Anna Pidgorna, 2012 SMI Composer Fellow
Anna Pidgorna in Central Park, NYC in March 2012
Anna Pidgorna, one of five Composer Fellows at the 2012 Summer Music Institute (SMI) was born in Ukraine and immigrated to Canada with her family at the age of twelve. After studying at Simon Fraser University(SFU) in Vancouver, BC, Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, and the University of Calgary(UofC) in Calgary, AB; Anna is now living in Halifax, NS, working on finishing up her Master’s Degree, including her thesis project “On the Eve of Ivan Kupalo”.
She has had the opportunity to participate in a creative residency at the Banff Centre in Banff, AB, and just this past March she participated in workshop at Carnegie Hall with Kaija Saariaho and Anssi Karttunen which resulted in a premiere of her cello piece, “The child, bringer of light,” at Carnegie Hall. Her composition for solo accordion “Light play through curtain holes” is part of the official Canadian submission to World New Music Days 2012, and will appear on their demo CD. You can listen to excerpts of her work here.
I had the opportunity to find out a little bit more about Anna before she came to Ottawa to participate in the SMI Composers Program.
AW: What got you interested in music?
AP: In high school, I played clarinet in band and baritone sax in jazz band, and also took guitar lessons. What really made me love art music was the music course I took as part of the IB diploma program. In addition to learning music history, I also had to compose several pieces. I ended up taking some more composition courses in my first year undergrad while at SFU and then transitioned to studying music full time. I think part of what has made music so appealing is that it’s a career I can’t see myself following if I had stayed in Ukraine.
AW: What is the “inspiration” for you in terms of creating a new piece?
AP: I tend to be inspired by extramusical ideas most of the time. It can be a visual phenomenon or a more dramatic idea. I then try to translate my reaction to it, or how it feels to me, to sound. Lately I’ve been paying more and more attention to the sound of the instrument itself and all the changing colour it can produce. Especially in solo music, that it what really inspires me.
AW: A lot of your work is rooted in multi-media, what is it about certain text/images that resounds with you, engages you, or inspires you to build a piece?
AP: Music is not really enough for me to express all my ideas. I did a lot of visual art long before I got interested in music and I am making my way back to that. There is also a lot of drama involved in my ideas. I often see and feel the piece before I hear it. So for me, using other media is not about adding something to music. It’s about having more tools in my creative arsenal. Sound is just one aspect of my work, even if the piece does not involve other media.
AW: What kinds of audience do you like write for?
AP: I like to imagine an open audience. I don’t expect them to like what I’m doing, but I’d like them to be curious and accept the fact that I’m doing whatever I’m doing with a purpose. I don’t write for any specific group.
AW: You are participating in the National Arts Centre Summer Music Institute composers program this year; what are you most excited about, or what are you hoping to get out of the experience?
AP: I’ve been writing a lot of vocal and solo music over the last few years. It will be good to work with an ensemble. I find it extremely rewarding and inspiring to work with performers. I am most looking forward to the collaborative experience of making the black dots on paper sound like music. I have spent most of my time in fairly small musical communities that don’t always have a great deal of variety. So I always look forward to meeting new musicians.
AW: In your own words, can you tell us a little bit about the assignment for the SMI Composers Program, and how you approached it?
AP: We were asked to choose an ensemble of any size out of a list of about 12 instruments. I chose to write for a larger ensemble, I think I used every instrument except the piano. I’ve been working a lot on solo pieces lately and I wanted to work with a larger ensemble.
This process was actually quite challenging for me. I had an idea I was mulling over for some time, but I came back from my workshop with Kaija Saariaho completely inspired to write something totally different. That meant that I didn’t have a lot of time to work on it, I was really in a rush. And then I discovered that my new idea wasn’t as clear as it at first appeared. I was trying to communicate something very abstract, but at that point it was too late to switch back. I had to just squeeze it out. I’m really curious to hear how it turned out.
*You can read a bit more about Anna’s process for the SMI project on her own blog here.
AW: What is your compositional process? And what do you do when you get stuck?
AP: I don’t really have a process. It’s a bit of a problem and something I’ve been trying to figure out about myself for a while, because it’s really tough when I do get stuck. My teachers have been trying for years to get me to experiment with various techniques that have to do with pitch organization, but nothing is sticking. I’m finding more and more that I’m driven by the actual sound of the instrument. So, when I wrote my cello piece, I rented a cello and spent many hours figuring it out. That’s how the piece was born. I also sing through my ideas a lot.
When I get stuck, I find that I just have to plough through it. I will most likely end up rewriting that stuff later anyway because it feels “uninspired”, but working is the best way to get unstuck.
AW: What is your biggest goal right now?
AP: I’d like to work and live as an independent composer outside academia. The world is in turmoil and some people are losing their footing. Some options are not as readily available now as they were before (like government grants), but technology and changing mentality are creating a lot of new possibilities. If you are smart about all the opportunities this new world has to offer, you can create something new and wonderful. I’d like to make modern art music desirable the way modern art is desirable. And with that, I will make my living and fund my art.
AW: If you could be commissioned to write anything, what would it be?
AP: My goal is to write a major full-scale opera.
AW: If you were stranded on a desert island and could only bring one recording with you, what would it be?
AP: It would be a tough choice between Stravinsky’s “Right of Spring” and Claude Vivier’s “Lonely Child.”
AW: What are you currently listening to?
AP: Quite a bit of Kaija Saariaho for string music and Judith Weir for opera. Though I haven’t been listening to much in the last two months while writing this piece for the NAC workshop.
AW: What is the hardest lesson you’ve learned so far?
AP: Discipline and the entrepreneurial spirit. You have to be very disciplined to be a good musician. You have to think like a businesswoman to be a successful musician. And by that, I don’t mean you “sell out.” I mean that you find a way to market what you produce to the right people.
AW: What do you enjoy doing when you are not composing?
AP: I like to cook and experiment with very basic in-season veggies, which in Halifax involves a lot of carrots, onions, parsnips, cabbages, potatoes and rutabagas. Everything else seems to costs its weight in gold out here. I also like to knit things with complicated lace patterns. It often helps to concentrate my fairly frantic thoughts on one little task.