Emil Bernhardt: Contemporary communication

Contemporary classical music is perhaps as far away as one can get from the notion of straightforward, undemanding communication that society seems preoccupied with these days. That does not discourage Emil Bernhardt from putting the concept of communication at the forefront of his vocation as composer.

Emil Bernhardt 2007 - 6 (Foto: Stian Andersen)

-Opposing the prevailing concept of communication is hard work, but for me it is an integral part of what I do and what I want to achieve with my music says Emil Bernhardt. The 29-year-old former violinist is one of two composers selected for the state-sponsored Intro promotion scheme, nominally making him one of Norway’s most talented and promising young composers.

-I believe in a definition of communication that does not conceive of it as a process of conveying something to a receiver which he is already familiar with, but conversely, that communication means making people listen and understand something they do not know in advance. For me musical communication means expansion and being in motion, i.e. the kind of motion that implies an omnipresent possibility of change and new experiences. ‘Communication’ in this sense does not translate as an artistic version of the social skill of making everyone feel included.

So for you the question of communication is not primarily about whether people enjoy your music, but instead whether they embrace the idea of learning from it? Does that mean that your focus is on the intellectual rather than the emotional aspects of art?

-First of all I think that it is my obligation to have confidence in the listener and believe that he or she actually will want to learn something new, i.e. that there is a notion of progress and expansion involved. This aspect is also important to the actual process of composing: I always try to relate to my music as a listener who wants to explore the music and who wants to be stirred by an experience of discovery. It is a matter of being moved emotionally and stimulated intellectually at the same time. I try to enter into the kind of role that I believe a listener ought to have.
It is a key concern of mine to point out that the habitual division between emotional and intellectual aspects is erroneous and misconceived because emotions can be awakened by reflection and vice versa. In fact, this interplay is essential. Personally I have an emotional relationship towards thinking about music, and I want my music to stimulate the interplay between emotion and reflection. The most important thing is the concept of motion, which gives the listener onward cues rather than referring back to the composer or performer or some familiar concept or context. This motion; always pushing for the unfamiliar and never settling for consensus, is part of the essence of music in my view.

This motion sounds like something that might potentially transport the listener beyond experiencing the music as music so to speak, relating to it instead as a conceptual language?

The essential thing is to be able to ask the question: What is music? And to be open about what a musical experience might be. For me reflection is a definite part of the musical experience, not least in the way of reflecting on the issue of composing: the temporality of a piece of music, from the moment of conceiving an idea, to the moment of putting pen to paper and so forth. A piece of music exists on different planes and in different times, all of which are interweaved. I think reflecting on this complexity gives magnitude to the experience of music. This does not mean that the ordinary musical context is deficient in any way, or that there is something incomplete in an experience of pure emotional enjoyment. However, I believe that absence and withdrawal of music can also enrich the musical experience because it entails that the music transforms from a happening phenomenon of presence to an ongoing, non-contextual thing; something that stays with you and keeps developing as long as you think about it.

Part two of the interview

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