'Hillborg’s recent music has stepped into a new dimension.' The Financial Times
In February, the BBC celebrated the music of Anders Hillborg in one of its flagship ‘Total Immersion’ days. The most prestigious platform of its kind in the UK, the festival featured concerts, talks and a documentary screening before culminating in the UK premiere of a striking new orchestral work, Through Lost Landscapes, with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Sakari Oramo.
Through Lost Landscapes contains some of Hillborg’s most direct orchestral writing to date. Without being programmatic or didactic it nevertheless speaks urgently to the situation of the planet today: terrifying blasts of sound and seemingly endless glissandi are answered by haunting bird calls. A joint commission from the Orquesta Sinfónica de Castilla y León, BBC Radio 3, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, Minnesota and Helsinki Philharmonic orchestras, the 13-minute work had been premiered just a few weeks earlier in Valladolid, with Andrew Gourlay conducting. Listen to the BBC broadcast here and view the score online.
The BBC SO concert also included the Clarinet Concerto ‘Peacock Tales’ with Martin Fröst, the thrilling orchestral showpieces Beast Sampler and Eleven Gates, and the UK premiere of the Violin Concerto No.1 with Carolin Widmann.
Enthralling choral works…
Environmental concerns also coloured another UK premiere: a new work for choir, saxophone and cello, entitled The Breathing of the World. The text for the new 10-minute work is Hillborg’s own: a lyrical celebration of nature with melancholic undertones reflecting on the state of our planet. Joined by Theo Hillborg (saxophone) and Filip Graden (cello), the BBC Singers and Ragnar Rasmussen explored the full range of Hillborg’s choral music – from his beautiful early work Lilla Sus Grav to the ever-popular Mouyayoum.
…and wide-ranging chamber pieces
The day’s concerts began with an overview of Hillborg’s chamber music by students from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. An astonishing range of pieces were featured, including the characterful Six Pieces for Wind Quintet and the Beethoven-infused Kongsgaard Variations for string quartet. The standout work, however, was the Duo for cello and piano (2013), which received its UK premiere in a stunningly assured performance from Ben Tarlton and Ben Smith. Hillborg’s most substantial chamber work to date, this gripping 16-minute piece opens with an impassioned recitative for the cello before taking in a dazzling array of emotional worlds.
‘The Swedish composer’s attractive, eclectic, sometimes playful, often profound music is virtuosic, both in the tremendous demands it makes on its performers, and in the dexterous, even glamorous way Hillborg handles his forces, irrespective of whether he is writing instrumental duets or works for a Mahler-sized orchestra… High points elsewhere included Carolin Widmann’s fierce account of Hillborg’s flawed but ferocious First Violin Concerto, the mesmerising Eleven Gates and Through Lost Landscapes, which inveighs against our violation of our own planet in its depiction of forest wildlife under threat from environmental destruction. Fascinating, all of it.’
The Guardian (Tim Ashley), 24 February 2020
‘Hillborg had a great success… Many of his fans from around the world travelled to London for this unique event: it’s the equivalent of a Swedish artist having a monographic exhibition at The Royal Academy… Eighteen compositions in one day — this format required both the heft of the BBC and an international composer of Hillborg’s status.’
Dagens Nyheter (Camilla Lundberg), 25 February 2020
‘After centuries of composers writing music for orchestra, it must seem that there are no new sounds left to be discovered. Do not believe it: some composers are still opening doors to musical landscapes that are being discovered for the first time. One of these is Hillborg, still youthful in his mid-sixties… Hillborg’s recent music has stepped into a new dimension. At their best, the works performed here were pregnant with descriptive possibilities, expanses of sound that stretch out on a cosmic scale… For the range of his musical imagination, nothing beats Eleven Gates, in which a series of tableaux open up multiple visions — horizons without end, whirlwinds, a universe glittering with stars, and a wailing effect on the woodwind…’
The Financial Times (Richard Fairman), 24 February 2020