Glenn Erik Haugland: Communicative Composer

"I believe it is important for the musical élite to be able to communicate with a larger audience so that we don’t totally leave that area to gas station videos". The Chairman of the Norwegian Society of Composers is keen to communicate - with a broad audience, with children.

Glenn Erik Haugland

The fact that creative activity is something that concerns a local community or certain groups of the population can be a challenge for an artist. Glenn Erik Haugland, born in the USA in 1961, worked for many years in outlying areas of Norway. This was a conscious choice and there was no safety net in the form of permanent employment. After completing his musical studies, “I wandered around in Oslo and was intellectual with the other intellectual composers and produced music for relatively small circles,” he said in an interview in 1998. Consequently, he moved to a small valley in eastern Norway and existed on a minimum income until he got his first commission from a local choir that wanted something “where the tenor part isn’t too difficult”. Now he had to face quite different challenges from those ones he had been used to in the capital.

In the course of time, he moved to other small communities, becoming involved in local musicals, experimental music theatre productions and concerts. Everything he wrote was adapted to local needs, whether they related to children, adolescents, the mentally retarded, unemployed youth or amateur music enthusiasts.

With his wife, he gained a great deal of expertise in the area of contemporary music and experimental theatre for children. His working method is based on free improvisation, the point being to liberate the creative forces that lie latent in children. In 1990 they established Opera Omnia, a production unit for music theatre with a broad perspective. In this connection, Haugland has written music for concerts, experimental music theatre and performance groups. Plus three children’s operas....

At the moment he doesn’t have much time to work on this type of production. Since spring 1997, he has been a dedicated chairman for his composer colleagues, a task that is difficult to combine with personal artistic activity. However, he hasn’t let go of one pet project: the Norwegian Society of Composers has become involved in Norway’s opera debate and was instrumental in the establishment of the Operatorio, an opera workshop established in cooperation between the Norwegian Society of Composers and the Norwegian State Opera. The first results of their efforts will be presented this autumn.

He has also become involved in Newop, an international group of composers, directors and producers whose concern is to promote operatic art. They hold annual meetings and initiate cooperative projects between three and four countries at a time.

As head of the composers’ union, Haugland has been active in the arts policy debate. Since it has not always been equally elevated, one of his objectives has been to raise the standards and set new premises. On the other hand, he regards it as important to have an inclusive attitude to society and audiences and not be too militant. He has proved to be a capable negotiator on behalf of his members with both authorities and other players in musical life. He would like to raise the standard for admission to the Society, but would take a positive view of an application for membership from a representative of house musicians, whose music he believes is not far removed from that of serious contemporary composers. In the arts policy arena, he has just added another feather to his cap by becoming President of the Nordic Composers’ Council.

Glenn Erik Haugland won a Norwegian Grammy Award in 1998.

Translation: Virginia Siger ©
Printed in the music magazine Listen to Norway, Vol.7 - 1999 No. 3
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