As told to Greg Cahill

Keep Connected chronicles the ways in which string players and organizations are supporting and keeping in touch with their audiences or students throughout the global coronavirus pandemic. Even as society reopens, virtual concerts and social-media outreach programs are a phenomenon that have kept performers in the public sphere, since concert, festivals and other large gatherings remain largely restricted.

Anna Clyne is a cellist and Grammy-nominated composer of acoustic and electro-acoustic music. Appointed by music director Riccardo Muti, the London-born Clyne served as a Mead composer-in-residence for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 2010–15. She also served as composer-in-residence for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, during the 2015–16 season, for L’Orchestre national d’Île-de-France, from 2014–16, and the Berkeley Symphony, from 2017–19. The Scottish Chamber Orchestra has announced Clyne as its associate composer through the 2020-2021 season. She has been quarantined at her home in the Hudson Valley in upstate New York.

Tell me about your daily routine.

On an ideal day, I get up early and enjoy a coffee and some breakfast, and then get into my admin—emails and such. I get a good three to four hours of composing, break for lunch, and then do something non music-related (a walk, bike ride, reading, baking, etc.) before returning to composing for the remainder of the afternoon. If I’m on a roll, I’ll usually compose more music in the evening, but sometimes I’ll enjoy the evening off with my husband—cooking, watching a film, playing a game, going down a Netflix rabbit hole, identifying bird calls or unwinding otherwise.  

What have you learned about yourself while working and living in solitude?

I’ve learnt that I need balance in my life—that it can’t be composing music all of the time! This has been an opportunity to explore new activities, such as going on walks in the nearby countryside to making homemade jam with fruits picked from the local farms. Most recently I’ve started learning the banjo, which I am loving. It’s a welcome break from writing music whilst it also keeps musical ideas percolating. Composing music, like practicing an instrument, is a solitary endeavor. This period is particularly challenging as, like for musicians, it is not counterbalanced by the communal experience of rehearsing and performing music with others, and engaging with audiences and communities. I miss this balance greatly and I look forward to live concerts resuming.

What projects are you working on?

I am currently working on a new chamber piece for the Kaleidoscope Ensemble as part of their Project 20×2020. It is inspired by my recent explorations of the banjo and how those sonorities can double with the live ensemble.

How are you staying connected with colleagues during the quarantine?

I am currently mentoring four composers as part of the Orchestra of St. Luke’s DeGaetano Composition Institute. For these sessions, we meet via Skype—they email me their scores and audio files before we meet, so that I have time to look and listen in preparation for our meetings. As part of my residency with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, we have recently launched New Stories, an opportunity for three emerging women composers to compose new works for the SCO and receive mentorship.


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Are your works being performed online?

I am thrilled that ensembles and soloists are programming live performances, and past performances, of my music online during the pandemic and I am fortunate to have a busy composing schedule. The Caramoor Festival has reimagined their summer festival as an online version with live-stream broadcasts. These will include the July 23 world premiere of Shorthand with The Knights, and the July 16 New York premiere of Breathing Statues with the Calidore Quartet. Both works are inspired by Beethoven’s music as part of his 250th anniversary.

I was also delighted to be a part of the first online Bang on a Can Online Marathon last month during which clarinetist Eileen Mack performed Rapture, a piece I wrote for her for solo clarinet and electronics. Other ensembles are sharing existing performances, such as the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s performance of my mandolin concerto, Three Sisters, with mandolinist Avi Avital, and the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra’s performance of This Midnight Hour with conductor Ben Gernon. 

Since the lockdown I have written several works, including Overflow (wind ensemble for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra), Shorthand (solo cello and strings for the Knights), Stride (string orchestra for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Australian Orchestra, Lausanne Orchestra, and River Oaks Chamber Orchestra), and The Heart of Night (SATB chorus for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra). Additionally, I have written a few short solo works that have been composed in light of social isolation: Evening Light performed by Gillian Callow, principal cor anglais of the BBC Philharmonic, as part of the BBC’s Postcards from Composers series; and an upcoming performance of Snake & Ladder by Jon Manasse, principal clarinet of the Orchestra of St. Luke’s for their online Music While Away series.

I am also thrilled that my cello concerto, DANCE, was recently released and I am happy to share this recording online, performed by cellist Inbal Segev, conductor Marin Alsop, and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. I really enjoyed watching Eileen perform Rapture. She’s such a fantastic musician and it was meaningful to know that I was sharing that experience with others both in New York and around the world. It was also an opportunity to share performances with my friends and family in the UK—an opportunity that is not available to them when performances are not shared online—so this is a positive result of this migration to online performances. There’s an excitement with live performance, even if it is online, that is hard to replicate when the performance is pre-recorded.

What are your impressions of this virtual concert world?

Bringing these festivals online is an opportunity to re-connect with our musical and artistic communities through live performance. In the case of the Bang on a Can marathon, it also provides the audience with a unique glimpse into the homes and environments of the artists themselves, with the majority performing solo works from their self-isolation at home. Seeing Meredith Monk’s turtle, Neutron, was also a highlight! The online sharing of past performances is also an opportunity for online listeners to share their comments and interact with each other in real time during the performance, something that wouldn’t normally be encouraged in the concert hall!

Why is it important to stay connected on social media?

Social media is a wonderful tool to share information within a community. It’s introduced me to some really innovative socially isolated performances during this time, plus some creative videos that shed new perspectives on classics, like Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s collage of Copland’s Appalachian Spring. It’s an opportunity to help us to maintain an element of connectivity during these challenging times. As musicians, and human beings, one of the hardest things about this situation is the lack of in-person personal connections—gathering to share conversations, laughter, meals, experiences. I especially miss enjoying live performances and sharing these experiences with others. I look forward to enjoying these in the future. Audiences are also hungry for this interaction, though we have also discovered a few benefits from online performances and using technology in interesting ways to connect with audiences.

Is this something you will continue even as venues reopen?

Sharing music and performances online is an opportunity to reach a wider audience and I anticipate that this is kind of presentation will continue in some form after the pandemic. Musicians will continue to play and share their talents with the world and I anticipate that they will discover new ways in this unprecedented context. In addition to enabling the sharing of live music with a wider global audience online, it also enables musicians from around the world to collaborate and create new art together.

Any tips for string players considering this path?

Online music lessons can still be rewarding for both mentors and students.

Is there a message you’d like to share with our readers?

Keep exploring and reimagining your path in this new context.

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