Anna Linh Nguyen Berg is a Norwegian Vietnamese composer from Kolbotn, Norway, based in Paris and Oslo. In her catalogue, you can find works for a wide range of ensembles such as symphony orchestra, string orchestra, sinfonietta and choir, in addition to works for smaller constellations such as string quartet, duos and solos. She also creates music for film and dance. Don't miss our conversation with Anna Berg, covering topics such as composition, technology, upcoming projects, and life.

Can you share the story behind your decision to become a composer?

I've always known that I wanted to create music, and started doing so when I was thirteen. However, I spent some time trying out different formats before finding the right path. When I was 24, I took an introductory course in composition at the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo and started having composition lessons. Learning composition allowed me to investigate my ideas more thoroughly and I found there was room for more depth in the music, in my ideas and also in me when I started to compose.

I had a strong sense that this was the road I was meant to take, which lead me to studying composition, first for five years in Oslo and then one year at Conservatoire National Supérieur de musique in Paris, where I finished my master in June 2023.

How has your cultural background, being Norwegian Vietnamese, influenced your compositions?

For me it's important that I feel connected to my works on a deeply personal level. I spend so much time working on each piece, they allow me to process the world around me, and give me room to reflect. I "live" with my works, so to speak. I communicate with my pieces while creating them, and communicate through them when they are finished. I was born and grew up in Norway, with a Vietnamese father and Norwegian mother. By incorporating ideas from Vietnam in my art music, I've found a way to connect more thoroughly with my father's culture and our heritage. It has now become an integral part of my composition practice, where I in several pieces imagine and reimagine Vietnamese rituals, or dive into historical events that I translate into musical material. The Vietnamese culture and history is to me an endless source of inspiration, and I'm excited to also begin collaborating with musicians in Vietnam from 2024 and onwards.

How has your understanding of composition evolved from your early works to your more recent pieces?

To me, it feels like my understanding of composition evolves on a day- to-day basis, and that I learn something new every time I work on my pieces or talk about composition. But the biggest difference from when I first started out and now, is that I think I used to have a belief that there was a "correct" way of composing music, and that I just needed to find that correct way in order to become a good composer. Perhaps I was a bit overwhelmed by the world of contemporary music and was trying to navigate and understand the field through that belief. Now I'm not as concerned with composing "correctly", I'm more concerned with making a truthful contribution, and connecting with and expressing the ideas I have for each piece

How do you navigate the balance between expressing your artistic vision and meeting the expectations of performers?

I don't think much about meeting the expectation of performers, because all performers are different, and I find it difficult to guess what their expectations are. But sometimes when I work with performers, I enjoy imagining how their sound collides with mine. I imagine their timbre, tone and expression, and doing so influences and inspires me.

Can you discuss your creative process when starting a new composition? Any rituals or habits you follow when preparing for a new composition?

In the beginning of a new piece, I sketch a lot, and in different ways, through mind maps, visual models, free writing and questions, in order to "see what I'm not seeing" and further develop my idea. It's important for me to have a clear idea when starting out, so I don't need to dig for more ideas once I start composing.

How has technology influenced your approach to composition, if at all?

Even though I work a lot by hand, I find using technology useful for some of my compositions. I sometimes use technology to test my ideas and to program possible outcomes and simulations of my music. I use technology mostly as an entry point, and afterwards, during the composition process, the output I get from technology still requires months of recreating and polishing, but sometimes I do get some interesting results.

Do you have a particular piece that has special meaning to you?

There is a piece I keep returning to, and that is "Symphonies of Wind Instruments" by Igor Stravinsky. I always find something new in the piece, and I'm amazed by the creation of the musical structure and logic. It also just sounds dreamy, soft, sharp, quick and slow all at once.

How do you see the future of contemporary classical music evolving, and what role do you hope to play in it?

To me, it seems we are at a point right now, where there are so many different ways of understanding what contemporary music is. The field has expanded into many different sub-categories, all of them with gifted and hard working performers and composers with different perceptions of quality. In the future of contemporary music I pray for unity – not in the sense that we will all do the same thing, but in the sense that we have a sense of all being in this together. I sense a feeling of separation and loneliness between the different groups, and if there's anything the world needs less of, it's those two things.

Can you discuss any upcoming projects or collaborations that you're particularly excited about?

I have several projects that I'm excited about this year. One of them is my violin concerto for Guro Kleven Hagen and Oslo Sinfonietta, which will be premiered at Ultima Oslo Contemporary Music Festival in September.

In June, Pekka Kuusisto and The Norwegian Chamber Orchestra will perform my commissioned piece "Returnal" for the second time, in Naantali Music Festival in Finland, and I'll have my three first US concerts with The Sound Ensemble and conductor Bobby Collins.

I recently started a concert series in Paris, where Ensemble LINKS performed Norwegian and French composers for a sold out concert. I'm thrilled to be continuing the series, with a new concert in December.

Ensemble 3030, a contemporary music ensemble I founded, has a concert at the festival INN:PUST later this year. And I've composed music for my first feature film, DREAMS, by Dag Johan Haugerud, which will be in cinemas this fall.

Finally, from your perspective, what is the meaning of life?

The meaning of life is to have sensory experiences. I believe that is the reason that we're placed here on earth. By sensory experiences, I mean actually taking in and processing what we hear, see, touch, smell and feel. Being present, and allowing yourself to be a listening and attentive creature. Being attuned to your body's messages and your heart's deepest call.