Arts and Culture

Danish composer Bent Sørensen has won the University of Louisville’s 2018 Grawemeyer Award in Music Composition for his piece “L’isola della Città,” or “The Island in the City.”

Written for Trio con Brio, and commissioned by the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra and Trondheim Chamber Music Festival, the 25-minute work is for violin, cello and piano soloists and orchestra. It was premiered in 2016 by the trio and the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra.

Sørensen’s music is steeped in memories and recollections, as well as personal experiences. It often begins in a place that is quiet and imperceptible, but never shies away from creating large, dense musical textures from the quietude.

Sørensen lives in Copenhagen, which is a city on an island. In an interview with Danish music publishing company Edition Wilhelm Hansen, he described how he was inspired by two ideas.

“One of them is very personal, because at the time I wrote the piece we lived in the middle of Copenhagen in a flat, near the very center of Copenhagen,” Sørensen said. “There was only one balcony, and that was our balcony. And when we were standing on the balcony it was like it was an island in the middle of a big city.”

The other, he says, was more practical.

“When I wrote the piece, I didn’t think about it as three soloists, but as one soloist — as one soloist, as an island connected by three musicians,” he said.

In “The Island in the City,” Sørensen often uses the three soloists as a singular voice, who move in and out of the orchestral music. He doesn’t use electronics to create sound, but rather relies on orchestrating in meticulous, and often clever, ways that can easily trick the ear: in one instance he asks each woodwind player, who don’t normally play percussion, to play a woodblock, resulting in an unexpected and disconcerting effect.

Sørensen’s career so far includes an opera commission from the Royal Danish Theater, new works for pianist Leif Ove Andsnes, and France’s Ensemble Intercontemporain. The New York Philharmonic will premiere on of his newest works “Evening Land,” on November 30th.

In 2014, New York-based LONGLEASH Trio played Sørensen’s Phantasmagoria on 90.5 WUOL Classical Louisville.

The University of Louisville presents the Grawemeyer awards annually for outstanding works in music composition, ideas improving world order, psychology, and education. A fifth award in religion is given jointly by UofL and the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

As part of the Grawemeyer Award, Sørensen will be in Louisville this coming April for lectures and masterclasses. He and the other recipients will each receive a $100,000 prize.