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The Berlin-based Swiss conductor Titus Engel is Basel Sinfonietta’s Principal Conductor for the current season. A portrait by Jaronas Scheurer
“There is this old Kapellmeister tradition: the Kapellmeister who lives, so to speak, in the opera house and conducts the whole history of music, no matter what piece, trying to do it at the highest possible level. I think that’s somehow a great approach,” says Swiss conductor Titus Engel at one point during our interview. Accordingly, he also rejects the notion that he specialises in new music, even though he is the new Principal Conductor of the Basel Sinfonietta, the only Swiss orchestra that specialises exclusively in music after 1950. “When I conduct new music, e.g. a Messiaen opera like this summer in Stuttgart, then phrasing experience I got from conducting Brahms for example, is helpful if a cantilena suddenly appears. On the other hand, new music, which is often very rhythmic, can help a lot if you really want to get to the heart and grind down the rhythmic parameters of traditional music.” This already defines some of the cornerstones of Titus Engel’s work: a precise tonal language, a serving attitude towards the work and great musical breadth.
This musical breadth was evident from an early age. As a teenager, he played double bass and bassists were in high demand, as they are today. He was soon active in a wide variety of musical contexts: from Bach to Boulez and even in big bands. After studying philosophy and musicology in Zurich and Berlin, Titus Engel decided to pursue a career as a conductor and studied conducting with Christian Kluttig in Dresden. Other influences include Peter Eötvös, Sir Colin Davis and Sylvain Cambreling.
Michael Wertmüller: The Blade Dancer, SWR Symphonieorchester under the direction of Titus Engel, premiere at the Donaueschinger Musiktage 2020.
A steep path
Engel conducted the world premiere of Benjamin Schweitzer’s opera Jakob von Gunten in his second year at university and shortly afterwards, he became musical director of the Dresden-based Ensemble Courage. This was followed by performances throughout Europe at major opera houses and festivals, such as the Donaueschingen Music Festival in 2020. While contemporary music continues to play a major role in his repertoire, he has also repeatedly appeared with classical music or even early music, for example with a highly acclaimed production of Claudio Monteverdi’s opera L’Orfeo with Ensemble Resonanz in 2006. Further highlights of Titus Engel’s career are certainly his conducting of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s opera Donnerstag from the Licht cycle at Basel Theatre in 2016 and his “Conductor of the Year” award by specialist magazine Opernwelt in 2020. Engels has thus defined a further benchmark: opera, although it seems too short-sighted to simply dismiss him as an opera conductor: “The interplay between arts is important for my work,” he says. “Of course, music is primarily an acoustic phenomenon, but because music is open in terms of content, I believe that the collaboration with other art forms benefits music, especially contemporary music.” Titus Engel doesn’t just think about the visual and scenic aspect of the performance in opera productions.
Simon Steen-Andersen: TRIO, SWR Symphonieorchester (Dir. Emilio Pomàrico), SWR Vokalensemble (Dir. Michael Alber) and the SWR Big Band (Dir. Thorsten Wollmann), premiere at the Donaueschinger Musiktage 2019
This also reflects a mediation concept that is important to Titus Engel, especially when it comes to contemporary music: “I’m not interested in distracting from the music, which would weaken its core. Instead, I believe that creative formats going beyond the normal concert can also be of interest for a wider audience and ultimately sharpen the focus on the music.” During the next Basel Sinfonietta season, the conventional concert format will be broken up again and again. The opening concert on 1 October 2023, will feature the work TRIO by Simon Steen-Andersen, in which a humorous dialogue unfolds between video recordings of orchestra rehearsals and the real orchestra playing. On 26 April 2024, Basel Sinfonietta and jazz pianist Nik Bärtsch’s band will perform a new composition by Bärtsch himself, in which lighting design will play an important role. The season’s final concert in June 2024, will exclusively feature female composers, with young Spanish composer Gemma Ragués Pujol as a performer and the audience being able to intervene on fossil stones in Cathy Milliken’s work Earth Plays V. Video, light, performing arts or audience participation – with Titus Engel, the boundaries between arts, musicians and audience, different musical genres or between pure concert and theatrical production can certainly be questioned.
Basel Sinfonietta – an orchestra for the whole city
Titus Engel shares this love for experimenting and artistic adventures with the Basel Sinfonietta, which he personally believes to be Switzerland’s most exciting orchestra: “Because a) it is democratically organized, which means that an incredible amount of energy and commitment comes from the orchestra itself. And b) because its openness to exciting programmes and its focus on contemporary music totally suits me.” He already has clear specific for his time with the Basel Sinfonietta and would like to work on his own “Sinfonietta sound”. “Of course, one has to be very flexible in the broad repertoire that the Basel Sinfonietta plays. But I’m interested in finding something even more specific. For example, extreme dynamics, sometimes the courage to play very smoothly. Then crisp and hard again.” On the other hand, he is interested in the physical, performative presence of the orchestra, which ties in with his interest in other art forms. “I would love to develop exciting formats with the orchestra: for example, playing outside on the Rhine or in the forest, also to reach an even wider audience, which of course also requires more educational work. This also means projects involving people that wouldn’t necessarily attend the Stadtcasino for orchestral concerts, that we go to them and develop projects together. I would like to broaden the Basel Sinfonietta‘s base in the city so that we become an orchestra for the whole city.”
So Titus Engel has big plans. But the Basel Sinfonietta is a self-managing orchestra, which means that its members have their say regarding the programming. However, his desire to make the Basel Sinfonietta an orchestra for the whole city of Basel by means of unconventional, exciting programmes and formats will undoubtedly be welcomed.
The opening concert of the Basel Sinfonietta under Titus Engel took place October 1st 2023 at 19:00 in in Saint-Louis (F).
Broadcasts SRF 2:
Musikmagazin, 30.9.2023: Interview with Titus Engel by Jaronas Scheurer.
Musik unserer Zeit, 20.2.2019: Der Derwisch: Titus Engel, Redaktion Florian Hauser.
Musikmagazin, 1.2.2014: Interview with Titus Engel by Mariel Kreis, Redaktion: Florian Hauser (ab Min. 28:47).
Summer series for Swiss Music Prize No. 3: A special prize goes to Kunstraum Walcheturm, as – according to the jury – the concert venue “occupies an outstanding position for the further development of experimental music and art in Switzerland”.
Jaronas Scheurer spoke to its artistic director Patrick Huber.
I meet Patrick Huber while he is supervising the set-up of a party to take place that same evening. The party has rented the room and there is a lot to explain and negotiate. Huber is also about to go on holiday: Between discussions with the sound engineers, briefings for the bar staff and final holiday preparations, he still finds time for an interview. Being in-between things, i.e. different projects, parties, experimental music, contemporary art and experimental film, in-between-ness seems to be a modus operandi for Patrick Huber and the Kunstraum Walcheturm: “This place shouldn’t really exist,” he says during the interview.
This venue – the Kunstraum Walcheturm in the old Zeughaus courtyard, about 10 minutes’ walk from Zurich main station – is the city’s most important venue for contemporary and experimental music and it received one of this year’s special music prizes from the Federal Office of Culture (BAK).
How is it, that Walcheturm came to be known primarily for exciting concerts and less for exciting art? After all, it was founded in the 1950s as an association to promote young Swiss art and artists. And in the 1980s, the now internationally renowned art dealers Eva Presenhuber and Iwan Wirth moulded it into one of the most important places on the Zurich art scene, named after its first location on Walchestrasse. “At some point it became clear, that an association was not the right vehicle for an internationally active gallery with such commercial endeavour”, says Huber. A spin-off took place in the mid-1990s, from which the Eva Presenhuber and Hauser&Wirth galleries emerged. The Walcheturm association then went through a difficult phase before the association’s management was handed over to Patrick Huber in 1999. Huber applied with the vision of turning the gallery into an art space: “A rupture – not a gallery, nor an art market anymore – but an art space,” as Huber outlined his idea at the time.
Luigi Archetti: LAVA – Part 01, Label Karluk 2021
From gallery to art space
Patrick Huber already had a lot of experience in organising exhibitions, parties and festivals. He had been organising parties since the 1980s: techno, hip hop, drum’n’bass, curating exhibitions in off-spaces and, since 1998, the experimental film festival VideoEx.
“When I took over, there were no members, so to speak, and there wasn’t even a hammer at hand, to hammer in nails for the artworks.” However, this also had its advantages, as it allowed him to create something from scratch. He was able to build on a large network of friends on one hand and his experience as a party organiser on the other. “For the first few years, parties, often techno parties, financed the art space.” The income generated from the big evening parties was channelled into the art space and the exhibitions during the day. “I didn’t even realise back then that one could apply for financial support,” Huber says with a laugh. But the Walcheturm art space soon had to move. Fortunately, they were accepted for the current location in the old armoury. “We got the key in January 2002. The key opened a dusty room. It was 5 degrees outside and the same temperature inside. Gravel on the floor, not much else. There wasn’t much money, but there was a big deal of help, a whole group of people: Someone was able to drive an excavator and dredged out a few cubic metres of gravel. Others were able to install electricity, someone installed heaters, etc.” says Huber, describing the move. “Then, in May, the floor was installed and the experimental film festival VideoEx was held for the first time. In August, there was an official opening with a project featuring 12 drummers. A performance, categorised as art, with twelve drummers playing.”
Katharina Rosenberger: REIN, Basel Sinfonietta under the direction of Baldur Brönnimann, premiere 2019 in Basel
From contemporary art to experimental music
The transition from exhibition space for contemporary art to a venue for experimental music seemed to be already apparent at the opening. “I was interested in contemporary, experimental music. I found it to be exciting. But there also seemed to be a need for such a space in Zurich. Because there has always been space for contemporary art in Zurich,” says Patrick Huber, explaining the change.
Julian Sartorius: Locked Groove 093, Label OUS 2021
These days, Walcheturm hosts mainly concerts. In addition to several important festivals such as VideoEx, Sonic Matters, Taktlos Zürich and FemaleClassics, musicians and ensembles play somewhere between noise, free improvisation, new music, sound art and free jazz. Patrick Huber receives numerous requests for concerts, but the problem with the programme is funding. The Kunstraum Walcheturm is supported by the canton of Zurich, which barely covers the rental expenses. Beyond that, they have no budget, so to speak. “The amazing thing about Walcheturm is the musical diversity despite the tight financial guidelines,” says Huber. For this to work, a good deal of pragmatism and common sense is required. In concrete terms, the groups that play at Walcheturm, finance the place depending on the level of their own funding. “If the other side has a yacht, then please let our side have some money too, if they’re in a small rowing boat, then we can row around too. We’ve always done that,” says Huber with a laugh. “On paper, our calculations don’t actually work out. But somehow they do.”
And so they carry on – the impossible space in the centre of Zurich: two to four concerts a week, with the help of friends, a healthy dose of pragmatism and, above all, a lot of love and commitment to the music.
Broadcasts SRF Kultur:
SRF Kultur online, 11.5.23: Trompeter Erik Truffaz erhält den Grand Prix Musik, Redaktion Jodok Hess.
Musikmagazin, 22.7.23, Carlo Balmelli: Ein Leben für die Blasmusik, Redaktion Annelis Berger, Musiktalk mit Carlo Balmelli (ab Min 9:40).
Musikmagazin, 17.6.23, Inspirationen mit offenem Ende: Die Vokalkünstlerin Saadet Türköz, Redaktion Florian Hauser, Musiktalk mit Saadet Türköz (ab Min 8:38).
Musikmagazin, 13.5.23, Schweizer Musikpreise 2023, Redaktion Florian Hauser, Musiktalk mit Katharina Rosenberger (ab Min 4:55)
Summer series on the Swiss Music Prize: No. 2 : Ensemble Nikel.
Vibrant and virtuoso interpretations of contemporary music form the unique DNA of Ensemble Nikel led by electric guitarist Yaron Deutsch (*1978). Nikel almost acts as a pop band and transcends the image of an often radically loud electro sound. Nikel is “radically contemporary”, according to the justification for the Swiss Music Prize 2023 awarded to the Basel ensemble. Gabrielle Weber met Yaron Deutsch, electric guitarist and founder of the ensemble.
What does the prize mean for Nikel?
It is simply heartwarming and rewarding to be noticed and recognized for the work you do. Especially when there is no application involved, nothing prepared us for receiving the message from the committee, making it even more special. From the most pragmatic angle the award opens further doors for us and allows additional means to fulfil large scale plans we have for our future artistic growth.
An ‘alternative chamber music sound’ mixing electronic and instrumental sounds characterises the ensemble. Let’s talk about the beginning of Nikel: How did you find your way to contemporary classical music with the electric guitar – the combination is not obvious?
Playing the electric guitar, I was initially drawn to rock and jazz, but I felt like a ‘copy cat’ of an American culture that is not mine. Then, in 2005, I came across a piece by Luis Andriessen: ‘Hout’ (1991) for saxophone, electric guitar, percussion and piano. It felt like a ‘eureka’ moment. The piece mixes musical genres and elements in an uncomplicated way. I found a connection to my roots and the European classical music avant-garde felt like a sort of homecoming. It gave me a kind of direction in which soundscape I wanted to go.
With Hout we gave our first concert in Tel Aviv in 2006 and its instruments became the permanent line-up of Nikel. After a few changes, we have now been the regular line-up for about ten years: Brian Archinal on percussion, Antoine Françoise – piano, Patrick Stadler – saxophone and me on the electric guitar. We inspire each other.
..and what does the name mean?
Three points: First, I didn’t want a music related name, then it should feature ‘metal’ as is one of our timbres and lastly, it is reminiscent of Israeli artist Lea Nikel and her abstract colour-intensive works. She was active in Paris and New York in the sixties and seventies and died in Tel Aviv in 2005.
It’s like water drops slowly gathering into an organism.
How come you settled in Switzerland?
The fact that three out of four members live in Switzerland has been decisive. I have always been a ‘missionary’ of non-nation related music-making and ensembles without national nor local definition: for me it’s all about working with the musicians I’m most interested in, who inspire me, no matter where they live. That’s how I got to Patrick Stadler in Basel, for instance. But our vision is international. It’s like water drops slowly gathering into an organism.
Starting from an invitation for a concert we get together. Our task as artists is to be fascinating, interesting and also good enough to create a demand. It’s about passion: as long as we are passionate, we exist as a group.
Your first performance in Donaueschingen in 2012 was legendary – this vibrant energy and raging virtuosity, for example in the premiere of Michael Wertmüller’s piece “Skip a beat”, is a lasting memory for me: How did the invitation come about?
In 2010 we performed at the Darmstadt Summer Courses. The new artistic director at the time was Thomas Schäfer and he wanted to present new voices in his first edition, so he invited us and our performance had a great echo. Shortly after, Armin Köhler, Donaueschingen’s artistic director, called and invited us to the festival two years later.
Michael Wertmüller, Skip a beat, Ensemble Nikel, world creation Donaueschinger Musiktage 2012
What did this performance do for Nikel?
Performing in front of a large audience with international resonance was one thing: a career ‘boost’: the familiarity with the international scene was very important for our growth. But Donaueschingen also enabled us to play four world premieres by four important composers who wrote especially for us and our instrumentation. We wouldn’t have had the financial means to commission such pieces ourselves. We have played these completely different pieces all over the world ever since. This mechanism continues by the way: when the festivals invite us, they commission pieces for us which we then keep in our repertoire. We always get involved in the selection process and suggest composers we are enthusiastic about and this enthusiasm is tangible during our performances.
Our memory tends to remember extremes
Nikel’s performances are known for an often radically loud electronic sound…
First of all, I have to reject this ‘loud’ ensemble definition as we also play many subtle pieces, quiet, tactile music. Probably our virtuoso quality leads to the impression: “the musicians can make walls shake…. “ (laughs…)
Masculine power, is not our thing. Our memory tends to remember extremes. But so much happens outside the extremes, in fact most…
We are like an ‘electrified string quartet’, an organism that works very well together and whose sound blends very well. We are able to finetune and find balance between loud and soft.
In 2017, Nikel released a comprehensive CD for the ensemble’s 10th anniversary – do the chosen pieces reflect the characteristic of the specific “Nikel sound”?
Quite hard to say, especially since the first decade was very formative so from a bird’s eye view the collection and curation of the pieces summarises our characteristics but once zooming in you notice that each work, though capturing predominant qualities of the group, still keeps our artistic character on the elusive end.
Stefan Prins, Fremdkörper 2, Ensemble Nikel 2010 (Decennial-Box).
You just got back from the Darmstadt Ferienkurse where you performed new pieces by Jennifer Walshe and Matthew Shlomowitz: what was the atmosphere like and how did it feel to be back at one of Nikel’s first important performance venues?
Darmstadt was fantastic: it was our fourth visit there. We played a piece we feel very comfortable with, both artistically and personally: an extraordinary collaboration of over two years with Matthew & Jennifer, who also accompanied us on stage. With two sold-out shows and a very positive review in the New York Times, it was a perfect premiere for the project.
Minor characters, Matthew Shlomowitz / Jennifer Walshe, Ensemble Nikel, world creation Ferienkurse Neue Musik Darmstadt 2022.
We have a new album (Radio Works) coming up with pieces commissioned and recorded by various European radio stations during the pandemic, including the Shlomowitz/Walshe piece followed by a world premiere of a four-piece cycle by composer Sarah Nemtsov for nikel and orchestra, due in Cologne and Essen with the WDR Symphony Orchestra. Our new season in Switzerland will begin in January 2024 with a world premiere by John Menoud.
Sarah Nemtsov, Tikkun pour orchestre, part 1 of the tetralogy, Ensemble Nikel, Camerata Ataremac, Ensemble Vertigo, conductor: Peter Rundel, Festival Les amplitudes 2022, SRG/SSR in-house production.
Kritik Darmstadt 2023: Seth Colter Walls, New York Times, 13.8.2023
A Decade, Decennial-Box 2017, 4 CDs mit Doku-DVD und Buch zum Ensemble.
Yaron Deutsch, Live in New York City, 2022
Schweizer Musikpreise 2023:
Grand Prix Musik: Erik Truffaz
Katharina Rosenberger, Ensemble Nikel, Carlo Balmelli, Mario Batkovic, Lucia Cadotsch, Sonja Moonear, Saadet Türköz
Helvetiarockt, Kunstraum Walcheturm, Pronto
broadcasts SRF Kultur:
SRF Kultur online, 11.5.23: Trompeter Erik Truffaz erhält den Grand Prix Musik, Redaktion Jodok Hess.
Musikmagazin, 22.7.23, Carlo Balmelli: Ein Leben für die Blasmusik, Redaktion Annelis Berger, Musiktalk mit Carlo Balmelli (ab Min 9:40).
Musikmagazin, 17.6.23, Inspirationen mit offenem Ende: Die Vokalkünstlerin Saadet Türköz, Redaktion Florian Hauser, Musiktalk mit Saadet Türköz (ab Min 8:38).
Musikmagazin, 13.5.23, Schweizer Musikpreise 2023, Redaktion Florian Hauser, Musiktalk mit Katharina Rosenberger (ab Min 4:55)
Enno Poppe @Lucerne Festival 2023 – A portrait by Annelis Berger
Enno Poppe is considered one of the most original composers of our time. The 55-year-old composer’s music is highly complex and yet extremely attractive to the ears and often as exciting as a thriller. Enno Poppe is this year’s composer-in-residence at the Lucerne Festival. He’ll present his work Fett, among others, as well as the orchestral piece Prozession.
He is a city person through and through: “Life in the countryside would be too complicated for me. I really like living in the city, where I can buy a litre of milk at any time without having to think much. This doesn’t mean that I don’t like to climb a mountain or jump into a lake sometimes.” Unfortunately, he won’t have time for that in Lucerne: “No way, I know that from the last time I worked with the Academy. I look after some 100 young people, all greedy and hungry for knowledge; they want to work from morning to night and experience things, so no time for climbing mountains”.
Poppe studied composition and conducting in Berlin, still lives in the German capital and works throughout Europe with the most important contemporary music ensembles. I met him in Zurich, where he has just rehearsed with the Collegium Novum ensemble. A midsummer late afternoon, Poppe could just have a beer before the interview. We first talk about what distinguishes his music.
“I like intense and expressive music, I like to take the listeners with me. But I have to look for a new form of expressivity, expressivity cannot only be claimed, nor can it be imposed or sentimental. I cannot borrow the expressivity of a Bruckner symphony, I have to find one that has something to do with today and with the means available today. It is not simply a search for new sounds, but a search for a new expressivity. That’s something that constantly occupies me.”
The piece Procession is an example of this. “The work is actually a single process of growth,” says Poppe. “It begins with single notes, from which melodies emerge, then chords, which accumulate into chorale-like passages and the piece continues to build up, becoming more and more intense. Formally, there are nine big waves of increase, the sixth being the biggest and then it slowly decreases again. Every single musician in the ensemble has a solo part here and then leads one part at a time until the next part comes with the next solo.”
Enno Poppe, Procession, 2015/20, Ensemble Musikfabrik Köln, conductor Enno Poppe, Ensemblefestival for Contemporary Music 2020, Leipzig Kölner Philharmonie Nov. 22nd, 2020
An important source of inspiration for this work was the Catholic procession “Semana Santa” in Seville, which takes place every year during Easter. “They run through the city for seven days, 24 hours at a stretch with brass bands and drums, the Basel Fasnacht is a doddle compared to that. This Spanish processional music has a deep connection with the piece, without me quoting it directly.”
Prozession is a work that develops a pull during the listening process, as it really becomes denser and denser and one can hardly escape it. The work also conveys the feeling of tenacity: there’s no way of evading this music, its expressivity is very direct.
Enno Popp finds a compositional means for expressivity in glissandos and vibratos, which is beautifully demonstrated in Wald from 2010 for four string quartets. For many years, Enno Poppe has been working with the “moving” tone, inspired, among other things, by the Asian tradition of tones that are always in motion, i.e. one never hears the same tone twice, the musician intones it differently each time. Enno Poppe has often worked with this. “In Wald, every note is constantly sliding, moving up and down, back and forth. At the most varied speeds. That, in turn, is immensely expressive, because every single tone becomes animated.”
Enno Poppe also deals with the “moving” sound in the ensemble work Scherben, in the recording with the Collegium Novum Zürich, conductor: Enno Poppe, 2008, in-house production SRG/SSR.
Enno Poppe talks easily about his music. It is rare to find composers who do this in such an uninhibited and relaxed way. That makes a meeting with him very pleasant.
Of course I would also like to talk with him about the work Fett, one of the highlights at Lucerne Festival, conducted by Susanna Mälkki in the great KKL hall: “The piece IS indeed fat! Otherwise it shouldn’t be called that,” he says with a smile. In this composition, Poppe completely dispenses with melodies and themes and everything else that classically characterises symphonies. He worked with Chord clusters – at first only four-note chords that get bigger and bigger. “Towards the end we have 40-50-note chords! And not just octaves, but microtonal agglomerations.”
Enno Poppe, Fett (2018/19): Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, conductor Susanne Mälkki, World premiere 10.5.2019, Helsinki Music Center
Finally, the conversation turns to the composer’s working method. He always enjoys both composing and conducting. Otherwise he wouldn’t do it at all. Sometimes, when opening a door to a new tonal world for a composition – like the microtonal agglomerations in Fett’s case – it is very easy for him because he quickly finds himself at ease in the new world. “Fett went incredibly fast. I was really into it. It was untouched terrain, which always invigorates me, I can then sometimes work very quickly. For Fett it took me about ten weeks, it’s actually a mystery to me why it went so quickly, because there are an incredible number of notes in this work.” There is a sense of lightness – and that is precisely what distinguishes Enno Poppe’s music: it is complex and multi-layered, but never bulky. This takes the listener on a journey through a world that never stands still.
Enno Poppe at Lucerne Festival 2023
broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Künste im Gespräch, 3.8.2023, Enno Poppe, Composer in Residence am Lucerne Festival, editor/author Annelis Berger.
Musik unserer Zeit, 13.9.2023, Enno Poppe im Portrait, editor/author Annelis Berger.
Finisterre – Festival Neue Musik Rümlingen / La Via Lattea 28.7.-1.8.23
The Neue-Musik Festival Rümlingen, located near Basel, with its Ticino counterpart la Via Lattea and Associazione Olocene of the Onsernone Valley jointly invite you to a special sound hiking festival in Ticino. Under the motto Finisterre, from 28 July to 1 August, you can set out along symbolic places searching for the end of the old world and a new and better one: on Monte Verità, along the old via delle Vose in Onsernone Valley and on the Brissago Islands.
Following the footsteps of past world-changers through music and art in the countryside is what this joint festival invites you to do over four days. Enough time to discover alternative lifestyles based on the social utopias of the Monte Verità commune, close to nature and the body. Featuring numerous international artists such as Isabel Mundry, Carola Baukholt, Jürg Kienberger, Mario Pagliarani or New York composer Du Yun or Norwegian Trond Reinholdtsen in new works related to concrete places, visions and visionaries.
Starting point is the Monte Verità, a hill above Ascona that became a magical place for people fleeing civilisation and seeking meaning at the beginning of the 20th century. On the first day of the festival, the hill will be the setting for new works and installations by Manos Tsangaris, Trond Reinholdtsen and Lukas Berchtold.
The “Mountain of Truth” was purchased in 1900 by the son of a Belgian industrialist and his partner, the Munich pianist and music teacher Ida Hofmann. On the piece of land, initially 1.5 hectares in size, they realised their dream of a life close to nature in classless freedom, away from industrialisation, capitalism and materialism. Numerous well-known writers, artists, intellectuals and anarchists from all over Europe and overseas joined them and at a later moment also emigrants from the world wars. In 1913, for example the Munich choreographer Rudolf Laban, who opened his pioneering dance school for expressive dance. Light, air, water and sun were the elixir for a soul-mind-body unity, lived in eurythmy, feminism, gardening and sunbathing in airy garments or nude.
The Swiss curator Harald Szeemann and former director of the Kassel’s documenta5 back in 1972, also became fascinated by Ticino and made it his adopted home from the 1970s until his death in 2005. He described the hill as “the place where our foreheads touch the sky”, collecting everything he could find on it for his 1978 exhibition “Monte verità – le mammelle della verità / the breasts of truth”, which toured internationally, in Zurich, Berlin, Munich and Vienna, making the place famous. The original exhibition, reopened in 2017, will be accessible during the festival. The new works on the mountain borrow from the commune’s expressive dance, love of nature and worship of Wagner.
On the following days, we will follow in the footsteps of other historical truth-seekers from Ticino.
La Via Lattea (“Milky Way”), the Ticino cooperative festival, sets out on the trail of St. Brendan. According to medieval legend, the Irish monk sought earthly paradise on a legendary island on an adventurous journey with other friars. The festival with the resonant name combines theatre with the means of music and vice versa.
It is based in Mendrisiotto in the Sottoceneri, south of Mount Ceneri and usually brings art and sound to historical-cultural places around and on the lake of Lugano.
La Via Lattea 10, Argonauti 2013, Trailer
This year and for the first time, it will be visiting Locarno and playing on lake Maggiore. Starting with a concert spectacle in Muralto’s Romanesque Chiesa di San Vittore, through a theatrical walk through the alleys of Muralto, it will undertake Brendan’s boat route, accompanied by music, ending with nightly meditative concerts under the open sky on the Brissago Islands.
Among other works, the world premiere of Composizione per l’Isola di San Pancrazio, for various objects and 16 players by Mario Pagliarani – composer and artistic director of La Via Lattea – will be presented.
Mario Pagliarani, Debussy – Le jet d’eau, UA Lugano 2009, in-house production SRG/SSR
The valleys around Locarno were popular with hyppie as retreat communities from the sixties onwards. In the Onsernone Valley, on the old Via delle Vose, visitors encounter historical figures in new guises and historical places are revived. Isabel Mundry, for example, chose the culturally and historically charged chapel of the Oratorio Giovanni Nepumoceno in Niva to present her new work ‘Niva-Engramme’, based on a motet by Claudio Monteverdi, which she translates for solo viola in dialogue with the site itself. Mundry’s choice fell on the chapel and its inscription as a fascinating place where a visionary brought together different cultures and religions in the remote Ticino valley. A vision that seems more contemporary to her than Monte Verità’s escape from civilisation, which she finds – albeit – appealing, as Isabel Mundry explains in her neoblog interview.
Composing as a form of listening: Composer Isabel Mundry, who lives and teaches in Zurich and Munich, chose the culturally and historically charged chapel of the Oratorio Giovanni Nepumoceno in Niva to present her new work Niva-Engramme, based on a motet by Claudio Monteverdi. Isabel Mundry discusses her relationship to nature, culture and drop-out communities as well as utopias with Gabrielle Weber. Audio interview exclusively for neo.mx3.ch / Monday, 17.7.23. in-house production SRG/SSR; Music: Sound archeologies, Trio Catch, 2018.
broadcasts SFR 2 Kultur:
MusikMagazin, 29.7.2023, Redaktion Lea Hagmann: talk Mario Pagliarani with Gabrielle Weber
Musik unserer Zeit, 20.9.2023: Festival Rümlingen im Tessin, editor/author Gabrielle Weber
The Swiss Music Prizes will be awarded for the tenth time in 2023: in addition to the main prize, won by jazz trumpeter Erik Truffaz, another 10 prizes and special prizes will be awarded during Musikfestival Bern on September 8. Neoblog portrays some of the contemporary music related prize winners, with Katharina Rosenberger, composer, professor of composition in Lübeck and co-director of the Zurich festival for contemporary music Sonic Matter, starting the series. Katharina Rosenberger works with cross-media combinations between music, text and image and usually also involves the audience in the performance processes. She is all about communication, dialogue and participation in contemporary music. An interview by Florian Hauser.
An interview by Florian Hauser.
To receive one of the prestigious Swiss music prizes is something special and testifies to how highly your work is appreciated. What about the appreciation of your work in everyday life? You have to do what you have and want to, which is not necessarily compatible with the masses. You don’t make blockbuster films… How does your audience react to your art?
I am always very touched when people approach me and react to my music. It’s people I don’t know or people who are not insiders, i.e. not musicians themselves. They often react very positively – mainly because they discovered something new. When they get involved with this new, unknown thing and are positively surprised, it makes me very happy. Actually, these are the ideal fans who come with an open mind and just want to listen… Of course, there are also moments when the audience reacts very ambivalently. From: ‘For God’s sake, what kind of piece was that!’ to: ‘Wow, that’s the greatest thing I’ve heard in a long time’.
Communication with the audience is very important to you per se. You interact with people, also involving the public in performance processes. Why?
Let me answer with an example: I called a duet (within a video opera that premiered at the Theaterspektakel Zurich) La Chasse. Two singers face each other at a certain distance. The audience sees them only in profile. And then the voices begin to chase each other. At first only with sounds like wah, wah, wah! Very abstract, very reduced. There is no melody and it’s not so easy to listen to. But when people from the audience came up to me and talked about the experience of how powerful these sounds were in the space, how much the bodies became part of the structure of the music, a light went on: The connections between sound and space, performers and audience are incredibly important. It is not primarily about the music itself, I mean, the self-sufficiency of the music, but it is really about dialogue and exchange with the audience as well as the environment.
Katharina Rosenberger, La Chasse von Katharina Rosenberger, instrumental-version by Landmann-/Stadler-Saxofonduo, recorded NYC 2018.
Can you tell us about another example?
The Urban morphology project, a walk-in concert installation that has music-theatrical elements and is also participatory. The audience is invited to actively participate. It’s about urban change: what happens, for example, when luxurious new buildings cause neighbourhoods we grew up in to disappear? When the place I feel I belong to suddenly no longer exists? In other words, places where there is room for so many memories: When that is wiped away, what happens to us? What happens when the architectural, social, sonic components structures we orient ourselves by are gone?
The public could decide how to move. Whether visiting a performance island first or rather watch a video, attend a normal concert situation with a very focused listening or ride a bicycle in an installation to generate electricity and light.
This way, the public could also have a say in how to put the different pieces of information together. In projects like this, I always notice how important the cross-media connections are between text and music, but also image and music, spaces, bodies. How spaces open up for the audience, where they can connect to situations related with their everyday lives. This always gives rise to new questions: how do I hear music, how is music performed? And new insights emerge, which is fascinating.
You are very communicative…
Yes, of course. I also really like to be in contact with the musicians I work with for longer periods of time.
There are composers and colleagues of yours, for whom it is perfectly sufficient to sit at a desk to compose and design structures. That was never an option for you?
Sure, one doesn’t exclude the other, does it? Of course, there are phases when I am extremely isolated. But when I deal with cities, I want to walk through the streets, get to know the people. To explore the core, the content of a project. For example, in the installation quartet – bodies in performance, where I only filmed the back muscles of four musicians. You can imagine that depending on the musical instrument you play, the many, many years of practising shape the back muscles quite differently. Each performance had its own image and only the back that was playing appeared. That was a completely new way for the audience to experience performance, by seeing sound through the muscles.
In Katharina Rosenberger’s sound and video installation The journey, the singers were also filmed from unusually close perspectives, Neue Vokalsolisten Stuttgart, directed by Lutger Engels 2020
In any case, it’s a long way to the result, a common path. But how do you come up with such ideas? You walk through the world with your aesthetic antennas wide open, and bang, a theme, a topic jumps out at you?
My common thread is the human being, be it the performer with his or her body, be it the audience with their ears, eyes and bodies. And what is it about? What is actually touching us? That is the question. What is the significance of music, even in times of crisis, or of reorientation? I’m not claiming that I as an artist present this in a groundbreaking way in my work, but it’s about questioning and exploring new sonic, pictorial situations. It’s about dealing with the moment. It’s not a must. An audience never has to do something mandatory, but I want to open the doors in order to make it possible.
Schweizer Musikpreise 2023:
Grand Prix Musik: Erik Truffaz
Swiss Music Prizes:
Katharina Rosenberger, Ensemble Nikel, Carlo Balmelli, Mario Batkovic, Lucia Cadotsch, Sonja Moonear, Saadet Türköz
Helvetiarockt, Kunstraum Walcheturm, Pronto
broadcasts SRF Kultur:
Musikmagazin, 13.5.23, Schweizer Musikpreise 2023, Redaktion Florian Hauser, Café mit Katharina Rosenberger (ab Min 4:55)
SRF Kultur online, 11.5.23: Trompeter Erik Truffaz erhält den Grand Prix Musik, Redaktion Jodok Hess:
Musik unserer Zeit, 11.1.2023: Komponieren! Mit Katharina Rosenberger, Redaktion Florian Hauser
Musik unserer Zeit, 8.12.2021: «Sonic Matter» – ein aussergewöhnliches Musikfestival in Zürich, Redaktion Moritz Weber
Musik unserer Zeit, 8.8.2018: Shift – eine Begegnung mit der Komponistin Katharina Rosenberger, Redaktion Cécile Olshausen
Zurich-based sound artist and musician Magda Drozd engages with sounds and beings of her environment, thereby working in a way that is as cognitive and reflective as speculative and fantastic. Her third album “Viscera” was released in early 2023 and meanwhile, she’s composing music for theatre and radio plays and also appearing as solo performer in experimental sound contexts between scenes.
What music would an aloe vera listen to? What would the rubber tree in the living room like to dance to? Would the playlist of the cactus on the windowsill be peppered with Piek Time hits? We can only speculate about that. Zurich-based Magda Drozd has written an entire album about it: “Songs for Plants” was released at the end of 2019 on the Lucerne-based label “Präsens Editionen” and fits just perfectly into the era in which everyone seems to have turned into a home gardener.
The starting point was an art project that consisted of growing 200 cacti. Two years later, a sound installation called “Intra-Action / Traces” had grown out of it. At the Zurich University of Arts (ZHdK), Magda Drozd attended the “treelab” initiated by Marcus Maeder, where she found the technical tools to make the sounds of a wide variety of plants audible. A fine needle picks up the movements of liquids in the capillaries (quasi the veins) of the plants, with several amplifiers and software then transposing the interior of the plant into human hearing range. The thirstier a plant is, the more air bubbles move in its capillaries, generating click-like sounds.
Sounds between capillaries and playing
Magda Drozd was not only interested in the bioacoustics of cacti, but also in her own position as a human being relating to these so different creatures. In doing so, she was well aware that the very step of transposing is an artificial trick. “I don’t represent the plants and I’m not trying to represent their sound as accurately as possible. It is ultimately a game I play with the material.”
Magda Drozd · Weaving into shores: The sound installation „Weaving into shores“ combines recordings from Lake Zurich vom Zürichsee with drones from synthesizers and the violin. How do we listen to the lake? What does it mean to us?
With the cactus instruments ready, Magda Drozd now entered the game. She watered the plants, listened to their reaction and also included earth and ceramics sounds, when those materials were touched. “First of all, a sound carpet emerges, I then work a lot with frequency shifts, changing different recordings so that you only hear one frequency, putting effects on top of it and so slowly music emerges from material that is only supposedly the plant.” This also feeds on rhythms or melodies that can be discerned from the capillary sounds, and which Drozd spins on with synthesizers or her main instrument – the violin. This is also why the resulting album is called “Songs for Plants” and not “Songs by Plants”.
„Painkiller“ from the album „Songs for Plants“
Magda Drozd was born in Poland in 1987, she grew up in Munich and moved to Zurich in 2011 to study theatre dramaturgy and later visual arts at the Zurich University of Arts. From theatre and performance, she found her way to sound art and experimental music, with these different art forms and their formats interpenetrating and intermingling in her works. From 2019 to 2021, she was a “Research Fellow” at ZhdK, working on sound and listening as means to produce knowledge. During this time, she also worked on her second album “18 Floors”. The title refers to the Lochergut high-rise in Zurich, where the artist lived at the time. She listened to the building and its 18 floors in all niches and corners (accessible to her) and made many field recordings. This led to questions such as: What does urban living together in a confined space mean? To what extent can a residential building be understood as a living organism? What knowledge can be generated from listening closely to a place?
„Dreamy Monster“ from the album „18 Floors“
Listening between knowledge & speculation
“Knowledge conveyed through sound is a different kind of knowledge than what we usually accept. It is fragile, fluid and ephemeral. This soon led me to speculation. After all, I didn’t record the conversations in this house, but its hard materials.” So “18 Floors” is at once the documentation of a meticulous, insight-driven listening process – and the speculation, set to music, of all the stories, beings and secret workings that a concrete building holds. “I wasn’t interested in assigning each sound to a particular corner or floor in the building. I mixed a lot of things. For me, it’s this speculation: something new emerges that stimulates our imagination, which could also be a house and could sound like this. It’s also about becoming empathetic through listening, about getting an emotional access to a possible knowledge through the music as well.” Initially, “18 Floors” was supposed to take the form of a conceptual performance. Magda Drozd owes the fact that it became a music album to the sound artist and researcher Salomé Voegelin, with whom she was in close contact.
With her work, Magda Drozd moves in different disciplines and formats: sound installation, theatre performance, radio plays, composition, research. “I move between scenes and feel comfortable there. It can be demanding sometimes, but the longer I’m active, the more people know what I do.”
People who have known her for a long time – namely her German friends – say that Magda now speaks with a Swiss inflection. She doesn’t want to let that stand – and even in conversation with her, the author’s ear, trained on Southern German, recognises nothing of the sort. But maybe there is something to it: in between and over all the challenging, exploratory, floating and digging sound passages there are always melodies to be found – which is rare enough in experimental music oriented towards sound art. “I’m not afraid of a bit of kitschy or emotional moments. To me, it reflects life: there are rough edges and there are rounder moments when you can let yourself drift with a melody. When I use the violin, it’s always a fine balancing act not to become too pathetic. In general, I think melodies are becoming trendier again, even in experimental music.”
Magda Drozd: Clipped Wings from the album Viscera
You can hear those melodies most bluntly in Magda Drozd’s latest album “Viscera”. Here, too, the title opens up speculative spaces. Music for viscera? The sound of the body? Or perhaps this time: “Songs for Humans”? Speculation can go on and on.
Roman Hošek: Neuerdings – Faszination Sound @ launch srf video series
Neuerdings – a video series in collaboration with SRF 3 Sounds! and SRF 2 Kultur presents experimental music creation up close. In four portraits, it traces the creative paths in the sound labs of Noémi Büchi, Julian Sartorius, Martina Berther and Janiv Oron. Roman Hošek introduces the series and the portrayed artists for the launch at Bad Bonn Kilbi festival on June 2, 2023.
Büchi, Sartorius, Berther and Oron are all seasoned musical personalities and some already won important prizes and can regularly be encountered in renowned projects. They all pursue a radically individual creative path – in which success plays a subordinate role. For them, it’s all about doing. The four musicians talk about their uncompromising creative will in a new documentary series.
Sound is matter
Noémi Büchi takes everyday objects such as paper or screws and extracts sounds from them in order to make music. For example, she tears the paper, records the sound with a microphone and manipulates it with effects and computer software.
In this way, everything becomes an instrument for Noémi Büchi. She used to play classical piano. Today it is keyboards, tone controls and computer pads that the Zurich-based artist operates and with which she controls her self-generated sound sources. The result is a sound collage that invites the audience on a breathtaking journey and encourages them to move.
Because moving something is important for Noémi Büchi. Her symphonic music is not a commentary and carries no message, as what matters to her is making sound visible and tangible. She notices this especially live, when sound waves become physical.
Video-Portrait Noémi Büchi: Neuerdings – Faszination Sound, in house-production SRG/SSR
Sound is craft
Julian Sartorius likes to move around outdoors or, for example, through factory halls, drumming on objects with his drum sticks. The wide range of sounds he is able to extract from seemingly ordinary objects, such as lids, pipes or wires, and how he manages to produce attractive-sounding beats is amazing.
The Bernese drummer is strongly inspired by electronic music, but creates his sounds exclusively with his hands and on acoustic instruments and objects. What’s appealing to him is to create almost artificial sounds with something natural.
Another facet of Sartorius’ artistic work is the production of beats, and here too he goes his own peculiar way. For example, he likes to work with an old-fashioned cassette player, which – compared to a digital sequencer programme – limits him in terms of technical possibilities, but forces him to make immediate artistic decisions.
Video-Portrait Julian Sartorius: Neuerdings – Faszination Sound, in house-production SRG/SSR
Sound is quest
Martina Berther gets much more out of her electric bass than just low frequency notes. Violent storms or vast soundscapes open up before the mind’s eye when she gets her instrument vibrating with her effect devices and preparation tools – such as steel wool, sanding block, bottleneck or violin bow.
The solo performer from Graubünden says she makes experimental music because she can thereby surprise herself and has great freedom. At the same time, dealing with this freedom is not always easy. A contradiction? No. It is this tension – between success and failure – that is the main appeal for Martina Berther.
Just like a solo performance, the search for sounds can become a balancing act, as there are many uncertainties and even doubts. For Martina Berther, there must be an intention behind every sound before she includes it in her repertoire. No room for randomness.
Video-Portrait Martina Berther: Neuerdings – Faszination Sound, in house-production SRG/SSR
Sound is reaction
Janiv Oron is like an inventor in a music laboratory. When the former DJ creates his sounds, the record player is often still central, but he expands it in experimental ways with other sources, such as a rotating loudspeakers or marbles track.
The sound performer from Basel not only directs his sound machines, but also reacts to random impulses that he receives back, seeing this as a “source of uncertainty” and he consciously engages in it to include improvisation into his work. Oron does not turn away from the digital world, but he feels a stronger fascination with analogue and physically functioning sound sources. These may offer less possibilities in comparison, but they are haptic and can be operated by hand instead of on a screen.
Video-Portrait Janiv Oron: Neuerdings – Faszination Sound, in house-production SRG/SSR
“Neuerdings” – Faszination Sound
“Neuerdings” is a video portrait series about these four Swiss musicians. They are pioneers of tomorrow’s music, whose work is between contemporary electroacoustics, experimental music and pop, and thus also finds international acclaim.
Switzerland is particularly strong in these intermediate areas, not least because of the numerous study degree programmes focusing on transdisciplinary and progressive musical practice. On the other hand, more and more events and growing interest among the public are also slowly but surely emerging.
The portrait series, a collaboration between SRF 3 Sounds! and SRF 2 Kultur, offers a glimpse into to the sound tinkering rooms of the four musicians, who are all breaking new ground with their work and are therefore difficult to place stylistically. In the videos, they talk about their radical approaches and describe the inaccessible and innovative potential of new sounds.
The launch took place at the festival: Bad Bonn Kilbi, friday 2.6.2023
broadcasts SRF Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, 7.6.2023, 20h: “Neuerdings”: Schweizer Musik mit Pioniergeist, author Roman Hošek
in: MusikMagazin, 3./4.6.2023: Swisscorner, Vier Schweizer Soundartists (ab Min 46:59), author Lea Hagmann
srf online-Text: Sie schrauben am Sound der Zukunft, author: Claudio Landolt
broadcast SRF 3:
Sounds!, 7.6.2023, 20h: Neuerdings: Schweizer Musik mit Pioniergeist, author Claudio Landolt
Neuerdings on playsuisse
Gabrielle Weber: Portrait Mathieu Corajod / Compagnie Mixt Forma
To create a project in the great hall of the Centre Pompidou in Paris is something quite unique. The Swiss-French composer Mathieu Corajod and the Biel-based Compagnie Mixt Forma are experiencing this with their first joint work at Paris’ Manifeste Festival, namely interdisciplinary project Laquelle se passe ailleurs, a “scenic poem for four hybrid performers”, combining music, text, dance and drama with electronics. The work will also be performed in Switzerland. In the Zoom interview after Paris, where Corajod was rehearsing at IRCAM, we talked about his approach to music theatre, hybridity and interdisciplinarity.
Corajod founded the Compagnie Mixt Forma with the aim of exploring experimental music theatre’s possibilities with like-minded people. Laquelle se passe ailleur was developed together over a period of two years and convinced the Paris Association Beaumarchais-SACD in its first stages already, which made the realisation possible with a sponsorship award. Significantly, this was in the field of choreography.
Corajod’s background in musical theatre comes from his studies at the Bern University of the Arts, where he also met singer Chloé Bieri and percussionist Stanislas Pili, two Compagnie Mixt Forma members.
Corajod’s own conception of connecting different disciplines, media and technologies goes far beyond the traditional understanding of experimental music theatre as a scenic current of contemporary music. During his Parisian studies at the IRCAM, he intensively dealt with electronics as well as contemporary dance, since then the fusion of composition and choreography never left him. In collaboration with the dancers Pierre Lison and Marie Albert, he created his first piece for dance. Others followed, whereby the additional use of voice, as well as collaborative and inclusive aspects are central to Corajod. Together with Lison, Corajod is now also responsible for the choreography of Laquelle se passe ailleurs, where Lison is also involved as dancer-performer.
Mathieu Corajod, ça va bien avec comment tu vis (2019) for two dancers and electronics, Marie Albert and Piere Lison
Explorers on a joint quest
Complemented by actor Antonin Noël, the four performers of the piece undertake a joint “poetic-futuristic expedition”, each of them bringing their own expertise into the whole in order to generate something completely new. Like researchers on a common quest, says Corajod. He calls this kind of collaboration “hybridisation”. On one hand, there is the hybridity between body and machine, made possible by an on-stage technical device in co-production with IRCAM. On the other hand, the performers themselves act hybrid. They all perform everything, bringing their own approach and learning from each other.
Interdisciplinarity is always present – whether visible or not
Laquelle se passe ailleurs was intended to be intermedia from the very beginning. “The impulses I received from dancer, actor and writer extremely increased the demands on stage,” says Corajod. French author Dominique Quélen contributed new texts, based on the company’s ideas. They were then translated into music and choreography. For a performance by singer Bieri, for example, they would have transferred one of the texts not only structurally, but syllable by syllable to individual gestures and Bieri complemented with special timbres of the voice. Everything is present in each of the performing bodies – dance, text and music, says Corajod. Interdisciplinarity is always present, in one way or another, whether visible or not.
Chloé Bieri in Five young lights for voice and electronics by Pietro Caramelli, 2019
Scenes of an exploration – linked by a playful-poetic approach.
Although there is no actual story in the play, they worked with hidden narratives that the participants imagined for each other in order to be able to act on stage. “When developing a play, questions like: Who am I in this play? What am I doing? or How am I behaving? always arise. It helps if one’s able to imagine something,” says Corajod. This is how different scenes of an exploration with a kind of incomplete plot, connected by a playful-poetic approach came about: “We want to take the audience on this journey,” says Corajod and compares the atmosphere of the project to Andrei Tarkowski, David Lynch or Stanley Kubrick movies.
The choreography doesn’t follow a plot either. They would have used different strategies for individual scenes. Only some, like Bieris’ solo, are completely choreographed, others are based on improvisation and were then rehearsed and fixed step by step. There are also movement sensors in individual objects of the stage set that produce sound when manipulated by the performers, with these manipulations being choreographed to the last detail.
The aim is to design movements in such a way that they trigger something in the larger context of the stage, says Corajod. He sees the SACD’s support for the choreography as confirmation of this novel approach interweaving choreography and composition. On the one hand, it is an honour and on the other hand, he is particularly pleased because he comes from the music. The production is thus not “only” recognised in contemporary music, but also in theatre and dance.
Mathieu Corajod et Pierre Lison (mouvement), Axes (2021), instrumental dance, Duo Alto, UA Paris 2021
Because Corajod also wishes to bring contemporary music to a wider audience and he always explores the genre’s boundaries. With his previous project, the experimental opera Rendez-vous près du feu, performed as part of the “Nancy Opera Experience” at the Festival Musica 2022, he succeeded, as he was not only the composer, but also director. The new work took place partly outdoors – on the spacious square Stanislas in front of the opera – partly inside the Opéra national de Lorraine. Members of the orchestra and performers performed inside, close to the windows facing the square. The choir sang as a flash mob in the audience on the forecourt and the action was projected onto the façade by video mapping.
Mathieu Corajod, Rendez-vous près du feu (2022): Théâtre musical and experimental opera united in an exceptional format (in situ, video mapping, flash mob), commissioned by Opéra national de Lorraine and Festival Musica.
This allowed the opera to open up to the square and the city as well as being enlivened in a different way through light, scenography and actions – it also drew numerous random passers-by under the spell of scenic hybridised contemporary music.
After these two major projects, Corajod is now taking a creative break to focus on a research project dedicated to Swiss music theatre pioneer Hans Wüthrich.
Laquelle se passe ailleurs :
2. / 3.6.23, 19:30h,Theater am Rennweg 26 Biel
8.6.23, 20h, Gare du Nord Basel
12.6.23, 20h, Festival ManiFeste, Centre Pompidou Paris
9.9.23, 21h, Musikfestival Bern, Dampfzentrale Turbinensaal
Festival ManiFeste IRCAM/Centre Pompidou Paris, June 7 – July 1 2023
The British composer and conductor was honoured with the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize in 2023. His darkest opera ‘Lessons in Love and Violence’ revolves around the historical male couple Edward II and Piers Gaveston, and it can be enjoyed at Zurich’s Opera. Moritz Weber interviewed the composer before the premiere.
63-year-old George Benjamin is in a very good mood, joking and very friendly when I connect with him at his home via video conference. Birds are chirping in the background and the sun is shining on his face.
The operas he composes and is famous for, however, are anything but friendly. On the contrary: in his first global success ‘Written on skin’ (2012), the cuckolded husband serves his wife her lover’s heart for dinner. Whereas his next full-length and equally acclaimed opera ‘Lessons in Love and Violence’ (2018) is a gripping medieval drama about the former English king Edward II and his lover Gaveston, both victims of a conspiracy.
Benjamin dreamed of composing operas since his early years and conceived them for himself in his head. Were the themes for these fantasy operas already so brutal? “Yes, I’m afraid they were very brutal. I liked dramatic and dangerous stories and wasn’t at all afraid of darkness in creativity as a small child.” His first favourite operas in the repertoire were Wozzeck, Elektra, Salome and La damnation de Faust – he couldn’t do much with Mozart’s Magic Flute, and he still has problems with Rossini today. “Too nice and not scary enough for me.”
His inspiration at the time was an illustrated book of ancient myths and legends, from Hercules and Pegasus to the Piper of Hamelin (the latter eventually became material for his very first stage work, the short two-person chamber opera ‘Into the little hill’ (2006). “I am very much for merriment and for harmony between people, but in theatre you need suspense, drama, mystery and possibly darkness”.
King Edward II neglected both his people and his political business, he was completely addicted to Piers Gaveston and preferred to spend money on art and music. It was important to George Benjamin to write an opera with a homosexual couple at the centre, “and the greatest challenge was a technical one: how do you write in a modern tonal language for a pair of two baritones?”
In opera history, there are hardly any models for male lovers, apart from the operas Brokeback Mountain (Charles Wuorinen, 2014) and Edward II (Andrea Lorenzo Scartazzini, 2017). In these two works, however, the lovers sing in the baritone and tenor voice ranges. When asked whether he had also brought autobiographical elements into the composition of this male love, Benjamin replies: “You’d have to ask my partner Michael Waldman, but not as far as I know. But life in West London today is also much more peaceful than it was back then, in the palace where the opera is set,” he laughs.
Benjamin succeeded in creating some striking scenes between Edward and Gaveston, in which love and violence are sometimes mixed. Two palm reading scenes, for example (scenes 3 and 6), form an axis through the whole play. They are accompanied by almost ritualistic sounds of percussion instruments from all over the world, like two Persian tombaks, an African speaking drum and two Caribbean tumbas. In addition, there is the Central European cymbalon, “my idea was that music from all over the world should sound while Gaveston reads from the king’s hand, a bit like a window on the supernatural.”
Another key scene takes place shortly afterwards in the theatre, when the betrayed Queen Isabel invites Edward and Gaveston to an “entertainment”, with the aim to initiate a coup d’état. The music is multi-layered, because what is shown on stage is supposed to stand out from and at the same time harmonise with what is happening between the protagonists. The stage play revolves around the Old Testament love story between David and Jonathan, also a male couple, and Gaveston is to be bewitched with this performance. “It took me six months to write this scene: In this theatre on theatre, high voices sing in a texture and timbre of their own, plus the hidden hatred and discomfort.” They finally culminate and Gaveston is arrested against the king’s will. At the end of the opera, the heir to the throne invites his mother Isabel to an entertainment in which he brings the conspiracy against his father to the stage and has her partner in crime, as well as lover murdered. Edward’s son has thus learned his lessons in love and violence.
For this, which can be considered his darkest opera to date, George Benjamin also worked intensively with the singers of the world premiere production at the Royal Opera House. “They all came to my house, I accompanied them on the piano in songs and opera arias, asked them many questions about their strengths and weaknesses and their musical preferences”. The roles are written for Stéphane Degout, Gyula Orendt and Barbara Hannigan, but of course not exclusively for them. “I love it and am excited to see what timbres and characteristics other singers bring to these roles. But it is important to me that they sing all the notes clearly and in the right place, with little vibrato. Because I have matched them very carefully to the orchestral sounds.”
George Benjamin, Martin Crimp and Barbara Hannigan talk about the world premiere of Lessons in love and violence at Royal Opera House 2018
As with his other stage works, the libretto is by playwright Martin Crimp. If he hadn’t met Crimp, he probably would never have composed an opera, Benjamin says, “I waited 25 years to find him. All attempts with other librettists failed”. Now they are a well-rehearsed, congenial team, perhaps similar to Da Ponte and Mozart, or Hofmannsthal and Strauss. For Crimp and Benjamin also share common aesthetic premises: A very clear and concise (tonal) language as well as power – or violence – in expression. “He uses words very precisely and with intention; he is a perfectionist, just as I try to be when composing,” says the Siemens Music Prize winner modestly.
Fairytale-like new opera
George Benjamin’s fourth stage work will be premiered this summer at Aix-en-Provence’s opera festival in and he will conduct it himself. ‘Picture a day like this’ will be less dark than Lessons, he reveals: “Martin Crimp and I wanted to do something different, also to refresh ourselves. This opera is shorter and also has a smaller cast, five protagonists instead of eight and 22 musicians in the orchestra instead of 70”.
This work is about a quest: a woman loses her child and is supposed to find a perfectly happy person in a single day. When she doesn’t succeed, she turns to a sorceress. “I love instruments that don’t actually belong to the classical orchestra, and I use a few of them in Picture a day like this, for example tenor and bass recorders.” In this new and also shorter opera, the protagonist is on stage throughout the play, which is also a first for Benjamin and Crimp. The characters she encounters, on the other hand, are all very different. He does not reveal more yet: “I would rather have the audience discover it, without my words in mind”.
New production Opernhaus Zürich: 21.Mai -11.Juni 2023 (conductor Ilan Volkov, with: Ivan Ludlow/Lauri Vasar as König, Björn Bürger as Gaveston and Jeanine De Bique as Isabel.
Festival Aix-en-Provence, George Benjamin, Picture a day like this, UA 5.-.23.Juli 2023
Features SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, 17.5.23, 20h/ 20.5.23., 21h: Drama um den schwulen Edward II. George Benjamins düsterste Oper, Redaktion Moritz Weber.
Musikmagazin, 20./21.5.2023: Kurzportrait George Benjamin, Redaktion Moritz Weber.
Soyuz21, a five-piece ensemble from Zurich, has been experimenting at the interface of instrumental sound with electronics and interdisciplinary concert formats since it was founded in 2011. The new project with pieces by Martin Jaggi and Bernhard Lang is aimed equally at music fans and movie buffs. Friedemann Dupelius spoke with Mats Scheidegger, electric guitarist and ensemble leader, and Martin Jaggi.
On July 6, 1976, the Soviet mission Soyuz 21 started its journey to the Salyut 5 space station. Several research projects were taken aboard with the crew: guppies (how would the fish behave in space?), various plants (can they germinate out there?) and crystals (why not?). In addition, Soyuz 21 was to record the Earth from a distance with an infrared telescope, hand spectrograph, colour as well as black-and-white film – and at the same time observe the sun. The communication via satellites was investigated too, as well as the station’s independent navigation. A military use was also one of the possibilities? After only 49 days, the crew headed back to Earth, rumoured to be homesick.
Even though Zurich based ensemble Soyuz 21 does not operate with fish, plants or crystals, nor is it interested in warlike contexts, there are parallels to its namesake: both are concerned with autonomy, communication, observation and experimentation. However, Mats Scheidegger quickly clouds the pride of having deciphered the ideas behind the name: his ensemble, founded in 2011, has nothing to do with this particular mission. First of all, it’s about the Russian term “Soyuz”, which means companion. The reference to space travel generally functions as a symbol for their artistic curiosity. And 21? “It stands for the 21st century! How original!” laughs Mats Scheidegger with self-irony.
Yulan Yu: In den Dünen (2022), premiered by Soyuz 21 on 26.11.2022 at Ackermannshof Basel
The space probe documents diversity
He is right though. With its artistic approach, Soyuz 21 locates itself firmly in this century. The five-member ensemble – which was formed “for musical reasons, out of playing” – regularly premieres new compositions. It maintains particularly close ties with Klaus Lang and Bernhard Lang, among others, but also with the young Swiss generation. The ensemble cooperated during 3 years with the Institute for Computer Music and Sound Technology (ICST) at the Zurich University of the Arts, whose students developed tailormade pieces. Aesthetically, Soyuz 21 is dominated by the diversity that would also document a photographically equipped space probe. There is just as much room for improvisation as for electronics, the record player as an instrument or the cinema screen as an artistic element. “With the keyboard instruments, we moved away from the piano towards electronic sounds,” Mats Scheidegger tells us. “You simply have a lot more possibilities. A piano always remains a piano, even if there are still great pieces for it.” The guitarist is also expanding his own instrument with all the rules and controls of technology.
Alongside with Scheidegger, Philipp Meier (keys), Sascha Armbruster (saxophone), Isaï Angst (sound design & electronics) and João Pacheco (percussion) are the current members of Soyuz 21, with guest musicians joining in from time to time. The ensemble realises many of its projects in own concert series, mostly taking place in Basel and Zurich. “We think a lot about new concert formats,” says Mats Scheidegger. “There has been a certain loss of audience since the cultural venues reopened. So Sometimes a concert title or a poster that jumps out at people can help – like the Schwimmkörper concert.”
Travelling compensates for wasted time
Sometimes the format itself is attracting. On 13 May, the audience should flock to the cinema, whether music- or movie-fan. At Zurich’s Filmpodium, the project “Constructed Memories” brings contemporary music and film together on equal terms, which leads us back to Soyuz 21, the probe from 1976, as for this project, two companions have joined forces, observed the world and captured it on camera, in colour and in black and white Here too, old recordings have to be interpreted from a distance – spatially, as well as temporally. In 1999, composer Martin Jaggi and video artist Adrian Kelterborn travelled through Malawi. In doing so, they wanted to compensate for the waste of time caused by the Swiss military’s compulsory service. In 2004, a trip through West Africa followed, more precisely: Ghana, Togo and Benin. While Kelterborn recorded the second trip with his digital camera, Jaggi saved many musical memories: “On both trips we went to many concerts. In Accra we played music with an orchestra, Handel was on the programme.” The Highlife genre, a predecessor of Afrobeat, which originated in Ghana, also plays a role in Martin Jaggi’s travel memory.
Martin Jaggi and Adrian Kelterborn have already produced the video version of „Constructed Memories“, published online on the Soyuz 21 website.
From this mix of both technically and neurologically recorded memories, Jaggi and Kelterborn created the two parts of the audiovisual piece “Constructed Memories”. Some 20 years after the two trips, the two school friends discovered how different and how distorted their memories of their time together were. “It was a real archaeological site,” Jaggi recalls. “But we were less concerned with setting specific memories to music. We rather aimed at recreating certain states of being that we associate with the different places.”
A lockdown in the midst of production phase intensified the moment of alienation and re-construction of those memory snippets even further. “We couldn’t work directly together. I was stuck in Singapore and Adrian was in Switzerland, so I composed the music first and described the mood to Adrian in detail. He then set images to the music without any instruments having ever actually played it.” The result is a dynamic interaction of music and film within and sometimes against each other. The images are grainy and pixelated, they flutter and flow. The sounds grind and drag, merge and cross-fade with the visuals, only to detach themselves again. The pandemic’s state of consciousness certainly flowed into the work. “A journey occupies a much larger place in the memory than the same period of time when spent at home and covid made this even more extreme with. If every day is the same for two years, no memories are stored – or only one,” laughs Martin Jaggi.
„Constructed Memories“, Part 2. The video footage comes from the memory card of Adrian Kelterborns’ digital camera from 2004.
The two visual scores (or music videos) are complemented by a piece from Bernhard Lang’s “DW” series (number 16), in which he musically processes his pop music socialisation. This is also about memory and its shifted perception in the present. Musically, these influences can again be located in the time when Soyuz 21 was rocketing into space – we remember.
Martin Jaggi & Adrian Kelterborn (“Constructed Memories”) + Bernhard Lang (“DW 16”)
Sa, 13.5., 20:45: Konzertpodium im Filmpodium Zürich
So, 14.5., 20:00: Kulturmühle Horw (Luzern)
Soyuz 21, Martin Jaggi, Adrian Kelterborn, Bernhard Lang, Klaus Lang, Isaï Angst, João Pacheco, Nicolas Buzzi
The Bernese saxophone quartet celebrates its 20th anniversary with contemporary music celebration.
To produce every possible sound on the saxophone – that is the craft of the Konus Quartet. The four musicians specialise in contemporary and experimental music, showing – as an ensemble – all the kinds of different sound worlds the saxophone is capable of. This year, the Konus Quartet celebrates its 20th anniversary with a festival week full of collaborations – for example with the Gori Women’s Choir from Georgia.
Many saxophone quartets want to sound as virtuosic and full as possible, almost like an organ, but not the Konus Quartet: they play precisely and minimalistically, exploring the boundaries of saxophone music. Christian Kobi, Fabio Oehrli, Jonas Tschanz and Stefan Rolli: these are the musicians forming the Quartet, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. The four artists are all versatile, with backgrounds ranging from free improvisation, sound mixing and label management to big band and festival management. What they share is a passion for the saxophone and the love for musical experimentation.
Minimalism and precision
Christian Kobi, for example, has already created music with the saxophone’s silence. To achieve this, he mounted microphones very close to the blowpipe and recorded the instrument’s resonance without blowing into it. He amplified the silence recorded with this procedure until feedback occurred. The result is a sustained, inconspicuous sound that is easy to overhear if you don’t pay attention.
In rawlines 1, Christian Kobi lets silence become sound through feedback of resonances inside the saxophone.
Modular and forward-looking
While traditional saxophone quartets usually consist of the four main instruments of the saxophone family – baritone, tenor, alto and soprano – the Konus Quartet is modular and remains flexible in its instrumentation. Depending on the piece, they play in the traditional line-up, but sometimes also with two alto saxophones, one tenor and one baritone, or even with two tenor and two baritones.
This flexibility is also something the quartet seeks, when compositions are commissioned, working primarily with composers who have explored sound in depth and are not limited by traditional expectations of saxophone quartets. Among the pieces they perform are compositions by important names on the international contemporary music scene such as Chiyoko Szlavnics, Jürg Frey, Barry Guy, Makiko Nishikaze, Phill Niblock, Urs Peter Schneider, Martin Brandlmayr or Klaus Lang.
FORWARD & REWIND: A celebration of contemporary music
To celebrate its 20th anniversary, Konus Quartet is holding a festival weekend in Bern entitled Foward & Rewind. The two words Forward & Rewind are meant literally, as the four saxophonists revisit past collaborations and strive for new ones, showing themselves to be both thoughtful and forward-looking.
One of the already existing collaborations is, for example, with the string quartet Quatuor Bozzini. In 2021, the Konus Quartet premiered the piece Continuité, fragilité, resonance by Swiss composer Jürg Frey with them. For the festival’s opening concert, Konus Quartet and Quatuor Bozzini will revisit this piece, together with another work by composer Chiyoko Szlavnics. The musicians give themselves plenty of time and space – and patiently and precisely unfold the various sound surfaces that are hidden in the compositions.
During a Lifetime (excerpt): The Konus Quartet interprets a piece by Canadian composer Chiyoko Szlavnics.
Powerful voices from Georgia
A new collaboration is scheduled with the renowned Georgian Gori Women’s Choir, which has been presenting traditional Georgian choral singing since 1970. This polyphonic singing technique is hundreds of years old and distantly related to the yodelling we know. It is characterised in particular by the almost physically perceptible power in the voice. The women sing partly in unison, partly in microtonal ranges, mixing harmony and dissonance.
Since 2013, the choir has been led by Teona Tsiramuna and has reinvented itself, so to speak. It is very important to the director to always discover new things and to combine the vocal tradition with modern and international music. “In 1970, the choir sang for a specific, fairly homogeneous audience. It performed mainly melancholic and sustained Georgian music. Now that has expanded. We also sing Mexican, Turkish or African folk music,” says Tsiramuna in an interview for SRF 2 Kultur.
After a collaboration with Georgian-British pop and blues singer Katie Melua, the Gori Women’s Choir gained fame beyond the borders of Georgia and now performs on European stages in various constellations. The conductor’s love of experimentation also draws her to collaborations with contemporary musicians, for example at the Stanser Musiktage.
At the Stanser Musiktage 2022, they performed with four young electronic artists, merging voices with synthesiser sounds.
Air vibrations, the collaboration between the Konus Quartet and the Gori Women’s Choir, can relate on one hand to the vibration of the “air “, on the other hand in can be interpreted as “song vibrations”, from the Italian “aria”. The Gori Women’s Choir brings its voices to vibrate together with two other big names of contemporary music: Georgian-Swiss pianist Tamriko Kordzaia and Austrian composer and concert organist Klaus Lang.
Die neue Kollaboration knüpft an die erste Zusammenarbeit zwischen Klaus Lang und dem Konus Quartett, dem Stück Drei Allmenden, an.
Lang conceived and composed the concert and is featured on the organ. His works are characterised by the way he explores sound. Music is “time made audible”, says Lang. On his instrument, the concert organ, this side of sound can be explored particularly well, as one can hold the notes for any length of time.
In the Air Vibrations concert, Lang interweaves his organ playing with the Konus Quartet’s saxophones and Tamriko Kordzaia’s piano playing, laying the ground for the traditional singing of the Gori Women’s Choir. This creates music that mixes the old and the new and is thus fully in the spirit of the festival: Forward & Rewind.
FORWARD & REWIND Bern
3.5.23, 18:30: concert «Continuité, fragilité, resonance» Jürg Frey, with Quator Bozzini, les Concerts de musique Contemporaine (CMC) La Chaux-de-Fonds
5.5.-7.5.23: Fest für neue Musik , Bern
5.5. 19:30: Interlaced Resonances, Aula PROGR Bern
6.5. 19:30: Voltage Cracklings, Aula PROGR Bern
7.5. 19:30: Air Vibrations, Kirche St Peter & Paul Bern
concert: Moods Zürich
8.5.23, 20:30: «Air Vibrations»
broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Neue Musik im Konzert, 19.7.2023: Konzert Konus Quartett und Gori Women’s Choir, Bern: Air vibrations
Neue Musik im Konzert, 12.1.22: Jürg Frey: Stehende Schwärme
Musik unserer Zeit, 13.11.13: «zoom in» – der Saxophonist und Veranstalter Christian Kobi
Online-Artikel, 13.11.13: Das Rauschen des Nichts: Der Saxophonist Christian Kobi
Musik unserer Zeit, 17.07.2019: Saxophonzauber mit dem Konus Quartett
Musikmagazin, 21.5.22: Chorleiterin Teona Tsiramua: «Wir singen nicht nur Wiegenlieder»
Konus Quartett, Tamriko Kordzaia, Christian Kobi, Jürg Frey, Urs Peter Schneider, Jonas Tschanz
Female vocal performers yesterday and today
Vocal performance is very present in contemporary music. Female performers in particular can draw on a long tradition of works since Luciano Berio’s Sequenza III per voce femminile (1965) or Cathy Berberian’s Stripsody (1966). In their mini-series “Musik unserer Zeit”, Benjamin Herzog and Florian Hauser examined this genre’s historical and current exponents.
At the end of the day it always boils down to finding your own voice. Lie it in the saliva present in our oral cavities, in spatial sounds thrown around or in primal words with which we tried to communicate on our continent since 15’000 years ago.
Bel canto is a standard term in vocal practice and can be translated with “beautiful singing”. But what is beautiful? What does (in the present day) singing mean? Anyone who listens to the hybrid, multi-layered tones sound paintings of Norwegian Maja Ratkje, is fascinated by their beauty. However, they have little to do with bel canto.
Swiss singer Franziska Baumann would rather avoid comparing her singing practice with classical “Schöngesang”. “At first I didn’t know that what I do can be considered art at all.” Sche says and had to travel to New York, where the ideas of what singing can be were more open than in her native Toggenburg, to realise that perhaps it is and the self-empowerment that comes with it. There, Baumann’s home.
Another exponent which has not much in common with the Elysian realms of singing is American Audrey Chen. She states having no artistic pretensions at all with what she does. “It is a process,” she says, which rather reflects her changeable biography. A life for which Chen wanted to find her own language.
The three women are vocal performers. A term that is as general as it is fuzzy. Singer, vocalist, “singing artist” – many things bubble in the pond of this wording, yet forming a special bubble. Namely, many of these vocal performers, if we want to stick with this word, are at the same time performers as well as composers, conceptualisers.
Exploring her Toggenburg homeland
As childer, many of us probably did like Franziska Baumann on her exploratory tours through her Toggenburg homeland: combining the sounds of streams, creeks, leaves, birds and harvesting machines into an inner mixture of sounds, into some kind of music that perhaps already wanted to find its way out of the body with one or the other gurgle or peep from Baumann’s mouth. This was followed by classical studies and her escape from the rules and walls of what were still called “conservatories” back then. In New York, she found role models who simply saw what was linked to her early experiences as an art form. “It was also self-empowering” she says today.
Not to be an interpreter that reproduces, but a master of one’s own tones is something that applies to all three women presented here, with means that expand one’s own voice by several dimensions. In Franziska Baumann’s case, this is a special glove provided with sensors with which she can produce sounds, triggering them from an existing sound library and sending them around the room. A ghost orchestra that she conducts herself while at the same time performing vocally.
Franziska Baumann, Re-Shuffling Sirenes, Solo für Stimme und gestische Live-Elektronik, International Conference for Live Interfaces Trondheim 2020
Audrey Chen has discovered an entire orchestra in her own mouth. The sounds she produces in an unapologetically intimate way between cheeks, tongue, throat and in the waves of her own saliva seem like a hyperconsonants language. A supernatural being seems to be speaking to us. What constitutes “bel canto”, sailing on vowels, is not only missing here as even the consonants come out fragmented, breathless, as the sounding mouth-muscle mass of an extraterrestrial, at least quite alien.
Chen mentions regularly that she became a single mother at the age of 23, an obviously drastic experience in her biography. Did she become a stranger to herself in her life plan at that time? “I had to find my own language, also as an immigrant and daughter of an immigrant couple in the USA.” Today she lives with Norwegian trombonist Henrik Munkeby Nørstebø. Their two (musical) languages do not seem to be so different. In any case, they have been combining for years in almost astonishingly harmonious projects.
Audrey Chen &Henrik Munkeby Nørstebø, Beam Splitter, 22.04.2017, Kaohsiung Taiwan, Yard/Theater
What about Norwegian vocal performer Maja Ratkje? She says her thinking is orchestral. Piano or guitar have always been too small or little “accompaniment” for her. Anyone who talks to Ratkje should not miss this double understatement. Ratkje likes to play on many levels. As a student, she founded a group called “Spunk” to irritate her audience with the voices of the Chipmonks, the talking squirrels from the comic world. A stay at IRCAM in Paris gave rise to a fascination with electronic media, which she has been consistently deepening ever since. Her performance on the occasion of an award ceremony at the ZKM in Karlsruhe, documented on video, testifies to the virtuosity she has reached in the meantime. Ratkje succeeds in using voice and electronics to create an interlocking sound creature that, like the Greek Hydra, always has more heads than we could ever perceive, let alone conquer by hearing.
Maja S.K. Ratkje Interview about What are the words to us, world creation @Luzerner Theater 2022
In her residency at the Lucerne Theatre in the 2022/23 season, Ratkje showed that, in addition to the latest technology, she is also devoted to the ancient. Her composition Revelations (This Early Song) was integrated into a music theatre piece. Primal words like “worm”, “bark” or “spit” appear in it, words that were spoken some 15’000 years ago all over the Eurasian continent, as Ratkje told us.
Why she digs so deep into semantic depths becomes apparent upon hearing and legitimises the theme outlined in this text through the analysis of the three female exponents. The fascination that captures us when listening to Revelations is nothing less than a kind of genetic legitimisation of vocal performance as we experience it in many forms today. It’s about finding your own true voice. Finding a way to address, hiss, spit at each other with meaning. Whether we, the audience, feel more addressed by this way of communicating or whether we prefer the culinary delights of bel canto is a personal matter.
In the Musik unserer Zeit-broadcast series on vocal performance of March 8 and 15 2023, Florian Hauser also portrayed the pioneers Carla Henius and Cathy Berberian, in a conversation with singer and musicologist Anne-May Krüger, who wrote a book about the two.
Anne-May Krüger: Musik über Stimmen – Vokalinterpretinnen und -interpreten der 1950er und 60er Jahre im Fokus hybrider Forschung, Wolke-Verlag.
broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, 8.3.2023: Vokalperformance I – Gegenwartsstimmen elektronisch verwoben, Redaktion Benjamin Herzog)
Musik unserer Zeit, 15.3.2023: Vokalperformance II – Pionierinnen Carla Henius und Cathy Berberian, Redaktion Florian Hauser im Gespräch mit Anne-May Krüger
Cécile Marti is both composer and sculptor. Being able to pursue these two activities makes her life balanced. On April 3rd 2023, her accordion quartet Spectra will be premiered by the Société de musique contemporaine Lausanne.
“I like to emerge out of absolute silence and I try to maintain this silence for half the day if possible,” says Cécile Marti when we meet at noon for an online conversation. Her mornings are usually dedicated to composing. “Back then, when I came to composing, it grew out of absolute silence and I seek that experience again every day.”
From silence to composition
Cécile Marti had to find her way from silence back to sound after a stroke of fate hit her. Initially, as music-loving young woman, she had a completely different career in mind and wanted to become a violinist.
“I had focused my entire life on the violin, from childhood onwards there were only the violin and the profession of becoming a violinist for me.”
But when she suffered a stroke during her studies that made it impossible for her to play the violin, a long period of letting go followed.
“I had to go through deep worlds and hit rock bottom before I was able to rethink, reinvent and recreate my life from scratch.”
Success with bubble trip
Out of this process, she discovered the composition as a way of continuing to express herself musically, although in a completely different way. She studied with Dieter Ammann, Georg Friedrich Haas and Julian Anderson and soon had her first successes – for example with her orchestral work bubble trip(2004/2007), with which she won the international composition competition at the 9th Weimar Spring Festival for Contemporary Music in 2009.
In Switzerland, bubble trip was premiered in 2010 by the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra.
Quarter tones with the accordion
Cécile Marti has just completed the work Spectra for four accordions, which will be premiered by Ensemble Xamp at the beginning of April. The special feature is that two of the ensemble’s accordions are built in a way that they can produce quarter tones. Cécile Marti has used this opportunity to explore natural tone specters, as she had done in previous works.
Dancing Spectra for sextet from 2018, for instance also relies on natural tone specters as starting point.
Auch in für Sextett aus dem Jahr 2018 nahm Cécile Marti bereits Naturtonspektren zum Ausgangspunkt.
Stones in the afternoon
Cécile Marti devotes her afternoons to stone sculpture, which she discovered when she turned to composition.
Visual design runs in the family, her father worked as graphic designer and was constantly drawing drafts and sketches, while with her ceramist mother, she was often able to follow the process of creating clay pieces. “I grew up in her workshop, so to speak, and was allowed to witness how she shaped pots and bowls and how they were baked to come out of the kiln in all kinds of shapes and colours. That was very exciting.”
Today, she shapes sculptures from hard stone herself – an always challenging process that requires great concentration.
Processes and trajectories in stone and sound
The interaction between the two art forms Cécile Marti devotes herself to on a daily basis also finds its way into her works. In Five stages of a sculpture (2019) for ensemble and two solo violas, for example, five musical movements are presented opposite five different stages in the development of a sculpture. The ensemble symbolises the materiality of the stone, to which the viola voices gradually lend a new form.
Five Stages of a Sculpture by Cécile Marti, played by Ensemble Multilatérale.
Water Crystals from 2020 takes as its starting point various structures of water crystals that researcher Masuro Emoto photographed in different corners of the world in the 1990s. Violin and piano musically explore the hexagonal crystal structures in twelve aphoristic miniatures. Twelve white marble sculptures take a spatial-visual look at the same theme.
Cécile Marti, Water Cristals for violin and piano, 2020, Video 2021 ©Martin Messmer
Cécile Marti has found something fulfilling in her two fields of activity. “It’s just something wonderful and I want to be able to pass on and share this exciting experience” she says. Because shaping and designing also has something self-empowering about it.
“It’s about the form and shaping of our lives. Giving shape and form to our own lives, also in the sense of thinking life for oneself and shaping it from within, the self-determined shaping of our own lives from the bottom up.”
Konzert: 3. April 2023, 19:00/20:15; Société de musique contemporaine Lausanne, Haute Ecole de Musique de Lausanne (HEMU)| Utopia 1 | Rue de la Grotte 2 | 1003 Lausanne: Das Ensemble Xamp spielt Werke von Cécile Marti und anderen Komponist:innen.
Toshio Hosokawa composer in residence @ Tonhalle Zurich
Toshio Hosokawa is the most famous Japanese composer and this season’s Creative Chair at Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich. In his tonal language, Hosokawa combines Western contemporary with traditional Japanese music. Moritz Weber interviewed the composer.
Two years ago, Toshio Hosokawa was commissioned by pianist Rudolf Buchbinder to compose a variation on Diabelli’s famous waltz in C major, over which Beethoven had once composed his monumental 33 variations. “I love piano sounds,” says Hosokawa in conversation, “but there are so many notes in this waltz”. His variations therefore sound as if in slow motion, allowing individual notes plenty of time to unfold. Because of the slow tempo, the piece became representative of his, says the Japanese composer, and even the tonal elements fit his musical language, as in the last 2 to 3 years he has become more and more interested in tonal music again, “and in the future I would also like to compose some tonal music.”
A way to traditional Japanese music through studies in Germany
He found his own language, which combines Far Eastern and Western aesthetics, through a diversion. “My family was very Japanese,” he says. With an ikebana master as grandfather, who also loved Nō singing as well as the tea ceremony and a mother who always played the koto, it was a bit “too much” for him and the traditional Japanese seemed like old-fashioned, even “boring”.
As a piano student, he was particularly enthusiastic about the classical-romantic repertoire, such as Beethoven’s late piano sonatas, so Hosokawa went to Germany to study composition with Isang Yun (in Berlin) and Klaus Huber (in Freiburg i. B.).
Klaus Huber, composition professor of Toshio Hosokawa with his Far Eastern inspired piece Plainte – Lieber spaltet mein Herz, Contrechamps 2018, in house- production SRG/SSR
At Berlin’s Meta Music Festival in the 1970s, contemporary European music was combined with traditional music from all over the world. György Ligeti with Indonesian gamelan music, Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Mantra with temple music from Japan. There, Hosokawa heard and experienced the music of his homeland from a European point of iew and in a completely different way, discovering its beauty. Mixed with homesickness and thanks to the encouragement of his teachers, Hosokawa began to combine Far Eastern sound language and philosophy with the European ones.
Differences between Western and Eastern aesthetics
An important difference between European and Japanese music is that the latter is not absolute music, but always serves as an atmosphere or background for certain events such as ceremonies or dances. It is bound to a place. European music, on the other hand, is an architecture that can be played in a variety of places, just as a sculpture or painting can be transported somewhere, Hosokawa says.
“In the Japanese musical tradition, the single note is very important. I always say our music is a caligraphy in time and space and a musical line is like a brushstroke, with a beginning and an end”. The tones are vertical events, like a calligraphic brushstroke on a white paper. In complete contrast to the groups of sounds in Western music that are linked into motifs, e.g. the famous “ta-ta-ta-taaaaaa” from Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, Hosokawa sings.
Nō theatre and Gagaku music
“The traditional Japanese Nō theatre plays from the 12th or 13th century are about healing souls and this idea is also very important to me,” says Hosokawa: “The deceased come back, tell about the afterlife, heal their souls through dance and song and then return to the realm of the dead.” Musically, the “calligraphy chant” is formative, as are the percussions: heavy beats that cut through time quasi vertically, without opening up large horizontal spaces, as the impulses are events in themselves. This is something he always points out when he works with musicians on his pieces, as he did this season as Creative Chair of the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich. “These violent vertical cuts are stronger than normal strokes, as are the sudden changes in dynamics. I always say: think when you play, you are painting a calligraphy. Don’t think too formally, but that every moment is a most important moment, every moment an eternity.”
Toshio Hosokawa, Ferne Landschaft III – Seascapes of Fukuyama (1996), Basel Sinfonietta, conductor Baldur Brönnimann 2016, in house-produktion SRG/SSR
Hosokawa also likes the microtonal colourings, which are important in shaping the Nō theatre tones. “There are always small changes around the central tones and I want to hear these, because they make the tones come alive”. Again, in the interview, he sings out a long drawn-out tone and traces the course of the tone with his hand in the air.
The mother chord of the Shô
Japanese gagaku music is about 500 years older and originally comes from China and Korea, serving as a ceremonial court music, with the sound of Japanese mouth organ shô being omnipresent. It symbolises eternity in the background, while above it melody instruments such as hichiriki or the dragon flute ryūteki “draw” sonic calligraphies.
Within shô, it is also possible to directly experience breath and circling time. Hosokawa calls this the “mother chord” and he has written various pieces for or with shô. These cycles are also very important to him, as is the idea that gagaku is a cosmic music rather than a human-emotional one.
Natural disasters as opera material
Toshio Hosokawa has become world famous for his unique tonal language and compositions in all genres. Many of his works revolve around natural disasters such as the devastating Tohoku earthquake, tsunami and the Fukushima nuclear disaster. “My goal is to become one with nature through music and composing. Actually, Japanese nature is very beautiful with its seasons, but not always friendly to people. I experienced this with the tsunami and I began to think about nature in a completely different way. With my fourth opera “Stilles Meer”, I wanted to write a lament for the victims of this drastic event, or a requiem for the dead.” In this piece, Hosokawa has not only composed the elemental force, but also the terrible images of loss, such as children’s shoes or toys floating in the flooded areas.
Toshio Hosokawa, the opera Stilles Meer is for Toshio Hosokawa a lament to the victims of the 2011 tsunami, world premiere Staatsoper Hamburg 2016
The composer is currently composing his sixth opera, which will again revolve around natural disasters, featuring a young couple, a Japanese man and a refugee from Ukraine, who visit devastated places, various “hells” in the sense of Dante’s Inferno, where they see the effects of natural disasters, according to Hosokawa. The opera is scheduled to premiere during the 2025/26 season.
Inner and outer peace
To find his inner peace, Hosokawa likes to walk in the forest or by the sea near his home in Nagano. He also meditates daily, sitting quietly and doing nothing for a few minutes. A source of strength for his contemplative state music, punctuated with eruptive outbursts.
His music should also be a place of contemplation and prayer for the audience. “In Japan, there are many carved wooden statues by anonymous artists where people pray. I want my music to have a similar meaning. It may not save people, but it can somehow protect them.
Spirituality also plays a role in his most recent works: “Ceremony” for flute and orchestra (premiere 2022) and “Prayer” for violin and orchestra (premiere 2023).
The solo instrument in these two pieces acts like a shaman, a mediator between this world and beyond, says Hosokawa, receiving and hearing the elemental force Ki (気). “I find this thought very interesting: composing, not as an expression of a person or his ego, but as receiving what is already there; the elemental force of sounds, the sometimes lovely, sometimes dramatic flow of the tones. “The orchestra represents nature and is therefore in and around the solo instrument or the shaman. He communicates with it, carries out conflicts and in the end should find harmony with it”.
Hosokawa sees himself as a sound engineer of this elemental force, and says: “I would also like to become a shaman” – if he is not one already.
When he rehearses his works with orchestras or musicians, as currently, during his time as Creative Chair of the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich, it is above all the pulsation and sense of time that sometimes need a little more work.
Zurich Tonhalle-Orchestra: Toshio Hosokawa, Creative Chair, Saison 2022/23
sunday, 26.3.23: chamber music
wednesday, 29.3.23: Meditation to the victims of Tsunami for orchestra.
broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, Mittwoch, 22.3.23, 20h, 25.3.23, 21h: Musikschamane und Vertoner der Urkraft, Autor Moritz Weber
Tuns contemporans: Ligeti 100th anniversary @Theater Chur 29.3. – 2.4.2023
Tuns contemporans, Biennale für Neue Musik Graubünden, will take place for its third edition from March 29 to April 1. With this years’ motto is 100 years of Ligeti, it highlights the pioneering composer from a present day perspective. Atmosphères, Ligeti’s monumental orchestral work known from Kubrik’s Space Odyssey 2001, will be reinterpreted at the Theater Chur as a space-spanning sound installation.
A conversation with Martina Mutzner, initiator and artistic director of the project.
28 May 1923: 100th birthday of György Ligeti
If any key work of the musical avant-garde has had unexpectedly wide circulation, it surely is Atmosphères by György Ligeti. Stanley Kubrik’s epic Space Odyssey 2001 from 1968 helped make Ligeti’s impressive orchestral work, premiered at the Donaueschingen Music Festival in 1961, famous all over the world. In the film, it accompanies an almost ten-minute tracking shot through abstract, flowing space colour fields that are considered among the most advanced camera and animation techniques possible back then.
Or was it maybe the other way round: do the images follow the music?
Sound colour surface composition
Atmosphères, Ligeti’s micropolyphonic 87-voice orchestral work, had already gained the composer a major breakthrough in professional circles. His new approach, in which tonal colours and surfaces replace structural elements, was received with enthusiasm at the premiere in Donaueschingen and played twice at the request of the audience. Ligeti, on the other hand, was in a yearlong legal dispute with Kubrik because the latter had initially used Atmosphères without asking nor paying the composer.
György Ligeti, Atmosphères, Sinfonieorchester Basel, 2015, inhouse-production SRG/SSR
The Chur project takes the idea of composing with sound colour surfaces as well as the familiarity of the work as starting points. In an immersive participatory concert sound installation, Ligeti’s Atmosphères is reborn, interpreted by 81 vocal groups: over the course of six months, school classes, semi-professional musicians and amateurs, with members aged between 7 and 77, developed their own sound surfaces. The musicians of Chur’s ensemble ö! as well as the Graubünden Chamber Philharmonic, helped creating individual layers of a large overall sound during a series of workshops.
It is now possible to immerse oneself into this soundscape during the entire festival through a loudspeaker system and embedded in a light scenography à la Kubrik set up at Chur’s Theatre.
Apparitions for orchestra (1958/59) is one of the first works in which György Ligeti composed with sound surfaces, recording with Basel Sinfonietta under Johannes Kalitzke, 2003, inhouse-production SRG SSR
Ligeti’s idea of greatest possible compositional freedom was this mediation project’s decisive factor, says Martina Mutzner, dramaturge at Theater Basel and in charge of the project.
“With Atmosphères, Ligeti wrote a piece that defied the compositional dogmas of the time. It is representative of a free-spirited approach to both artistic material and, in a figurative sense, also human beings”. There is no right or wrong. That is why it is so suitable for a shared project featuring also amateur musicians.
Inventories and botanic approach
They decided to “go the opposite way”. First, inspired by Atmosphères, they improvised, developed and recorded sounds. “We collected the sound surfaces. It was like making an inventory or some kind of a botanic approach,” says Mutzner. David Sontòn, artistic director of the Biennale, then created scores for instrumental parts from the recordings, with flute, harp and string groups complementing the vocal and noise soundscapes to Ligeti’s prescribed 87 voices.
The result is a compositional association with Ligeti’s sound-surface composition in the broadest sense and thus something completely new, fitting in perfectly with the concept of a Biennale featuroing Ligeti at its centre and relating mentors and students. The four major concerts at the Chur Theatre will feature works by Béla Bartók and Sándor Veress, two of the composers who influenced Ligeti, but also by Detlef Müller-Siemens, Michael Jarrell or Alberto Posadas, whom he in turn influenced, as well as world premieres in dialogue with Ligeti’s oeuvre.
Michael Jarrell, music for a while pour orchestre 1995, Ensemble Contrechamps, conductor Jürg Henneberger, inhouse-production SRG SSR
Mutzner brings her passion for contemporary music and its transmission to the project: “We chose Atmosphères also because it found its way into popular culture through Kubrick’s Space Odyssey. Many people heard it without knowing what it is.” Of the many contributors and also ensemble leaders, some had hardly had any exposure to contemporary music before. “In the end, the recordings sounded as if they were rehearsing regularly in a contemporary music ensemble. The musicians were in an eager flow, which gets transmitted to the listeners,” says Mutzner.
A consistent opening of contemporary music
The consistent aim of presenting contemporary music to a wider audience is a general concern of the Chur Biennale. While the 2021 concerts could only be held online due to the pandemic, this edition will also be entirely live-streamed. In addition, the tuns contemporans is also committed to a balanced mix of genres in the classical field as well as to a renewal of the orchestral repertoire. In 2021, a “Call for Scores for ladies only!” took place for the first time, resulting in three world premieres by female composers. Three new pieces will also be premiered in this edition. Los tiempos del alma for small ensemble by recently deceased young Argentinian composer Patricia Martinez (*1973-2022), leer for large ensemble by Areum Lee (*1989) from Korea and la via isoscele della sera for string orchestra by Italian composer Caterina di Cecca (*1984).
Oscar Bianchi, Contingency für Ensemble (2017), aufgezeichnet mit dem Ensemble der Lucerne Festival Alumni, conductor Baldur Brönnimann, 2020, inhouse-production SRG SSR.
A collaboration with the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana for the Saturday evening concert – including a performance of Oscar Bianchi’s Exordium from 2015 – and Mario Venzago as guest conductor or the closing concert with the Ensemble Vocal Origen, in the “roter Turm” on top of the Julier Pass, stand for both synergies and an opening of contemporary music beyond the local scene for this third festival edition.
Tuns contemporans – Biennale für Neue Musik Graubünden 2023
Atmosphères: participatory intergenerational concert project featuring professional musicians, passionate semi-professional musicians, music students and enthusiastic amateurs.
György Ligeti, Detlev Müller-Siemens, Alberto Posadas, Béla Bartók, Sándor Veress, Origen Festival Cultural, Mario Venzago, Caterina di Cecca, Areum Lee, Patricia Martinez, Martina Mutzner: Musiksalon
broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, 24.5.2023: György Ligeti 100: author Michael Kunkel
neoblog, 7.4.2021: tuns contemporans 2021 – Graubünden trifft Welt, author Gabrielle Weber
Young composer Anda Kryeziu stages Ingmar Bergman’s cult film “Persona” as music theatre for Theater Basel. A musical reflection on voice, silence and identity.
Anda Kryeziu and I met for an interview on a rainy February evening in downtown Basel. The final rehearsal phase for her music theatre “Persona”, based on the film by Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, has just begun and she is facing a stressful final rehearsal month, with rehearsals from Monday to Saturday all day followed by revisions at night. One might think that the 30-year-old composer is under a lot of pressure, as writing a full-length musical for the renowned Theater Basel is not something everyone gets to do. But Anda Kryeziu seems surprisingly relaxed and at ease during the interview.
Originally from Kosovo, she studied piano and composition with Dieter Ammann in Bern, then composition and electroacoustic music in Basel and Berlin with Caspar Johannes Walter and Daniel Ott as well as cross-media composition with Wolfgang Heiniger. Her catalogue is already astonishingly extensive, featuring theatrical works, performances, orchestral compositions, works for instrumental ensembles with or without electronics, multimedia compositions, installations and acousmatic pieces. Kryeziu switches effortlessly between different formats and instrumentations and has already presented her works at renowned festivals such as Impuls Festival Graz, Neue Musik Rümlingen or the Munich Biennale. Her rich and diverse portfolio might be the reason for her ability to keep calm and relaxed, despite the prestigious Theater Basel commission.
Anda Kryeziu: «Infuse: Playtime» (2021), Ensemble Recherche.
She is setting Ingmar Bergman’s film “Persona” to music for Theater Basel and describes her work, for soprano, performer, four instruments and electronics as an “ambivalent music-theatrical format, oscillating between opera, theatre and performance”. Bergman’s 1966 cult movie revolves around two women, actress Elisabeth Vogler and nurse Alma. Elisabeth has suddenly stopped speaking and is therefore sent to be cured with Alma in a villa by the seaside. Due to Elisabeth’s silence, Alma takes over the speaking and tells Elisabeth about her innermost wishes, dreams and well-kept secrets from her childhood. A complex relationship develops between the two women and Elisabeth’s silence takes on very different facets, from arrogant distance to empathetic participation or passive aggressiveness. More and more, the boundaries between the two protagonists become blurred. Bergman’s film is on one hand an accurate chronicle of this unusual relationship and on the other hand a reflection on what actually makes a person and whether we are not just wearing different masks.
To what extent does the voice define our identity and what happens when the voice factor suddenly disappears? “Persona” captured Anda Kryeziu’s, as well as director Caterina Cianfarini’s and dramaturge Meret Kündig’s attention because it deals with voice, silence and identity in close connection.
Anda Kryeziu: «co-» (2016-2017), played by Theo Nabicht (Kontrabassklarinette), Seth Josel (E-Gitarre) und Gabriella Strümpel (Cello) from the Ensemble KNM Berlin.
How does one compose silence?
The main character’s silence of Perona’s central aspects. But how does one actually compose silence? Music consists of sounds and silence does not. Whereby, as Anda Kryeziu emphasises, “silence is not the same as stillness. Silence is the decision not to speak, while stillness is the absence of sounds”.
However, she did not need to actively compose silence: “silence was already there conceptually and actually triggered all the other musical ideas in the piece. For me, silence is the strongest and most blatant stylistic tool in this project. With Elisabeth’s silence, I try to shape all the dynamics and energy of the work and it serves as an igniting spark for many musical and dramatic situations.”
Anda Kryeziu sees the main character’s silence as a welcome challenge and composed it as an important factor. It is a similar story with the the other main character’s voice. Nurse Alma does the talking for both of them. For Kryeziu, the voice of soprano Álfheiður Erla Guðmundsdóttir, in the role of Alma, is the starting point for her composition. “The human voice is a complex mean of communication, a whole package of information, a semiotic system through which one can learn a great deal about identity,” says Kryeziu.
Guðmundsdóttir’s voice is alienated, distorted and multiplied by Kryeziu through electronics. “With the changes in the sound of the voice, I can also change the perception of the person speaking. She can suddenly sound masculine, childlike or totally destroyed.”
Anda Kryeziu: “Kreiswanderung im Raum”, from the production “Grosse Reise in entgegengesetzter Richtung” at the Münchener Biennale 2022. Jens Ruland (percussion) and the Ensemble Hand Werk.
The voice through the instruments
In addition, Kryeziu relates the voice to various counterparts: through loops, Guðmundsdóttir’s voice speaks to herself, through room-filling playback and re-recording it enters a dialogue with the space and with the help of so-called transducers, Kryeziu can project the sound of the voice or individual snippets of it onto the four instruments. The voice then kind of speaks through the instruments. A coherent metaphor for the fact that an identity operates in close connection and constant interaction with the outside world.
A voice speaking through many instruments is perhaps another fitting image for Kryeziu’s work. The identity theme emerges again and again, in her diverse work. “Identity never comes by itself in my opinion, as it cannot be separated from a socio-political context. We do not exist as abstract entities. We are the way we are because of our environment, our history and biography,” says Kryeziu. Her works are never autobiographical, but perhaps her migrant biography is one reason why the theme of identity regularly comes up.
Music theatre “Persona” is a Theater Basel production and will be presented at Gare du Nord on March 4, 6, 7, 15, 16 17 – 2023, featuring: Álfheiður Erla Guðmundsdóttir: soprano, Alice Gartenschläger: performance, Jeanne Larrouturou: percussion, Chris Moy: guitar, Maria Emmi Franz: cello and Aleksander Gabrýs: double bass.
CD Marcus Weiss
From January 26 to 29, Basel festival “SPIEL! Games as critical practice” explores the critical potential of playing. Composer Michel Roth curated the festival.
Anyone who happens to talk to Michel Roth about playing can’t help discovering that it’s not just one single subject, but a multidimensional thematic field that opens up. For one can play with very different things: words, things, thoughts, sounds, colours or instruments… A game sets rules and creates its own world for its duration, whether it is music, a computer game, role-playing game or a board game. Those who see themselves as players in such a world look for rules to play by and each player has the possibility to influence the game within the space given to him or her, but the rules by which a game is played can also be changed – revealing a sudden philosophical or political dimension. It is true that playing can serve as an escape from the world and lead to a certain escapism. But it can also develop a critical, even world-changing potential.
Mary Flanagan’s “Critical Play”
Michel Roth found this idea formulated particularly succinctly in the writings of American game designer Mary Flanagan, which he came across during his research on games and play. He was particularly impressed by Flanagan’s 2009 book “Critical Play. Radical Game Design”, in which she emphasises the critical potential that can lie in the setting of games from the designer’s point of view. Which images, clichés and ideas should be reproduced, which ones should be changed? In what realm of possibilities should the players stay during the game? How games are designed can also influence real life and how we see it and perhaps even: what we want to change in it.
Mary Flanagan will be a keynote speaker at the festival in Basel. and also present her mapscotch project in Theater Basel’s foyer. The project is based on the chalk drawing and playground game “Hopscotch”. Visitors can define their personal squares and the foyer’s floor becomes an individual hopping playground during the entire festival.
Sound and structure of the pinball machine
Another phenomenon that has long fascinated Michel Roth is slot machines. For ZeitRäume Basel in 2021, he designed a “game hell” in which the soundscape of pinball machines significantly determined the sound.
No wonder that such machines will also make a guest appearance at the festival. The former Theater Basel ticket office will host pinball machines and other games for the audience to try out (and listen to). In a lecture performance in collaboration with double bass player Aleksander Gabrys, Michel Roth will deal with the pinball game once again under the title Pinball Etudes, but this time by transforming a double bass into a pinball machine and preparing the strings with movable balls. Normal instrumental playing is no longer possible, but action and sound now also depend on where the balls roll. What exactly will happen can neither be composed nor rehearsed.
In the piece Räuber-Fragmente after Robert Walser, Michel Roth applied game theory to a composition for the first time, putting Walser’s novel Räuber into a kind of play configuration. A free improviser is on stage and free to intervene in the play whenever he or she feels like doing so, like a kind of spoilsport.
Play and composition
The festival also presents a variety of works by composers who have explored the game subject from different points of view. For example, Bernhard Lang has been working on a series of works entitled Game since 2016, in which the instrumentalists are given a playing space defined by a fixed set of rules, which they can then use freely. GAME 3-4-3 and Game ONE by Bernhard Lang will be featured in Basel. In Homo Ludens (2019), Mike Svoboda offers the players a choice of five settings, each of which with its own set of rules, while in her percussion piece Poker, Roulette (2020), Sarah Nemtsov explores the contrast between gambling instinct and gambling addiction – two principles that seem very close to each other and yet involve completely different energies.
Mike Svoboda’s Homo Ludens divides the musicians into two teams. Do they also compete against each other while making music? Recording from the first night of the piece, Gare du Nord, March 2019, played by Camerata Variabili and Mike Svoboda und Lucas Niggli as guest musicians.
Contrast, clash, encounter
Michel Roth consciously decided not to limit the thematic width that goes hand in hand with the festival theme, but to let approaches from game design, musicology, performance art, composition and pedagogy collide against or with each other. He is particularly curious to see whether the different target groups will relate to other areas. Will the gamers perhaps become hooked to new music? Will everyone play Mapscotch together in the foyer? Will visitors also meet completely uninvolved people at the Real World Audio Game on Theaterplatz? Will they all participate together in the Jeu sonore, to which Sébastien Roux and Clément Canonne invite the audience?
The festival itself becomes a space of possibility that invites the audience to play and make decisions in many different ways. Whoever gets involved in this mixture of lectures, concerts, installations and interactions can experience something intellectually, sensually and playfully – depending on where the pinball rolls.
Broadcast SRF Kultur:
neoblogpost 2.9.2021: Infinite game worlds, Auhtor: Jaronas Scheurer über about “Spiel Hölle”, project by Michel Roth
Gion Antoni Derungs (1935-2012) is not only Graubünden’s most prominent composer. He is also considered one of Switzerland’s outstanding musical personalities. Ten years after his death, he is receiving an extensive tribute through a biography and a Derungs Festival was held in Chur.
Portrait by Laura Decurtins.
The wide-ranging works of Gion Antoni Derungs reflect artistic imagination, strong musical identity and an irrepressible creative urge; he himself described them as the “image of his life”. In his productive engagement with the local musical traditions as well as with the international musical currents of the 20th and 21st centuries, Derungs achieved an unmistakable personal style. Today, his name stands for high-quality musical works of art that range from simple songs to complex instrumental works, speaking to amateurs and professional musicians alike.
Portrait Gion Antoni Derungs zVg. Fundaziun Gion Antoni Derungs
Folk Songs as “Roots” and “Source”
Gion Antoni Derungs was born on September 6, 1935 in the small village of Vella in the Val Lumnezia. After his father’s premature death, the family had to make ends meet with hardly any means, but the highly talented mother – sister of the famous musician Duri Sialm – nevertheless attached great importance to the musical education of her children. Romantic piano music, operas and the folk songs of Surselva surrounded Derungs from an early age. Furthermore, he was sometimes allowed to accompany church services on the harmonium, so that he also became familiar with the old Catholic hymns of the Surselva. The “canzun romontscha” became both a musical identity root as well as a source for Derungs’ compositions.
From piano student to musical director
In 1949 Derungs entered the grammar school of Disentis abbey and was taught piano and organ by village music teacher Giusep Huonder as well as by his uncle Duri Sialm. After graduating from high school, he was offered to study at the conservatory in Zurich, where – in addition to piano – he took composition, music theory, organ, conducting and score playing lessons; while at the same time studying school singing at the music academy. In 1960, while still in his studies, he was appointed musical director in Lichtensteig (Toggenburg) as his uncle’s successor and in 1962 he was finally appointed piano and organ teacher at Chur’s Bündner Lehrerseminar, as well as organist and director of the Romansh city choirs Alpina and Rezia.
Guinea pigs and “house interpreters”
In 1968, together with Pastor Gieri Cadruvi, Derungs founded the record series “Canzuns popularas” (CPLP) to promote Romansh songs. Until 1987, 13 recordings were released with a wide variety of programmes and performers. The main interpreter was the Ensemble Quartet grischun, an elite chamber choir founded by Derungs himself and with whom he was able to try out his latest, avant-garde vocal creations, such as the Missa pro defunctis op. 57, for which he won the gold medal at the international composition competition in Ibagué (Colombia).
Gion Antoni Derungs, Quintett op 25 für Flöte, Klarinette, Violine, Violoncello und Klavier, in house-production SRG/SSR
Derungs’ colleagues at the teacher seminar, including his cousin, organist Esther Sialm, became the actual “house interpreters” of his instrumental chamber music. Between 1969 and 1971, Radio Rumantsch offered Derungs’ so-called “musica moderna” a platform – which promptly earned him an ambiguous “modernist” reputation. The works presented included the Quintet op. 25 for flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano, a “symbiotic” combination of linear-polyphonic moments with cluster sounds and noise explosions, as well as the Silhouettes op. 17b for clarinet and piano, where silhouette-like contours increasingly emerge from an initial “jumble of lines and dots”.
Gion Antoni Derungs, Silhouetten op. 17b für Klarinette und Klavier, in house-production SRG/SSR
From the avant-garde back to tonality
Derungs composed such “musica moderna” from 1968 to the mid-1970s. Even as a student, he was fascinated by the experiments of the post-war musical avant-garde, serialism, aleatoric and minimal music, but also by the Polish School of the 1960s with its sound surface and timbre music. However, he kept his distance from the Darmstadt circles and their Summer Courses for New Music, which were setting the tone at the time.
In the mid-1970s, Derungs turned to the “simpler”, neo-tonal music of postmodernism, but without wanting to join the relevant circles. He always used the musical languages of his century very freely and undogmatically, whereby everything had to have its justification. Derungs saw “hopeful perspectives” for the further development of his personal style in the regained tonality. However, since he never sought instant success, many works waited decades “in the drawer” for a first performance.
“Looking ahead”: breakthrough and success
Derungs achieved his breakthrough in Graubünden with a vocal work written during this period: the opera-ballet Sontga Margriata op. 78. In his perception, returning to tonality also meant getting back to his musical roots: “Preserving tradition means looking forward”, and the folk songs allowed him to create contemporary music with a native tone. From what is probably the oldest Romansh song, La canzun da Sontga Margriata, he created a contemporary work that enjoyed a successful premiere in 1981 through a Graubünden-Geneva collaboration. This nationwide success motivated him to use the Romansh language also for genres that had no tradition in Graubünden: the art song on the one hand, but above all: the grand opera, which he “invented” in 1984 with Il cerchel magic op. 101. The work received a positive response also abroad – but in Romansh-speaking Graubünden, this first “opera rumantscha” has since been regarded as a musical milestone.
Gion Antoni Derungs, Il cerchel magic (der magische Kreis), 1984, in house-production SRG/SSR
Over the years, Derungs composed a large number of instrumental works: from small-scale chamber music and solo concertos to large symphonies – all of which he composed on his own initiative. Over the years, however, he also received commissions from a wide variety of formations at home and abroad, for which he created works tailored to the performers in the shortest possible time. Furthermore, Derungs also set a crime story, a fairy tale and the dramatic life of Red Cross founder Henry Dunant to music; his later work were three sacred vocal operas for the Origen Festival in Surses, based on multilingual libretti by its director Giovanni Netzer. The works are based on a mixture of free-tonal harmonies, impressionistic colours, motet-like techniques and a strong word-sound relationship.
“Everyone must step down at some point”
This tonal language showed its maturity in his last a cappella choral work, the Nachtgebet Complet op. 189, which Derungs completed in 2011. In that year he was diagnosed with cancer and suddenly had to get used to the idea of imminent death. In fact, death had accompanied him since childhood and over the years it also found its way into various compositions, connecting them to a certain extent thematically, for example the Requiem op. 74 with the 2nd Symphony op. 110, the Mourning Symphony, or the Sontga Margriata with the 8th Symphony «Sein-Vergehen» (“To Be – To Pass Away”). “Everyone must step down at some point,” Derungs noted about his 8th Symphony. “And we are all aware of this.”
Gion Antoni Derungs, Sinfonie Nr.8, op. 158 (2002/2003), in house-production SRG/SSR
Gion Antoni Derungs died on September 4, 2012, two days before his 77th birthday. He left a huge oeuvre with 191 opus works and hundreds of compositions without opus numbers. As early as 1996, he was awarded the honorary title of «Orpheus der Rätoromanen» (“Orpheus of the Rhaetians”), an artist who transcends borders and transfers the local musical tradition into art. However, the highest honour that can be received by a Graubünden citizen was to follow posthumously: in 2015 Derungs was chosen by the Romansh media as “in dils nos” (one of ours).
He never denied his Romansh roots and always considered the “little wishes” of his homeland.
Laura Decurtins is the author of the new biography on Gion Antoni Derungs, published by Chronos in the fall of 2022.
The Chur Gion Antoni Derungs Festival took place from September 1 to 4, 20220, among other places at the Theater Chur, and was mainly performed by the ensemble ö! The concerts were recorded in total on video by RTR and are available on neo.mx3.
Gion Antoni Derungs / Fundaziun
radio features SRF 2 Kultur:
Neue Musik im Konzert, 14.12.22: Gion Antoni Derungs-Festival in Chur, author Cécile Olshausen
Eric Gaudibert, pianist, composer and lecturer from Geneva has been a key figure in the contemporary and experimental music scene of French-speaking Switzerland. Deceased ten years ago, he influenced a whole generation of musicians as teacher and promoted important ensembles for contemporary music. From December 9 to 17, they will jointly organise a tribute festival and concert marathon in Geneva’s Victoria Hall, which will include the premiere of 22 miniatures composed by his former students.
They are called Contrechamps, Ensemble Vortex, Eklekto Geneva Percussion Center or Nouvel Ensemble Contemporain (NEC) and have two things in common, they are very active in the contemporary music scene of French-speaking Switzerland and they all have a strong connection to Eric Gaudibert.
Daniel Zea, Serge Vuille and Antoine François, artistic directors of Vortex, Contrechamps and NEC, initiated the festival as a collaborative project: “the idea came up spontaneously, talking about Eric and tackling it together came very naturally,” says Daniel Zea, because Gaudibert has been important for the development of the whole scene. The Haute école de musique Genève (HEMG) will host a conference, a film screening with table ronde, and a concert by Vortex, followed by the concert marathon with the HEMG orchestra at Victoria Hall.
Gaudibert described his urge to teach as “communiquer au-delà de la musique”, communicating beyond music. He first experienced this communication in France, where, he worked from 1962 in the fields of “animation” as well as music transmission, in rural regions, after studying piano in Lausanne and composition in Paris. After returning to Switzerland, he taught composition for many years at the Conservatoire Populaire de Genève and then at HEMG. Michael Jarrell and Xavier Dayer, both renowned composers and teachers with roots in Geneva, were his students and he accompanied many other national and international careers as an artistic guiding figure, promoter and networker.
Serge Vuille, director of Contrechamps, did not study with Gaudibert directly, but was still impressed by the “Gaudibert phenomenon” and its lasting presence in the scene, also demonstrated by how quickly other partners agreed to participate in the festival. Contrechamps works constantly with Gaudibert’s former students, be they interpreters or composers. “That’s why I wanted to show this teacher-pupil aspect and its two sides at the festival,” says Vuille.
On one hand, there is Nadia Boulanger, Gaudibert’s theory teacher in Paris: Contrechamps will perform one of her orchestral works. She taught many composers who are now performed all over the world, but her own works are rarely performed. According to Vuille, she is overlooked as composer because she is mainly perceived as a teacher.
On the other hand, Contrechamps commissioned Gaudibert’s former students with short compositions. Considering the high number of 45 graduates, “only” a regionally manageable circle of those still working in or connected with French-speaking Switzerland were asked and, with two exceptions, all of them accepted. “The strong commitment by his students was very impressive,” says Serge Vuille.
Guidelines were a duration of only one minute, but open instrumentation, from large ensemble to solo and even tape, 22 miniatures will now be performed, including works by Arturo Corrales, Fernando Garnero, Dragos Tara or Daniel Zea.
Daniel Zea highlights another aspect of the teacher-pupil communication: “We are all very grateful for what he gave us and what he made possible. At the same time, it was a game of give and take: Eric was open and curious – he was interested in what we were interested in. We influenced him, for example, with traditional music from our countries.” Zea, like some of the graduates of Gaudibert’s composition class, comes from South America. His ensemble Vortex came together in Gaudibert’s classes and was accompanied and supported by him until the end.
Hekayât, pour rubâb, hautbois, hautbois baryton, alto et percussion, 2013, in house-production SRG/SSR, performed by Khaled Arman on the rubâb, an Arabic lute, is one of Gaudibert’s late works, in which he seeks to integrate instruments, their performers, and modes of play from other cultural spaces.
Electroacoustics and diversity
Gaudibert, born in Vevey in 1936, studied in Paris with Nadia Boulanger and Henry Dutilleux. He is best known for his poetic and visual instrumental works, but there are also other, lesser-known sides: Back in Switzerland, he researched electronic sounds during the early seventies in his self-described “experimental” phase at Lausanne’s radio experimental studio.
Vortex’s concert of December 10 is entirely dedicated to his electroacoustic works, which is consistent with the ensemble’s multimedia orientation: “it’s an important phase of his work that is rarely revealed,” says Daniel Zea. Together with John Menoud, composer and multi-instrumentalist, he visited Gaudibert’s widow Jacqueline and together they went through many videos, audio cassettes and scores. Pieces for instruments and tape or live electronics, often performed only once or twice, will be performed by musicians who worked closely with Gaudibert. Benoît Moreau, for example, who will play En filigrane for epinette (spinet) and tape, which was performed only once, by Gaudibert himself, at the premiere 20018 – with Moreau present.
The choice of repertoire for the final concert shows Gaudibert’s versatility. “We decided to combine key works such as Gong – his last major ensemble work – with rarely performed pieces to show the diversity of his oeuvre,” says Vuille. Gong is dedicated to pianist Antoine Françoise, who will also interpret it at the festival, together with Contrechamps. François, now an internationally sought-after solo pianist and director of the NEC, also had a close relationship with Gaudibert, who, pianist himself, accompanied and supported François’ development from their first meeting when he was 16 years and relied on his skills for Gong’s demanding part when he was only 24.
Gong &Lémanic moderne ensemble, in house-production SRG/SSR
In addition to his instrumental works, Gaudibert’s electroacoustic phase will also be represented at Victoria Hall: Vortex performs Ecritures from 1975 for one voice and tape, created in Lausanne’s Experimental Studio, in a new version for four voices distributed in the room. “The piece lives on with new technical possibilities, which would have been in Gaudibert’s spirit,” says Zea. Eric Gaudibert would certainly have welcomed the fact that his former students continue to work together – in communication beyond music.
“Eric Gaudibert, pianiste, compositeur, enseignant”. Film Plans fixes, 48mn, Suisse, 2005 : In this 2005 film portrait, Gaudibert talks about his most beloved themes, such as his fondness for literature and painting, his times in Paris, teaching and the influences of other cultures on his musical work: the film is the focus of a panel at Geneva Festival Gaudibert on December 10.
9/10 décembre 2022, HEMG : Congrès / Concerts : Composers and lecturers Xavier Dayer, Nicolas Bolens and ethnomusicologist as well as interpreter Khaled Arman, among others, will discuss the portrait at HEMG.
17 décembre 2022, Victoria Hall Genève, 18:30h : Concert marathon Contrechamps, Eklekto, le NEC, Vortex, orchestre de la HEMG, chef d’orchestre : Vimbayi Kaziboni, Gaudibert, Boulanger, UA 22 miniatures
musique d’avenir, 6.2.2023: Festival Gaudibert 2022, author: Anne Gillot
Eric Gaudibert, Daniel Zea, Antoine Françoise, Arturo Corrales, Fernando Garnero, Dragos Tara, Ensemble Vortex, Contrechamps, Nouvel Ensemble Contemporain, Eklekto Geneva Percussion Center, John Menoud, Benoit Moreau, Ensemble Batida, Xavier Dayer, Michael Jarrell
The Lucerne Festival Forward has taken place in Lucerne from November 18 to 20, 2022. Alongside big international names such as Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Patricia Kopatchinskaja and Tito Muñoz, the programme also included the collective intervention A Clean End to end the festival.
During an interview, Lucerne composer and musician Urban Mäder described himself as an expert on all kinds of cleaning machines – and there is a good reason for that. Because for the closing of this year’s Lucerne Festival Forward (LFF), for once it is not the musicians of the Lucerne Festival Contemporary Orchestra (LFCO) who are in the spotlight, but, among others, KKL’s cleaning staff and their various types of hoovers, mops and cleaning machines.
Urban Mäder and Peter Allamand: sound installation ‘Balgerei’ at the festival Alpentöne, Altdorf 2015.
Researching at 6 o’clock in the morning
After LFF’s first edition last year and the performance of Ricefall by Michael Pisaro by 49 amatuers, another participative action took place this year: A Clean End. The action is called a collective intervention and its driving forces are Urban Mäder, Nora Vetter, Pia Matthes and Peter Allamand. The intervention took place as closing event of the last concert.
But what is there to do at the end of a festival or a concert? Well, cleaning, so that the whole thing has “a clean end”. This was the premise on which the four artists based their work and dealt intensively with the used cleaning equipment. After every KKL concert, a fifteen people strong cleaning team from Vebego arrives at 6 AM on the following morning and cleans each and every corner of the place, concert hall, foyer, toilets and the numerous rooms. They do not use buckets and brooms, however, but various ultra-modern cleaning machines, which Mäder, Vetter, Matthes and Allamand studied intensively, examining exactly the different sounds they could generate, as Urban Mäder reports. They even went to the KKL at 6 o’clock in the morning to watch the Vebego team at work. Their research and work eventually gave birth to a composition for a group of amateurs who responded to a call from LFF to become the actual A Clean End performers.
The team behind A Clean End
A Clean End is an initiative by Lucerne composer and improvisation teacher Urban Mäder; violist, composer and performer Nora Vetter; artist and scenographer Pia Matthes, who has a strong bond with sound art and Urban Mäder’s long-time collaborator Peter Allamand. Each of the four artists brought in a different perspective, says Nora Vetter in conversation. Urban Mäder has his very own language and a huge experience in this field, Pia Matthes has a good feeling for dramaturgy and, as a trained product designer, an eye for visuals, Peter Allamand knows very well how things work and takes great pleasure in trying things out and fiddling around. For example, he brought a leaf blower to a meeting of the four so that they could try out directly in the café where they met how such things sounds and works. As for herself, Nora Vetter explains that, in addition to the focus on the sound and compositional aspects which she shares with Urban Mäder, the political dimension in this work has been of great importance. Thus, she says, it was important for the actual cleaning staff to appear. As a result, fourteen of the fifteen employed cleaners were actually featured and while the musicians on stage come from all over the world and are rightly celebrated for their performances, the cleaning staff, who are often migrants, usually remain hidden. Furthermore, the cliché is attached to this occupation that the cleaners unfortunately have no other choice. “But,” says Nora Vetter, “at the end of the day, both making music and cleaning are work tasks and both are equally necessary for a festival like the LFF to happen.”
Nora Vetter: ‘Dream Paralysis’, latenz ensemble, Zürich 2021.
To be taken seriously
To be taken seriously are perhaps the keywords that can be used to summarise the various concerns behind the collective intervention A Clean End. Both the people who do the important but invisible work of cleaning and tidying up, as well as the sonic, even musical potential of the cleaning equipment are to be taken seriously.
The initiative’s aim is not to put on a funny show, but to take the sonic possibilities of the cleaning activity and the cleaning equipment seriously, says Urban Mäder. Their intervention is based on a clear musical idea, which is comparable to classical compositions. “When you compose for the orchestra, over time you get to know the woodwinds, the brass, the percussion instruments and so on. Now we know about all the cleaning machines and how they sound.” And above all – the audience finally sees the people who make sure that the KKL presents itself clean, tidy and in impeccable at every concert and can thank these mostly invisible people with the applause they deserve.
Trailer of the intervention “A clean End” from Urban Mäder, Nora Vetter, Peter Allamand and Pia Matthes. Lucerne Festival Forward, November 20 2022, KKL Luzern.
The Lucerne Festival Forward took place from November 18 to 20 in Lucerne.
The collective intervention was premiered at the final concert on the 20th of November in the concert hall of the KKL.
Beside Urban Mäder and Nora Vetter, Pia Matthes and Peter Allamand are part of the team behind A Clean End.
There is something tidy and neat about the way vacuum-cleaning robots prance across the floor. Always on the lookout for unswept corners, they circle around, turn, jerk back and forth, left and right, orchestrating their hunt for the last speck of dust with an unrelenting hum. Last summer, Janiv Oron packed small speakers onto two of these modern household helpers. In the Istanbul art gallery Öktem Aykut, they scrubbed their way between the visitors on the parquet floor and played a mobile soundtrack, consisting of fragments of Janiv Oron’s compositions and their own constant whirring, to Renée Levi’s paintings on the walls.
It’s almost like Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Rotortisch and its rotating loudspeaker had discovered mobility after 60 years. Or else the party trucks, as we know them from Zurich’s Street Parade, had lost their way. Janiv Oron would probably be happy with either interpretation. The Basel musician and sound artist not only moves his sound sources, but also himself between different musical points, stirring up the dust of habits in the process. As part of the DJ duo Goldfinger Brothers, he has been playing at parties for over two decades. During his music and media art studies at the Bern University, he was introduced to sound art and contemporary composition. Since then, Oron has been expanding his sound language and rethinking the tools he grew up with in club culture on his new paths, working with record players and vinyl records as instruments for both composition and live performance. He also uses loudspeaker systems to sonically react to spaces and to create new sound spaces within them, guesting in galleries, but has also collaborating with contemporary music ensembles and dance companies in recent years.
In May 2022, Janiv Oron released his first solo album „Easel“ on the Zurich based label Light From Other Days. Oron recorded the pieces with Buchla’s analogue “Easel” synthesizer.
The motif of rotation is conspicuous to the eyes and ears in many of Janiv Oron’s works: “The mix, infinite loops, revolutions of the mind, speed, phase shift, general forms of repetition or spatiotemporal displacement,” is how he describes his fascination with everything spinning in music. “These are swirls of sound in time and space. They create a dynamic or kinetic fullness.” Rotating loudspeakers, performing vacuum robots and spinning turntables circle through Janiv Oron’s art, which, for all its compositional abstraction, is strongly informed by the body in space and bodily perceptions: “Sound moves onto the skin and the skin starts to hear for you.” Janiv Oron knows from the club scene how it feels to be tickled in the diaphragm by subcutaneous bass frequencies.
Janiv Oron at Nachtstrom 94 (Gare du Nord, Basel)
For his concert with Basel Sinfonietta in June 2022, to close their anniversary season “40+1”, he brought a sound system – built by a friend – to the Pfaffenholz sports centre hall. The two high loudspeaker towers were necessary to record the “soundclash” with the 80 musicians strong orchestra. At the same time, it provided an adequate sound for a large sports hall. In this concert, the Sinfonietta played Flowing down too slow by Fausto Romitelli and Christophe Bertrand’s Mana. Janiv Oron sampled 64 small excerpts from these two compositions, some of them only a few seconds short, and ran them through various computer algorithms. The source material was thus stretched, distorted and taken out of its original context. “In sampling, I isolate scraps of a story and insert them into a new narrative,” he explains. In a next step, composer Oliver Waespi orchestrated 21 selected remix fragments by Janiv Oron, again for the Basel Sinfonietta. Oron finally played live on the turntables with the orchestra. The records, connected to a software, served as a control unit for the individual orchestra samples.
The title of this re-composition is Datendieb (Data Thief): “In my music I very often work with already existing material. In sampling, one becomes a time traveler. You steal in the past, edit in the moment and think the material forward into the future.”
Death Can Dance
Similarly oscillating between times is the loop – the germ cell of electronic dance music (often) pressed onto records, to which Janiv Oron continues to feel connected. Over the years, he developed a fascination for what is usually referred to as drone in electronic music. Oron breathes life into his drones with analogue or digital electronic instruments and plays them in several collaborations i.e. with Christoph Dangel (cello), Stefan Preyer (double bass), Thomas Giger (light art) and the Basel Chamber Orchestra – with whom he has already realised several cross-genre projects, such as the three parts of “Don Bosco’s Garden”.
„Don Boscos Garden 1“ – with Janiv Oron, Christoph Dangel, Stefan Preyer & Thomas Giger
In the latter, realised at the end of October 2022, Oron mixed the instrumentalists of the chamber orchestra playing sporadically in the Don Bosco building into a remix of Mahler’s 4th Symphony.
„Don Boscos Garden 2″ – with Kammerorchester Basel, Giulia Semenzato & Anne-May Krüger
Another collaboration is scheduled for November 2022, in which Janiv Oron and organist Filip Hrubý will compose music somewhere between ambient, organ sounds and electronics for the Basel dance company MIR. Both organs of the Predigerkirche in Basel will be used for the work entitled Now here – no where, a Totentanz for the 21st century, approaching the abstract phenomenon of death and one’s own mortality. To this end, eight amateur dancers from Basel were included in the development process as “experts of everyday life”; and one of them will dance live on stage. Even if Janiv Oron is still keeping a low profile with regard to musical details, one can assume that no definitive song of death will be played here. Because: Everything turns and comes back in a different shape.
Now here – no where. Ein Totentanz für das 21. Jahrhundert
9.-20.11., Predigerkirche Basel
When she is not on the road presenting her music, which is played by the most important contemporary ensembles and large symphony orchestras, Lisa Streich lives with her family on the Swedish island of Gotland. She uses the most modern compositional techniques to create a universal musical language that speaks directly to the audience and captures today’s zeitgeist without being ingratiating. Annelis Berger tries to find out how she manages in a conversation.
Contrasts, over and over again: sharp whip beats penetrate the ear, and in the gaps – these horrible gaps between the beats – hover strangely enraptured pianissimo chords, where one does not know whether the ear is deceiving itself or the orchestra musicians are softly singing along. One sits there amazed and immersed in a surprising musical language that somehow “makes sense”, although complex and multi-layered. Segel is the title of Lisa Streich’s piece, which premiered at the Lucerne Festival in 2018.
It is my first contact with the Swedish composer’s music. Later, I realised that this musical language is typical of Lisa Streich’s works: they surprise, and at the same time speak directly to the listener. One does not feel excluded, not even at first hearing. There is no hermetic superstructure that one first has to figure out to find access to the music, despite the fact that each of the pieces is the result of very elaborate intellectual, artistic and technical work.
In Segel from 2017, Lisa Streich used a “spectral tonality” for the first time.
Lisa Streich was born in Sweden in 1985, she trained as organist and later studied composition in Berlin, Stockholm, Salzburg, Paris and Cologne. She avoids the spotlight, the stage is not her thing. But in the gallery, alone at the organ, this “breathing creature that doesn’t belong to you and that smells different in every church”, that’s where she feels comfortable. The same goes for composing at home on the island of Gotland, which lies on the Baltic Sea between the Baltic States and Sweden and where, close to the sea and in the midst of a picturesque landscape, she alternately occupies herself with family fife and composition. This also includes tinkering, handicrafts, building devices. At some point, Lisa Streich started to incorporate electronics into her music, small machines that she builds in an old shed next to her house: She soldered, built, assembled and then, for example, in the piece Pietà for motorised cello and ensemble, created an almost mechanical sound that is so exciting precisely because it becomes universal through mechanical anonymity.
Pietà ends quietly. All of Lisa Streich’s pieces, without exception, end in piano. During the interview, she tells me that, until now, she has forbidden herself to allow loud endings; a fortissimo finale feels like plagiarism to her, like a worn out, cheap effect. Such statements are typical of the Swedish composer, who speaks perfect German. She has a high, almost moral claim to be honest with her music. That is why a statement by the Greek composer Georges Aperghis, according to which an artist must be a good liar, still concerns her today. Somehow, she can see what he means and it makes sense, but it doesn’t work for her, she says.
No, that doesn’t work for Lisa. Her music is instead distinguished by a playful spirituality, one not achieved through artifice, but through authenticity, honesty, not a moralistic sourness, but a sensual truthfulness. How she achieves this remains a secret, but, she says, she perhaps captures a certain feeling of the times with her music, which corresponds to today’s audience. Naturally, one does not have control over this. But sometimes something creeps into a work that hits the core of our time.
So what are the most important compositional elements that make Lisa Streich’s music so authentic, exciting and “current”?
Spectral tonality and electronic sounds
There is, for example, the so-called spectral tonality, which Lisa Streich used for the first time in the above-mentioned work “Segel”. To create such floating chords, she looks for recordings of amateur choirs, which by their very nature are not perfect. She takes chords from these intonationally not quite clean recordings and makes a spectral analysis of them. She then works with this spectrogram in order to create a microtonal or “spectral tonality”. Lisa Streich says that she loves tonal music, but that through frequent playing and listening she gradually felt nothing more about it. On the other hand, when she listens to amateur choirs that don’t have a completely clean intonation, she experiences tonality in a new way. In other words, when familiar chords are a little off, you can experience major and minor anew.
Another compositional mean in Lisa Streich’s music is electronic sounds, which she creates by attaching small devices to the instrument. This creates a very unique, soulful, mechanical atmosphere – often in contrast with sharp ensemble sounds that collide with these mechanical “Olimpia worlds” (E.T.A. Hoffmann).
Echoes of Roman polychoralism
There is also an affinity with the human voice and choral traditions that runs through Lisa Streich’s oeuvre. For example, in the wonderful work Stabat for 32 voices and four choirs, written in Rome during Streich’s stay at Villa Massimo. It is one of her longest pieces and inspired by Roman polychoral music, which, unlike the Venetian, is hardly cultivated any more, as it is very expensive to perform this 400-year-old, multi-choral music. In those days, boys sang on the balconies and even in the dome of St. Peter’s, connected to the conductor only by hatches. In the church of S. Giovanni in Laterano, for example, where the choral work was first performed, there are twelve balconies. This many-choir system was originally used to create a kind of unplugged Dolby Surround sound system, which fascinated Lisa Streich and she tried to bring this sound into the 21st century in a four-choir work. The resulting piece is a kind of meditation for choir, suggesting a vast landscape, or a timeless and spaceless level into which one can fall without landing softly nor hard. One simply IS.
32 voices distributed over four choirs can be heard in Stabat by Lisa Streich from 2017. Here she translates the 400-year-old Roman polychoral into the 21st century.
Lisa Streich answers the question about religious content of such works, which already refer to an ecclesiastical tradition from their title, hesitantly. Yes, religion used to play an important role in her life. Less so today, but it is still important. However, it is less linked to a specific religion. “I am sure that there is a world that is invisible, but stronger and bigger than our visible one. Music, too, allows us to experience or feel things that are perhaps not of this world at all.”
In fact, Streich’s music offers the possibility of spiritual openings, if one allows oneself to be drawn into it. Perhaps this is precisely what appeals in the composer’s work, not the programme, but an underlying current that one consciously or unconsciously perceives.
On Saturday, October 8, at 7:3pm, the Collegium Novum Zurich will premiere her piece OFELIA at Zurich Tonhalle.
broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, 12.10.22, 20h / 15.10.22, 21h: Im Innern der Orgel: Lisa Streich, composer and organist, author Annelis Berger
The “International Society for New Music” was founded 100 years ago, with the aim of creating network- as well as showcase-opportunities for contemporary music from all around the world. Its Swiss section, SGNM, was launched in Winterthur the same year. It organised six of the annual “World Music days” in 2004 and contemporary music even travelled through Switzerland by train.
A portrait by Thomas Meyer.
31 years ago, in the church of Boswil, the ‘ensemble für neue musik zürich’ played an exciting programme, including works by Japanese composer Noriko Hisada and Australian composer Liza Lim. The two were not yet thirty years old and unknown in this country at the time – but they were not to remain so for long, as the ensemble was enthusiastic and gave them both several commissions over the decades. CDs were made and a long friendship developed. That concert is a beautiful example to me of what could happen at the so-called “World Music Days”.
Voodoo Child by Liza Lim (1990) – ensemble für neue musik zürich directed by Jürg Henneberger / Soprano: Sylvia Nopper, Kunsthaus Zürich 1997, © SRG/SSR
The festival took place in Zurich in 1991, gathering musicians from all over the world and on one afternoon the guests were taken to the idyllic Freiamt. These “World Music Days” thus fulfilled precisely the purpose of bringing new music from all countries together across oceans and continents, as stated by the festival’s organisers: the “International Society for Contemporary Music IGNM” or ISCM. The input came from the composers Rudolf Réti and Egon Wellesz. On 11 August 1922, an illustrious crowd met at the Café Bazar in Salzburg. Names like Béla Bartók, Paul Hindemith, Arthur Honegger, Zoltán Kodály, Darius Milhaud and Anton Webern were among those present; others had excused themselves.
The time were highly interesting, immediately after the world war had destroyed all order and nothing could be taken for granted any more. New music found itself in a changed culture. Exhausted by the war, but also by the violent scandals of 1913, it began to withdraw and organise itself. Schönberg and his circle in Vienna during the years 1918-21 with their “Verein für musikalische Privataufführungen”. Edgard Varèse founded the “International Composers’ Guild” in New York in 1921 with the aim of performing modern music. In the same year, the «Kammermusikaufführungen zur Förderung zeitgenössischer Tonkunst» were held for the first time in Donaueschingen. The name is significant, contemporary music had to do something and reform itself.
Richard Strauss was involved as president in IGNM’s founding, but soon handed the office over to English musicologist Edward Dent. Although the first impulse came from the Austrians, the British soon took over both leadership and administration. National sections came into being. As early as October, Werner Reinhart, a patron of the arts from Winterthur, Switzerland, came forward and announced a Swiss section. He had money and an interest in contemporary music, so the section took up residence at Rychenberg. In 1926, the World Music Days were held for the first time in Zurich, where, for example, Webern’s Five Orchestral Pieces op. 10 were premiered, followed by Geneva in 1929. The IGNM ship set sail and crossed the continents for its festivals.
World music festivals stand for communication and exchange between countries
The World Music Festivals are the heart of the organization, trying to do something in order to unite nations – even if only by approaches. “No music festival, no arts community would be able to prevent catastrophes like the one that broke out in 1914,” wrote Austrian music historian Paul Stefan after the Geneva festival. “But every bond has been tightened since then, and quite unlike in the past, the artists of today have become companions.” Admittedly, this degenerated into conflict again a few years later, when in 1934, on the initiative of Richard Strauss, a counter-organisation, the Nazi-affiliated “Permanent Council for the International Cooperation of Composers”, was set up to undermine the influence of the IGNM. In 1939, for example, Czechoslovak musicians were forbidden to travel to the World Music Festival in Warsaw.
All member countries propose compositions for the World Music Festivals, which are then evaluated by a jury on site and supplemented with programme ideas from local organisers. Fifty-fifty should be the ratio between the two parts. The programme is colourful and usually has no common denominator. But taking a look at the list of works, one can find many masterpieces. For example, Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron was premiered in Zurich in 1957. Some things might get lost or forgotten, but long and lasting connections are made, which is IGNM’s essence: communication and exchange between countries.
Gemini, Konzert für zwei Violinen und Orchester by Helena Winkelman, Premiere with Sinfonieorchester Basel and Ivor Bolton, violins: Patricia Kopatchinskaja / Helena Winkelman: the first woman to represent Switzerland at the World Music Days in Ljubljana in 2015, where her piece Bandes dessinées was premiered.
In 1970, the World Music Days took place in Basel, in 1991 in Zurich, and in 2004 the IGNM delegation travelled by train throughout Switzerland. This unusual idea under the title Trans-it was developed by a team around composer Mathias Steinauer, a completely new kind of impulse.
Steinschlag (1999) by Mathias Steinauer «World Music days» 2004 at Infocentro NEAT.
Those were the highlights, but in general the Swiss section, SGNM, is rather quiet and anchored in the local scene. The national society currently consists of eight regional groups. Several festivals and ensembles are also affiliated members, all organising concert series and often bringing unknown music to this country.
The national section has become significantly more active again in recent years however. Singer, performer and composer Javier Hagen has set some accents since taking over presidency in 2014.
First of all, this concerns historical examination, as some things had been handed down incorrectly and had to be corrected – which was especially important in view of the centenary. Valuable correspondence on the founding period was found in Winterthur. Documentation is necessary because much has been lost and difficult to find. Fortunately, former SGNM president, Zurich critic and organist Fritz Muggler, has a rich archive.
66 IGNM sections from 44 countries
The world music festivals are also documented. Not only the past, but also the present comes alive. Even if you were to travel to the festivals every year and listen to around 120 works each time, that would still make it impossible to get an overview of what is happening in all 66 sections from 44 countries. That is why the SGNM regularly presents music from all over the world in its “Collaborative Series” online.
For the jubilee, the Swiss organised a choral competition in four categories together with the Basques, Latvians and Estonians – a sign that SGNM wants to open up to other circles. 108 compositions from 78 countries arrived, with Luc Goedert from Luxembourg and Cyrill Schürch from Switzerland winning the first prize aequo.
Cyrill Schürch, Nihil est toto – Metamorphosen for choir a capella, premiere with the Zürcher Sing-Akademie and Florian Helgath, Zurich 2018, inhouse-production SRG/SSR.
There has also been an opening inside the head association, ISCM. At Javier Hagen’s suggestion, the number of official ISCM languages – so far German, English and French – has been expanded to include Arabic, Chinese, Russian and Spanish. The world is opening up – and music with it. A sign of this is that next year the IGNM will meet for the first time in South Africa, in Johannesburg/Soweto.
Read more about the association’s first six decades, in the exhaustive volume IGNM – The International Society for New Music by Swiss musicologist Anton Haefeli.
The SGNM homepage features many tracks as well as visuals documents.
Geneva’s AMR association (AMR stands for “Association pour l’encouragement de la Musique improvise”) is the oldest Swiss institution for improvised music. Since it’s foundation in 1973, it has been committed not only to improvised concerts but also to offer rehearsal opportunities and lessons in improvised music. Its almost 50-year commitment is now being recognised with the Special Music Prize 2022.
Especially in niche genres like improvised music, most of the work is done on a voluntary basis. Fees for the musicians are low, the work behind the scenes is based on goodwill and the money for the organisers is generally scarce. The pandemic, during which no concerts could be held for months and general uncertainty reigned for even longer, exacerbated this deplorable situation. Not so in Geneva – where AMR managed to paid both the musicians who were booked but couldn’t perform as well as the technicians and staff who were unable to work. This is not only extremely honourable, but also quite unusual. “We had the money and we had booked them, furthermore the musicians were worse off than the organisers,” explains Brooks Giger, secretary of the AMR programme committee and double bass player.
John Menoud: Which way does the blood red river flow? Nouvel Ensemble Contemporain and the trumpeter Mazen Kerbaj, 2017. John Menoud is member of the AMR programme committee.
Milestone of Geneva’s cultural landscape
The AMR exists since 1973, almost fifty years. In the 1970s, the free jazz scene in Europe was buzzing. Peter Brötzmann, Alexander von Schlippenbach, Peter Kowald & Co. in Germany, Irène Schweizer and Pierre Favre in Switzerland. John Stevens and his “Spontaneous Music Ensemble” or the improvisation ensemble AMM in the UK, not to mention the USA with Charles Mingus, Alice and John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Sam Rivers, etc. The time was right for a few musicians in Geneva, who go together and devoted themselves to this musical genre.
This is how the AMR idea came about. When the association was founded in 1973, its members already knew that they wanted more than just a stage and organising concerts. “There was this great desire of the founding members to have something where they could gather, work together and create. Where they can listen to this music in concert and share it in the classroom.” – says Brooks Giger. From the beginning, AMR included also a music school as well as rehearsal rooms. The City of Geneva was receptive to this concept and soon financial support was allocated. “We were also very, very lucky that we received support from the city in the 70s and to this day,” Brooks Giger says regarding Geneva and its special situation.
In 1981, the AMR was able to rent a building on Rue des Alpes, the “Sud des Alpes”, which is still the association’s centre and headquarter. Until 2006, the “Sud des Alpes” was gradually renovated and today, it houses not only the AMR offices, but also 13 rehearsal rooms (including two large ones for ensembles) and two concert halls, one in the basement for 50 people and one on the ground floor for 120 people. In the meantime, AMR has become an integral part of the city’s cultural landscape. Brooks Giger describes it this way: “If someone in town asks where to listen to some jazz – AMR. If someone is looking for musicians for a gig – AMR.” In the meantime, they have become an institution for jazz and improvised music in Geneva, which means they still get money from the city – “on croise les doigts” (fingers crossed), says Brooks Giger.
Concert programme between local scene and international stars
The City of Geneva’s financial support is tied to the condition that at least 60 per cent of the performing musicians must be from the region. The programming of the 250 to 300 annual concerts and the two festivals is therefore always balanced between local artists, national stars and international guests. The workshops held at the AMR also show what they have learned in regular concerts. So it may well be that in the same week one can enjoy the New York star saxophonist Chris Potter with his quartet, a South African-Swiss combo, a local jazz band and the AMR’s funk workshop. Fair play reigns not only through the concert programme, as the AMR staff is composed of musicians and thanks to the part-time employment at AMR, they are assured a regular income. Performing musicians who live in Switzerland can also be employed by the AMR, which ensures certain employment and welfare benefits. The ticket prices are moderate, so that everyone can afford the AMR concerts and since a few years ago, a group of members promotes gender-balanced concert programmes.
The group Noe Tavelli & The Argonauts from Geneva at the AMR Jazz Festival 2022
A Geneva gem for improvised music
In 2022, AMR is on solid fondations: it has a location with the necessary premises for lessons, concerts and rehearsals, financial support seems to be secured for the longer term, it has survived the pandemic and is again presenting a colourful, interesting concert programme. But above all, the AMR has a lively and committed music scene behind it and its commitment to improvised music has now been recognised by the Federal Office of Culture with the Special Music Prize 2022: “The association is a place of culture, equality, debate and growth,” writes the FOC on the reasons that led to the award.
Brooks Giger, however, doesn’t see growth as a top priority. “We already do a lot with concerts, festivals, workshops and the rehearsal rooms. There is no need to do more. What we have is already a gem, a diamond. We just have to keep polishing it and taking care of it.”
Next year, AMR will turn 50. There will of course be some special events, such as a photo exhibition at Bains de Pâquis and a publication with photos and essays. Furthermore, a documentary about the AMR is currently in the making and last but not least, there will of course be plenty of good, improvised music from Geneva, Switzerland and from all over the world at “Sud des Alpes”.
Martin Lorenz started out as drummer and percussionist but his curiosity led him first to experiment with LPs and eventually with synthesizers, turning more and more to composion.
With the synthesiser trio Lange/Berweck/Lorenz, he will be playing the KONTAKTE Festival in Berlin as well as the Kunstraum Walcheturm in Zurich in September.
Tall and slender, Martin Lorenz looks as if he always needs to bend down a little. When describing his search for special sounds, how the sound of gravel on a driveway or the one of an elevator door closing can be produced with synthesizers, his face lightens up.
Such enthusiasm for sound research is also necessary when working as drummer or percussionist in contemporary music.
Searching for the right sound material
Often percussionists don’t only play the usual percussion instruments, but need to find the necessary objects for the right sound – stones, pieces of wood, cups, etc. – a particular piece of music needs. They thereby take on a great deal of responsibility for how a piece sounds in the end, because composers do not always specify what they have in mind or what pitch a certain drum or even a stone should actually have.
The constant search for new sounds also led Martin Lorenz to explore the possibilities of LPs. During his own turntable performances, he cuts into the records with a knife, so that very specific rhythms and loops emerge when playing it back.
Cuts into vinyl
What is recorded on the cut record is of course decisive for how the loops sound in the end, so it was obvious for Lorenz to have records with his own sounds – and as a consequence he got involved with synthesizers and also founded his own label DUMPF Edition in Zurich, releases his own as well as other people’s experimental music. Actually, he still prefers LPs, but as a small label, relying on vinyl only hasn’t really been much fun lately, says Lorenz.
“There waiting times are too long and there are often delivery problems again, it’s not reliable and finally releasing a record can take ages.”
Lorenz doesn’t dwell on problems for long, however and rather looks for ways to dissolve frustrations and make them fruitful – which can be seen in his path towards composing. Time and again, he felt a certain disappointment when the ensemble in which he was employed as a percussionist commissioned works from composers and the results they presented did not meet his expectations.
“At some point I said to myself, if I have such precise ideas about a piece, maybe I should just write them and compose my own pieces.”
Feedback and spatial sound
A series of works by Martin Lorenz for instruments and live electronics called “Oscillations”, focusses on the feedback arising when instruments are recorded live in space and played back, resulting in complex structures of sound layering.
In 2021, the piece Swift Oscillations was written for the newly founded Eastern Swiss ensemble Orbiter, with Martin Lorenz himself on vibraphone.
Swift Oscillations by Martin Lorenz – 2021, performed by Ensemble Orbiter at Kultbau St. Gallen.
In addition to his work as percussionist and composer, Martin Lorenz has become increasingly involved in electronic sound production, live electronics and analogue as well as digital synthesizers. With his 2014 “Reviving Parmegiani” project, he finally entered the complex world of historical performance practice of electronic musical works together with pianists Sebastian Berweck and Colette Broeckaert. Performing electronic music again at a later date with other performers is often not that easy as sometimes the synthesizers used are no longer manufactured, there are no updates available, or the computer programme that was used doesn’t run on new devices.
Historical Performance Practice: Stries by Bernard Parmegiani
As the performers are often unaware of the problems that might arise in the future, they make no or inadequate records of what sounds they have set and what synthesizers or electronic effects they have used. In “Reviving Parmegiani” the 1980 piece Stries by French composer Bernard Parmegiani (1927-2013) was to be made playable again. Parmegiani had written the piece for the Paris synthesiser trio TM+ and the notations of the piece as well as a recording that could serve as reference were of reasonable quality. Nevertheless, the three performers had to embark on a detailed search to find out how the respective sounds had been produced and how they could be reproduced again at present times.
“In some places we still haven’t found what and how TM+ did exactly,” says Martin Lorenz. “Sometimes it’s just some badly wired spot of an analogue effect or synthesiser – that will remain a mystery forever.”
The lengthy and at the same time highly fascinating work on Stries became the starting point for the synthesiser trio Lange/Berweck/Lorenz, with whom Martin Lorenz still plays regularly. The three musicians Silke Lange, Sebastian Berweck and Martin Lorenz regularly commission compositions from contemporary composers in order to expand the repertoire for the unusual combination of three synthesizers.
It is important to them to work with the composers in the long term. “A first joint work like this is often more of a ”getting to know each other” process,” says Martin Lorenz. “Only when meeting again things like what can be expected of us, what we are good at, and what we might be challenged with become plain to see.”
Another thing that is plain to see, is that challenges are something that Martin Lorenz is always on the lookout for.
“Bernard Parmegiani: Stries. Broeckaert/ Berweck/Lorenz”, ModeRecords, 2021
Thomas Adès, one of the most successful and played composers of our time, is “composer in residence” at the Lucerne Festival this summer 2022. In many ways, the 51-year-old Adès is a perfect fit for this year’s motto “Diversity”.
It is not a very common thing these days to see a busy and internationally active composer also appear regularly as a conductor and instrumentalist. British composer Thomas Adès, however, appears in the music world in many different ways: in addition to his creative work, he gives concerts as a pianist, chamber musician and song accompanist, records works and conducts his own works as well as the classical-romantic repertoire.
In his professional life, most of his time is spent composing, “because no one but myself can compose my pieces,” says Thomas Adès laconically in his deep bass voice.
During Lucerne Festival too, he’ll appear in all three roles, plus as conducting teacher. Playing, conducting and composing are obviously very compatible for him: “Playing the piano always goes along with it, so to speak, because I compose on the piano. But during one activity I can also well recover from the other. In contrast to the creative process, playing, for example, is a more muscular process, the fingers have to stay fit and you have to train them like a racehorse,” says Adès, showing his impressive paws.
Time for imagination and dreams at the piano
When he has time for himself, not practising or composing, he likes to take any scores from his shelf and play whatever he feels like. “It stimulates the imagination and dreaming. I love playing other people’s music, feeling its shape and form in time.” Very often it is Schumann and also Beethoven’s scores “usually don’t make it back to the shelf”. But Adès also likes to play other great composers such as Chopin, Haydn, Mozart or Couperin again and again.
He explicitly refers to François Couperin in three of his works, Sonata da Caccia (1993) for horn, baroque oboe and harpsichord, Les baricades mistérieuses (1994) for chamber ensemble and Three Studies from Couperin (2006) for chamber orchestra.
Thomas Adès, Three studies for Couperin for chamber orchestra, Tonhalle-Orchester, conductor Alan Gilbert, 2006, inhouse-production SRG/SSR
Thomas Adès generally likes to draw inspiration from already existing music. Like many contemporary composers, he draws on various styles and periods and is not an avant-gardist in the sense that his cause is to radically break with all tradition. Igor Stravinsky, for example, was and is in some respects a “guiding star” for Adès, a kind of mentor and “father figure”.
Varied, brilliant music
Thomas Adès achieved an international breakthrough in his early 20s. Compositions such as Still Sorrowing (1992) for prepared piano earned praise, and his stellar career was further fuelled, among other things, by winning the prestigious Grawemeyer Award for his first major orchestral work, Asyla (1997) – making him the youngest awarded composer.
Opera about an outcast
The choice of material for his first full-length stage work, the chamber opera Powder her face (1995) was daring and audacious. “I sat down with lyricist Philip Hensher and told him that I would like to write an opera about a person who is brought down by external forces. This would fit well with my musical language.” Hensher immediately suggested the scandalous divorce of Margaret Campbell, which had been widely exploited by the media. “We can’t do that,” was Adès’ first reaction, but the two quickly came up with ideas for individual scenes.
In the resulting tragicomic grotesque about the love affairs of hedonistic and fun-loving Duchess of Argyll, the composer was able to bring in his humor. But not only: “It was actually also about ourselves: two adolescent gay men in 90s London against the backdrop of the AIDS crisis. We felt that the society we were living in perceived us as scandalous, sacrilegious and even dangerous – a society that outrageously pretended it had never heard of oral sex. We wanted to put this and hypocrisy at the centre of my first opera. Because even if it’s hard to admit: I think there’s one or two of the Duchess’ characteristics in most of us.”
The result is a cheeky, swinging and extremely stage-effective chamber opera full of ravishing tango and music hall echoes, including a musically very explicit fellatio aria by the Duchess.
Thomas Adès, Powder her face, Ópera de Cámara Teatro Colón 2019
Towards the end of the piece, on the other hand, the composer found a touching tone for the Duchess, who is dying because of society’s given prudery and cruelty. Every note radiates compassion and identification with his character there.
Two more full-length operas with large casts followed this first coup: the modern Shakespearean opera The Tempest (2003) and the supernaturally creepy The Exterminating Angel (2016), inspired by Luis Buñuel’s film of the same title.
Creation as a Piano Concerto
This year’s Lucerne Festival will also feature one of Adès’ few multimedia works, a piano concerto on creation entitled In Seven Days (2008) with visuals by his then life partner, filmmaker and video artist Tal Rosner. Formally, they are variations on a chord progression that the composer already had in mind for The Tempest, but didn’t find the right place for it in the opera. One of the particularly charming moments in this concert piece is the fifth part: a tricky fugue with which Adès portrays the creation of animals and their scurrying out into the world.
Premiere of the new piece for violin and orchestra with Anne-Sophie Mutter
This year’s commission from “ Roche Commissions” is a work for soloist and orchestra, simply called “Air” and will be premiered by violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter. In contrast to Adès’ first violin concerto, which swirled up in whirling figures, the movement here seems more concentrated, almost reduced, after a first glance at the score. Mainly in quiet quarter notes, a seemingly endless song unfolds, hovering for almost 15 minutes in those ethereal the composer loves so much. “The endurance, concentration, purity and clarity of her playing inspired me to write this music” says the composer. “Musically, several lines shift against each other in a tight canon. In terms of content, it is also a contemplation on what we have experienced during this pandemic, a kind of lament. During the composition, I condensed the texture more and more, deleted a lot – as I often do – until I finally got to the essence of the music.”
Older and new chamber music
The wide-ranging spectrum of Thomas Adès’ oeuvre will be rounded off with chamber music with Quatuor Diotima performing the early string quartet Arcadiana (1996) and, together with clarinettist Mark Simpson, the clarinet quintet Alchymia, premiered last year. The title refers to the alchemists of Elizabethan London around 1600: “I think all creative artists, including myself, act alchemically, so to speak. We bring motionless material to life and magically transform it into gold, if all goes well. In Alchymia I was able to express in a very intimate way how I personally feel and think about the world.”
Thomas Adès at Lucerne Festival – concerts mentioned
20.8.22., 22h, Luzerner Saal KKL, Lucerne Festival Contamporary Orchestra, conductor Elena Schwarz, u.a. In Seven Days
27.8.22., 19:30h, Konzertsaal KKL, Anne-Sophie Mutter, a.o. Air
4.9.22., 16h, Musikhochschule Salquin Saal, chamber music Quatuor Diotima
broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur
Musik unserer Zeit, 7.9.22, author Moritz Weber
Weltklasse live aus Luzern, 27.8.22, u.a. UA “Air”, with Florian Hauser
MusikMagazin, 10.9.22 Thomas Adès: talk with Moritz Weber
SRF-online-Text: Früher gemobbt, heute berühmt: Thomas Adès steht für Vielfalt, author Moritz Weber
Liza Lim’s new piece “String Creatures”, composed for the Jack Quartet (USA), will be premiered at the Lucerne Festival on 14 August. Nature and culture in their relationship as well as the interplay of different cultures are the Australian composer’s main themes, raising awareness on ecological issues with her view of nature’s dwindling beauty. A portrait.
Transcultural ideas and collaboration, beauty of nature, perception of time, ritual and ecological connections – this is how Liza Lim describes her artistic intentions. Her homepage with personal blog features photographs of nature – always in connection with people: in the latest post, readers can see impressions of recreational areas in Berlin, framed views from a window or house facades at night in the countryside.
During one year in 2021/22, Liza Lim has been composer in residence at the Wissenschaftskolleg (WIKO) in Berlin. After two years of lack of concerts due to the pandemic, she writes euphorically about Berlin’s vibrant concert life and the numerous encounters at WIKO. Covid’s aftermath, the war in Ukraine, both the support for cultural workers who had fled, but also the emotional complexity of dealing with musicians from Ukraine and Russia in Berlin made a deep impression on her. The mood has found its way into the new pieces she composed in the city.
The view from her Berlin window has an inner connection with her artistic work, as Lim lives closely related to nature and always sees it in connection with people. Her music addresses ecology, climate protection and the environmental changes due to people in the Anthropocene, the age of the planet determined by the acts of mankind.
Born in the city of Perth, Australia, on the Indian Ocean in 1966, Lim grew up in Brunei on the island of Borneo before returning to Australia for her education. Her early childhood in a tropical paradise and the relationship between western and indigenous cultures as well as Australia’s nature shaped her sensibility for nature and culture, but also for the interplay between different cultures. Lim is professor at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music since 2017 and she has composed solo, chamber and ensemble works as well as four operas, including Tree of Codes (2016), a music theatre piece about origins, memory and time. In addition, she repeatedly works across genres and installations, such as Escalier du chant (2011), an architectural intervention with performance, premiered by the Neue Vokalsolisten Stuttgart at the Pinakothek in Munich, together with light artist Carsten Nicolai.
In Berlin, she composed several works in which she processed her turbulent impressions. For example, the piano-orchestral work World as Lover, world as self, premiered at the Donaueschinger Musiktage 2021.
Liza Lim, World as lover world as self for piano and orchestra, worldd creation Donaueschingen 15.10. 2021, Orchestre philharmonique de Luxembourg, conductor Ilan Volkov, Tamara Stefanovich, piano.
World as lover, world as self is defined by the concept of mourning. The title refers to a publication by environmental activist, ecologist and buddhist Joanna Macy, whose ideas have accompanied Lim for a long time. According to Macy, a new relationship to life and a greater intimate joy could arise from grief as well as deep empathy.
Magic rope tricks
During her year in Berlin, Lim also created her new 30-minute string quartet String Creatures for the Jack Quartet, which also focusses on the duality of grief and joy.
The composer sees the piece as a living whole, as a hybrid multi-headed organism. For Lim, the intrument’s strings have something magical about them, being a living and animated material. The opening sequence entitled “Cats Craddle: 3 diagrams of griev”, questions the strings as a natural material that could serve as the origin of tissue by means of knotting, braiding or weaving. At a workshop with the quartet in January, she experimented with magic rope tricks and also mentions finger-thread games as played by children as an inspiration. Both metaphorically found their way into the piece as a constantly interweaving web of sound.
String Creatures ends with the metaphor of building a nest, the embodiment of security. A nest is woven from the inside out with the bird building it around its own body.
String instruments always played a central role in Lim’s body of work. The string sound stands for subtle non-verbal communication. In her large ensemble work Extinction Events and Dawn Chorus (2018), a crucial scene features a violinist attempting to teach a percussionist how to play the violin on his tambourine. The resulting sounds have a beauty of their own, full of scratchy harmonies and the communication happens on a different level than the music-linguistic one.
Liza Lim: Extinction, Events and Dawn Chorus, Lucerne Festival Contemporary Orchestra (LFCO), Lucerne Festival Forward 2021, Dir. Mariano Chaicchiarini, Luzern 2021, in house-production SRG/SSR
Liza Lim knows how to weave opposites into beauty while at the same time asserting her concerns. We humans are responsible for nature, for our coexistence and the fate of the planet is in our hands. This makes her a groundbreaking example for a younger generation of composers who are concerned regarding our actions’ consequences as well as the future of our world beyond music.
Lucerne Festival, Konzert Sonntag, 14.8., 14:30h: String creatures, world creation Liza Lim &Jack Quartett,
Liza Lim, Joanna Macy, Carsten Nicolai, Neue Vocalsolisten Stuttgart, Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin
Lucerne Festival, 8.8.-11.9.2022: Under the motto Diversity, the festival dedicates this edition in particular to the musical work of people of color, which is still neglected in the classical music business.
After Lucerne, String Creatures will go on tour to New York, Berlin, Schwaz and Melbourne.
radio features SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, 14.9.2022: Liza Lim – Verwebung von Natur und Kultur (Interweaving nature and culture), Redaktion Gabrielle Weber
Musik unserer Zeit, 1.12.2021: Lucerne Festival Forward – new listening situations for new music, Redaktion Gabrielle Weber
Fritz Hauser, percussionist and composer, received one of the Swiss Music Prizes 2022.
Fritz Hauser, you have been shaping the Swiss musical landscape for quite some time. Have there been moments when you wanted to give it all up?
Yes, sure, such moments happen again and again. It has much more to do with the circumstances than with the music though. It’s a rocky road when you’re a self-employed, freelance artist. Sometimes you long for a nicely regulated 5-day week and paid holidays. But it’s a fantastic job and I love what I do.
What is that that keeps you hooked to the music during those moments?
I am a disguised “synaesthete” and very much interested in other forms of expression, be it painting, dance, film, photography or literature. I like to think a bit like the British director Stanley Kubrick: nothing is more inspiring than inspiration. When I’m really stuck, I go to the movies or visit a museum, read a book and I eventually always come up with something.
Percussion is freedom
You’ve always been looking for exchange in your music. In “Chortrommel”, for example, two choirs sing together with percussion. Why did you choose choirs?
The drums are a very abstract kind of instrument, like an open field where one can work with noises and sounds and overtones, because drums and cymbals not tied to melody nor harmony. The voice can adapt well and immerse itself in this field – creating some exciting sound combinations.
Percussion is therefore freedom?
Absolutely. I can play on the smallest instruments, but I can also put together a huge range of tools and instruments, move from free forms to quite classical forms of music. I can play rhythmically or tonally and make abstract sounds. In short, I can draw and create with and from anything that comes up.
The soundscapes you are talking about can become very large in some projects. In a collective performance at Lucerne’s KKL, “Schraffur”, 100 participants played the building – so to speak – with drumsticks and chopsticks. What do you like about such large formations?
I love working in larger formations because the sound becomes more and more abstract. I find three drums already interesting, but 50 of them become spectacular. On top of that, I like to collaborate with different kinds of ensembles and I feel inspired by different ages and cultures.
“For me, it’s primarily a matter of restriction.”
But you also often shift towards minimalism. Isn’t that a contradiction?
I did write some minimal pieces, but I don’t see myself as a minimalist. For me it is primarily about restriction. It’s about ‘boiling down to…’, which is rather minimal-maximal: I try to get the maximum out of small things, and thus create soundscapes that are timeless.
Fritz Hauser, Schraffur für Gong und Orchester, Basel Sinfonietta, UA Lucerne Festival 2010
Space and music as partners
You refer to your solo project “Spettro” as “A Ghost Conspiracy for Percussion.” Can you tell us more?
For some 30 years now, I have owned a house in Italy, which is called “La casa delle masche”, i.e. “The Ghost House” in the region where it’s located. Fortunately, the ghosts don’t bother me, they rather inspire me. Together with director Barbara Frey, we took the energy of the house to create some kind of percussion ritual for this project. We conspired with the spirits to figure out the kind of music the spirits are likely to play in my absence.
You later recorded “Spettro” at the Zaragoza concert hall – which has a special acoustic. How do you perceive the connection between music and space?
Space is the music’s partner. Many years ago, I started as a drummer in a rock band and at that time we tried to impose our sound aesthetics on the rooms and spaces we would be playing in. Then, when I started playing solo, I realised that space can’t be conquered, it actually plays along with the performers. I especially like it when the room reverberates. I have played in churches, cathedrals and even in parking garages. But even a phone booth can be interesting.
Fritz Hauser, Spettro – Solo for percussion, Fritz Hauser Schlagzeug, Regie Barbara Frey, Licht Brigitte Dubach, Ausschnitt, UA Lucerne Festival 2018
Architect Boa Baumann was with you in Zaragoza and you have been working and travelling with together for a long time – for example, on your house in Italy.
I have a long friendship with Boa Baumann and a common ground in aesthetics and various cultural issues. We have been working together for some 30 years and try to let inspiration work beyond professional competence. In other words, I get involved in his projects and he gets involved in mine. His ideas of space and time and design inspire me.
Can you give us an example?
A few years ago I was working on a solo programme in which I wanted to use plenty of cymbals. As a drummer, you usually sit down and just arrange the instruments in a circle around you. Boa didn’t like that at all. He suggested building a landscape of cymbals on an eight-metre-long table. It looked like a skyline of a big American city. I could think spatially in a completely different way and bring in the dynamics of the body movement, which ended up creating a different kind of music.
In addition to space, you also worked a lot with light. I.e. with lighting designer Brigitte Dubach on many projects. How do music and light go together?
When Brigitte complements my programmes with her lighting design, it’s like having another musician playing along. She has an incredible feeling for colours and transitions from one mood to another. That suits me very well, because I have a metamorphic way of playing the drums: something develops into something else and from and from that into something new again. Especially with improvised approaches, Brigitte naturally has to feel the music and influence it accordingly with her lights, which she does in a wonderful way.
What are you working on at the moment?
I just did a performance in which my project “Point Line Area” is further developed, I performed it last year at the Ruhrtriennale with 53 percussionists. Now it been condensed to “only” 20 percussionists but on the other hand it gained twelve female singers. Then some smaller concerts, like a duo with Johannes Fischer – a German colleague – at ‘überschlag’, an international percussion festival in Hanover at the end of the summer. We’ll get the opportunity to play in a church and also take our time to do various experiments. But I do have several bigger projects this year and I am also already planning a bit for next year. If everything works out, I’ll still be very busy – even though I officially reached an age at which the word retirement is actually mentioned quite often.
überschlag – internationales Schlagzeug Festival 17.-21.8.22, Hannover und Niedersachsen
19.8.22, 22h: Performance Anima Fritz Hauser und Johannes Fischer
20.8.22: Meisterkurs Improvisation mit Fritz Hauser
Programs on SRF 2 Kultur:
Kultur Kompakt, 20.8.18: Inszeniertes Konzert von Fritz Hauser beim Lucerne Festival, Moderation Irene Grüter
Neoprofil: Fritz Hauser
Streaming generation and experimental electronics: students of Hochschule für Musik FHNW Basel’s Electronic Studio have composed works for Radio SRF 2 Kultur, thus continuing a long-standing tradition of electronic music.
Radiophone Klangkunst (Radiophonic sound art) are experimental works that musicians develop especially for radio. Whereas radio plays are narrated in this case the pieces consist in sound alone. Such radio pieces have their specific laws, the listening situation being less focused than during a concert. You don’t know whether the audience is listening via headphones, stereo or an old kitchen radio and whether they are talking on the phone or washing dishes in between.
“That’s why the composition must not be too delicate in its details and tension is important,” says audio design student Martin Reck, who is currently completing his Master’s degree at the Electronic Studio and has been awarded the Zurich Nico Kaufmann Prize, which this year honours young musicians from the field of electroacoustic music.
Recordings on a rusty steel bridge
For his piece “Two Bridges”, which he composed for Radio SRF 2 Kultur, he spent a day on a disused railway bridge that crosses the Wiese river close to Basel. There he recorded his voice, his steps and percussions on the rusty steel.
He then edited these field recordings electronically on the computer, adding effects, filters and synthesizers. His approach is a narrative, perhaps even a therapeutic one as in his piece he processes a brutal scene from Ivo Andric’s novel “The Bridge over the Drina”, which has stuck with him to this day.
Martin Reck, Zwei Brücken, UA Basel 2022, in house-production SRG/SSR
Tribute to a nostalgic media
The composition student Isaac Blumfield has also worked with field recordings of birds, forests or water. In his piece “Worn like a map”, he condenses them into a multi-layered composition between real and abstract. The acoustic images he creates are powerful: “I had dreams in mind when composing. But not the beautiful ones, rather confusing and contradictory ones.”
Putting these images into a composition for the radio was challenging, says Blumfield: “With radio, you never know when the audience tunes in, so the piece has to work even if one has missed the first five minutes.”
Isaac Blumfield, Worn like a map, UA Basel 2022, in house-production SRG/SSR
To him, who usually streams music and tends to listen to podcasts, radio is a nostalgic media. It reminds him of his childhood in Minnesota: “I used to listen to the radio with my parents on long car rides and discovered music I would never have come across otherwise.”
Electronic sound labs on the radio
The collaboration between Electronic Studio and SRF 2 Kultur follows a long tradition. For the history of electronic music is closely linked to radio: In the 1950s, public radio stations such as RTF in Paris, WDR in Cologne or Rai in Milan founded the first electronic studios. In the post-war years, radio was the main information source and it was equipped with the latest technology, like oscillators, sequencers, synthesizers or tape machines.
“The pioneering works of electronic music were produced in these studios and found their first audience through radio,” says Svetlana Maraš, professor of Creative Music Technology and co-director of the Electronic Studio. In 1954, for example Luciano Berio and Bruno Maderna composed “Ritratto di Città”, describing a fictional day in the city of Milan using only sounds, giving birth to the radiofonic composition genre, which the Basel students are following up on today.
Electronic music’s evolution
The electronic studio of the Basel Music Academy was founded in 1975, and students could already take introductory courses in electronic music. Having access to a highly specialised studio was a great privilege at that time. Today, students create electronic music on their own laptops and come from a DIY culture with a great deal of prior knowledge.
But that doesn’t mean that digital is always better: audio design student Louis Keller is very fond of the old synthesizers and analogue devices to be found in the Electronic Studio Basel.
Louis Keller, Bradycardia, UA Basel 2022, in house-production SRG/SSR
For his performance, he recorded piano chords on tape and stretched them several metres across the room from one machine to another. “The analogue sound has a unique breadth and depth to it.” For the semester project with SRF he has now adapted his performance “Bradycardia” for radio.
In other words, each student of the Electronic Studio Basel approached the task of composing for the radio in a very different way. As if by magic, this led the podcast generation to develop a new fascination for this 100-year-old media.
broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Neue Musik im Konzert, 29.6.22: Classical and Jazz Talents – Live from SRF-Auditorium, Redaktion Annina Salis: Live concert new electronic music with Svetlana Maraš’ students – Elektronisches Studio Basel.
Electronic music is composer Svetlana Maraš’ passion. She is Professor of Creative Music Technology and Co-Director of the Electronic Studio at the FHNW in Basel since September 2021 and her composition class will be in charge of SRF 2 Kultur’s radio concert of June 29, as part of the live broadcast “Classical and Jazz Talents” focus series.
“Working at the university is of course a challenge in terms of time management, if one doesn’t want to give up the own artistic work,” says Svetlana Maraš.
But to her relief, the composer has found that the two activities don’t get in each other’s way, but rather complement one another.
„ In the creative process I always discover something new with the students – in this kind of interactions in this way of working, somehow it kind of works well together its not different it works in the counterpoint.“
The Serbian composer, born in 1985, had a rather classical musical education, with early piano lessons and music as well as composition studies. At the same time, however, there was always an interest in the possibilities of electronic sound processing, which led her to international workshops and courses and finally to a degree in sound and media art at the University of Helsinki’s Media Lab.
The piece Dirty thoughts by Svetlana Maraš was composed in 2016.
From 2016 to 2021, Svetlana Maraš was composer-in-residence and artistic director of the Electronic Studio of Radio Belgrade. One of the technical gems there is the EMS Synthi 100, an analogue synthesizer from 1971 of which only three were built. Maraš explored the possibilities of this instrument intensively and used it in several of her compositions, including her Radio Concert No. 2, which was created for the 2021 edition of the Heroines of Sound Festival in Berlin.
However, the EMS Synthi 100 is so large and heavy that it cannot be moved. The studio space, on the other hand, is so small that there is no room for a larger audience. So the live performance from the small studio space was video streamed to the festival venue.
While some parts of the piece are fixed, Maraš also creates spaces for herself within which she can improvise, taking advantage of the fact that having explored the instrument for so long, she knows it inside out. „It was not so much about what the instrument can do but what I wanted to do with it“.
Tribute to early electronic music
The historical synthesizers’ richness of sound is completed by the new possibilities offered by computer technologies, but Svetlana Maraš also used the old, analogue technique of tape loops in her radio concert – paying tribute to early electronic music, with which she always sees herself in a dialogue. Pioneers of electronic music such as Delia Derbyshire, Daphne Oram and Éliane Radigue actually come to mind and ear while seeing Svetlana Maraš turning the knobs and pushing the buttons of the EMS Synthi 100.
Before Maraš, only one woman had produced works at the Electronic Studio Belgrade: composer Lyudmila Frajt (1919-1999). As artistic director, Svetlana Maraš dedicated her own concert format to this pioneer in order to pay tribute to her predecessor as well.
Svetlana Maraš points out an important difference between then and now in the fact that analogue studio synthesizers are no longer used as workstations for pre-produced electronic music, but are mainly used live – even if this sometimes has to happen via the diversions of video concerts.
Svetlana Maraš, excerpts from Post-excavation activities, 2020
This year’s Heroines of Sound– Festival in Berlin will feature Maraš’ ‘Scherzo per oscillatori for Minimoog’ world premiere. In this case, however, the composer will not play herself, as the piece is interpreted by pianist Sebastian Berweck. This became a special challenge for the composer, as she first had to develop a special type of notation for the settings of the synthesizer.
in Berlin wird die Uraufführung von Scherzo per oscillatori für Minimoog von Svetlana Maraš zu hören sein. Hier spielt die Komponistin aber nicht selbst das Instrument, sondern das Stück wird von dem Pianisten Sebastian Berweck interpretiert. Das stellte in der Vorbereitung eine besondere Herausforderung für die Komponistin dar, musste sie doch erst eine Art der Notation für die Einstellungen des Synthesizers entwickeln.
Discovering the synthesizer’s sound simplicity
In developing the work, Svetlana Maraš was looking for a certain simplicity: starting from what the synthesiser brings and making it sound without complicating things too much. In the composer’s words: „Depending on what we regard by simple…. It can be small nuances, textures and sounds which are crackling and might sound like a mistake or one single sound which has a very interesting morphing and changes throughout time“
In electronic music, even the creation of something simple can be quite complex, as any determination of sound requires a multitude of decisions in the countless parameters that can be shaped within the instrument.
Electronic music on the radio
Dealing with the infinite possibilities that computer technology provides is also something that Svetlana Maraš teaches her students. When she talks about it, her enthusiasm is plain to see: ” It’s a quite rewarding experience. If I can help find them their voice and their way of working to create what they want, it gives you something back – it gives you a lot..”
This year in particular, the students have a very special opportunity to present their projects to the public at the end of the semester: a radio concert. SRF 2 Kultur’s focus week Classical and Jazz Talentsfrom June 26, to July 3, is dedicated to young musicians. On June 29, students from the FNHW’s Electronic Studio will present pre-produced electronic works created in collaboration with this event in Basel’s Meret Openheimhaus auditorium, live on the radio. Subsequently, the Noise Ensemble of the Electronic Studio Basel will improvise and Welcome to the Radio! a piece by Maraš’ student Dakota Wayne, consisting in a fictional talk show for which he also sampled jingles from Radio SRF 2 Kultur, will be premiered.
Dakota Wayne, Welcome to the Radio!, UA Basel 2022, produced by SRG/SSR
Svetlana Maraš sees this radio concert and performance within the framework of a certain tradition: “It helps the students to understand the importance of radio for electronic music. Even if radio as a medium has somewhat receded into the background lately: when one composes for the radio, it adds something to the music, changing the form, the dramaturgy, the choice of material… I’m glad we can have this experience this year and work on it together.”
Neue Musik im Konzert, 29.6.22: Classical and Jazz Talents – Live from SRF-Auditorium, Redaktion Annina Salis: Livekonzert Contemporary electronic music with students of Svetlana Maraš – Electronic Studio Basel.
2022. After forty years and 14 albums together, the duo consisting of sound tinkerer Boris Blank and frontman Dieter Meier, with his sonorous voice, has been radiating from Switzerland to the world.
The rhythmic-groovy sound and word creations like “Oh Yeah” or “Claro que si” have left their mark on a whole generation of people who grew up in the eighties. Forty years later, Yello’s rhythms, word and image creations still have an impact, even though they seem to have changed very little – but only in appearance.
1981 – in ‘The evening’s young’ video, dancing, colourful glow sticks form the word Yello. A close-up of a young man’s face: Boris Blank – from the front, from the side, his whole body in shadow play, rapid cuts, different perspectives, strong colours, then Dieter Meier at the microphone, monochrome colours changing in the background. Everything is coloured over, flows away and starts again. Cross-fades, cuts, light and colour. The sound is rhythmically varied, accompanied by spoken word singing on one pitch. An audiovisual art product that exploits its possibilities musically and visually in an experimental way but without overdoing it: simple, playfully light, elegant, self-confident and self-ironic.
Yello: The young, Video 1981
This is how Yello presents itself through the years: Blank creates the soundscapes from samples and rhythmic patterns, while Meier provides visuals and voice. Meier likes to say of himself that he is an amateur, that he has never learned anything artistic and that everything happens by pure chance, Blank, on the other hand, describes himself as a sound painter and lovingly gives his samples individual names.
If the video for The Evenings Young can look homemade, ‘Bostich’ from 1984, the song that topped the worldwide charts as a “natural born hit” on vinyl Maxisingle, is more sophisticated: with Blank and Meier as main characters, this time accompanied by rhythmically dancing devices and machine parts. It comes across as very light, with an indie touch.
Yelllo: Bostich, Video 1984
The eighties also saw the birth of Music Television, MTV, in New York: with some 50 regional spin-offs, the new distribution channel consolidated numerous pop careers. Yello’s audiovisual orientation is naturally suited to this new medium and the duo exploits it not “only” for music videos, but also to spin humorous and subversive bizarre stories, such as in the performance Dr. Van Steiner from 1994, where Blank, as rainforest researcher interviewed by Meier, plays hidden sounds and mimics them.
Yello Video@MTV: Dr. Van Steiner, 1994
These videos are cult, all the more so because Yello – in contrast to many other bands – deliberately avoids live concerts: after a few early gigs in Zurich, still as a trio – with founding member Carlos Peron – and a first legendary gig in 1984 at the Roxy DJ club in New York, Yello made itself scarce until 2016: for the album toy, when major sold-out gigs started again at Berlin’s Kraftwerk with a wind ensemble.
The fact that Yello was labelled Swiss export pop band, also through this new medium, does the duo hardly any justice, as Yello is an art project that defies common classifications and Blank and Meier were part of the experimental scenes before that. Meier attracted attention with absurd actions in Zurich and New York in the 1970s or at the Documenta in Kassel in 1972 and even represented Switzerland at the Swiss Avantgarde show in New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1971. His subversive side can be heard in some of Yello’s music. Blank is an electronics pioneer and sample virtuoso, who started out in Zurich’s and London’s experimental electro-underground scene, inspired by jazz and new music legends such as John Coltrane, Pierre Boulez and György Ligeti. He displays the spirit of innovation into Yello’s sound paintings, to which Meier adds his deep voice.
Prizes from different corners
The prizes the duo has been awarded with over the years have come from different corners: Art Prize of the City of Zurich in 1997, Swiss music award for the album touch yello in 2010, Echo Prize for 35 years of Yello in 2014, to name just a few. The thick anniversary volume “Oh Yeah!”, published in 2021 with a simple black-and-white cover, Yello artfully looks back on 40 years of joint history, both musically and visually.
In the music projects that Blank and Meier pursue alongside Yello, the two explore other sides and personalities. Meier uses his voice differently in his band Out of chaos, which he founded in 2012 and for which he also composes, while Blank integrates other voices into his own projects and digs into his rich sound library with a different focus. In 2014, for example, he worked closely with singer Malia for the album Convergence, or – in the same year – he recycled and digitised old analogue pieces from the pre-Yello era for a limited special edition in all formats – vinyl, DVD, CD, cassette, in combination with own videos for Electrified. With today’s digital tools, he likes to experiment both visually and acoustically.
Sophisticated, catchy rhythms and soundscapes, combined with crisp lyrics and colourful visuals that come across as unpretentious, mixed with subversive irony and light elegance. Yello maintained this tone and image throughout 14 albums and successively, the duo adopted new technical tools and played with digitalisation.
Yello, Wabaduba, point, Video 2020
Yello, Wabaduba, point
2020: On Wabaduba their latest release and 14th album, Meier and Blank dance in sync: both around seventy years old, in a simple computer-animated, black-and-white sci-fi big-city backdrop, Meier in a suit and Blank in James Bond look, black turtleneck sweater and sunglasses. The world passes by – Meier and Blank stay – and surprise us again and again.
Regarding Yellofire, an app with which anyone can generate Yello-like sounds, developed by Blank and launched only a few years ago, Dieter Meier says: “Maybe there will be live performances with it – we still have some 30 years ahead of us.”
The two gentlemen are cool and remain true to themselves. A brand that changes gently with the times, skilfully exploits each and every new media development and yet always remains unmistakable: that’s what makes Yello trendsetters and a comprehensive art project to this day.
Yello’s and Boris Blank’s neo-profiles contain previously unreleased videos, including for example ‘The pick up’, where Boris Blank blends autobiographical material with sound and image experiments to form a personal narrative.
Grand Prix Musik: Yello
Other Swiss Musikprices:
L’Orchestre Tout Puissant Marcel Duchamp
Fritz Hauser; Arthur Hnatek; Simone Keller; Daniel Ott; Ripperton; Marina Viotti
AMR Genève; Daniel “Duex” Fontana; Volksmusiksammlung Hanny Christen
The price celebration will take place on September 16th September in Lausanne during Festival Label Suisse.
broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, 27.7.22., 8pm: Yello – Gesamt-Kunstprojekt erhält Grand Prix Musik 2022, Redaktion Gabrielle Weber
Passage, 28.8.22, 3pm
MusikMagazin, 14./15.5.22: Yello – Das Schweizer Elektropop-Duo bekommt den Grand Prix Musik, Redaktion Annelis Berger
Yello, Boris Blank, Swiss Music Prize
“Which machine would you like to have dinner with (smartphones don’t count)?” – Leo Hofmann ponders and decides on a rolling, self-playing piano on which he can also play himself sometime.
The relationships between humans and machines, or, to put it more trendily: between human and non-human performers, are currently a popular topic in art and debate, not least triggered by the latest hype regarding artificial intelligence. In their music theatre piece All watched over by machines of loving grace composer Leo Hofmann and director Benjamin van Bebber deal with these relations in intimate stage situations. In 1967, Richard Brautigan wrote of a „cybernetic meadow / where mammals and computers / live together in mutually / programming harmony“ in his poem of the same name
The utopia Brautigan describes originates from the hippie era. The counter-movements of the 60s saw in the emerging computer technology a revolutionary, humanistic potential for a better world. Even the founding of the first companies in Silicon Valley can be traced back to this. In the old days.
After a corona-induced film premiere of All watched over…. in 2021, the piece celebrated its premiere in physical co-presence at the Roxy Birsfelden in May. In June, the mixed choir reunites for two performances at Berlin’s Ballhaus Ost.
Film: All watched over by machines of loving grace
Human and non-human musical entities
All watched over…. is about how 21st century technologies are affecting the way we live together. In particular, regarding sound. How can we act responsibly in the midst of omnipresent constant sound? Where can space for intimacy be created? What is it with machines and us? The “extremely mixed choir”, which Hofmann and van Bebber founded for another project, represents the human part of the actors on stage. Extremely mixed means that it features professionals as well as so-called amateurs with the most diverse backgrounds. In addition, there are non-human devices, such as loudspeakers. Here a specific feature of Hofmann’s and van Bebber’s work becomes apparent. “I am an electronic composer and see matters from a radio play and loudspeaker point of view,” says Hofmann. “When you work with finished music, it creates a new freedom on stage and raises the question of co-presence in the production.”
In this regard, Hofmann and van Bebber have invented the term “complementary action”. What do liberated bodies do when the music comes out of the loudspeaker and does not have to be actually performed? The performers become co-present mediators of the music and can draw attention to certain musical details through small actions and gestures. The music theatre makers find another concept in the principle of “ritournelle” by philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. This opens up the option of creating one’s own acoustic space for action, for example by a performer establishing an inner sense of security through quiet humming or murmuring, which the choir in All watched over…. can use as a starting point for improvisation and act upon. Leo Hofmann likes to speak of a listening space into which the performers and the audience enter together, thus creating a “shared attention”.
Leo Hofmann: Ritournelle
Hospitality in the music household
The duo will also set up such a listening room in July during the Nuremberg music installations. The festival which takes place for the first, wants to explore the space as a central element in experiencing music – in deliberate distinction to forms such as sound installation, music theatre or concert. Leo Hofmann interprets the guideline as follows: “To me, this is a promise that music will be produced ongoingly by acting bodies, but those are not stable.” But couldn’t a bar counter with background music and the right framing be called a music installation? Anyway, in Hofmann’s and van Bebber’s case the music is played live. During the four days of the festival, they will settle in the collective space of the Nuremberg band Borgo and have various musicians as guests. “We want to negotiate hospitality on different levels. It will not be a performance, nor a total space, but we will live, sleep and eat in this space for four days, make a daily programme and the guest musicians will bring what they already have,” says Leo Hofmann. Composer-performer Francesca Fargion, for example, composes sleep songs and works with stylized diaries. A visit to Hofmann/van Bebber is supposed to function like a house call. In contrast to sound installations that often run on their own, this musical household is only activated by its inhabitants and guests, with the audience of course also being invited into this space of shared attention.
Leo Hofmann: Kapriole, released 2022 by Präsens Editionen
Leo Hofmann immortalised a different kind of staged listening space on vinyl record in the spring of 2022. Although the Bern University of the Arts graduate has been primarily active with music theatre productions in recent years, he had already produced radio plays and music much earlier. Kapriole (leap) is nevertheless his first “real” album, released by the busy Lucerne label Präsens Editionen. Spread over eight tracks, Leo Hofmann shows his interpretation of contemporary sound practices. In his live pieces, he often deals with functional audio technologies, such as Bluetooth boxes. Above all, he is interested in their aesthetic and social significance – what listening, protective and private spaces does contemporary audio technology open up?
The music on Kapriole sounds intimate and close, also through the careful use of the voice, which sometimes seems as if it were singing or speaking only to the listener. Hofmann says that the biggest challenge has been to create space in the listening room. “I often hear that my music is very dense and requires a lot of attention. When working on the album, I kept de-densifying, taking away and leaving sounds in the background. But you should also be able to listen at any time and discover something.” Whether in divided attention in front of the music theatre stage or on the inner stage between two earplugs: In Leo Hofmann’s listening rooms, one can feel at ease.
11.+12. June, Ballhaus Ost, Berlin: Leo Hofmann & Benjamin van Bebber: All watched over by machines of loving grace
neo-Profil: Leo Hofmann
Xenakis-Tage Zürich will take place on May 28 and 29 2022, to mark Iannis Xenakis’ 100th birthday. The festival was initiated by the musicologist Peter Révai, who managed to bring Iannis Xenakis to Zurich in 1986, during the “concert series with computer music” founded by Révai. The three concerts of the Xenakis-Tage present a wide range of the composer’s work.
Composer Iannis Xenakis (1922-2001) is usually defined as follows: Greek resistance fighter with a severe facial injury, Le Corbusier’s assistant (later also competitor), and musical mathematician. His daughter Mâkhi brings another and surprising aspect into play, reporting that her father was actually a romantic and that Johannes Brahms was his favourite composer. The book that Mâkhi Xenakis wrote about her father in 2015 is soon to be published in German and co-editor Thomas Meyer will present it in Zurich. Father and daughter were bound by a loving but also ambivalent relationship. Xenakis absolutely wanted his daughter to follow the mathematical and scientific path, with art coming later; just as he had exemplified. As a compromise, Mâkhi Xenakis studied architecture, but she became a sculptor and painter.
So apparently Xenakis loved Brahms while developing his visionary sound worlds. He worked with electronic music and percussion because he saw a great potential for sounds that had never been heard before.
Iannis Xenakis often worked with percussion, an instrument in which he saw great potential for new sounds, Rebonds B for percussion (1987-1989), Marianna Bednarska, Lucerne Festival 22.8.2019, SRG/SSR production
But he also transformed one of the most traditional genres, the string quartet, into something new. His string quartets will be performed in their entirety in Zurich by the Arditti Quartet, for whom Xenakis composed three of the four quartets. A tour de force, because the works are extremely difficult to play.
«Superinstrument» String Quartet
Goethe Bonmot’s statement that one hears “four reasonable people talking among themselves” in a string quartet does not match these works. Xenakis breaks with almost each and every tradition of the string quartet. There is no exchange of musical thoughts, no development of motifs, no individual statements. Rather, Xenakis seems to be writing for a single, intricate “super instrument”, tracing and racing through the entire tonal space, from extremely low to pointedly high, constantly changing timbres with tremoli, pizzicati of all kinds and “col legno” parts, i.e. notes played or struck with the wooden part of the bow. And above all: the four string players whiz their fingers across the fingerboards, leaving trails of fire behind. Especially in the first two quartets (ST/4 and Tetras), the glissando is Xenakis’ favourite musical medium. With it, he creates a fascinating weightlessness of sound. Xenakis also realised this floating in his architecture: the Philips Pavilion he designed for the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels, with its bold curves, is glissando music cast in concrete.
In Phlegra for ensemble from 1975 Xenakis’ fondness for glissandi can be heard well, Ensemble Phoenix Basel, Dir. Jürg Henneberger, Gare du Nord, 3.11.2018, SRG/SSR production
Rarities will also be part of the Xenakis-Tage Zürich and they reveal a completely different side of his oeuvre, namely chamber music reminiscent of folk music. These compositions belong to Xenakis’ early days. The composer was born in Romania and the very first music he heard as a child was folk music, played in the coffee houses and on the radio of his native city Brăila. That is why traditional Romanian and Greek music finds an echo in his early chamber music works.
Another aspect of Xenakis’ work will be featured during a matinée on Sunday morning in the Pavillon Le Corbusier, with his last electronic composition: GENDY3 from 1991, where Xenakis’ great dream of a composing automaton became reality. In GENDY3, the computer uses random operations to control not only the sound events, i.e. rhythm, pitch and tone sequence, but also the timbres. Compared to some of today’s computer-generated music, which is not meant to sound like a computer at all, GENDY3 embraces the fact that a machine is in charge, roaring and squeaking and humming. Xenakis once said that he hoped his music would not sound “like a monster”. But GENDY3 does sound like a living thing – a fantastic, beautiful monster.
Xenakis Tage Zürich, 28. and 29. May 2022
Saturday 28. May, 20:00, Concert String Quartets, Arditti Quartet, Vortragssaal Kunsthaus Zürich
Sunday 29. May, 11:00, Concert and discussion, GENDY3, Pavillon Le Corbusier
Sunday 29. May, 18:00, Concert introduction with Thomas Meyer / Concert Chamber Music, Swiss Chamber Soloists, Kirche St. Peter Zürich
radio programs SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, Wednesday, 25.5.2022, 20:00, Musik und Architektur – Iannis Xenakis zum 100 Geburtstag, editor Cécile Olshausen
Musik unserer Zeit, Wednesday, 23.6.2021, 20:00, Nackte Wucht: Iannis Xenakis’ “Metastasis”, editor Moritz Weber
Dieter Ammann, composer of major orchestral works and self-confessed slow writer, celebrates his 60th birthday with concerts by the Basel Sinfonietta and the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra, among others.
Music editor Florian Hauser met him for a personal portrait interview:
…of a man. Who, if he takes his time, will ask, tell, laugh and live, during an interview for example, over coffee and Easter eggs and tobacco, and very slowly, imperceptibly, gets to the point, through various layers of concentration. Or – that can also be the case – the associations jump and the topics chase each other. A meeting with Dieter Ammann is a direct expression of what is going on in his mind. Where they live: the …
… in his chest. From which he sucks energy: There’s the improvising, forward-rushing one, and the composing, reflecting one. They fuel each other and one appears like the reverse image of the other. When they meet, forces that pull in different directions and stretch the music to breaking point are being created. When improvising, the performance, the fellow musicians, the groove forces you to stay in the flow and keep going. When he has an idea, he plays it. If, on the other hand, he has an idea as a composer, then he dissects it, puts it to test. That’s when this unconscious is stopped. Time is stopped. He then tries, experiments, tests the ideas to see if they are any good and how good they are. In this way, the music Ammann composes is like a frozen improvisation. “When I’m finished with a piece,” says Ammann, who is a slow writer, “it’s like a piece of jewellery for me, a gem that I’ve polished. I then put it away, look in the next box – which is completely empty and I start all over again.”
From 2014 to 2016, slow writer Dieter Ammann composed his orchestral work “glut”, here in the recording with the Lucerne Festival Academy Orchestra, Dir. George Benjamin, September 1, 2019, KKL Lucerne Festival, SRG/SSR production
Dieter Ammann has jammed with old rocker Udo Lindenberg as well as jazz legend Eddie Harris, he played trumpet, saxophone and bass with the Donkey Kongs and in Steven’s Nude Club, and performed at the Cologne, Willisau, Antwerp and Lugano jazz festivals.
He studied composition and theory with Roland Moser, Detlev Müller-Siemens, Witold Lutoslawski and Wolfgang Rihm. Then, at the beginning of the 1990s, the Ensemble für Neue Musik Zürich presented him during a concert with composing jazz musicians. That was an initial spark with many consequences: first a CD, then awards and he became more and more known, as composer-in-residence in Davos for example and subsequently at the renowned Lucerne Festival. One prize after the other: Swiss Music Prize, main prize of the IBLA Foundation New York, sponsorship prize of the Ernst von Siemens Music Foundation (one day he might receive the Siemens main prize, ‘Nobel Prize’ of music…).
What is so special about Amman’s fast, vital music? That it knows no idle time. It bears constant movement as well as the unexpected and it can constantly implode or explode.
With the result that the energy of his music immediately comes through, it is not the kind of music where you feel you have to bite through a thick shell before you can get to the core. No, the connection is quickly established, one is not only invited, but virtually pulled and carried along.
Even more souls
This is something that his students sense and benefit from as well. For over 30 years, Ammann has taught classical composition, jazz composition and arrangement as well as classical theory at the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts. He encourages and challenges his young colleagues, because he is by no means the kind of teacher that whishes to breed successors. “I don’t want to force students into predefined aesthetic directions, but rather encourage them to go their own way and develop the musical language that is already present in each and every one of them.”
Two orchestral works by Dieter Ammann’s students will also be premiered at the Basel Sinfonietta’s birthday concert, including one by young composer Aregnaz Martirosyan (*1993), orchestral piece Dreilinden: first creation Armenien national Philharmonic Orchestra, Mai 14th 2021
Where else will his own language lead him? In which direction will it develop? No idea and that is just fine. “Perhaps it is precisely this uncertainty and this permanent search that really attracts me to composing. The exciting thing about composing is this “it’s-so-not-there-yet” and I have to work it out somehow.”
Ammann is the kind of guy who can watch the work do itself and observe from a bird’s eye view, so to speak. “I’m not the bird, I’m more the frog. When I see two crossed blades of grass in front of me, I have to decide whether to go around to the right or left, slip through the middle or jump over. But I can’t look at the blades of grass from above. An example: vertically, i.e. harmonically, every tone has to be set is in a meaningful relationship to every other tone. It is obvious that this leads to an extremely lengthy decision-making processes, especially in an orchestral texture. As an intuitive composer, I cannot shift any responsibility to the predisposition of the musical material, since these actually don’t exist. Apart from the pitch, the same applies to all other musical aspects, including the unplannable development of the overall form: in all matters, I am the only, always uncertain (and insecure) judge.”
Ad multos annos, dear frog!
Udo Lindenberg, Eddie Harris, Detlev Müller-Siemens, Witold Lutoslawski, IBLA-Foundation – New York, Ernst von Siemens Musikstiftung, Jazzfestival Willisau, Estival Jazz Lugano
Basel Sinfonetta «Musik am Puls der Zeit», 23.5.22: Dieter Ammann – Sechzig Jahre im Groove, talk with Robin Keller and Baldur Brönnimann
Donnerstag, 26. Mai, 19h, Stadtcasino Basel : 5. Abo-Konzert «60 Jahre im Groove», Dieter Ammann: «Unbalanced instability» für Violine und Kammerorchester (2013), «Core» (2002), «Turn» (2010), «Boost» (2000/01) für Orchester, Dirigent Principal Conductor Baldur Brönnimann, Solistin Simone Zgraggen (Violine)
18h Pre-Concerttalk Dieter Amman & Uli Fussenegger (Leiter Zeitgenössische Musik Hochschule für Musik FHNW) / Vorkonzert Studierende FHNW
Sonntag, 22. Mai,19h, Club auf dem Jazzcampus Basel: Dieter Ammann live in concert im intimen Rahmen als Improvisator auf Keyboards, an der Trompete und am Bass, mit Jean-Paul Brodbeck (Piano), Christy Doran (Guitar) und Lucas Niggli (Drums, Percussion)
Dieter Ammann zum 60. Geburtstag: “Glut”, 31. 5. 2022, KKL, 19:30h, Dir. Michael Sanderling
Sendungen SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, Mittwoch, 18.5.2022, 20h / Samstag, 21.5.2022, 21h: Durchwachte Nacht. Mit und zu Dieter Ammann, Redaktion Florian Hauser.
Musik unserer Zeit, Neue Musik auf dem Sofa, Mittwoch, 23.2.2022: u.a. über glut von Dieter Ammann, mit Doris Lanz und Marcus Weiss, Redaktion Benjamin Herzog
neoblog, 21.8.2020: Ich bin einer der langsamsten Komponisten Europas, Dieter Ammann im Gespräch zum Film Gran Toccata, Autorin Gabrielle Weber
Dieter Ammann, Basel Sinfonietta, Wolfgang Rihm, Roland Moser, ensemble für neue musik zürich, Aregnaz Martirosyan, Davos Festival young artists in concert, Lucerne Festival Contemporary, Swiss Music Prices, Luzerner Sinfonieorchester
The Munich Biennale is a festival for new music theatre curated by Daniel Ott and Manos Tsangaris since 2016. The festival’s premieres always go beyond familiar formats and take the audience to unexpected and surprising places. This will be proven again this year, from May 7 to 19 May, for example, with the production “s p u r e n” by young Russian composer Polina Korobkova.
I meet Polina Korobkova a month after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in a cosy café in Basel. After completing her composition studies in Moscow, Korobkova studied in Zurich with Isabel Mundry and in Basel with Caspar Johannes Walter. In 2021 she completed her Master’s degree in Zurich and recently moved to Berlin, while pursuing her studies with Martin Schüttler in Stuttgart. These points already mark some of Korobkova’s characteristics: an alert, sensitive political awareness like Mundry, the interest in microtonal soundscapes like Walter and thorough conceptual work like Schüttler.
Turning point February 24
Korobkova seems shaken, but nevertheless contained about Ukraine’s invasion, still trying to come to terms with what happened and of course in a state of shock. Although she does not identify with Russia, as Russian citizen she is inevitably associated with it. For her, who -like many other Russian artists – on the one hand vehemently rejects and publicly criticises the invasion, and on the other hand professionally and privately suffers from the war, February 24 2022, the day on which Russia began the war against Ukraine, represents a turning point. There is a time before and a time after for her and she is still sorting herself out without being able to tell what the aftermath will look like. The Russian invasion also affects her Munich production called “s p u r e n”. Most of the work was created before 24 February, but the latest developments in Ukraine cannot leave the production unaffected. She does not yet know how this will be reflected in the final result. We will find out at Munich Biennale from May 12 to 18.
Polina Korobkova: flashbacks to perform i, UA 2021: at the Zürcher Hochschule der Künste.
Lost in the air-raid shelter
“s p u r e n” is in any case conceptually designed in such a way that nothing stands in the way of addressing the Ukraine war. The production is shown in the basement of the University of Music and Theatre in Munich. Adolf Hitler had the building constructed as the “Führerbau” in the 1930s and the basement rooms were intended as air-raid shelters. From 1943 onwards, however, the basement rooms in which “s p u r e n” is set did not provide shelter for people, but for some 600 mostly stolen paintings that Hitler wanted to exhibit in his “Führer Museum” in Linz. Today, however, there is no trace of them and according to Korobkova, the rooms all look the same and offer no clues regarding time, country or history. One only gets an uneasy, claustrophobic feeling due to lack of daylight and thick cellar air. One feels very lost down there.
Korobkova presents a pop song in the basement, fragments of which are sung live by five female singers. The song sounds like a normal pop song, even the lyrics are typical. But because of the personal story behind it – Korobkova wrote this song when she was twelve years old – it is also very personal and intimate. By placing it in the unified, claustrophobic basement rooms, a strong contrast is created. It’s a very different setting from a conventional concert – both in terms of the space and format. For Korobkova has the music playing through the entire air-raid shelter, while the audience is led through the facility without sitting on assigned chairs.
Polina Korobkova: anonymous material i, UA 2020: in Apeldoorn (netherlands) with the Orkest De Ereprijs.
Countless historical traces
The pop song and the five singers are joined by the recording of a 36-note organ played by a pre-programmed robot. The instrument, called Arciorgano, is located at the Musik Akademie Basel and is a replica based on a description by composer and music theorist Nicola Vicentino, who was active in the 16th century. With this organ, Vicentino wanted to solve all the tuning problems that were being thoroughly discussed at the time: he designed some kind of super-organ that would unite the idea of “universal harmony”, an important point of reference for Renaissance musical philosophy, with the harmony matters becoming more and more complex. Vicentino thus attempted to tame the overflowing musical practice of the time with a fixed, superordinate system. For Korobkova, this organ also stands for the slightly dictatorial attempt to force the wildly proliferating world of music into a fixed system; hence the mechanical way of playing and the megaphone speakers, reminiscent of political repression of whatever side, through which the recordings are played.
Dictatorial-looking megaphone speakers from which the mechanically clicking recording of a super-organ from the 16th century blares; five female singers singing the 08/15 pop song of a teenager growing up at the beginning of the 21st century; the claustrophobic, identity-less basement rooms in which the Nazis stored masses of looted art almost 80 years ago: In “s p u r e n” by Polina Korobkova, very different historical layers of time flow together, leaving countless traces. But all of them somehow revolve around the problem of fixed systems – be they of music-theoretical or political nature. This questioning of fixed certainties and systems is also her compositional drive, as – with every piece – she asks herself over and over again why she actually composes and where her place in the world of art and music is.
The Munich Biennale will take place from May 7 to 19, 2022 at various venues around town.
«s p u r e n» by Polina Korobkova will be performed between May 12 and May 18 in the air-raid shelter of the Hochschule für Theater und Musik at Arcisstrasse 12 in Munich.
From May 6 to 8, Wittener Tage für neue Kammermusik’s programme will feature works by composers from 17 different nations with almost a third of the pieces by Swiss composers.
The Wittener Tage für neue Kammermusik are the country’s most renowned festival for advanced musical creation. Those who want to experience or listen to the current state of the art in contemporary musical thinking meet in the south-east of the Ruhr region for a spring weekend, just as they did before the pandemic. The festival has been jointly organised by the town of Witten and Westdeutscher Rundfunk WDR since 1969. It owes its reputation to WDR music editor Harry Vogt, artistic director since 1990, he has always succeeded in presenting the most relevant acts in contemporary music with his knowledgeable selections. The punch line is that most of the pieces are commissioned works from all over the world, premiered here and regularly break the common rules codes of chamber music. Another of Vogt’s specialities is that he always has the pieces performed by the best possible interpreters. To the great regret of the scene, Vogt is stepping down as director with this year’s edition.
Helvetians ante portas
Regarding the high proportion of participants from Switzerland, Vogt says that this year’s edition could almost be labeled “Swiss days for new chamber music in the Ruhr”. There are also many musicians with foreign backgrounds but teaching in Switzerland, such as the electric guitarist Yaron Deutsch, who will lead the contemporary music department at the Basel Musikhochschule in autumn, soprano Sarah Maria Sun, also teaching there and Lugano-born conductor as well as Arturo Tamayo student Elena Schwarz. As director of Ensemble Moderne, she completes a huge programme with three concerts such as one featuring works by old master Georges Aperghis and one by 38-year-old composer-in-residence Milica Djordjevic, from Serbia, former student of Kyburz, among others. She still lives in Berlin and first caused a sensation in Witten 2017 with the lively sound treatment in her doubled string quartet.
Teodoro Anzelotti, who teaches in Biel, will also make a special appearance. For Witten, he, for whom more than 300 solo pieces have been written, has now also taken on a solo accordion piece by Hanspeter Kyburz, which was long overdue because of the pandemic. Anzelotti reports that they have been talking about it for some 15 years.
Anzelotti has high expectations, especially since, according to him, there are few compositions in which the basic elements of structural thinking and sensuality of sound are so well combined. The composer informs us that the piece is called Sisyphe heureux after French existentialist author Albert Camus, only to add at the end that one should imagine Sisyphus happy – “il faut imaginer Sisyphe heureux”.
Beat Furrer’s new trio also has a longer genesis behind it. Ins Offene should actually have been ready in 2018, but was delayed because of his opera Violetter Schnee, whose premiere took place in Berlin in 2019. The following two years, as we all know, the virus raged. Furrer wrote the piece for Trio Accanto featuring Basel saxophonist Marcus Weiss. Its basis, as in many of Furrer’s works, is the idea of metamorphosis. The permanent, organic transformation takes place on several levels, which are suddenly interrupted by cuts and contrasts, resulting in high emotional qualities and physical moments.
Beat Furrer, Il mia vita da vuolp, Marcus Weiss, Saxophone, Rinnat Moriah, Soprano, world creation, Festival Rümlingen 2019, in house-production SRG/SSR
Furrer’s more recent works address the processing problem in a special way. As he explains: “I was interested in the phenomenon of doubling, but also of distorting in a shadow image, and as a result of cutting voices into each other, the emerging of processuality”.
Further world premieres include works by Betsy Jolas, Sarah Nemtsov, Rebecca Saunders (in cooperation with Enno Poppe) and Iranian Elnaz Seyedi. Despite her 96 years of age, Jolas work in particular, which always opposed the serial abstraction of her French contemporaries, is awaiting due reception in the German-speaking world. A pupil of Darius Milhaud and Olivier Messiaen, Jolas worked for the radio for a long time, then became lecturer in analysis and composition at the Conservatoire de Paris as Messiaen’s successor. Her piece as well as the one by Nemtsov will be performed by Trio Catch with Zurich cellist Eva Boesch.
Ricardo Eizirik, Trio Catch: obsessive compulsive music, world creation 2019
In the Park
For several years now, sound installations have been one of the festival’s essential parts. Every year, different corners and places in Witten are occupied for this purpose. This time it will be a park, designed in 1906 as place of recreation for Protestant nuns who worked in the hospital. They were to get “light and air” there. Now it will offer twelve sound installations and interventions. Of the twelve sound artists involved, four are connected to Switzerland. Visual artist and performer Lilian Beidler, who teaches at the University of the arts in Bern, tries to fathom the joys and longings of yesteryear’s nuns.
Lilian Beidler, Art Mara – Women’s ground 2018
In her work Lustwurzeln und Traumrinden (Pleasure Roots and Dream Barks), she wants to “listen to nature”, to hear whether the confidential conversations of the “lust-walking” nuns are still present in the old trees, seeped into the ground or murmuring in the stream, as SRF editor Cécile Olhausen describes the work. In contrast, the the experienced performer Daniel Ott contributes with a permeable intervention for trumpet, steel drums and voices ad libitum under his own direction.
Mum Hum by Mauro Hertig from Zurich on the other hand deals with completely different natural sounds: the basic material are sounds provided by Ensemble Garage and supposed to correspond to those that an unborn child hears in the womb. Hertig provides an installation setting in which one side of a telephone represents the outside world and the other the soundscape of the foetus in the womb of Hertig’s partner, artist Camille Henrot.
Mauro Hertig: The great mirror, Version Royaumont 2019
Andrea Neumann, who teaches in Basel, created the music choreography Überspringen, for four performers and four mobile loudspeakers. Since 1996, the Freiburg-based artist has been developing her own set of instruments, the so-called inner piano, with which she tracks down beauties in sounds.
But why such an accumulation of works of Swiss provenance? On the one hand, it is probably due to the “performance backlog” as a result of the lockdown measures. There have been no more live concerts in Witten in the last two years – apart from a few streaming broadcasts. On the other hand, many Swiss composers such as Furrer and Kyburz might fit in well with the intendant’s taste and queries, as they create pieces combining technical finesse with great emotional qualities, which Arnold Schönberg would have described as “driving sounds”.
Not to mention the significant support provided by Swiss funding institution Pro Helvetia.
The Wittener Tage für neue Kammermusik did take place this year from May 6 to May 8. Most of the concerts are available on WDR.
Teodoro Anzellotti, Hanspeter Kyburz, Trio Accanto, Arturo-Tamayo, Elena Schwarz, Georges Aperghis, Rebecca Saunders, Sarah Nemtsov, Betsy Jolas, Enno Poppe, Elnaz Seyedi, Camille Henrot, Andrea Neumann, Milica Djordjevic, Yaron Deutsch
“It’s hard to concentrate on work right now,” said pianist Tamriko Kordzaia when I meet her for a Zoom interview in early March. We are both shaken by the Ukraine war, but for Georgian Kordzaia, the events have another meaning. ” I was there demonstrating of course, which did help, but when things go on the same way afterwards, I suddenly feel lonely here…”
Bridges between Georgia and Switzerland
Tamriko Kordzaia has long been kind of a musical ambassador between Switzerland and Georgia. Since 2005, she has directed Close Encounters festival, which aims at performing contemporary music from both countries. The festival takes place every two years in Switzerland and Georgia. Tamriko Kordzaia’s goal is to present the music of contemporary composers from both countries and thereby create encounters. In Georgia, however, it is also about bringing contemporary music to rural regions and away from the capital. “This enables all participants – musicians and listeners alike – to have unique experiences,” Kordzaia emphasises.
This year, works by Peter Conradin Zumthor and Cathy van Eck will be featured alongside new pieces by young Georgian composers. Alexandre Kordzaia (*1994), Tamriko’s son, is also represented at the Close Encounters Festival. He can be considered a mediating bridge between Switzerland and Georgia, but also between classical and electronic music, as he’s not only known for his chamber music works, but also as a club musician under the name KORDZ.
Engagement for a forgotten composer
Tamriko Kordzaia does not only wish to present young composers however. In collaboration with two other Georgian pianists, she has also dedicated herself to the rediscovery of the late Mikheil Shugliashvili (1941-1996). In 2013, the three pianists performed Shugliashvili’s Grand Chromatic Fantasy (Symphony) and released the first recording of this impressive work for three pianos on CD.
Extract of the piece Grand Chromatic Fantasy (Symphony) by Mikheil Shugliashvili at Musikfestival Bern 2020
Building bridges between formations, eras and genres
Tamriko Kordzaia is active in very different musical formations. She plays solo performances, in duo with Dominik Blum from Steamboat Switzerland or with the cellist Karolina Öhman and she’s member of the Mondrian Ensemble since 2008, which covers all possible piano quartet combinations with its programmes.
Currently Mondrian Ensemble features Tamriko Kordzaia with Karolina Öhman, Ivana Pristašová and Petra Ackermann.
Tamriko Kordzaia has been building bridges not only between countries and formations, but also between eras. At the beginning of her career in Georgia, she first made a name for herself with her Mozart and Haydn interpretations, when continuing her studies at Zurich University of Arts, she began to explore contemporary music, with – for example – the works of the Swiss composer Christoph Delz (1950-1993), whose complete piano works she recorded in 2005. Mondrian Ensemble explicitly focusses on presenting both old and new music in its programmes, thereby unveiling unusual connections. The ensemble also implements concepts including space, stage or film play and has no reservations about collaborating with representatives of jazz or club music.
Recording of the Mondrian Ensemble playing Plod on by Martin Jaggi.
Over the long time that Tamriko Kordzaia has been with Mondrian Ensemble, firm and regular relationships and collaborations have developed with composers such as Dieter Ammann, Felix Profos, Antoine Chessex, Martin Jaggi, Jannik Giger, Roland Moser and Thomas Wally.
Tamriko Kordzaia also has a special relationship with the music of Klaus Lang, whose pieces have already found their way into some of the Mondrian Ensemble’s programmes. When the pandemic brought concert life to an abrupt halt, Kordzaia decided to concentrate and deal with Klaus Lang’s piece “sieben sonnengesichter” in detail. The result of this in-depth research can be heard a 2021 CD and recording.
Video of the recording session of sieben sonnengesichter by Klaus Lang. Piano: Tamriko Kordzaia.
Working with the younger generation
Something that distinguished Tamriko Kordzaia since her beginnings in Switzerland is her work with young musicians – an activity that she enjoys very much these days. At the Zurich University of Arts, she gives piano lessons and helps students find their own voice in the interpretation of not only classical but also contemporary works. In this regard, she also gets in touch with young composers, whom she advises on the development of their pieces. “It’s so great to see what ideas these young people have and how they get on. It always gives me a sense of purpose and helps me to keep going, even if sometimes circumstances are difficult.”
Festival Close Encounters:
Dienstag, 26.4.22 Kunstraum Walcheturm – Favourite Pieces
Donnerstag, 28.4.22 Stanser Musiktage – Georgian music with Gori women choire
Freitag, 29.4.22 Feilenhauer Winterthur – Georgian music with Gori women choire
Samstag, 30.4.22 GDS.FM Club Sender Zürich – Tbilisi Madness
Klaus Lang / Tamriko Kordzaia, sieben sonnengesichter: CD domizil records 2021.
Mikheil Shugliashvili/Tamriko Kordzaia, Tamara Chitadze, Nutsa Kasradze, Grand Chromatic Fantasy (Symphony) For Three Pianos: CD, Edition Wandelweiser Records, 2016.
Christoph Delz: Sils „Reliquie“ – 3 Auszüge aus „Istanbul“, CD, guildmusic, 2005.
Tamriko Kordzaia, Festival Close Encounters, Mondrian Ensemble, Karolina Öhman, Petra Ackermann, Alexandre Kordzaia, Cathy van Eck, Peter Conradin Zumthor, Jannik Giger, Dieter Ammann, Martin Jaggi, Roland Moser, Felix Profos, Antoine Chessex, Zürcher Hochschule der Künste, Musikfestival Bern
‘Wood, mouth, ritual, possession’ and ‘multiple speakers’. This year’s edition of Geneva’s traditional contemporary music Festival Archipel does not focus on one main theme only, but on several individual motifs. The artistic directors, Marie Jeanson and Denis Schuler, wish to tell stories and create unexpected encounters, with a playful, light-hearted approach and special focus on shared experiences.
Jeanson, organiser of experimental and improvised music, together with Schuler, composer, curated their first joint festival edition in 2021. Although online because of the pandemic, the edition was successful and able to offer plenty of concerts and encounters between musicians, despite the lack of an actual live audience. This year, the festival’s main venue – ‘Maison communale de Plainpalais‘ – will feature music around the clock during ten days and also become a meeting place. In addition to the extensive concert programme – with composer-in-residence Clara Jannotta or a series on Alvin Lucier – sound installations, shared meals prepared by musicians, nightly salons d’écoute with performers presenting their favourite works in Dolby Surround, or pannels as well as mediation workshops will be featured. In addition, a festival radio programme will broadcast around the clock daily and the programme offers numerous other events spread throughout the city.
The motifs are a hidden thread running through the entire festival, with various composers closely involved and spinning their own stories. Geneva composer Olga Kokcharova is one of them and I spoke with her about her multi-part festival project ‘sculpter la voûte‘ – shaping the vault.
“We have lost our connection to the environment and sound can restore it,” says Kokcharova. The delicate, almost shy composer of powerful natural soundscapes dedicates her central festival project to wood.
Sculpter la voûte is based on several years of research in which Kokcharova studied the growth of trees in Ticino forests. In the process, she examines wood as a sound producer as well as the forest as condition for human culture.
In spring 2021, Kokcharova recorded sounds in a natural reserve in the south of Switzerland. “One can hear the physiological activity of the trees. These are almost brutal, raw sounds – deep sonorities, cracking. You sense that there are forces at play that go far beyond human,” she explains.
Kokcharova is originally from Siberia and emigrated to Switzerland at the age of 16. She experienced a real cultural shock, but also a boost of inspiration. In Siberia, she grew up surrounded by nature, far away from cities and did not know anything about European culture.
In Geneva, she first studied architecture, design and fine arts, then piano and composition. Sound has been important to her from the very beginning. Today she works especially with natural sounds and field recordings, integrating them into compositions, installations, soundwalks, sound performances or film music, for festivals and institutions at home and abroad.
Olga Kokcharova and Antoine Läng, Venera, 2018
Kokcharova’s work is always concerned with larger connections and the relationship between people and their environment.
Trees cracking as they grow – raw, brutal sounds
In the premiere of Sculpter la voûte- ‘altération’ for amplified loudspeakers, a composition commissioned by the festival and at the same time the first part of her project, she presents the sounds recorded in Ticino through an orchestra of loudspeakers. The forest sound is realistically spatialised by an ambisonic system, a space-spanning ‘dome of loudspeakers’, created in collaboration with ZHdK Zurich, which will also be used for other performances during the festival, such as the Swiss premiere of Luis Naón’s string quartet with électronique ambisonique, performed by Quatuor Diotima on the previous evening.
Kokcharova, on the other hand, supplements these ambisonics with an Akusmonium, a system of additional loudspeakers, whereby she strongly alienates the sound with ‘altérations’.
“It’s like resurrecting the forest. One is directly in touch with the sound of life that inhabits it: you feel you are in the midst of it.”
For Kokcharova, the forest is not a place of relaxation, on the contrary it triggers highest concentration, creating connections with things we do not understand and she draws attention to this through alienations in her piece.
Olga Kokcharova, Mixotricha Paradoxa – part II, 2019
Performance installatique et sensorielle
The second part of Sculpter la voûte – ‘auscultation‘, is a collaboration with Geneva’s Ensemble Contrechamps, as a performance installatique et sensorielle. In her installation, Kokcharova traces the sound path of wood: from the living tree, vibrating through the circulation of its sap, to the tonewood, which becomes an instrument in the hands of the violin maker and then comes to life with the musician. This happens tangibly, in the truest sense of the word, as one of Ensemble Contrechamps’ musicians will play for each individual member of the audience. The latter can truly feel the instrument, trace its sound and vibration, and thus experience his or her own expérience vibratoire.
Pour entendre le son on a besoin de la matière...
Sound is vibration: it is our connection to the world, says Kokcharova. In order to hear sound, a material, for example wood, is needed. For Kokcharova, this connection also creates a larger context that secretly shapes us: “When we talk about the history of mankind, the focus is always on humans, tools or animals. Plants are never mentioned – but without plants, mankind wouldn’t exist”. She is interested in showing how other life forms – in this case trees – influence all aspects of our lives as well as our cultural production.
Man and nature have always had a relationship, says Kokcharova, so for her festival project she chose to tell a somewhat different, very personal story of wood and man.
Festival Archipel Genève: april, 1-10th Geneva
Clara Ianotta, Italian composer is artist in residence and present at the festival.
Alvin Lucier, dem 2021 verstorbenen US-Elektropionier ist eine Hommage mit drei Performance-Installationen gewidmet.
Saturday, 2.4.: world premiere Olga Kokcharova ‘Sculpter la voûte– altération’, and ‘Mycenae Alpha‘ by Iannis Xenakis (1978), in honour of his 100th birthday, Olga Kokcharova at ‘système ambisonique‘.
3.-10. April: Olga Koksharova: Sculpter la voûte – ‘auscultation‘:
Saturday, 9.4., 14h: Gespräch ‘arbre, bois, vibration, transmission‘ with Ernst Zürcher, writer, and Christian Guidetti, lute.
radiofeatures SRF 2 Kultur:
in: Musikmagazin, Sa, 2.4.22, 10h /So, 3.4.20h, by Benjamin Herzog: Café with Olga Kokcharova, editor Gabrielle Weber
Musik unserer Zeit, Mi, 22.6.22, 20h/Sa, 25.6.22, 21h: storytelling at Festival Archipel Genève 2022, editor Gabrielle Weber
“Sometimes I feel like I’m living on a train,” says Helga Arias and she laughs. The Basque composer was born in Bilbao in 1984 and now lives in Switzerland. She describes herself as a nomad, because she has been on the move since her childhood and lived in many different places. In the spring of 2020, however, everything suddenly had to stop because of Corona.
Hours of video calls
Helga Arias had actually planned a longer stay in the USA; the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), an artists’ collective from New York, having invited her as composer in residence. But she had to stay in Europe because of the pandemic and the ICE‘s musicians in New York were also isolated and could not rehearse because of the lockdown. This standstill triggeerd creative energies in Helga Arias though and so the work I see you for amplified string quartet and live video was created and premiered at the opening concert of the SONIC MATTER Festival in Zurich in December 2021.
As real encounters as well as planned collective forms of work were not possible, Helga Arias brought the ensemble together through video call. First connecting individually with each member, recording sounds and tones for hours, but also having conversations about art, taste, music and mental states. She assembled audio-visual material and then distributed it among the quartet’s members. Bringing them together, even though everyone was stuck at home. An artificial, but also artful form of communication.
It was only a few hours before the premiere in Zurich that the composer and the quartet finally met in person and were able to assemble the virtually created video and score of I see you on. During the pandemic, a creative and different model of collaboration emerged, one in which all participants, both composer and players, are artistically involved on an equal level.
Helga Arias, I see you, International Contemporary Ensemble, UA Festival Sonic Matter Zürich, 2.12.2021 / Sound-recording: Eigenproduktion SRG/SSR
Intoxicated by stimuli
Helga Arias is sensitive and modern, observing everything without ever ignoring the world, including the virtual world of digital media, when composing: Hatespeech, Me Too debates and Fake News are elements of her music. “Contact with society is very important to me,” she explains, “it’s called contemporary music, so it has to be contemporary. What happens in the world also has an effect on my musical ideas.”
In her performance Hate-follow me – world premiered during the Bern Music Festival in September 2021 – Arias mixes the vocal sounds of four sopranos with intrusive signals of mobile phones and social media rush images on video: spiteful insults alternate with intrusive body poses, a mixture of senseless seduction and hatred, accompanied by incessant vibrating, ringing, tweeting and beeping.
Helga Arias: Hate-follow me, UA Musikfestival Bern, UA 5.9.2021
This oppressive excess of acoustic as well as visual inputs ist the composer’s goas though which Helga Arias draws our attention to the waterfall of messages that pours in on us every day. Even if we could read one message, it is immediately replaced by the next. The individual piece of information losing its meaning. In the process, the composer condenses sound and image in a scary, fascinating way and one begins to suspect why hate news in particular spreads so quickly and so widely.
Hate-follow me drastically shows that the unlimited space of the World Wide Web is not used for maximum openness and diversity. Rather, the perspective narrows when influencers and bloggers spread standardised clichés and cement old role models. Instead of celebrating differentiated polyphony, uninhibited hate speech silences many on the internet. Hate-follow me ends – after a mediatic collapse – in a torrent of apologies. But this is not conciliatory, for the thousands of them “sorrys” seem tacky and hypocritical. This piece is an astonishing paradox: Helga Arias composes music that won’t let us go, by asking us to turn it off. If we do, we withdraw from the madness of the world; if we don’t, we submit to it.
For Helga Arias, works like Hate-follow me or I see you are opportunities to reflect on her role as composer as well as her relationship with performers and audiences: “The performers of my music are not playing machines and I am not their boss telling them what to do! It’s about complex interactions.” Also with the audience. Thus Helga Arias does not and doesn’t want to convey a message. We listeners have to find out for ourselves how to cope with the contradictions and craziness.
On March 26, Helga Arias will be in Ascona for a conferenza-concerto as part of the Festival Ticino Musica.
Radio programs SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit: I see you – die Komponistin Helga Arias, editor Cécile Olshausen, Wednesday, 9.2.22, 20:00h / Saturday, 12.2.22, 21:00h
SRF-online, 14.2.22: Komponistin Helga Arias – Sie macht auch Hate Speech zu Musik, Text Cécile Olshausen
“You really have to be a poet to live in the north,” says Cosima Weiter and laughs out loud. She must know what she’s talking about, having travelled to the far north of Europe several times with enjoyment. No wonder, she is also a poet, a sound poet to be precise, “I don’t want to idealise it though” she points out. She still identified a special mindset when travelling to the northern regions of Finland and Norway to prepare the scenic Kaija Saariaho evening Nord with Ensemble Contrechamps. Together with video artist Alexandre Simon, Cosima Weiter captured not only images and sounds, but also impressions of the people living where Nord will be set. “If you live in a big city and meet someone you don’t like, you just move on to the next person. But finding yourself where so few people live, you have to make an effort and try understand the others. Thus, being far away from everything means being open,” she explains.
Nord is about a woman who sets out to wander from Finland to the very place where one is far away from everything: the north. During this thoroughly romantic undertaking, she meets different people who react differently to her. Some are envious, others admire her and one is even heartbroken. “I actually wanted to tell the story in a feminist way,” says Cosima Weiter, “pointing out that it’s not easy for a woman to wander alone. But when I was in the north, I had to discard that as everyone is the same there. Nobody cares if you are a woman, you can do whatever you want. This is something we’re not familiar with here in Central Europe.”
Time, Space, Sound
A Finnish woman who has been doing and composing what she wants for decades is Kaija Saariaho. Her music is at the centre of the scenic narrative, embodied by three actors in front of a large screen. “It was very important for us to respect Saariaho’s music and give a large space, not cutting it short.” Four of Saariaho compositions form the musical basis for the plot, Nocturne (1994) in the version for solo viola, Aure (2011) for cello and viola, Petals (1988) for cello and electronics and Fleurs de neige (1998) in its version for string quartet. Around the slow, cautious music, a soundscape opens that Weiter and Simon, together with Lau Nau and Bertrand Siffert, have created from their own recordings and sparks of other music. “There are three things that interest me in music and poetry: Time, space and sound,” says Cosima Weiter, “and in Saariaho’s music I find them all.” In Nord, the sound poet lends her voice to the protagonist, rendered disembodied through loudspeakers.
You really have to be a poet to tell stories about the North.
Kaija Saariaho, Graal Théâtre, Contrechamps, In-house production SRG/SSR 2009
Nuit de l’électroacoustique
Contrechamps will spin a completely different tale on March 19, when the ensemble invites to its first Nuit de l’électroacoustique. It was almost cancelled due to supply issues, as the renovation of the post-industrial premises, where Contrechamps is due to move to, could not be completed in time. Les 6 Toits on the Geneva ZIC site was supposed to be inaugurated with the Nuit. Luckyly, exile was found at short notice in Pavillon ADC, a centre for contemporary dance in Geneva. The Geneva subculture club Cave 12, which presents the Nuit de l’électroacoustique together with Contrechamps, was also involved its curation and organisation from the beginning. The fact that Pavillon ADC is now also part of the event, will most probably lead to a more diverse audience.
Heinz Holliger, Cardiophonie, Contrechamps, Oboe: Béatrice Laplante, In-house production SRG/SSR 2018
“Parts of our regular audience will certainly be more familiar with Heinz Holliger,” is what Serge Vuille, artistic director of Contrechamps, supposes. Holliger is represented with Cardiophonie for oboe and electronics. “Other people from the electronic music realm, will rather come for Phill Niblock, Jessica Ekomane or Beatriz Ferreyra, for example.” These two last-mentioned names, already cover a wide range. On one hand, a young artist who has been drawing attention since a few years with astute performances, for example recently at the MaerzMusik Berlin festival – on the other hand, the 84-year-old pioneer who already worked with Pierre Schaeffer in the 1960s. “We want to make connections,” says Serge Vuille, “for example between purely electronic music and organic instruments in combination with electronics, or between new and old tools, who knows, maybe Beatriz Ferreyra will bring old tape machines?”
Casualness and Focus
For the curatorial collective of Contrechamps and Cave 12, the goal is not only to mix old and young, but also international headliners with local acts from the independent Geneva scene. The latter is represented with performances by Salômé Guillemin and d’incise. In addition, three new pieces have been commissioned to a smaller version of the Contrechamps Ensemble plus live electronics, a reminiscence of the IRCAM school, as Serge Vuille points out.
d’incise, Le désir certain, 2019 (Insub.records & Moving Furniture Records)
The Nuit de l’électroacoustique is intended to casually generate a focused listening experience. The audience can walk around freely, “we want to prove that – whether sitting or not – one can enjoy electronic music in a focused way.” The public can even take a break from the five-hour programme at the bar, or walk around the virtual reality installation by Raphaël Raccuia and Nicolas Carrel, which invites to discover the future, because that is what electronic music has been about since the beginning.
Contrechamps in spring 2022:
Nord: 7.-20.2., Le Grütli, Geneva
Nuit de l’électroacoustique: 19.3., 19-24 Uhr, Pavillon ADC, Geneva
radio-features SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, 9.10.2019: Johannes Knapp und Serge Vuille – zwei junge Querdenker am Ruder, editors: Theresa Beyer / Moritz Weber (in German)
neoblog, 19.6.19: Ensemble Contrechamps Genève, expérimentation et héritage, Interview with Serge Vuille by Gabrielle Weber
Cécile Olshausen: earweare @ Alte Juragarage Biel 3-5.2 2022
ear we are is bold and innovative. A festival for new listening experiences beyond the mainstream. Founded in 1999 in Biel as a stage for free improvisation, it has become internationally renowned for improvised contemporary music. The audience trusts the festival’s curators as well as the risks they take and numerously shows up at the Alte Juragarage on the edge of Biel’s old town. People come with open ears and minds: ear we are!
The festival is like a well-stocked bookshop, where – in addition to bestsellers – one can find literature by unknown writers and trut the shop owner’s choices. This is also what the curators propose in Biel every two years, sometimes well-known names, but often insider tips. The four artistic directors of the festival – Martin Schütz, Hans Koch, Christian Müller and Gaudenz Badrutt – are all proven artists in the realm of free improvisation, they contributed in developing this genre in recent years and are leading it into the future with their own performances.
Martin Schütz, Cellist and one of the co-curators of the festival: solo, live december 2019, zVg. Martin Schütz
Their programming procedure for the ear we are festival is an essential and valuable process: a lot of music is listened to, discussed, discarded and re-evaluated together. The curatorship is looking for creative musicians who take risks, play with risk, improvise in the best sense of the word, i.e. do not always know in advance where exactly the path they have chosen will lead, the notes show and disclose the way. ear we are offers such artists a creative space and allows them to experiment and work across musical stylistic boundaries during three days. All of this in an appropriate location, the Alte Juragarage, a Bauhaus factory building, built in 1928 and cleared out especially for the festival. A special place for special music, for improvisation, but also for concept and composition. In other words: for present day music.
It is no coincidence that such an innovative music festival has flourished so successfully in Biel, as the free improvisation scene is particularly lively there. In fact, so-called “free improvisation” has a long tradition in Switzerland. It was in the early 1970s that a group of young likeminded musicians invented a new way of making music. Those who came from jazz no longer wanted to play standards and grooves and even free jazz started to feel like a golden cage to them. Those who came from classical music no longer wanted to practise and perform scores full of noises and special effects for hours on end, they wanted to become inventive themselves. This is how free improvised music came into being, and it developed faster in Switzerland than elsewhere. Subsidies and new festivals helped the musicians to organise themselves and soon they were invited to major international festivals. Free improvisation has long since become part of the institutional training programme of the music schools and conservatories.
Improvisation – collectively shaped art
Free improvisation is a collective art, where people play together and the joint performances are not only musical, but also social encounters, with musicians paying attention to each other, lending each other an ear. This art of listening to each other is definitely a quality criterion, as anyone who cannot hear what the others are playing or singing, who exclusively follows his own score in his head, ultimately proves to be a poor improviser. From all these musical-aesthetic and psychosocial premises, a specific musical genre has emerged that can be described as musical bridges from nothing to nothing, eruptive moments, the avoidance of “normal” singing or playing, instead many sounds that are explored out of the voice and invented on the instruments, with surprising playing devices such as knitting needles, brushes or wires, often also numerous electronic aids; and above all: the music is developed in the very moment, nothing is pre-set and yet these are all arrangements that are also rehearsed, taught and learned. As a result, the intended innovations and departures of improvised music can sometimes become somewhat predictable and free improvisation limits itself in its own freedom.
But in the city of Biel, renowned for its watches and watchmakers, the clock hands are always on the present time, also in free improvisation. The ear we are festival contributes a lot to this, not least because it invites musicians from all over the world to contribute with their specific experiences and backgrounds. The 2022 edition in particular, which should have taken place last year but was postponed because of the pandemic, clearly shows how much genre boundaries are dissolving and individually shaped questions and experiments are taking centre stage.
Swiss vocalist Dorothea Schürch for example uses her voice as her centre, sound laboratory as well as research tool; she creates her soundscapes without electronic transformations and recently wrote a dissertation on voice experiments of the 1950s.
ensemble 6ix with Dorothea Schürch, improvisations to Dieter Roth, Kunsthaus Zug 27.11.2014, in house-production SRG/SSR
British trumpeter, flugelhorn player and composer Charlotte Keeffe also focuses on her instrument. Fascinated about how painters create their work on canvas, she too explores colours and shapes in her pointed improvisations and sees her instrument as a kind of “sound brush”. Another example is the beguiling sounds of the Australian Oren Ambarchi. The Sydney-born musician, originally a brilliant drummer in numerous free jazz bands, questions the so-called professional “mastery” of an instrument: without ever having enjoyed a lesson, he takes the liberty of unfolding his surreal musical world on the guitar with various utensils. Last but not least the American poet, musician, artist and activist Moore Mother counters Eurocentric traditions with Afro-American culture and socially critical rap, where very concrete political positions – which are rarely heard so explicitly in free improvisation – are voiced.
So open you ears for ear we are 2022!
earweare 2022 -The current programme may can undergo short notice changes due to the pandemic situation, 3.-5.2.22.
broadcasts SRF2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit / Neue Musik im Konzert 2.3.2022:
Ohne Ohrwürmer! Das Bieler Festival earweare, autor Cécile Olshausen
Musik unserer Zeit, 13.10.2021: Vinyl – Hype, Retro Kult, talk with Oren Ambarchy, autor Gabrielle Weber
Gabrielle Weber: Ensemble Vortex @Start of season GdN Basel 24.2.2022
Vortex – the one inside the hurricane, the overpowering one from which one cannot escape. The name says it all: whirling up and remixing – that’s what the Geneva Ensemble Vortex is all about.
In Geneva, in French-speaking Switzerland and abroad, the Ensemble Vortex is an institution – in German-speaking Switzerland it has hardly ever performed. It will now be featured as part of „Focus Romandie“, the French-speaking Switzerland series of Basel’s Gare du Nord opening season.
I spoke with Daniel Zea, composer, co-founder and director, about the ensemble’s perception and direction as well as the upcoming season.
In the beginning, there was a common interest in exploring interfaces: improvisation, jazz, dance, theatre, installation, radiophony and visual arts. “We were united by curiosity for experimentation and fascination for the new,” says Daniel Zea. This led a handful of graduates from the Geneva Conservatoire to join forces and form the ensemble. That was in 2005 and the ensemble decided electroacoustics would always be present which “was not an obvous thing at all at the time,” says Zea.
They come from Switzerland, Europe and South America and most of the founders are still part of the ensemble. In addition to Zea – who grew up in Colombia before moving to Geneva – its members are composers Fernando Garnero, Arturo Corrales and John Menoud, and performers Anne Gillot and Mauricio Carrasco. “We were all still studying and very young: we wanted to hear and play our pieces and those of other young composers. We wanted to work on them as freely as possible, together with the performers,” says Zea. The members – the permanent core counts about ten – often take on both roles.
Vortex exclusively performs new pieces commissioned for the ensemble, they are premiered and then added to the repertoire. Some 150 new works have already been written by a large circle of composers.
An important pioneer was Geneva composer and lecturer Eric Gaudibert, who supported the ensemble’s founding and stood by its side until his death in 2012. “Eric Gaudibert was an important personality for the new music scene in French-speaking Switzerland and for Vortex. He had a great network, inspired and advised us and made many things happen” says Zea. To close the season, Vortex is therefore organising a mini-festival in Geneva in order to commemorate the 10th anniversary of his death. This will take place in December, as – unlike those of other actors – Vortex’s seasons are based on the calendar year.
Eric Gaudibert, Gong pour pianofort concertante et ensemble, Lemanic Modern Ensemble, conductor William Blank, 2011/12, inhouse-production SRG/SSR
They always have a main theme. In season 17, the motto is ‘Resonance comes between notes and noise’ and the focus ison society after the pandemic, which reshuffled the parameters of our dealings with each other and shifted many things towards digital. Present times face a lot of pressure, which is what they want to express, says Zea.
Good examples are the two pieces to be performed in Basel at the opening of the season: The Love letters? by Zea (premiere 2019), and Fabulae by Fernando Garnero (premiere 2016). “Both pieces reflect today’s society in different ways and paired they form a portrait of our time,” says Zea.
“Staging the weakening of the human being through technology”.
In The Love letters? two performers – a man and a woman – sit opposite to each other, both at the computer. Movements, facial expressions and glances are recorded and shown on a large video screen – live, delayed, superimposed, alienated – and translated into electronic music and text.
Daniel Zea: The Love Letters?, Ensemble Vortex: Anne Gillot, Mauricio Carrasco, world creation 2019
Zea questions communication in digital space through facial recognition. In search engines, smartphones, social media or state surveillance, it is used by algorithms, usually without us being aware of it. The title carries a question mark: Is what is recorded/shown real or is it the real actors on stage? Can feelings exchanged via digital devices be ‘real’?
“Love Letters? is a love dialogue that shows how absurd today’s communication has become. Social media are taking over, the work stages weakening of the human being through technology,” says Zea.
For Zea, the piece, which was written in 2018, is almost prophetic as during the pandemic, digital communication became omnipresent.
Alienate the supposedly familiar
Fernando Garnera’s Fabulae also alienates the supposedly familiar through additional perspectives. Video, electronics and additional texts add further narrative levels to well-known Grimm fairy tale Cinderella and expose outdated moral concepts. Thus, it is transposed into a bizarre digitally transformed present-day future.
“Behind this lurks a hidden critique of today’s capitalist society, intensified by the pandemic,” says Zea.
Fernando Garnero, Fabulae, Ensemble Vortex, world creation 2016
A radically different approach to our society is conveyed by the season’s following project: Suma, a collaboration with the Cologne’s Ensemble Garage. Starting from the question of how music could be made differently today, together and in the present, now that working together from different places became a habit. The result is a kind of answer to the pandemic, says Zea. “We are collectively creating a common contemporary ritual through which music reconnects with the ‘sacred’, with nature, based on memory, ritual and shamanism. In doing so, we question today’s role of technology and communication.”
Composer’s next generation
Vortex also regularly focusses on the next generation – not least to remain ‘young’ itself. Its biennial interdisciplinary laboratory Composer’s next generation promotes young talents. In 2021, it took place for the fourth time with five young composers or sound artists selected through a call for projects. Vortex then works closely with them for a season, the result is a carte blanche at the Archipel Genève new music festival and follow-up commissions at l’Abri, a venue for visual and sound art in the heart of Geneva. In this way, Vortex continues to bind participants to the ensemble and the Geneva scene. “Participants included Cloé Bieri, Barblina Meierhans and Helga Arias – all of them were still kind of beginners at the time and are now travelling internationally and continue to be closely associated with Vortex,” says Zea.
Vortex is stirring things and shaking them up – also in Geneva, as most of the region’s contributors are associated with the ensemble through joint projects by now, plus of course the Vortexians have also made a name for themselves individually at home and abroad.
upcoming concerts Ensemble Vortex:
23.2.22, 20h, Gare du Nord Basel: The Love letters? / Fabulae, after concert talk with the participants
Suma: Ensemble Vortex & Ensemble Garage:
6.4.22 Archipel; 2.5.22 Köln: Festival acht Brücken
remember Eric Gaudibert – Mini-Festival: 10./17.Dezember 22, Genf
Silvan Moosmüller: Monograph Robert Walser Vertonungen – book vernissage GdN 27.1.22
In his new volume, musicologist Roman Brotbeck traces the history of Robert Walser’s works set to music and simultaneously sketches a fascinating panorama of 20th and 21st century music away from dominant trends.
On January 27, the book vernissage will take place at the GdN in Basel – Silvan Moosmüller, with a performance of Georges Aperghis’ Zeugen, based on texts by Walser.
“Robert Walser – sein eigener Komponist” (Robert Walser – his own composer) is the title used to introduce Roman Brotbeck’s Töne und Schälle. Robert Walser set to music 1912 to 2021.
Walser as literary composer
Indeed, many prose pieces and even more so poems of notorious “chatterer” Walser resemble a musical composition with their elaborate sound structure: every syllable, every letter contributes to the poetry of the whole. “To set Walser to music is a difficult, perhaps even insoluble task, because many of Walser’s texts are already music and therefore no longer need music,” says Brotbeck, summing up the delicate starting point.
200 works by over 100 composers
Nevertheless – or rather precisely because of the musicality of his writing – Walser has inspired a large number of composers to set his works to music. Along with Hölderlin, Walser is one of the most frequently set writers of the 20th century. Roman Brotbeck unfolds this sounding Walser cosmos on almost 500 pages. His book is the first comprehensive and systematic study of the musical reception of Walser’s literary works.
And as curator of last year’s Rümlingen Festival, Brotbeck himself added a new chapter to the history of Walser settings. 15 world premieres with works on Robert Walser were launched in September; among them, the revised new version of the théâtre musical Zeugen by Georges Aperghis for example, which will be performed together with the book vernissage at the GdN in Basel. Or the performative exhibition Patient Nr. 3561 by composer and performer HannaH Walter and her collective Mycelium.
From the beginning
But let’s start chronologically with James Simon. According to Brotbeck’s research, this Berlin musicologist and composer was the first to approach Robert Walser. More precisely, it is the two poems Gebet (Prayer) and Gelassenheit (Serenity), that Simon presented as songs in 1912 and 1914 in a romantic manner.
James Simon’s figure is groundbreaking for the further history of Robert Walser musical settings in two respects: Firstly, he is not one of the great, well-known composers, he has even been almost forgotten today and secondly, with his ‘belated’ romantic compositional technique, he stands at odds with the dominant trends of his time.
Music historiography on this side of the ridge
These two qualities form the DNA for everything that follows, as in general, the now 110-year old history of Walser’s musical settings does not align with established music historiography. Rather, it reads – in Roman Brotbeck’s own words – as a “history, or better stories of attempts to break out of the avant-garde”.
It is fitting that Walser’s musical reception started very gently. In the fifty years after James Simon’s first musical realisations, there are only two further records; in the next 25 years until 1987, according to Brotbeck’s research, one can count 13 composers with 20 works. Among them further song settings are to be found, but also the twelve-tone dramma-oratorio Flucht by Wladimir Vogel, which exhausts the rhythmic polyphonic possibilities of the speech choir.
Wladimir Vogel, Flucht, Dramma-Oratorio (1964), Zurich Tonhalle-Orchestra 1966, in-house production SRG/SSR
Of these “early” Walser composers, to whom the first part of the volume is devoted, the Swiss Urs Peter Schneider has been particularly persistent and versatile in his engagement with Walser’s body of work. Over almost sixty years, Schneider has created an entire Walser laboratory – from the “extreme stereophony” of his radiophonic portrait Spazieren mit Robert Walser to the polyphonisations of text material in Chorbuch.
Urs Peter Schneider, Chorbuch, 12 songs 12 texts by Robert Walser for 8 voices, UA 2013 Basler Madrigalisten, Musikfestival Bern, in-house production SRG/SSR
According to Brotbeck, most of Walser’s musical settings, only came into being in the last 34 years, but at an exponentially increasing rate. Initiated by Heinz Holliger’s Beiseit cycle and the great Schneewittchen (Snow White) opera, a veritable Walser boom began in the 1990s.
…before the storm
It is no coincidence that this boom corresponds with the trend towards new forms of music and theatre under the sign of post-dramatic theatre. Thus, the piano song loses its dominant position and Walser becomes man of the hour. But according to Brotbeck, socio-political changes also favoured Walser’s reception in the 1990s: “Arts were at that time characterised by an ambivalent mixture of an urge for freedom and disorientation, deconstruction of grand narratives in the wake of post-modernism and fascination with new media and technologies”. Not much has changed in this respect to this day.
In order to clearly present the wealth of material in the second part of his book, Brotbeck divides the works primarily according to genre, namely various forms of music theatre, song and song cycles as well as melodramas. The range is enormous, from improvisational forms with actors of the new Swiss folk music scene (e.g. Oberwalliser Spillit) to scenic music such as Michel Roth’s music theatre Meta-Räuber to new contextualisations such as in ‘Der Teich‘ by multinational composer Ezko Kikoutchi, with a French-Swiss-German libretto in a Japanese setting.
Ezko Kikoutchi, Der Teich after a text by Robert Walser, Laure-Anne Payot, Mezzosopran and Lemanic Modern Ensemble, 2012
Deviation as norm
In this regard, the history of Robert Walser set to music resembles Walser’s twisted and constantly digressing narratives. Or as Roman Brotbeck puts it: “The Common Ground of Walser’s musical settings is, in a way, the absence of Common Ground”. The fact that Brotbeck points out precisely this “dissection of individualistic Walser approaches” and resists the temptation for a grand narrative is a great merit of his book. Since the works discussed are always contextualised in terms of social history and cultural politics, the chapters nevertheless present a detailed picture of the (Swiss) cultural landscape along with its currents and institutions in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Thus, over 500 pages, what emerges is the fascinating panorama of a “different music history of the 20th and 21st centuries” and the best thing is that this history will go on for a long time.
Sa 29.1.22, 20h / So, 30.1.22, 17h GdN Basel: Roland Moser, Die Europäerin auf Mikrogramme von Robert Walser
broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, 8.9.2021: Klingender Autor – Walser-Vertonungen am Festival Rümlingen, Redaktion Silvan Moosmüller
neoblog, 13.7.2021: Alles was unser Menschengeschlecht ausmacht – Roland Moser erhält einen BAK-Musikpreis 2021, u.a. zur UA von ‘Die Europäerin’ nach Robert Walser, Autor Burkhard Kinzler
Robert Walser, Urs Peter Schneider, Heinz Holliger, Michel Roth, Ezko Kikoutchi, Kollektiv Mycelium, Neue Musik Rümlingen, Gare du Nord, Basler Madrigalisten, Musikfestival Bern, Roland Moser, Lemanic Modern Ensemble
Friedemann Dupelius: 40+1 years of Basel Sinfonietta
“An orchestra, unlike a chamber ensemble, has a certain inertia that one must first overcome in order to activate all its instruments and sounds,” says Kevin Juillerat. Although the Franco-Swiss composer is not a physicist, he is quite familiar with both properties and treatment of sound waves. Proof is the grey acoustic treatment on the walls of his current Paris residence at IRCAM, the electronic paradise. From there he discusses Waves, his first composition for the large orchestra that will be premiered on January 16, 2022 as 3rd concert of the Basel Sinfonietta’s anniversary season.
The Sinfonietta’s history has little to do with inertia though. In 1980, enthusiastic musicians founded an orchestra that remained unique to this day with its exclusive focus on contemporary music. The Basel Sinfonietta is still self-governing and democratic with a board consisting of orchestra members and elected from within the ensemble, as is the programme commission. Daniela Martin, its managing director since September 2020 states: “Starting from its free spirit, the orchestra grew to become firmly anchored in the professional music scene”.
Without a doubt, its 40th year was also Basel Sinfonietta’s most difficult one, marked by uncertainty and distance both from the audience as well as between the musicians, instead of great anniversary celebrations. Suddenly, distances had to be kept, which also brought acoustic consequences – the much-cited distancing takes on an audible quality when the musicians are far apart in the room. With the no less difficult return to a normal line-up, the audience has also been welcomed back and with great news: the number of subscribers having increased during lockdown and times of streaming concerts. This means that the slightly belated anniversary “40+1” can now be celebrated in front of a growing pool of fans and curious people. Daniela Martin speaks highly re the Basel audience: “People get involved and there is a dense atmosphere during the concerts, a palpable enthusiasm. People are not there to criticise, but to listen with open ears to the new and newest music.”
Isabel Klaus, Dried – Für Orchester, UA Basel Sinfonietta 2007, in-house production SRG/SSR: One of Basel Sinfonietta’s main goals is to provide a platform for young Swiss composers. Many others have benefited from this before Kevin Juillerat, such as Isabel Klaus with her work Dried.
Does a contemporary music orchestra tend to look back or forward when it celebrates an anniversary? “Both.” Daniela Martin says “But mainly we look to the present and the future. What social perspectives and utopias can we illuminate in our programmes?” In this special season, the Sinfonietta is addressing issues such as migration and relationships between Western and non-European music. In October, for example, the Bolivian “Orquestra Experimental de Instrumentos Nativos” was invited to perform an intercontinental programme together with the Basel Sinfonietta, featuring music by South American and Swiss composers.
Roberto Gerhard, Sinfonie Nr. 4 „New York“ (UA 1967), Basel Sinfonietta 2003, in-house prodduction SRG/SSR: Migration shaped the life of the Olten-born composer Roberto Gerhard. The Basel Sinfonietta already recorded his 4th Symphony with Johannes Kalitzke in 2003; the first will be performed during the January 16 concert.
The concert on the 16th of January at Stadtcasino Basel runs under the motto “Gravity Migration”, implying both external and internal migratory movements – the former, for example, in Roberto Gerhard’s work. This Catalonia born composer, who died in 1970, had family roots in Olten and wrote music from his British exile. He is represented with his 1st Symphony, dating from 1952/53. With Hèctor Parra, the journey goes inwards and at the same time into the widest distances – his 2011 work InFALL is about gravity and cosmological meditations on human existence.
With Waves, commissioned to Kevin Juillerat, the Basel Sinfonietta continues its mission to offer a platform to young Swiss composers – especially those who, like Juillerat, have never written for orchestra before. Does he feel pressured by the task? “Rather challenged, even though I work a lot with electronic as well as rock music influences, I always felt connected to the symphonic tradition. It doesn’t scare me. The orchestra is a great instrument.”
The 1987 born composer and saxophonist, thereby reveals his approach to the symphonic entity, which he sees it as a great meta-instrument able to create new timbres through combination and slow processes. He also incorporates techniques from electronic music, such as ring modulation – a simple form of sound synthesis in which two sound signals can be manipulated to create a third and new one.
Kevin Juillerat, Le vent d’orages lointains – for piano and strings, Camerata Ataremac / Gilles Grimaitre 2018, in-house production SRG/SSR: Layers of timbre and slowly changing textures can also be found in Kevin Juillerat’s “Le vent d’orages lointains” (2018) for piano and strings.
“In my last electroacoustic pieces, I worked a lot with slowly evolving textures. I wanted to implement that with the orchestra as well, so towards the end of the piece there’s a drone, that is a very long held tone, which is changed in its spectrum through ring modulation.” Specifically, Juillerat puts tones on the drone to go with this modulation, derived from the core cell of his piece: six notes obtained from the letters B-A-S-E-L and SI for Sinfonietta. “I worked a lot on ever changing timbres, trying to disguise the individual instruments in terms of their identification. It’s all about colours,” Juillerat emphasises.
It was this quality of his music that impressed Baldur Brönnimann when he performed a piece by Juillerat with the Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne. That’s why the Basel Sinfonietta main conductor suggested Juillerat for the commissioned work, which will make its first waves before the Basel audience on 16 January. As slowly as an orchestra needs to really get going – and, once it is moving, as gracefully as the Basel Sinfonietta would like to tackle the next 40+1 years.
You can enjoy a large selection of the Basel Sinfonietta audio and video archive on its neo.mx3 profile.
Eiger, a new opera by Fabian Müller, will be premiered by Theater Orchester Biel Solothurn on December 17. Christian Fluri spoke to the composer before the premiere about his relationship with this mountain, which fascinated him for a long time.
“The story of the second attempt to scale the Eiger’s north face can hardly be topped drama wise,” says composer Fabian Müller enthusiastically about his work. In 1936, two German climbers, Toni Kurz and Andreas Hinterstoisser, along with two Austrian colleagues, were the first to attempt to scale the mountain’s mighty north face. They failed and all four died. The film and opera director Philipp Stölzl already devoted himself to this story in his 2008 film Nordwand, now writer and librettist Tim Krohn and Fabian Müller are giving it another go. When asked if they had been influenced by the movie, Müller denies. “We tell the drama from a completely different angle and although the historical framework is the same, the story allows a lot of freedom.”
The story of the Eiger opera tells the initial enthusiasm with which the climbing tour began, through the looming failure, all the way to the battle against death, which even expert Toni Kurz loses in the end. “The opera is about powerlessness of men against nature’s superiority.” Müller gives the mountain a voice – a woman’s voice. “As it were the song of the mountain, which, towards the end of the opera, gazes in bird’s-eye view over the storm, the drama and the weather’s wildness. The dying man is torn between last attempts to save his life and the mountain’s seductive song, which makes him slip more and more into a surreal, otherworldly state.”
At the foot of the Eiger
16 years before the premiere of the opera, Fabian Müller had already been dealing with the Eiger and its north face. In 2004, he was commissioned by the Interlaken Music Festival to write Symphonische Skizze Eiger – and did so in his composer’s cottage, a chalet in Grindelwald, at the foot of the mountain, where he had spent his holidays with his parents as a child and teenager.
Fabian Müller, Eiger – Eine symphonische Skizze, UA 2004, Latvian Symphony Orchestra, Dirigent Andris Nelsons: Müller integrates music history in his compositions. In his Symphonische Skizze Eiger (2004), he partly used serial techniques.
“Since my childhood I have been connected with the mountain landscapes around Grindelwald” says Müller about this place of inspiration. After his training, the chalet became a retreat where his creativity could flourish. When he wrote his symphonic sketch in 2004, “the Eiger looked down on me, watching me scribble my notes on the paper,” he says.
Even at that time, he thought that the 1936 drama would make excellent operatic material. “Now, starting from the sketch, I have developed the music into the opera and used everything that is in the sketch in some way – although rarely identically,” he explains.
“I encounter many of my former pieces like a stranger and in general, it’s often quite hard for me to dive back into an older composition of mine. The Symphonische Skizze Eiger, on the other hand, has always remained present. Perhaps because the opera was still to be written.” However, the opera’s composition hardly ever took place at the foot of the Eiger, but mostly at home in Zurich.
The lyrics’ musicality
Müller began his composing work with Tim Krohn’s libretto on his table. He has great confidence in the musicality of his librettist, with whom he is already working for the third time: “Tim Krohn has an affinity for music and a great understanding of the musicality that a libretto must have. There was nothing in his text for which a musical solution could not be found.” Even tricky passages became a delightful challenge. Of course, he maintained an intensive exchange with Tim Krohn; but “in the end, we didn’t make a single change to the libretto.”
Both German and the Austrian alpinists of that period showed closeness to National Socialism in their thinking and often in their acts as well which is also a subject of Tim Krohn’s libretto. It draws the characters in their ambivalence, Müller notes. “Their political stance resonates in the drawing of their characters. It also becomes a problem when it comes to trust each other, which is essential in climbing. This characters’ ambivalence also finds expression in my music.”
While Müller was still in the composing process – for the opera with a large orchestra – he received a commission for Eiger from Theater Orchester Biel Solothurn (TOBS). After completing the score, he therefore wrote an additional version for chamber orchestra, which will now be premiered in Biel in a production by Barbara-David Brüesch and directed by Kaspar Zehnder.
Letting music happen
But what does Müller’s music sound like? He is certainly not one of the experimental composers, nor does he want to be. He is convinced that the tonal possibilities of a symphony orchestra are exhausted today. But something new can arise in the combination and the connection of sounds and sound figures.
In his compositions, Müller always keeps music history in mind: he is not afraid to use traditional harmonies or sound structures. His points of reference are Gustav Mahler, young Arnold Schönberg, Alban Berg, as well as the French music of the early 20th century and feels related to today’s Scandinavian, Eastern European and Anglo-American composers, to name but a few.
Fabian Müller, Munch’s Traum(a) für Violine Solo, UA 2010:Müller’s music is about emotional expression. He cites Gustav Mahler, young Arnold Schönberg or Alban Berg, but also György Ligeti and Olivier Messiaen as music points of reference.
Of course, he has intensively studied the German and French avant-garde of the post-war period and its history – such as the serial technique, which for him, however, clearly belongs to the past. “György Ligeti already overcame it in 1961 with his grandiose work Atmosphères, and the same goes for others of his contemporaries.” Ligeti and Olivier Messiaen are important pillars for him. but he also greatly appreciates the composers “who broke new ground in the 1970s” – away from experimental paths, such as the Finn Einojuhani Rautavaara (1928-2016), with whom he was linked by a long correspondence.
Müller describes himself as an intuitive composer who is always concerned with emotional expression. “Once the composition process has begun, I let myself be guided by the music itself. As to why my music sounds the way it does, all I can really say is that it’s the music I perceive internally when I’m doing what interests me most, namely composing.”
Composer Fabian Müller introduces his opera Eiger
Theater Orchester Biel Solothurn, opera Eiger
Premiere on December 17, 2021 at Theater Biel, further performances during season 21/22
SONIC MATTER Festival to start in Zurich
What does the city sound like underground? Does music sound different when it’s played for a single person? Can it help to survive in a damaged ecosystem? December 2 to 5 2021, artists and festival organisers of SONIC MATTER Festival in Zurich will be looking for answers to these and other questions of our time.
This year’s festival motto is TURN. Different formats, like of course concerts, but also exhibitions and round tables, address such moments of change in music, but also in environment and society.
The Walcheturm art space, for example, will be transformed into a 48-hour listening and video lounge during the festival under the title “weichekissenheisseohren”.
Danceable music, anticipating the catastrophe
At the same venue, Andreas Eduardo Frank explores the relationship between „Musik&Katastrophen“ (“music & catastrophes”) in the “border line club culture”. Being electrified, expecting the inevitable, tense and on the verge of discharge – Frank translates this pandemic era attitude to life into electronic music with his synthesiser. The tense audience can let the steam out by dancing. At the end of the festival, the GLENN will loudly invite the Walcheturm art space audience to dance.
Process-oriented and sustainable
The festival should be process-oriented and sustainable, as artistic director Katharina Rosenberger put it in an interview with SRF 2 Kultur in May 2021. The composer has founded a collective with artist and director Julie Beauvais and cultural manager as well as music journalist Lisa Nolte to manage the festival. The three women attach great importance to long-term cooperation with artists and the continuous development of contact with the audience. That’s why they also have a SONIC MATTER website, serving as platform for artistic exchange, research and encounters. Some of the results of this collaboration will be presented during the festival.
SONIC MATTER_OPENLAB, for example will feature works by artists, scientists and activists from Bolivia, Canada, Ecuador, the USA, Brazil and Switzerland in a joint performance. From very different places in the world, all these actors use their respective means to draw attention to the threats facing our planet. In a deep listening experiment, these different voices, approaches and perspectives are made accessible to the audience.
The SONIC MATTER_village explores the sound of Zurich’s city districts together with its residents. Audio pieces have been created during workshops with residents and will be presented in the festival programme.
The opening concert at the Schauspielhaus Zurich will feature the International Contemporary Ensemble from New York under the title CONNECTIVITY. The programme includes compositions by George Lewis, Nicole Mitchell, Helga Arias and Murat Çolak. A work by the Swiss composer Jessie Cox from Biel, but currently studying in New York and very recently premiered at Lucerne Festival Forward, will also be performed.
Jessie Cox’s Black as a Hack for Cyborgification, world creation 2020 online (concert recording october 7th 2021 with International Contemporary Ensemble, Target Margin Theatre in Brooklyn) will be performed at concert CONNECTIVITY.
The orchestra’s sensuality
Entirely in the spirit of the festival’s motto, the orchestra concert in the Tonhalle Zurich will feature Dieter Ammann’s 2010 work TURN, which traces the transformation from one state of things to another with the means of the orchestra. “Exactly where the music becomes quite clear, easily graspable for the listener, the turn happens, a turning point at which the previous sonority completely implodes and abruptly changes into another sound image,” says Dieter Ammann about his work. “It’s comparable to a scene on a stage, where lighting and technology suddenly create a new atmosphere.”
Dieter Ammann, Glut for orchestra, world premiere september first 2019 Lucerne Festival Academy, conductor George Benjamin, inhouse-production SRG/SSR
Das Stück für großes Orchester dropped.drowned von Sarah Nemtsov aus dem Jahr 2017 spielt auf feinsinnige Art mit den Klangfarben des Orchesters und macht im Gegensatz dazu Wandlungsprozesse erfahrbar, die sich eher allmählich vollziehen.
Chasing the sound of the city
Those who want to tune their ears to this kind of sensuality by listening to the sounds of the city can do so on Friday afternoon during a listening walk with sound artist Andres Bosshard, who will set out from the viaduct at the Markthalle in search of special soundscapes or tranquillity and listen, among other things, to the water murmuring of the river Limmat.
At the sound trail “Unter der Klopstockwiese” by sound artist Kaspar König, Zurich’s sound is presented from a completely different perspective: from down below. „Begehbare Hörlandschaft unter der Erde“ (“walkable listening landscape under the earth”) opens a distorted listening world, turning familiar sounds into something alien: enraptured and ghostly.
broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, 8.12.21, 20h: Sonic matter – ein neues Festival in Zürich, Redaktion Moritz Weber
neoblog, 11.11.21: neue Hörsituationen für neue Musik – Lucerne Festival Forward / u.a. zur UA von Jessie Cox, Autorin Gabrielle Weber
neoblog, 17.11.20: musique de création – Geheimtipp aus Genf im GdN Basel: Gabrielle Weber: Interview mit Jeanne Larrouturou zum Projekt Diĝita
Lucerne Festival Forward – the festival’s name sounds like the future, which is exactly what the new Lucerne Festival for Contemporary Music stands for. Ist fisrt edition will take place from November 19 to 21. The Lucerne Festival is thus once again committing to new and cutting-edge music and creating another platform for its Lucerne Festival Contemporary Orchestra (LFCO), freshly founded this summer.
Future means diversity, mindfulness in dealing with each other and the environment, a close dialogue with the audience and examination of essential questions of our time. Behind the intitution is not a single head, but an 18-member collective, which sets new standards, as the responsibility for an entire festival belongs to a collective of young musicians, composers and performers.
Before the opening, I spoke with Stephen Menotti, trombonist and co-curator from Basel, as well as with Swiss composer Jessie Cox, who will have his new piece “Alongside a Chorus of Voices for ensemble” premiered.
The curative process behind the festival programme is elaborate. In April 2021 calls for entries in the Academy network started and the network reached some 1300 musicians, consisting of musicians from all over the world who have attended the Festival Academy at some point and played in the former Academy Orchestra and later in the Alumni Orchestra. Many of them now also play in the LFCO. On the one hand, one could apply for a ‘Leadership Programme’, on the other hand for a ‘Call for Proposals’ with own concert programmes. The many high-quality, complementary applications led to the high number of 18 curators, says Menotti. He is delighted that he can now be part of the curatorial collective as co-curator and contemporary leader.
The newly elected collective started by examining the concert proposals. Certain ‘leitmotifs’ came up again and again, Menotti explains. The future of our planet, our coexistence and our interaction with nature, but also experimentation with concert forms and listening environments. These themes became the festival’s common thread and shaped the final concert programmes.
The uniqueness about this unusually large curatorial collective and its work was that the participants came from very different corners of the world, like the USA, Asia or Canada, bringing very different perspectives. In this way, everyone could benefit from the others and a truly “democratic team” emerged, says Menotti.
The festival starts on Friday evening with an ‘opening/happening’ in KKL and on Europaplatz with “Workers Union”, an openly interpretable piece by the recently deceased Dutch composer Louis Andriessen from 1975 – a kind of politically engaged, rhythmic and explicitly loud street music between classical music and jazz. The fact that the audience is physically involved is welcome here, unlike in the classical concert formats.
LFCO’s musicians strike quieter notes at the «Kunstmuseum im KKL», where they improvise to works by artist Viviane Suter. In doing so, they interpret Suter’s works, hanging in the middle of the room, as visual scores. The importance of creating new listening environments is once again highlighted as the audience does not sit on chairs, but moves freely through the space with the musicians.
Intimate listening situations are proposed in the realm of the so-called one-to-one performances by violinist, performer and curator Winnie Huang, who – in short solo performances for only one listener – adapts her performance, facial expressions and body language individually to her counterpart.
Four concerts in the KKL concert hall will be performed by the LFCO ensemble, directed by Mariano Chiachiarini and Elena Schwarz. The concerts bear titles such as “Water/Nature“, “From darkness to light” or “Rainfall“. A mixture of works by young and established composers, all involving the space, with the musicians moving around the concert hall, or involving the audience. One piece even takes place in the dark.
Kirsten Milenko, ‘Traho‘ for orchestra, a composition commissioned by the Roche young composer commission, was premiered at the Lucerne Festival 2021 by LFCO, directed by Lin Liao at KKL Luzern.
Water and Memory” by Annea Lockwood stands for learning from nature. The piece by the New Zealand-American electronic pioneer develops from a polyphonic humming, with the performers distributed around the room coming up with their personal memories – and finally involving the audience in the collective humming.
The new piece by Jessie Cox is also future oriented. The composer and percussionist, who grew up in Biel, is currently studying in New York and is considered an international insider tip. His music is focussing on nothing less than the universe and our future in it with an approach he describes as “space-travelling”, borrowing from Afrofuturism aesthetics, with the aim to create visionary future spaces in which black lives are definitely welcome.
“My music thrives on the exchange between different geographical, cultural and temporal spaces,” Cox says. In his new piece “Alongside a Chorus of Voices for ensemble”, Cox uses small bells, representing a stereotypical sound of Switzerland on one hand and African-American history on the other as they were used in the USA during slavery times to locate slaves by landlords. These different levels of meaning intertwine.
Jessie Cox has been working with bells for some time. In the string quartet conscious music, for instance they play a role that changes over the course of the piece – at first they can be localized, then they gradually become a free component of the piece.
During the performance, the musicians pass the bells on to the audience in order to raise questions about how we want to live together in the future. This also involves a confrontation with racism in Switzerland. “Music is a suitable place to negotiate this matter” says Cox.
Lucerne Festival Forward will take place
from Friday November 19, to Sunday 21.
Opening/Happening, Freitag, 19.11., 22h, Europlatz
Museum Concert, Samstag, 20.11., 16h, Kunstmuseum
Forward Concert 1, Samstag, 20.11.21, 19:30h: “Water/Nature”
Forward Concert 2, Samstag, 20.11.21, 22h: “From Darkness to light”
neo-blog-Lesende erhalten vergünstigte Karten für folgende Konzerte:
-Forward-Konzert 1: 20.11., 19.30h mit Werken von Annea Lockwood, George Lewis und Liza Lim unter Angabe des Codes PRO1M0AR
-Forward-Konzert 2: 20.11., 22.00h mit Werken von Pauline Oliveros, Luis Fernando Amaya, José-Luis Hurtado und Jessie Cox unter Angabe des Codes PROMA1KR.
Radiofeatures SRF 2 Kultur:
Kultur kompakt, Fr. 19.11.21, Redaktion Annelis Berger
MusikMagazin, Sa/So, 20./21.11.21, Café mit Winnie Huang, Redaktion Annelis Berger
Musik unserer Zeit, 1.12.21: Lucerne Festival Forward – neue Hörsituationen für neue Musik, Redaktion Gabrielle Weber
Exzellenzorchester für neue Musik, Autor Benjamin Herzog, online 26.8.2021
Lucerne Festival – Engagement für neue und neuste Musik, Autorin Gabrielle Weber, online 1.8.2021
Portrait Collegium Novum Zurich – Season 21/22 – starting October 30, 2021
Since summer 2019, cellist and musicologist Johannes Knapp is Collegium Novum Zürich’s new artistic director, focussing on new artistic perspectives as well as on broadening the audience for the ensemble. The previous season having to be downscaled due to pandemic reasons, now the first season curated by Knapp can finally take off. Thomas Meyer spoke to him before the second concert, which took place on October 30, under the direction of Emilio Pomàrico in the newly restored main hall of Zurich’s “Tonhalle”.
New music may not be so young anymore, but it always knows how to rejuvenate itself. This becomes clear when two works written half a century apart, a classic and a newcomer, meet in the 3rd concert of Johannes Knapp’s Collegium Novum Zürich’s (CNZ) season on December 18. Éclat-Multiples will be performed together with (Re)incarnation [Yerlik]: a central work by Pierre Boulez from 1970, next to that of a 34-year-old composer whose name not many are likely to know: Kazakh Sanzhar Baiterekov who based this work on the processes of an old Tengrist myth from his homeland, dealing with the underworld and rebirth.
Such encounters have a long tradition at the CNZ. Since its founding in 1993, it has pursued on one hand the performance of important contemporary works, which set standards and are important for the musicians’ education, but also for the audience. CNZ has so established an important role in Zurich’s musical life and some of the musicians are part of the collegium since its foundation.
On the other hand, the ensemble is in quest of the young, the unknown, the challenge and the opening. Cellist and musicologist Johannes Knapp is also on the lookout for “music announcing and embodying of what tomorrow will bring”. He took over the artistic direction and management two years ago, but his first season had to be reduced due to corona.
Only four concerts and in front of small audiences could take place. Therefore, some performances were streamed for Idagio. In addition, the ensemble tackled three CD projects to be completed this year, one with music by Boulez and one featuring Swiss composer William Blank, as well as a series of student-teacher double portraits such as Heinz Holliger/Sándor Veress or Klaus Huber/Willy Burkhard. That’s also why Huber’s “Remember Golgotha” opened the new season.
Klaus Huber, Psalm of Christ, Collegium Novum Zürich, Bariton: Robert Koller, conductor Heinz Holliger, Tonhalle Zürich, in house production SRG/SSR 2015
Myths and legends
This time the focus will be on myths and legends in contemporary music, which is more to be seen as a stimulating starting idea than an ongoing motto. According to Knapp, myths have a deep connection to music because they transcend logic and words and cannot be clearly fixed. They are attempts to deal with the uncertain, even the horror.
Therefor several famous myths will appear in the programme: Orpheus in Orpheus falling by Sarah Nemtsov, the creation myth (Day 6) in Eufaunique by Stefano Gervasoni, the Egyptian sun god Ra in Sortie vers la lumière du jour by Gérard Grisey and Cathy van Eck, who teaches in Bern, will transform the Tonhalle into a “forest through which the wind blows” for Daphne’s myth in her new performance.
Gérard Grisey: Sortie vers la lumière du jour (1978), Ensemble Phoenix Basel, Leitung Jürg Henneberger, in house production SRG/SSR, Gare du Nord Basel 2016
Finally, the season will end with animal legends by Igor Stravinsky (Renard), Ruth Crawford Seeger or Frank Zappa, who was strongly influenced by Edgard Varèse and Stravinsky in his early days.
Encounter with baroque instruments
Such programs also question the absolutist dogmas of new music. Why should new music always have to “sound” “new”? Can it not overcome historical boundaries? Questions like these led to an encounter with baroque instruments, specifically with La Scintilla, the early music ensemble of Zurich’s Opera, with French composer Philippe Schoeller presenting his new work Kátoptron which revisits the ancient myth of Echo and Narcissus.
This is how Collegium Novum Zurich travels down the road. “Crazy nomads of Zurich” is how somebody once wittingly phrased the acronym CNZ, as the ensemble has no fix venue and is always looking for new ones, i.e. the Grossmünster’s crypt this year. As Knapp notes in his season editorial: “Travelling as an exploration of soundscapes by ear. Art means never arriving.”
Pierre Boulez, Sanzhar Baiterekov, Sarah Nemtsov, Stefano Gervasoni, Gérard Grisey, Frank Zappa, Igor Strawinsky, Ruth Crawford Seeger, Edgar Varèse, La Scintilla, Philippe Schoeller, Emilio Pomàrico, Christoph Delz, Dahae Boo, Kelley Sheehan, Michael Wendeberg
upcoming concerts CNZ:
Grosse Tonhalle Zürich, 30.10.21: And falls into the Netherworld, Dirigent: Emilio Pomàrico, Werke von Sarah Nemtsov, Aureliano Cattaneo, Rebecca Saunders, Stefano Gervasoni
Grosse Tonhalle Zürich, 4.12.21: Konzert 3, Dirigent: Johannes Schöllhorn, Stefan Wirth Klavier; Werke von Kelley Sheehan, Tobias Krebs, Dahae Boo, Christoph Delz
broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Neue Musik im Konzert, 1.12.21: Konzert CNZ, Tonhalle Zürich, 30.10.21
Donaueschingen’s centenary – a historic event: since 100 years now, this defining institution commits to contemporary music’s preservation and spread. The most important European festival re new music – renown place of world premieres, encounter and debate – will celebrate its 100th birthday with numerous events from October 14 to 17, featuring many historic friends and companions.
The young, Swiss-based ensemble Nikel will be part of this celebration. Yaron Deutsch, electric guitarist and head of Nikel, has already been to Donaueschingen several times with the ensemble and as a soloist. For its anniversary, Nikel will perform new pieces by Rebecca Saunders and young Turkish composer Didem Coskunseven. Deutsch is also the soloist of a new piece by Stefan Prins with the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg.
Founded in 2006, Nikel now tours worldwide and celebrates its fifteenth anniversary. Its unusual instrumentation, with electric guitar, piano, saxophone and percussion dates back to the very first performance and provides their characteristic ‘alternative chamber music sound’ with a mixture of electronic and organic sounds. The constantly expanding repertoire consists exclusively of original pieces composed for the ensemble.
I had an early morning talk with Yaron Deutsch from his hotle room in Parma via Zoom, on a Saturday. He is a morning person and was up since 4:30am. After performing at the Traiettorie festival for contemporary music, he would head to rehearsals in Bern.
How did you find your way to contemporary classical music with the electric guitar…?
In 2005 I was searching for my own musical identity. As electric guitarist I was playing mainly rock and jazz, but felt like a ‘copy cat’ of an American culture that doesn’t belong to me. I then came across a piece by Luis Andriessen: ‘Hout‘ (1991) for saxophone, electric guitar, percussion and piano, that felt like a ‘eureka’ moment. The piece mixes musical genres and elements in a straightforward way. I found a connection to my European roots that felt like home in the European classical music avant-garde, that somehow showed me the direction of the musical landscape I was looking for.
How did Nikel come about and why this line-up?
With ‘Hout‘ we gave our first concert in Tel Aviv and its instrumentation became Nikel’s permanent line-up. After a few changes, we now have a regular line-up since almost ten years: Brian Archinal on percussion, Antoine Françoise, piano, Patrick Stadler, saxophone, and me on electric guitar. We inspire each other.
Where does the name Nikel come from?
Three points: First, I didn’t want a music related name, then it should feature ‘metal’ as is one of our timbres and lastly, it is reminiscent of Israeli artist Lea Nikel and her abstract colour-intensive works. She was active in Paris and New York in the sixties and seventies and died in Tel Aviv in 2005.
It’s like water drops slowly gathering into an organism.
How come you settled in Switzerland?
Three out of four members live in Switzerland. I have always been a ‘missionary’ of non-nation related music-making and ensembles without national nor local definition: for me it’s all about working with the musicians I’m most interested in, who inspire me, no matter where they live. That’s how I got to Patrick Stadler in Basel, for instance. But our vision is international.
It’s like water drops slowly gathering into an organism.
Starting from an invitation for a concert we get together. Our task as artists is to be fascinating, interesting and also good enough to create a demand. It’s about passion: as long as we are passionate, we exist as a group.
Anne Cleare, the square of yellow light that is your window (excerpt), UA 2014 Ensemble Nikel
How did your first performance in Donaueschingen come about?
In 2010 we performed at the Darmstadt Summer Courses. The new artistic director at the time was Thomas Schäfer and he wanted to present new voices in his first edition, so he invited us and our performance had a great echo. Shortly after, Armin Köhler, Donaueschingen’s artistic director, called and invited us to the festival two years later. In 2012 we were there for the first time.
What did this performance do for Nikel?
The performance in front of a large audience with international resonance was one thing. But Donaueschingen also enabled us to play four world premieres by four important composers who wrote especially for us and our instrumentation. We wouldn’t have had the financial means to commission such pieces ourselves. We have played these completely different pieces all over the world ever since.
This mechanism continues by the way: when the festivals invite us, they commission pieces for us which we then keep in our repertoire. We always get involved in the selection process and suggest composers we are enthusiastic about and this enthusiasm is tangible during our performances.
For the anniversary edition you’ll be performing a new piece by Rebecca Saunders, with contralto Noa Frenkel and another piece by the young Turkish composer Didem Coskunseven: how did this choice of repertoire come about?
Rebecca Saunders had wanted to work with us since a long time, because I had interpreted pieces by her in other contexts, with Klangforum Wien for example. But it never happened. Then we got lucky, as a large commission could not be realized due to the pandemic, so Rebecca suggested to work on a piece with us and a singer as an alternative. The composer Didem Coskunseven came up with the idea in a conversation with Björn Gottstein.
Nikel’s performances are known for an often radically loud electronic sound – How does Nikel work with the voice…?
First of all, I have to reject this ‘loud’ ensemble definition as we also play many subtle pieces, quiet, tactile music. Probably our virtuoso quality leads to the impression: “the musicians can make walls shake…. “. (he laughs…)
Masculine power, is not our thing. Our memory tends to remember extremes. But so much happens outside the extremes, in fact most…
After the first week of rehearsals, Rebecca emphasized the good balance between the singer and us. We ‘serve’ her music, give the singer space and found a specific sound for the piece. We are like an ‘electrified string quartet’, an organism that works very well together and whose sound mixes very well. We are able to finetune and find balance between loud and soft.
Stefan Prins, Fremdkoerper 2 (excerpt), UA 2010 Ensemble Nikel
Is there a specific Nikel sound?
We always play pieces that are eclectic, mixing elements, but never random or unnecessary. A clear musical, not one-dimensional line connects everything. Nikel concerts always sound different. In this concert you can hear two completely different sides, two completely different timbres.
And how would you describe the timbre of Didem Coskunseven’s piece?
Her style cannot be summed up in one sentence, that wouldn’t do her justice.
It’s safe to say that she works with minimalist material, in a very colourful, expressive and subtle way, not loud. Through continuity and minimalism, variations come to fruition.
Didem Coskunseven, Day was departing, UA Manifeste 2021, Ircam / Paris
Let’s step back a bit: was the first appearance in Donaueschingen a career start for Nikel?
Donaueschingen was not the start, but it was a decisive ‘boost’: the familiarity with the international scene was very important for our growth.
Making music is comparable to sports. We always want to give the best…
You are part of the 100th anniversary celebration: what does that mean for Nikel?
There are two answers: a concert is a concert. Making music is comparable to sports. We always want to give our best, no matter how big or small the setting.
But having said that it’s an incredible honour. We are historically conscious people and musicians and Donaueschingen is a ‘ historical platform ‘, the longest existing New Music Festival. We are grateful that our work is so appreciated that we were asked to be part of this important celebration.
Interview: Gabrielle Weber
Performances Ensemble Nikel / Yaron Deutsch @Donaueschingen:
Friday, 15.10.2021, 20h: solo performance, world premiere by Stefan Prins, Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg directed by Stefan Volkov.
Sunday, 17.10.2021, 11h: Ensemble Nikel and Noa Frenkel (contralto), World Premiere Rebecca Saunders and Didem Coskunseven
November Music, s’Hertogenbosch:
12.11.21: retake concert Donaueschingen: UA Rebecca Saunders / Didem Coskunseven
14./27./28.11.21: Werke von Thomas Kessler, Klaus Lang, Hugues Dufourt, Leitung Jonathan Stockhammer
broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Künste im Gespräch, 14.10.21, 9:00 Uhr: 100 Jahre Donaueschinger Musiktage, autor Florian Hauser
Kultur Aktuell, 18.10.21, 8:15 Uhr: autor Florian Hauser
Musik unserer Zeit, 3.11.21, 20 Uhr: 100 Jahre Donaueschinger Musiktage, autor Florian Hauser
Ensemble Nikel, Donaueschinger Musiktage, Rebecca Saunders, Beat Furrer, Alexandre Babel, Lucerne Festival Contemporary Orchestra, Daniel Ott, Johannes Kreidler, Marcus Weiss, Thomas Kessler, Jonathan Stockhammer
Johannes Kreidler, a Berlin based conceptual artist, likes to be present in the medias and often works on political and social topics. In doing so, he also deliberately stirs up controversy time and again. Since 2020 he teaches composition at the Basel University of Music (FHNW). At the upcoming Donaueschingen Music Festival, he will present a humorous film composition dedicated to otherwise neglected aspects of contemporary music. A portrait by Cya Bazzaz.
Anti-Corona-Demo – Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz Berlin – 16 May 2020. A dangerous cocktail of more or less right-wing activists gathers to protest and demonstrate against the government’s Corona measures, accompanied by a sound with which the conspiracy ideological community apparently bases itself on ancient myths. As all this wasn’t bizarre enough, in the midst of it one can also find a very special artist, who knows how to put himself in the limelight and make him and his content be heard: Johannes Kreidler, composer, media and conceptual artist.
His demands are: end the economic growth obsession, a fairer distribution of wealth, ecological and sustainable agriculture. This time of standstill should be used to direct energies sensibly to where the real opportunities lie and not get caught up in abstruse ideas, Kreidler claims.
Critical participation in social debate
Kreidler’s works essentially belong to the so-called ‘conceptual music’. As in conceptual art, the focus lies just as much in the concept or the elaborated idea as in the artistic result itself, Kreidler usually incorporates multimedia processes into his work.
As one of the few composers, Kreidler has critically participated in the social discourse since the beginning of the pandemic. On social media, for example, he commented events like the high demand for toilet paper, conspiracy theories or simply current political affairs in a mostly ironic and humorous way, often mixed with musical allusions.
Here some highlights of his Twitter timeline: “Gesang der Impflinge, K. Stockhausen, Priority Groups for 3 Orchestras”, “Student Restaurant: Robert’s Kochinstitut” or “I hate Corona like the plague”.
He often exaggerated the arguments of the conspiracy mystics in his posts or even reversed them, creating some kind of ‘competitor narratives’.
Johannes Kreidler, Corona Komposition 24.3.2021
“Scientific Sonification as an artistic method.”
In addition to political activism, Kreidler also addressed this crisis in artistic or artistic-pedagogical terms.
One of the methods he uses in dealing with political as well as social issues is ‘sonification’. This method, which originates in science, serves to represent or create sound out of abstract data by precisely assigning individual musical elements. Trough scientific sound approach Kreidler creates a hybrid form of music making, by combining acoustic visualization with aesthetic interpretation.
In his course “Theory and Aesthetics of Electronic Music” at the FHNW, Kreidler used this compositional technique as a basis to develop various so-called “coronifications” in a joint project with his students. These were finally presented online.
In the Basel course, Kreidler also addressed the question of the extent to which it is morally adequate to aestheticize the data of a crisis, as in the case of the Corona pandemic. His conclusion: listeners should form their own, personal judgement.
The way Kreidler dealt with purely scientific dry data in this project was not new to him, as he had already dealt with matters like the stock market crash or the Iraq war in his “Charts Music” in a similar way. He used software to elicit harmonic melodies from the drastically descending stock market curves or the increasing number of deaths of US soldiers in the charts, or he drew exact points into the diagrams with a graphics program which he then transferred into a traditional five-line system in order to convert them into notes and sound. The result is a three minutes long music video, a chart medley in ringtone style.
Johannes Kreidler, Charts Music: Crisis sounds so cool!
Kreidler also expressed his views on the above methods in theoretical treaties, as dealing with such issues is of particular concern to him as composition professor at the Hochschule für Musik Basel (FHNW). As a kind of manifesto for his teaching, he published the text “The composition class as an aesthetic think tank” in the “neue musikzeitung”: “In terms of the program, it is now crucial for us artists to assert ourselves in the face of the political: to bring artistic freedom, internationality and global awareness, historical consciousness, a sense of possibility and aesthetically challenging things back into society again and again,” says Kreidler.
The crisis also inspired Kreidler to compose new works. In the spring/summer of 2020, he created “Music-19”, a series of graphic scores that are to be interpreted musically.
The line-up is completely free to choose and acting, objects as well as video can also be integrated. During the performance the respective graphic scores should be visible, for example by projecting them on a wall.
Contribute to creating a more beautiful world…
On social media, Kreidler called on followers and friends to interpret, record, and publish these graphs.
In his “think tank” theory, he writes: “Develop the foundations of the musically possible, intervene in the whole, contribute to make the world more beautiful place. Even the smallest work counts, just like in democratic elections where every vote counts.”
What does Kreidler’s approach mean for the art music scene?
According to Kreidler, musicians and artists should not only reflect on social processes, but also actively participate in shaping them. This is the way they have a chance of future survival, without being relegated into the unworldly and elitist. His energetic consistency and creative force fascinate me especially now, during the global pandemic. Kreidler will, I hope, prompt some artists to radically rethink their approach.
Cya Bazzaz studies composition and piano at UDK in Berlin. After a guest lecture by Johannes Kreidler at UDK, he has been intensively involved with his work.
Johannes Kreidler is professor for composition at the Hochschule für Musik Basel (FHNW) since 2019/20.
*Course: ‘Theory and Aesthetics of Electronic Music‘: Summer Semester 2020, Hochschule für Musik Basel (FHNW)
**Johannes Kreidler, Text nmz, The composition class as an aesthetic think tank
Donaueschinger Musiktage / Donaueschingen music days 2021
15.10.2021, 9:45h: ‘Rhythms of History‘ for film
29./30.11./3.12.21: Music-19, Delirium Ensemble, Konzerte Schweiz
broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, 12.6.2019: Johannes Kreidler, der Konzept-Virtuose, autor Moritz Weber
Musik unserer Zeit, 4.3.2015: die neuen enfants terribles der E-Musik, autor Cécile Olshausen
Composer, performer and curator Alexandre Babel has been awarded one of the Swiss Music Prizes of the Federal Office of Culture 2021. The award ceremony took place in Lugano on September, 17 2021. In this interview, Babel explains his point of view on composition and curation and how he combines these two activities.
Alexandre Babel, percussionist, composer and curator, can be seen on avant-garde concert stages, at jazz festivals, in galleries and at art biennials. Based between Berlin and Geneva (his hometown), he combines classical avant-garde music, sound art, experimental improvisation and performance.
There are as many ways of composing as there are composers, says Babel and he therefore prefers to define composition as “the organisation of sounds in time and space”. Curating is also close to this understanding of composition. “Same here, it’s all about setting existing sound objects in motion in a certain place at a certain time and then connecting these objects with other objects.
Composing and curating are different aspects of the same activity. Babel creates, conceives, stages, networks and interprets.
Alexandre Babel, born in Geneva in 1980, first found his way to jazz through drum lessons in Geneva. He then specialised in New York with jazz legends such as Joey Baron or Jeff Hirshfield and played in various formations. “What fascinated me about jazz was not just the aesthetics, but rather how musicians interacted to create music. Mixing repertoire and improvisation: that was the basis of making music for me.”
Also being attracted by the classical avant-garde, Babel soon switched to classical percussion and, back in Europe, found his way to composition. John Cage, Morton Feldman, Alvin Lucier, Heiner Goebbels or Helmut Lachenmann were the ground-breaking figures and inspirators in Babel’s compositional path.
From his very first pieces already, such as music for small audiences for snare drum solo, the importance of the performer plays an important role.
“Music for small audiences was the beginning a real love affair between me and the snare drum..”
In one of his first pieces, ‘music for small audiences‘ Babel explores new sounds for solo snare drum and brings the role of percussion in the music business into focus.
Performer – Improviser – Composer
As a drummer, Babel is a touring musician wearing many hats: a fine, quiet improviser, loud, experimental drummer, for example with the band “Sudden infant” in a duo with Joke Lanz, or an interpreter of contemporary drum repertoire in various formations.
Additionally, he composes, curates and develops projects for his own formations, such as the Berlin collective Radial, together with video artist Mio Chareteau.
“To make music includes several processes in my opinion. First of all ‘thinking’ the music, which means composing, then transmitting the music and finally perform it for an audience: I’m fascinated by all of them.”
All of his activities are linked by a convergence of creation and interpretation, as well as an interest in the visual, spatial and performative aspects.
“What do I want to see and what do I want to hear…. ”
For Babel, composing always begins with or even boils down to an encounter. Thus, his compositions are mostly created for specific musicians.
He always has the performers in mind when writing and is also inspired by their movements and gestures. In the piece The way down for Duo Orion, for example, Babel took the duo’s interplay as starting point and staged it acoustically and also performatively.
Alexandre Babel, The way down pour violoncelle et piano, Duo Orion (Gilles Grimaître, piano, Elas Dorbath, Cello) 2020
“At the beginning of a project I ask myself: ‘What do I want to see and what do I want to hear’: To me, the visual side is just as important as the sound. Duo Orion, for example, has a special physicality when performing. I developed a piece for them in which the gestures are almost athletic. It almost became dance or a choreography,”.
Curating as a permanent dialogue
Babel says that his three activities – composition, interpretation and curation – have ideally come together in the artistic direction of les amplitudes Festival (La-Chaux-de-Fonds, autumn 2020). “I had the chance to combine all aspects within one object -the festival and at the same time the city of La Chaux-de-Fonds: I thought of the festival as a giant composition in separate parts – an art exhibition, live performances, drum sets and spatial compositions blending together in one new unity”.
Since 2013, Babel has led the percussion ensemble Eklekto Geneva Percussion Center, consisting of some 20 musicians in a loose line-up. “Eklekto offers me the opportunity to develop unusual percussive situations. All projects are created in close exchange and collaboration with the composers and the musicians. “Curating is a permanent dialogue with the musicians involved”.
Pauline Olivero’s piece Earth ears, a so-called ‘Sonic Ritual‘ from 1989 for free instrumentation, is characteristic of Babel’s understanding of curation: “The musicians play by ear and there is no written score. One has to listen to himself as well as to the whole ensemble and react to it. The piece is about sound, space and attentive listening: to me, those are the basics of making music”.
Pauline Oliveros’ piece ‘Earth ears’, a ‘sonic ritual’ and openly interpretable piece from 1989, is characteristic of Babel’s approach to curation.
Another important project is his large percussion ensemble with 15 percussionists from the Eklekto pool. “We have clear rules: we play by heart and there is no conducting: playing without a leader creates an enormous energy and presence and at the same time opens up new ways of communication, in an almost radical way”.
Choeur mixte reflects the classical setting of chamber music and at the same time puts the often underestimated classical instrument ‘snare drum’ in a new spot-light. Another declaration of love to the snare drum.
In the piece ‘choeur mixte’ for 15 snare drums, the percussionists play their instruments standing in the shape of a wedge, on a lit, empty stage. They act strongly in relation to one another and the piece radiates power as a group and at the same time individual responsibility of the performers.
Music without sound
Among other things, Babel is currently working on a composition commissioned by the Venice Art Biennale 2022, designing the Swiss pavilion together with Swiss-based Franco-Moroccan visual artist Latifa Echakhch. Babel faces a special challenge in this case, as Echakhch wants him to create a composition without real sound. “This is an important and special task for me: through the joint creation process, we are approaching solutions on how music can sound without sound,” says Babel. At the moment, short pieces of music are being created for this purpose, which will form the basis for the final Music of Silence. Gabrielle Weber
On Friday, September 17, 2021, the Swiss Music Price ceremony will take place at Lugano Arte e Cultura (LAC) in Lugano. During that weekend, some of the prize winners will perform as part of Lugano’s Longlake Festival.
This year’s Grand Prix musique went to Stephan Eicher.
The other prize winners are:
Alexandre Babel, Chiara Banchini, Yilian Canizares, Viviane Chassot, Tom Gabriel Fischer, Jürg Frey, Lionel Friedli, Louis Jucker, Christine Lauterburg, Roland Moser, Roli Mosimann, Conrad Steinmann, Manuel Troller and Nils Wogram.
Concerts Alexandre Babel:
Sunday, 19.9.21, 10:30h at Studio Foce, Lugano:
Alexandre Babel e Niton +ROM visuals
23.4.-27.11.2022 Biennale Arte Venezia: Alexandre Babel & Latifa Echakhch @Swiss Pavilion Venezia Biennale
Joke Lanz, Joey Baron, Jeff Hirshfield, Pauline Oliveros, Biennale Arte 2022, John Cage, Morton Feldman, Alvin Lucier, Heiner Goebbels, Helmut Lachenmann, Latifa Echakhch, Kollektiv Radial, Mio Chareteau, Elsa Dorbath
Sendungen SRF 2 Kultur:
in: Musikmagazin, 18./19.9.21: Alexandre Babel – Träger BAK-Musikpreis 2021 im Gespräch mit Gabrielle Weber, Redaktion Annelis Berger
Musik unserer Zeit, 16.6.21: Alexandre Babel – Perkussionist, Komponist, Kurator, Redaktion Gabrielle Weber
neoblog, 14.10.2020: La ville – une composition géante, Text Anya Leveillé
Zeiträume Basel, Biennale for New Music and Architecture, is taking place for the fourth time this year. The festival is dedicated to the interweaving of music and space and always features new and unusual venues. Lucerne composer Michel Roth will premiere his new work “Spiel Hölle” on September 18, at Basel’s Flipperclub. Jaronas Scheurer talked to him about the piece as well as the club members’ passion for pinball.
Basel’s Zeiträume festival brings new music to unusual places and enables the audiences to make both musical and architectural discoveries. This year, some 20 productions will take place around the theme “Verwandlung” (Transformation), on a disused ship in Basel’s harbour area as well as in a former water filtration plant, but also at the city’s Kaserne- and Flipperclub. The latter is located in an unadorned commercial building of the greater Basel area. When entering the premises one isyou are greeted by over 50 flashing and sounding pinball machines, some of them 60 years old. For this club, Lucerne composer Michel Roth composed “Spiel Hölle”, which will be premiered by the Ensemble Soyuz21 at the Zeiträume Festival.
Rather than on the venue’s architecture, Michel Roth mainly focuses on how the space is enlivened by the club members’ passion for these sounding boxes. What fascinates him is the social space. By approaching one of the many pinball machines, another space opens, according to Roth: “A space behind glass, which is also designed three-dimensionally with insanely elaborate constructions. A narrative space in which one is also told about Star Wars or Star Trek, thereby entering a dialogue, not only mechanically, but also concretely, as the newer machines actually speak to the player and comment on what’s happening during the game.”
Michel Roth: pod for two ensembles and live-electronics (2017), Ensemble Vortex and ensemble proton bern. pod is about musicalized game theory.
In the interview Michel Roth speaks enthusiastically about pinball machines: the way they clatter and flash and sound and loudly invite you to play again. The acoustic dimension of the gaming machines is crucial to his fascination, but isn’t a room crammed with over 50 such boxes an acoustic sensory overload? Of course, that’s where the title “Spiel Hölle” “Gaming Hell” comes from, he states. Because the “overkill”, the sensory overload, is both an aspect of the “real” gambling spaces as well as the composition’s theme and the complex acoustic environment of the pinball machines is precisely the starting point of the piece.
It starts like a normal pinball club evening. After a welcome by the club members, the audience is allowed to have a go at the pinball machines. Imperceptibly, Michel Roth’s music begins to “smuggle” itself into the evening of games and blends into the sound atmosphere, the whole composition being based on these pinball boxes. The instruments, for example, are manipulated with components from the machines: the saxophone is filled with pinballs, the drummer plays on springs that catapult the balls into the box. The musicians do not play to a fixed score, but react and interact to what is happening around them, so exactly like the ball in the box, the composition can take one direction or another.
Commentary and confrontation
Michel Roth’s “Spiel Hölle” is thus derived entirely from the “real” gaming hell of the pinball club, but over time, the musical events emancipate themselves more and more from the clinking and tinkling of the machines and begin to comment ironically or confront.
Michel Roth, Die Zunge des Gletschers for voice and contrabass (UA 2017), Aleksander Gabrys : Michel Roth piece treats the influence of game and coincidence on composition.
Michel Roth’s hope is to “bring to a boil the often very dark narration of the individual boxes and the collective vibration of this gambling hell” through his composition. Even though this year’s theme “transformation” wasn’t Roth main focus while composing “Spiel Hölle”, he hopes for a transformation in the audience, so that a “we are all actually inside a big pinball box” effect might arise.
In “Spiel Hölle” Michel Roth and his musicians Sascha Armbruster (saxophone), Mats Scheidegger (electric guitar), Philipp Meier (keyboards and synthesizer), Jeanne Larrouturou (drums) and Isaï Angst (electronics) embark on a humorous and fascinating exploration of what is hidden in an unadorned commercial space on the outskirts of Basel: each one of the 50 blinking, sounding and clattering boxes contains its own game world full of endless possibilities. Michel Roth’s “Spiel Hölle” thus fits in very well into the Zeiträume festival: it opens up a complex network of acoustic and narrative spaces in which the audience can lose itself until “game over”.
ZeitRäume Basel – Biennale for New Music and Architecture, will take place from September 9 to 19, 2021 in various locations and public spaces in the city of Basel, with numerous world premieres by (among others) Barblina Meierhans, with “Script” in the reading room of the Basel University Library (17.9.), “Niemandsland“, spatial immersion by Dimitri de Perrot at Kaserne Basel (10.-12.9.), or the opera “Poppaea” by Michael Hersch and Stephanie Fleischmann at Don Bosco (in cooperation with WienModern 10./12.9.).
Michel Roth’s “Spiel Hölle” will be performed four times on September 18 and 19 at the Flipperclub Basel, premiere is on September 18, at 16h.
In the festival’s pavilion on the Mittlere Brücke, live performances, sound installations, cocktails and SUISA talks or participatory activities will put you in the right mood for the festival from September 4th onwards.
Three installations will open their doors before the festival’s official kick-off: 7.9., 18h, Jannik Giger “Blind audition“, 8.9., 19h, Cathy van Eck “Der Klang von Birsfelden” and on the ship “Gannet” on 9.9. at 11h “Phase 4” a collectively developed multidisciplinary walk-in sound space in the ship’s belly.
broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, 29.9.2021, Reportage Barblina Meierhans: Skript, autor Benjamin Herzog
Lucerne Festival Contemporary Orchestra is the name of a newly created orchestra, whose activity began on August, 13 at the Lucerne Festival. The orchestra is strongly integrated into the newly created “Contemporary” section, a distinctive structure for the performance of new music within he Lucerne Festival. Felix Heri, head of the Contemporary section, explains what is so unique about it.
Its components are between 30 and 35 years old, both current and former Lucerne Festival Academy participants and since this year they are part of an orchestra that, according to Felix Heri, is intended to become an “orchestra of excellence for new music”. Its ambition is similar to that of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra (LFO), founded almost twenty years ago. Under the direction of its first conductor Claudio Abbado, this orchestra was said to perform in an almost magical way.
35-year-old Felix Heri is the head of the Lucerne Festival’s new “Contemporary” section. He studied clarinet in Lucerne and cultural management in Basel, after six years of managing director for the basel sinfonietta, he is now directing the Lucerne Festival Contemporary.
Lucerne Festival Contemporary is an umbrella under which a three-part structure is organically growing and constantly evolving. Academy, Orchestra and a new festival (instead of the cancelled Piano Festival) in November, called Lucerne Festival Forward. “We have a unique network of 1300 people around the world,” Heri explains, “musicians who attended the Festival Academy at some point and played in the Academy orchestra at the time or in the alumni orchestra, inside and outside the festival, of which the best and most motivated now play in the Lucerne Festival Contemporary Orchestra (LFCO).”
The Festival Academy’s goal is to deepen knowledge of how new orchestral music is played. The academy has been founded in 2003 by Pierre Boulez, who died in 2016, as a kind of master class for new music, led for five years by Wolfgang Rihm. Festival visitors have so far been able to enjoy the results of this work during the orchestra’s academy concerts. “An orchestra that – even if only very slightly – had the scent of a student orchestra,” as Heri says today.
In 2013, the former academics formed an “alumni orchestra”, shifting gera to the next, more professional level. Apparently, the Lucerne magnet works, as those who have studied here under greats such as Pierre Boulez or Wolfgang Rihm want to come back. The alumni orchestra also played outside the festival and outside Lucerne, performing premieres in New York, London, Beijing, Zurich as well as Lucerne of course testify the ensemble’s network character and charisma.
Wolfgang Rihm, Dis-Kontur für grosses Orchester (1974/84): Lucerne Festival Alumni, conductor Ricardo Chailly, 8.9.2019 KKL Lucerne Festival, in house production SRG SSR
Logical further development
The now newly founded LFCO is the logical development of this structure, merging the two former orchestras, which were never completely separate in terms of personnel anyway. “All members of the LFCO have attended the Festival Academy at least once,” explains Heri. “This is where the best and most talented of those young talents play.” In addition, there is one “leader” per segment, fifteen in all. These leaders select the other members of their segment, who gain the right to play in the orchestra for a maximum of two years. These mutual decisions allow an organic growing.
Excellence meets from excellence
The leaders, to name a few examples, are currently the four members of the Arditti Quartet, as well as Dutchman Marco Blaauw for the trumpets and pianist Nicolas Hodges for the keyboard instruments. The fact that the LFCO does not judge its members according to which rung of the career ladder they are on, but rather according to personal dedication, is demonstrated by the fact that there is no age limit and that neither academics nor already established musicians are excluded. Thus, musicians from Klangforum Wien, Ensemble Intercontemporain or Frankfurt’s Ensemble Moderne also play in the LFCO.
In this respect, the new Lucerne Modern Orchestra is very similar to its older brother, the Lucerne Festival Orchestra. Both orchestras feature professionals from the leading orchestras of their genre. In future, both orchestras will have an equally strong external impact on the festival.
With or without director? – Participation of the orchestra
But unlike the LFO, currently led by Riccardo Chailly, the new orchestra has no chief conductor. “We are discussing whether this is necessary,” says Felix Heri. Such a position having advantages as well as disadvantages, he adds. “The advantages are clear: more charisma, renown, a different kind of network. But it’s also good to select the conductors specifically in each case and for each project.” Another choice, this one, in which LFCO relies on mutual decision by all members. Participation is also important in the choice of the programme, as the artistic orchestra’sartistic director, Wolfgang Rihm, is still responsible for the summer program. However, the programme of the new autumn festival “Forward” will be influenced by the l orchestra’s leader themselves, acting collectively as co-curators.
Barblina Meierhans, Auf Distanz, for Bassflöte and kleines Ensemble (UA 2020), Lucerne Festival Alumni, conductor Baldur Brönnimann, Lucerne Festival KKL 23.8.2020, in house production SRG SSR
A showcase for new music
This year, LFCO will already perform at the renowned Donaueschingen Music Festival and the Berlin Festival and an international tour is planned for 2022. However, according to Heri, the autumn festival in Lucerne in particular is intended to become a “showcase of new music”, highlighting current trends from Europe, the USA and Asia. This is made possible by the global networking of the orchestra’s members as well as their different leaders.
Heri is familiar with fully democratic structures within an orchestra from his earlier work with the “basel sinfonietta”. Although LFCO does not go that far, mutual decisions and discussions generate a strong sense of identification,” emphasizes Heri. This is much more necessary in an orchestra specializing in new music than in a classical symphony orchestra. “We take people and their ideas seriously.” which, he says, is a unique starting point. “We are a collective mastermind.”
He furthermore stresses: “For me, the orchestra should set standards. We want to be brave and perform new concert formats. The integration into the Lucerne Festival is of course an advantage, at the same time, however, we wish to take the necessary liberties to become a counterpart to the Festival Orchestra. That is our goal, that is what we measure ourselves by.”
The LFCO also performs this year’s Lucerne Theatre opera production in co-production with the Lucerne Festival, Mauricio Kagel’s “Staatstheater” (premiere September 5), programme until September, 19.
Lucerne Festival Contemorary Orchestra’s concerts at Lucerne Festival 2021
The new autumn festival for contemporary music Lucerne Festival Forward takes place from november 19. until 21. 2021.
Klangforum Wien, Ensemble Intercontemporain, Ensemble Modern, Donaueschinger Musiktage, Riccardo Chailly, Felix Heri, Pierre Boulez, Wolfgang Rihm, Mauricio Kagel, Claudio Abbado, Arditti Quartet, Marco Blaauw, Nicolas Hodges
broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
neoblog, 1.8.21: Engagement für neue und neuste Musik – Rebecca Saunders composer in residence @ Lucerne Festival 1, Text Gabrielle Weber
Kontext – Künste im Gespräch 26.8.2021: Rebecca Saunders: composer-in-residence Lucerne Festival, Redaktion Annelis Berger
Kultur kompakt Podcast, 30.8.2021 (ab 4:59min): Lucerne Festival Contemporary Orchestra, Redaktion Florian Hauser
Musik unserer Zeit, 22.9.2021, 20h: Rebecca Saunders, Redaktion Annelis Berger
Neue Musik im Konzert, 22.9.2021, 21h: Portraitkonzert Rebecca Saunders 2, u.a. the mouth & skin
Michael Pelzel, Composer in Residence at this year’s Musikfestival Bern, shows the range of his compositional work through numerous world premieres. He can also a renowned organ player and interpreter. A conversational portrait by Friederike Kenneweg.
When I tried to arrange an interview with Michael Pelzel in mid-July 2021, he was not easy to reach and there’s a good reason for that: the works to be premiered featuring him as Composer in Residence at the Musikfestival Bern are piling up on his desk. “It’s one after the other,” he tells me, when we finally manage to talk. The piece that is in front of him as we speak on the phone is called Aus 133 Fenstern. Although “composer in residence” in Bern doesn’t mean that you actually have to be there for an extended period of time, the conditions at the festival venue have inspired Michael Pelzel to create a special spatial composition.
From the multitude of windows that open out from the PROGR Cultural Center onto the courtyard, the audience is treated to bells, triangles, lotus flutes and ocarinas, played by children and young people and even if the target of 133 musicians is not quite reached, there is no doubt that a unique spatial and sound event awaits the audience.
The piece is composed and written out in detail. Pelzel however does not expect the amateur musicians to manage to play in synch with each other under the special spatial circumstances. “Even professionals can’t manage to hit the percussion instruments at exactly the same time,” says Pelzel. But it is precisely this blurring tonal effect, the composer is particularly interested in. “Composers are, after all, always on the lookout for new, unheard sounds and the choral use of these metal percussion instruments is – in my opinion – not yet been explored in its full potential.”
Pelzel’s fascination with metal percussion instruments comes to the fore in several occasions during the festival. In composition Glissomaniac for two pianos and two percussionists, for example, where tubular bells produce this kind of blurs as the two percussionists and pianists play in unison. “Micro-arpeggios” is how Michael Pelzel defines the result. “It’s a bit like a river delta. Many little tributaries, each one with its peculiar course, but all with a common direction, flowing towards the sea.”
Michael Pelzel already combined vocal ensemble and percussion in 2019 in the piece Hagzusa zum Galsterei, premiered by the SWR Vokalensemble at Eclat Festival Stuttgart.
Michael Pelzel also relies on this effect in the vocal composition Luna for eight singers and percussion, with not only the percussionist using instruments, but also the eight singers playing triangles of different sizes. Due to the minimal temporal shift in the attack, metal sound clouds of different dimensions and never entirely predictable arise again and again.
Luna is a work commissioned by KlangForum Heidelberg as part of the ensemble’s series of works “Sternbild: Mensch” (Constellation: Man) and was actually to be premiered elsewhere. But as so often, had to be postponed due to the pandemic.
The work has already been premiered, but so far only in digital form. The “analogue” premiere in front of a physically present audience will now be able to take place in Bern: a special highlight in the context of a concert entitled Ferne Lichterschwärme.
Michael Pelzel, La Luna, KlangForum Heidelberg, ‘Uraufnahme’ online june 2021
In combination with Pelzel’s piece La Luna, the programme also includes orchestral works by Georg Friedrich Haas (born 1953) and György Ligeti (1923-2006) and Pelzel’s compositions will be presented together with works by Haas and Ligeti also during other concerts. Probably because there is a certain affinity between the three composers, as – just like Ligeti – Pelzel appreciates intricate micro-rhythms and shares a passion for microtones with Georg Friedrich Haas. Accordingly, the combination of his works with these two greats suits him perfectly: “Between Georg Friedrich Haas, who was my esteemed teacher and György Ligeti, an important musical reference for me in many respects, I feel very comfortable”.
Michael Pelzel, in memoriam György Ligeti: intricate micro-rhythms link the works of György Ligeti and Michael Pelzel, inhouse production SRG/SSR
György Ligeti also plays an important role for Michael Pelzel as an organist. Accordingly, the organ concert with Michael Pelzel as part of the festival will feature Ligeti’s organ work Harmonies from 1967. The composition …stream of debris… by Michael Pelzel, which he will premiere himself, is seen by the composer as part of the same tradition. “It’s also a bit of a tribute to Ligeti, who worked a lot with clusters in his organ music. When I improvise on the organ myself, I also take clusters as a starting point, but I try not to simply repeat that, but also to further develop Ligeti’s approach for the present times.”
Streamed Polyphony for strings, which will be premiered by CAMERATA BERN, is appropriately announced in the programme as a “swarmig piece” in line with the festival motto “swarms”. “Swarming is not actually correct,” says Pelzel when I ask him about it. “I rather thought of three insects buzzing around a light source while composing it.”
That is why the distribution of the musicians in the room plays an important role in this piece, allowing the sound of the strings to literally buzz around the room. Even if the title of the composition no longer suggests the association with insects: perhaps the swarming and buzzing effect will still be recognizable to the listeners during the CAMERATA BERN concert.
This year’s Bern Music Festival will take place from September 1 to 5 under the motto “schwärme” (swarms) with works and world premieres by Salvatore Sciarrino, Fritz Hauser, Jürg Frey, Johanna Schwarzl, Hans Eugen Frischknecht, Pierre-André Bovey, Thomas Kessler and Jean-Luc Darbellay, among others.
The festival also features a cinema matinée on György Ligeti (documentary: Wenn die Zahnräder Menschen sind, 1996) followed by a discussion between Michael Pelzel, composer in residence, and Thomas Meyer, music journalist (Thursday, 2.9., 10h).
World creations by Michael Pelzel:
Aus 133 Fenstern, Mittwoch, 1.9. 17h
Streamed Polyphony, in concert: Open the Spaces, Mittwoch, .1.9. 19h
Glissomania, in concert: Durch unausdenkliche Wälder, Freitag, 3.9. 21h
La Luna, in conczert: Ferne Lichterschwärme, Samstag, 4.9. 19h
Harmonies / ...stream of debris… in concert: Con Passione, Sonntag, 5.9. 17h
Gabrielle Weber: Rebecca Saunders: composer-in-residence @ Lucerne Festival1
The celebrated British composer Rebecca Saunders is composer-in-residence at Lucerne Festival, featuring eight Swiss premieres and one world premiere of hers, many of which to be performed by the new ‘Lucerne Festival Contemporary Orchestra’. This represents the festival’s long-term commitment to new and cutting-edge music and forms the artistic core of ‘Lucerne Festival Forward’, the new autumn festival for contemporary music.
Neoblog portrays the new focus on contemporary music at Lucerne Festival with several contributions and posts: The first focusing on Rebecca Saunders – composer-in-residence during the summer festival.
Rebecca Saunders, winner of the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize 2019 and highly in demand worldwide, can be experienced up close in Lucerne this year. Since studying with Wolfgang Rihm in Karlsruhe, the British composer has been living in Berlin and is present at every important contemporary music festival: be it with chamber music, orchestral works or even performative sound installations.
In Lucerne, the public can now immerse comprehensively in Saunders’ music, characterised by silence, colour and physicality.
“Silence is like the screen behind the sound, it frames the sound,” says Saunders, who mixes silence with timbres and quiet changes in timbre. Often the first thing Saunders has in mind when composing is one single sound, a real colour or a mood. “You go into a landscape, into a sonic situation when you compose and at some point, you reach absolute focus – from then on, everything you do is right.”
Whenever possible, Saunders tackles her new pieces with the interpreters, carefully approaching the instruments’ peculiarities with them. “What could be better than exchanging ideas with the musicians and discussing every little detail until the very end?”
Saunders composed the solo piece blaauw from 2004, for example, for the Dutch trumpeter Marco Blaauw, who will perform it in Lucerne. In this work, Blaauw uses the double funnel trumpet he developed to conduct a conversation, not only between the two partial trumpets, but also with the room’s acoustics, with a grand piano, in whose resonance chamber the trumpet plays, and with the audience. The title stands for the performer Blaauw and is at the same time a gentle winking allusion to Saunders’ love of colours.
Rebecca Saunders: blaauw, 2004, Nenad Markovic, trumpet / Ensemble Laboratorium, Davos Festival 2012, in house-production SRG/SSR
Blaauw’s double funnel trumpet can not only play quarter tones, but also subtle and abrupt changes in timbre or extremely long and large glissandi.
The “glissando technique” also defines the new piano concerto To an Utterance, written for pianist Nicolas Hodges, in which Saunders explores the almost physical limits of pianistic virtuosity, as she explained in a preliminary talk with Marc Sattler, festival dramaturge for contemporary music at the Lucerne Festival.
Together with pianist Nicolas Hodges, she explored the feasibility of extreme glissandi under various conditions, e.g. including only all black or all white keys. These energy-loaded sound gestures, combined with melodic lines, run through the piece and create a colourful richness.
“The piano is my home,” says Saunders. The strong relationship with the instrument is the reason why she has written many pieces for it and felt a strong desire to write a piano concerto for years. With the premiere of To an Utterance, her first piano concerto, the dream will now come true in Lucerne.
Rebecca Saunders, The underside of green for Clarinet, Violin &Klavier 1994, Collegium Novum Zürich, in house-production SRG/SSR: The underside of green is part of a series of compositions inspired by the final monologue of Molly Bloom in James Joyce’s Ulysses.
Literature, prose, poetry but also lexical and non-fiction texts have always fascinated Saunders and authors such as Samuel Becket or James Joyce constantly accompany her composing.
This fascination sometimes blossoms into pure instrumental pieces, based on texts or words, but without words. Then Saunders translates the colour of language into sound, as she did in Fletch (première 2012), a string quartet transforming the hissing pronunciation of the word fletch, into arrow-like, impulsive gestures of the string sound.
Or they result in vocal works focusing on text, or sometimes single words. Nether for soprano and ensemble (premiere 2019), for example, revolves around Molly Bloom’s monologue from the last chapter of James Joyce’s epic poem ‘Ulysses’. The vocal part will be performed in Lucerne by the British soprano Juliet Fraser, with whom Saunders has worked for a long time.
Her aim is not just to set a text to music, but to render what makes a text audible and perceptible, explains Saunders. A lot happens ‘behind and in between the lyrics’, hidden beneath the surface as the title suggests. Molly’s monologue becomes an emotional, almost theatrical, spatially arranged vocal performance. “The listeners are inside the music,” says Saunders, “as if they were sitting in the middle of a musical sculpture, in the fabric of sound.”
The Mouth for soprano and tape as well as Skin for voice and ensemble were specifically written for Fraser’s body or voice. Saunders sees mouth and skin are two of the most important interfaces between a human’s inner and outer world. For The Mouth, Saunders worked closely with Fraser to develop ‘unused forms of articulation’, in order to make this interface tangible.
Rebecca Saunders, The mouth, Juliet Fraser, World premiere 2020, Centre Pompidou Paris
In the composer’s own words, the piece wants to ‘penetrate from the surface of the sound to the essence of the voice: the physical body that produces that sound’. – Saunders re. The Mouth (UA 2020) – “Sound is a physical experience, one that engages all five senses,” says Saunders.
Rebecca Saunders – composer-in-residence at Lucerne Festival
21.8., 11h: Marco Blaauw, trumpet, Arditti Quartet, Trio Accanto (including blaauw, fletch).
4.9, 11h: Juliet Fraser, soprano, soloists of the Lucerne School of Music: Daniela Argentino, soprano, Clemens Heil, conductor (a.o. The Mouth / Skin)
Other mentioned concerts:
28.8., 22h: Juliet Fraser, soprano, ensemble of the Lucerne Festival Contemporary Orchestra, conductor: Johanna Malangré (among others Nether, Swiss premiere).
4.9., 18:30h: Nicolas Hodges, piano, Lucerne Festival Contemporary Orchestra, conductor: Ilan Volkov (among others to an utterance, world premiere)
Kultur-Aktualität, 17.1.2019: Ernst von Siemens Musikpreis an Rebecca Saunders: die Lautmalerin der Stille, Redaktion Florian Hauser (verlinken):
Musikmagazin, 22.10.2016: Kaffee mit Rebecca Saunders, Redaktion Florian Hauser
Kontext – Künste im Gespräch 26.8.2021: Rebecca Saunders: composer-in-residence Lucerne Festival, Redaktion Annelis Berger
Musik unserer Zeit, 22.9.2021, 20h: Rebecca Saunders, Redaktion Annelis Berger
Neue Musik im Konzert, 22.9.2021, 21h: Portraitkonzert Rebecca Saunders 2, u.a. the mouth & skin
Basel composer Roland Moser received one of the Swiss Music Prizes from the Federal Office of Culture. His former composition student Burkhard Kinzler, now established composer and theory lecturer in Zurich himself, gives an insight into Moser’s procedures and work.
in 1992 I was a young aspiring composer with a background in church music and I travelled from Heidelberg to Basel for the first time to meet with Roland Moser, I could not yet have guessed how formative, indeed decisive for my life, these lessons would turn out to become. I was curious, but also sceptical: I didn’t know my future teacher at all. My first choice was actually Kelterborn, from whom I had sung a few pieces, but he had no availabilities. «You can try Moser,» I thought to myself, «and if it doesn’t work, just quit again.»
After the first lesson, this thought was wiped away – there was a spark. Roland Moser opened my eyes, his view of old as well as new music was a revelation to me. This man knew EVERYTHING. And I had never before encountered such independent musical thinking, with no compromises and concretely score-oriented.
His gift for reading my compositional attempts, thinking his way into them and then asking questions is something I have admired more and more. It has brought me forward by quantum leaps. His questions more than once unmasked the unaccomplished in a lovingly discreet way.
Others must have felt the same way, no wonder that most of my fellow theory lecturers at the ZHdK* come from Roland’s school.
I did not know a single note of music by Roland Moser, so I soon began to look for his works (which was much more difficult back then than today), study them and also perform them, first with my small ensemble for new music and as part of my professorship in Mannheim. The precise and enigmatically humorous pieces of his «Kabinetts mit Vierteltönen» for 2 pianos for example, enchanted both me and my students.
Roland later jokingly reproached me for performing almost exclusively his “occasional works”. At the same time suggesting that these pieces, seemingly only marginal products, play in an intricate way an absolutely essential role in his – in the meantime impressively comprehensive – oeuvre.
A good example is his “Quatre cadres harmoniques” for flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano, the first movement of which for alto flute and bass clarinet solo represents something like the secret core of Roland Moser’s work to me.
It is no coincidence that he also uses this sparse two-and-a-half-minute piece, fitting on one page, in other compositions, such as “Kleine Differenzen über einen Grund” for wind quintet (6th movement). Here too, appearing as a starting point and intellectual centre.
Roland Moser, Kleine Differenzen über einen Grund für Bläserquintett, Ensemble Contrechamps 2005, in house-production SRG
How I came to this statement?
On the basis of these few notes actually, essential directions of thought and sound of Roland Moser’s music can be pointed out:
First of all, there is the strict, unflattering economy: not a note too much, no “ornamentation” whatsoever, every sound precisely heard and exactly in the place where it is needed.
No “Just-Intonation Sauce” – No Spectralist Spectacle
Then there is the preoccupation with the overtone series, which in Roland Moser’s work does not simply lead to a “just-intonation sauce” or “spectralist spectacle”; Moser’s reflection on the conflicts between (natural) physics and (tempered) culture produces sounds in which this conflict becomes an experience. The counterpoint of the two instruments in this movement is designed in such a way that literally every sound together is in a part-tone relationship; at the same time, the interpreters are urged not to adjust their intonation, but to remain in the equal temperament. Thus, natural sound appears as a chimera that seems to be grasping with hands (or ears) and yet turns out to be only a mirage.
For all this to happen in the listener’s ear, the composer needs patience and the ability to slow down. Roland Moser has both in abundance.
Also worthy of mention is the rhythmically unbound but always gesturally unambiguous style of durational notation that Roland Moser learned from his friend György Kurtag.
All of the above-mentioned basic conditions lead to a piece – featuring only two intruments – of tremendous concentration and an expressive power arising directly from the sound conception that is unparalleled.
The “Romanticism Project”
Now it would be absolutely unjustified to reduce Roland Moser’s wide-ranging oeuvre to this “little piece”, as he himself would probably call it. There are major projects that have defined his entire compositional life, such as the “Romantic Project”. At a time when Romantic poetry was considered by most of his contemporaries to be out of fashion in comparison with late and post-expressionist modes of expression, Roland Moser unflinchingly occupied himself with poets such as Heine and above all Brentano. He managed to tap into the anarchic potential of this seemingly sweet language in order to find his own, new tonality for it.
This context also includes permanent confrontation with the music of Franz Liszt and above all Franz Schubert, to which Roland has profound things to say and to which he has repeatedly reacted in his own work. For example in «Echoräumen» after Schubert’s Trauermusik or in his arrangement of the Andante in B minor for fragmentary orchestra.
Roland Moser, Echoraum after Schuberts Trauermusik (Nonett D79) for Kammerorchester, Kammerorchester Basel, 2018, in house-production SRG
Moser’s relationship to the orchestra – which he himself described as “broken” – is also evident here and yet he was able to write such weighty works as “WAL – für schweres Orchester”.
Roland Moser, WAL für schweres Orchester mit 5 Saxophonen (1980/83), Basel Sinfonietta und Xasax Saxophonquartett, in house-production SRG
His great opera “Avatar” also revolves around romantic and fantastic values, as does his second stage work “Rahel and Pauline”, although in a completely different manner, achieving to bring an exchange of letters (between Rahel Varnhagen and Pauline Wiesel) onto a stage, or to life.
There is so much more that could be said about Roland Moser’s work and activities. Roland Moser’s cosmos has points of contact and inspiration throughout human history – this is where his deeply humane, philanthropic attitude manifests itself. His work is the expression of a profound and at the same time critical and affectionate examination of the human being as well as communication with everything that defines our human race.
*Theorie-professors ZHdK among others: Felix Baumann, Kaspar Ewald, Mathias Steinauer, Felix Profos, Bruno Karrer, Lars Heusser
The Romantic Project continues this year with a world premiere of Schubert’s last symphonic poems, performed by the KOB directed by Heinz Holliger..
24. Juli 2021, Lübeck, Schleswig-Holstein Musikfestival: World premiere of the three-movement version of the last symphonic sketches by Franz Schubert (D 936A) by Roland Moser. Basel Chamber Orchestra, directed by Heinz Holliger. Further date:
15.8. Stadtcasino Basel
21. August, Festival Les Jardins musicaux, Rondchâtel Villiers bei Biel/Bienne: World premiere of “Die Europäerin”, music theatre by Roland Moser, based on the Mikrogrammm 400 by Robert Walser; with Leila Pfister, Niklaus Kost, Jürg Kienberger, Conrad Steinmann (also a 2021 prize winner), Alessandro d’Amico/ Helena Winkelman Trogen AR ,
18. September: Festival Rümlingen 2021, Musiktheater#3
29./30. Januar 2022: Basel Gare du Nord
A new CD will be released in summer 2021: cello solos and duos with piano, violin, oboe d’amore, recorder (with: Katharina Gohl Moser, Anton Kernjak, Helena Winkelman, Matthias Arter and Conrad Steinmann).
Roland Moser, Burkhard Kinzler, Kammerorchester Basel, Festival Les jardins musicaux, Heinz Holliger, Kaspar, Neue Musik Rümlingen, Mathias Steinauer, Felix Profos, Matthias Arter, Helena Winkelman, Basel Sinfonietta, Anton Kernjak, Xasax Saxophonquartett
Watching the sunrise on the shores of Lake Geneva while listening to live music: what could be better? Lausanne’s `Musiques à l’aube` and Geneva’s ‘les aubes musicales’, two open-air concert series invite early risers to enjoy early-morning concerts. ‘Vivre la musique’ could be the summer motto in French-speaking Switzerland.
Lausanne’s musiques à aubes started in 2017. Every Saturday, at 6am in the morning, connoisseurs, enthusiasts and curious meet at the central city harbour ‘jetée de la Compagnie’ for a unique start into the day with live music.
The series was founded by four jazz lovers and focused entirely on jazz during the first years, offering initially five concerts. This year, the programme is broader with ten scheduled concerts: “A live moment without constraint and limits, for an audience with curious gourmet ears” should be the focus, according to the curators. This season’s programme varies between jazz, improvisation, experimental modernism, electroacoustics and rock. Solo concerts by pianists Nik Bärtsch and Cédric Pescia easily share the bill with performances by Louis Jucker and Evelinn Trouble.
On July 10, for example, pianist Nik Bärtsch will perform a solo concert featuring pieces from his new CD ‘Entendre‘ on grand piano. The CD was released in March 2021* and collects what Bärtsch calls “modules”: repetitive minimal pieces that have been created over the years and can be interpreted variably. On July 10 Bärtsch will play solo on piano, but he also often performed them with his band Ronin. Between composition and improvisation, they arise and change shape with each live performance.
Nik Bärtsch & Ronin, Modul 58, in house-production SRG/SSR 2018
Pianist Cédric Pescia will will play the ‘Sonatas and Interludes’ by John Cage (1946-48) on a prepared piano on July 31. Equipped with objects made of wood, metal or plastic between the strings, the piano turns into a small percussion ensemble.
An acoustic oasis in the midst of noise and tarmac – in the hottest month of August
The city of Geneva also has its own series for early risers, Les Aubes musicales, every Sunday at 6am. In the very central ‘jetée des paquis’, it presents itself since 2007 as an early morning window on the world. An acoustic oasis in the midst of noise and tarmac, in the hottest month of August.
Just as in Lausanne, here too, stylistic openness and shared experience are characteristic. “The series is something unique, incomparable to anything else. It’s about the magical moment between darkness and light,” says Marie Jeanson, co-director of the series and artistic director of the Archipel Genève New Music Festival.
The Geneva New Music Ensemble Contrechamps always opens the season with its performance at ‘Les Aubes musicales’. For Serge Vuille, the artistic director of Contrechamps, this is always “a magical event”. This year, on August 22, Contrechamps will perform Gérard Grisey’s ‘Prologue’ from 1976, along with Geneviève Calame’s ‘Mantiq-al-Tayr’, composed in 1973 and Claude Debussy’s ‘Sonata’ from 1915.
Seong-Whan Lee, Là où les eaux se mêlent, Contrechamps, création 2021, in house-production SRG/SSR
Geneviève Calame, Geneva composer who died in 1993, devoted herself in particular to the combination of electronics with acoustic instruments or electroacoustic music. After studying in the USA, Paris and Stockholm, she co-founded Geneva’s ‘Studio de musique électronique, Vidéo et d’informatique’ and composed numerous – still little known – pieces for classical orchestra, synthesizer or audio-visual setup.
Both series are dedicated to local yet internationally influential musicians, thoroughly and openly understanding contemporary music-making.
In French-speaking Switzerland, dealing with music genres is admirably uncomplicated and barriers are hardly noticeable, neither among the organisers nor the audience. The focus is on shared experience and openness to the unknown. Music is life and enjoyment, sensuality and poetry: that’s what people in Lausanne and Geneva like to get up early for.
Nik Bärtsch: Entendre, ECM, März 2021
Musiques à l’aube, Lausanne,concerts take place on Saturdays at 6h, June 26 to August 28, venue: ‘La Jetée de la Compagnie & Le Minimum’. In case of bad weather, concerts are rescheduled on the following Sunday, decision the evening before.
broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur
Klangfenster, 20.6.21: Nik Bärtsch, Entendre, autor Cécile Olshausen
Jazz & World aktuell, 16.3.21: Mehr als die Summe, interview with Nik Bärtsch by Roman Hošek
Blick in die Feuilletons, musique à l’aube, 13.7.21 (min 00:18), autor Gabrielle Weber
The synthesiser and me – that pretty much sums up Nicolas Buzzi’s life. The Swiss artist has been playing electronic musical instruments ever since his early years. Today he invents sounds that – perhaps – never existed.
Is there even a word for it? Like Synthesizerist? Electronic musician? Not really. Nevertheless, there are people who dedicate their lives to synthesisers and electronic music. For Nicolas Buzzi, this passion began early and in a rather unusual place… the attic of a farmhouse. As a twelve-year-old he found an old Yamaha synthesiser there. “A stroke of luck,” says Buzzi, as he is a much sought-after musician today.
Nicolas Buzzi: US VII/VIII/IX, unison in seven parts, 2.12.2020:
He learned the game by himself, throughout his entire youth. Was it love at first sight? Yes, but not in a strict sense as that Yamaha is now something that belongs to the past, long gone. “Devices come and go,” he says, “what matters and stays is the way of dealing with them, the musical thought.” That musical thought, however, is a little more complicated than one might think. So let’s have a closer look.
Donald “Don” Buchla – inventing new sounds
San Francisco, the 1960s. If you imagine Donald Buchla, one of the main figures in the synthesiser’s development, with a flowered shirt, long hair and blue shades, that might not be entirely wrong. “Don” Buchla cultivated this look until his death. Somewhat guru-like. Throughout his life, Buchla presented numerous model series of electronic musical instruments: the Buchla synthesizers.
Nicola Buzzi mainly plays on one of these models, the “Buchla 200e”. To say synthesiser is perhaps not correct, for “synthesise” or imitate sounds that already exist wasn’t actually what Buchla’s meant to do.
He was more interested in inventing new sounds, new music, in harmony with the spirit and optimism of those years. John Cage, for example, experimented with various random techniques at the same institute in San Francisco, even if in his case the music was played by people on conventional instruments. (More or less: Cage also wrote music for sounding cactus).
Don Buchla invented a corresponding generator, a random generator, which can generate unprogrammed sequences, not foreseen by humans, on his devices.
So the synthesiser “makes” music, right? Nicolas Buzzi puts it into perspective. He says that he does receive impulses from the instrument, which is constructed in a way that it runs through its own random processes, which are still mostly controlled. In other words, what he wants, he kind of shows the instrument the way. But that also means: “Most instruments and we players orient ourselves to existing music.” Which raised the question whether something really new can emerge this way.
Nicolas Buzzi, Negotiating the space between rhythm and timber, 2020
“When I play as Nicolas Buzzi, I always have my own cultural memory, which is not easily to be erased,” says Buzzi. “My body, the pulse, the breath – all of these aspects also play a role in making music.”
The realm of artificial sounds is therefor made of people and that includes us, the listeners, who immediately classify what they hear. Comparisons are made, familiar things are brought up, drawers are torn open in order to tidy up and stow away the unknown.
In a way, the whole thing is supposed be left in charge of the machines..
In a way, the whole thing is supposed be left in charge of the machines.
In fact, there are research projects on this with self-learning computers that are supposed to create a non-human music, not linked to any memories. “But I can’t imagine that sounding good,” Buzzi says sceptically. And rightfully so. In any case, something like that is hard to imagine. Speaking of our imagination … if music doesn’t relate to our world, what is it supposed to draw inspiration from? “Perhaps perception,” says Buzzi. “Perception of time, sound, or figures.” A different perception, therefore, is to be presumed, but can one perceive the unknown? This is where it gets hazy.
Music that is oriented towards the perception of time, sound and figures.
The musical thought that has occupied Buzzi for most of his life with his synthesizers could lead to abysses. Maybe it’s a good thing to enter solid collaborations with other musicians. Buzzi plays in a trio with his wife, artist and musician Martina Buzzi, as well as with architect and musician Li Tavor. Three synthesizers combined in one project under the name of “Pain”. Not inappropriate, since it was born in the Corona year 2020. “As all the venues where we could have performed were closed, we moved our common soundscape to the digital,” Buzzi explains.
Headphone music is created in this way. In and within one, or rather three, different digital sound spaces. One reacts very differently to his or her fellow musicians, says Buzzi, more independently, freer, listening with fresher ears. Ideal conditions, actually, for new things to happen on Buchla’s magical device.
Nicolas Buzzi / pain mit Martina Buzzi und Li Tavor: places 2
Let’s have a listen. In parts of “Pain”’s sounds one can hear creatures snarling and grunting at each other. It barks, trembles, hisses, as in an independent sonic bestiary and that’s what I hold on to. What would happen if I let myself fall into this rather unknown cosmos?
Letting go is where my brain actually starts getting in the way, as it obviously prefers to wander through an imaginary zoo with this music. The new music on Buzzi’s Buchla 200e, the “musical thought” about it, that also concerns the listener, who obviously likes to cling to his branch like a bird in a tree. Spread your wings and fly bird, fly!
In the “I sing the body electric” project, Nicolas Buzzi met the Ensemble Thélème. The result was a combination of synthesiser and Renaissance music
Nicolas Buzzi und thélème: I sing the body electric, Buchla Synthesizer trifft Chansons von Josquin, Eigenproduktion SRG/SSR
From September 21 to 23, the project Rohrwerk – Fabrique sonore, featuring sound installations by Nicolas Buzzi, German Toro Perez, Marianthi Papalexandri-Alexandri, etc. will be presented again (after Basel, Zurich and Lausanne SMC) at Lausannes’ Rolex Learning Center at EPFL.
Sendungen SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, 3.3.21, Nicolas Buzzi und sein Synthesizer, editor Benjamin Herzog / verlinken:
Neue Musik im Konzert, 31.3.21, 21h, I sing the body electric, editor Florian Hauser
Neoblogpost, 2.9.2019, Reibung erzeugt Wärme: Marianthi Papalexandri Alexandri @ Rohrwerk – Fabrique sonore/Zeiträume Basel, autor Theresa Beyer
Hyper Hyper!? Hyper Duo masters the art of escalation to excess. Pianist Gilles Grimaitre and percussionist Julien Mégroz consistently focus on energy, rhythm and satire. There seem to be no musical styles nor performance boundaries for the duo. Moving between classical avant-garde and pop-rock, Hyper Duo transcends common perceptions in a playful and humorous way. Their new programme Hyper Grid will be premiered at the Gare du Nord – Bahnhof für Neue Musik Basel.
The two artists define Hyper Duo as ‘experimental band’. Julien Mégroz comes from Lausanne and after studying there, he specialised in contemporary music at Basel’s FHNW. Gilles Grimaitre, from Geneva, studied at Bern’s HKB and went on winning a scholarship at Frankfurt’s international Ensemble Moderne Akademie. Both describe themselves as performers, improvisers, composers as well as project inventors.
Overcoming stylistic and genre boundaries and expanding horizons is the central focus of their duo, always in close collaboration with other artists and musicians. Energetic and humorous, Hyper Duo moves between traditional composition from the classical avant-garde, rocking electro-energy and absurd poetry. They draw inspiration both from popular and cultivated music.
New pieces for their chosen instrumentation as well as modern classics, supplemented with experimental electronics, video or even objects, form the musical core, with compositions provided by likeminded musicians or themselves.
Several Hyper programmes already stand for the unconventional approach to traditional concert formats, bearing titles like Hyper Cut, Hyper Stuck, Hyper Fuzz oder Hyper Rift.
Hyper Rift, Trailer ©Musikfestival Bern 2020
Hyper Rift, for example, consisted in a light and sound installation controlled by seismographic data at the Bern 2020 Music Festival. During a live performance inside Bern’s Monbijou Bridge, the duo, together with video artist Pascal Meury, made tectonic shifts audible and tangible. With percussion and synthesizer, they also pushed the volume to a limit just tolerable.
In Hyper Temper, a trio programme with percussionist Miguel Angel Garcia Martin, the two questioned the grand piano as instrument for its role in the music business, music history, but also as an everyday life object. In Cathy van Eck’s ‘pièce d’ameublement‘, it became an ornamental plant-bearing piece of furniture and thus symbol of bourgeois lifestyle in the 19th century.
In Hyper Grid, the two now perform again on their core instruments – amplified piano, drumset and electronics – as a follow up to their previous projects Hyper Fuzz and Hyper Cut.
Hyper Cut humorously complemented drumset, piano and electronics with video, voice and objects in new works by Simon Steen-Andersen, Sarah Nemtsov or Wolfgang Heiniger, among others.
Hyper Duo: Hyper Cut, Simon Steen-Andersen, difficulties putting it into practice, Video ©Hyper Duo
The Hyper Fuzz project, on the other hand, combined new, explicitly groovy pieces and modern classics with references to pop, rock and jazz, supplemented with electronic interludes by young Swiss sound inventor Cyrill Lim. Works by Frank Zappa, who himself combined electronic and electronic music in aesthetic projects, were heard alongside music by Stockhausen or young Lausanne composer Nicolas von Ritter. The programme was performed in classical concert halls and festivals as well as in rock and jazz clubs.
Hyper Duo / Hyper Fuzz @Taktlos Festival Zürich 2018, Video ©Hyper Duo
In the new project, Hyper Duo deepens its collaboration with two artists:
Serbian composer Marko Nikodijevic, who joins them himself on electronics for the world premiere of his grid/index [ I ] for the Hyper Duo. In his works, Nikodijevic likes to combine traditional instruments with digital sounds, using techno and pop techniques. Grid / index [ I ] is based on a work of the same name by artist Carsten Nicolai, a huge collection of drawings of two-dimensional grids and patterns. Nikodijevic translates the reference into simple rhythmic and melodic patterns reminiscent of the so-called ‘minimal techno’ of the 90s.
Kevin Juillerat, composer from Lausanne, refers to Nikodijevic in his work L’Être-On. His piece is based on a text by the surreal poet Antonin Artaud from a radio programme the artist produced himself in the 1940s. Juillerat explores the analogy between poetry and sound, creating a rhythmic, electronics-infused half-hour ‘mini-oratorio’.
Kevin Juillerat, le vent d’orages lointains, for piano and strings, UA 2018
The two experimental musicians from the French-speaking part of Switzerland never fail to offer subversively funny but also musically poetic programmes, which is plain to see in their numerous videos. Whether hyper hyper can still be intensified is best determined live in the new programme Hyper Grid, on June 2, at the Gare du Nord and from November onwards at several other venues. Especially since live concerts are now possible again, after such a long time.
The Gare du Nord – Bahnhof für Neue Musik Basel invites ensembles from the French-speaking part of Switzerland during three seasons for the Focus Romandie series. Hyper Grid is the third and last programme of this first season.
The new works “L’Être-On” for amplified piano, percussion, voice and effect pedals by Kevin Juillerat and “grid/index [ I ]” for drumset, piano and electronics by Marko Nikodijevic will be premiered.
Indigne de nous, Hyper Duo’s first studio album will be released on June 5, 2021 by Everest Records.
Institutions meant to support young composers who have graduated or are about to graduate are very important, essential actually. With protonwerk, ensemble proton bern has operated groundbreakingly and achieved a great deal in this field, which can also be discovered on neo.mx3.ch. This year’s Musikforum Biel/Bienne, aiming to support orchestral music, will present works by Spanish composer Gemma Ragués Pujol, Swiss composer Michal Muggli and Armenian composer Argenaz Martirosyan in three world premieres with the Sinfonie Orchester Biel Solothurn directed by its principal conductor Kaspar Zehnder on May, 19. All three young composers currently live in Switzerland, are studying or have completed their studies here and already won various prizes for their high-quality works. They create music of great density and tension, with an independent language that is at the cutting edge of our time.
Order, Disruption, Deconstruction
The 30-year-old Michal Muggli, who grew up near Zurich, already has a large catalogue of works. She completed her studies under the supervision of Beat Furrer with a Master’s degree in Graz – after graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in composition with honours at Bern’s University of Arts two years earlier.
In 2014 she won protonwerk 4 with DICKdünn II for flute, lupophone, bass clarinet, violin, violoncello, harp, piano and conductor. The first part of the eight-minute piece is of gripping intensity, tonally dense and of demonic expression. The dense, earthy and progressive soundscape is broken down into individual, fragmentary figures, alternating with sombre, rebellious clusters. Muggli leads her music into a turmoil of overlapping spoken words voices, merging into instrumental speaking, sighing, lamenting. A convincing work that also tells the listeners more about Muggli’s artistic passions: music and literature. She is now studying French literature and language as well as musicology and hermeneutics.
Michal Muggli, DICKdünn II, UA ensemble proton Bern, UA 2014 Bern / 2015 St. Petersburg International New Music Festival
Her new orchestral piece, Unruh, which will be premiered at the Musikforum Biel/Bienne, is once more focussing on order – in this case of clock mechanics – and disruption. Muggli writes about her composition that ‘…seemingly uncontrolled excursions of a sprial spring’ maintain ‘the regulated order of the gears’. Subliminally, the restlessness (Unruhen) is rebelling against the mechanical order of the passing of time and thus keeps it going. In her music, Muggli develops a dialectical process that also lets the sound wander through the orchestra, as she puts it, for she is also concerned with the ever-new transfer of forces between the almost interlocked orchestra musicians. An arrangement that leads us to expect music of great tension.
East and West linked in the present
Zeitlos, the orchestral piece by the Armenian Argenaz Martirosyan not only revolves around time, but also seeks to explore the concept in its various semantic meanings. The clockwork mechanism also appears in this work, as do moments of eruption. Martirosyan writes of ‘liberated time’. Her music develops in a dialectic of standstill and movement, due to the different dimensions of time and the composer hopes that time will ‘fly by’ for the public.
An inner tension and profound sound exploration that form a stimulating musical speech, as well as a close relation to improvisation, can be heard in Music for Alto Saxophone and Percussions (2020).
Aregnaz Martirosyan, Musik for Saxophone and Percussions, UA Lucerne Percussions New Music Days 2020
In this piece, Martirosyan – who is currently studying with Swiss composer Dieter Ammann, at the Lucerne School of Music after a schooling in Armenia – combines in the realms of Eastern composing with its expansive sound structures, always moving in different harmonic areas, with the Western musical present, in order create her own powerful and stirringly rhythmic tonal language.
She skilfully develops her language in the large unit that is the orchestra. This is evident in Dreilinden for solo trumpet and orchestra from 2019, a gripping work of art that ensured her two renowned prizes.
Aregnaz Martirosyan, Dreilinden, Konzert for Solo Trumpet and Orchestra, UA 2019
Sound and movement
Le temps bouge mais n’avance pas, written for the Musikforum Biel/Bienne by Catalan composer Gemma Ragués Pujol is also dealing with the phenomenon of time. The composer states that time is always moving but never progressing and she speaks of ‘temporality in the circular and defined movement of a roundabout’. Ragués Pujol is referring to the relationships between movement or physical gestures and sound, as well as their intersections. A system of correlations that the composer has been exploring for some time, including in the rigorous choreography of her silence fantasy #1, a performance in which three newspaper-reading actors move on chairs and yet appear to be static.
Gemma Ragués, silence fantasy #1, UA 2020
She also explores the possible links between electronic and acoustic sounds, arriving to almost contradictory results: In nit de sal for voice, ensemble and electronics from 2019, she poignantly sets poems by Joana Raspall and Maria Mercè Marçal into music, sometimes using excessive sound formations.
Gemma Ragués, nit de sal, UA 2019
The Biel Solothurn Symphony Orchestra concert will see the three world premieres completed by Ulrich Hofer’s Minute Pendulum, a jazzy improvisation system that he adapted for orchestra, thus – building on the ‘creation tools of jazz’ , as he writes himself and shaping it into a composition.
The three concerts can be listened to on the streaming platform neo.mx3 on the composers’ profiles.
The concert in full length will be broadcasted in: Neue Musik im Konzert on SRF 2 Kultur on wednesday, 26.5. at 9pm.
Concert-details: Musikforum Biel/Bienne, 9. Sinfoniekonzert
Sinfonie Orchester Biel Solothurn, Michal Rebekka Muggli, Gemma Ragués, Aregnaz Martirosyan, Dieter Ammann, Beat Furrer, Christian Henking, Xavier Dayer, Simon Steen-Andersen, Ensemble Proton Bern, Ulrich Hofer
Friederike Kenneweg: 20 Years of Mondrian Ensemble: Anniversary Concerts
20 years already: the Basel based piano quartet Mondrian is celebrating its anniversary and the good thing is that some of the concerts planned for the occasion can now actually happen.
This year’s concert season was somewhat uneven and not only for the Mondrian Ensemble: too many events have been cancelled, postponed or had to be live-streamed online. But for Tamriko Kordzaia (piano), Ivana Pristašová (violin), Petra Ackermann (viola) and Karolina Öhmann (violoncello) it was even worse as they were planning to celebrate their ensemble’s 20th anniversary. The anniversary concert in autumn 2020 could take place with reduced audience. The Walcheturm event in Zurich however had to be streamed. The only advantage being that it is now accessible to everyone online.
Connecting lines between the ages
Bringing together common practice period and contemporary music has been Mondrian Ensemble’s characteristic for 20 years and their anniversary programme was no exception. A string trio by Schubert and four fantasy pieces by Schumann were combined with works by Martin Jaggi (*1978), Jannik Giger (*1985) and Madli Marje Gildemann (*1994). This allows a better perception of the different connections between musical periods, but also highlights contrasts and further developments all the more clearly. As the four musicians do not limit themselves to one period, but consider the entire history of music up to the present day for their concert programmes, they repeatedly uncover astonishing things – for example, parallels between the melancholy beauty of English Renaissance music and the slow pulsation of a piece by the Austrian Klaus Lang, or enable the audience to experience a very special kind of time travel, performing a piano trio by Schubert and a piano quartet by Morton Feldman in immediate succession.
Another important aspect is that the ensemble keeps contemporary compositions in its repertoire and plays them on various occasions over the years, allowing them to develop and unfold like interpretations of classical works. This is hardly possible in the new music business, focusing mainly on world premieres.
Great importance is also attached to working closely with the composers – sometimes over long periods of time, for example, Dieter Ammann, as the work on the world premiere of his string trio “Gehörte Form” (“Heard Form”) from 1998 led the founding members Daniela Müller on violin, Christian Zgraggen on viola and Martin Jaggi to form an ensemble in 2000.
Dieter Ammann, Gehörte Form – Hommages for string trio 1998, in house-production SRG/SSR
The joining of Walter Zoller on piano, opened new possibilities and allowed them to perform string and piano trios as well as piano quartets from all periods. The ensemble still makes full use of the flexibility that this instrumentation brings in its programming. Thus, solos or duets can also be found in the various possible combinations.
Different combination possibilities
Another composer who has accompanied the ensemble for a long time is Jannik Giger from Basel. Their collaboration was for the piece “Intime Skizzen“, as the musicians rehearsed compositional sketches by Leoš Janáček, Jannik Giger was present with his camera. The finished work offers insights into the musicians’ rehearsal rooms via a video screen, showing the piece’s appropriation process. In addition, the ensemble plays the Janáček fragments as well as the additions that Giger composed on stage. In the meantime, Giger’s piano trio “Caprice” from 2013 and string trio “Vertige“ have also become part of the ensemble’s regular repertoire.
Jannik Giger, Vertige for string trio 2020
The ensemble not only recorded a portrait CD with Austrian composer Thomas Wally (Jusqu’à l’aurore, col legno 2020), but will also perform with him on stage in May, as Wally is also violinist. In the upcoming concerts, Ivana Pristašová, Petra Ackermann and Karolina Öhmann will also join the string quartet. For the BLACK ANGELS programme, they will perform the 1970 piece of the same name by George Crumb, which refers to the Vietnam War, with electronically amplified string instruments. Tape recordings are added to the string quartet in Steve Reich’s Different trains (1988), which also refers to war – reflecting on the importance of trains during the Second World War.
50 years of women’s suffrage in Switzerland – a playable oven
The programme planned for autumn 2021 revolves around the 50th anniversary of women’s suffrage in Switzerland. A first glimpse will be given on June 4, with the premiere of “Garzeit” by artist duo LAUTESkollektiv.
LAUTESkollektiv is composer Stephanie Haensler (*1986) together with designer Laura Haensler and “Garzeit” is a multi-part piano quartet in which the usual instruments of the Mondrian Ensemble will be complemented by a playable oven.
This conveys part of the aesthetics and everyday life of women around 1971.
During the composition, switches, levers and knobs are operated by the musicians and influence the soundscape.
Stephanie Haensler: Ein Schnitt for string quintet 2019, in house-production SRG/SSR
The full programme also features several pieces by female composers of different periods and generations – from Clara Schumann (1819-1896), via Elfrida Andrée (1841-1929) and the almost forgotten St. Gallen composer and poet Olga Diener (1890-1963) to Rebecca Saunders (*1967) and Katharina Rosenberger (*1971).
Mondrian Ensemble’s programme, in which the piece “the ocarina chapter” by Christoph Gallio was to be premiered was eventually postponed to 2022. The piece has been commissioned by the ensemble to the Swiss composer and the concert was planned to be meeting of the ensemble with voice artist Theo Bleckmann from New York – an artistic encounter that the situation unfortunately does not permit at the moment.
Garzeit’s world premiere will take place on June 4, at Historisches Museum, Baden and its world premiere tour (Zurich, St. Gallen, Chur, Basel) will run until November 1, 2021.
The tour with world premiere by Christoph Gallio has been postponed to 2022.
Thomas Wally, Ivana Pristašová, George Crumb, Steve Reich, Madli Marje Gildemann, Klaus Lang, Morton Feldman, Daniela Müller, Walter Zoller, Leoš Janáček, col legno, Laura Haensler, Olga Diener, Clara Schumann, Rebecca Saunders, Elfrida Andrée, Theo Bleckmann
Sendung SRF 2 Kultur:
Blick in die Feuilletons, 8.12.20, 20 Jahre mutige Kammermusik – das Mondrian Ensemble hat etwas zu feiern (ab Min 24): a portrait by Gabrielle Weber
Mondrian Ensemble, Tamriko Kordzaia, Karolina Öhman, Petra Ackermann, George Crumb, Klaus Lang, Martin Jaggi, Jannik Giger, Dieter Ammann, Stephanie Haensler, Katharina Rosenberger, Christoph Gallio, Gare du Nord, Kunstraum Walcheturm
Archipel, Geneva’s Contemporary Music Festival, will take place live and stream online from 16 to 25 April. Archipel sous surveillance, the festival web TV, brings the performances live into the audience’s homes.
2020 was a special year and this in many ways for the legendary Geneva Festival. After many years of directorship by musicologist Marc Texier, a new duo of directors took over. Marie Jeanson – who has a background in experimental and improvised music- and Denis Schuler – composer and artistic director of Geneva’s Ensemble Vide – want to turn the festival upside down.
The new artistic director duo explained their vision of the ideal festival to me last spring, shortly before the planned launch. Their vision was to be implemented in an exemplary way through a one-day Carte Blanche.
The festival was one of the first victims of the first lockdown.
This year it takes place online.
Marie Jeanson und Denis Schuler present themselves before the Carte blanche, planned for Archipel 2020. Video Geneva März 2020 ©neo.mx3
Jeanson and Schuler’s vision sounded like a five-point plan: what has become of it and what has been accomplished – despite the pandemic and streaming? I dug out our earlier conversation to compare their pre-pandemic vision with today’s reality:
The 2020 five-point plan <> the 2021 festival: a comparison
‘La musique c’est fait pour être vécue ensemble‘
2020: All is one – music and life belong together. The Carte Blanche should last an entire day and all take place in one place – Plainpalais’ Maison Communale -, focusing primarily on hospitality, with shared meals and as well as dialogue and interaction opportunities. Because: “The purpose of music is to share and experience it together,” says Schuler.
2021: The unity of life and music will be achieved through Archipel sous surveillance. The experimental festival web TV covers the festival – backstage on site – and brings it into the audience’s living rooms, daily between noon and midnight. The audience gets the opportunity to live with the festival.
2020: In the future, the festival wants to focus less on the music makers and more on the audience. “We wish to establish the right framework so that people are touched by a poetic coherence. We tell stories and want to create a desire to come back,” says Jeanson.
2021: Four sound installations occupy four rooms of Plainpalais’ Maison Communale and can be walked through online throughout the festival. The festival’s characteristic and historic headquarters are reborn online, creating a continuous poetic space between fiction and reality….
‘faire exister la création’
2020: Archipel does not want to be involved (any more) in the festival competition for the most and best world premieres. “Many people are only interested in being the first ones to do or show something,” says Schuler. But the artistic director duo is all about “keeping the creation alive”. “What we’re mainly interested in, is the combination of composition with what is created during the very moment.”
2021: Composition and improvisation meet at many concerts, the improviser Shuyue Zhao and the Basel ensemble neuverBand are only a few examples. In her performances, Zhao questions the interpreter’s role and works with live electronics, noise and improvisation. While works by Sofia Gubaidulina or Junghae Lee, among others, interpreted by the ensemble neuverBand, create a new kind of unity with Zhao’s improvisations.
Shuyue Zhao: noise fragments, 2019
‘partage de l’écoute’
2020: Transdisciplinarity won’t be the future festival’s focus neither. It is rather about ‘pure listening’. “We want to create a special setting in which concentrated listening takes centre stage,” says Jeanson. Concentration creates a special presence that paradoxically comes close to silence. “At the Carte Blanche, for example, there are ‘salons d’écoute‘, rooms dedicated to pure listening, with a sound diffusion system (Acousmonium) and sound engineer. Those who want can bring their own CDs to listen and discuss them together”.
2021: the “salons d’écoute” will take place in a slightly different way: You can’t bring your own CDs. But every noon there will be so-called ‘partages d’écoute’ where a composer will share his/her listening treasures. For example, you can discover composer’s Jürg Frey or composer-singer’s Cassandra Miller favourite records.
Rencontres à l’improviste – unexpected encounters
2020: Musicians who did not know each other before are brought together by the curators. “We provoke make encounters happen and create the framework: the musicians can play what and where they want within a given time frame. They decide at short notice, so the audience is surprised,” says Schuler.
2021: Insub.distances#1-8 links remote musicians. Cyril Bondy, Geneva’s Insub Meta Orchestra and d’Incise’s director, winner of a 2019 Swiss Music Prize, initiated the project for Archipel’21. During Geneva’s second lockdown, from September to December 2020, four Geneva-based and four international composers, composed each one piece for a duo. The works have proximity and distance as their theme and were rehearsed remotely, recorded and put online. Now they can all be enjoyed throughout the festival.
Insub Meta-Orchestra / Cyril Bondi & d’incise: 27times, 2016
It is astonishing how precisely Marie Jeanson’s and Denis Schuler’s festival vision, created on a small scale, is now reflected on a large scale, despite the pandemic’s and streaming restrictions.
Festival Archipel Teaser 2021
Archipel Festival, Geneva takes place from Friday, 16 to Sunday, 25 April.
During ten days, international performers and ensembles such as Ensemble Ictus, Collegium Novum Zürich, ensemble Contrechamps and Eva Reiter will perform works by Clara Iannotta, Alvin Lucier, Jürg Frey, Helmuth Lachenmann, Eliane Radigue, Cassandra Miller, Morton Feldman, John Cage and Kanako Abe, among others. All concerts can be streamed free of charge.
Archipel sous surveillance broadcasts daily between 12:00 and 24:00 from all venues, backstage and onstage, involving Geneva-based film crew Dav tv as well as the alternative television station neokinok.tv.
Le festival Archipel met à l’honneur les musiques experimentales
SRF 2 Kultur:
neoblog, 12.3.2020: Ma rencontre avec le future – ANNULÉ, Gabrielle Weber talks with the new artistic directors Jeanson/Schuler.
In 2020, he received the Swiss Music Prize. Now Rudolf Kelterborn, the musicus universalis, is no more. He passed away on 24 March 2021 at the age of 89. On the occasion of the award, Florian Hauser had dedicated a portrait to the influential composer from Basel.
For current reasons, here it is again.
When he received one of the Swiss Music Prizes last autumn, I had the opportunity to visit Rudolf Kelterborn again and interview hom shorlty in his beautiful old flat in Basel. What I found most impressive at the time was that he was full of life. Everything was good the way it was, he didn’t feel he had missed out on anything, he had done everything he could do, which made his cheeky cheerfulness come out even more clearly.
The following portrait includes excerpts from our last conversation as well as from interviews that took place years and decades earlier…..
It was in 1985, when I first heard music by Rudolf Kelterborn: the incredibly intense cello sonata, which had been freshly composed. How can someone, I wondered as a young person, write such music? It is both angry and at the same time clearly structured, very well aware of its own power. The musical gesture circles, evokes, develops itself in depth until reaching up into the heights. Singing, lamenting, twisting, losing itself. Cheering. A music that narrates and speaks to me.
“In my work,” Rudolf Kelterborn once said, “creating something fundamentally new is not the priority. What really matters to me, is to set something in motion with viewers and listeners. With motion I do not mean a vague emotionalism, but rather the opposite, solidification. Even something that has nothing to do with current affairs can be current, by stimulating thoughts, or by being touching, impressive, fascinating, exciting.”
“to set something in motion with viewers and listeners..”
This is it. His music should be effective from by itself, without the need of any supplements. That has always been his credo. Rudolf Kelterborn is very old school, and if today’s music, new music, is becoming more and more interdisciplinary, or transdisciplinary, blurry at its edges and forming lliances, not to say amalgams, with many other disciplines, be it theatre or dance and installation and electronics and performance and all kinds of other things it wishes to involve – that is not Mr. Kelterborn’s thing.
Rudolf Kelterborn, Musica luminosa for orchestra 1984/85, Basel Sinfonietta, in-house production SRG/SSR
He is a veteran of the Swiss musical landscape, a contemporary witness to almost an entire century, courageous, committed, humourous and unrelenting. Someone who never made things easy for himself nor his environment.
..a veteran of the Swiss musical landscape..
It’s no coincidence that his colleagues sometimes called him Poltergern (one who tends to bluster) when he was head of the music department of Swiss Radio DRS in the 1970s. Yes, he could and can bluster – and still does so when encountering thoughtlessness. In that case he can be argumentative and hostile and polemical and perhaps even unfair.
Rudolf Kelterborn, Klavierstück 7 “Quinterno”, 2005, Klavierduo Soós-Haag, in-house production SRG/SSR
But that is only the other side of an attitude that despises the tepid or idle, while calling for unconditional commitment instead. An attitude that offers the audience a dense, narrative, highly emotional music – but which they are also supposed to expose themselves to. Comfort? No thanks. The audience has a right to be challenged, but then at the same time to draw an enormous benefit from it, a gain in experience, knowledge and pleasure
Broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, 14.4.2021, repetition from 16.9.2020: Portrait Rudolf Kelterborn, editor: Florian Hauser
srf-online, 8.4.2021: Nur aufhören konnte er nicht, editor: Cécile Olshausen
Musik Magazin, 10/11.4.2021, editor: Cécile Olshausen
In 2019, two of Graubünden’s professional orchestras, Ensemble ö! and Kammerphilharmonie Graubünden, already co-initiated Graubünden’s Biennale for New Music – tuns Contemporans.
Its second edition focuses on female composers on one hand and on local music creation on the other. Three pieces out of a “call for scores” for ladies only will be premiered and the Biennale also commissioned works to three generations of Graubünden composers.
Slogan is: Graubünden meets the world, the familiar meets the unfamiliar, the new meets the even newer.
The Chur Biennale for Contemporary Music tuns contemporans has had a somewhat difficult start into its second edition. In September 2020, it launched a Call for Scores for ladies only and at that time, the near future seemed a bit brighter as one could hope that live concerts might have taken place again the following spring.
Now, in the midst of the third pandemic wave and with no prospect of live concerts in front of an audience any time soon, it was eventually decided to hold the Biennale anyway. Like so many other festivals, it will take place without an audience on site, but broadcasting live via online stream.
A blessing in disguise as a variety of new works will be made available in and from Chur, all over the world, during four concerts between April 9 and April 11.
The Biennale was initiated by David Sontòn Caflisch, artistic director of the Ensemble ö! together with the Kammerphilharmonie Graubünden.
In addition to his ensemble ö! engagement, Sontòn Caflisch is active as violinist in various contemporary music formations as well as a composer. The Chur-based ensemble ö! regularly premieres works by up-and-coming composers, but also specifically by Graubünden musicians. In addition to Chur, it performs in Zurich, Basel and international guest performances.
Stefanie Haensler, Im Begriffe for Quintet, world creation ensemble ö! 2016, Video in house produktion SRG/SSR, Launch neo.mx3 & Ensemble ö!, Postremise Chur, 11.Oktober 2020.
Call for scores – for ladies only!
The submitted scores were judged by a jury consisting of renowned contemporary music connoisseurs:
The two women Asia Ahmetjanova, Ensemble ö!’s pianist and composer, and Karolina Öhman, solo cellist and member of Ensemble Mondrian, among others. Joined by Philippe Bach, Kammerphilharmonie Graubünden’s and tuns contemporans’ artistic director, Baldur Brönnimann, guest conductor at tuns contemporans and artistic director of the Basel Sinfonietta, as well as Sontòn Caflisch.
Of 124 submitted works, the following three pieces were selected for a world premiere: Fragmente einer Erinnerung (Fragments of a Memory) for small ensemble by Elnaz Seyedi (Tehran), Still Images by Vera Ivanova (Moscow) for large ensemble and Accord by Katrin Klose (Germany) for chamber orchestra. They will be separately premiered during one of the Biennale concerts.
tuns contemporans will also offer an insight into four generations of Graubünden musicianship, as commissions for three new works by Sontòn Caflischs, Martin Derungs and Duri Collenberg have been awarded. While the Sunday matinée will stage songs and a cello solo by Benedikt Dolf (1918 -1985).
Benedikt Dolf, Concertino für Streichorchester 2008, Eigenproduktion SRG/SSR
The Kammerphilharmonie Graubünden has always been committed to local music-making, both in Chur as well as in smaller concert venues of Graubünden’s valleys. With its commitment to tuns contemporans and Call for Scores, it is now setting an example for the orchestral repertoire’s renewal and for more gender diversity among the next generation of composers.
The internationally renowned Finnish composer Magnus Lindbergh has been invited as composer in residence. He will be present during the entire Biennale and will have his works performed in each of the four concerts.
The opening evening with the Kammerphilharmonie Graubünden at the Chur Theatre for instance will present his Violin Concerto from 2006, together with a world premiere by Sontòn Caflisch and the new piece by Katrin Kloss, winner of Call for Scores’ chamber orchestra category.
David Sontòn Caflisch, Enceladus-Variationen 2019, in house production SRG/SSR
Apartment House after John Cage, tuns contemporans’ promising mediation project, had to be cancelled at short notice due to the pandemic. Cage’s groundbreaking work from 1976 was to become a plea for social diversity and collective art in Chur. In collaboration with a large number of local artists, the festival wanted to cover all of Theater Chur’s rooms as well as the outside area. Now it turned into a symbol for the current physical distancing measures.
The Chur Theatre and the Bündner Kunstmuseum, from where all concerts will be streamed live are also involved in this festival, aiming to move contemporary music closer to everyday cultural life in Chur again, a resolution one would wish for in many a larger city.
Tuns contemporans promise a dense and varied programme: Graubünden meets the world!
60 female composers from 30 different countries submitted 124 works in tuns contemporans’ Call for Scores. 84 of them in the category “small ensemble”, 22 for the “large ensemble” category and 18 in the “chamber orchestra”category. Three works were selected for a premiere in each category. All details regarding concerts and livestream details can be found on tuns contemporans’ homepage
In October 2020, the RTR launch of neo.mx3 took place in the Postremise in Chur, featuring ensemble ö! during the short time in which live concerts were possible. The whole concert was recorded and filmed by RTR and is available on ensemble ö!’s neo.mx3 profile.
Broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Neue Musik im Konzert: Ein Fest der neuen Musik, final concert tuns contemporans 2019, editor Cécile Olshausen, 15.4.2020
neoblog, Ein Prost auf die Neue Musik!, post by Thomas Meyer, 27.9.2020
Musik unserer Zeit: ö! ensemble für neue Musik, editor Florian Hauser, 11.11.2020
Music and language are in many ways intertwined. This year’s Spring Conference in Darmstadt will explore this broad spectrum with lectures, panels and of course concerts, with performances by slam poet Nora Gomringer, soprano Sarah Maria Sun and ensemble proton bern.
Online streaming between April 7 and 10, 2021
Darmstadt, the venerable city in Hesse steeped in tradition and considered to be the “centre of Art Nouveau”, is also of crucial importance for 20th century music. It is not only home to a Jazz Institute with the best-stocked archive in Europe, every two years during the summer, the famous Darmstadt Summer Courses for New Music take place there and renowned teachers meet, lecture and discuss with the next generation. Since its foundation in 1946, Darmstadt – together with Donaueschingen – is one of the most important places of discussion where aesthetic directions are set – and the city gave its name to the avant-garde school led by Pierre Boulez and Karlheinz Stockhausen.
Somewhat less well known a spring conference was also launched at that time, also dealing with new music, artistic production and musicology, but above all with its transmission, especially in music education.
The conference is organised by the ‘‘Institut für Neue Musik und Musikerziehung (Institute for New Music and Music Education)‘ (INMM). The association also offers composition courses for children and young people as part of the spring conferences and launched a research project called ‘Campus Neue Musik‘, which is supporting cooperative composition projects with school classes.
INMM Trailer concert with Sarah Maria Sun, 9.4.21 ©INMM 2021
The conference has always been prepared and carried out by a collective board of artists, educators and academics, embodying the very idea of cooperation in its structure. As the INMM states on its homepage, it can be described as “forum of interdisciplinary dialogue between production, reproduction and reflection on innovative artistic concepts of the present and recent past and their transmission in music education.“.
Brand-new topics as well as border areas
Brand-new topics and border areas have always been up for discussion, in recent years for example on physicality, film/video or the clash of cultures. “We want to see how different things come together,” says musicologist Till Knipper, of the collective board. This year, the diverse interweavings of word and language with music are up for debate – an ancient, actually almost fundamental topic, but one that still holds a lot of potential and opening new areas in contemporary music, which will be the theme of this year’s conference.
The pandemic does not allow for live performances, so for the first time, everything will be done via the internet, according to a clever schedule in which one is not overfed with material. On the one hand, pre-produced contributions can be watched online, offering an artistic statement, on topics that will be the subject of lectures from 4 p.m. onwards and roundtable discussions from 6 p.m. onwards. The evening is reserved for performances and concerts.
The combination of music and language offers a wide spectrum. Of course, more traditional ways of making and composing music will also occur, they are even the focus on the second day, but it might turn out not being so conventional after all, for example when slam poet Nora Gomringer interacts with Günter Baby Sommer, a drummer who has also performed with Günter Grass.
On the first day, the interconnections are incorporated into the theatrical, while on the third day, the voice itself speaks (and sounds), precisely that very medium of conveyance that is as individual as it is resilient. The Voice belonging to the outstanding soprano Sarah Maria Sun for the occasion.
She’ll be performing or singing new songs by Rolf Riehm and Thierry Tidrow, who adds a sublayer of emoticons to his Morgenstern settings.
Rolf Riehm, excerpt from song cycle after Heine / Hölderin, Der Asra, Orpheus Euphrat Panzer, Hyperions Schicksalslied, Sarah Maria Sun, Jan Philip Schulze, UA INMM 2021
For Saturday, a swiss focused finale with “Transformationen“, a concert by ensemble proton bern, with no text, or at least not a conventional one, rather language is transformed into music, which is not a coincidence, as Switzerland has some special word-sound artists: Composers who transfer and transform language into mere sounds and achieve astonishing results.
There are many mentors in the oldest generation, such as Heinz Holliger, Urs Peter Schneider or Roland Moser. It can even happen – as with Moser – that only a text’s punctuation is set into music.
The younger generation followed them, developed further, brought in something new. Composer Annette Schmucki, for example, likes to start from word lists, analyse and penetrate them and let her music emerge from them on many different levels. Sometimes the text is simply spoken, sometimes language appears as musical notation, sometimes it shapes the structure of the music. “brotkunst… /54 pieces/farbstifte papier tabak“, for example, is based on texts by Adolf Wölfli. Wait and see what her new composition “drei möbelstücke” is about?
Annette Schmucki, brotkunst / 54 stück / farbstifte papier tabak, world creation ensemble proton bern 2016
Daniel Ott, founder of the Rümlingen Festival, who directs Munich’s Biennale für Neues Musiktheater with his colleague Manos Tsangaris, has always been politically motivated as well. One of his first compositions, “molto semplicemente” for accordion solo was born against the background of the Basel chemical fire in 1986 and brought it up. The starting point of his “6/7 Gare du Sud”, is the unacceptable situations that migrants are confronted with at Chiasso’s train station, so everyday issues flow into the music. These are unusual transpositions, bringing new aspects of the linguistic material to light.
The 2013 work “and then?”, for contrabforte (a newly developed type of contrabassoon) and ensemble, by Isabel Klaus will also be performed. It shows this composer’s love of the quirky, the somewhat outlandish, insistent and quietly playful cabaret.
It is no longer an actual speech composition, as the conductor interferes with the music not only through gestures, but also by speaking and though some would like the music to be pure and textless, it is not always available in such puristic form…
The 74th Spring Conference of the INMM – Verflechtungen II Musik und Sprache in der Gegenwart– will take place online from Wednesday, April 7 to Saturday, April 10 2021: all events are open and free of charge.
The lectures by Christa Brüstle and Christian Grüny are already online:
thursday, 8.4., 20h: Betrommeltes Sprachvergnügen, Nora Gomringer and Günter Baby Sommer
friday, 9.4., 20h: Sarah Maria Sun, Kilian Herold, Jan-Philipp Schulze
saturday, 10.4., 20h: ensemble proton bern: works by Annette Schmucki, Isabel Klaus, Daniel Ott, Lauren Redhead
The tree price winners are:
1. price: Yiquing Zhu (Shanghai) for Deep Grey (Basel Sinfonietta / Peter Rundel)
2. price: Arthur Akshelyan (Yerevan) for Three pieces for Orchestra (Sinfonieorchester Basel / Francesc Prat)
3. price: Miguel Morate (Valladolid) for Comme s’en va cette onde (Kammerorchester Basel / Frank Ollu)
The Basel Composition Competition (BCC) is taking place for its third edition. During one week, Basel will become the centre of new orchestral music.
Twelve international candidates will compete with new compositions, premiered by three major orchestras: Basel Symphony Orchestra, Basel Sinfonietta and Basel Chamber Orchestra. Due to the pandemic, the concerts will take place without an audience, but played live and streamed online. During the final concert on Sunday, three to five selected works from the preliminary rounds will be performed again and the jury will award the prizes live, on location.
The international and biennial competition’s goal is to encourage the creation of new orchestral works and in doing so, it carries on the tradition of Paul Sacher’s promotion of such significant compositions. The Paul Sacher Foundation is also represented in the competition’s jury and contributes with its know-how.
The fact that such a large-scale project could become a reality in Basel is due to initiator and director Christoph Müller, who also manages the Basel Chamber Orchestra. His enthusiasm for contemporary music is such, that he believes it deserves more than being relegated to encores next to the orchestral common practice period repertoire and hopes that the competition will help the pieces find their way into the standard repertoire of the three competition-, as well as other important orchestras.
12 candidates have been invited to the competition. Their new works will be premiered by the three orchestras during three concerts. Seven for symphony orchestra, five for chamber orchestra, which is amazing in pandemic times.
Müller is particularly happy about the Don Bosco venue, Basel’s new cultural centre, offering ideal conditions. For example, pandemic-related distances between the musicians can be maintained and there is enough room between jury and orchestra.
Sakiko Kosaka, Micro roots, candidate BCC 2019
The Basel competition – unlike others – hardly imposes any exclusion criteria or restrictions, like ages limit or diplomas. The only condition is that the submitted works must not have been performed nor awarded prizes before.
Candidates from all over the world
The high number of applications also shows that the Basel Composition Competition fulfils certain needs and demands, says Müller. Not all composers follow a ‘straight path’ and are ‘ripe’ for a competition at exactly the right age.
There were 355 applications in total, from all age groups – with candidates between 14 and 87 years of age, from all over the world and with the most diverse musical backgrounds. The percentage of women was very modest however, at only 8%.
Of course the competition is also made attractive by conductors Peter Rundel, Franck Ollu and Francesc Prat, who promise the highest musical level, the online distribution and the total prize sum of 100’000 Swiss Francs, which guarantees considerable prizes.
The procedure for the preliminary round was anonymous, as the submitted scores were evaluated, without considering the corresponding CVs.
A high-calibre international jury, chaired by composer Michael Jarrell from Geneva, was responsible for the pre-selection, which took place during an intensive weekend in November 2020.
The jury includes Korean composer Unsuk Chin, living in Berlin, Swiss composers Beat Furrer and Andrea Lorenzo Scartazzini and Dr. Felix Meyer, director of the Paul Sacher Foundation, joined by three representatives of the participating orchestras.
With the exception of two candidates who, due to the pandemic, are participating via zoom, all the invited candidates have travelled to the competition even from far away, like Japan, Korea, China, Spain, Germany or the United States. Usually, the composers also attend the rehearsals of their fellow competitors, but for this edition – due to the pandemic – they are only assisting the creation of their own piece.
Swiss music is underrepresented this time. Artur Ashkelyan from Armenia is a composer that can be considered part of the Swiss scene as he studied composition at the Haute école de musique de Genève. For him, the competition has a special significance, because unlike most of the other candidates, he has so far composed mainly in the realm of chamber music. His new piece Three pieces for orchestra will now be premiered by the Basel Symphony Orchestra.
Artur Akshelyan, candidate 2021 / 2nd price 2021: Sinouos for Piano Trio 2015
The edition of 2019 of the highly remunerated Basel Prize had experienced controversial debates, for – despite a gradually greater gender balance in the relevant New Music institutions – the young competition apparently did not succeed in integrating female composers into the jury.
Efforts were made to recruit suitable women for the jury, says Müller. Several were approached, but for various reasons, they were turned down.
Things look a little different now, as Unsuk Chin, an internationally renowned female composer, is part of the jury.
On the other hand, unlike for the 2017 and 2019 editions, not a single woman made it into the final competition in this year’s edition. This is alarming, but not surprising given the low number of works submitted by women. Müller would therefore like to specifically encourage women to apply.
The Basel Composition Competition sends out the important message that large orchestras can work together in order to promote contemporary music. This is crucial, especially at a time when there are hardly any performance opportunities and orchestras have to cope with high pressure.
Feedback from the composers who made it into the competition confirms this. Having a new piece will be performed live by a great orchestra and made accessible to a worldwide audience, especially now, is an invaluable opportunity, says Oliver Mattern, a candidate from Germany. His fellow competitor from Japan, Hiroshi Nakamura, who has travelled from Tokyo, can hardly believe that his piece will be conducted by Peter Rundel, a conductor he admires ever since he attended a performance of Luigi Nono’s Prometeo conducted by him in Japan, at a very young age.
There will definitely be exciting works to listen to: 12 pieces from all over the world, 12 completely different approaches to the genre of orchestral works. Many pieces refer to other genres and media, to visual art, philosophy, Nô theatre, or physics and astronomy. They also deal with the present, the current pandemic situation or spirituality and religion.
The suspense continues until the end, when the three prizes will be awarded.
Let’s hope for a higher number of female jurors next time, and above all more female candidates as well as prize winners of course.
The three competition concerts (Thu-Sat, 4-6-3.21) will be streamed live and can be listened to afterwards on neo.mx3.ch and youtube.
The competition entries of the last edition 2019 (11 concerts) are also available on neo.mx3.
Basel Composition Competition, 3. Durchführung: 4.-7.März 2021
Live-Stream 1. Wettbewerbskonzert, Donnerstag, 4.3.21., 19h: Basler Sinfonieorchester, Leitung Francesc Prat
2. Wettbewerbskonzert, Freitag, 5.3.21., 19h: Basel Sinfonietta, Leitung Peter Rundel
3. Wettbewerbskonzert, Samstag, 6.3.21., 19h: Kammerorchester Basel, Leitung Franck Ollu
Final concert, sunday, 7.3.21., 20h: on Idagio Global Concert Hall (until april 14th 2021)
broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Musikmagazin, 6./7.3.21 (beginning): Annelis Berger talks with Gabrielle Weber about the BCC, editorial Annelis Berger
Kultur Aktuell / Kultur kompakt, 8.3.21: critique final concert, editorial Benjamin Herzog
Musik unserer Zeit, 21.4.21: Basel composition competition – , editorial Gabrielle Weber
Christian Fluri: 100 Years Winterthurer Streichquartett (Winterthur String Quartet)
One of neo.mx3’s purposes is to make rare SRG recordings of the Swiss musical avant-garde accessible on an ongoing basis. In this already significant collection, Christian Fluri discovered the Winterthurer Streichquartett for neoblog.
In the exceptional year 2020, it experienced an extraordinary anniversary.
The Winterthurer Streichquartett is unique in the best possible sense of the word. What other string quartet has ever been able to celebrate its 100th anniversary? Normally, string quartets develop and unfold their art in the same setup, living together in such a way that they communicate blindly with each other and if – for whatever reason – the musicians break up, the quartet dissolves. This was basically the case with the Lasalle Quartet, one of the most influential in 20th century music. The Arditti Quartet, just as influential for contemporary music, is a little different, as it is bound to, shaped by and named after its first violinist and founder Irvine Arditti, while the other positions experienced various changes.
Constant renewal ensures longevity
Winterthurer Streichquartett, consisting of the respective Musikkollegium Winterthur principals, is quite different. When a new leader joins the string section, the quartet line-up changes too. Thus, the four positions are regularly renewed, which demands great flexibility its members. But this flexibility is exactly what gives provides quartet with its liveliness.
In the anniversary year 2020, the position of second violinist Pär Näsbom, became vacant, as after having held the principal second violin position since 1987, he has left the Musikkollegium for retirement reasons. In addition, first violinist and concertmaster Roberto González Monjas will become the orchestra’s principal conductor from the 2021/22 season onwards, which means that the concertmaster position will also need to be filled soon. Therefore, after seven years of the same line-up, the next changes are imminent and there will once again be a renewal.
Violist Jürg Dähler (since 1993), who is also a leading member of the Swiss Chamber Soloists and performs in various chamber formations related to the ensemble, as well as cellist Cecilia Chmel (since 1989), another outstanding chamber musician, will continue to be part of the quartet.
Unfortunately, Corona measures prevented the quartet from being able to proudly celebrate its anniversary with a big concert in November. That was a bit sad, Cecilia Chmel remarked in our electronic conversation… but “At least we were able to play our anniversary concert for some 50 listeners and stream it live”.
Always in touch with the present
Since the early beginnings, contemporary music has had a steady place in the quartet’s repertoire alongside common practice period works. In 1921 already, it played Arnold Schönberg’s String Quartet in F-sharp minor op.10 with its first line-up led by concertmaster Ernst Wolters, as music historian Verena Naegele mentioned in her 100th birthday laudatory speech.
Current cellist Cecilia Chmel stresses the importance that new music has for the ensemble: “When you play mainly the classical-romantic repertoire, it is particularly important to also perceive the present and look to the future. The interpretation of contemporary works is an investment for the future.”
Since its founding, Winterthurer Streichquartett has regularly collaborated with composers and commissioned works. Celilia Chmel mentions for example the collaboration with great Basel master Rudolf Kelterborn and with Zurich composers Alfred Felder and Ursina Braun, both excellent cellists as well.
Also a History of New Music
The quartet’s prolific involvement with 20th-century music by Swiss composers is reflected in the newly accessible recordings from the SRG archive. On neo.mx3 you will find numerous recordings featuring contemporary works from the years 1948 to 1975.
Rudolf Kelterborn, Streichquartett Nr.2, 1958, in-house production SRG/SSR
A particular gem is Kelterborn’s early 2nd string quartet in three movements. The 1958 recording with Peter Rybarm (1st violin), Clemens Dahinden (2nd violin), Heinz Wigand (viola) and Antonio Tusa (cello), is of astonishing presence and clarity and so is the interpretation itself, combining analytical spirit and passion for the work. The young Kelterborn is on the way to finding his own compositional language and already shows high qualities in combining emotionality, musical depth, density and accuracy in a composition that stands at the height of its time, transcending technical matters and serialism.
Just as captivating is the 1963 recording of Ernest Bloch’s fantastic Quintet for Piano and Strings No.1 (1923). Here, the ensemble is joined by pianist Rudolf am Bach, who taught at the Winterthur Conservatory and was equally committed to Swiss music of his time. The first agitato movement, like the concluding Allegro energico, is of thrilling rhythmic conciseness and the interpretation penetrates content and structure of the work deeply and with great tonal transparency, sharpening the dissonances even in the slower middle movement.
Ernest Bloch, Quintett für Klavier und Streicher 1963, in-house production SRG/SSR
At the 1975 Swiss Tonkünstlerfest in Basel, the quartet consisting of Abraham Comfort (1st violin), Clemens Dahinden (2nd violin), Marcel Gross (viola), and Markus Stocker (cello) played Hermann Haller’s 2nd String Quartet (1971). A fascinating pieace based on a dark, melancholic basis and distinct compositional language, combining late romanticism with modern vocabulary.
Herman Haller, Streichquartett Nr.2, 1971, in-house production SRG/SSR
The Winterthurer Streichquartett is distinguished by precise interpretative approach, clarity of sound and close dialogue between the four musicians and their newest recording featuring a different line-up is no different from the consistently high level of the earlier recordings, which is astonishing.
They are probably one of the few quartets able to renew high artistic standards, musical vitality and passion – in this case for contemporary music by well-known as well as lesser-known composers – with ever-changing line-up.
In 2021, the following three contemporary quartets are scheduled: Farewell (1995) by US-American John Corigliano, Tenebrae (2002) by Argentinean Osvaldo Golijov and Arcadiana, opus 12 (1994) by Englishman Thomas Adès.
Samstag, 6.3.2021, 19h: House concert Winterthurer Streichquartett: The death and the maiden, John Corigliano, Streichquartett Nr.1 Farewell , Franz Schubert Streichquartett d-Moll D 810 The death and the maiden
The concerts above, like most of the Musikkollegium concerts during the pandemic, will take place live and can be enjoyed via live stream. Further details are to be found in the concert calendar.
Discover! Julian Kämper selected saxophone duo eventuell. from the growing pool of neo-profiles. Their distinctive element is a multi- sensorial approach, dwelling on their own artistic existence as well their own body.
He talked to the two saxophonists and performers Manuela Villiger and Vera Wahl about their aims and ideas.
In 2015, instrumentalists Manuela Villiger and Vera Wahl founded their duo “eventuell.” as a saxophone duet. But the saxophone being a relatively young instrument and the duo line-up atypical, the classical repertoire turned out to be rather limited. For this reason, eventuell. started collaborating intensively with mostly young and international composers such as Yiran Zhao, Loïc Destremau, Mauro Hertig and Victor Alexandru Coltea. Alternatively, they create their own compositions.
Their programmes are often visual, physical and scenic: comprehensive performances, whose aim is not to be perceived and enjoyed only auditorily, but on a multi-sensorial level. In their projects, the two performers, who studied together in Lucerne and Zurich, incorporate extra-musical contexts and repeatedly focus on their artistic existence and their own bodies.
Manuela Villiger Beat for two soprano saxophones, video and electronics, eventuell., UA 2020
The developed concert formats the duo creates are far from commonly taught and so to speak conventional musical practices. I asked myself about the impulses and reasons for sharpening one’s own artistic profile this way and arranged to talk with Manuela Villiger and Vera Wahl.
Your repertoire includes pieces with live electronics, video and performative elements. You exhaust the sound and playing possibilities of the saxophone and often treat