Cecilia Arditto: “I was overwhelmed and overjoyed”

The Willem Pijper Award will be awarded to two laureates on June 1 during Festival Dag in de Branding. Cecilia Arditto Delsoglio receives the prize for her orchestral work Tissue (2019) and Trevor Grahl for Music for Malmö (2019) for solo organ and electronics. Music journalist Joep Stapel talked to Cecilia and Trevor about the award and their work.

Congratulations both! What does it mean to you to win the Willem Pijper Award?
Cecilia: ‘I was overwhelmed and overjoyed when I got the news. You know, I’ve been working non-stop for 25 years and I’ve always been quite a solitary composer. But in recent years I have suddenly received different prizes. It’s very strange when you’re working here in your room and you get a phone call: you’ve won the Willem Pijper Award!’
Trevor: ‘Yes, it is a nice recognition. For me, composing is the art of doubting and such an award is the recognition that you have the right doubts and are on the right track. But it is even more important that I am happy with what I have done. Is it honest, nice, good? A new composition is a leap of faith every time.’

What is the place of the award-winning work in your oeuvre?
Cecilia: ‘My oeuvre mainly consists of small-scale works, for which I always conduct extensive research. For example, if I write a piece for a clarinet and a fan, I try out all the possibilities, sonically but also visually and performatively. But after years of research into individual sound sources, I feel the urgency to compose for larger ensembles. That’s a natural development, I think. I simply had to write this piece for orchestra, otherwise my head would have exploded, I had so many ideas.’

Had you written for orchestra before?
Cecilia: ‘No, never! No one gave me an assignment, so I just started. When it was finished, I sent it to the Rychenberg Competition in Winterthur, Switzerland, where it was selected and performed and awarded first prize.’

Trevor, you have already composed a lot for organ. What appeals to you about the instrument?
Trevor: ‘I love the organ very much, but every organ is different. Each instrument has specific capabilities and limitations and it is stuck in one place – that really appeals to me. The disadvantage is that we cannot perform Music for Malmö in The Hague, because it was made for a specific hyper organ – that is, an organ expanded with MIDI and electronics. Instead, we will play a fragment from the recording. And on Sunday my piece Of ancient days, on which Music for Malmö is based, will be performed.

Too bad we can’t hear it live. But is the limitation actually interesting?
Trevor: Yes! I already experienced that as a child: I come from rural Canada and I didn’t grow up with art at all, my parents are strict Catholic and the only music I heard was the organ in the church, twenty minutes by car from our house. I found it a very attractive and mysterious instrument, but because of the distance I could not take lessons. It wasn’t until later, when I was studying in Montreal, that it became accessible to me. But I didn’t study the organ and I developed my own way of playing it.’

What are you working on now?
Cecilia: ‘I have composed an opera based on the classic novel The Stranger by Albert Camus, which will premiere in Mannheim at the end of June. It’s wonderful to compose for a large ensemble or orchestra and write songs – I love it! Actually, I don’t want anything else anymore.’
Trevor: ‘An award like this is great, but it can also bring pressure, the idea that your next piece must also be cutting edge. Then the alarm bells go off for me. My latest piece, which will premiere at Festival Dag in de Branding, was emphatically not written for hyper organ. I view the prize as an invitation to take a new direction.’

Practical info
The awards ceremony will take place on Saturday, June 1 from 2:30 PM in Amare. During this festive program, the symphony orchestra of the Conservatorium van Amsterdam will play, among other things, the winning work Tissue by Cecilia Arditto Delsoglio. More info & tickets
On Sunday, June 2, Festival Dag in de Branding will present an extra concert in the Orgelpark in Amsterdam, with existing and new work by both laureates. More info & tickets

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