Þorkell Nordal: “harp, brass and surround music”


As part of our concert project with NyNorsk Messingkvintett, a Norwegian brass quintet focused in new music, Korvat auki composer Þorkell Nordal wrote a new piece “Circuit” for the quintet and a harpist. The piece will be premiered Sunday 20.10. in Balderin sali. Rolf Gustavson discussed the piece and Þorkell’s approach to the composition with him.

Thorkell Nordal is an Icelandic composer residing in Helsinki. His music can be described as tranquil soundscapes but with a strong structural undercurrents that drive the music forward

How did you get involved with Korvat auki and how did you end up composing this upcoming piece for the NyNorsk Messingkvintett?

I been aware about Korvat auki for a while and it was recommended for me as a composer residing in Finland that it would be good to join the organisation. I’ve been very happy to be part of Korvat auki – since I became a member I have been involved in very nice projects. When I saw the call for a piece for NyNorsk Messingkvintett with the possibility of using a harp I got excited to propose a piece. I think harp and brass quintet is a quite a rare combination so I decided to use the opportunity to write for this instrumentation.

Have you composed for brass instruments before and how did you find it writing for a brass quintet?

I’ve used the brass section in larger ensemble pieces and I made small arrangements for brass ensembles as a part of my studies but this is the first time I write a piece with focus on brass instruments. I would not have thought of this instrumentation myself but since there was this opportunity I just went for it to see where it would lead me. It was a very positive experience.

What’s the piece about and how did you approach composing it?

My initial idea was that I wanted to use the harp as some kind of centre in the piece and it ended up being literally a physical centre – I place the brass quintet around the hall while the harp is on the stage. The quintet resonates notes from the harp and lets them circulate around the audience.

Since the players are distributed in space it was practical to include some aleatoric elements in the notation of the piece. Accurate synchronisation in a metre might have been challenging when the players are far apart from each other. In the first part the harp has a written out passages and the quintet has to listen and play on cues from the harp. I am not looking for an exact alignment of events in time but rather I want the quintet to act as an organic reaction of the harp part, like a composed echo or reverberation. In the second part the harp kind of looses it’s status as a leader and the instruments react on cues that I have distributed with certain interval in time. When there is no leader the relationship between the harp and the other instruments takes on a more random form.

I heard you visited USA quite recently. Could you tell us more about trip and when is your next trip abroad going to take place?

Yes, I was in the USA but I wasn’t there as a composer. I am a member of a choir that sang with Björk in her multimedia spectacle Cornucopia that she staged in a new art centre in New York called The Shed. We did eight shows with her over a period of one month, it was very interesting experience to take part in this huge event. Björk is a creative force that knows how to lead different people together and make these wonderful happenings around her music. She is of course also an excellent composer and very powerful performer herself.

As a composer I have few performances coming up outside of Finland within the next few months, one piece for choir and percussion that will be premiered in Reykjavík in end of November and then I’m doing a collaboration with sound artist Tytti Arola and Sähkökitarakvartetti that will be presented in Finland, Iceland and Sweden.

If you’d have to describe your piece to the audience in three words. What would those words be?

It’s difficult for me to boil the piece down to a couple of words. If I needed to advertise the piece then I think I would mention harp, brass and surround. If you want to know more, come to the concert!


Interview by Rolf Gustavson.

NyNorsk messingkvintett, Sean Bell & Liis Viira

Sunday 20.10. at 5 pm
Balderin sali, Helsinki

Event on FB.

Tickets at the door 15 / 10 €

Nils Henrik Asheim: Hornflowers for brass quintet (2019)
Tze Yeung Ho: messe norvegienne profane for counter tenor, brass quintet, harp, speakers and audience
choir (2019)
Liis Viira: There are so many insects… for counter tenor and brass quintet (2019)
Þorkell Nordal: Circuit for harp and brass quintet (2019)
Olli Moilanen: Rain Dance for brass quintet (2019)
Finn Shields: Brass quintet (2019)