Man – woman – man – woman or “No fizzy powder drink.” 

Olga Neuwirth’s ‘Opus summum’ Orlando is in the home stretch at Vienna’s Staatsoper, taking an institution known for being rooted in tradition on two new ventures. For the first time in its 150-year history, an opera has been commissioned to a woman and the Staatsoper shows commitment to a diverse society. Neuwirth tells Virginia Woolf’s story of a journey through time and gender over centuries up to the present day. 

Olga Neuwirth , Portrait ©Wiener Staatsoper / Harald Hoffmann

Lucas Niggli is involved as percussion soloist and reports directly from Vienna on translating the story into music as well as on the interaction with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. 

“Orlando is a huge work transcending all genre boundaries, a very big spectacle and it is remarkable that something like that can be realised in such a traditionally oriented Opera house, especially in this day and age”. It needs a great deal of nerve and commitment, because the orchestra is very challenged. “Such a visionary piece of work cannot be consumed without friction, like some kind of fizzy powder drink. It requires hard work.” The second violins are microtonally tuned 60 cents lower for instance. The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra is not used to such things, which create a great richness in colours though. “It is a real pleasure to listen to,” Niggli says enthusiastically. 

Niggli plays in costume for three extended sequences and is pushed on stage on a carriage together with his drums. Neuwirth wrote the drum part with drum-specific skills, alternating between moments of freedom, big-band-like kicks and razor-sharp passages”. The interplay with the Vienna Philharmonic is particularly challenging in the sequences in which he doesn’t find himself playing in the pit, as the Philharmoniker are famous for their laid back playing, while I am usually very focused on the downbeat”. 


Lucas Niggli Solo, Alchemia Garden, 2017

The extremely modern plot portrays a personality that – in the character of Orlando – has completely changed over the centuries, also in terms of gender.  

How is this translated into music? In Neuwirth’s story, Orlando also becomes a mother – her child is given by the queer singer-performer Justin Vivian Bond. 

Justin Vivian Bond: Orlandos child ©Wiener Staatsoper / Michael Pöhn

On the other hand, Orlando’s journey throughout the centuries is expressed with blunt and cheeky music history quotations. “There are quotes from Monteverdi, Rossini, Stravinsky to Lady Gaga and a nice passage where I’m allowed to improvise with an electronic sample,” explains Niggli. Neuwirth has precise and courageous ideas about the combination of musical genres. “She almost performs a genre-bending in parallel with the narrative gender-bending: Neuwirth’s music is a bit like chewing gum: very elastic, but still cohesive.”


Olga Neuwirth, Eleanor (extrait) 2014, Ensemble intercontemporain, Matthias Pintscher (conductor), Della Miles (voice)

Drums, electric guitar, wind instruments, sometimes jazz brass instruments play an important role also in other works by Neuwirth. “This is why she also composed a solo part for jazz percussion in this ‘Opus summum’, as she defines it herself. This is how I got this great, exiting assignment.”
Interview Annelis Berger, 2.12.19 

In addition to conductor Matthias Pintscher, almost the entire artistic management team is female, with – for instance – particularly exciting costumes by Rei Kawakubo, chief designer of the fashion label Comme les garçons. 

Lucas Niggli @Olga Neuwirth: Orlando ©Wiener Staatsoper / Michael Pöhn

For it is a love of oddities, of the paradoxical, the grotesque, virtuosity, exaltation and exaggeration that are the essence of this fictional biography, which aims to create a new morphology of a narration which is in a constant flow to create a fluid form. At all times it is also about (…) a sophisticated and highly subtle form of sexual attraction that rejects being pigeonholed in any one gender. As well as about refusing to be patronised and treated in a condescending manner – something that continually happens to women, with no end in sight” (Olga Neuwirth).

Wiener Staatsoper, Lucas Niggli, Olga Neuwirth, Justin Vivian Bond
Orlando @ Wiener Staatsoper: WP: 8.12.2019
further performances: 11., 14., 18., 20.12.2019

The performance of 18 December 2019 will be live-streamed on WIENER STAATSOPER live at home worldwide in HD.

Broadcaast SRF 2 Kultur: Musikmagazin, 7./8.12.2019

Neo-profile: Lucas Niggli

“Job suffers for no reason”

Michèle Rusconi will premiere her composition “Les Souffrances de Job” at Basel’s Gare Du Nord. In this interview, she explains how the tragedy by Hanoch Levin has been adapted.

The composer: Michèle Rusconi

Björn Schaeffner

Michèle Rusconi, what fascinates you regarding Hanoch Levin’s text “Les Souffrances de Job”?
I consider Hanoch Levin one of the world’s most important authors of the second half of the 20th century. I am fascinated by his grandiose language, his wit, his satire and his bitter black humour, which allow him to speak the unspeakable.

How do you mean?
I admire Levin’s sharp, uncompromising gaze, while at the same time I fear the mirror he is so relentlessly holding up to me. Levin shifts Job’s story from the Bible to the Roman era, about a thousand years later, which results in a kind of alienation effect, like the one that can be found in Brecht’s work.

Can you identify yourself with Job’s character?
Job is a parable, a universal figure. In his tragedy, Levin describes the unjustly suffering of an unjustly punished man, whose misfortune has neither cause nor purpose. It is an atheistic attitude. Because Levin answers Job’s question to his friends : «does suffering have a different meaning than suffering?» with a « No ». Levin’s Job, a brother “in spirit” of Kleist’s Michael Kohlhaas, affects me. In contrast to the biblical Job, he is not rewarded by his faithfulness to God. His loss is definitive, he dies.


Michèle Rusconi, Ratafià, Streichquartett, 2009

How did you approach the material?
A friend and translator of numerous Israeli plays, sent me an extract of «Les Souffrances de Job». I selected individual sentences and dialogues by various characters: Job, his three friends, the bailiff, the beggars, the officer, the circus director and the dead. I did not proceed by narration, but exchanged chapters and began to compose using the French text. The Israeli soprano Tehila Nini Goldstein, who lives in Berlin, was enthusiastic about the project and shortly afterwards I was able to persuade Ensemble Meitar from Tel Aviv, then Desirée Meiser from Gare du Nord and a few months later actor Zohar Wexler from Paris.

Meitar Ensemble, Tel Aviv

This means the project became more and more complex?
At some point I decided that, in addition to the French translation, I also wanted to work with the original Hebrew text. The voice is crucial in this piece. Job’s substance is incredibly exciting: he cries, curses, roars, fights, laughs, whispers, becomes insane, despairs, gives up. The piece ended up being sung and spoken alternately in both languages.

The two languages’ emotionalism is completely different though.
Exactly! With a singer, an actor and two languages, I had new parameters, several octaves, different acoustic colours that these languages transmit. Suddenly there were many more ways to deal with the text. I actually hadn’t noticed untill then, that I had assigned Job’s text to a female voice. In addition there are surtitles: in Tel Aviv Hebrew, in Basel and Zurich German, and in Geneva French.

The singer: Tehila Nini Goldstein

What can the public look forward to?
To the great text by Hanoch Levin! And the wonderful Meitar Ensemble, the agile actor Zohar Wexler, the great soprano Tehila Nini Goldstein and myself. This coming together is a small miracle itself.

Why?
Because it is hardly feasible, logistically I mean! (laughs). We work in four different cities and stage in three different languages, which doesn’t make it easy.
Interview: Björn Schaeffner


Meitar Ensemble, Ondřej Adámek, ‘Ça tourne ça bloque’, Pierre-André Valade

« Les Soufffrances de Job » is part of the two key themes of Gare du Nord’s current season, ‘Musiktheaterformen‘ and ‘Later Born‘: « Musiktheaterformen » illustrates aspects of contemporary music theatre in presentation and conversation. ‘Later born’, on the other hand, deals with the great traumas of the 20th century – National Socialism, the two world wars and their consequences – mirrored by the questioning look of those born after them.

The premiere in Basel will be followed by a panel discussion with Michèle Rusconi and Matthias Naumann (translator, publisher and author of a publication on Hanoch Levin).

The actor: Zohar Wexler

dates:
5. 12.19, 20:30h Tel Aviv, Inbal Multi Cultural Ethnic Center
7.12.19, 20h Basel, Gare du Nord
9.12.19, 19:30h Genève, Salle Ansermet
10.12.19, 19:30h Zürich, Kunstraum Walcheturm

Gare du Nord, IGNM Basel, Kunstraum Walcheturm, Meitar Ensemble

neo-profiles: Gare du Nord, Michèle Rusconi

“…play until we drop…”

 

Portrait Urs Peter Schneider ©

As part of the Focus Contemporary festival, Musikpodium Zurich is celebrating Urs Peter Schneider’s 80th birthday.
Tribute to a ‘one-of-a-kind’ by Thomas Meyer:

The 60s were a very exciting time for music, as forms dissolved and concepts, happenings, performances, aleatoric concepts and improvisation took the place of written works. While many soon returned to more traditional procedures, one group in Switzerland stubbornly devoted itself to this new openness: “Ensemble Neue Horizonte Bern”, founded in 1968 and still active to this day. “We will” – as one member of the ensemble once stated – “play until we drop”. Without this Ensemble there would probably be no Cage tradition as well as less conceptual music in Switzerland.

Ensemble Neue Horizonte Bern

Swiss Cage Tradition

Urs Peter Schneider has occupied the special position of “Spiritus rector” in this composers and interpreters collective since the beginning. Born in Bern, currently living and happily crafting his compositions, texts, structures and concepts in Biel, he celebrates his eightieth birthday this year.

For this special occasion, Musikpodium Zürich is organising a concert as part of the Focus Contemporary festival: Dominik Blum will perform piano pieces by Schneider, his Neue Horizonte colleague Peter Streiff and Hermann Meier, whose almost forgotten work Schneider has consistently stood up for. In addition to his 1977 “Chorbuch”, the choir “vokativ zürich” will perform the new work “Engelszungenreden” (angel tongues speeches), whose title indicates that Schneider’s music also likes to point up, towards more spiritual directions.


Hermann Meier, Klavierstück für Urs Peter Schneider, HMV 99, 1987

Composer/pianist/interpreter/performer/educator in one, Schneider is one of those ‘one-of-a-kind figures’, that are not uncommon in Switzerland. It is not easy to describe his music as it can be extremely varied and he often changes his procedures. Schneider likes to work with strategies, essentially following the serial techniques in which his music has its roots, often tinkering for a long time and thoroughly with permutation of tones, instruments, volumes etc. until they finally come together. For this purpose, he develops his own radical gestures of persistence.


Urs Peter Schneider, ‘Getrost, ein leiser Abschied’ für zwei Traversflöten und Bassblockflöte, 2015

Radical persistence gestures

But it goes even further, as Schneider applies such strategies not only to tones, but also to words, graphics and theatrical actions, actually to almost everything that surrounds his work, including dates, or credits. The concert programmes are also composed – another important quality of Neue Horizonte. “The components of a performance relate, complement and comment each other in a sophisticated way”. Likewise, when books or CDs are published, his pieces are never loosely assembled, Schneider rather creates a new constellation for the entire oeuvre, being a strategist obsessed with order.

Urs Peter Schneider: meridian-1-atemwende ©aart-verlag

Every element is twisted and turned, in an ongoing discovery and invention of new processes. He can actually be defined as a process composer and thus very close to conceptual music, a genre he dedicated 2016 his book “Konzeptuelle Musik – Eine kommentierte Anthologie” to, which can be considered an exemplary and indispensable compendium.

The spontaneity of these open forms probably also acts as a corrective to strictness. Sometimes the liveliness and flexibility could get lost in these procedures and order might turn out to bury these aspects. But that is precisely when surprising things often occur. For Schneider’s work contains wit, even cheerfulness, in sometimes unusual places, other times with soothing self-irony.

Thomas Meyer

Hermann Meier, Stück für grosses Orchester und drei Klaviere, 1964, HMV 60 ©Privatbesitz

The “Focus Contemporary Zürich” festival will take place from November 27, to December 1: Tonhalle Zürich, Collegium Novum Zürich, Zürcher Hochschule der Künste and Musikpodium Zürich will jointly present a selection between of experimental creations and works by renowned masters in five concerts at venues such as “Tonhalle Maag”, “ZKO-Haus” or “Musikclub Mehrspur” of the “Zürcher Hochschule der Künste”.

Focus Contemporary Zürich, 27. 11.- 1. 12, concerts:
27.11., 20h ZHdK, Musikklub Mehrspur: Y-Band: Werke von Matthieu Shlomowitz, Alexander Schubert
28.11., 19:30h Musikpodium Zürich, ZKO-Haus: Urs Peter Schneider zum Achtzigsten: Werke von Urs Peter Schneider, Hermann Meier, Peter Streiff
29.11., 19:30h Tonhalle Orchester, Tonhalle Maag: Heinz Holliger zum Achtzigsten: Werke von Heinz Holliger und Bernd Alois Zimmermann
30.11., 20h Collegium Novum Zürich, Tonhalle Maag: Werke von Sergej Newski (UA), Heinz Holliger, Isabel Mundry und Mark Andre
1. 12., 11h ZHdK, Studierende der ZHdK: Werke von Heinz Holliger, Mauro Hertig, Karin Wetzel, Micha Seidenberg, Stephanie Haensler

Musikpodium ZürichAart-Verlag

Neo-profilesZürcher Hochschule der Künste, Collegium Novum Zürich, Urs Peter Schneider, Hermann Meier, Heinz HolligerPeter Streiff, Stephanie Haensler, Karin Wetzel, Gilles GrimaitreDominik Blum

From violin to drums

The legendary “Concours de Genève” celebrates its 80th birthday this year, with the disciplines of composition and percussion. Founded in 1939, this contest is one of the major landmarks in contemporary music.

Live-Stream of the final concert percussion: 21.11., 8pm:

34 young international percussionists have been invited to compete on the basis of videos they submitted to prove their skills. Only three of them will make it to the final concert of November 21. Their solo performance with the “Orchestre de la Suisse Romande” in Geneva’s Victoria Hall could turn out to become a gateway leading into the international music scene.

25-year-old Till Lingenberg, born in Valais, is one of the lucky participants and give us his insights on how it feels to perform in front of a highly valued jury, the criteria regarding the choice of the repertoire and drums in contemporary music.

The competition having a high reputation internationally, an invitation to the “Concours de Genève” is already kind of an award. In addition, the studying of the repertoire is a very enriching process. “Preparing for the contest forces one to rehearse many new pieces and bring them to a stage-ready level – after all, we are talking about a two and a half hours performance”, says Lingenberg. “Participating in the final concert would be the icing on the cake and open up career opportunities, allowing me to enter the professional world. This competition is very important for launching a solo career”.

Portrait Till Lingenberg

Lingenberg found his way to percussion through the violin – when he received his first violin lessons at the age of five, he was more interested in hammering on the violin than in producing beautiful sounds… so one thing led to another. He never regretted the change, as the drums are so versatile. “You’re not playing just one, but actually numerous instruments”.

Any role models? “I was never actually fascinated by the people playing the drums, but mostly by the instruments themselves. I admired them and it fascinated me to touch them and try things out, as far as I was allowed to”.

Lingenberg loves the contemporary repertoire – and considers himself lucky, because: “we have almost no choice but to play this music, given a repertoire that is never older than a century”. For the Concours, Lingenberg chose ‘Moi, jeu…’ for Marimba (1990) by Bruno Mantovani, a complex piece in which Mantovani “breaks the codes of the instrument” as Lingenberg puts it.

In ‘Assonance VII’ by Michael Jarrell (1992), the second piece he chose, the performer finds himself in the very heart of a percussion instruments park or playground. Vibraphone, Tamtam, gong, cymbals, bongos, wood-blocks, triangle etc. “It’s a fabulous piece, showing all the possibilities of multipercussion and radically different ways of playing, it experiments with resonances, sometimes almost to the inaudible”.
Interview: Benjamin Herzog / Gabrielle Weber


Michael Jarrell, Assonance VII (1992), Interpret: Till Lingenberg

The three finalists of the composition competition have been determined in a preliminary round. The “Lemanic Modern Ensemble” directed by Pierre Bleuse will present their pieces together with oboist Matthias Arter at the Studio Ansermet in Geneva on November 8.

Two special events complement the Concours: on November 14, Philippe Spiesser and the Ensemble Flashback will combine music, video, electronics and science at CERN and on November 20, the Eklekto Geneva Percussion Center will be presenting works by Alexandre Babel, Wojtek Blecharz and Ryoji Ikeda in the Alhambra, Geneva.

Eklekto Geneva Percussion Center ©Nicolas Masson

The qualifying rounds will take place from November 8 to 11 and are open to the public. The final concerts of both competitions will be broadcasted via live stream (video) on neo.mx3 as well as RTS Espace 2 on November 8, (composition) and November 21, (percussion).

Live-Stream of the final concert composition: 8.11., 8pm:

Émissions RTS Espace 2:
En direct:
8 novembre, finale concours Composition au studio Anserme:
Présentation par Anne Gillot + Julian Sykes / Prise d’antenne 18h30 – 22h30

21 novembre: finale concours Percussions au Victoria hall:
Présentation par Julian Sykes / Prise d’antenne 18h – 22h30

Magnétique:
-13 novembre, 17h, , Interview avec Philippe Spiesser, président du jury de percussion: Présentation par Anya Leveillé
-11 – 17 novembre: reportage sur les candidates, présenté par Sylvie Lambelet
RTS Culture: article avec video avant la finale percussion

Sendung SRF 2 Kultur:
16. / 17. November: Musikmagazin / aktuell, Redaktion: Benjamin Herzog

Concours de Genève, RTS Culture, SRF 2 Kultur

neo-profiles: Concours de Genève, Lemanic Modern Ensemble, Eklekto Geneva Percussion Center, Till Lingenberg, Michael Jarrell, Alexandre Babel

GRiNM? = [GRiNäM]!

GRiNM Network-Conference: Experiences with Gender and Diversity in New Music – ZHdK, 14.-16. November 2019

GRiNM ©Berliner Festspiele

Interview with Brandon Farnsworth
GRiNM standing for ‘Gender Relations in New Music’ – is an international, Berlin-based collective of curators. Born in 2016, during the Darmstädter Ferienkurse, it has since been present with targeted actions at several New Music festivals throughout Europe. GRiNM is now holding its first three-day international network conference on gender and diversity in Zurich, in collaboration with ZHdK’s Department of Cultural Mediation (DKV).  

Brandon Farnsworth is GRiNM member and curator of the conference. 

Can you explain this cryptic abbreviation GRiNM?
We are a heterogeneous collective with different backgrounds and attitudes, all representing and striving for diversity in New Music, drawing attention to our concerns through actions. We are united by our independence and by not having permanent positions in this domain, we are not a legal organization and don’t claim any financial funds for our GRiNM activities.  

‘Music and context or form and content cannot be separated.’ 

Tell us about the origins of your commitment to gender issues?
My own approach is rather intuitive. It comes from a curator’s point of view: How do institutional framework and musical production relate to each other and what effect do the framework conditions have on musical production? 

What does the term ‘gender’ stand for in this context?
Gender as label is a factor that reflects a lot already in purely statistical terms: 90% men – 10% women, when the going gets tough 80%-20% as a rule of thumb for teaching assignments, repertoire in concert halls, composition commissions at festivals, etc… Discussing statistics with such figures always led to topics such as Eurocentrism, social class, income and education levels. Gender involves a lot as it does not only refer to a sexual aspect. It is synonymous of diversity, questioning post-colonial exclusions as well as languages shaped by rich, well-educated, white, male Europeans.  

Donaueschingen Statistics mit freundlicher Genehmigung von GRiNM

“Gender is a collective term for different types of exclusion”.  

GRiNM was founded 3 years ago, in 2016. Gender balance (e.g. in Donaueschingen) has shifted considerably: did GRiNM play its part in the change? 
There is no proof of this. Our actions have certainly been significant. On one hand, we organized workshops on demand, twice at the Maerzmusik Berlin festival, 2017 as well as 2018, and made a sticker campaign with the provocative demand of 50%-50% or published statistics. On the other hand, we were present although uninvited at the edge of festivals, e.g. Darmstadt 2018. We offered a platform to talk about experiences around gender and diversity, which had no place within the festivals and noticed that there was a great need for it, but hardly any opportunities for exchange. With this conference we are now creating this most needed framework. 

GRiNM ©Berliner Festspiele

What is the aim of the conference?
Currently, numerous similar projects are taking place in different locations, but often hardly knowing about each other: there is a need for networking. We are creating a platform for the exchange of experiences and best practices or for tackling synergies – the size of the conference is unique. We have forty international participants.   

Can you tell us more about topics and formats at the conference?
There will be project presentations and discussion forums. The first day will be focusing on general definitions and problems, the second day on education. For example, the Association of European Conservatories will present what is being done to increase diversity on their side. On the third day the focus will be on ensembles and festivals.  

The evening before the event, people will get the opportunity to meet during a network reception with SONART – Musikschaffende Schweiz and a concert in the Jazzclub Mehrspur, with two musicians from Berlin, Neo Hülcker and Stellan Veloce, as well as Fågelle from Sweden. 


Ear action for earprotection and objects, Stellan Veloce and Neo Hülcker, dark music days 2017

Is the conference open to all those who are interested and will the results be published?
Yes, the conference is open to the public and we do plan a publication of the contributions as well as a selection of best practices and statistics 

Gabrielle Weber, Interview, Zürich 23.8.2019

GRiNM Network Conference: Full Schedule, SONART – Musikschaffende Schweiz 

neo-profile: Zürcher Hochschule der Künste

Clanking cold dancing with burning fire

Helmut Lachenmann is invited at “Hochschule der Künste Zürich» and «Opernhaus» Zurich.

Helmut Lachenmann ©Klaus Rudolph, CC BY-SA 4.0

Corinne Holtz:
Helmut Lachenmann, one of the most important contemporary composers, wrote his first opera at the age of 62 and achieved the biggest success of his life with its world premiere in 1997. Avant-gardist and pupil of Luigi Nono, feared by the orchestras as “noise” composer, Darmstadt’s “victim” – as he amusingly defines himself – gives his take on Andersen’s fairy tale “Das Mädchen mit den Schwefelhölzern”, focusing mainly on the social and critical message of the material.

Lachenmann interprets the fairy tale as metaphor for the icy coldness of post-capitalist societies and breaks the narrative with texts by Leonardo da Vinci and Gudrun Ensslin. Synopsis: A girl tries in vain to sell matches on New Year’s Eve. She eventually lights the sticks herself and experiences the delight of bourgeois warmth for a brief moment in the “glow” of the flames. The girl ends up freezing to death and her dead grandmother takes her to heaven.


Interview with Helmut Lachenmann about Das Mädchen mit den Schwefelhölzern, Ruhrtriennale, Jahrhunderthalle Bochum 2013

Not a story, but “meteorological conditions.”

Lachenmann sees beauty as “denial of the accustomed” and music as a “liberated art of perception”, beginning with the creation of sound and the necessary efforts in order to achieve it. Lachenmann uses eight horns in his opera. “The eight horns are one single instrument. It all boils down to new ways of hearing and to do so I must start with suspending the melodious perspective.” Things he demands from the musicians are for example fluttering tongues, air noises, valve rattles and vibrations. This acoustically attractive effect results from the overlapping of two oscillations with frequencies only slightly differing from one another. But he goes even further and calls the opera a “pretext to write for singing voices”. The music does not tell a story but represents “meteorological conditions”. The girl is surrounded by freezing cold and feels burning fire for a moment.

The core of Lachenmann’s gestural music is actually theatrical. Those who experience it live can observe busy performers and invent their own scenery. Transforming these actions into the art form of ballet is a challenge. How can one create a choreography that goes beyond images and leaves room for music and its actors?


Helmut Lachenmann, Das Mädchen mit den Schwefelhölzern, Opernhaus Zürich 2019, Trailer

This new production: “Das Mädchen mit den Schwefelhölzern” is the focus of a three-day symposium, which the Zurich University of the Arts organises in cooperation with the Zurich Opera House, as well as the starting point for an interdisciplinary examination of Lachenmann’s work. Musicologist Hans-Ulrich Mosch illuminates Nono’s shadow, music journalist Julia Spinola the methods used in previous productions, dance scientist Stephanie Schroedter the transformation of musical score into movement. Finally, the composer and his choreographer Christian Spuck will discuss the opportunities and limitations of the new production with composer Isabel Mundry.

“Can an Adorno student be happy in the act of composing?”

Lachenmann’s utopian musical thinking has fallen out of date and is – perhaps for this very reason – of vital importance. In addition, the composer knows how to convey his beliefs in a humorous way. His colleague Hans Werner Henze once asked him if it was possible for him – as an Adorno pupil – to be happy in the act of composing. “No. Never happy, but I’ve been joyful.” What about the feeling of happiness after the premiere of a new production? “Every performance is an adventure and its outcome always uncertain.”


Helmut Lachenmann, Allegro sostenuto 1986/88, interpreted by Trio Caelum

ZHdK: Zu Gast: Helmut Lachenmann: Congress / conference / symposium, 8.-10.11.19

Opernhaus Zürich: ‘Das Mädchen mit den Schwefelhölzern‘, 12.10.-14.11.19

neo-Profiles: ZHdK, Philharmonia Zürich, Basler Madrigalisten

Music for eardrums – ‘Elemental realities’: new piece @Donaueschinger Musiktage, final concert 20.10.2019

Jürg Frey ©Graham Hardy

Composer Jürg Frey devoted four months to the composition of his new piece “Elemental Realities”, commissioned for the closing concert of the “Donaueschinger Musiktage”. In this interview he talks about this extreme state, about “listening” per se and the privilege of not having to compose on commission only. 

The British music scene revolving around Cornelius Cardew and the London Scratch Orchestra or Christian Wolff played a decisive role in Jürg Frey’s early years. Today he is regularly played in London’s insider circles, but this hasn’t always been the case. For many years he was considered an insider tip, he hardly ever composed for the public and from the 90s onwards he did so in close collaboration with the composers collective and label “Wandelweiser”, a community of likeminded people aiming to do “radically quiet things”. Then, in 2015, as Composer in Residence at the Huddersfield Festival, he set off on a rather unexpected late international career. 


Jürg Frey, Floating Categories 2015, live recording 2017

Jürg Frey, you define yourself “composer of silence”. How do you feel before the premiere of Donaueschinger Musiktage’s closing concert?
Calm right now. In my case tension is at its highest peak before the first rehearsal – the first meeting between my music, the conductor and the orchestra. If things go well then, I can attend the premiere in a confident state of mind.  

How did this commission come about?
That is not clear to me neither (he laughs). I received an e-mail from Björn Gottstein, the artistic director, with the subject: “Attention, short-term request”. I thought it was going to be around 2020. I first took a few days to think about it but eventually agreed and set to work for four months, non-stop. I reached the limits of both my physical as well as mental capabilities. 

How did you start to work on your new piece ‘Elemental Realities’? 
The beginning, the first three to four weeks, was the most difficult time for me. At first there were hundreds of ideas, a real thunderstorm or flickering of them. Then the energy and direction of the piece started to take shape. In order to be able to work at all, I had to bring down the exuberant initial creativity to a reasonable level. 

Were there guidelines or could you just set to work
I could do whatever I wanted. The piece just shouldn’t turn out to be overly long: that’s the nice thing about short-term requests, no demands allowed. 

In a quote regarding the piece you refer to “sheet of music as membrane” between silence and sound – and to the individual performer as fragile link between “private silence” and “music resonating in public space”…
Every single note occurs to me in awareness that it resonates into a room and that it comes in touch with silence on the back of the sheet. Each note has two directions and each note counts. The interpreter also stands on the threshold between sound and silence and this threshold is fascinating to me. 


Jürg Frey, Extended Circular Music No.8 (excerpt), Live at Dog Star Orchestra, LA 2015

“The piece gives musicians the opportunity to shine.” 

What can we expect concretely in terms of sound?
There are two components taking turns with each other. On one hand a two-dimensional one: for example strings or percussionists, playing continuous stationary sounds.
On the other hand, small musical elements, such as short melodies and chords, sequences of individual notes, all very delicately instrumented. The musicians are very challenged. 

You spoke about the composition, conductor and acoustic entity triptych, but what role does the audience play?
The act of “listening” – be it carried out by the musicians or the audience – is crucial in my opinion. The connection to the audience occurs through listening. When musicians play but also listen precisely, this is conveyed to the audience, even in large concert halls. 

“Mine is music for the ears, for the listeners’ eardrums – be they sitting in the concert hall or in the orchestra.” 


Jürg Frey, Louange de l’eau, louange de la lumière, Basel Sinfonietta 2011

Donaueschingen, especially a closing concert performance, is regarded as a key moment in a composer’s career – has your composing changed since then?  
It had no influence on the act of composing itself. But the work situation has changed since my music now has more resonance. In the past, 90% of my works were written without commission and my only motivation was artistic urge. Now I sometimes decline commissions because I wish to continue composing freely and if I feel the inner need to do so. I consider this freedom as a great privilege. 

Gabrielle Weber, Interview 12.9.2019, Basel

Jürg Frey ©Graham Hardy

The Donaueschinger Musiktage will take place from October 17th to 20th. In addition to Jürg Frey’s, the event will feature premieres and panel discussions by and with Michael Pelzel, Beat Furrer and the Collegium Novum Zürich. 

World Premiere Jürg Frey: “Elemental Realities”, Donaueschinger Musiktage, Sunday, October 20, 17h, Saalsporthalle 

Sendungen SRF 2 Kultur: t.b.a.

neo-profiles: Jürg Frey, Donaueschinger Musiktage, Michael Pelzel, Beat Furrer, Collegium Novum Zürich, Basel Sinfonietta

Friction generates heat – Marianthi Papalexandri-Alexandri @Festival “ZeitRäume Basel”, September 13-22, 2019

Marianthi Papalexandri-Alexandri

“ZeitRäume” festival welcomes you in the courtyard of Basel’s “Kunstmuseum” with a walk-through and interactive sound sculpture. Composer and sound artist Marianthi Papalexandri-Alexandri’s contribution to this major collaborative work is her mysterious tube instrument “Untitled VII”. Neo.mx3 visited Marianthi Papalexandri-Alexandri at her studio in Wald – Zurich region.

In the old days, textiles used to be woven in these large and bright factory rooms. Today Marianthi Papalexandri-Alexandri and kinetic artist Pe Lang live and work here. Their loft is a lab full of machines, electronics and mechanical objects.

At the back of a workbench, Pe Lang flips a toggle switch and a disc starts turning on black cardboard, Marianthi pulls out needles of various sizes and sticks them into the cardboard. With this gesture, the object turns into an instrument: whenever the small tubes that pop up from the disc touch the needles, fine bell tones are generated. When several performers insert needles into the cardboard of several machines according to a certain pattern, this concept grows into the work “Resonators”. Conceiving this kind of acoustic settings is the core of Marianthis and Pe Lang’s work.


Marianthi Papalexandri-Alexandri und Pe Lang: Modular No.3

Long-term materials research

Each and every detail of these sound objects is the result of countless material tests – and “Untitled VII” – incorporated by “ ZeitRäume” Festival into the large sound sculpture “Rohrwerk/Fabrique Sonore” – makes no exception. In the studio, Pe Lang shows the prototype: “The 24 tubes are made of transparent acrylic, a material that has the potential to produce warm sound. Each tube is then covered with a TPE foil through which we have stretched a nylon string. And the wheels at the front of the small electric engines are made of hard cotton fabric and coated with a kind of rosin. Sound is produced by increasing the friction.”

Visualization Rohrwerk Fabrique sonore© Made in

Pe Lang turns on the small engines of the tube instrument, generating a continuous tone, the result is complex, organic and beautiful at once – an independent sound sculpture with the potential of growing into a composition. To unfold this potential, Pe Lang slips into the role of performer and slowly changes the speed of the engines, the tension of the nylon string and the position of the clamps attached to it. The sonic reaction is immediate – sometimes reminiscent of a modular synthesizer, sometimes of an organ rich in overtones, sometimes of Eliane Radigue’s or La Monte Young’s meandering drones.

Marianthi compares the delicacy and carefulness with which the instrument is to be played to a Japanese tea ceremony: “Although each and every gesture are the result of great calculation, it all appears to be effortless and simple. Each movement being part of a natural flow”.

Marianthi Papalexandri-Alexandri: Untitled II (“Untitled VII” is a sequel of “Untitled II.”)

The Charme of the flawed

There is one further element playing its role in “Untitled II”’s sound flow: the material itself. “The diaphragm’s tension decreases over time, the rosin wears off and the engines begin to wobble a bit,” says Pe Lang, “these inaccuracies have been incorporated deliberately. The tube instrument, pretending to be clean, minimalistic and controllable, is not a perfect machine after all.”

This is another reason why Marianthi’s and Pe Lang’s sound sculptures and compositions always move in spaces between accurate and inaccurate, object and performance, mechanical and electronic. And when they leave the studio in Wald, they end up somewhere between galleries and concert halls.

But who is actually composing here: the composer, the performer, or the instrument itself? Those are exactly the lines that Marianthi is trying to blur with her sound sculptures. “I want to place composer, performer and instrument on the same level and thereby also question the whole idea of authorship”. So finally, who or what is in charge always depends on the point of view.
Theresa Beyer

Marianthi Paplexandri-Alexandri: Untitled VI

With its 30 projects, this year’s edition of “ZeitRäume – Biennale für neue Musik und Architektur” in Basel is the largest to date. The 45-metre-high sound tower “Rohrwerk/Fabrique sonore” can be experienced in the courtyard of the Kunstmuseum, from September, 15 to September, 21. Marianthi Papalexandri-Alexandri is one of the six composers and four musicians bringing this mixture of pavilion and musical instrument to life. 

This year’s Swiss Music Prize will be awarded on September, 20, at the Kunstmuseum Basel, as part of the ZeitRäume festival. Among the nominees, Cod.act, Michael Jarrell, Pierre Favre, Laurent Peter (d’incise) and Kammerorchester Basel.

Zeiträume – Biennale für neue Musik und Architektur, Marianthi Papalexandri-Alexandri, Pe Lang

neo-profiles: ZeitRäume BaselMarianthi Papalexandri-Alexandri, Pe Lang, Kammerorchester Basel, Michael Jarrell, Pierre Favre, d’incise / tresque

Broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, Marianthi Papalexandri-Alexandri, Pe Lang: 11.September, 20h, Wiederholung 14.September, 20h;
Passage: Cod.act -Maschinenmusik aus La Chaux-de-Fonds: 20. September, 20h; Kontext, 20. September

La Via Lattea (The Milky Way) – musical past and present in the south of Switzerland

La Via Latte 11 “E la nave va”

“God can thank Bach, because Bach is proof that God exists.” When philosopher Emil Cioran coined this aphorism – as provocative as it is profound, and for many absolutely true – he certainly wasn’t concerned with the possibilities offered by translating the last name “Bach”… but Mario Pagliarani is.

With the 2019 edition of La Via Lattea – he decided to relate the highest and most metaphysical composition of the Leipzig genius (The Art of Fugue, BWV 1080) to the Italian translation of “Bach”, by choosing to travel along the southernmost “creek” of Switzerland.

La Via Lattea 14 “Il camino di Orfeo 2”

The idea is to follow the river Breggia from its source (on the slopes of Monte Generoso) to its delta (Lake Como), while proposing a complete performance of Bach’s masterpiece alongside works by contemporary composers. A new dialogue between landscape and music, where The Art of Fugue’s Counterpoints and Canons are performed on historic instruments but also using contemporary arrangements with peculiar sounds – ranging from saxophone quartets to accordion quartets.

“Musical pilgrimage – ecological pilgrimage”.

Hiking through an entire valley, while listening to very special music is something that might be perceived like a real challenge by an ordinary audience, but for those who follow the creation of Pagliarani it has been a very welcome habit for sixteen years. “La Via Lattea” has been defined as “musical pilgrimage” as well as “ecological pilgrimage” from the beginning, in the sense of a creativity bringing about a combination of elements that are normally considered apart.

La Via Lattea 14, E la nave va

Mario Pagliarani is best known for being a composer, but throughout the years his “ordinary musical creativity” (the one carried out on staves) has found in “La Via Lattea” a counterpart escaping the ordinary categories with which we are accustomed to identify works, ie the only worthy achievements of artistic labour.

La Via Lattea 12, Macchina per cinguettare

In his own words: “La Via Lattea is the representation of my way of thinking: the more time goes by, the more I realize that the first intuition – that of a path with stations – reflects my way of organising ideas. Something that must be part of my DNA”. So how does the act of creating not a piece of music but a sound-environmental sequence work? “It’s a game of Chinese boxes. A composition, or rather, a macro-composition in which, usually, I also include a new composition of mine. I create the ideal habitat where I can place my music as well”.


La Via Lattea 14, Trailer

As a matter of fact – in addition to the complete Art of Fugue – the five movements, to be held on September 21, 22, 27, 28 and 29, 2019, will also feature a new composition for clavichord by Pagliarani as well as several other works by contemporary composers, including – as world premiere – the Variationen über eine stillgelegte Fuge by Mischa Käser and Fantasia – zum Thema von Bachs Canon per augmentationem in Contrario Motu aus der Kunst der Fuge by Roland Moser (interpreted by Xasax Saxofonquartett).


Roland Moser, Ensemble Phoenix Basel, Eleven sizes – extendes moments II for eight instruments, 2014/14

But there will not only be music – which is usual for La Via Lattea – for poet Alberto Nessi (Schweizer Gand Prix Literatur 2016 and living in the Muggio Valley) as well as Raimund Rodewald (professor of landscape aesthetics at the ETH Zurich) will also be travelling alongside the pilgrims.
Zeno Gabaglio

Festival La Via Lattea, 16: 21.-29. settembre 2019

neo-profiles: Mario Pagliarani, Roland MoserLa Via Lattea, Marcus Weiss, Xasax Saxofonquartett, Zeno Gabaglio

A passion for sound in nature

Interview with Daniel Ott, co-initiator and member of the artistic committee Festival Neue Musik Rümlingen

“A l’ur da l’En” – INNLAND – AUsLAND 

Neue Musik Rümlingen 2016 © Schulthess Foto

“Neue Musik Rümlingen” is a small festival, originally from the outskirts of Basel, but this year it will be hosted in the Lower Engadin. Pioneer in the field of staging sound in nature, it has been a sought-after insider tip for almost thirty years. This conversation with Daniel Ott, co-initiator and member of the artistic committee, revolves around staging music in public spaces, dealing with the unpredictable and the subjectivity of music.

Daniel Ott, with the upcoming festival edition you’ll be taking the Rümlinger idea from the Basel region to the Engadin: How did this visit come about?

Rümlinger “excursions” have a certain tradition; we have started to be itinerant and visit Basel and its surrounding villages from very early on. In 2013 the festival took place in a completely different location, as we hiked from Chiasso to Basel, played with local ensembles on the go and cooperated with likeminded festivals such as Klangspuren Schwaz (Tyrol – Austria), located very close to the Lower Engadin. At that time we started considering the idea of a stronger collaboration with Schwaz, which will come about this year. Together we’ll be offering two different “sound paths”, which can individually be covered in one day, one in the Lower Engadin, curated by Rümlingen, the other from Tyrol to the Engadin, curated by Schwaz. Other partners are the Fundaziun Nairs of Scuol, for visual installations and the Theater Chur, which will be holding its season opening in the Engadin. As highlight for the two “sound paths”, we meet in the middle, for a joint evening concert and celebration in Scuol.

Neue Musik Rümlingen 2016, Daniel Ott: “CLOPOT – ZAMPUOGN”

In 2016, you and Manos Tsangaris took over the artistic direction of the “Biennale für Neues Musiktheater” in Munich, giving it a kind of urban environment approach: Where does this passion of yours for connecting sound and nature or public space come from?

There is a small background history to this: 20 years ago Peter Zumthor invited me to develop music for his “Klangkörper Schweiz”, the Swiss Pavilion at Expo 2000 in Hanover, and started reacting architecturally to the results of our common sound experiments. But it is neither realistic nor sustainable to have a new space built for each and every musical idea. That’s why I started to deal with sound in given situations, where I cannot influence all of the parameters. I started to considerate the resulting uncertainties as an asset and appreciate them. I am referring to John Cage, among others, who included coincidences in his compositional approach, in order to enable a greater variety of sound and music.


Festival Neue Musik Rümlingen, Ausschnitte 2017

Where do you locate the audience in this context of sound in public space?

People will always experience music in a subjective way. I would like to enable individual approaches and rather use the visual arts – where audiences always decide by themselves at which pace to perceive the works – as my guideline. Each part is representative and all points of view are valid.

“A piece is complete, even if one couldn’t hear or see its integrity.”

Landscapes bear stories; people hand down stories from generation to generation. Every single life is a novel. It is important to translate this into art. Art is communication.

Daniel Ott © Manu Theobald

What can we be particularly looking forward to in the Engadin?

To mark the entrance and set the frame, Peter Conradin Zumthor will wrap the church bells of Lavin in sheepskin, for his piece “Con Sordino”, which is a remake of a work previously presented in Rümlingen. The resulting sound is alienating and more reminiscent of electronic music than church bells.

We were able to persuade Beat Furrer to write music for a cycle of poems by Leta Semadeni, a Lavin poet who has been writing in Valader, the Lower Engadine Romansh, for decades. The premiere will take place in the beautiful, unadorned chapel of Sur En d’Ardez.

Peter Conradin Zumthor will immerse the old bridge of Lavin into fog, turning the wooden bridge into a fog-bridge.


Peter Conradin Zumthor, Grünschall7 (Rüttler) Solo Drums, 2019

A new Engadine version of Christian Wolff’s legendary “Stones” from 1968, will be performed with stones from the river Inn. In addition, Jürg Kienberger himself will present “Innehalten”, a theatrical play.
Many stations will be performed several times for small groups of listeners, which leads to very personal as well as different interpretations.

Gabrielle Weber, Interview, 30.6.19, Innsbruck

Neue Musik Rümlingen, Klangspuren Schwaz, Fundaziun NairsTheater Chur

Festival Neue Musik Rümlingen:
14./15. September 2019 Unterengadin; 16. November 2019, Epilog Kirche Rümlingen:

neo-profiles:
Neue Musik Rümlingen, Daniel Ott, Beat Furrer, Peter Conradin Zumthor