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

“A mix of sounds you’ve never heard before.”

Swiss composer Thomas Kessler is “Composer in Residence” at Lucerne Festival 2019.

Thomas Kessler, Basel 29.11.2018 ©Priska Ketterer

His over half a century long journey is filled with surprises and yet marked by intrinsic coherence. He’s known to have influenced a young generation of musicians in Berlin in the 1960s, such as Klaus Schulze or Edgar Froese, founder of the cult band “Tangerine Dream” and yet some were astonished when Thomas Kessler decided to broaden his horizons and break contemporary music boundaries again by starting a collaboration with a Californian hiphop poet.

“Utopia” – no perfectly smooth sound

Kessler’s work has been considered groundbreaking from his earliest pieces, in which the single performers had complete control over the electronic output of their playing instead of being routed to a central mixing console. But he went even further and dared to transfer this configuration to an entire orchestra, wanting to create something utopian – and called the piece “Utopia”.

Each time, this procedure led to a new journey of research and discovery, for as soon as a solution was found, it led to further possibilities and suggestions. Over the decades, a dozen of “Control pieces” originated from 1974’s “Piano Control” for instance, and “Utopia” also experienced two further orchestral transformations. In the third piece, which will also be performed in Lucerne, the orchestra – and thus the sound – will be distributed throughout the room.

Thomas Kessler: Trailer, Composer in Residence, Lucerne Festival 2019

This is quite representative of how Kessler (born 1937 in Zurich) proceeds. He is never satisfied with the achieved solutions and always yearns for something new and unique. This let him to systematically avoid the mainstream patterns of New Music. After his composition studies in Berlin, Kessler founded his own electronic studio, which soon became renowned. His reputation eventually reached Switzerland and from 1973 onwards he taught composition and theory at the Musik-Akademie in Basel, where he also built his prestigious Electronic Studio. He’s to be considered one of this country’s electronic and live-electronic music pioneers, alongside Bruno Spoerri and Gerald Bennett.

He always distanced himself from any kind of academicism and instead of aiming for a perfect, smooth sound, he would strive for the unusual – as in the “Utopia” orchestral pieces. One needs a certain amount of confidence, in order to delegate sound modulation during the concert, live and via laptop to each individual musician within the orchestra. Something new can emerge: “The result is an electronic orchestral sound, because nobody is absolutely precise. One is a bit louder, the other a little quieter, it’s not quite right and the result is a mix of sounds you’ve never heard before.”

Slam poetry and orchestra

When Kessler moved to Toronto, after his retirement in 2001, he was looking for new musical encounters, beyond the established concert scene: “on the street, in the pubs where young people meet on weekends, the place of vibrant slam poetry, an art form that impressed me deeply and that is highly popular over there. Although people tend to state that rap is dead, slam lives on and simply can’t be killed”.

Thomas Kessler und Saul Williams © Werner Schnetz

After some research he finally contacted slam poet Saul Williams and the two got along right away. Their first work for orchestra was based on lyrics, (“…said the shotgun to the head”), followed by a string quartet (“NGH WHT”), with a completely different style and use of musical idioms – but both unique in contemporary music, because of their bold but still accessible effect, that cannot leave the listener unaffected.
Thomas Meyer

Broadcasts SRF:
10.9., 10h: “Musikmagazin”
4.9., 21h: «Neue Musik im Konzert»: Late night 1

Concerts Lucerne Festival u.a.:
17.8.2019, Late night 1: Mivos Quartett, Saul Williams: u.a. NGH WHT
24.8.19, 15h, Moderne 1: Thomas Kessler u.a., Control-Zyklus III
24.8.19, Late night 2: Thomas Kessler, Saul Williams, Orchester der Lucerne Festival Academy, u.a. Utopia III, „…said the shotgun to the head“  

neo-profiles:
Thomas Kessler, Lucerne Festival Moderne, Lucerne Festival Academy

Music as universal language

The Festival Les Jardins Musicaux will take place from August, 17 to September, 1: Interview with Valentin Reymond, artistic director

Valentin Reymond conducts the Orchestre symphonique de Krasnoyarsk © Pierre-William Henry

Each year, the festival “Les Jardins Musicaux” presents an original and daring programme, mainly focussing on 20th and 21st century music. During the 2019 edition – from August, 17 to September, 1 – 240 musicians and 15 ensembles will perform in different venues, in the cantons of Neuchâtel, Berne, Jura and Vaud. In this interview, the artistic director and conductor Valentin Reymond discusses and explores the relationship between music, audience and modern society.

Valentin Reymond, “Les Jardins musicaux” is well established in the region and the audience is fond of the festival: what is your secret?

The festival has been able to establish numerous links between nature and culture, city and countryside, art and heritage… the choice of proposing one hour concerts, without any intermissions, as well as the unusual places where they take place (Evologia, the parks of the Chasseral and the Doubs) allow us to share our “imaginary museum” with a wide, curious and faithful audience, that is not exclusively made of music lovers. We always aim for an original and often demanding programme, this couldn’t be possible without the support of the artists, who believe in our approach.

Your programmes feature many contemporary compositions. Do you see yourself as a kind of contemporary music ambassador?

The most relevant aspect to us isn’t necessarily contemporaneity, but rather modernity. Maryse Fuhrmann and I choose works that are meaningful to us in the present moment.

“Les Jardins musicaux, a place to meditate on what the world is like today”

This year, a discussion panel on the current climate debate will take place before the “Woodstock 50” concert: what is the relationship with (contemporary) music?

Woodstock represents a great moment in history, music and protest. We are not aiming for a “remake”, but wish to enable today’s young creators to express themselves and address their concerns, both artistically and socially. Louis Jucker, Andreas Schaerer, Carolina Katun and Arthur Henry all embraced this challenge enthusiastically. While developing the project, it soon became apparent, that if we wanted to draw a parallel with Woodstock, the climate issue as well as youth’s engagement on this matter were crucial. That’s why we decided to organise a round table with a climatologist, a philosopher, a high school pupil and a university student.

Trailer La ralentie, création édition 2019 (Pierre Jodlowski, Henri Michaux)

What role does contemporary music play in today’s society?

Throughout history, some composers have been actively engaging themselves through their works. Beethoven and Britten are good examples. In our case, the Bal(l)ades project, which is run in collaboration with both the Chasseral and the Doubs parks, combines heritage with musical discoveries: “Welcome to the castle” by Nicolas Bolens will be performed in the “Musée des beaux-arts” of Le Locle, “Le Tribun” by Mauricio Kagel in the former pulp mill of Rondchâtel and major works by Galina Utvoslkaya in St-Imier.

What will be the contemporary music highlights of this year’s programme?

We commissioned a piece on Henri Michaux’s “La Ralentie” to Pierre Jodlowski and music for large orchestra for Buster Keaton’s film “Le Mécano de la Générale” to Martin Pring (premiere to be held on August, 24). The celebrations for Heinz Holliger’s eightieth birthday, will feature him conducting some of his own works, as well as Jacques Wildberger’s wonderful “Kammerkonzert”, a sophisticated piece that speaks to everyone.

El Cimarron, Les Jardins musicaux 2019 © Giona Mottura

Interview by Gabrielle Weber, Neuchâtel 27.6.19

Émissions RTS: Musique d’avenir
1 septembre, 22h
, Concert Holliger du 29 août
15 septembre 22h, Concerts Jodlowski / A. Françoise et G. Grimaître du 28 août

Les jardins musicaux, Mentioned concerts:
Woodstock 50 (Louis Jucker – Louis Schild, Arthur Henry, Carolina Katun, Andreas Schaerer), le Tribun (Mauricio Kagel), La Ralentie (Pierre Jodlowski), Welcome to the Castle (Nicolas Bolens), Joyeux anniversaire Monsieur Holliger (Heinz Holliger, Jacques Wildberger), Le Mécano de la Générale (ciné-concert), La Femme marteau (Galina Ustvolskaya)
Panel: “Woodstock aujourd’hui : le climat ?”

neo-profiles: Les Jardins Musicaux, Nicolas Bolens, Ensemble Batida, Heinz Holliger, Nouvel Ensemble Contemporain

Curation as Meta-Compositon: The Joy of Saying Yes

Patrick Frank and Moritz Müllenbach talk about the upcoming season of Ensemble Tzara

Ensemble Tzara: “The Joy of Saying Yes”, rehearsal picture season 2019/20 

Three overlapping part-concerts of one “meta-composition” build the upcoming season of Zurich-based Ensemble Tzara. They intertwine music with Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophy. As a collaborative project, the members of the ensemble, performer Malte Scholz, but also the audience will be involved during the concerts. Patrick Frank, composer, cultural theorist and curator of the season, together with Moritz Müllenbach of the Ensemble Tzara, describe their project in this article.

Ensemble Tzara, The man who couldn’t stop laughing, 2016 ©Dominique Meienberg

The renewed strengthening of hostile opposites, clearly reflected in the omnipresent populism, puts naysayers in the spotlight. By cleverly breaking taboos, they know exactly how to attract public attention. We are currently stuck in such a – populist – phase, in the aftermath of the global reorganization following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 89′ and the digital revolution.

Reason enough to re-read Nietzsche, who analysed naysayers as well as their way of shaping Western culture and – so to speak – “inventing” resentment. What we experience today is therefore nothing new. Nietzsche, on the other hand, fought for the right of the ‘Yes-Sayers, whose YES would become a culture of creators and self-achievers, with no need of rejecting the foreign or the unfamiliar.


Ensemble Tzara, Stephen Takasugi: The man who couldn’t stop laughing 2016

The book ‘Nietzsche and philosophy’ by French philosopher Gilles Deleuze (1925-95) is to be considered the starting point of Ensemble Tzara’s 19/20 season programme and namely its chapter “Religion, Morality and Insight”.

“Concert in three separately performed parts”

The curatorial task has been approached as a composition itself, or more precisely a “meta-composition”. For this reason, the season programme was conceived as a concert in three separate parts. The three parts are dedicated to Deleuze’s chapter “Religion, Morality and Knowledge”, which we related to the state of avant-garde music: religion becoming the law of truth, morality the law of critique and insight the law of structure, which led to the following decisions:

The three parts will be performed in the three different ‘spheres’ of nature, privacy and public space: in Zurich’s Stadtwald Käferberg, in a private living room and finally in the Gessnerallee theatre.

The performed works won’t always be played entirely, but instead mostly distributed among the entire meta-composition (the seasonal programme).

Sound example Patrick Frank:

“Siegel&Idee”: Festival Wien Modern 2016: Woher kommen wir? Wohin gehen wir? Und wo sind wir hier überhaupt?

The first part will feature works by Franz Schubert, Galina Ustwolskaia, Olivier Messiaen, Trond Reinholdtsen (UA) and Arvo Pärt. What exactly will be performed in parts two and three and will make it to the stage – or the living room – however, is only decided during part one. The meta-composition’s development (videos, texts, audience decisions, dates, times and places) can be followed on Tzara’s homepage and on their neo-profile.

Parts one and two will be filmed and the recordings partially integrated into the following part:  From part two onwards the live played music is alternated with video recordings (from the previous parts). The audience will be involved in shaping the parts to come.

Thus a plural meta-composition was and is created, trying to match the plurality in Nietzsche’s conception.

Patrick Frank / Moritz Müllenbach

Patrick Frank, composer &curator in residence Ensemble Tzara Saison 2019/20

Dates:
Meta-Composition part one: September 7th 2019, 6pm, Stadtwald Käferberg
(place see neo-profile Tzara / Homepage Tzara)

information about further parts on:
Homepage Ensemble Tzara, neo-profile Ensemble Tzara

 

neo-profiles:
Patrick Frank, Ensemble Tzara, Moritz Müllenbach, Simone Keller

Transdisciplinarity as search engine

Ensemble Batida

In this post, Viva Sanchez Reinoso, pianist and co-founder of the Geneva based Ensemble Batida and “association Amalthea” examines certain creation processes relating to contemporary music. The text is based on her 10 years experience in the fields of interpretation, improvisation and interaction with other disciplines.

The challenges faced by independent musicians who manage an associative structure in order to produce multidisciplinary projects are many and they require an enormous amount of skills besides the one of being high-level performers: i.e. the understanding and handling of production and distribution networks governed by their own and often times not very transparent processes, but also project management including budget matters, or building and maintaining audiences from various horizons within “contemporary” music, which unfortunately often carries a stigmatizing label.

On top of that, they have to face forms of inertia, resulting from a certain conservatism: formalisation and standardisation of knowledge, fierce defence of intellectual property, and, essentially, a division of the creative area into disciplines and genres, whose definitions are constantly being revised.

Thus the question arises: how does one manage, when the practice lies between constantly shifting boundaries and the intellectual approach relates more to comparative branches of human sciences rather than inherited models of the classical musical tradition?

To untie contemporary music from this highly specialized niche – technically but also aesthetically – musicians should keep a permanent and dynamic link between their own practice and what other actors of today’s creative world are doing.

I am not only referring to fellow contemporary artists, but also to different musical genres, scientific as well as non-scientific fields and practices, in order to gradually reach fertile perspectives by breaking the boundaries of discipline. An array of practices that would challenge each other’s evidences allowing the shift between artistic territories by dealing with questions belonging to other branches.

Brice Catherin, Numéro 2, Athenée, Viva Sanchez Reinoso

In order to give an overview of this approach, which shouldn’t be project related, but rather general and based on a series of works, I have briefly summarised the next three productions I will be involved in, between June and November 2019.

BIG – the “Biennale des arts indépendants de Genève” (June 28 to 30), rebranded to “Biennale Interstellaire de Genève” for its third edition, is an event that will gather over 70 alternative structures such as theatres, booksellers, labels, collectives, festivals, grocery stores, radios and cinemas, developing a vision that transcends disciplines.

I will work with puppeteer-astronaut Padrut Tacchella and Pierre Dunand Filliol, an experimental musician specialised in crafting electronic instruments, to create a sound installation connecting the stars to the buzzing world of the people at the “Espace du Galpon”.

Les Jardins Musicaux will feature “Welcome to the castle” in Le Locle’s “Musée des Beaux-arts” on September 1st. This monumental project by the Ensemble Batida was commissioned to Nicolas Bolens in 2017. The framework conceived by the group is a composition inspired by psychedelic rock and tailor-made for a castle, the space where the work is not only meant to be performed but also a consisting part of the composition itself, requiring redesign for each occupied space.

“Welcome to the castle”, Nicolas Bolens, Ensemble Batida, premiere 2017 @Leon Orlandi

As part of the ABC season, Circo Bello and Amalthea will present Maurizio Kagel’s “Variety” at La Chaux-de-Fonds’ “Temple Allemand” from October, 24 to November, 3. It will be the first time in Switzerland, that a professional team of circus artists and musicians will perform this repertoire piece. The performances will be intoduced by a long on stage preparation with director Fabrice Huggler.

In these interdisciplinary procedures, the exclusive relationship between musician and score is challenged; particular universes are conceived and drawn, the musician’s vision of the musical phenomenon collides with dimension of space, physicality as well as perception of other performers. It’s all about co-constructing and putting a multitude of skills – like comprehending a musical text or sound texture through improvisation, develop and set up installations or the commission and interpretation of works by creating particular contexts and settings – into perspective.

I invite you to attend these productions and look forward to discuss my research further on this blog.

Viva Sanchez Reinoso

Neo-profiles:

Ensemble Batida, Les Jardins Musicaux, Association Amalthea

Festival Links:

BIG Biennale

Welcome to the castle

ABC

Pling! Plong! Brrr!

Michael Pelzel

Composer Michael Pelzel is currently polishing the final details of his first opera for the Opernhaus Zurich. In this interview, he talks about the razor’s edge, zero energy states and that certain degree of lightheartedness work sometimes needs. 

Michael Pelzel, how’s life?  
Very hectic at the moment, I am reaching my limits and I’m working from home right now. 

You’re on the home straight of your opera “Last Call”.
I can fortunately rely on a great team. It’s a joint effort. As an opera composer, one must always deal with other art forms as well. 

Have there been arguments?
Only on one particular issue. I personally had a dreamwalking final in mind for “Last Call”, some kind of gravity song, reminding both of a church chorale and a vocal quartet in the style of “Manhattan Transfer. I wanted to establish some kind of zero energy state at the end, but my partners Chris Kondek and Jonathan Stockhammer both believed that this had already been fulfilled earlier and wasn’t needed anymore at the end of the opera. They eventually convinced me. 

How did the idea for “Last Call” come about?
Author Dominik Riedo from Lucerne reached out to me and we developed the material together in an inspiring kind of ping-pong working procedure. Riedo’s text approached my music using an onomatopoeic, almost comic-like language. Pling! Plong! Brrr! 

In “Last Call”, humanity loses control over communication media and is therefore forced to dislocate to a distant planet.
I’m sure you’re familiar with this – I experience it day in day out. As soon as you’re done answering your 30 mails, the inbox is full again. We are literally being attacked from all sides and on every possible channel. Then there are tech giants like Amazon or Google, who know more and more about our lives. It makes one wonder. 

The programme brochure defines the opera as grotesquely exaggerated.
Yes, the idea is to get quirky, somewhere between Dürrenmatt’s “Die Physiker” or “Le Grand Macabre” by György Ligeti. I was also inspired by Christoph Marthaler, in whose productions you often don’t really know whether he’s being serious or not. I like walking on the razor’s edge. 

Michael Pelzel, Last Call, UA 28.6.19, Opernhaus Zürich ©Herwig Prammer

How did you approach “Last Call” in terms of composition?
Many composers are in despair, hopelessly trying to harmonise each and every musical parameter. I believe one has to set to work with a certain degree of lightheartedness and knowing that for a 90-minute work, you can’t compose every note from scratch. I therefore developed and dwelled upon already existing themes and worked in theatrical sense of course.

What bothers me in contemporary opera is this latent tragedy and almost clichéd profundity that’s pervading everything. I wanted to work against that, so I took the liberty of being a little cheekier here and there.  

Cheekier?
We slightly altered the “Sendung mit der Maus” melody for example. This is nothing new of course; variations within a composer’s own musical language can be found in Mozart’s works and Wagner sometimes suddenly and surprisingly tapped into baroque elements. 

What can the public look forward to?
I am curious too, about how it will all come together. The child must stand on its own feet and then take flight. But the public can certainly look forward to Chris Kondek’s video art. He has this great way of conjuring a trashy kind of pop art into the opera with very few means. Then there’s the stage design by Sonja Füsti, highlighting video art very well and Ruth Stofer’s costumes everything actually. As said: it’s a joint effort. 

Michael Pelzel, Last Call, UA 28.6.19, Opernhaus Zürich ©Herwig Prammer

Interview by Bjørn Schaeffner, June 7, 2019

Opernhaus Zürich

neo-profilesMichael Pelzel, Opernhaus Zürich, Jonathan Stockhammer, Philharmonia Zürich

broadcasts SRF
29.Juni 2019: “Musikmagazin“, Kaffee mit Michael Pelzel (auch als Podcast)
1. Juli 2019, “Kultur-Aktualität“, Bericht zur Premiere; “Kultur Kompakt