Writing to Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen for the first time was like writing to an illusive giant - someone you're not sure exists. I'm uncharacteristically intimidated by his massive talent, which seems to have no bottom to its depth, no boundary to its width. But Pelle is very human and that humanness came back to me the next day in a response that made me laugh out loud:
"Sounds very tempting and promising, but it is also a risky business, since I am 81 and also a serious unbeliever, which means that the text is far away from my general habits."
Clearly, Pelle packs a lot into a sentence; he does the same with his music. Those who hang around with The Crossing will know Pelle's Statements (on our 'music for women' CD), Igen (the mesmerizing "Sun goes up/Sun goes down" sung in 2011), Green (behold the mighty Angklung), and, most recently, Three Stages (with its bird calls and newspaper articles). Pelle is obsessed with structure (his father was a sculptor) and each of these works is, essentially, a very compact meditation on a single idea, a kind of 'composing out till the possibilities are exhausted' of a strictly self-edited kernel born in his imagination. In his art I hear a perfect balance of objectivity and subjectivity; there is both the elegance of the rich life of the forest and the solitude of the ascetic hermit living there alone. In fact, his music was introduced to me quite a number of years ago by David Lang, another composer for whom structure, simplicity, and clarity allow the listener to engage in a very particular way; they both create unique worlds inside the notes. In Pelle's music there is also humor, while we are aware of a profound gravity grounding it.
Pelle continued in his first email with comments I find breathtaking, demonstrating how his mind works; he immediately began conceiving of his work for Seven Responses. To my suggestion he compose a work that responds to Buxtehude's cantata Ad Cor (To the heart), he wrote:
"Other aspects might survive: the body (heart), the landscape, the temperature, the color, the line, the feeling of pain (and comfort) etc. and foremost THE MUSIC of Buxtehude, which I really would like to deal with."
This kind of thinking about a work - two years in advance - makes me salivate; I just can't wait to hold the score. Today, anticipating seeing that score's imminent arrival, I get to share a video of Pelle, filmed at his home in Copenhagen, explaining his libretto - what he was thinking, how he conceived it. In it, he rather unexpectedly describes the essence of our emotional lives, pondering our daily encounters with embraces and wounds, the paradox of joy and desperation living simultaneously within us.
It's a great introduction to the thinking man, Pelle.