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11 December 2008

Greetings from Gotland

Composers' Hall in Visby, Gotland Image: Composers' Hall in Visby, Gotland  
© Rosalind Page

I write to you from the Composers' Hall, Visby, where I am currently the first Australian composer in residence at the Visby International Centre for Composers (VICC). When I arrived two weeks ago, bringing with me the first snow of the season (!), I was warmly welcomed by Artistic Director Ramon Anthin with a cup of tea and Turkish Delight - all most welcome, considering it was -3° and the Arctic wind was howling.

Gotland, Sweden's largest island, is centred in the Baltic Sea and over time has held a strategic position, initially as a member of the Hanseatic League in the 12th and 13th centuries. Visby itself reveals its history beautifully at every turn: medieval cobble-stoned streets, Gothic church ruins, elegant, steeply gabled merchants' houses, 17th- and 18th-century half-timber and thatched houses - and more! It is absolute bliss to embark on the daily pilgrimage and discover another immaculately preserved moment of history.

However, here at Visby the past meets the present and beyond. As with all of us, the composer's work always looks to the future performance, and my project here is to compose trente, a 30-minute work for solo piano, commissioned by the UK-based Australian pianist Mark Knoop. The work is a journey from Southern to Northern Hemispheres through the constellations and forms the fourth work in my instrumental series linking the art of Wassily Kandinsky with aspects of astronomy.

a street view from gotland
Image © Rosalind Page

Notation Studio 1, on the upper level, is my abode during this residency and the perfect environment within which to realise my work. From my window, I can see the inner harbour filled with sea birds and two white swans, and further out to the restless waves of the Baltic Sea. Above my desk is a very large painting of a contented cow, which reminds me of rural Berry, NSW. The notation studio is one of two, both fully equipped with everything the composer needs to write, notate and publish their score. Currently working in Notation Studio 2 is Zeynep Gedizlioglu from Turkey. Studio Alpha is a fully equipped electroacoustic studio on the lower level and occupied by Ari Taskinen from Finland. Tech specs for each studio are available on the VICC website.

The Composers' Hall is also home to the Gotland School of Music Composition, and the positive energy of student composers radiates the instant one steps in the front door. Upstairs, the setup at VICC is small, friendly, economical and quiet - at least in winter. Apparently at the height of summer, shiploads of ravers come over from the mainland, transforming medieval Visby into the Ibiza of the North. I'm sure trente would be a very different work if I was here in July - very possibly unfinished!

Further links

Rosalind Page is a composer and writer. She is currently composer in residence at the International Composers Centre at Visby, Sweden.


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Dear Rosalind,

What a wonderful blog - it all sounds (and looks) wonderfully idyllic and inspirational. I would certainly be very interested to know (as Im sure others would!) how things are progressing for you now, and what, if any, impact the residency/location/work arrangement has had on your composing. It's such a great thing to have our first Australian composer over there. Congratulations!

Hope you are well.

Best Wishes
Chris Williams

Rosalind replies

Hi Chris, thanks for your response.  Visby was inspiring but my residency there has now wound up.  A fruitful session followed in London with Mark Knoop who cast his expert eye over my score, considering minutiae and importantly, playing it through – the ultimate test. The VICC residency was important to me on several levels. Conceptually, in terms of the truth of the work, it was paramount to locate myself in the Northern hemisphere whilst composing the movements in ‘trente’ based on Northern constellations. These movements became intimately linked to my presence in Visby, in ways that, in a work based principally on determinism, arose purely spontaneously from the geography of being in that space.

Practically, the residency allowed me to immerse my entire physicality – body and brain - in the work daily, a continuum not always possible despite the best intentions when home in Australia.

Thirdly VICC provided an opportunity to meet other composers whose paths I otherwise would not necessarily have encountered and to hear of their experiences.  Now, far from the Baltic Sea, I’m residing in the Champagne-Ardenne region of France, one hour east of Paris - where the rooster rises at 4 in the morning - and engaged with several other new projects simultaneously – and retiring, mostly, at 4 in the morning.  Sometimes, it’s good to have an alarm to tell you when to stop work.  However, it was bizarre last week to have La Seine flowing on one side, a medieval tower on the other and to be in the middle listening to a recording of my new work for the Song Company - ‘pirrki pirrki’ – sung in Kalkatungu.  But then again, maybe not …best wishes, Rosalind