Rolf Wallin (b. 1957)

Being open to the musics and influences of the world around your own music is one thing. Funnelling those influences in order to ceaselessly interrogate the role and sound of new music in today’s world is another level of ambition and achievement, and it’s a clue to the dazzling musical sound-worlds of Norwegian composer Rolf Wallin.

From the start, Wallin got stuck in to the sounds, practices and ideas of everything from early music to experimental jazz and rock, led by his experience as a young trumpeter. He has transmuted all of these influences into music for forces ranging from balloons used as virtuoso solo instruments (the hilariously inventive Scratch, from 1991) to hybrid worlds for narrator, orchestra and visuals (the fearlessly confrontational Strange News, 2007, which throws the spotlight on to the use of child soldiers in Uganga and the Congo) and large-scale orchestral works such as his 2018 violin concerto, Whirld.

This kaleidoscopic variety of musical worlds, though, is only one side of Wallin’s creativity. He has found his own solution when it comes to structuring music’s dimensions of space and time, using fractals as a simultaneously algorhithmic and intuitive power to create piece with the dizzying energy of Boyl (1995) for chamber orchestra and ning for ensemble (1991). Along with his discoveries in harmony – including the multi-dimensional possibilities of his ‘crystal chords’, in which three intervals are under constant yet varied repetition (the basis of pieces such as the Clarinet Concerto and Ground for cello and orchestra, both 1996) – Wallin has crated a formidable set of practical, technical and architectural innovations that are essential to his protean compositional world. Yet, for all this, it’s increasingly meaning that Wallin’s recent music seeks to explore: humanity’s technological, biological and spiritual futures in his opera Elysium (premiered in Oslo in 2016) or the alchemical mysteries of matter and transformation that are behind Whirld. It’s typical paradox of Wallin’s music that he sounds out these realms through the forensic application of his craft as a composer, whose secrets – sonic, structural and spiritual – amount to compositional alchemy.

Tom Service, 2018