Bente Leiknes Thorsen is coming to Bodø to perform her piece: The feminist guide to the Sinfonietta together with Arctic Philharmonic Sinfonietta. Bente Leiknes Thorsenhas a master’s degree in composition from the Norwegian Academy of music. She is trying to write music that is both poetic and deeply rooted in everyday life. Her work «at the tips of my fingers / on the tip of my tongue» was nominated for the contemporary Edvardprisen in 2016.
In the new CD, Hild Borchgrevink writes: Bente Leiknes Thorsen’s music brings together everyday sounds and instrumental poetry, politics and the private, musical instrument and the human voice. Her use of voice often emerges as the very interface or bridge between the musical and the social. Voices occur in her music in many forms: as classically trained singing, in recordings of children’s voices, when instrumentalists are asked to sing while playing or when the composer herself comments on her own musical sequences.
Like several composers of her generation, Bente Leiknes Thorsen works with expectations of completeness built into the idea of the musical work and the classical concert form. In many of Thorsen’s works, the music takes a clear step out of the concert hall through the use of everyday sounds and questions about society.
The festival theme is «truth?». Can music be “true”? Is this something you are struggling with in your compositions?
If music can be true then music can also be false. How true is that?
I believe that in order to make a really stunning, amazing piece of art it has to be true to itself, to its own premises. I think of this in another way though, I say that everything in a composition has to be connected by necessity. There has to be an urgent necessity otherwise the music won’t really work.
Please tell us about your piece “The feminist guide to the Sinfonietta»
This was one of those rare occasions where the title was the first thing I had. The only thing I knew quite early was that I wanted a narrator (like Britten) and that quotes from music history had to play some role. In the end, I ended up with a work that is something I am not sure is a piece of music or a performed text with live musicians.
You are just about to release a new CD, unleash. You are inviting the listener into intimate poetic relations between you and your children from your own daily life. How do these daily life sounds become music?
Listening is a composer’s ultimate tool. Your life changes with having kids, and with that the sounds that surround you. For me, it was only natural that this leaked into my creative output. I bought recording equipment when I got my first child and started recording knowing that I had to use it in my music at some point. I need my music to come from a place of meaning to me, and that is always a struggle. But then, nothing means more to me than my kids.
On a more philosophical and technical level, all these pieces with recordings of my kids work with the same question: Can this intimate material be/become music? I feel I succeed and fail at this at the same time – and that feeling is in its own way extremely satisfying.
You deal with emotions, politics and your own identity in your music. You seem to be challenging the composer’s role in society. How can composers be relevant to society?
I set out to write music that was just music. I set out to be a composer, but you see, to a lot of people I am not. They do not see me as a composer, they see a female composer and I have no way to run away from their prejudices. And to me, this means I can no longer write music that is just music.
Composers are relevant in society in that they are a part of that society. The more you are aware of your position the more you can do to explicit challenge that, whether it is to object to peoples idea of what a composer is or write music that deals with a cause. I think I have become truer to myself: I am no longer so concerned with writing music as I am expressing myself.
In A Feminist Guide to the Sinfonietta, Bente Leiknes Thorsen updates Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra for the #metoo generation. Framed as a gender-political challenge to the ensemble, Thorsen asks whether it is able to escape the female body and the male gaze.
At a concert with the Oslo Philharmonic, Bente Leiknes Thorsen thought: ” I was struck by the enormous impact man-crushes has had on the music history. They quote each other, they rewrite each other’s music and they promote each other. Incessantly. At this concert, we heard Webern’s colourful Bach interpretation, which has a place in music history. They also performed Schönbergs rewrite of a Brahms klavierquartett, to me this makes a lot less sense to do. As I was sitting there listening I thought of the fact that Brahms probably could have made an orchestral version of this piece if he had wanted to, but at the same time, his contemporary female composers were not given the chance to write for orchestra at all.”