In Denmark, young composer Christian Winther Christensen often includes something unsettling in his pieces. They are often played by music collective Dygong (he's a member). Christian is seen as an "enfant terrible" and likes to "turn things on their heads". But abroad he’s thought of as an experimental composer who often works with respected foreign ensembles specialising in new music. Now the Scottish Ensemble has invited Christian to write a new piece for them and the players will perform it at their Nordic Nights candlelit concerts at Queen's Cross Church, Aberdeen, on Friday (Dec 6) and Inverness Cathedral on Saturday.
Below, composer Christian answers some questions about his work. And he recommends a clip of his music to check out online. It’s guaranteed to surprise you ...
1 When you were growing up, which piece of music do you first remember having a big impact on you?
I’m from the countryside and I had my childhood there. That is the reason that I got all my inspiration from the television. There were no concerts where I lived. At least not in the first 10 years. On TV I saw a programme about two musicians who had some rehearsals of a Bartok piece for two pianos and percussion. After this programme I became interested in classical music.
2 Tell us about your own path into music… Did you start at school learning an instrument, if so what? When did you first start composing your own work? What was your first piece like and what was it called? Did it include any of the ideas and techniques of writing music that you would still use now – or was it very different?
I started to play piano very young. Mostly because my two older sisters played piano. Later I started to play the organ and with that instrument I began to study at the Music Academy in Aarhus. Here I came in contact with a lot of composers. So I first started to compose as a 21 year old. Later I moved to Copenhagen to study composition.
3 You often work with Dygong – you are a member of the group – what are the highlights of that relationship for you? And how did the group get together, what are their aims?
Dygong is a group built around some friendships. We hall studied in the composing class together.
We started as a protest group against the established new music. I am not sure what we represent now. I guess we have our own Dygong style, but we always try to change our expression.
4 Everything I read about your music seems to say that as well as pushing the boundaries in an experimental way (using loops etc), you often like to reference older, classic composers, such as Beethoven, too.
Is that like a rock, pop or dance artiste would sample other works, maybe adding something new with a mash-up with the past? Could you tell us why, for you, that is something you like to do in your music?
I love to turn things upside down and it’s easiest if the material isn’t too abstract. When I use quotations I have the opportunity to play with some meta-musical ideas, though I don’t actually use meta-musical ideas in my new piece.
5 What was the brief for the commission for the new work that will be performed by Scottish Ensemble in Inverness? What would you like people to know about the piece before they hear it?
Actually, I’m not interested in them knowing too much. I never write long explanations about my music! If you tell too much, you will just disappoint some people.
6 You have been called an "enfant terrible" among Danish and Scandinavian composers. Do you know why? And is it a positive tag or a negative thing, do you think?
Of course it’s a positive thing. I think, however, I haven’t deserved the title. I am too commercial. Unfortunately.
7 If people want to find some of your work to listen to before coming along to the cathedral in Inverness, what would you recommend? And are there any YouTube clips of your music that would be good to listen to?
I have a piano piece on YouTube. Listen only to the five first preludes. It’s the first nine minutes, the six preludes are too long. The piece is performed below by Manuel Esperilla at Granhøj Dans, Aarhus, in Denmark.
Scottish Ensemble play their Nordic Nights candlelit concerts at The Sanctuary, Queen's Cross Church, Aberdeen on Friday (Dec 6) and at Inverness Cathedral on Saturday at 8pm.