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Interview of composer in residency Christina Athinodorou

"Composing for young voices requires a tremendous amount of care"


Among the applications received through the call for tailor-made residencies was the project from Cypriot composer and conductor Christina Athinodorou whose interest in spending time in a stimulating environment during opera rehearsals with performers and children choirs matched La Monnaie / De Munt’s season programme. From January 29 to February 8 2019, she was invited by the Belgian opera house for an immersive residency experience. 

> How would you describe your music? What are your influences?

I am fascinated by the harmony in movement and by the harmony that can be found in contrast. So I would say that my music suggests my preoccupation with musical pacing. It is also informed by contemporary approaches to timbre, extended techniques, and almost inevitably by elements that relate to Mediterranean and Hellenic traditions, including drama, prosody and microtonality. Naturally there are other influences which are non-musical - like literature, art, or everyday life experiences-, and quasi-musical, for instance, the sea, which is an inexhaustible source of sound and poetic material for me. 

> Your catalogue of pieces for chamber, vocal and orchestral ensembles is quite impressive, why did you apply to the residencies programme of enoa?


New operatic and dramatic forms concern me as much as new symphonic and other instrumental approaches. As a composer I am always searching for the precious time with performers and it is not always easy to have enough of it. This is why I felt that I would benefit very much from spending time in an environment like La Monnaie where, apart from singers and instrumentalists, I would have the opportunity to meet and observe the work of opera production professionals (dramaturgs, directors, conductors) as well as to attend rehearsals of children choirs. From the opposite point of view, I am well aware of the fact that the physical presence of the composer can help organisations and teams to get a clearer sense of any prospect of a collaboration, so the opportunity provided by enoa, has been a great for both sides to get to know each other better. 

> Did the residency meet your expectations? What were the highlights of your stay at La Monnaie?


It was just the right amount of time spent in Brussels with a well-planned schedule. I particularly enjoyed trying out ideas and effects with the children/youth choir and talking to the people of La Monnaie, both on an artistic and on an organizational level. I also had the chance to meet promising young singers and to give a public Masterclass at the Opera, which included some of my vocal music.

>Your new project is a piece that includes a children’s choir, what is exciting about composing for very young voices? What is challenging in this new composition project?  


Composing for young voices requires a tremendous amount of care because their ‘innocence’ has to be protected, explored and exploited in a good way. Young voices have a charming freshness and purity but they also have lack of experience or maturity in controlling or producing different levels of sound force. The challenge therfore is to write simply but effectively, while maintaining your idiosyncrasy and personality as a composer.

> How has the contact with the children’s choir of La Monnaie nourished your project?


I had the wonderful opportunity to lead a couple of workshops with the children choir to test various ideas, and to observe and listen both them and the youth choir rehearsing other things. This time was very useful. A composer’s work cannot be ‘seen’ or heard on the spot. I took notes and collected information and elements that cannot necessarily be put immediately into words. And these elements can be very crucial in the creative process. 


> What are the next steps in your composition?


I am gathering materials, which is something that can be a very abstract way of operating as an artist, but at the same time a perfectly tangible one. This period finds me reading very much and carefully selecting or rejecting the texts that will become a significant part of the composition.


photo credits © Hugo Segers