Composer Highlight: Kristofer Svensson / by and Play

wistful Kris headshot.jpg

We are so close to the premiere performance of ‘Translucent Harmonies’, and we couldn’t be more excited! Kristofer is in town and we have been workshopping with him over the weekend, which is a process that we really cherish. It has been a joy to work on this beautiful new piece, and get a chance to work with him a second time (we worked with him back in 2016)! If you are in NYC you can see a little pre-concert talk with him on October 23rd at Scandinavia House at 7:30pm in the concert hall. Now, get to know him a bit more before then in this mini-interview!

aP: Tell us a little bit about your piece.

KS: The title in Swedish means  "by the stone wall, thought becomes flower". I wanted to create a similar kind of very simple delight that might appear when walking past a stone wall, seeing a flower, and at that moment leaving oneself and one's habitual passions behind to realize the non-separation between mind and flower. The last few years, I have been interested in musical listening experiences that are somehow related to how we might listen to sounds when not listening to music, such as when being in the forest, or being close to the water and listening to foghorns and waves through misty reeds.

aP: How did you become interested in just intonation?

KS: I arrived at Just Intonation (or 'defined intonation') from a few converging paths: I realized early on that equal temperament (or 'non-defined intonation') was the cultural and historical product of a set of particular aesthetic priorities that I did not share (I also thought it sounded rather poor); the movement and interaction of tones was one of the most important musical concerns of mine (much more so than, say, something like gestures); I was interested in meditation and intimate modes of listening; I was enjoying and studying various Asian traditional musics (most importantly the gǔqín). I guess I was also lucky that I met with Just Intonation (JI) early on in my compositional path, before I had developed a set of habits confined to the usage of non-defined intonation, and that I wasn't discouraged by the non-existence of other musicians working with JI in my surroundings, or with the mathematics involved. 

aP: What is your relationship to string instruments? Has it changed throughout your compositional journey?

KS: I try to, as many other composers, find a point where it becomes difficult to distinguish my own will from the will and intentions of the instruments themselves. For every piece I write and the more experience I get from the instruments, the more I move in this direction. I don't want to use the instruments for "my" purposes or to deliver my "Music" but rather the other way around: write music that delivers the instruments themselves. Ideally, this piece for andPlay is about the coming together of the violin-ness of the violin and viola-ness of the viola. Such an approach to instruments could, perhaps, be described as love. 

aP: What is a dream trip you would like to go on one day?

KS: It would be a blessing to one day be able to make a pilgrimage to the holy places of Tibet. I'd love to meet the mountain Gang Rinpoche (Kailash), approaching it from the Rakshastal lake. 

aP: Ideal snack food?

KS: I don't know about ideal, but I've just been spending six weeks on Java and have been snacking away on all the local chips called kripiks; I especially like the ones made from jackfruit (kripik nangka) because it's wonderful taste and because it's usually very dry so that I can eat it with my hands while working. 

aP: What is something that we must see/hear/taste in Sweden on our upcoming tour?

KS: I have been hearing all about Hannah's mania for zoos on previous andPlay trips, so I think a trip to the outdoors zoo Skansen in Stockholm to befriend some Scandi-animals (scandimals) would be fun. 

Check out more from Kristofer on his website (or take a look at some of dreamy pics on instagram @kristofer.svensson)!