Elena Langer on working with Britten Sinfonia

Elena Langer is one of the UK’s finest contemporary composers. Growing up in Moscow and now based in London, her compositions move seamlessly between multiple genres; opera, orchestral, choral, multimedia, and chamber. With her works performed in the world’s great opera houses and concert halls, and commissions received from leading ensembles and festivals, hers is a compositional voice that resonates with a diverse audience.

Elena Langer (c) Robert Workman

Britten Sinfonia were therefore delighted to first work with Elena in 2016 with a commission that was performed to great acclaim in London, Cambridge, Norwich, and Bradford on Avon.  Her piece Story of an Impossible Love is indeed a love story between violin and oboe, with the Guardian commenting, “The lyrical warmth of the result held an immediate appeal while maintaining an essential ambiguity that avoided any suggestion of the facile, demonstrating Langer’s ability to connect spontaneously without sacrificing subtlety.”

We asked Elena what it was like working with Britten Sinfonia:

“I’m used to working predominantly in opera, on a bigger scale, with a musical director, a conductor, singers etc. Working with Britten Sinfonia I enjoyed the intimacy of the composition process and the close collaboration with the brilliant musicians. This is contrast to my usual process which is slightly more removed from the players, working instead through the interpretation of a conductor. This level of involvement and directing the musicians was a challenge for me, but ultimately it was a real treat and hugely rewarding. As a result I feel I have grown as a composer.”

After the immediate success of Elena’s composition and the collaboration with Britten Sinfonia, we were keen to work together again. Fortunately, this was almost immediate, with us commissioning Elena to write a new piece for our ensemble of talented young musicians, Britten Sinfonia Academy.  As is the way with working with Britten Sinfonia, this process has been both immersive and collaborative, with Elena taking a hands on role in mentoring the young Academy players. Her piece Swimming in the Limmat will receive its world premiere tour in July 2017 in our At Lunch concert series. Here she tells us about her inspiration for the piece and working with the Academy:

“Last summer I spent some time in Zurich, where I discovered a real buzz and excitement around the city’s water, and in particular the river Limmat. Vibrant bars, cafes and restaurants all add to the appeal. There’s a popular wild swimming scene with people mostly swimming for pleasure, but there are quite a number who now commute to work by swimming. I couldn’t resist the lure of the river, and the positive feeling of drifting along in the beautiful warm current was my inspiration for this commission.

The piece is more upbeat than my first commission for Britten Sinfonia, as I thought that would be fitting for the young players. I’ve even included a short improvisation section to allow the players to ‘swim’ in the music.  The experience of working with the Academy has been great, again it’s a new challenge for me, mentoring and supporting young players, but it’s been enjoyable. It’s reminding me of when I was a fifteen year old, learning the piano in Moscow.”

Elena Langer’s Story of an Impossible Love can be heard at the Karlsruhe Opera House this summer, and Swimming in the Limmat will be performed by Britten Sinfonia Academy on the 13th July at St Andrew’s Hall in Norwich and 14th July at West Road Concert Hall in Cambridge. Book tickets here

You can support Elena’s commission Swimming in the Limmat, and others, through our Musically Gifted campaign.

Click here to visit Elena Langer’s website