June 13, 2022

GRAMMY-nominated composer Anna Clyne (MM ’05) discusses having her work performed at MSM and her time as a student at the School

This interview with Anna Clyne took place in June 2022, just before her work was performed at MSM on June 15.

Anna Clyne (MM ’05) is currently the mentor composer with Orchestra of St. Luke’s, which is performing at MSM on Wednesday, June 15 at 7 PM.

Anna speaks with us about the concert and why studying for her master’s in composition at MSM remains an important time for her.

London-born, GRAMMY-nominated composer Anna Clyne is a highly productive and in-demand composer of acoustic and electro-acoustic music whom The New York Times describes as a “composer of uncommon gifts and unusual methods;” NPR calls her “fearless.”

She’s considered one of the most acclaimed and in-demand composers of her generation, often embarking on collaborations with innovative choreographers, visual artists, filmmakers, and musicians.

A special concert at MSM on Wednesday, June 15, by Orchestra of St. Luke’s marks the completion of the OSL’s 2022 DeGaetano Composition Institute and features the works of emerging composers under Anna’s tutelage. The pieces are never-before-heard world premieres, exploring the chromatic complexity of Bach’s The Musical Offering. The evening will also feature the OSL performing one of Anna’s compositions, Sound and Fury.

MSM: Tell us about the concert by OSL at Manhattan School of Music this Wednesday. What are you most excited about it?

Anna: This Wednesday sees the world premiere of three new works for chamber orchestra by three excellent composers Charles PeckJeremy Rapaport-Stein, and Nicky Sohn, performed by the Orchestra of St Luke’s as part of their DeGaetano Composition Institute.

The three works Lantern, Ways of Following, and Moon Bunny respond in different ways to Bach’s The Musical Offering. The concert will be conducted by Tito Muñoz who is a great advocate for contemporary music.

Being back at MSM for this week of rehearsals and professional training sessions has brought back many wonderful memories from my time at MSM — from composer concerts in Greenfield Hall to graduation day. I am most excited about hearing these three works performed live for the first time on Wednesday evening at MSM’s Neidorff-Karpati Hall at 7 PM. Please join us for this special concert!

DeGaetano Composition Institute participants (l to r): Jeremy Rapaport-Stein,
Charles Peck, and Nicky Sohn

You are currently a mentor composer with OSL. Why is this is important to you?

Anna: Mentoring is an important part of my musical life, be it through a residency such as that with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, or through a program such as Orchestra of St. Luke’s DeGaetano Composition Institute. It is an opportunity to share the knowledge that I have gathered from my former teachers, such as Julia Wolfe, my mentor at Manhattan School of Music, and from experiences such as residencies with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

The DeGaetano Institute is a one-year program and I met with the composers on a monthly basis throughout the year via Zoom. They would send me their scores before our meetings, and we would discuss them together. It is such a privilege to see another composer’s process from the beginning to the completion of a new work. I also learn from them in the process.

Collaboration is something you value and seek out; why?

Anna: I love collaborating with artists from different fields, such as choreographers, filmmakers, and visual artists. It allows me to look at my music through a different lens and pushes me in new directions that I may not have considered were I working alone.

The Orchestra of St. Luke's

What projects do you have coming up that you are looking forward to? 

Anna: I am very excited about two works that I am currently in the process of writing — a clarinet concerto for Martin Fröst, which he will premiere next January with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and conductor Jaap van Zweden. Pekka Kuusisto will conduct the UK premiere with Martin later that year with the Philharmonia Orchestra in London where I am Composer in Residence for the 2022–2023 season. I am also gathering ideas for a new violin concerto for Pekka, which I am very excited about. It is an honor to collaborate with such extraordinary and inspiring musicians.

What do you remember most about your time at MSM?

Anna: One of the special elements of being a student at MSM is the sense of community. I also loved the variety of courses that were available to students – from the history of opera with Mark Stambaugh to electronic music composition with Joel Chadabe. In addition to my lessons with Julia Wolfe, I particularly enjoyed my courses with composers Nils Vigeland and Reiko Füting. I remember a class with Reiko where we (the five composers in my year) each wrote a piece for one pitch, orchestrated for the instruments we played. I enjoyed that!

Why was studying at MSM important for you?

Anna: The sense of community is something that continues to be important to me today, and the introduction to such a vibrant and exciting city of New York which, 20 years later, continues to be my home. I built some lifelong friendships at MSM which I treasure.

Any advice for young composers?

Anna: Building a broad tool kit is very important. One of the things that was most helpful at MSM was writing solo pieces for my friends, who were excited about new music, and learning the idiosyncrasies of all the instruments. It is important to have this knowledge and experience before writing for orchestra, and school is a great opportunity for that.

And community – that is so important – especially when transitioning from a student composer to a professional composer.

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