Composer in residence
Interview: Ørjan Matre
Foto: Anette Basso
An untypically modest native of Bergen:
“I suffer from acute impostor syndrom and live in constant fear of being exposed,” says this years composer in residence.
Let’s start with a few concrete facts about you, Ørjan Matre. Tell us about yourself.
“My name’s Ørjan Matre. I’m 43 years old and live at Fløen in Bergen together with Siv, 9-year-old Vebjørn, and 11-year-old Agnes.”
What is your working day like as a composer?
“My working day can vary considerably. I spend long periods working in my office in town, but this activity is punctuated by concerts and rehearsals, the odd meeting, and a bit of travel.
“The logisitics of family life mean I have to be structured. I generally stick to fairly conventional office hours, but my working day can become substantially longer when there’s an approaching deadline.”
What are the best and the worst things about being a professional composer?
“The best thing about being a composer is without doubt the freedom. I can structure my daily routines and choose when and how much I want to work.
“On a really good day I can leave the music to look after itself. I go for a hike across Vidden and come back to it in the evening. In addition, I’m able to work with fantastically dedicated musicians and ensembles. That’s a real privilege.
“The worst aspect of my profession is the constant, nagging anxiety that someone will discover that, when it comes down to it, I don’t really know what I’m doing. I suffer from acute impostor syndrom and live in constant fear of being exposed.”
What else do you do when not working with music?
“I watch football (I’m a regular at Brann Stadium and an assistant trainer for a bunch of 9-year-olds), I jog and I hike. It’s rare for me to sit down and listen to music at home, but I’m very fond of going to concerts.
“I wish I could tell you that I read books in the evenings, but the truth is that more often than not you would find me on the sofa, exhausted after a long, chaotic day, either playing chess on my mobile or trawling Netflix or HBO for something to soothe my brain.”
What do you want to convey to the public during your year as composer in residence? What impressions or thoughts do you hope to take away from the experience?
“My production is very varied. It feels just as natural for me to be working with the Bergen Philharmonic as with musicians who improvise, with folk musicians and singers, children and amateur ensembles.
“I dare say there will be interactions with all these groups in the course of the year, but I would also like to use the opportunity to do a few things I’ve never done before.”
Among other things, you have published works with titles like ‘10 Fanfares for the Common People’. Do you make music for common people?
“I certainly hope that plenty of people will find something to appreciate in my music. Many people tell me they find my music accessible, and it’s always gratifying when someone with no knowledge of contemporary music tells you they have really enjoyed a concert. Having said that, it shouldn’t be a goal to make music that everyone likes.
“Incidentally, ‘10 Fanfares for the Common People’ is a rather old work. I wrote it in connection with a parliamentary election as a kind of reaction to the Progress Party’s incessant talk about the ‘common people’, whom they claimed were their natural supporters. It’s an eclectic anthology of fanfares, some of them almost mockingly heroic, others pathetically irresolute.”
You are fond of quoting or sampling other composers, as in you ‘Händel Mixtapes’ (2008). You’ve applied the same approach to Edvard Grieg and even sampled your own music.
In 2021 you used traditional prayer-house psalms in your work ‘Four Pieces about Distance’, which you composed during the corona pandemic.
Why do you do this?
“I have made use of existing music on several occasions in my compositions. Sometimes it has been the person commissioning the work who has asked me to do so, other times it’s been my own choice.
“The incorporation (incomposition) of other music often produces interesting auditory results that I really like; various strata of musical meaning crash into each other, the familiar butting up against the unfamiliar. The material I myself compose takes on the colour of the musical material I have chosen to rework.
“I always start out from music that means a lot to me personally. Like Grieg, I have worked a lot with Norwegian folk music, creating works that lie somewhere between compositions and arrangements.”
Do you hope composers 100 years from now will sample your music? Or what music do you think they ought to sample?
“My guess is that the role of the composer will be very different a century from now. But who knows? Perhaps, in some kind of post-apocalyptic nostalgia mode, a bit of AI will dig out a couple of wistful fragments from Bergen in the 2020s.”
Can you give us any hints about what to expect of your premiere in November?
“I can’t tell you much, simply because I haven’t yet decided what form the work will take.
“At the beginning of the composition process, I keep all my options open. At this point in time, it looks like it’s going to be a rather subdued and gentle affair, juxtaposed with a few old archive recordings. But who knows? Perhaps I’ll ultimately end up somewhere very different.
“I also have exciting plans for a few ambitious projects in November, but I can’t say much about those either, although for very different reasons.”