How can we develop a collaborative compositional process, in which cyclical work modes connect us?
My search for alternatives to the traditional composer-performer-division way of working, starts with a desire to connect. To connect to collaborators through a shared compositional process, and to connect my embodied knowledge to a piece of music, a score, a performance. I wish to construct a space for connections, where ideas and materials can circulate and hybridize, and from where a shared compositional process can evolve.
Why do I search for connection in my practice? As a violinist specialized in contemporary Western classical music, I have experienced feelings of un-connectedness toward the work and its composer. I have rarely been involved in the imaginative phase of creating a new work. Instead, I have left the concept-formation of the piece to the composer. Further, evaluating musical materials has been another task reserved for the composer. Consequently, I have not been particularly involved in the compositional processes of the works I commission and perform. Traditional and applied divisions between my practice and that of the composer have separated us.
Structures regulating the notion of a musical work, as we know it, can be traced back to the early 19th century. With the concept of Werktreue, Lydia Goehr describes the performer’s loyalty to the work and subsequently to the composer. According to Goehr, Werktreue «emerged to capture the new relation between work and performance as well as that between performer and composer. Performances and their performers were respectively subservient to works and their composers». (Goehr 1994: 231) The ideal of Werktreue began catalyzing separation and a formal task division between composer and performer two centuries ago. Today, two hundred years later, the ideal of Werktreue is still influential in classical and contemporary music. Goehr’s ideas, although historically grounded, contextualize my experiences of a hierarchy and division of roles still practiced.
Looking for alternatives to the one-directional way of composing music, I direct my focus toward collaborative composition, here between Henrik Strindberg (composer) and myself (violinist Karin Hellqvist), unfolded from my viewpoint as a performer. Our collaboration is a part of my artistic PhD project at the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo, Transforming with the Artistic Palette, in which I experiment with ways of being active in the compositional process. In this exposition, I aim to exemplify how habitual practices can be challenged and how I have experienced the emergence of an alternative and connected work mode. Together, Henrik and I have developed a cyclical way of creating music where artistic contributions interweave and cross-fertilize, as opposed to the ‘one-way’ work relationships I have been accustomed to in my earlier practice. While creativity, even in contemporary classical music, has been located more or less exclusively in the practice of the composer (in line with the ideals of Werktreue), today we see a tendency of authorship gradually shifting from an individual and often isolated pursuit toward collective endeavors, where several agents may contribute to a compositional process. Margaret Barrett describes this shift in research and attitude, and notices that «recognition of the ways in which creativity emerges from joint effort has given rise to the investigation of creative collaborations and partnerships» (Barrett 2014: 3). My investigation aims to contribute to this growing field of studies examining creativity as a collective process, and to increase the possibilities of exchange between creative agents. Materializing like a metaphor for the collaboration with Henrik Strindberg is the breaking away from the conventional heel-to-tip way of bowing the violin. Instead, the bow moves in circles across the strings as an act of resistance – repudiation of the ‘one-way’ work mode.
In this exposition, I will share selected artistic materials from our collaborative process—sonic materials, captured when being circulated between us toward their development and refinement, video excerpts from Zoom conversations, pictures, notational fragments and transcribed dialogue. You are further invited to our workshop space, where we share suggestions and tryouts, ideas and laughter.
Henrik Strindberg (1954) is one of the leading composers in Sweden. He has an extensive catalogue of works behind him, ranging from works for solo instruments to orchestral works and chamber opera. He is a dedicated teacher of composition, currently at the Gotland School of Composition. He is also active in the progressive rock movement with the band Ragnarök. Henrik has been rewarded with several prizes for his work and his music is regularly performed by leading Swedish soloists and orchestras. Our paths crossed as Henrik composed the solo violin work Femte strängen (2009) for me, still one of the dearest works in my solo repertoire.