PULSAR 2020 · Xavier Bonfill · Matias Vestergård Hansen

Edition·S asked composition students Xavier Bonfill and Matias Vestergård Hansen a few questions about their orchestral pieces that will be premiered by the Danish National Symphony Orchestra at PULSAR 2020 this Thursday.

Edition·S has been assisting three composition students in the preparation of the parts of their orchestral pieces for PULSAR 2020. For all three, Xavier Bonfill, Matias Vestergård Hansen, and Marcela Lucatelli, it is their first time writing an orchestral piece of this size. Two pieces – composed by Xavier Bonfill and Matias Vestergård Hansen – are ready to be premiered this week at the opening concert of PULSAR Festival on 5 March by DRSO, whereas Marcela Lucatelli's piece has been postponed to a later date. We have asked the two composers about their pieces and creational process.


Matias Vestergård Hansen · Photo by Pete Lamberto

Duration: 11'

How has it been working with the orchestral format?
It’s my first time writing for an orchestra of this size, and I’ve been really enjoying it, even though it’s an extremely time-consuming medium to work with. The amount of detail and layers you can create makes it quite luxurious for a composer. Even so, there are a lot of things to keep in mind – in a smaller setting, you always have the possibility to work directly with the musicians to find the right sound – this isn’t always possible in an orchestral setting, so you have to really make sure that nothing in the piece can be misinterpreted.

What lies behind the title of your work?

The title of my work refers to the central point of inspiration – the image of a small group of people journeying through an enormous dark cave towards what may or may not be an exit.

How would you describe your work?

My work is in four interconnected movements, and deals with echoes and call-and-response throughout – I’ve tried to create the acoustics of a cave within the orchestra itself. It starts with six loud and heavy sounds – like doors slamming – that echo through the orchestra in different ways, while two guiros trudge along like footsteps. The second movement is fast, and functions sort of as a scene change. It leads to the third movement, a lament for solo violas and brass. The fourth movement has the clearest call-and-response music. Under rain-like pizzicatos, the horns send out signals that are then echoed by two groups of instruments, one soft and warm, one sharp and cold. I liked this section so much, I repeated it, albeit very differently – I tried to turn the whole sound into air. And I found out there was an oboe solo hiding in it. 

Read more about the composer and his works here

Xavier Bonfill · Photo by Fie Nie

Duration: 14'
Instrumentation: + 3 soloists (2perc + pno), live electronics & light

How has it been working with the orchestral format?

Exciting. Yet somehow overwhelming. A bit frustrating at times, but rewarding in the end. I needed to constantly remind myself of the bigger picture, and then focus on very small details. It is in this back and forth, from the overall to the atomic, that one can start “losing it”. It challenges your self-control and your ability to focus. A great exercise, that is for sure.

“YES FOR NO” was my first time writing a piece for orchestra. Or maybe I should say a piece with an orchestra since it also includes NEKO3 as soloists. For me, including NEKO3, after a suggestion from my teacher Jeppe Just Christensen, was the key element to help me write the piece. Having the trio in front of the orchestra worked as some kind of redemption for me. I was afraid that the scale of the symphony orchestra would somehow compromise or narrow my voice as a composer. Everything that I wouldn’t dare to write for orchestra players, I would give to the three soloists; and vice versa. I tried to think of it a just a band playing with an orchestra. Sometimes they all play. Sometimes not. A few times do kind of reply to each other.

There is also something personal about it being NEKO3, who are all close friends of mine. Being able to work with the DRSO is such a luxury and an honour in so many ways. It feels like being invited to this fancy party where you are supposed to wear a tuxedo, comb your hair to the side, and say all the right things or something. I could either try to fit in, or I could just bring my homies with me and crash the party. I must say though, it does help when your homies also happen to be absolute ninjas at playing the craziest stuff ever.

What lies behind the title of your work?

The inspiration behind the title for this piece lies in the lyrics of a song by Radiohead called “Bodysnatchers”. The original line is: “blink your eyes: one for yes, two for no”. I just swapped those last words so it would be more apparently nonsense and it would trigger my imagination in different ways, and that became the titles for two pieces: “one for two” (an older piece for two performers) and this one: “YES FOR NO”. I like the idea of language being reduced to two opposing concepts: yes-no, 0-1 (or 1-2).

As for my process: that idea led, for some reason, into bringing back the ghost of Ludvig Wittgenstein reincarnated in flashy, sport-stadium-like LEDs in order to solve our “post-truth” society problems, as well as thinking of rhythm and harmony as one single process in which one affects the other (Hallo Karlheinz!). But evolving that would be a long story.

How would you describe your work?

It begins very quietly.
Then it unfolds into a large volume of sound.
Then the soloists start typing big ideas onto the screens. Fast polyrhythms. The orchestra replies. You might wonder if this really was a concerto after all.
Then a big nice C major chord. Fulfilment. Rejoice.
Then the party starts. We are all going to hell. But we will have ourselves a party. Glitch-like samples. The whole orchestra in a blender.
Then we are floating, yet we are frozen.
Then it gets darker (and darker, and darker...)
Then you bring your attention back into the room.

Read more about the composer here