Allan Gravgaard

Léonie Sonning Talent prize 2017

As a composer, you have to be a plate spinner
It is important to get out and meet people if you wish to be hired as a composer. Luckily, Allan Gravgaard Madsen is very good at that and at keeping the plates spinning.

Allan Gravgaard Madsen is not from Viborg, but from the village Ravnstrup outside Viborg. The exact location is of great importance to Allan’s father, who was also born and raised in the village. The local village hall was built by Allan’s great-grandfather, and the family roots are deeply buried in the local soil. Allan, however, is living in Aarhus where he is working as a composer and numerous other things.

As a composer, Allan always carries a classic Parker mechanical pencil. He has written all drafts of his works with that pencil. In fact, he has had the pencil since he was 12 years’ old, and the two of them have experienced everything together. A small mark on the blank metal of the pencil shows that it was once used in an electricity experiment in the physics lab at Allan’s local school. Two scratches and a slight sign of wear bear witness of a story, which only Allan knows, and the rest of us can only guess. The top of the pencil was replaced once, but otherwise it looks completely as when Allan got it, and it can run for about a year on one refill.

Not only the pen bears witness of the ravages of time – Allan does too: He writes with the pen so often that he has a small lump of callous skin on his finger. That is a price he is willing to pay for being able to rely on his ‘faithful assistant’.

Being one with his plastic guitar

At the age of three, Allan got a plastic guitar for Christmas; and, all of a sudden, the other Christmas presents were completely ignored.

We just clicked, and I knew at once that I had to do something with music even though I was from the countryside where everybody asked: »Can you make a living from that?« Probably not, I thought, but I did it anyway, Allan says with a twinkle in his eye.

To create the music you have inside yourself, you need to have some ‘skills’, Allan explains. Some you can learn, others will have to be taught by others.

I remember once in my local school when we had to write notes into a note programme, which is something you have to be able to do as a composer. I had never done that before, and a new world opened up to me. I started changing what I had written, and this was my first composing experience. Later, I started playing the piano, but I didn’t practise. One day, the teacher said: Could you go home and rearrange this for string orchestra? And so I did. Since then, I have acquired more skills and very shortly I will debut from the soloist class in Aarhus, Allans says.

An entrepreneurial plate spinner

Another skill which is quite useful for a composer is the entrepreneurial side and the ability to network.

You have to get out and meet people or you will get no orders. No one will place an order with you if they don’t know who you are. You have to be almost like a plate spinner, spinning the plates on top of a stick. You have to keep those plates spinning all the time, Allan Gravgaard Madsen explains. Now, he will have to adapt from life as a student living at the Jakob Gade student residence in Aarhus to a new life as a graduated composer with his own residence.

Allan Gravgaard Madsen, composer

Born: 1984, raised in Ravnstrup near Viborg.

Debut May 2017 from the soloist class in Composition at the Royal Academy of Music, Aarhus. Works played by ensemble recherche, Aarhus Symphony Orchestra and Esbjerg Ensemble. Member of the board of Aarhus Unge Tonekunstnere. Arranger and curator. Participated in radio programmes on Radio24syv and P2.


To be spent on a number of study/working trips of different duration in the years to come to receive further artistic guidance and develop networks.

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