YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

L.A. Chamber Orchestra to premiere Anna Clyne's 'Prince of Clouds'

Musical relationships and lineage are at the heart of composer Anna Clyne's new piece.

March 14, 2014|By Barbara Isenberg
  • Anna Clyne, Mead composer-in-residence at Chicago Symphony Orchestra in her studio space in the Fine Arts Building in Chicago.
Anna Clyne, Mead composer-in-residence at Chicago Symphony Orchestra… (Nancy Stone / Chicago Tribune )

CHICAGO — When London-born Anna Clyne was 7, friends of her parents gave her family a piano with randomly missing keys. Undeterred, Clyne not only played that piano but by age 11 had written a few little songs for herself and a flute-playing friend.

She had fun doing it, she remembers, but "I never thought I would become a composer."

These days, there is no longer any doubt on her part or anyone else's. Her idiosyncratic music has been performed not only at Symphony Center in Chicago but also in Los Angeles' Walt Disney Concert Hall, New York's Carnegie Hall and London's Barbican Centre.

Today a composer in residence for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Clyne still enjoys writing music for friends. "Writing for orchestras can be an anonymous endeavor because you're writing for people with whom you have no personal connection," Clyne says over tea at the Artists Café. "But I've gotten to know the orchestra's musicians very well as people, which makes for a more intimate experience."

CHEATSHEET: Spring 2014 arts preview

Musical relationships and lineage lie at the heart of Clyne's composition, "Prince of Clouds," scheduled for its West Coast premiere with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra next weekend at the Alex Theatre in Glendale and UCLA's Royce Hall. A LACO co-commission with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, IRIS Orchestra and the Curtis Institute of Music, Clyne's first double-violin concerto will feature violinists Jennifer Koh and Jaime Laredo, with whom Koh studied at the Curtis Institute.

"Prince of Clouds" is paired with Bach's seminal Concerto in D minor for Two Violins, which the two musicians will also play, and the lineup reinforces Clyne's notion of musical legacies. "Jaime was Jenny's mentor at Curtis, and that became the initial inspiration for the piece," explains Clyne, 34. "We have a literal family, but we also have a family tree through our teachers and their teachers."

Clyne and Koh, last seen in Los Angeles in LA Opera's "Einstein on the Beach," are also close friends, a friendship sparked when Esa-Pekka Salonen first suggested four years ago that Koh listen to some of Clyne's music. Koh did, , then contacted Clyne. ""Everything about our working together feels absolutely right," Koh says. "We both understood how invested we were in 'Prince of Clouds,' and that made for a very happy collaboration. It was such a beautiful gift."

Chicago Symphony Orchestra's music director, Riccardo Muti, calls Clyne "an artist who writes from the heart," noting that she also defies categorization.

"She's quite eclectic, like a lot of modern composers, and she is also constantly moving forward," observes Gerard McBurney, the CSO's artistic programming advisor. "She never seems to repeat herself."

PHOTOS: Faces to watch 2014 | Classical music

What does her music sound like? It might be lush and symphonic or electronic, gentle or loud, ethereal or atonal. The score might include someone breathing, a warped voice reading from a novel or even the taps of an elderly man's cane on concrete.

Yet her music is also often quite melodic, something she traces to working-class parents more interested in the Beatles, Bob Dylan and folk music than in classical composers. She went on to study cello at Edinburgh University, along with English and chemistry, but says that when she graduated she had taken just one composition class.

She moved to New York "with a suitcase and a cello," supporting herself as a free-lance cellist, waitress and florist, also cleaning stairwells and halls at her Brooklyn apartment house to get a rent discount. She composed at night until, at 23, she received a scholarship to the Manhattan School of Music to study composition.

"I thought I would be so far behind, but now I look back and think I was fortunate," Cline says. "I already knew what I wanted to say. I just didn't have the tools. I think it's harder when you're younger because you're bombarded by all these tools and have to figure out what to do with them."

Her relatively late arrival in the music world doesn't appear to have been a problem either. Her website includes not only extensive lists of collaborators and presenters but also awards and honors extremely numerous for someone so young. In a review last year, critic Mark Swed referred to her as "a rising star."

PHOTOS: Best classical concerts of 2013 | Mark Swed

Clyne's unpredictable music impressed Boosey & Hawkes President Zizi Mueller, who first signed her in 2008 for the music publisher's Emerging Composers program, then to the company's composer roster in 2010. "It's one thing to take risks when nobody's paying attention," Mueller says, "but she's continued to do it. She references early music, psychology and literature. She's a real explorer."

Los Angeles Times Articles