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Photo: Janne Korkko

Anna is a Latvian composer working in the fields of chamber music, opera, music for choir and vocal ensembles, instrumental solo pieces, duos, electroacoustic music and sound installations. Fascinated by the most intricate properties of sound, she approaches it as a living organism that embodies a musical form in itself. Her work is often created in close collaboration with musicians, exploring the finest timbral, textural and technical possibilities of each instrument, resulting in meticulously crafted sonoric architectures. Inspired by the mysteries of nature, she engages in a dialogue with it through her music, striving to combine disciplined rationality and scientific research with feminine intuition and sensitive plasticity.

Can you tell us about your background? 

I was born in Riga and studied at the music academy here. I took masterclasses abroad, and now I’m undertaking a PhD course. I’m studying composition and I mainly work as a composer. 

Your focus ranges from chamber music and opera to choir and instrumental solo pieces and installations. Could you talk about the scope of your music and sound work? 

I started as an experimental musician, playing keyboard and singing, and we had a project called First Latvians on Mars. We performed at CTM Festival in Berlin, among others. 

And that’s how it all started. I’m very interested in electronic music, and now I often combine it with other genres. For example, I had an opera premiered in Finland and it used electronics. So I basically started with electronics and then I entered the music academy and of course we were trained to compose for any instrument. I started with solos, then continued with quartets.

Then I realized that actually my main interest was in opera and interdisciplinary works. These are not classical operas per se. For example, my operas take place in a forest or in some weird space, with homemade instruments involved, etc.

Opera is quite a complex genre. It requires production and the involvement of many people; it’s like a Gesamtkunstwerk in a way. 

Exactly. I really like to choose the team with whom I work. My first opera, which premiered in Finland, was very challenging because it took place outside, in the middle of a forest eight hours by car from Helsinki, basically in the middle of nowhere. I think I like facing such challenges and extreme situations, with the rain etc.

Do you incorporate chance and unpredictability into your works? I guess they are inherently part of it, as it’s hard to predict the weather if you are creating something outdoors. 

Yes, that’s how it is. In Finland, we prayed for the rain not to come. But we also had a plan B, which involved covering the instruments. The audience was also prepared for it because they were travelling a long way to get there and we said that if there was rain, they would need to wait for a couple of hours. It was okay for them, but of course, it’s a bit extreme, this unpredictability, but in doing it in this way, somehow I feel a bigger connection to the weather and nature.

For example, in Tree Opera, there was a storm in the libretto. And the interesting thing is that the storm came exactly at the point in the libretto where we had some scenographic elements like lightning and wind.

And you also incorporate nature and ecology in your work. 

Yes, for Tree Opera it was very important because we can now really feel what’s happening in our world, with the heat waves and storms. 

With Tree Opera we had the approach that we are like kukaini, insects. We entered the forest and we didn’t leave any plastic there, instead building a natural concert hall entirely from biodegradable materials, and it stayed there.

I recently visited the site. It’s so beautiful that you can see how everything is growing through the stage. It’s what we wanted to achieve – that it perfectly fits the environment and we didn’t do any damage there. 

What is the relationship to ecology and the environment in your work?

My two interests are nature and ecology, and then also ancient philosophy. I have a string quartet series – it’s called Mundus Invisibilis – and the first part was dedicated to the invisible world.

I was inspired by fungal mycelium. There are a lot of things we can’t see, and not only in esoteric terms; we also can’t see fungal mycelium because it’s literally underground.

We can’t see, for example, quantum physics atoms. The last work I did was a choir piece for 24 voices and double bass – it’s called Gaia. So it’s like earth, and also nature, of course.

Before that I had a huge piece with a symphonic orchestra and choir. And it was called Carmen Sibyllae, the Song of the Sybil. I used a text with a story about sybils that lived in a cave. According to one story, a sybil predicted the birth of Jesus. I’m interested in powerful, mystical women, and intuition.

It’s interesting – on the one hand there is this scientific side to your work and interests, on the other, a more intuitive one. Can you talk about how you work with sound itself? 

I recently started to work with a video artist, Carl Emil Carlsen, and we actually discovered that I experience sound synesthetically. When I studied at the music academy, we had those exams where the teacher would give you, for example, Mozart’s third symphony, and you’d listen to it and write what it was. When I compose, I often start by drawing some lines and figures and it’s quite abstract. 

How do you then translate this practically into sound and installations, let’s say? 

My approach is that I often work with musicians; I do some sketches and then we try everything out and then I build a score and a demo, or something like that.

All of it comes from natural resources. Not an electronic cello, but a real one, and I build the structure and then I do the score. So there are two ways. One involves sketches, then meeting with musicians, then creating a demo, and then doing this super complicated dictation when you write down what it is. The other way is when there is a score at the beginning, and then we try out some things. Trying out is super important for me because when I was studying, I realized that if you don’t try out things with musicians, then often there’ll only be about 30% of what you were imagining.

I’m a bit of a control freak. So it’s very important that the result is exactly how I meant it to be. 

And you mentioned that you also do these pieces in various unusual spaces. Can you talk about some of these spaces?

For example, with Tree Opera, I was approached by the Latvian chamber music festival Sansusi, which takes place outdoors, and I was wandering through the forest and I saw that the singers were singing from the tops of the trees and that’s when I realized that I would like to use a huge space and put the singers on the tops of the trees because then the sound source would also come from different spots. 

Then I had another opera that premiered last year. I was approached by a Latvian artist, Katrina Neiburga, who invited me to do an opera, and we used a space that was a boiler room – a very industrial space with different acoustics. I think that acoustics are important. My new project will premiere in Riga Circus; the space is round so the audience will be sitting in the round and can see everything.

In the future, I would like to do something in a space that has the largest reverb in the world. An oil can in England. I will not be using percussion, but will work with reverb; in a church it’s much the same. I like it when a space dictates the rules.

What are your current projects? 

There is one with a Danish video artist Carl Emil Carlsen, and we are using VR. He is experimenting with materials that are not yet present and I am trying to do that with sound. The other big production is an acoustic story. It is about insects and we will use very large instruments, such as this 12-metre horn. There will also be a storyteller. It will be something between opera and theatre. I am also going to be working in Bad Aussee, Austria, with the artist Katrina Neiburga on a piece reflecting on the yodelling tradition. I’m also very interested in traditional music in other countries. And then, after four years, in connection with my PhD studies, I will be doing an opera in an opera house for the first time in my life. It is inspired by the Voynich Manuscript, one of the only texts that hasn’t been discovered yet. 

You work with and in nature. How do you approach this topic while we are in the middle of a climate crisis? You also mentioned the feminine aspect. Do you view any of these topics in terms of their political and social ramifications?

I live near a lake and a forest. I’m surrounded by nature from the morning till the evening. I feel this strong connection because I don’t live in a city. I feel empathy for what’s happening with our environment. I hate plastic. 

We should respect nature and feel connected to it and not destroy everything. It’s just gross. 

Do you address these topics in your works? 

I don’t think that if I make an opera in a forest the world will change. But if someone experiences the forest differently, I at least feel that I have achieved something. 

Do you have a dream location where you’d like to set your work? 

Yes. I totally have. I would like to make a sci-fi opera in a volcanic crater. I would like to collaborate with an architect and a scenographer and we could turn this crater into an amphitheatre, and I think that working with the acoustics there would be very interesting. I really hope this will happen before I die.

Interview: Lucia Udvardyova

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