swedish music master who composes and conducts throughout the world.
B Tommy Andersson was composing music at the age of 11. At that point it was mostly small pieces for one or two violins, but he soon became interested in writing pieces on a larger scale. The first piece of Andersson’s music performed in public was the Prelude and Fugue in F major for organ, performed by Lars-Erik Bernvill in Sandhult Church, 20 May 1979.
At fourteen years old, he started to study orchestration with a local conductor in Borås, Jan-Anders Eriksson, who generously gave his time and advice to his young student. He also studied harmony and counterpoint with an elderly military band leader, Arne Ask. In the spring of 1980, a larger orchestral piece, Trolle-Ljungby Horn och Pipa, was performed by the local youth symphony orchestra in Borås. This, of course, inspired Tommy to learn even more about composition. During the Borås years, the local music school continuously commissioned him to write musical arrangements and he had many opportunities to listen to what he had composed or arranged.
During his high school years in Borås, he also studied composition with composer Sven-Eric Johanson in Gothenburg (1981—83). Andersson was quite productive during these years (writing about 25 compositions), considering that he also went through high school and in addition, played several instruments. The studies with Johanson focused on counterpoint in Palestrina-style (according to Knud Jeppesens textbook), twelve-tone technique (according to Ernst Krenek’s principles) and Paul Hindemith’s Unterweisung im Tonsatz.
In the course of his studies in the music teacher’s class in Stockholm, from the Autumn of 1983, he took composition lessons with Hans Eklund and Professor Sven-David Sandström. At first, he continued to compose regularly and received several commissions. During the years 1991—2001, B. Tommy Andersson was focusing on establishing his conducting career. That is the reason why so few pieces were composed during this period. Nevertheless, three larger works were created; the Horn Concerto, Apollo — the successful concerto for solo percussion and orchestra, written in 1995 for Markus Leoson, and Satyricon. Furthermore, quite a few arrangements, orchestrations, transcriptions for symphonic band and adaptations for chamber orchestra were made during these ten years.
Since the turn of the century, his music has increasingly attracted more attention and several larger pieces have been commissioned and performed. Among these, we find an opera, orchestral pieces, and choral pieces. In April 2009, the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra in Stockholm gave a festival entirely dedicated to the music of B Tommy Andersson. During four days, 24 of his compositions were performed in Stockholm Concert Hall. It was a great success, just like the CD Satyricon, which was released in 2009 and received highest possible acclaim from the critics.
• We are really interested in hearing how you first discovered your talent for composing and conducting? Do you feel the two go hand in hand with having such an understanding of music?
When I was eight years old, I was given the opportunity to learn to play an instrument in the local music school in the city Borås (a city situated 60 km west of Gothenburg), where I grew up. Like everybody else, I had to start with the recorder, but then I switched to the violin. In those days, all children were offered this possibility for free, which tells a lot about the kind of society Sweden was in the 1970’s. Had this not been the case, it is not at all certain that I would have come into the world of classical music, since there was no tradition of music in my family.
In the music school, I met several enthusiastic and inspiring people, who opened my eyes and ears to classical music. By coincidence, the municipal library happened to have a large collection of orchestral scores, a result of a donation, which I happened to notice. For me, the discovery of the connection between the music I listened to and the notation in the scores was exhilarating. I listened a lot to classical music on the radio, which gave me access to a wide repertory. The classical channel (P2) was a really fantastic thing for me, since in those days, prior to the easy access everybody has today through Internet, it was very expensive and difficult to get to hear the music you wanted to get to know. Before long I systematically borrowed the scores to the music that was broadcast, and I followed the music in the score as I was listening.
For some reason, this inspired me to try to compose my own pieces. In the beginning, when I was around eleven years old, it was small pieces for one or two violins, which I played together with my violin teacher. But one thing led to another, and shortly I tried to compose bigger pieces. Through the music school I received wonderful help from enthusiastic teachers to learn the craft and I was also given lots of opportunities to hear my music played, which is, of course, the ultimate inspiration to continue composing.
Before I left Borås, at age 19, for studies at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm, I had already been able to listen to many of my own pieces, also some orchestral works. By then, I had also conducted my own music on some occasions, and somehow it became clear that I had a talent for conducting.
My original intention was to try to become a professional composer. But in the early 1980’s, the prevalent style of new music was much more modernistic than I was comfortable with, and I realized that it would become tough for me to become successful as a composer, so after a while I put more time and energy into trying to become a professional conductor instead.
Times have changed, however, and since the mid 1990’s the scene for contemporary music is open to a wider spectrum of musical styles. Suddenly, my music has become increasingly appreciated and I have taken up composition again.
For me, the combination of being conductor and composer is really successful, since the two roles are closely related. I learn new things about music and composition every time I conduct, particularly during the rehearsals, and the experience as a conductor gives insights in music-making that is invaluable for a composer.
• Coming from Sweden how have you seen the arts appreciated and encouraged there?
Sweden is, like all the other Nordic countries, situated on the outskirts of Europe. Because of this, it took more time for cultural phenomena to reach us in the 18th and 19th centuries. As a result of this, it was not until the 20th century, particularly the second half of it, that a proper infrastructure for classical music was built up, in the form of several professional orchestras and opera houses.
The state support for art, theatre, literature, and music has been strong since WWII. It’s not until the last decade that neoliberal ideas has become involved in the discussion about cultural financing. Despite severe cuts in the culture budgets in many countries around the world, the cultural institutions in Sweden have so far remained rather intact.
• Can you tell us a little bit about your new commission for the BBC, Pan, which is to be performed at the BBC Proms September 3rd?
The piece is inspired by the ancient Greek myths about the god Pan; the god of Nature, of the Wild, of Shepherds and of Rustic Music. He is also known for his sexual powers and for playing the pan pipe. Pan is sometimes depicted as a rather small and not very attractive being, horned and goat-like. On the other hand, he could also be rendered as an imposing, beautiful, and seductive man, albeit with some characteristic features like horns and a tail. Regardless of his appearance, he is to be reckoned as a powerful force of nature. The word “panic” (Panikon) was used by the ancient Greeks to describe the feeling of fear that was incited to men and animals alike when they sensed that Pan was nearby.
The organ is used as an element in the orchestration and it becomes a gigantic pan pipe, representing the god Pan. The loud organ is a manifestation of the immense power that the god possesses, and at the same time the panic that he stirs around himself.
Despite rather illustrative musical characters, the music is by no means programme music in the sense that it tells a story. I have been influenced by several different representations of Pan, from old Graeco-Roman pictures and statues, paintings of Nicolas Poussin, and also more contemporary artwork, such as the images by the Italian painter Roberto Ferri.
• How did your relationship with the BBC come about?
It is a direct result of that the Danish principal conductor of BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Thomas Søndergård, likes my music. He wanted me to be Composer-in-Association with his orchestra for one year, and there we are.
• What do you have coming up after this?
In terms of composition, I’m working on a violin concerto right now. When it’s finished, it will be followed by a couple of choral works, and after that my second opera. Besides composing, I have several conducting engagements, and I am also Professor of Orchestral Conducting at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm.
Find out more about the BBC Proms, 3rd September BBC.co.uk/proms