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Anders Hillborg. Photo credit: Mats Lundqvist

 

One of Sweden’s leading composers, Anders Hillborg is that rare artist whose music strikes a chord across many different countries and cultures. Born in Sweden in 1954, an early interest in electronic music developed from a beginning as a keyboard improviser in a pop band, but contact with Ferneyhough, and the music of Ligeti quickly led to a fascination with counterpoint and orchestral writing. Since then, Hillborg’s love of pure sound and the energy that he gives it, has appealed to many major conductors including Alan Gilbert, Sakari Oramo, Kent Nagano, and Gustavo Dudamel. Above all, his music is borne out of a refreshing stylistic freedom matched by an innate communicative ability. Hillborg’s sphere of activity extends well beyond the concert hall to embrace a wide range of Pop and Film music. In 1996 Hillborg won a Swedish Grammy for his work on “Jag vill se min älskade komma från det vilda”. The advocacy of Esa-Pekka Salonen has resulted in numerous works, including Dreaming River (premiered by the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra in 1999), Eleven Gates (2005–06) premiered and commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and most recently Sirens, a joint commission from the LA Philharmonic and Chicago Symphony Orchestra. With each passing year, Hillborg’s international reputation grows apace. His music has twice been the subject of a Royal Stockholm Philharmonic’s Composer Festival (1999, 2014) and most recently, in February 2020, the whole day of exploration of Hillborg’s music – Total Immersion Day – was held at the Barbican and Milton Halls (London) by BBC Symphony Orchestra.

We have met with Anders several times in Stockholm and London for various music occasions, and have done this interview by phone in May 2020.

Anders, was there a certain point in your life when you woke up as a boy or teenager and decided that composing was a thing for you?

(Laughs) No, I cannot really remember a certain crucial point… I started out very late  – I was first playing in a very bad pop group (laughs). And then it suddenly dawned on me that I wanted to do something more apart from playing three-minute love songs. So I started to sing in a choir, and that was really important, because it was when I started reading music. I got acquainted with larger forms at that time, too. So there was never a certain date when I decided to become a composer – it grew slowly and organically.

In what way is music better than any other forms of expression (talking, writing, potentially drawing) for you? What qualities in you does it bring out that no other means of expression can?

To begin with, I am absolutely lousy at drawing, I am so bad at it. Music seems to be a way of self-expression that suits me. What is so fantastic about music is that it is an autonomous language. It has nothing to do with semantics  – you can add a text, of course, but music itself is something very special. What I like most with music is the music itself, without extra-musical elements added to it. I have nothing against music and text, of course, but I enjoy music as it is most – the harmony, the melody, the rhythm, the form, those abstract things.

Now when you are who you are, do you think that all genres of music, even the ones you are not preferring yourself, have the right to exist? Can we call music everything that is out there, including hip-hop, metal and pop, or should we be considering only serious music as the Music?

Well, answering to a question formulated like that, surely everything has the right to exist (laughs). I can’t say that I’ve heard a lot of hip-hop and rap music that intrigued me. Most of it is bad… But there is good music everywhere, in all kinds of styles, you can always find good music in any idiom you choose. As I come from pop music myself, I don’t like to make distinctions between what Germans call ‘ernste Musik’ and popular music. In Sweden popular music has such a dominance that sometimes you want to say: «Look, there is other music also, there is not only ABBA and all those people, but others doing fantastic things in other areas». So, yes, any kind of music can be good.

Anders Hillborg and his composition class. From composer’s personal archive

When you studied music in Stockholm, apart from composition you also studied electronic music. Was it a special trend at the time or was it your conscious decision to venture into this field?

Well, the opportunity kind of presented itself, because we had a very good studio in Stockholm at the Royal Academy of Music. My friend who at first studied with me and then became my teacher was working with electronic music a lot. So I started doing that and it was very, very good for me – very liberating – because I came from a very conventional milieu. I had done pop music, sang in choir (mostly English music from the 19th century), while electronic music offered something completely different. It was difficult for me, because I am not good at machines and stuff like that, boys’ toys is not something that I am good at (laughs). However, I would say that the most important thing for me during Academy years was the study of counterpoint which, in my opinion, is the core of studying composition and electronic music also. Through studying it I realized that every sound can be music which I didn’t know before, as I was very conventional. So in that sense electronic music was very important. Now when I look back, I analyse the way I write for orchestra. I realize that it would not have sounded like that if I hadn’t spent a lot of time in the electronic music studio. It was a crucial experience.

As a composer, do you need to have a ‘collection’ of previously written music in your head – by building you knowledge through reading scores and listening to music –to be aware that you are writing something new afterwards?

Well, you should know your past, those who came before you – simply to know who you are. So I think that is very important to study what composers did before me and learn from that.

Is it a normal practice for modern composers to pay hommage to others like you did to Stravinsky in your Mantra or even as you do for your own works sometimes when you quote yourself in the beginning of a new piece? This intertextuality – is it normal thing in modern music?

I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me it started in 2002-2003 when the solo flutist of Stockholm Philharmonic was going to play Mozart’s Flute Concerto in G and asked me to write cadenzas for it. It was completely new to me to go inside another composer’s work and fiddle around there. I actually liked to talk with Mozart very much. How do you do a cadenza? I couldn’t just make a pastiche in Mozart’s style – that wouldn’t be interesting – but somehow I had to connect with Mozart. I start there with Mozart’s style and then the cadenza becomes my language and then goes back to Mozart. After that in almost every piece I include some kind of salute to a dead composer: for instance, in Exquisite Corps [2002] there is a bar from Stravinsky’s Petrushka. There are also six or seven bars from Seventh Symphony by Sibelius hidden in it – it is not important that you hear them, but it was fun for me to connect with the past.

Anders Hillborg. From composer’s personal archive

Could you describe that very successful collaboration which was your stepping out of classical tradition – that album Jag vill se min älskade komma från det vilda with Eva Dahlgren. How were you approached to do it? Could you describe the whole process?

It started with Esa-Pekka Salonen doing a concert for AIDS victims where he was mixing classical pieces with pieces by pop singer Eva Dahlgren. And then he asked me to write a song for this occasion – and so I wrote one called Before Love Came. It worked very well, Eva Dahlgren liked it very much and asked me if we should do a whole CD together – and I said “Sure” (laughs). As I mentioned before, my roots are in pop music, so in a way I returned to them in doing this project. It was of course a very different situation from the one when you write a modern orchestra piece. For one thing, you come to the first rehearsal and everything sounds great! The reason is that it is simple. After this project I was supposed to write a piece for a chamber orchestra with LA Phil Philharmonic, and Esa-Pekka Salonen called me and said: ‘So how do you feel right now? You have just written something that was very easy to write, you earned a lot of money and everybody loved it. Now you are writing a piece which is difficult to write, you don’t get paid much and no one will like it’ (laughs). So, yes, it was a very special experience, and I admit it was hard to get back to composing for real after that, because it was so easy in a way. Surely, it is never easy to write a good song, but at least for me it was much easier to write these songs than to write an orchestra piece. So it was really refreshing. And this question about working in different genres – some people even told me then that I should use an alias: “It is not good for your reputation” (laughs). I stil wanted to do it in my own name, but I know that some newspapers didn’t send a critic to review it because they didn’t know who to send – a classical guy or a pop music guy (laughs) – which is of course ridiculous, if you think of it.

Apart from some soundtracks, you then never went to this area of multi-genre collaboration, is this correct? Do you plan more of those in future?

There is nothing planned at the moment, but if the opportunity turns up, it could be interesting.

How do you know which genre of classical music to allocate to a certain idea that comes to your head? How do you know that it will become a chamber or a choir piece, or a big orchestral one? Or do you start with a form and find the idea that will suit the needed form?

It is the second one you mentioned, because I have commissions all the time, so I know what I am writing for. If I have a commission for a cello and orchestra, obviously I start to think in those terms, if it is a piece for choir, I begin to adapt that line of compositional thinking. It is not that I have a musical idea and don’t know where to use it – it is not that abstract, it is more concrete.

I was listenting to a documentary in Swedish before our talk, and there Sakari Oramo compares your works to those of Sibelius because, as he says, you know how to develop your ideas in an organic way. On the other hand, when composing, it is your brain that ‘artifically’ constructs your thoughts into a structure, finds a musical form for your ideas, etc. So my question is: how to make a piece conceived by a human sound organic with its elements developing in a natural way?

I wonder about that, too (laughs), as I don’t really know. I work very intuitively nowadays as opposed to my composing process in the 1980s when I really constructed everything, and my pieces were measured and planned. Now it is much more open – usually I start a piece and have no idea about its overall form. Earlier I did, as it is more secure to know the form in advance. Now I try to keep it open: it is more difficult, but also more interesting. Well, if it turns out to be organic and natural, I am happy about it. You shouldn’t feel the construction, and in fact, if there is a good structure behind it, then it will sound organic.

Anders Hillborg with Hannu Lintu. From composer’s personal archive

Do you have some attention-gripping techniques for your listeners to draw them in, to keep their attention and then gradually to let go or to keep them on the edge of their seats till the very end?

That’s an interesting question – it ventures into perception psychology! Like –  you can do more daring things when the listener is still fresh (laughs). In the end of the piece you can’t do the same things. In a way it is speculative and I don’t really think in that way. I like to do what I like to listen to myself. That sounds very simplistic, but you know… it works. I work a lot with listening to what I do, and then you get very tired of it. And that’s a good measure of its quality, because if you still can listen to it after a hundred times, then may be it is good (laughs).

You call the orchestra ‘Beast Sampler’ – you actually used this expression to name your orchestral piece from 2014. Can you describe what you meant? Do you write interactions between the instruments into your score? Do you think them out meticulously?

Yes, in fact I do. This ‘beast sampler’ definition – I call the orchestra a beast because I like to create sounds for it where you can’t really tell which instrument is playing. Recently I saw something on Twitter – a comment about my music – and I liked how it expressed the writer’s perception of my music. There conductor Michael Thrift wrote: ‘What I’ve come to love about Hillborg’s music is his ability to create synthetic sounds from acoustic means’. And that’s exactly what I want to do. So you hear an orchestra and you think: ‘What exactly is it? Is it an orchestra? Is it an animal? Is this music electronic?’ My choral piece Mouyayoum is obviously inspired by electronic music, and many people who hear it can’t understand that in fact it is only people in choir singing, they are sure that there is some electronics involved. I like that kind of play with the perception of the listener.

What things, in your opinion, could be done to enhance the surprise of listeners? What other magic could be possibly introduced into music in future? Like instruments producting sounds not natural for their timbres or musicians appearing from the ceiling?

Well, such things go in cycles. With minimalistic music at first people thought: ‘They are just repeating things all the time, it is tedious, stop it’. But then your perception changes and you start to listen to it in a different time. It is simple repetition, no electronics involved, it is just a way to trick your perception. And such things you can do forever – you get tired of something and get involved with something new. It is very rarely successful, in my humble opinion, to mix music and image, because they kill each other. It doesn’t become interesting, we have seen all those effects in Star Wars etc. I am only interested in making music, with music creating its own magic.

Anders Hillborg Total Immersion Day, 22 February 2020, London

In the programme for your Total Immersion Day in February 2020 you write that for your First Violin Concerto you introduced the slow movement into it later because you thought the piece was too intense. My question related to it is what is the importance of silence and slow movements as compared to quick tempi? Is silence a chance for our minds to perceive more?

Yes, indeed, and also you usually just want variation. In the case of that Violin Concerto, after the premiere I realized that something was lacking there, so I added seven minutes of slow music in the middle. It just needed something different. My default perception of myself is that I am a composer of meditative and slow music – that’s my ground, my core. When I write quick music, it is difficult for me, I have to work very hard to do it, while slow music comes more natural.

I liked the moment when you described in your Total Immersion talk how you used two Chinese oboes in your Dreaming River. How open are you to such exotic inputs into your scores? If they are introduced, what is the purpose?

That’s a kind of thing that the ‘beast’ requires – when you suddenly have an instrument that normally isn’t there. It was funny because we were on tour in China with Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, and the oboe player had been to the market and bought one of these Suonas – that’s what they are called. It is very loud, it produces a piercing sound. So the whole orchestra was gathering for the rehearsal, and we were waiting for an oboe to give an A for usual tuning. Instead of the normal instrument he used the Suona (laughs) and that was hilarious. The whole orchestra went: ‘What?!’ (laughs). At that time I was supposed to write a piece for Stockholm Philharmonic, and when I heard it, I thought I had to have it in my future piece, and not only one, but two of them (laughs). So the opportunity presented itself very spontaneously. Adding those instruments is the thing I like to do, because it makes it possible to add unusual sounds that you don’t normally get from an orchestra.

Anders Hillborg with Martin Fröst and Gustavo Dudamel. From composer’s archive

There are people with whom you have collaborated through all your life: from instrumentalists it is Martin Fröst and from conductors – obviously Esa-Pekka Salonen. Can you describe these two figures in your composer’s life? Are they by their presence influencing what you write? Are they inspiring you to do certain things? 

Indeed, they have influenced my composing a lot. If I write a piece for a certain person, I usually like, if it is possible, to make a portrait of that person in my music. When I write for Martin Fröst, I try very intuitively to write something that fits him, that is him in a way. In Martin’s case, he is very involved and always comes with suggestions: ‘Can you do this? Can you do a version for strings only? Can you do a version for 16 bassoons?’ (laughs) I like that input from him. And then there are other soloists who absolutely don’t enter my domain. People are different, and I like both styles, but they do influence my music. It is not that I write for soloist X plaing the violin – I write for someone that I have heard, and I know what he or she is doing and what I can expect.

Can we say that you are representing a certain cluster of Nordic music that Esa-Pekka Salonen had been promoting during his tenure at Los Angeles Philharmonic? Are you producing certain Scandinavian sound that he has been interested in?

May be, it is not for me to decide – I can’t tell if my music sounds Scandinavian. Obviously, Esa-Pekka has been doing a fantastic job in commissioning lots of people and helping different composers to have their pieces performed. He usually commissions people that he believes in. It is a natural way for such things to happen.

How do you work with conductors during rehearsals? What would be an ideal conductor’s behaviour from your perspective as a composer?

(Laughs) An ideal conductor would start rehearsing my piece on Day 1 of the rehearsal week and then rehearse it every day, and then be very attentive to what I say and think. It becomes so clear that music as an art form – I claim – is the only art form where the past is considered more important than the present. This becomes so clear when there is an orchestra rehearsal, because even good conductors and people I like to work with don’t start with my piece on the first day. They wait till the second or even the third, and then they do Mahler all the time. It is completely crazy, because everybody has played Mahler before, while nobody has ever played this new piece by Mr Hillborg. Obviously it should be rehearsed from Day 1, but it is not so in the reality. My dream conductor would be the one who does immerse himself or herself into my piece from the very beginning. It is a source of great frustration for me. This goes to the extent when I have decided not to go to performances unless they rehearse my music really seriously. If they don’t consider it as important, they start on the second or third day, and then it is too late.

Anders Hillborg Total Immersion Day, 22 February 2020, London.

I remember you mentioned that for your chamber pieces during Total Immersion Day you had to spend the week preparing them with young Guildhall School students. Why was it needed? What were you trying to achieve?

Yes, initially the schedule was that I was supposed to come a day before the concert, which was completely pointless, as it would have been too late to change anything. So I asked them to start in the beginning of the week to have Monday and Tuesday to spend with them. There were cases when there was misunderstanding on the tempo, so I could tell them so, and then they could have four days to fix it. And of course there are millions of details and articulations that are not in the score, as you can’t write everything into it. There was a lot of coaching like that, and I love to do that when there is time. We did have time, and these young musicians were playing on such a high level. The same was with BBC Symphony Orchestra – we had three days of rehearsing only my music. We arrived at working on the level of details you never arrive at in a normal subscription concert. There are millions of details that you can change during a rehearsal. The chamber concert became so much better because I was able to talk to them. After we talked, students understood my music better and easier, and that was great. I mean, that’s totally normal.

Now you have mentioned the ideal process of preparation, I am beginning to think that not every concert reaches the quality that it could have done if there had been more rehearsals.

(Laughs) Are you joking? Of course, most of them are really bad, unfortunately. Musicians are not playing – they are reading. It is unfair to them, because they are very good musicians, and normally when they perform a piece, they have rehearsed it like crazy. They rehearse it, then they let it rest, then they rehearse it again – but with new music it doesn’t happen. There is also a style of new music which is multi-layered and amorphous, and that kind of works anyway, even with lack of rehearsals, because there is so much going on in it. But my music isn’t like that – it is always quite simple with a pulpable pulse. For instance, the brass quintet that you heard at Guildhall during Total Immersion Day was like that. And it is absolutely meaningless to perform it if you have just rehearsed twice. It sounds ridiculous even with very good players – I have heard disastrous performances of it, and I even don’t know what to tell musicians afterwards, as they know or should know that it is not good. So this is crucial for me – I expect my music to be rehearsed well, otherwise please don’t play it, really.

Do you have the same expectations for the listeners? Do they have to prepare to listen to your music and do it intensively, not just relaxing in their seats? Or can we just enjoy it?

Yeah, you can just enjoy it. As a listener, you will know whether it is a good performance. You might not be able to say what exactly is wrong, but you will certainly feel when it is good – whe the musicians have arrived at a point when they actually know what they are doing. Was it Furtwängler who said that if someone is giving a lecture and reading from a script, and doesn’t understand what he or she is reading, then the audience wouldn’t understand it either. That is quite a statement, and I think it is also very true for music. If you are just reading prima vista without having digested the music you play, the listener would not be able to understand it either. Enough of that – enough of whining from me (laughs).

I was also surprised to see you say that in the 1980s the virtuoso element was not so welcomed in symphonic music. I was slightly shocked to read it, because it has become the core element in modern performances. What is your vision of virtuoso skills? Are they needed for modern musicians? Is contemporary music aiming to be virtuoso-oriented?

That’s a very interesting question, and I feel ambivalent towards this. On the one hand, I would like to think that music is speaking to the audiences even if there is no virtuosity involved. There is my orchestral piece King Tide that sounds great, but there is no virtuosity in it. It is not easy to play, but the listener wouldn’t know that. But on the other hand, it is interesting to see a virtuoso struggling with the piece, and as a listener you realize that they are doing something fantastic. But will you realize it if you don’t play the instrument yourself? Is it worth anything then? When I watch tennis and scream when Federer does something extraordinary, my wife Maria doesn’t understand the reason for my reaction, as she doesn’t know the intricacies of tennis. She doesn’t know how impossible that shot was. So if you don’t know how to play the violin and someone is playing a Violin Concerto, and you don’t know how difficult it is, does it matter? I am not sure. When I did my first Violin Concerto, that was the first piece when I decided that I have to write for people (laughs) so it must be somehow rewarding for them. Before that I was thinking in terms of electronic music where musicians were envisioned by me as mere sound sources. Then I thought there has to be something more to it – so I have a mixed opinion about virtuosity. Another example of controversy here that comes to my mind is the Japanese violinist Mari Kimura. She is a very good violinist and can do extreme things with a mixture of bow pressure and her own new techniques called subharmonics. She can produce pitches under violin’s register, actually moving into the cello’s register. That is fantastic – the only thing is that doesn’t sound as good as it does on a cello, and certainly no one in the audience will know how difficult it is. That kind of virtuosity is meaningless, as nobody will know how fantastic she is. Virtuosity, as you now see, is really a complex thing.

Anders Hillborg Total Immersion Day, 22 February 2020, London

Where do your poetic titles come from? Do you invent them after you have written a piece or had a clear vision of it, or do you bring them in first to inspire you in the composing process?

It is both ways. In the case of Eleven Gates the title came afterwards. I did the piece, I didn’t know how to call it, I listened to it and then I realized it had eleven different parts, and I gave them the surreal titles. In the cases of the piece called Liquid Marble I think I had the title beforehand. It is nice when a title becomes a part of the piece: in Eleven Gates the titles for each of its eleven moments really enhance the experience for the listeners. Toy Pianos on the Surface of the Sea – this image triggers something in your imagination, don’t you think?

Are films and other forms of art inspirational for you? Do they serve just as general background for your development as a personality, or do they somehow feed into your music?

I think it is just general development, nothing as concrete as ‘I would do a piece about this painting’. It happens very rarely.

Anders Hillborg wiith Renée Fleming and Valery Gergiev. From composer’s archive

Then what about poetry? In February 2020 we heard your choral pieces based on particular poems – how do you choose them? I guess they have to be short, but intense to serve as sources for a musical work.

Yes, indeed. It is extremely hard to work with text. I have a lot of respect for words, but I still think that lots of my colleagues take a fantastic text and just destroy it by putting music where it is not needed. I have thought a lot about it. For my Strand Settings wth Renée Fleming at first I was supposed to take texts by a Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer. He is a fantastic poet, I went to his home, spoke to him and his wife, and I also got translations, because Renée wanted to sing in English. We had translations: both in American and British English. First of all, I didn’t think that translations were great, but the biggest problem was that the poetry was already so dense, so fantastic that I couldn’t go inside it and put some notes – it would have just destroyed it. But then Renée introduced me to Mark Strand’s texts that were equally fantastic but had some air between the words, so I thought I could go in there and add music without destroying them. It took me a long time to think about these things. Then for Sirens and the choral piece that was played in Total Immersion, The Breathing of the World I just wrote the text myself (laughs) because I just got so fed up by looking into different texts and trying to fit my music into them. I did the texts myself – they don’t need to be high poetry. If you look at what Schubert used for his Lieder, the texts were not always good.

After performance of choral piece Mouyayoum in February 2020

You said that for your choral piece Mouyayoum you explored the absence of text – that it was better for music to have only phonemes at its core. I am very interested in this avoidance of semantic structures – I once wrote a play that used non-existent words and unknown syllables. How did you explore this lack of text?

Well, as I said before, I think it is so difficult to set text to music. I had sung a lot in a choir in my life. Before Mouyayoum I did another piece with a text by E.E.Cummings and we rehearsed it with Eric Ericson’s Choir. It sounded great, but totally meaningless. I realized then that the text didn’t need the music, and the music didn’t need the text. And then I decided to write Mouyayoum and get rid of any semantic content in it, because I thought it was just a burden. Also I was tired of a certain way of expression that singers have in the choir – they always sound like doing a lamento. I didn’t want any of that – just to sing the notes, not express anything, not to have any semantics or text behind music. That’s why I did and I realize now how important it was for me. It was a very good idea, because I found something new in doing it. In the beginning, funnily enough, it was considered impossible to do, but then became a very famous piece for choirs to sing.

Speaking about combination of text and music – is your opera forthcoming? 

Nothing concrete yet… I was always totally against it, but nowadays I have changed my mind. However, it is getting late, if I am to make an opera, I should probably do it now. I have to get a great idea, or to work with someone so that we can throw ideas at each other, and I haven’t found either yet. It would be a bit sad if it doesn’t happen. I like drama, I like vocal element in music… Let’s see…

Are you actively looking for someone to be your writing partner or for an inspiring idea?

Not really, no. Not actively. Who knows – it might come in future, I guess.

If we go to current situation where the pandemic has brought us, could you envision how music world would develop after we get through this difficult time? As a composer, do you think you would suffer or benefit from it? Will we be too afraid to sit next to each other? What this required distancing will bring into the renewed musical world?

I don’t know. These are very scary and difficult times. It is very hard for musicians and orchestras – nobody knows whether they will survive or not. I can’t say… One would hope that the experience like this would make us value culture and life concerts more. We all now have realized how precious they are… It is hard to say anything at this point.

Are you trying to use this time constructively? Do you compose? What’s your working routine?

Surely, for a composer this business is normal – we are always isolated anyway. So I have no excuse (laughs) – I go through work every day. But I have to say that this overall feeling of exhaustion – everyone is exhausted  – gives a very depressing feeling. It kind of takes a toll on you. But as I said, I have no excuse and I work on a daily basis.

Photo credit: Mats Lundqvist

Can I ask you – as it is such an unchartered territory for outsiders – what does composing activity actually involve? Do you begin by playing something out, do you write something down, do you sit and think ideas through?

It is all of this. It is different every time. Usually I start out with something from the piece I wrote before and change it, manipulate the material in different ways. And then something starts happening, but it indeed varies a lot. I don’t have a method if that’s what you are asking. I wish I had – I don’t (laughs).

What would be your advice for modern people wishing to understand contemporary music better? How do we make a brain leap to perception of modern music?

I think it is simply just if the music is well-performed, then the audience will enjoy it, even if it is Lachenmann or something difficult – may be even more than Beethoven. One of the problems is that it is so rarely well-performed, and of course there are not so many really good pieces. The best pieces are too recent to be filtered out of the whole mass of music written nowadays. So I don’t think that as a listener you have to do anything really. You can’t understand music – you can only experience it.

Are you content with young women and men you see starting out in modern composition? Say, those whose works you have heard or have been teaching during the last years?

As far as new generation of composers is concerned, I can’t really say that I have a good overlook and perspective of it. I am a visiting professor at Machester, so I go there two-three times a year, but I think many students nowadays lack basic skills – like counterpoint, for example – which is not good. It is always very rare to find someone really talented and pursuing their own thing. I’ve never been fan of post-Darmstadt idiom – I think it is incredibly overrated as a language. Many students are writing in that idiom without questioning it – and you do have to question it, in my opinion. What is interesting now as compared to when I began my studies around 1980 – at that time it was completely boring, as post-Darmstadt was the law, and everything else was not really taken seriously. Schoenberg was the only way to do it, Stravinsky was considered a talented guy, but slightly on the side… And then that started to change. I think it is much healthier nowadays – there are so many different ways of expressing yourself. Composers are doing so many different things, while at those days everybody did the same thing. That’s very important, and I am very happy we have this variety today.

Can we finish by speaking about your plans for future? What are your next projects? And the one that you would probably refuse to answer – what is the future of music in 20 years’ time?

(Laughs) I can’t answer that, no. Right now I am working on a Concerto for cello and orchestra. After that I would do a concerto for viola and orchestra, and then I will write an ensemble piece for Ensemble Intercontemporain in Paris, and then I will write a Piano Concerto. So the schedule for the next three-four years is full.

Anders Hillborg with wife Maria and son Theo. From composer’s archive

Can I ask whether it is difficult to make a living as a composer in modern music industry? Is it hard to make yourself known, to get connections and commissions, to travel around the world after months of isolation? Is it is a difficult life or is it full of rewards?

Well, it is very difficult financially if you don’t get commissions, of course. I am in a lucky position – at the moment I am OK. But normally it is not easy for a composer – and since streaming started, it is increasingly impossible to survive as a composer. Forty years ago I would have had quite a good income from royalties from sales of my CDs, but that has almost entirely died out because of the streaming services nowadays. It is very, very hard to survive as a composer.

I wish you and your family to stay in good health, and thank you for giving insights into your work!  

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