Histories and Herstories Composers part 5

Anna Appleby

As with Lillie Harris, I first met Anna Appleby through the RSNO Composers’ Hub. It’s probably fair to say that “Hrakningar” grew out of someone else’s joke: Anna was in Reykjavik, where one of her choral pieces was being performed and she posted a short video of the geese on Tjörnin, the lake in the park near the centre of Reykjavik. One of her friends suggested she should write a piece incorporating their sound.

The geese have always been a potent symbol for me as their noisy conversation woke me early every morning as I  camped next to the Lagarfljót in East Iceland. After a month on the road, my mind was on travelling back to Scotland, just like the geese. I was intrigued to see who got there first: it was me by a short head but I remember the strong emotions I felt one day out on the bike when a large  skein of geese settled onto the field next to me. Every year now I await their migration in both directions between Iceland and Scotland. There was a special poignancy this year when they left as Scotland entered lockdown- almost like they were jumping ship.

With so much symbolism attached to the geese for me, you can imagine it was important to find the right composer for this commission and I knew that Anna understood how Iceland felt in winter.

©Graeme McDonald

Nordic Viola had been invited to play in Sound Festival in November 2018, which would feature the viola as part of their endangered instrument  series as well as the  music of women composers, and so I approached Fiona Robertson about jointly commissioning Anna to write us a piece.

In Anna’s words:

“Hrakningar is an Icelandic word used to describe being buffeted by a storm or wind,  blown somewhere against your will  and is also used to refer to dangerous events that happen to a person. Hrakningar juxtaposes the freedom of migrating birds with the prejudice that refugees face when seeking a better life. Geese face harsh conditions when travelling but their journeys are accepted and often celebrated while humans are expected to conform to imposed  boundaries and borders.”

Working with Anna was a collaborative process. Whilst I very much wanted her to write the piece she wanted to write, I  did enjoy watching the piece develop as she sent sketches of the work in progress. I remember hearing the electronic soundtrack early in the process and being captivated by the eery, echoey sound of the geese. Somehow I can’t hear that track without thinking of the northern lights flickering overhead – you can practically feel the electricity in the air in this soundtrack. It sounds like a cliché, but then the northern lights were every bit as much of a feature of my time in East Iceland as the geese were.

Anna is currently studying for a PhD at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester but she hails originally from Newcastle upon Tyne. Her work engages with socio-political and spiritual themes and she writes for community as well as professional ensembles. She has a particular interest in writing for the stage and has enjoyed residencies with the Rambert Dance Company (2016-17) and Glyndebourne Opera (2019-21). In Glasgow she worked with Merchant Sinfonia as part of the PRS Foundation’s “Adopt a Composer” scheme and wss part of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra’s Composers’ Hub in 2017-18.

Community work is important to her and she has been  composer in residence with Streetwise Opera in Manchester  and artist in residence with Quay Voices. She also works teaching and mentoring young composers.

Key awards include the GDST Trailblazer Award in 2018 and 2nd prize in the Royal Northern Sinfonia‘s “Mozarts of Tomorrow” competition in January 2016.

Unusually in this era of specialisation, Anna is also an accomplished visual artist and writer.

You can find out much more about Anna and her music at: https://www.annaappleby.com/

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