Christian Winther Christensen (b. 1977)

“For some composers it is important to nail a particular style, but style is something that one changes all the time. The most important thing for me is that I am always a part of that which I create and that I can stand behind my work, which is also the only way, my music can be personal. I am nevertheless really typical for my generation of composers.”

Total music and conceptual ideas 
Christian Winther Christensen (b. 1977) is an example of the wave of younger composers in Europe that have each found their own musical language. Together they form the frame for a completely new way of composing and being a composer that no longer leans up against the composers who are now in their late forties or fifties. “The new streams give a certain freshness. Of course I am influenced by the older generation since it is them I have immersed myself in. I know all of Lachenmann and Ligeti’s works but what I am really inspired by is now my own generation”, says Winther Christensen.

Composers are inspired back and forth by one another and ideas and quotations are exchanged between them. Also in many of Winther Christensen’s works there are examples of ideas that have been taken from other composers. Composers are active on the music scene, attend many concerts and in this way are affected by streams they each set in motion. A current tendency is that the young composers have a visible role in the performance of their works: as musicians, the one controlling the electronics, in the form of a projection of themselves on the stage or something similar. Winther Christensen is concerned with investigating this, and it comes to light in many of his works - in particular when working on projects in collaboration with the artists collective DYGONG.

In Denmark there is a tendency to associate Winther Christensen with DYGONG and their approach since many of his works that are performed on Danish soil are strongly conceptual in nature and contain absurd elements. He is an enfant terrible and one can be sure of only one thing: that he will continue to turn things on their heads. Should one look just a little over the Danish borders, one notices however a view of Winther Christensen as a much respected serious composer. The greater part of his ensemble pieces have been played by skilled foreign ensembles that specialise in new music. Even though he plays with absurd and ironic elements in his orchestral and ensemble works in order to give the music a certain edge and charm, these elements never detract from the work being taken seriously.

In Winther Christensen’s works there are often quotations from older classical music. Beethoven, amongst others, is a composer who often, in various disguises, appears in Winther Christensen’s music: “Beethoven stands for the whole idea of being a composer - especially when taken from the point of view one had in romantic period. If one says the word 'composer', it is Beethoven one thinks of. There is something beautiful in him being placed on such a pedestal. I believe it is one of the reasons I’m so taken with him.”

Even as a cutting-edge modern composer one cannot deny that the profession is part of a long tradition. The setting around the premiere or performance of a work is one thing, but also latent in the work lie many references to the entire Western conception of music and about this Christian Winther says the following: “In the old classical instruments so much musical spirit is still to be found and the way in which the instruments are built contains tonality in various ways: a large number of random flageolets on the strings creates something A or D Major like. The main keys on a clarinet or flute are after all a diatonic scale, etc. To play with this in my works, and in this way also refer to Western music history, seems to me the evident thing to do.” As much as Christian Winther Christensen is inspired by his own generation of composers, he too in turn influences the tendencies of his time through his works. He has his own unmistakable style and manifests himself as a completely contemporary composer pushing the boundaries, while at the same time relating to music history through quotations and intimations that comment on, create ironic distance, turn on it’s head and give new music a completely new dimension.

Selected Works

Concerto for a Movie Loop 
The work Concerto for a Movie Loop is written for orchestra, piano and projection. On the screen Christian Winther Christensen playing the theme from the C minor prelude Op. 3, No. 2 by Rachmaninov is projected. Winther Christensen calls it a “cliche concerto” because he mixes cliches from both new music and the noise aesthetic that, amongst others, is inspired by Helmut Lachenmann. The orchestra continuously plays alongside the pianist in loops that each last a minute or so but are constantly changing, which is also a characteristic of the work's cliches. Noise elements gradually take over from the regular sounds of the instruments as the piece develops, with the composer placing focus on non-musically created sounds concretised from the sounds of various physical movements in the final section of the work - for example the sound of the composer sitting down on the piano stool.

A Small Monument for a Symphony (2011) 
This work, composed for orchestra, is one of the more abstract works on Winther Christensen’s work list. A Small Monument for a Symphony is a kind of ghost symphonic work, which has often been seen before in modern music. Winther Christensen uses the ghost metaphor in that a recognisable texture from classical music is used throughout the work - without however being all to obvious. A concrete example is the transition from the 3rd to 4th movement, which refers to the optimistic transition from the 3rd to 4th movement of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony.

Festmusik - mit japanischem Geist und deutschem Akzent (2010) 
This work, composed for orchestra, was premiered at a festival in Zürich where Christian Winther Christensen was the main composer together with the Norwegian Rolf Wallin and the Frenchman Phillippe Leroux. Festmusik is the tile of a work by Richard Strauss that was commissioned by Japan on the occasion of the emperor’s 2600 birthday and performed in 1941: Festmusik zur Feier des 2600 järigen Bestehens des Kaiserreichs Japan für großes Orchester (Japanischer Festmusik). In the work lie several references to Beethoven - even though the title refers to Strauss. Winther Christensen says of this: “There are passages where the string trio has to play in unison. They try to play the theme from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony “Ode to Joy”, which is extremely difficult since it is placed in an extremely high register so there is hardly place for the bow and fingers. It is so beautiful because while they are singing of being united it is quite impossible to play together.” The use of the Beethoven quotation also functions as a kind of negation of the entire work. When the work was performed in Zürich Winther Christensen received warm reviews, for instance the following: “The promising work of the Dane Christian Winther Christensen is characterized by an ironic-cynical conciseness. His unmistakeable writing is based on peculiar playing techniques and tonal elements. Thus it came as no surprise when he in his new work premiered at the festival “Festmusik – mit japanischem Geist und deutschem Akzent” (2010) quoted not only Richard Strauss but also Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”.” Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 16 November 2010.

Being Apu Sarkar 
The work is composed for saxophone, piano and percussion and is an independent composition which nevertheless can be incorporated in Christian Winther Christensen’s opera, the 'false documentary': Documentation about Apu Sarkar. Briefly told the opera is centered around the composer Christian Winther Christensen who has to eat an Indian. The first part is a conversation between Winther Christensen and the Indian Abu Sarkar, who is terminally ill. The agreement is that Winther Christensen will eat Abu Sarkar after his death and in this way take on his characteristics. In the second part of the opera the Indian is eaten. The situation unfolded in Being Apu Sarkar is the communion – just before the transformation of the Indian begins. Henrik Friis reviewed the work 22 May, 2010 in the Danish newspaper Politiken: “A young man and the young woman in his company drink two large glasses of red wine, while playing intermittently on the glasses with their fingers. It gradually forms into a piece of music with deeper and deeper tones as the glasses are emptied while another young man with a soft military cap coaxes some correspondingly deep tones out of the piano. [...] this sophisticated play, which appears as crystal clear minimalistic music, is his work Being Apu Sarkar. A strange trip, but completely musical in all its simplicity and challenging originality. And on top of it all - funny.”

Background 
Christian Winther Christensen (b. 1977) studied composition at the Royal Danish Conservatory with Bent Sørensen, Niels Rosing-Schow, Hans Abrahamsen and Hans-Peter Stubbe Teglbjærg as well as at the Paris Conservatoire with Frédéric Durieux. His music has been performed by a long series of ensembles and orchestras such as the London Sinfonietta, Het Nieuw Ensemble (NL), Curious Chamber Players (S), DissonArt Ensemble (GR), Ensemble Alternance (F), the Arditti Quartet (UK), the Silesian String Quartet (PL), Ensemble Offspring (AUS), Ensemble Uusinta (FI), Ensemble Zagros (FI), Oslo Sinfonietta (N), Ensemble Blackhair (GB), Caput (IS), Interensemble (IT), Ensemble Aleph (F), the Athelas Ensemble (DK), Figura (DK), the Esbjerg Ensemble (DK) and Zoom (DK). His works have been played at the Tage für Neue Musik 2010, ISCM Festival Sydney 2010, Festival di Nuova Musica 2008, as well as the Nordic Music Days, UNM Festival, SPOR, Athelas, Wundergrund, Suså and Musikhøst.

In addition to being a composer and an active member of the artists collective DYGONG (which consists of the composers Christian Winther Christensen, Nicolai Worsaae, Regin Petersen and Simon Løffler), as well as Pliiinggg (Christian Winther Christensen, Rune Glerup and Nicolai Worsaae), he is also organist at the Frederiksberg Palace Church and, together with the composer Rune Glerup, artistic leader for the Athelas Sinfonietta Copenhagen.

Awards and Prizes 
Léonie Sonnings Music Prize, the Schierbeck Prize and yearly work grants from the Danish Arts Foundation.