Kristian Blak on Winning the World New Music Days for the Faroe Islands, and how to sustain and develop Faroese music in the future
In this article we talk to one of the Faroe Islands’ leading composers, Kristian Blak, about contemporary music festivals, the history of composing in the islands, and how important it is to ensure continuity for the development of music.
Music in its various manifestations is an indispensable element in the culture of the Faroe Islands. Being a remote destination with a small society, singing and dancing together has always been a strong part of the local culture and kept people connected. The song tradition was overwhelmingly strong, with 70.000 verses in the common memory of 5.000 persons around the year 1800. So much good vocal music! Music instruments came only to the Faroese society after the monopoly trade was lifted in 1856 and ended the century-long isolation of the country. After only a few years a lot of instrumental music could be heard, along with the centuries old vocal, a capella music.
Thus, structured composition, is a relatively new segment in what makes up contemporary Faroese music. A remarkable growth has become visible over the past 40 years – with popular music festivals, musicians, and composers in the “classical” score area, for jazz, folk, and sound creations – in our stories about the subsea tunnels opened in the last few years, we already covered those awesome tunnel compositions for you.
Let us start with a short history of what is today a music rich in colours and nuances in the Faroe Islands.
Says Kristian Blak:
“The tradition of composing is very young in the Faroe Islands – 40 years ago there were no composers at all, just a handful of smaller compositions. We have no national music library and no collection of scores created in the Faroe Islands, to date. We also do not have many female composers who we would like to support and promote.”
“The pioneer of Faroese instrumental composition is the internationally acclaimed writer William Heinesen (1900-1991), who during the 1950s wrote a cantata as well as two pieces for solo viola and piano respectively. These pieces are still performed on a regular basis and have been an inspiration following generations of Faroese composers.”
(quoted from website https://composers.fo/about/)
In 1984 Faroese composers were invited to attend a workshop in writing music for chamber orchestras and to creating short pieces. The workshop was arranged by Vestjysk Kammerensemble (The Chamber Ensemble of Western Jutland in Denmark), which was at the time hosting and performing a series of concerts in the newly opened Nordic House in Tórshavn (the capital of the Faroe Islands).
The initiative was met with enthusiasm and triggered the local composers to begin serious composition. Subsequently a group of composers and musicians organized a number of concerts with 20th century music, where the majority of the pieces performed were written by Faroese composers, who had attended the workshop. These included Pauli í Sandagerði (b.1955), Sunleif Rasmussen (b. 1961) and Kristian Blak (b. 1947), but others were soon to follow. It is interesting that several of the composers of these first pieces for chamber ensemble and otherwise for classical instruments, had a background in jazz or rock – some are still active in these genres. They were new to artistic expression through written scores.
Following the performance at an internationally recognized festival in the St. Magnus Festival on the Orkney Islands in 1991, which takes place in an island society much like the Faroe Islands, but with a population half the size, the group was very inspired of having a similar event at home, and in 1992, the first Summartónar festival for Classical and Contemporary music was held.
Summartónar now is essential to Faroese composition and musical life, as it is a platform for new music, and since its beginning, works by Faroese composers are heard and performed more and more internationally by both Faroese and non-Faroese artists. Faroese composers also frequently get commissions from outside of the country.
For meeting planners who look to bring unique local music experiences to their events, Summartónar is a great opportunity to do so.
And this year, in 2024, the event integrates another international Music Festival Highlight, the World New Music Days.
The Association of Faroese Composers is host to the ISCM (International Society for Contemporary Music) World New Music Days in the Faroe Islands from 21st of June to 1st of July 2024. Bringing this international Music Festival to our islands is a great example of our music community’s ability to think big and host international events through their collective effort and enthusiasm!
The World New Music Days in the Faroe Islands will use the unique nature as a canvas for experimenting with concerts taking place outdoor. Walking concerts, Grotto concerts and other ideas pay honour to the dramatic scenery around. To present truly innovative music, the World New Music Days follow an interesting process for the compositions which are going to be on the program each year. All international membership chapters and sections of ISCM have to present one newly composed work in different categories. This amounts to a total of 55 compositions, which are then creating the Festival’s program in a series of concerts. Each concert category also includes a local composition from the Faroe Islands.
The festival will include performances by Faroese and Nordic ensembles, by informal ensembles and collaborations and soloists – 60 musicians from other Nordic countries plus the musicians from the Faroe Islands are expected to rehearse and play all the new pieces in around 20 concerts across the islands.
The Faroese hosts are well-prepared to take up another important music festival – they already hosted the Nordic Music Days. A great network for organizing Nordic projects is available with the support of all the Nordic Houses. The composers are in addition connected within the Nordic composers’ council, and the associations from each country work together. The World New Music Days were confirmed to the Faroe Islands in 2022 and are a great gain in our list of international event wins.
With Kristian Blak being near to retirement, he tells us about the necessity and importance to switch to new and different ways of cultural engagement. His generation has helped to build up the platform for a diverse musical culture, much enabled through their volunteer and unpaid work and built on strong visions. The younger people will not engage easily in committing time and knowledge to unpaid work that is not truly recognized by their community. Only a strong awareness and support for the local culture can bring out the passion and engagement that will be necessary to keep on developing the music culture.
It is good to reflect from time to time on the privilege of being part of a culture that gives identification and a sense of belonging. Appreciation and support can help sustaining and nurturing this treasure for the generations to come.
SUMMARTÓNAR 2024 – the main period for Summartónar 2024 will be 21st of June to 1st of July 2024
However, some regular events within the festival will take place from May to the end of August.
The World New Music Days takes place June 22nd to 30th, and is integrated within the main Summartónar festival – see https://www.wnmd2024.fo
From July 1st Summartónar will focus on ensembles and solo performers based in the Faroe Islands.https://summartonar.fo/
The program of the World New Music Days 2024 in the Faroe Islands https://iscm.org/wnmd/2024-faroe-islands/
If you organise conferences with a topic related to music, culture and festivals, it will be a good idea to bring them to the Faroe Islands. The composers of the Faroe Islands will be happy to offer their rich knowledge for key notes.
Come and visit the Faroe Islands with your sport, cultural or business event and make sure to contribute to environment or society through knowledge and purposeful events, using the SDGs as orientation. We are happy to help you design your conference legacy – e g by organising visits and meetings with innovators!
More general information about the Faroe Islands can be found by visiting the Visit Faroe Islands Meetings website.
content design/editing: Johanna Fischer / ecomice – FrauBlau for Visit Faroe Islands Meeting, 13.02.2024