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Boreas Sings for Orchestra


Work Premiered by Arctic Symphony Orchestra in Bodø the 9th of August 2012

Inspired by nature

A CD with my chamber music played by Bodø Sinfonietta was released in2003. It is titled “Singing Landscape”. This title may serve as a motto for most of my music. When I got the commission from Arctic Philharmonic Orchestra it was again a natural thing for me to focus on nature and nature phenomena. The northern lights are beautiful and mystic. It looks supernatural, something we can enjoy and at the same time quite don´t understand.

Northern lights

Northern lights

Scientists know that it is real and has nothing to do with spirits or angel’s. It is caused by explotions on the sun. It is actually very dangerous, but thanks to our atmosphere and thanks to the magnetic field, the plasma is kept away from us, but causes excited atoms and molecules that gives away light when they go back to their normal state.

My quite short orchestral piece is inspired by this phenomena. The name aurora borealis was invented in the early 17 century, when the goddess Aurora (roman) of the dawn was coupled with the greek Boreas, god of the northern winds, by a mathematician called Gassendi, to give name to the northern lights. This also was an act of artistic freedom. My version if how we get the northern lights is also just an imagination: When Boreas not blow, he sings colours! I kept this idea as a starting point for creating the music.

My piece of music is a kind of poetry on the colours of the northern lights. At the same time I am aware of the fact that Aurora Borealis, when pictured, often becomes kitsch. And the sound tracks that follows time lapse videos are not the kind of music I like to listen to, even if the photos are nice. I recognize photos as documentation. Still it is very close to kitsch. I just had to avoid the kitsch element.

By reading about aurorae science and reading about auroraes impact on humans I could start to compose my paraphrase over the phenomenon. The four phases of the aurora has been an inspiration to the over all form of the piece: 1. calm arches. 2 (growth): rays and movements, 3 (exploding): rays, and corona, 4: gradually disappears.

The Music

The piece starts with is a quite etheric texture based on harmonics in the strings. After a short opening a rhythm occurs in measure 12 that becomes a kind of rhythmic ostinato throughout the piece. In bar 16 an important chord can be heard in vln´s/vla. The changing of colours in the orchestration, the harmonic language based on the mentioned chord and the rhythmic ostinato is a basis for the whole piece. Actually not much else is happening.  This is one way to describe the aurorae: it is static, but at the same time very varied and always changing, sometimes just standing still, in the next moment it travels with high speed and changing shape.

I don´t think a piece of music can picture something 1:1. It is impossible. So I admit that Boreas Sings is crafted based on inspiration of aurorae, the rest is based on how I make music.

In the context of music making, Boreas Sings is created as a very slow improvisation. After a process writing down small (important!) elements on a paper, I start to write ideas on my computer using the notation program Finale and throughout the whole process I listen a lot to the ideas, how they sound and the timing of the form. I use quite cheap synthesized sounds, but I am very aware of the fact that an orchestra does not sound the way my computer does, so this is not a problem at all.

It is comparable to the way composers worked in previous times when the grand piano was their instrument. The made complete piano versions and played them though several times, testing and evaluating the score, before they orchestrated the music. So composing and orchestrations does not have to be the same part of the process. But sometimes it is, especially when the idea is an orchestral colour or textural idea.

Developing ideas

With only three main elements I make use of a quite simple spin off strategies during the process of making the piece. One example is bar 21 (View score example). The strings have just started the ostinato and the wood winds comes in playing a varied version of the same idea. The result is a multilayered texture.

In bar 4 in flutes I use an arpeggio figure (View score example). This is an element that should be mentioned even if it is only a part of the method I use, one way to play with chords. Around bar 41 you can see how this idea play with the harmonies from strings and woodwinds (View score example). It also gives the static rhythms some resistance. It also add a singing quality to the music.

After 89 bars, the first aurorae face, comes to an end. Bar 90 is quite similar to bar 11 (View score example), so in a way the music starts again, but this time it takes a different direction. A build up that reach a climax at 132 (View score example), suddenly stops and instead of a following ff-passage you hear a choir of harmonics in strings.

A new very short build up give us a bigger climax than the previous. From bar 141 to bar 163 we are definitely in a face 3 stadium. In this part, for ex. from bar 154 and onwards, I make use of five suspended cymbals played with triangle beaters that becomes important in the section that follows. In bar 206 the cymbals even have a soloist role. In bar 210 the face 3 explosion has gradually faded and now ends (View score example). Face 4 starts and you immediately recognize some of the patterns heard before, but it is soon clear that this is the end of this particular aurorae borealis. And it disappears, as it always does.

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Torstein Aagaard-Nilsen’ Discography

Singing Landscape (Bodø Sinfonietta/Thomas Rimul):


Blue Traces (Rune Alver)

  • (LAWO CLassics)

Fanfares and Fairytales (Malmø Symphonic Orchestra/PK Svensen/Terje Boye Hansen)

  • (2L)

The Cry of Fenrir (Tuba and Orchestra)
Music for Blue Days (Tuba/Harp) (Pleven Philharmonic Orchestra/Eirik Gjerdevik/Bjørn Breistein)

  • (LAWO Classics)

Dynamis (Manger Musikklag/Bjørn Sagstad) (LAWO Classics)