Rolf Wallin is one of Scandinavia’s leading contemporary composers, widely performed and commissioned internationally. His musical background spans from jazz, avantgarde rock and early music to traditional classical training, and this versatility is reflected in an exceptionally many-faceted list of compositions. Wallin’s output covers a wide range of expressions and techniques: from strictly absolute music to music theatre and installations, from elaborate computer-aided compositions for the concert hall to strongly intuitive music for the stage.
Stonewave, one of his most popular and frequently performed pieces, is made purely from fractal mathematics, but far from being abstract, Wallin’s music comes across as very physical and organic. And it often connects directly with the world around him, most notably in works such as Act (2004), a celebration of the power of cooperation, Strange News (2007), which tells the story of the rehabilitation of child soldiers, and Large Bird Mask (2019), posing important ethical and philosophical questions around the accelerating extinction of birds. His opera Elysium (2016) brings together topics such as human rights, revolution, salvation and transhumanism.
Wallin’s music is put together with a jeweller’s precision… — Andrew Clements, The Guardian
…its unyielding honesty, together with the extraordinary interpretation, showed contemporary music at its best. — Magnus Andersson
Rolf Wallin is an exceptionally versatile musician, having distinguished himself not only as one of Scandinavia's leading composers today, but also as a performance artist and, early in his career, as a trumpeter in ensembles spanning early music to experimental jazz and rock. As a composer he freely combines computer-generated systems and mathematical formulae with intuitive approaches, and the complex yet very plastic textures of his music are reminiscent of composers such as Xenakis and Ligeti. Wallin’s work list includes both instrumental and electroacoustic works, absolute music and stage music; his continuous crossing of borders between genres and styles has resulted in a number of fruitful cross-fertilizations. In 1987 Wallin received the Norwegian Society of Composers’ "Composition of the Year" award for ...though what made it has gone for mezzo soprano and piano, a work spun around Osip Mandelstam's modernistic poem "Whoever finds a horseshoe". ...though what made it has gone draws upon the vocal works of Luciano Berio as well as upon more harmonically oriented composers like Olivier Messiaen, but it is also a solid testimonial to Wallin’s own, original approach to musical composition - and not least to his ability to combine constructive and intuitive approaches in an aesthetically successful way.
An idea that has proven especially fruitful for Wallin is the use of so-called "fractal" algorithms to generate a musical raw material, which he refines further by means of a continuous dialectic between systematic calculations and his own musical intuition. Among Wallin’s most important fractal-based compositions, we find the works for chamber orchestra Onda di ghiaccio (1989) and Boyl (1995) and the chamber works Stonewave (1990), ning (1991), and Solve et coagula (1992). Several of these works have received international acclaim and are regularly performed both in Norway and abroad - most notably the percussion work Stonewave , which received the Best Work Award at the 1992 ISCM World Music Days in Warsaw. In addition to the use of fractal algorithms as an organizing principle for rhythm and melody, Wallin has developed a harmony-generating principle for which he has coined the term "crystal chords". These harmonic crystals are based upon a 3D harmonic model, where three key intervals are constantly repeated, thus defining three dimensions of a crystal. The resulting synthetic scales give Wallin a broad and varied harmonic palette which ranges from "consonant atonality" to sharp dissonances. Wallin has employed crystal chords in a number of works: the Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra (1996) and Tides (1998) for percussion and orchestra; Ground (1997) for cello and chamber orchestra and Appearances (2002) for large chamber ensemble. These works consolidated his reputation, resulting in a number of commissions and performances.
In 1998, he received the prestigious Nordic Council Music Prize for his Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra . In recent years, Wallin has moved away from his crystal chords to a freer working style, which has brought him international recognition as the leading Norwegian composer since Grieg. His orchestral work Act (2004) and his ensemble work The Age of Wire and String (2005) have received dozens of performances around the world, while his percussion concerto das war schön! (2006) and the immensely powerful Strange News (2007) for narrator and orchestra have received unanimous critical acclaim.
For the 2006/7 concert season Wallin was the first ever composer in residence with the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, who also recorded a CD on the Ondine label, and performed Act across Europe. In addition to his many orchestral and chamber works, Wallin has composed a large number of mixed media works (e.g. the popular performance works Scratch for balloon and Yo for computer and controller suit), installations (such as Feelings , where participants get to hear the sound of their own brainwaves), and created electroacoustic music for several of Norway’s foremost contemporary dance groups, choreographers and visual artists. His dance work Urban Bestiary (2008) was the first work performed in the new Opera House in Oslo when it opened in April 2008.
2010 saw the premiere of Manyworlds, a 30-minute orchestral work that was co-commissioned by the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra and NDR Radiophilharmonie Hannover. The piece was subsequently developed into a 3D project with video artist artist Boya Bøckman and was released on CD and Blu-Ray on the Ondine label alongside Wallin’s trumpet concerto Fisher King. This piece, composed for Håkan Hardenberger, has been performed across Europe since its premiere in 2011, with the US premiere planned for 2017. Wallin’s two-act opera Elysium opened at Norwegian Opera in 2016. The piece, the result of a collaboration with British writer Mark Ravenhill, is set in a future peopled by transhumans and the production featured designs by Leslie Travers and was directed by David Pountney.
The music of Rolf Wallin is published exclusively by Chester Music Limited.
Hallgjerd Aksnes, (updated by Chester Music)
2nd April 2023
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