Interview with Dror Feiler for Musiktexte, Germany

2010-06-21, Stockholm

The Ship to Gaza project started one year and a half ago as a dream, at home, in the minds of some friends. Without resources, eight people, and among them the swedish composer Dror Feiler. The rest is already history, and Dror Feiler assures me that he already is making new plans, other plans. Musical as well as political. ”In the Ship to Gaza project we succeeded because we were focused on a goal. Broad groups came together; muslims and marxist-lenininists, social-democrats and liberals, christians as well as atheists. This is an experience of changes of paradigms. For the first time, everyone could agree on the fact of counterproductivity of the blockade. On a personal level, I have a broken rib. It was in fact an experience of real democracy. The representative democracy is no actual democracy, all members of the society has to take active part.” His hope is that the action of the Ship to Gaza will inspire others, and his next move as a citizen is to candidate to the swedish government as a member of the left-wing party Vänsterpartiet. On my question how he will take active part in swedish politics, he replies: ”I will bring activism to the parliament. No one will be able to foresee how my votes will fall.” He also underlines the fact that he went the other way around into politics – after 30 years of work as an artist. A lot of politicians make a straight carrieer directly from the youth organisations and into the professional work in the government, sometimes without contact with any other profession but politics.

In 1978, Dror was accepted as a student in composition at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm, although with his 28 years he was told to be far to old. Recently he returned to the very same Department of Composition, but this time because they were looking for a new professor in composition. Also applying was his colleague and former classmate, Karin Rehnqvist, who eventually got the title as the very first female professor in composition in Sweden. A choice that came as a relief to the swedish contemporary music world, recently critizised for its male domination, Dror implies. I ask about his feelings concerning the young generation of composers, and what he thinks is important for them to grow as composers. ”The scene in Sweden today is a water puss without fresh water supply. Self-sufficient, at some extent, and with mediocre music as a result. A lot of swedish composers are heard, but there is almost no impulses from the musical life ouside of the country’s borders. The young composers doesn’t hear what is going on in the rest of the world, and they need to learn to take bigger risks. I learned that from my studies with Gunnar Bucht and Sven-David Sandström in the early eighties, who invited great composers as Ligeti, Xenakis, Rihm and Ferneyhough to Stockholm, because they were aware of their own limits as composers, and these people could follow me during my years of progression. Today, the Royal College of Music doesn’t have these guest lectures that were open to the public, and the students miss out a lot. They need to achieve a flexible mind in order to have tools for musical aesthetics and cultural political motives. To learn how to write for the trumpet could be learned from a book, but the need of a deeper discussion has to be more important. When you are young, you should write the absurd, and fail.”

Earlier this summer, Sweden’s crown princess got married. An event that engaged a huge part of the country’s press and institutions. The wedding gift from the Royal Academy of Music turned out to be a commissioned piece for the wedding by professor Karin Rehnqvist, and was performed at the ceremonial opening in church. Something that Dror wishes to draw attention to: ”I completely agree to the election of Karin as a professor in composition, but she should act as a role model for the students as a professor. The actual fact that she is showing them that these kinds of commissions are acceptable, that serve the non-democratic powers of the Royal court – I don’t think that she should have done it. When you are working on your own, that’s a completely different thing, because you are left to your own premises, but as a professor you are also a role model for your students, and affect them with your actions.”

I ask about his own participation in swedish music life: ”Today, I think a lot of people know me, but haven’t heard so much of my music. Recently the Swedish Radio made a portrait, that may have changed that.” Despite this, Dror doesn’t feel included: ”Maybe it is because of my character, maybe because I am a troublemaker, maybe it is because I think that I know that I am someone. Maybe it is because of my descent. I have never been played by the main swedish institutions, ever! At the festival Stockholm New Music, I was programmed several years in a row, because ensembles like Neue Vocalsolisten von Stuttgart proposed to make my music. In Germany the story is completely different. Swedish music institutions lack strong artistic leaders, they only confirm what we already know.” Dror points at the fact that the swedish contemporary music canon consists of mainly swedish composers, all of them known to be ”somewhat affable”. ”Where are the eccentrics? Where can we find the new Bo Nilsson? And what is this thing called ‘nordic music’, anyway? How many of our composers of foreign descent has been successful in swedish life? Twenty percent of the Composer’s Union in Sweden are of foreign origin, yet the idea of a so called swedish music persists!”

This brings me back to the subject of cultural politics, and Feilers upcoming position as a candidate in Vänsterpartiet. Will he focus on any specifical cultural topics? ”All things in society are connected to each other. ‘If you want to keep the monarchy, do not change the form of opera’! I want to inspire people to participate in the cultural life. In the latest Consideration for Culture from the government, the term ‘consumers of culture’ is used. You do not eat culture, like food. You have to participate in it! As a human being and a member of the society you have to participate in politics. The history also shows that many artists has been in leading positions in society. In Sweden that never happened, except for an handful of writers. Artists have to show the rest of the society that we care about other things than culture, in order to get support in return for our specific causes. Our conditions [the composers] has constantly gone worse, without protests, and without any battle.”

I ask about his upcoming projects. ”I am going to Bosnia to work with improvisation musicians from all over eastern Europe, and we will present the result at Musikprotokoll in Austria later this autumn.” Other projects that keep Dror Feiler busy are among others theatre music for a Jelinek play at the Göteborg Stadsteater, a new production at the avant-garde institution Teater Tribunalen in Stockholm, finally he mentions the ongoing opera project that has kept him busy for the last ten years. ”It goes under the name The 4th World War has already begun – Gandhi get your gun”, Dror announces, laughing. It is based on texts written by among others, mexican subcommandande Marcos, and writings by other rebellions from all over the world. ”Texts about resistance”, he explains. Also, Dror plans for some new record releases, one mainly focused on noise music, and one instrumental ensemble live-session.

Is it generally speaking, important for an artist to have a political awareness, or to be political? ”In our society I experience an double standard of morality, where one life is found to be more worth than another. A hierarchy in society. I see young people go directly from being a sprout to becoming a stump. It is the responsability of the older generation to warn these young people, and tell them about the importance of a sacrifice for something that is bigger than your ego. To not only maximise your own pleasures. And to watch out for the danger of relativism.”

Magnus Bunnskog

Published in Musiktexte 2010


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