Matias Vestergård

Léonie Sonning Talent Prize 2020

Things are better when you make them yourself
As the son of a crane driver and a school teacher there was nothing in Matias Vestergaard Hansen’s childhood to suggest that he would become a composer. However, Matias thinks he once heard that his grandfather was quite musical. Matias spent a lot of his childhood building lots and lots of models. So he thought he might become an architect.

When Matias bought a cheap Yamaha keyboard for his savings, however, he suddenly developed new interests. When he pressed the keys, the location of the note on the line was shown on a small screen. Little by little he taught himself to read music and play his new keyboard.

Having got all his musical knowledge only from different websites, Matias decided to take lessons from a music teacher. He took lessons from him throughout upper secondary school before he started a preparatory music course, the MGK, and was later admitted to the Royal Danish Academy of Music with piano as his major.

Architecure is frozen music

“I wasn’t far into my piano studies before I thought: Hey, this is fun, but there are so many others who want it much more than I do,” says Matias, who right from the beginning of his studies has spent a lot of time reading scores and learning all orchestral parts.

“So I took a class with Bent Sørensen, which was just amazing! He’d asked me to write 30 seconds for a solo clarinet. After looking at it for a couple of minutes, he slowly pointed to the place in the music where I’d started getting a bit unsure about what should happen. And he said to me: “Right there you’ve lost me!” It was crazy. I got butterflies in my stomach and just knew there and then that I was going to be a composer.”

Today Matias can see that there is a clear line from building models and dreaming about becoming an architect to his career as a composer. “Goethe said that architecture is frozen music. My old interest in models and architecture recur in what I do today. Music to me is a number of rooms that you walk through. There’s a temporality in music, which is also present in the way you experience a building. You start in one place and walk through a number of rooms. You don’t have a sense of the work as such. But you do have a sense of the individual proportions and then a sense of the whole. Just like you can’t experience a whole building at once, you can’t experience a whole work. You have memories from the different rooms.”

Listen to Excerpts from Matias Vestergård's "Obstacle"

Listen to Excerpts from Matias Vestergård's Three Idylls


Nature in music

When Matias composes, he works with a sort of inner mood board of small references. It can be a colour, a poem, a painting, an experience or a weather phenomenon. How the music takes shape when Matias is composing is one thing. To hear it performed by musicians is a completely different thing.

“It’s always a quite mad experience to hear your music being interpreted in a new way by a musician. I spend a lot of time annotating my music. I like for the score to become a kind of secret communication between the composer and the musician. Even though I can work meticulously for hours on finding just the right way of annotating the music, I can’t prevent other interpretations of it. The expression will depend on who’s playing it. That’s a huge gift to experience as a composer.”

Matias Vestergaard Hansen in brief

Born in Roskilde in 1989.

Started playing the piano as a teenager.

Bachelor in piano from the Royal Danish Music Academy.

Was admitted to the APD in composition (soloist class) at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in the summer of 2019.

In the autumn of 2017 he made his debut with the ballet De Glemte Børn (The Forgotten Children) at the Royal Danish Theatre, a collaboration between author Kim Fupz Aakeson and choreographer Gregory Dean. That same year he was one of the recipients of the special jubilee grants from the Augustinus Foundation.

In January 2019 he wrote his first opera, Titanic, which was performed at the Royal Danish Academy of Music. That year he was also asked to submit his string quartet piece TRÆK to the Carl Nielsen chamber music competition.

He has worked with ensembles such as AVANTI!, Esbjerg Ensemble, KOKORO, DR VokalEnsemblet, DUVE, Ensemble Recherche and FIGURA Ensemble, composers such as Thomas Adès, Hans Abrahamsen, Bent Sørensen, Alexander Schubert and Toshio Hosokawa as well as conductors such as a.o. Jean Thorel, Clément Mao-Takacs, Rei Munakata and Marcus Creed.

He has represented Denmark at the Young Nordic Music Days in 2018 and 2019 and furthermore has had some of his works played at the Njord Biennale, Copenhagen Summer Festival, Figura Festspiele, PULSAR and KLANG festivals.

Among his next projects are a CD recording with DaCapo and two new chamber operas.

The scholarship from the Léonie Sonning Music Foundation

Matias will spend the money from the Léonie Sonning Music Foundation on participation in a composition course in Darmstadt and on writing his work Korte breve fra en lang rejse (Short letters from a long journey) for his debut concert at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in the spring of 2022.

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