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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
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 the instrument in unusual ways – for example in Julian Siffert’s composition “Grammars of Crisis”. What is it like to not only use the saxophone but also sensors, everyday objects or your body as instruments?
VW: It’s an automatically happening process if you are interested in this kind of music. We can take our musicality from playing the saxophone and transfer it to performative elements. It doesn’t matter what you have in your hands. The main thing is that you like to express yourself with your body. The piece actually features both, passages with and without an instrument.
Julian Siffert Grammars of Crisis for soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, video and electronics, eventuell., UA 2019
In this piece, you’re practicing sports, prepare your instruments. In other cases, you operate all kinds of electronic devices. Are you not entering foreign territory?
MV: With the use of electronics, it was and is “learning by doing” as well as “trial and error”. It’s more a question of aesthetic means. We spent hours, days, weeks practicing the saxophone and learning all its techniques. If we have to reproduce something exactly, then the saxophone is a vehicle, as we’re 99% sure of what will happen if we do this or that. But in certain pieces, these aesthetics are not in demand, it’s precisely about not having everything under control. We use this contrast consciously: we do have a tool with which we can execute something very precisely, but we don’t always want to use this – otherwise it loses its expressiveness.
VW: In the first part of “Grammars of Crisis”, when the video with our sports exercises is playing, we play what we hear, doubling the soundtrack, so to speak. The instrument serves the purpose there as we would not be able to reproduce this any instrument other than the one we know best.
Making individuals with differences visible on stage
Speaking about loss of control: Why do you expose yourselves to unpredictable and physically demanding situations during some performances?
MV: This focus on being an individual is very important for us. When I personally go to a concert, I first see a person in his role as a musician. It fascinates me to hear someone breathe or to observe how they move while playing, which is also how I notice that one musician is different from another. In a classical concert, however, this is usually omitted as much as can be, it’s all about the sound result, which is supposed to sound like it’s written on the score. We want to show that we are all individuals with differences on stage.
VW: The different kinds of limits is actually the main theme of our “ eventuell. limit” programme. We are not concerned with playing everything as perfectly as possible and concealing everything that is not. All performers are human beings and not machines, so mistakes and imperfections are part of them and of the exciting things of their performances.
Manuela Villiger augenBlick for two amplified soprano saxophones, eye-blink sensors, video and electronic sounds, eventuell., UA 2019
In your own compositions, you often focus on your own bodies or body parts and eyes or feet become visual and musical material. Is that a strategy to put yourself in the spotlight as a performer?
MV: It’s not about self-staging, but rather an exploration of the physical conditions we carry as human beings. Which brings us to the subject of individuality: What distinguishes me from others? It is obviously the body. This has been a theme for us for a long time and we want to transfer it into our performances and concerts, that’s why some pieces contain video sequences showing parts of our bodies.
Vera Wahl foot prints for two alto saxophones, video and tape, eventuell., UA 2020
Emotional statements – political discourses
You also describe your concerts as “emotional statements” and “political discourses”. Can you explain further?
VW: We invest a lot of time in our projects, discuss a lot and ask ourselves questions about what we are doing. We then translate all of these – let’s say – philosophical themes and emotional aspects into our performances. We don’t necessarily choose some political topic and then give our opinion. We rather ask questions: These questions are sometimes very diffusely hidden in the pieces. Sometimes we also work with text elements, in order to encourage the audience to deal with certain topics.
MV: I believe that every contemporary musician most probably thought about what profit society gets from what he or she does? For me personally, the certainty that I am dealing with society matters justifies all the time invested in various projects. I know there are composers and musicians who are convinced that music stands for itself and that it doesn’t need extra-musical contexts. That’s not true for us. After concerts we often have interesting conversations with people who have interpreted our concepts quite differently from our original idea. Which is a nice confirmation for us, as this means that our performance has encouraged them to think about those concepts.
eventuell. connected21, 20.05.-01.06.2021 (Zurich, Basel, Olten, Baden, Lucerne): compositions by Lara Stanic und Mathieu Corajod
june 9th 2021, 8pm: eventuell.fern in musica aperta in Winterthur with works by: Felix Baumann, Emilio Guim, Mauro Hertig, Simon Steen-Andersen, François Rossé, Matthew Shlomowitz and Alex Mincek.
BR KLASSIK Horizonte, 06.05.2021, 22:05: da sein. Das Saxophon-Duo eventuell., author: Julian Kämper, Redaktion: Kristin Amme
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: ECLAT AGAIN ONLINE FROM 17.2. till 21.2.!
The contemporary music festival Eclat Stuttgart is taking place online with extensive focus dedicated to the pro-democracy movement in Belarus.
Through Maria Kalesnikava, icon of the peaceful democracy movement since September 2020 and currently in prison, the conflict has a strong connection to the Stuttgart cultural scene. As musician, educator, mediator and organiser, she was active here for many years and will be awarded the Human Rights Prize 2021 by the Gerhart and Renate Baum Foundation during the festival.
Echoes – Voices from Belarus, is a project gathering short artistic statements on the conflict by Belarusian and international artists.
Two Swiss composers, Andreas Eduardo Frank and Oscar Bianchi, are part of this initiative and I discussed their work for Eclat with them.
I met Oscar Bianchi in his studio in Berlin via Zoom. This renowned and internationally active composer with roots in Ticino has been associated with the Festival Eclat for a long time and presented new pieces in Stuttgart time and again.
Bianchi explains that his project on Belarus has a background history. Traumatised by the tragic death of George Floyd through police violence and the related media coverage, he processed his concern into a short piece in the summer of 2020, addressing not only racial discrimination, but oppression and brutality in general.
When asked by Christine Fischer, artistic director of Eclat Stuttgart, about the Belarus project, Bianchi suggested a different take on the piece. “I want to emphasise and contribute by stressing that any form of brutality and oppression can not be tolerated,” he says.
Oscar Bianchi, With you, World creation Murten Classics 2020
Fischer herself initiated the project out of personal concern, as one of the main leaders of the Belarusian democratic movement, Maria Kalesnikava, had been active in the Stuttgart cultural scene for many years, as musician, teacher and project manager, e.g. at the Musikhochschule as well as the Eclat festival.
Before returning to Belarus for another assignment, where she immediately joined the democratic movement, quickly becoming one of its leading figures, Kalesnikava was in charge of Eclat festival’s social media activities. Together with Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, leader of the opposition and close collaborator Veronika Zepkalo, she is vividly remembered for close collaborator various appearances on democratic movement podiums. She was abducted on September 8, 2020 and is in prison ever since.
When Maria Kalesnikava, whom Bianchi knew well from the Eclat Festival, was imprisoned, it became apparent, that the Belarusian government was counting on the time factor and relying on the fact that media would be fading, so Bianchi. This makes such cultural actions all the more important to keep up the debate and raise people’s awareness.
‘The balaclava – symbol of institutionalised power and oppression’.
Bianchi teamed up with Belarusian video artist Vasilisa Palianina. In their joint work, they explored the image of police troops in full combat gear and balaclava, representing the omnipresent, violent threat in Belarus and other comparable conflicts. The anonymity of the balaclava is a symbol for loss of transparency, accountability and institutionalised power and oppression. And everything happens secretly.
“The images and sound together tell their own story,” says Bianchi about the common work.
Voices from Belarus also features Basel composer Andreas Eduardo, whose theatrical music often includes video and multimedia. For the Belarus project, he composed music to a video.
He too, has been associated with the Stuttgart cultural scene for a long time and initiated – ‘ SuperSafeSociety’ an online Corona project exploring new digital participatory concert formats during the first Lockdown. The result was an online music theatre, taking place individually for each audience member. For this reason artistic director Christine Fischer approached him about the Belarus project. Especially in times of Corona, the Belarus project is also an opportunity to promote and support oppressed Belarus artists, says Frank, and that’s why he immediately accepted.
Frank worked with Maria Kalesnikava in this environment. And he was not surprised to suddenly see her at the forefront of the democratic movement. Maria has incredible charisma and appeal, which is inspiring and very media-effective.
For his contribution, Frank teamed up with the Belarusian video artist Mikhail Gulin, completing his video Sisiphus with a soundtrack consisting of eight eight self-pronounced words: “exploit / hurt / fought / suppressed / punished / choked / repeat / proceed”.
Frank extracted these words out of conversations with Gulin: “There is the complex of Sisiphus and then there is the complex of Belarus and the commitment to it. Come together in the artistic commentary,” Frank explains. The parallels between Sisiphus and being an artist are, plain to see, such as the permanent struggle or the artists’ being at the mercy of the powerful state machinery.
“exploit / hurt / fought / suppressed / punished / choked / repeat / proceed”
Frank fed the words into a sampler and then improvised to the video with a small electronic setup, distorting the words, played them faster or slower, filtering them. “This resulted in sounds like those of ‚driven pigs’ or stifled breathing next to recognisable words. Then there is also a trace of bitter irony: the violent words take on a new semantic, combined with the image of hay bales being pushed around,” says Frank.
Andreas Eduardo Frank& Mikhail Gulin: Sisiphos, UA Eclat Stuttgart 2021
The project also significantly increased Frank’s own awareness of the conflict. “Here we are, actually doing very well – and the people there are being abducted and tortured, they simply disappear”. He remembers an encounter right before the completion of the project: Frank had finished his part, but Gulin hadn‘t yet. Whereupon Gulin told him: “Today, a close friend, was taken to the police. People are imprisoned, abducted, beaten. The judicial system does not work.“
Several formats address the Belarusian conflict at Eclat Festival:
Friday, 5.2. Echoes – Voices from Belarus: Co-productions of Belarusian with international artists and musicians/composers.
Sunday, 7.2., 17h: Awarding of the Human Rights Award 2021 by the Gerhart and Renate Baum Foundation to Maria Kalesnikava, combined with Trio vis à vis (Kalesnikavas Trio) concert. The award is conferred by former Federal Minister Gerhard Baum and received by Kalesnikava’s sister Tatsiana Khomich.
The 41st edition of ECLAT will offer 13 most live-streamed concerts with exclusively digital pieces and numerous world premieres, as well as interviews, chats, discussions, games and much more.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: ECLAT AGAIN ONLINE FROM 17.2. till 21.2.!
Belarus – short reminder: In August 2020, authoritarian head of state Lukashenko confirmed himself as president after democratic elections, although civil rights activist and opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya had won the majority. The EU did not recognise the results. Tikhanovskaya is now in exile in Lithuania and her collaborator Veronika Zepkalo in Poland. Maria Kalesnikava was arrested in Minsk on September 8, after resisting deportation. She is still in pre-trial detention.
On 27 January 2021, Amnesty International denounced torture in Belarus.
‘Musik der Jahrhunderte’ / Eclat has been working together with human rights organisations and with political support since September 2020 to secure her release.
Broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Kultur aktuell / Kultur kompakt Podcast, 4.2.21: editorial Theresa Beyer, critique concert Voice Affairs / Festival Eclat
Kultur aktuell / Kultur kompakt Podcast, 5.2.21: editorial Gabrielle Weber, Portrait Maria Kalesnikava / Festival Eclat
in Musik Magazin, 6.2./7.2.12: editorial Moritz Weber, feature by Gabrielle Weber, Portrait Maria Kalesnikava / Festival Eclat
The Berlin festival Ultraschall will be taking place! Live and later broadcasted on Deutschlandfunk Kultur as well as rbbKultur. Composer and video artist Jannik Giger, from Basel, premieres a new piece on January 22: ‘Qu’est devenue ce bel oeuil‘ for soprano, bass clarinet and fictional four-channel organ. The concert can be enjoyed live on Friday, January 22, 2021, at 20h00 and again on February 16th.
In his work, Giger often refers to the ‘sounding past’, with audio documents or pieces by Franz Schubert, Leos Janacek or Bela Bartok, for example. Most of his pieces also include videos, installations or spatial components. Giger also creates film music, which serve the images but can also be considered independent musical works.
In the video installation Gabrys and Henneberger – Transformations (2014), double bass player Aleksander Gabrys improvises live to a video. (Jürg Henneberger conducts the Phoenix Ensemble in Giger’s “Clash”).
In his new piece for ultrasound “Qu’est devenue ce bel oeuil” Giger turns for the first time to the Renaissance, as the work is based on the a capella madrigal with the same title by composer Claude Le Jeune.
I talked to him via zoom from Zurich to Basel shortly before the world premiere.
Music is so to speak on hold at the moment, because of the pandemic…. How did this affect your work?
Working as a composer, I spend a plenty of time alone in the studio or in a room. So apart from the extreme social restrictions, little has changed. But preliminary work and rehearsals have become complicated.
I started the new piece for Ultraschall in Berlin. I had a residency there (Atelier Mondial) and wanted to spend half a year intensively visiting museums, galleries and concerts but because of the pandemic everything was closed. On the other hand, I now know all the lakes, parks and forests in and around Berlin. Through this vacuum, I spent a protected, secluded time and was able to concentrate really well on composing, which was a positive side.
The negative side: rehearsal and concert situations are the real reward for solitary composing. These special moments, when everything condenses, which set themselves apart from the working routine, no longer exist at the moment.
Your works usually include visuals such as videos or installations: are there any in Ultrasound or did you adapt it for the radiophonic premiere’s purpose?
Although it is a chamber music piece ‘for voice, bass clarinet and fictitious organ’, it was originally intended as a spatial live piece. I received the commission from the soprano Sarah Maria Sun and Nina Janssen-Deinzer, the clarinetist. Their wish to include of electronics, so I decided on a four-channel feed, an imaginary big organ consisting of four speakers placed around them. Since it now takes place without an audience and broadcasted on the radio, the initially planned spatial component is no longer included.
Jannik Giger: Sarah Maria Sun (Sopran) in Schlotterarie from Kolik, UA Gare du Nord Basel, 2019
A Crazy Harmonic…
How did you come across Claude Le Jeune? So far, you have been more familiar with Romantic, Classical and Baroque music, or modern masterpieces. What is your connection to the Renaissance?
I often draw from existing pieces or materials that I come across by chance and appeal to me in some way. Singer Jean-Christophe Groffe brought this fantastic vocal piece to my attention.
The special thing about Le Jeune is the crazy harmonies. The piece is completely chromatic and uniform: with a text, a harmony, a form, a repetitive rhythm. Starting from this material was an intuitive decision and the result was an associative, almost anti-intellectual piece with a simple concept: the combination of the chorale material with organ sounds. My own guideline was that it should not contain any samples other than organ sounds.
Claude Le Jeune (1528-1600), Qu’est devenu ce bel oeuil
… was this maybe related to the pandemic? A reference to a distant past, to the musical renaissance….
No – or maybe yes… It is about decay and the piece has something nostalgic to it. Even the title question ‘Qu’est devenue ce bel oeil?‘… What happened? Everything unravels… Le Jeune accompanied me during my time in Berlin. I also composed a piece for the Arditti Quartet in which I referred to him.
How did you proceed composing and why this instrumentation?
I listened to many organ recordings – by Bruckner, Machaut, Bach, Brahms, Buxtehude – and sampled individual organ sounds from different organs in different tunings as well as in different rooms. Over a period of weeks, I built up an archive of sounds. Then I “built” the fictitious organ from various samples by assembling and pasting. The sequencing and overlaying of sounds and spaces created an almost orchestral complexity.
Jannik Giger, Ausschnitt from soundtrac / ficticious organ in: Q’est devenu ce bel oeil, world creation Festival Ultraschall 22.1.2021
During the piece, both soloists get to the fictitious organ: how must we imagine it all?
The previous track is the organ alone, each chord coming actually from a different organ. The soundtrack runs through, distributed over four speakers, and will mix with the live instruments, having the two levels interacting with each other, sometimes merging, other times in opposition.
A “Madrigal Trip”
Le Jeune’s original is an a capella madrigal, you transferred that aspect to the four-channel organ – but how do you handle the voice?
Sarah Maria Sun, the soprano, sings to Le Jeune’s original text. Sometimes sounding like French chanson, sometimes like Renaissance or contemporary music, occasionally with new playing techniques. The voice fluctuates from melodious and tonal to very noisy passages, playing with aesthetic references. What eventually emerged is almost a ‘madrigal trip’.
Giger on air or streaming live: is that even possible? Do you also see opportunities in the current situation and how do you deal with it?
If chamber music is well received, also visually, it can work as a live stream. But I approach pieces for several instruments or for orchestra differently right now. There is a physical vacuum: because the musicians’ bodies are not present and the rituals of the concerts are missing, the performance, the endings, the moments of tension. Pure documentation is no longer enough. I try to go one step further, for example, I recorded a CD with Dieter Ammann (CD Ammann-Giger, Mondrian Ensemble, Ensemble Nuance): the sound engineer Alexander Kordzaia recorded it by using close mic techniques and deliberately almost overproduced it. The music is therefore microscopically expanded and not a live reproduction, but has been given a completely different quality of perception.
What next? In 2021, for example, a new CD on the KAIROS label is to be released with the title Krypta – can you reveal anything about that? And are there other upcoming projects?
The record combines some already produced, but not yet released instrumental music. Krypta was a sound installation for the Bern Music Festival, of which there is also a plain stereo audio track. Then there is a new piece, a montage of studio recordings with the ensembles Xasax and Thélème.
Jannik Giger, excerpt from Krypta, Multichannel Orchestration, Musikfestival Bern 2019
I’m looking forward to a project for the Architecture Biennale in Venice. A spatial piece of mine is to be performed in the Pavillon Suisse during the opening in May – if it will happen... Based on architectural texts, I am working with the opera singer Andrej Krutojs. It’s about Venice and Italian opera. For ZeitRäume Basel on the other hand I set to work on a video installation dealing with the ‘blind audition’ theme, a form of gender-appropriate auditioning for orchestral roles.
Ultraschall Berlin – Festival für neue Musik: from february 20 to 24.
Konzert 22.1., 20h, live Deutschlandfunk Kultur:
Sarah Maria Sun, Sopran, and Nina Janssen-Deinzer, Klarinetten and Saxophon, UA Jannik Giger Qu’est devenu ce bel oeuil und Werke von u.a. Georges Aperghis, Toshio Hosokawa, Wolfgang Rihm.
also on 16.2.20, 23:04h, rbb Kultur in: Musik der Gegenwart
Jannik Giger, CD Ammann-Giger / a tree in a field records – Koproduktion SRF 2 Kultur, Atelier Mondial, KAIROS, Andrejs Krutojs, Alexander Kordzaia, Ensemble Nuance, Festival ZeitRäume Basel, Biennale Venezia, Thélème, Jean-Christophe Groffe
Broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur
Kultur Aktuell & Kultur Kompakt Podcast, 22.1.21, 8:05h/11:30h: Livegespräch zum Festival Ultraschall und UA Jannik Giger, Gesprächspartnerin Gabrielle Weber
Musik unserer Zeit, 3.2.21, 20h: Jannik Giger, der Scherbensammler, Redaktion Theresa Beyer
Musikmagazin, 6./7.2.21: Jannik Giger im Café-Gespräch mit Theresa Beyer
Discovery! is one of our goals for the new year, so neoblog will regularly portray something particular, picked from the growing pool of profiles and starting with Dominik Grenzler aka An Moku. I talked to Grenzler every now and then over the years.
Grenzler aka An Moku has been enormously productive since before the first Shutdown, but the pause actually suited his music in an almost organic way, as it combines urban with nature sounds. Grenzler, the nature-loving electronic sounds explorer, took advantage of the first to start new collaborations, making use of field recordings as well as material from his environment, nature, everyday life and previous travels.
In a very short time, three new CDs were produced one after the other.
“For my Shutdown collaborations, I used field recordings from my large collection gathered during my travels. They are like some kind of travel diary. Since I couldn’t be on the road physically, I travelled with them online and in addition, I digitally explored unexpected territories”.
Grenzler is originally from Gdynia, Poland, he moved to Germany when he was young, where he started making a name for himself as electric bass player in the club and pop scene first. A few years ago he relocated to Zurich and started various collaborations with local musicians as An Moku, his pseudonym for experimental music. He is also planning on new collaborations, for example with bassist Martina Berther.
An Moku & Frederik Vanderlynden, Mirror / Of Mirrors, 2020
The CD Of Mirrors dates from 2012 already and was created together with Belgian sound artist Frederic Vanderlynden aka Virlyn, using field recordings from Iceland. The album languished on a shelf for a long time and only found its final shape through collaborations with Swiss musicians Cornelia Stromeyer, piano, Oriana Zänerle, violin and Jacki Knöpfel, cello. “The CD actually reflects a journey into the past,” says Grenzler.
An Moku & Frederik Vanderlynden, Frost / Of Mirrors, 2020
Of Mirrors offers an incredibly wide and extremely subtle variety of colours. The first track begins with a shimmering, crackling sound. Minimal tonal changing sound carpets, repetitive patterns gradually break the electronic flickering, while instrumental sounds evoke concrete, indeterminate places over and over again. In Of Mirrors, Grenzler conveys moods with an almost cinematic approach: images are created in the mind, vague landscapes, vastness and distance.
Music evoking images is also the subject of An Moku’s CD with Joel Gilardini. The opportunity to collaborate came about through Grenzler’s invitation to Zurich’s tenth edition of “Marathon des Zelluloids” in December 2019. A silent film festival where the soundtracks are performed live.
An Moku & Joel Gilardini, 2020
The CD features improvisation sessions by Grenzler and Gilardini dating from autumn 2019 onwards and during which the two found a common voice regardless of the specific movie, Grenzler explains. This was only announced shortly before the festival: three short films by US avant-garde filmmaker Maya Deren from the 1940s. Grenzler states that Maya Deren did well serve as a soundtrack, but what actually took shape was some kind of “Kopfkino” (cinema inside the viewer’s mind).
The tracks on the CD are also vague, almost mysterious, and leave room for the listener’s own imagination. For instance, they have no titles, only enigmatic numberings: 5 – 11.2 – 2 – 13 – 8 – 11.1 – 10, giving no clue regarding their content.
“The album has just been nominated in the Top 100 Ambient Albums of 2020 by music blog “Post Ambient Lux”, says Grenzler happily. On the latest album ‘Where We Meet’ meets Belgian guitarist Stijn Hüwels. It was created during the spring lockdown, between Zurich and Leuven and is their first collaboration.
An Moku & Stijn Hüwels, Where we meet, 2020
“The album is filled with tiny field recordings. A few seconds are usually enough for me to give the musical context an interesting colour, or a twist. With today’s technology, even a woodpecker in the forest can sound strange…”, says Grenzler about the album.
Atonal madness and imagined worlds
“In the old days, I used to play rock and pop. Nowadays I’m less interested in harmonic melodies and more in moods,” says Grenzler, describing An Moku’s music as “atonal weirdness”, and his musical genres as “experimental music, dark ambient, drone, soundtrack”.
An Moku, his alter ego, comes from the Japanese and means: “tacit, unsaid, implicit”, thus embracing what cannot or should not be put into words and resonates or is self-evident. That sums up An Moku’s secret.
An Moku evokes distant worlds, both geographical and temporal, leaving room for one’s own imagination. Accordingly, the CD covers are characterised by a Japanese minimalist aesthetic: black and white to deep blue, mostly Grenzler’s own photographs, with landscapes and few unrecognisable people. “Minimalism runs through everything with me – whether sound or image. I would prefer to make music consisting of only one element.” he confirms.
For the time being, another shutdown born album in collaboration with Stefan Schmidt from Germany is planned for early 2021 on Karlrecords, as well as a minimalist bass-guitar solo album to be released in spring by the New York based label Puremagnetik.
An Moku und Joel Gilardini: on japanese Label Bullflat3.8.
Where We Meet: on british Label Slowcraft Record
A portrait by Cécile Olshausen:
At the age of seven, he forgot his mother tongue Igbo and learned Swiss German. In his music, composer Charles Uzor sets out on a journey back to his Nigerian childhood, to the “pounding and quivering nature” of the African tropics, to the distant voice of his mother. Cécile Olshausen visited Charles Uzor.
It’s raining as I get off the train in St. Gallen. My smartphone I supposed to show me the way to Charles Uzor’s flat, in the centre of St. Gallen, just a two-minute walk away. Nevertheless, I manage to get lost.
Detours have led me to Charles Uzor. Many years ago, we happened to sit next to each other during concert and we talked. Since then, I often heard his name and music, but we never met in person again.
As he opens the door I shake off a few raindrops and Charles Uzor welcomes me into his spacious city flat. My gaze falls on a grand piano, on shelves full of books and CDs, while in the kitchen a radiator ripples like a fountain. A parasol leans in a corner of the living room reminding me of summer, while outside a big Christmas star hangs over the small balcony.
We take a seat at the dining room table. And from the urban holiday lights outside his window, our conversation slowly moves into the life and sound of Charles Uzor, a biography in which so many paths cross.
Charles Uzor was born in Nigeria in 1961. A few years later, a brutal war for independence broke out in his home region of Biafra. At the age of seven, he escaped the horrors of war and found a new family in St. Gallen, where he went to school and graduated. His studies – first oboe, then composition – later took him to Rome, Bern, Zurich and London. Finally, he wrote his doctoral thesis on melody and inner time consciousness. Charles Uzor’s works are many and varied: operas, dance, orchestral and choral compositions, but also many pieces for different ensemble settings.
Through music, Charles Uzor connects with his past and his childhood in Nigeria.
Our chat is calm, a conversation that allows for silence. A silence that I also find in some of Charles Uzor’s pieces, in Nri/ mimicri (2015/2016) for Ondes Martenot, percussion ensemble and tape for example. It is not a linearly developing composition, but rather a soundscape through which one senses by listening attentively. It is as if you enter a tropical house and find yourself – as soon as you step over the threshold – in a completely different world. For Charles Uzor, Nri/ mimicri is an approach to his “African origins”, as he puts it, a piece in which one can perceive ” pounding and quivering of nature”. And it is a reference to his ancestors, the Nri, a legendary Nigerian tribe.
Charles Uzor, Nri/mimicri, Percussion Art Ensemble Bern, UA 2016, Production SRG/SSR
Charles Uzor belongs to the Igbo people and grew up in the south-east of Nigeria, in the Niger Delta, a region with tropical rainforest and many rivers. He spoke Igbo with his family. When he came to Switzerland at the age of seven, this language disappeared within a very short time. To this day, Charles Uzor is haunted by the fact that he could simply forget his mother tongue.
… traditional Igbo sayings spoken on tape….
Fortunate circumstances led to him finding his family again after the Biafra War. As a teenager and firmly anchored in his Swiss life, Charles Uzor decided to stay with his St. Gallen family. However, he has stayed in touch with his Nigerian mother, who now lives in the USA, ever since. And in his cycle Mothertongue (2018), you can hear her voice, speaking traditional Igbo sayings on tape.
Charles Uzor, Mothertongue Fire / mimicri for tape, Maria Christina Uzor, 2018
Uzor processes these recordings into a composition and thus connects sonically with a language he no longer understands, his mother tongue.
Charles Uzor, Mothertongue for Mezzosoprano, Ensemble and tape, Ensemble Mothertongue, world creation Musikfestival Bern 2020, Prodcution SRG/SSR
Charles Uzor’s compositional paths lead him not only back to the past of his African childhood, but also to centuries afar. During a short break in the conversation, when we open the windows to les some fresh air in, I take a look at Charles Uzor’s bursting, colourful CD shelf – and notice a lot of music by Pérotin, Guillaume de Machaut, Johannes Ockeghem or Costanzo Festa. I’m curious to learn, where this love for early music comes from as soon as we continue our conversation.
According to Uzor, pre-baroque music opens up a vastness and wildness, an order and structure that magically attracts him: “I often have the feeling that I was there; images of myself as a Renaissance man come to me, that’s how close I relate to it”. This music with its rounds, rhythms and repetitions also has something African for Charles Uzor. Thus, early music and African language sounds come together in his compositions. Paths that meet, moments of encounter.
What his music manages to combine effortlessly, the old and the new, the African and the Swiss, cracks in his everyday life experience. Because as a black man, Charles Uzor is affected by racism – even in Switzerland. And, as he tells me, every day. Everyday racism.
8’46” – that’s how long George Floyd’s agony lasted
Charles Uzor could not remain silent when George Floyd was murdered. For the black US citizen who was violently killed by the police in May 2020 and whose murder triggered worldwide protest – along with the Black Lives Matter movement, Charles Uzor composed the piece 8’46” seconds – that’s how long George Floyd’s agony lasted when his breath was taken from him. The composition only consists of breathing sounds. For Charles Uzor it was a necessity to write this piece in order to process his own deep shock and to externalise it.
Charles Uzor, 8’46” – Floyd in memoriam, world creation Musikfestival Bern 2020, Prodcution SRG/SSR
Charles Uzor’s homage to George Floyd was premiered in Bern on September 4, 2020. I have an intense memory of this focused performance by the Mothertongue ensemble, directed by Rupert Huber. Not pathetic at any moment. And at the end of the 8’46” no applause – but concern, quietness and just silence.
The rain has stopped now and it’s dark outside. We talked for a long time. In the kitchen, Charles Uzor makes coffee and the soothing ripples of the radiator brings us back from the depths of our conversation to the present. Then I set off towards the station. Now I know the way.
Broadcast SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, Mittwoch, 16.12.20, 22h: Pochen und Beben – der Komponist Charles Uzor, Redaktion Cécile Olshausen.
Since neo.mx3’s launch, the four SRG stations are gradually making Swiss avant-garde archive recordings accessible. In the meantime, an enormous pool of rare recordings are already available.
This blog draws attention to individual musicians, ensembles and important works, starting with Basel composer Jacques Wildberger (1922-2006) and his relation to Paul Celan.
Corinne Holtz: Jacques Wildberger sets Paul Celan to music
Paul Celan (1920-1970) was born 100 years ago as Paul Antschel in Czernowitz in what was then known as Great Romania. He is one of the German poets whose works have been most frequently set to music and therefore contributed in shaping the history of music for some 50 years. Swiss composer Jacques Wildberger turned to Celan again in his latest work.
In April 1953 a written communication reached the Swiss Musicians Association’s members of the board, concerning the application for membership of Swiss composer Jacques Wildberger. Among the enclosed scores a Trio for oboe, clarinet and bassoon from 1952, written after his strict studies with Vladimir Vogel in Ticino. Wildberger’s first independent twelve-tone works were openly rejected. “No one will ever accept these works. We will never have to hear them and can therefore safely accept them.” This cynical statement comes from Paul Sacher, patron and contemporary music conductor.
Jacques Wildberger: Trio for Oboe, Klarinette and Fagott, 1952, Eigenproduktion SRG/SSR
Sacher had been president of the Swiss Association of Musicians since 1946. He can be considered central regarding music-political handlings and offices at the time and his influence on the Swiss musical landscape will be decisive for the five decades to come.
Jacques Wildberger stands for that 12-tone technique which Sacher describes as “constructed” and “aggressive”. He also represents political views that are considered suspect in the Swiss post-war context. Wildberger had been a member of the PdA (Labour Party) for three years and remained a self-confessed leftist after his departure in 1947 – in protest against Stalin’s regime.
The struggle for the possibility of hope
A central idea in Wildberger’s music is “the struggle for the possibility of hope”. The hope that things will get better and fairer one day. Although secular, Wildberger acknowledges the interpretation presented in Hebrews 11:1, that faith is a sort of confidence in what one hopes for.
This belief was first explored from a compositional angle in 1978, with An die Hoffnung for soprano solo, speaker and orchestra.
Jacques Wildberger, An die Hoffnung (1978/79), Sylvia Nopper, soprano, Georg Martin Bode, speaker, Sinfonieorchester Basel, conductor Heinz Holliger
Most recently in Tempus cadendi, tempus sperandi for mixed choir and six instrumentalists, written in 1998/99 for SWR Stuttgart. The cantata resembles a legacy of the 78-year-old composer. Once again Wildberger composes a memorial for the murdered Jews, with Paul Celan’s poems “Tenebrae” and “Es war Erde in ihnen” forming the centre of the four-part cantata.
Tenebrae seen in Celan’s and Wildberger’s perspective of is breaking taboos. The poet appears sacrilegious in his demand that God must pray, not man. The composer takes this transgression at its word and writes a series of protest songs, thereby returning to the protest songs of his youth, which he had written for the Basel workers’ cabaret ‘Scheinwerfer’ and the Neue Volksbühne Basel.
Jacques Wildberger: Wir wollen zusammen marschieren, Eigenproduktion SRG/SSR
Celan knew the expressive Tenebrae-scores of French baroque composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier, who wrote 31 instrumental “motets concertants” on the lamentations of Jeremiah. Instead of staging anger over the destruction of the Jewish temples, Charpentier composed consoling music for the Holy Week, the darkest days of the liturgical year. Celan was also inspired by Friedrich Hölderlin’s Patmos hymn. From ‘Nah ist und schwer zu fassen der Gott’ (close and difficult to grasp) to ‘Nah sind wir, Herr, nah sind wir, Herr, nah und greifbar” (close and touchable). Then the poet turns to the gas chambers. ‘Gegriffen schon, Herr, ineinander verkrallt, als wär der Leib eines jeden von uns dein Leib, Herr.’ (Seized already, Lord, clawed into our selves as though, the body of each of us were your body, Lord)*. At the end there is an imperative: ‘Bete, Herr. Wir sind nah’ (Pray, Lord. We are near.)
Paul Celan reads Tenebrae
Wildberger picks up this tone and produces the highest intensity with the most economical means in his 2-minute 30-second short movement. Whip strokes from drums and four-handed keyboard open the music and interfere again and again as a signal. Tenebrae’s tempo indication is “agitato” and the speed is set at 108 BPM. God needs the whip to listen. Only then the choir begins: eight voices strong, homophonically led and with rhythmic shifts like an assembly of very different voices. The music is a wake-up call behind the text: ‘Nah sind wir Herr, nah und greifbar’.
In bar 10 the Lord is shouted at fortissimo. Wildberger reinforces the accented note with the performance indication “gridato” (shouted). Five bars long, the fortissimo is “crawled into itself”.
Then a quiet part starts with ‘Bete, bete zu uns’ (Pray, pray to us). The screaming is followed by pleading: sung, spoken and ending in the voiceless ‘nn-ah’ (close). Here, a general pause marks, already at bar 20, the midpoint of the 41 bars piece.
Wildberger starts anew and lets the protest grow step by step from Celan’s line ‘windschief gingen wir hin’ (leaning we went). The music ends like the text as choral imperative: ‘Bete, Herr. Wir sind nah’ (Pray, Lord. We are near).
Wildberger’s height becomes clear once again in his solitary approach to Celan. Instead of transcending the poet and his life drama as usual, Wildberger calls for resistance and action. “I do not have the right to prescribe hope” – but to compose hope he does, with musical means at the height of times.
Other works by Jacques Wildberger can found on his Neo-Profile and Playlist.
Broadcast SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, 18.11.20: Lieder jenseits der Menschen – Paul Celan und die Musik, Redaktion Corinne Holtz
listen there: Jacques Wildberger, Tenebrae, from Min 53.36
Gabrielle Weber: Interview with Jeanne Larrouturou, Ensemble Batida & Diĝita: Romandie @GdN Basel_1, 26.11.10
The instrumentation is unusual… and convincing: three percussionists and two pianos. Even more unusual is the collaboration with the cartoon collective Hécatombe. At Diĝita, Geneva-based ensemble Batida combines music with comics. On November 26, at the Gare du Nord, focus of the “Romandie” season.
Basel’s Gâre du Nord, the Station for New Music’s main focus extends over three seasons, with three times three concerts. In the long run, this will build solid bridges to the other Swiss language region, which is of high importance, especially now, as the ensembles of the French-speacking part of Switzerland cannot perform there due to the regional lockdown.
Neoblog portrays the guest ensembles and neo.mx3 accompanies the concerts’ live broadcasts together with RTS.
Episode one: Ensemble Batida Genève: A portrait
I met Jeanne Larrouturou, percussionist and co-artistic director, for a conversation via Zoom during the Geneva Lockdown. Larrouturou comes from France, grew up in Geneva, and after her studies at the Haute école de musique Genève (HME), she specialised in contemporary music at the Musikhochschule Basel. Since then she has been acting as bridge-builder between the two regions’ music scenes.
Batida’s lineup was rather accidental. Larrouturou explains that the ensemble originated as a “classic Bartok formation”, referring to Bartok’s 1937/38 sonata for two pianos and percussion. In 2010 four of the ensemble members formed for a concert at the HME and further joint performances followed. When a percussionist left for abroad, Larrouturou stepped in and stayed. The core formation has since then remained unchanged: three percussionists Jeanne Larrouturou, Alexandra Bellon and Anne Briset complement Viva Sanchez Reinoso and Raphaël Krajka on piano.
A stroke of luck, because many new works were created for this unique lineup. On one hand by composers, on the other hand by collective composition of the ensemble’s members themselves, which also began by chance. During a project with a dance company, the choreographer asked Batida to compose something. “This is how the first composition commission happened and we carried on composing together afterwards. Next came music for a project with a puppet theatre,” says Larrouturou.
Ensemble Batida, Haïku, collective composition 2013
“The way we compose strongly draws on experimentation. We start from an idea of general structure, a concept and then we “go”: we play, we listen to each other, record ourselves, listen to the recordings together. We structure, organise and record “. A kind of creation that combines improvisation and notation. Generally, the improvisational elements are retained.
musique de création
Batida does not want to get stuck in a set musical genre. “We see ourselves in contemporary music, but don’t like what’s behind that label very much” says Larrouturou. In France there are several more fitting designations: ‘Musique de création’ is the most appropriate for her: “it’s sufficiently open, but at the same time excludes traditional ‘contemporary music’.”
Ensemble Batida: Mean E, kollektive Komposition 2013
The ensemble has hardly had performances in German-speaking Switzerland so far. After the Concours Nicati in Bern 2014, performances at the festival Zeiträume Basel and in Andermatt followed. Quite the opposite to the Romandie , as well as abroad, where the ensemble performed at many festivals, toured France, Russia, Portugal and Cyprus. Another tour – with Diĝita – was planned in the USA (but had to be postponed due to the pandemic).
Larrouturou explains the meagre exchanges between language regions as follows: “I have been living in Basel for about four years now and my network is in Basel, Geneva and Lausanne. It never ceases to amaze me how little the scenes know each other. At the university in Basel, I noticed that there were fundamental differences in aesthetic orientation. Certain very highly considered musicians in Basel, are hardly known in the French-speaking part Switzerland. The French-speaking part is more closely linked to France, while the German-speaking part is to Germany,”.
Larrouturou curates the Lausanne concert series Fracanaüm together with composer Kevin Juillerat, a fellow student from Basel, based in Lausanne. They try to transcend such divisions. “We don’t even ask ourselves where someone comes from and invite musicians from our network from both regions. I’m convinced that these small initiatives create and develop long term relationships”.
But Batida is also about building bridges between divisions. Most projects are transdisciplinary and developed in collaboration with other artists, with dance, puppet theatre, architecture, video or comic artists.
The collaboration with the Geneva-based drawing collective Hécatombe is ongoing, since their first joint project in 2016.
Ensemble Batida & Hécatombe: Oblikvaj, collective composition 2016-2018
“In our first project Oblikvaj (2016-2018), it immediately became apparent, that we were on the same wavelength. Each of the five members of Hécatombe created a graphic score, in form of a 24-page black and white comic strip and Batida reacted with collective compositions. It worked brilliantly”. Concerts with live encounters followed.
Diĝita is primarily about the joint creation process. “In the summer of 2019 we took a 14-day retreat in an old farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. We didn’t bring any instruments, but collected and recorded existing sounds, for example big machines, tractors and engines.
Diĝita, Trailer ©Gare du Nord, Batida & Hécatombe
The title Diĝita stands on one hand for the ‘fingers’, on the other hand for digital vs. analogue. The recorded and sampled sounds refer to the digital realm, while the music performers work with their fingers. The musicians perform within a transparent cube, with screen-display walls onto which 3D videos by the drawing collective are projected: life-size comic figures on the videos overlap and thus alienate the real bodies of the musicians in the cube.
Diĝita was able to give a concert in Lausanne on 31 October: “It was an extreme experience as we all knew that we wouldn’t be playing live again for a while, so we enjoyed the moment even more,” says Larrouturou. The Diĝita tour with follow-up concerts in Geneva was unfortunately interrupted by the lockdown.
During our conversation, it turned out that Batida is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year. A party with partners and audience is planned in Geneva, but due to the pandemic it will not take place before 2021.
Ensemble Batida: Klaviere: Viva Sanchez Reinoso, Raphaël Krajka
Percussion; Jeanne Larrouturou, Alexandra Bellon, Anne Briset
Diĝita: Video: Giuseppe Greco, Ton: David Poissonnier
Gare du Nord: Batida & Hécatombe: Diĝita, 26.11.20, 20h
(because of lockdown in Basel, they played twice for 15 persons, combined with a Livestream for everybody else)
l’écho des pavanes, 20.11.20, rédaction Anne Gillot, Gespräch mit Désirée Meiser, Intendantin Gare du Nord
broadcast SRF 2 Kultur:
in Musik unserer Zeit zu neo.mx3, 21.10.20, Redaktion Florian Hauser / Gabrielle Weber
17 new streaming productions during lockdown: 6.-29.11.20
The city of Vienna is going through troubled times. Hit hard by the pandemic and declared quarantine region at an early stage, then locked down at short notice during the month of November. Not to mention the outrageous terrorist attack. The unique Wien Modern music festival happens to be, both in terms of time and geography, in the midst of it, as it’s usually staged in various locations of the city centre throughout the month.
Under the slogan Stimmung (‘mood’ as well as ‘tuning’), the festival traces the current 2020 mood in complex and diverse ways. 44 new productions and 85 new pieces should have been performed, over 32 days, but only the opening weekend could take place in front of an audience, showing six productions, a mere 14% of the total programme.
On the third (as well as second-last) evening, the premiere of Edu Haubensak’s “Grosse Stimmung” could be presented. Wien Modern spared no effort and – almost in anticipation of what was to come – the Wiener Konzerthaus’ auditorium was emptied for eleven differently tuned grand pianos. The audience was, of course, still present – but in the stands only.
This allowed Haubensak’s work to be experienced live and in its integrity for the first time. After partial performances, the planned integral premiere at the Ruhrtriennale had to be cancelled in summer due to the pandemic. Despite quarantine, the three Swiss pianists Simone Keller, Tomas Bächli and Stefan Wirth were there to perform.
Then came the lockdown with its banned events and curfew. The quick decision in response was that a total of 24 events, i.e. more than half of the concerts, will now be performed without an audience and streamed free of charge.
Five days only after the lockdown was declared, the first streaming concert took place in front of an empty Musikverein hall on the 6th of November: the world premiere of Sofia Gubaidulina’s long-awaited new orchestral work “Der Zorn Gottes” performed by the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra (RSO) and directed by Oksana Lyniv. The planned premiere at the Salzburg Easter Festival with the Staatskapelle Dresden and Christian Thielemann had already been cancelled after several postponements.
The fact that it eventually premiered online is of significant importance given the situation as well as the terror that Vienna had to endure. Gubaidulina sees the performance as a sign of peace in times of increasing hatred and “a general overstrain affecting civilisation”.
Klaus Lang: tönendes Licht
Livestream from Stephansdom Wien: Klaus Lang, tönendes Licht, world creation 19.11.20
Other important highlights are a concert with three world premieres on November 18, in the Vienna Konzerthaus. In addition to new works by Friedrich Cerha and Johannes Kalitze, a piece by Matthias Kranebitter, winner of the Erste Bank Composition Prize, will be premiered – “a new encyclopaedia of pitch and deviation”. Performed by Klangforum Wien and directed by Kalitzke himself. On November 19, live from Vienna’s St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the premiere of the “giant organ concerto” (cit. Wien Modern) “tönendes licht” by Klaus Lang, for a space wise dispersed Vienna Symphony Orchestra, directed by Peter Rundel.
20 years Ensemble Mondrian – Anniversary concert in Vienna:
This production has unfortunately been postponed to 2021, due to Swiss quarantine regulation guidelines.
There is also something to be heard from the Swiss side: On November 21, the Mondrian Ensemble will mark its 20th anniversary by presenting works by Martin Jaggi and Thomas Wally, both long-time collaborators of the Basel based ensemble.
Ensemble Mondrian, Thomas Wally, Podcast
Premieres of Andres Bosshard with Zahra Mani and Mia Zabelka, however, had to be postponed to November 2021. Same for Basel ensemble Nikel’s concert with works by Thomas Kessler and Hugues Dufourt.
Bernhard Günther, artistic director of Wien Modern, made the following statement in a in-depth reflection on the lockdown and the cultural mood in Austria: “The current mood here indicates that clear signals are urgently needed to prevent culture from being perceived as a victim of the health system, winter tourism in the mountains and Christmas shopping. A captain must of course try and avoid the iceberg, but at the moment he must also do everything he can to prevent the ship from sinking on the opposite side”.
Through streaming, Wien Modern now tries to maintain Vienna’s cultural life and make part of it accessible. Perhaps – to stick with the festival’s motto – the actual mood can be somewhat improved, even if this doesn’t diminish the life threatening situation that cultural production is currently facing.
To express our solidarity, SRF 2 Kultur and neo.mx3, are pleased to inform their public, users and listeners regarding the different streaming possibilities and details.
Broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur
Kultur kompakt Podcast, 9.11.20: Theresa Beyer, “Der Zorn Gottes” entlädt sich im Stream zur UA Wien Modern, Sofia Gubaidulina:
Neoblog, Corinne Holtz: Wenn aus Leidenschaft Subversion wird – Portrait Simone Keller
Kontext, 21.10.20, Corinne Holtz: Zehn neu gestimmte Klaviere
In Musik unserer Zeit, 21.10.20: Florian Hauser / Gabrielle Weber: zu neo.mx3: Simone Keller & Edu Haubensak
Christian Fluri / Gabrielle Weber: Interview Martin Bliggenstorfer – 10 years ensemble proton bern: Anniversary season 2020/21
This is where a brilliant birthday portrait regarding ensemble proton bern’s 10 years activity, with plenty of notes regarding the anniversary season was meant to be found.
Christian Fluri talked with Martin Bliggenstorfer, the Managing Director, shortly after the lockdown of the first pandemic wave. At that time, he expressed confidence and urge for action.
Now, shortly before the big anniversary celebration of November 16th was originally planned, we find ourselves in the midst of a second wave, hitting with unexpected violence.
I therefore discussed the effects of the new situation on the ensemble proton bern and its anniversary season with Bliggenstorfer in a second conversation, immediately after the Federal authorities announced the new guidelines of October 18th. Since then, measures and guidelines have been changing constantly and most performances have become virtually impossible.
The ensemble proton bern is thus representative of many ensembles, musicians and organisers who are suddenly facing cancellations, postponements and an uncertain future.
ensemble proton bern has been researching with great passion since ten years now, looking for new sounds, new works and new composers. It is now one of the most in-demand ensembles in and outside Europe.
Since its foundation in 2010, the ensemble, which is based in the Dampfzentrale Bern, has performed some 273 works by 180 composers in 128 concerts, 175 of the works were world premieres. Among other highlights, its concerts at St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Concert Hall in in front of large audiences and a West Coast tour of the USA.
During the first wave of Corona, the ensemble was quite lucky, as managing director, oboist and lupophone player Martin Bliggenstorfer states: “Right before the lockdown, we were able to play the protonwerk no. 9 concert in the Dampfzentrale. But we had to cancel the second performance at Basel’s Gare du Nord.”
protonwerk is a support programme for young composers* to whom the ensemble commissions works.
Adrian Nagel, Netzwerk, UA: protonwerk no.7 / ensemble proton bern 2017
“We were able to postpone our programme terrible ten, a concert with world premieres by Thomas Kessler (My lady soul) as well as Michael Pelzel and Stefan Wirth, which was planned for May, at short notice and managed to play in September. So not all of our planned programmes went completely lost,” says Bliggenstorfer happily.
Making music together is missed
The ensemble could hardly wait to get back playing concerts after the lockdown. So terrible ten became somewhat extraordinary as making music together again after such a long time and sharing music live with the audience was a great experience for everyone involved, says Bliggentorfer.
Thomas Kessler, My lady soul, UA ensemble proton bern 2019
Even though the ensemble’s musicians were able to make productive use of the lockdown period. “What we missed was making music together, being in direct contact with each other and rehearse with the concerts in mind. But at the same time it was also good to let our brains and bodies rest for a few weeks.”
Fortunately, the ensemble’s existence is currently not in danger. “We didn’t have to return any of the received subsidies or support for the cancelled concerts. That way we’ve been able to pay out our own fees as well as those of our guest performers”. Bliggenstorfer is very grateful for the generous attitude of Switzerland’s donors.
“The universe of sounds is limitless…”
The ensemble is therefore still in an excellent position and constantly striving to develop further. This, however, will happen without its long-time conductor Matthias Kuhn, with the ensemble since its founding. “He wishes to reorient himself artistically” which is something that Bliggenstorfer understands, however important Kuhn has been for the young ensemble’s development. In the future, the work will go on with a core of eight members and without a permanent conductor, in order to develop chamber music projects as well as concerts and performances with larger ensembles and guest conductors.
The passion for contemporary music in its various genres and orientations never changed as the ensemble has no blinders on and joyfully plays and shows how full of enthusiasm, lively and vital contemporary music can be. “The universe of sounds and their possible combinations is infinite”, and Bliggenstorfer knows that ” there are new discoveries to be made throughout an entire lifespan”.
Verschiedene Komponisten click & faun, ensemble proton bern 2019
Sound possibilities of new instruments are also far from being exhausted: i.e. the “clarinet d’amore” rediscovered by Richard Haynes, the double-reed instruments “lupophone” and “contraforte” played by Martin Bliggenstorfer and Elise Jacoberger or Maximilian Haft’s “straw violin” – not to mention the variety in the realmof electronic sound production. ensemble proton bern will continue to research.
2nd interview, October 21, 2020:
Despite growing uncertainties and the threat of new restrictions, Bliggenstorfer still appeared to be confident regarding future concert possibilities on October 21: “Cultural events should not be cancelled as long as they are not officially prohibited. Protection concepts must of course be implemented perfectly, which worked well so far”.
Fixed appearances as main act were planned as part of the “5 years Kultur-Kino Rex” anniversary programme, with two visual artists, during which composer Ennio Morricone was to be shown from an much less known side. “Morricone is well known as film music composer – but he was also active in so called ‘art music’, among others as trumpet player of the “Gruppo di improvisazzione Nuova Consonanza” in the 60s/70s.
However, the new Berne guidelines of October 23, closed cinemas and museums with immediately effect and the concerts had to be cancelled shortly afterwards.
“fette fête” (big fat party) – the ensemble’s 10th anniversary concert
The “fette fête” was planned for 16 November in Bern: a huge birthday party with premieres and works by Louis Andriessen, Christian Henking and Annette Schmucki. The ensemble also commissioned a work by young Swiss composer Tobias Krebs. “We are extremely pleased about this – he is an outstanding young composer whom we know from protonwerk”.
Tobias Krebs, ambra, UA Duo Vers 2018
During the interview, Bliggenstorfer held on to the possibility of performing, for “as long as it is possible to propose art as a live experience, we do not want to give up the opportunity to perform. We want to deal with the situation responsibly by observing the protection rules and concepts”.
Unfortunately, the concert had to be cancelled (as of October 30 guidelines) and will be rescheduled to February 2021 (tbc.).
Further uncertainties arise regarding future projects with guests from abroad: “If they cannot enter or travel, we will have to look for replacements. Furthermore, engagements abroad are cancelled for the time being. For the anniversary season, the ensemble had invitations to New York and Salzburg, for example.”
The financial consequences of the current situation cannot be assessed yet: “At the moment we are still in a good position financially, but the medium to long-term impact of the crisis on the funding landscape is uncertain.”
The ensemble continues to show its full commitment. The urge of research and innovation, as well as the desire to play and discover, remain intact.
However, it is impossible to foresee long-term consequences regarding live concerts, in particular as far as the international situation is concerned.
Konzerte Jubiläumssaison 20/21 &aktuelle updates
30.Oktober: The dark side of Ennio Morricone, Kino Rex Bern: ABGESAGT
16. November: “fette fête” – 10Jahre proton, Dampfzentrale Bern: ABGESAGT: VERSCHIEBEDATUM 2. Februar 2021 (tbc)**
17. November, 20h, Konzert Gare du Nord Basel: protonwerk nr.9 (Wiederaufnahme)
Sendungen SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, 28.10.20: Redaktion Florian Hauser, Gespräch zu My lady soul, mit Thomas Kessler, Martin Bliggenstorfer, Bettina Berger, Vera Schnider
Neue Musik im Konzert, 28.10.20: My lady soul mit terrible ten, Konzertaufzeichnung vom 15.9.20, Dampfzentrale Bern, Redaktion Florian Hauser.
Musikmagazin, 25.7.20: u.a. Richard Haynes, Redaktion Florian Hauser
**DATUM OFFEN: Neue Musik im Konzert: “fette fête”, Konzertaufzeichnung, Dampfzentrale Bern, Redaktion Florian Hauser.
A portrait of Simone Keller – pianist, curator, music mediator @ Festival Wien Modern & Edu Haubensak: Grosse Stimmung 31.10.20
by Corinne Holtz
2020 begins with tightly scheduled concerts. For Laptop4, an instrumental play by Lara Stanić, Kukuruz Quartet also used a camera and a microphone, while for Ensemble Tzara and world premieres by Patrick Frank and Trond Reinholdtsen, Simone Keller is featured at the piano. On March 12th, the day before the lockdown is announced, she and the thélème choir present a whimsical programme of vocal music ranging from Guillaume de Machaut to Francis Poulenc.
Then the lights go out… the premiere of Grosse Stimmung by Edu Habensak for differently tuned pianos is also affected. The Ruhrtriennale is cancelled, but the Wien Modern festival is scheduled for the end of October. The parquet chairs in the great hall of the Vienna Konzerthaus have to be moved apart, in order to create space for a total of ten differently tuned concert pianos.
Simone Keller, Samuel Bächli and Stefan Wirth are determined to play the cycle, which lasts over three hours, on October 31st. The finale is a newly commissioned tutti, featuring students of the University of Music and Performing Arts.
“Yes, we will go to Vienna, unless there is really a travel ban on entry. We would also accept the quarantine. I played at the Wiener Festwochen in early September. The organisers were extremely careful regarding rules and measures, so that the performances could take place”.
A woman’s advice: “show less emotions and discuss your hairstyle with a man beforehand…”
Simone Keller is also candid when it comes to the financial consequences of the pandemic. She has been able to cover 80% of the work losses in recent months, thanks to government support measures. The new Covid law, which became effective in September, guarantees compensation for work loss until June 2021, but only to those who can prove a loss of at least 55% compared to 2015-2019. “This is of course ridiculous when, like me, one earns some 40’000 francs a year… which means you can barely get by even at 100%”.
Simone Keller in Lara Stanic, Fantasia for Piano-Solo and electronics, 2020
The crisis is existential. Are women harder hit than men? “As a freelance artist, I am at the bottom of the food chain anyway, where it’s probably not a gender-based classification anymore.” Things are different when women stand on a stage and send signals that the audience evaluates. “An advice given to me by a woman in a high management position was eye-opening to me. She advised to show less emotions when making music and to always discuss my hairstyle with a man. She herself would always ask her husband what he thought of her appearance before an important meeting”. Since then, Simone Keller has also been taking a closer look at “sexism among women”.
Simone Keller plays Julia Amanda Perry © Wiener Festwochen 2020 reframed
“turning the impossible into possible “
She explores herself by revealing little-known repertoire as well as daring refreshing forms of programming, for example in the context of the carte blanche granted to her by Zurich’s Moods Jazz Club. “Turning the impossible into possible”, says the pianist and curator on the sold-out opening night of the ‘Breaking Boundaries’ festival. Her driving force seems to be passion and subversion at once, carried by the flame of finally being able to play in front of an audience again.
Simone Keller selected three venues for the three programme elements: four concert pianos, each in its own mood for a cross-section of Edu Haubensak’s piano cycle Grosse Stimmung, six pianos for music by Julius Eastman – interpreted with three refugees as fellow musicians – and Moods’ grand piano the for the improvisation by Vera Kappeler with Peter Conradin Zumthor on percussion. “The effort was enormous, we must thank piano manufacturer Urs Bachmann and his team for the commitment, without them it wouldn’t have happened”.
An invitation to listen to colours – a single key becoming a microcluster.
Simone Keller sparks when she gets going. Every tone gets the exact amount of energy it needs and is precisely placed in space and time, shaped by pianistic subtlety. Patterns become comprehensible phrases. Shock moments are as deeply developed as lyrical gestures. The extremely physical music of Haubensak becomes vivid. Haubensak describes the resulting sounds as “noise cubes”: they literally jump at the listener. The whirring of the overlapping vibrations in Collection II, releases colours never heard before. The ear is in the eye of the storm. Haubensak has created his own mixed mood for the scordatura of Collection II, which gives each position on the piano a special character. If all three strings (or tones) of a key are tuned differently, the horizon widens. A single key becoming a microcluster. The piano becomes unbounded when all 241 strings are tuned differently. And the attack on the sovereign instrument becomes an invitation to listen to colours.
Simone Keller plays Edu Haubensak Pur, for piano in Skordatur (2004/05, rev. 2012)
Simone Keller formulates “bold wishes” beyond art: social security for artists, basic granted income with personal responsibility for risk, integrating outsiders into cultural practice. There will be a lot on the plate there, because the crisis has only just begun. The pianist has been leading the artists’ collective ‘ox+öl’ together with director Philipp Bartels since 2014. It runs composition and improvisation workshops for and with children with a migration background and organizing participative concerts with violent juvenile criminals in prison.
Simone Keller is preparing for the uncertain future. This summer, she embarked on another area: an “intensive education programme in sign language, triggered by a music theatre project with deaf people”. Perhaps she will do an apprenticeship and become a sign language interpreter, “a very sought-after profession”. Another possibility she talks about is increasing her socio-cultural work in prison as well as in the refugees sector and play less concerts.”
Festival Wien Modern, Edu Haubensak: Grosse Stimmung, 31.10.20
Simone Keller, Wien Modern, ox&öl – Breaking Boundaries Festival, Philipp Bartels, Edu Haubensak, Tomas Bächli, Stefan Wirth, Ensemble Tzara, Lara Stanic, Patrick Frank, Ensemble thélème, Duo Kappeler Zumthor, Urs Bachmann, Trond Reinholdtsen, Moods Club, Kukuruz Quartett
broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Kontext, Mittwoch, 21.10.20, 17:58h: Künste im Gespräch, Redaktion Corinne Holtz
in: Musik unserer Zeit, Mittwoch, 21.10.20., 20h: Redaktion Florian Hauser / Roman Hošek / Gabrielle Weber: Sc’ööf! & neo.mx3
Thomas Meyer: Edu Haubensak – Das wohlverstimmte Klavier, in: Schweizer Musikzeitung, Nr. 11, November 2011
Edu Haubensak: von früher…von später. Im Dickicht der Mikroharmonien, in: MusikTexte 166, August 2020
Pauline Oliveros: Breaking Boundaries
Anya Leveillé: Interview Alexandre Babel Les Amplitudes La Chaux-de Fonds 21.-25.10.20
The 9th edition Les Amplitudes, conceived by percussionist, curator and composer Alexandre Babel will be presented in La Chaux-de-Fonds from October 21 to October 25.
Geneva born Alexandre Babel, currently lives in Berlin, from where he travels the world as a soloist and with numerous ensembles, exploring contemporary, improvised and experimental music as performer, composer and curator.
Artistic director of Eklekto, percussionist-drummer with the KNM Berlin ensemble as well as the experimental trio Sudden Infant, performer with Mio Chareteau in the Radial collective, composer for various instrumental ensembles (including a snare drum choir and a cello-piano duo) or Delia Hess’ animated films, Alexandre Babel extends his sound research through multiple artistic practices which will be reflected in a series of events mixing concerts, performances, conferences, projections and sound walks at Les Amplitudes.
During my phone call (or rather “Zoom” call) with Alexandre Babel in his Berlin rehearsal room, we discussed the atypical Les Amplitudes festival. Its monographic dimension makes the event unique within the galaxy of contemporary music festivals, allowing the public to discover the guest artist’s creative workshop, whose programming reveals La Chaux-de-Fonds’ urban spaces as well as architectural heritage.
How did you approach Les Amplitudes’ programming?
Les Amplitudes allows me to combine my three main activities – instrumentalist, composer and programmer – within a single event that fits into a precise framework, namely La Chaux-de-Fonds. The town becomes stage for a gigantic composition that begins on the first day of the festival and ends with the closing concert. This “composition” is made up of musical, social and urban parameters, which I perceive as one single entity formed by a constellation of concerts, events and encounters.
Alexandre Babel, the way down pour violoncelle et piano, Duo Orion 2020
You refer to the city being transformed into a huge composition. Was it to compose this urban score that you chose Alvin Lucier’s “Memory Space” for the opening of the Festival, given that the piece plays with the sound spaces of a particular place?
Alvin Lucier’s piece is programmed as part of the event entitled “I listen to the city”, developed by the artistic director of the KNM Berlin Ensemble, Thomas Bruns. This project, which creates a kind of live urban postcard, invites participants to be guided, blindfolded, through the streets of the city and discover it not through looking, but through hearing. In “Memory Space”, Lucier provides the interpreters with a text as score indicating the interpretation procedure. The musicians go to a place whose soundscape they will have to memorise by various means (recording, note-taking, drawings), but for the concert, they are asked to reproduce the sound imprint of the place from memory and with their instrument. In La Chaux-de-Fonds, these wanderings will disclose several listening layers, with participants walking around listening to the sounds of the streets and musicians musically reproducing what they have heard in the past.
the city is transformed into a gigantic composition
What do you consider to be La Chaux-de-Fonds’ specific sound characteristics?
After having participated in the production of the “I listen to the city” project in many cities, La Chaux-de-Fonds seemed extremely quiet to me. Sometimes, it is even difficult to find a noisy place, but when you walk through the streets, your hearing opens up and you start to perceive sounds that are more sustained, more distant. This project is very interesting because it allows to really express something regarding the city.
Besides from the sound walks, has La Chaux-de-Fonds inspired you for the other events programmed at Les Amplitudes?
Of course, because it’s a place that inspires a lot of images, starting with its urban plan, which is really very special. The “Pod”, this huge central avenue, and the town’s division into squares made me want to create one or more walking projects. Then there is all the heritage of music- and art- related buildings, which is remarkable for a city of this size. The Music Hall, the “Heure bleue” Theatre, the “Usine électrique”… These exceptional places led me to a lot of questions: what was the story this hall was telling me? What could I do here? How could this or that score combined with another piece “reveal” a specific place?
La Chaux-de-Fonds seemed extremely quiet to me.
You haven’t only scheduled concerts for this eighth edition of Les Amplitudes…
I am interested in sound vibration, in sound as a priority, but the question of this sound vibration can have different implicationsthat are not necessarily and always achievable in concert. At Les Amplitudes, I have, among other things, programmed a conference at Club 44 with visual artist, Latifa Echakhch, and composer and philosopher François Bonnet, director of the GRM. With Echakhch, I just started a collaboration focusing on an exhibition where the question of sound vibration will not lead to a concert or another type of sound representation, but take on other forms through plastic and conceptual work.
Thomas Kessler, 5+5: Eklekto, 2017
This is actually where Les Amplitudes’ uniqueness lies! Focusing on an artist, but by exploring different aspects of his or her practice or thought. A process that allows to build a journey during which we discover many different angles that, put together, will create and shape an image of an artistic proposal that one can make his or her own.
Interview: Anya Leveillé
2.10.20.: L’écho des pavanes, éditorial Anya Leveillé: Alexandre Babel aus Amplitudes
21. et 24.10.20, 19:03h: L’écho des pavanes: Live sur place aux amplitudes
19.10.20: Musique d’avenir, éditorial Anne Gillot: Portrait Alexandre Babel
26.10.20.: Musique d’avenir, éditorial Anne Gillot: concert finale en live
Broadcast SRF 2 Kultur:
21.10.20., 20h: dans: Musik unserer Zeit, éditorial Florian Hauser / invitée Gabrielle Weber & neo.mx3
Interview with Michael Wertmüller by Gabrielle Weber: The 10th Symphony @ Cologne & Pandemic Premiere @ Donaueschingen
Michael Wertmüller continues composing Beethoven’s fragment of the 10th symphony and the result can be heard in the Kölner Philharmonie on October 14. Immediately afterwards, a new work will be premiered at the Donaueschinger Musiktage*: a true tour de force for the SWR Symphony Orchestra, having to face the increased hygiene requirements in a reduced size.
The Berlin-based musician masterfully mixes musical styles, genres, formats and formations. He travels internationally both as jazz drummer and composer and his pieces are always shrill, fast and highly complex. Thus he constantly shakes up new music clichés and cannot be allocated to any fix place.
Wertmüller and Beethoven or Wertmüller and the pandemic conditions: is that possible?
It certainly is, reveals Wertmüller in an interview via zoom from Frankfurt, where he was discussing an upcoming music theatre production.
You are currently in Frankfurt, working live with people again, travelling. Has your work changed since the pandemic? More online, less travelling?
My work as a composer hasn’t changed at all – even before Corona I was alone at home for weeks and saw no one. At the moment there are fewer meetings, of course and I work more via zoom – like everyone else I suppose. Apart from the fact that live performances are on hold, little has changed.
Have you lost many live concerts?
In the last fifteen years I have experienced kind of a cross-fade: proportion and ratio have shifted from many tours and occasional composing to the opposite. That’s why it wasn’t so drastic for me: only one big USA tour with my trio was cancelled.
Your trio: Full Blast?
Yes, exactly, my jazz trio with Peter Brötzmann and Marino Pliakas. A big USA tour was planned, across the country from east to west. This cancellation hurts of course, especially since we had some successful tours in the States in the past. We had been invited to various festivals and were often on tour without state support, almost self-sufficient.
Michael Wertmüller, Full blast, Suzy, 2008
You are in the middle of the preparations for your 10th symphony in Cologne and the piece is part of a trilogy**. Part one had to be postponed due to the pandemic, part two was conceived differently: were there moments of uncertainty regarding the project?
Not really interestingly, as it takes place in the Philharmonie, which is huge, with its over 2100 seats and the project was always conceived for a chamber music setup. I don’t know if anything else is coming… but only 200 people are admitted.
Still three weeks to go… what does your project look like?
My piece, the 10th symphony, will take place in the great hall. It’s in the form of a music theatre. I wrote music to individual sections of a text by Gesine Danckwart, a younger Berlin author. Three singers, two string quartets and two ensembles will be interpreting it, for a total of some 25 musicians altogether.
There is also another, separate project, a sound installation distributed throughout the building, whichs can be experienced over four days.
You continued Beethoven’s 10th?
That was more of a working title, as there are only very small fragments, no more than four-five-bar sketches. I only used a tiny theme. In this project, Beethoven is relatively irrelevant to the tones themselves. Novoflot, the opera company who’s responsible for the project, asked itself and me the (big) question: what would Beethoven sound like today?
What matters most to me is that I was actually asked to do some Beethoven related work in the first place, as I would almost have been offended if I hadn’t been able to do anything about the great Beethoven anniversary. I am the biggest Beethoven fan ever.
“I am the biggest Beethoven fan ever.”
How did this fascination come about?
I was already a fan of his music as a child. As well as of Miles Davis’ and John Coltrane’s. I am actually a simple, rather romantic type of guy who easily gets enthusiastic.
Can this enthusiasm be heard in your composition?
Beethoven is constantly present in the back of my head. The music I love accompanies me always and everywhere, even in everyday life. Like Coltrane, Miles, or Bruckner and Shostakovich. This automatically flows into my music, whether I play or compose.
Will it become more tangible in Cologne or will it remain subconscious?
It’ll remain subconscious. The question of how Beethoven would compose today is answered by our line-up: Johnny La Marama, a hip Berlin jazz band, the “Ensemble of Nomades”, which brings in New Music, and three singers with a classical-romantic background. These are the three worlds that are valid for me today and combining them could certainly be something that Beethoven might have wanted to do in the present days.
Word’s out that musicians are completely overwhelmed when they have to interpret your pieces, as well as the audience… will that be the case this time?
The music will be relatively digestible, even pleasing. Very harmonious and also danceable. The only thing that could hurt is its intensity. But I have made the experience that I can trust the audience a lot – I don’t underestimate it.
Michael Wertmüller: Musikfabrik Köln, Antagonisme contrôlé, 2014
In Donaueschingen a new piece of yous will be presented in the Baarsporthalle immediately afterwards…
Donaueschingen is always a big challenge with its whole ongoing tradition. Even though I have been invited several times, I always think of something special for it.
..a ” grandiose piece…”
The piece had to meet the new increased hygiene requirements… a chamber music miniature…
It is absolutely not a miniature. On the contrary: it has on purpose become “grandiose”, megalomaniac, because of this corona affliction. It is everywhere and I have it too.
“Megalomaniac”? So in your case, the new guidelines resulting from the pandemic were inspiring, not annoying?
The instrumentation has been reduced and the normal symphony orchestra practically cut in half. I had no problems with that. I chose a soloist approach for the piece and wrote extreme virtuosity into it, which made it haunting, pathetic, shrill and very virtuosic. I have no trouble anticipating. As musicians, as artists, we must be able to anticipate, otherwise we are lost.
I take the situation seriously and have full confidence in the government, in the experts. But now it is important to carry on and to be consistent.
Every little thing I am allowed to do right now – and at the moment we can be thankful, if culture even takes place at all – I want to do right: full on. I want to cry out now, really loud and really furious – that’s what I do with my work. It will be a scream, an outcry.
Interview: Gabrielle Weber
Michael Wertmüller, Zeitschrei for Piano, Bass, Percussion, Steamboat Switzerland, 2015
**as part of the “Labor Beethoven 2020” project – Contemporary music festival for Beethoven’s anniversary, in cooperation with the Akademie der Künste Berlin
#3 The 10th Symphony, 14.10.2020, 20h: Philharmonie Cologne: Novoflot Opernkompanie, Ludwig van Beethoven, Michael Wertmüller.
Further performances are planned for December in Berlin (dates & locations tbc)
Neues Werk Donaueschinger Musiktage, 16.10.2020, 18h / 21h*:
SWR Symphonieorchester, opening concert, Dirigent Titus Engel: Paul Hindemith, Kammermusik Nr.1 (1922), Michael Wertmüller, Neues Werk / UA; Oliver Schneller, The New City / UA, Lula Romero, displaced / UA, Klaus Lang, Neues Werk / UA, Cathy Milliken, Neues Werk / UA
*DONAUESCHINGER MUSIKTAGE canceled at short notice (12.10.20):
On Friday, October 16 at 8 pm, SWR2 will broadcast a rehearsal recording of the opening concert.
Michael Wertmüller, SWR Symphonieorchester, Titus Engel, Novoflot Opernkompanie Berlin, Steamboat Switzerland, Peter Brötzmann, Donaueschinger Musiktage, Kölner Philharmonie, Gesine Danckwart, Johnny La Marama, Ensemble of Nomades
RTR launch neo.mx3 & ensemble ö!
Interview with David Sontòn-Caflisch by Thomas Meyer
RTR celebrates the launch of neo.mx3 with a special concert by local ensemble ö! on October 11, in Chur! Numerous works by Swiss musicians will be performed and RTR will record and film the performances in order to make them immediately available on the neo.mx3 plattform.
Thomas Meyer talks with violinist and composer David Sontòn-Caflisch, ensemble ö!’s artistic director.
Asia Ahmetjanova, La voix, UA ensemble ö!, Chur 2020
Ensemble ö! Was founded in 2002 and at that time it developed out of a string ensemble (Musicuria), which you founded in 1991. You were still in grammar school back then… What was your purpose?
We used to include a piece of new music in every programmewith Musicuria, sometimes even world premieres. The interest then shifted more and more in that direction, so we finally formed the new ensemble ö! with some strings from Musicuria as well as winds, piano and percussion.
What does this unusual name mean?
By presenting the ensemble I said that the difference between “E- und U-Musik”* was no longer to be made and the Graubünden press interpreted my statement in the following, original way: e and u together would make eu, which pronounced in French, would become ö. Originally, however, I thought of the “ö!” expression which is used to raise a toast here in Graubünden. It is simply a toast to new music.
In your programming, you like to highlight specific topics.
Each season, we focus on one specific theme, which is examined in detail through six programmes. As artistic director, my aim is not only to select good pieces, but also to create clever programmes that tell a story and are structured as a whole, to be imagined as one big piece per evening, involving various composers.
Stephanie Hänsler, Im Begriffe, ensemble ö! 2017
..the vastness of the universe stands alongside the uniqueness of art…
The current season’s theme is “suns”.
…a wide field. When you look up into the starry sky, you often forget that almost all of these bright spots are suns. Each of them has its own world, and these worlds are incredibly far away and apart. Our nearest neighbour is more than four light years away. That shows on the one hand how small, on the other hand how unique we are. We are able to reflect the world through art or in this case music! So the vastness of the universe stands alongside the uniqueness of art.
These aspects are addressed in different ways: The concerts are called “light years”, “inaccessibility”, “energy”, “opium”… How do you structure the programmes?
In September’s “Light Years” programme for example, mass is facing emptiness: It is impossible to imagine the mass of a billion stars, but there is a great emptiness between the stars. Two of the pieces of the concert (by Vladimir Tarnopolski and Gwyn Pritchard) are incredibly dense, so dense that one cannot follow every note, but only the overall idea. Whereas Luciano Berio’s and Roland Moser’s compositions work with emptiness and are very quiet. Finally, Marc-André Dalbavie’spiece combines both elements.
Jannis Xenakis, Dikhthas, Ensemble ö! 2017
What is new is that you work with a board of curators for these programmes.
Up to now, I had always read intensively on the subject matter. Now I wanted to consult experts. This year, these are a philosopher/psychologist, a journalist, a writer and an astrophysicist, bringing together a great deal of expertise in order to explore the topics I choose even further. In our first session, we went through each programme in detail, incorporating aspects from all disciplines. Short literary texts are then created and woven into the concert. I don’t want the audience to have to deal with something purely theoretical; that is why the writer translates his or her thoughts into literature. But the texts also encourage the audience to experience a piece more intensively. They create a “fil rouge” to the music, which remains in the foreground. Furthermore, I personally introduce each concert, by going into detail about the music to be presented.
So the discussions anticipate the concerts.
This year they do, it is a pilot project. Our wish for the future is to open these meetings to the musicians as well the audience, in order to create an addition to the concerts.
It is therefore a mediating and interdisciplinary project…
Perhaps rather “transdisciplinary”. There are several disciplines that are intended to delve deeper into the music. It is still somewhat fashionable to add video or lighting elements to a concert in an interdisciplinary way, which is justified, but one also has to be careful, as this might just create an external distraction. Our music needs quite a bit of concentration and should be combined intelligently. You can’t just add entertainment elements.
Three composers appear repeatedly: the Frenchman Tristan Murail, the Austrian Klaus Lang and the Swiss Klaus Huber, who died in 2017.
Murail writes very sensual music. It is important for me to emphasise this aspect, because it is often claimed that New Music is too abstract. What fascinates me about Lang is how he creates musical widths in his own unique way. As for Huber, I consider him one of the great Swiss composers who is currently not played so often. Throughout his life, he has been concerned with the role of mankind in the universe. By the way, in his “Ein Hauch von Unzeit” for solo flute he asked performers to come up with their own, new versions and we are presenting two new ensemble versions of it.
Klaus Huber, Ein Hauch von Unzeit IV (version for soprano, piano, flute, clarinet and organ), Ensemble Neue Horizonte Bern, 1976
With Duri Collenberg’s and Martin Derungs’ world premieres you also refer to your own origins (Graubünden)…
They actually represent the youngest and the oldest generation of Graubünden composers within the “Tuns contemporans” (Contemporary Tones), our Biennale, which we founded two years ago together with the KammerphilharmonieGraubünden. We felt the need for the two professional orchestras of the canton to join forces. It should take away the fear of enjoying new music. Magnus Lindberg from Finnlandwill be composer-in-residence for the next series.
You also launched a “Call for Scores” for the festival… Who was it aimed at?
Female composers of all ages and from all over the world. The motto is: “Ladies only!”. 126 scores were submitted, three of which we will perform at the Biennale. But I will certainly take one or the other from this huge collection into account for future seasons.
Interview: Thomas Meyer
Concert spezial launch neo.mx3 &Ensemble ö!. 11. Oktober 2020:
Stephanie Hänsler: Im Begriffe, Alfred Knüsel: Mischzonen, Asia Ahmetjanova: La voix, David Sontòn Caflisch: aqua micans (danach als Video auf neo.mx3 und rtr.ch/musica).
Broadcast SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, 11.11.20.: ö! Ensemble für neue musik, Redaktion Florian Hauser
Episode 4 of neoblog portraits concerning the Swiss Music Prize 2020:
Rudolf Kelterborn is one of the Swiss Music Prize 2020 winners.
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.”
“creating something fundamentally new..”
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 für Orchester 1984/85, Basel Sinfonietta
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
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.
Broadcast SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, 16.9.2020: Portrait Rudolf Kelterborn, Redaktion Florian Hauser
Interview with Daniel Haefliger @ Swiss Musikprize_3
Episode 3 of neoblog’s Swiss Music Prize 2020 portraits:
Swiss Chamber Concerts is the first and only concert series covering the whole of Switzerland and presenting plenty of contemporary music. Since its launch in 1999, it has continuously featured world premieres from all over the country – for a total of some 200 by now.
The Swiss Chamber Concerts (SCC) series were born from the close musical friendship of the three founding members.
Geneva cellist Daniel Haefliger, flutist Felix Renggli from Basel and Zurich based violinist and violist Jürg Dähler had this vision of combining their chamber music series, already established in the three cities. The first national concert series took place in autumn 1999, with the participation of Heinz Holliger, who’s supporting the project to this day.
I interviewed Geneva based Daniel Haefliger via Zoom and we talked about the uniqueness and challenges of SCC. The original conversation was held in French. Haefliger is constantly on the move and not only as cellist; as we spoke he was on the train, which he describes as his second home and a place of work, after a short tour of Switzerland: first Bern, to coordinate the season of the SCC, then Sion, to determine the string quartet lessons at the Haute Ecole de Musique, and then back to Geneva, in order to work on the SCC homepage.
Congratulations on the prize first of all! Were you surprised? What does it mean to you?
Yes, we were very surprised, as we usually receive little recognition for our work from the institutions, although our audience is numerous and enthusiastic. With our series we create a link between the different language regions throughout the year and regularly make new voices heard. This is a complex challenge where we get to face quite a lot of challenges. After all, the Swiss music scene is divided into many local units that hardly ever work together. Our ideal is to connect the whole of Switzerland in a common musical project.
What inspires you?
Two things: on one hand, as a cellist, the musical dialogue with exceptional soloists – on stage as well as on the personal level; on the other hand, as chamber music teacher of the Lausanne Conservatory, the interaction with young musicians. In both areas I try to communicate, mediate and network beyond age, language and culture.
« La jeunesse m’inspire et me passionne… »
Did the pandemic impact SCC?
Same as everyone else, we had to cancel all concerts towards the end of the season. But as soon as things got a bit better, we played a free concert, on June 30th in Geneva, with Heinz Holliger and Thomas Zehetmair . It was a huge success and motivation for the season to come.
SCC builds bridges between the different parts of the country: how does the cooperation between cities come about?
We build on the basis of our personal relationships. This is the only way to avoid rigid cantonal, urban or institutional regulations that would hardly encourage cooperation across regions.
Bettina Skrzypcak, ..e subito parlando, Swiss Chamber Soloists UA 2012
“We constantly question our own standpoint.”
Do you programme together – you are three artistic directors after all?
What is played, in which cities and to whom compositions are commissioned is usually something we decide collectively. In doing so, the particular regions’ and music scenes’ proximity to those of the nearby countries are also taken into account: e.g. Geneva with France, Basel with Germany or Lugano with Italy.
On the other hand, we constantly question our own standpoint and try to adapt, at least to a certain extent to the performance venues as well as cultural areas.
Nadir Vassena, archeologie future
How do you structure your programmes?
Our aim is to propose a high percentage of world premieres by composers from all parts of the country. We always present these new works in conjunction with major works of the repertoire, in order to underline continuity in music. Our series appeals to an open-minded, broad audience, before whom the new works can and must prove themselves.
How is this combination of contemporary classics and premieres received by the public? Has the perception changed over the years?
In addition of combining the new works with the existing repertoire in terms of content, we also exchange ideas with the composers about the entire programme. Each concert is a coherent unit with its own dramaturgy. This underlines the uniqueness of each piece and creates an intensity of the overall programme. In this way we respond to the audience’s increased need to hear a story.
Are there differences in audience reactions between the different parts of the country?
Cities in the different parts of the country have a quite different “cultural pace”. Switzerland richness resides precisely in its heterogeneous cultural identities. We want to value this diversity by having new works from all over Switzerland circulating throughout the country, which is also one of the challenges.
Tell us about the next season’s world premieres you’re particularly looking forward to?
The next season will feature 12 world premieres, among others by Nadir Vassena from Ticino, Heinz Holliger from Basel, David Philip Hefti from Zurich, Xavier Dayer from Geneva. A variety of instrumentations can be heard, including wind sextet, cello solo, string trio, string quartet, voice and small ensemble. I always look forward to imagining how these various pieces will sound.
The season will start in Bern, at the Yehudi Menuhin Forum, on September 24th with a concert by Heinz Holliger and Thomas Zehetmair – a replica of the June concert in Geneva.
Heinz Holliger, Aleh stavi for Cello solo: Solist Daniel Haefliger
Do you have a vision that you haven’t been able to realise yet? Does the prize perhaps have a special meaning right now – given the pandemic?
We have already realised many of our visions, such as the international Swiss Chamber Academy or the Swiss Chamber Camerata, both connecting young professional musicians from Switzerland and abroad. But realising visions and ideals costs money. Perhaps (or hopefully) this prize will help us to obtain higher financial contributions in order to strengthen long-term links between the regions. At the moment, we are dealing with it “at arm’s length”, so to speak, as since SCC’s foundation, our work has only been possible through enormous personal efforts as well as plenty of volunteering: We often think of the god Shiva with his many arms …
Interview: Gabrielle Weber
The Swiss Chamber Concerts were founded in 1999 by Daniel Haefliger, Felix Renggli and Jürg Dähler, followed by the founding of the Swiss Chamber Soloists, a permanent pool of internationally acclaimed soloists who perform during the series, and later the Swiss Chamber Academy of Geneva, national-international string quartet academy and the Swiss Chamber Camerata, also in Geneva. All SCC concerts can be heard in Lugano, Geneva, Basel, Zurich and from this season on also in Bern.
List of SCC world & national premieres 1999-2020
Konzert 18.9.20: Festival Label Suisse, 18.9.20.: 21.15h, Werke von: Rudolf Kelterborn, Xavier Dayer, Mozart, Villa-Lobos
Sendung SRG/RSI: RSI-Neo, 25.8.2020:
Incontro con Daniel Haefliger, Redaktion Valentina Bensi
Gabrielle Weber: Interview with Stefan Keller: Livestream – UA & Performace @ Othmar Schoeck Festival 11-13.9.20
The second Othmar Schoeck Festival is taking place in Brunnen in Central Switzerland from 11 to 13 September. The enchanted, weather-worn villa of the Schoeck family, situated high above Lake Lucerne, is once again the unique venue at the heart of this Festival.
In 2017, the composer Stefan Keller was granted a residency of several weeks at the Schoeck villa, which was linked with a commission to compose a song.
He is also the composer-in-residence at this year’s Festival, where three new songs of his will be given their first performances.
LIVESTREAM: Concert World premières Stefan Keller / Keller & Schoeck
Alvaro Schoeck, the founder and joint artistic director of the Festival, was convinced for a long time that the Festival would go ahead live this year, in the family’s “outlandishly designed artist’s villa”. But it’s since become clear that this unusual venue wasn’t built with the exigencies of a pandemic in mind. So while the Festival programme will still take place in the historic atelier of the painter Alfred Schoeck – the father of the composer Othmar – it will now be streamed live.
The “hit” of the first Schoeck Festival back in 2016 was the music-theatre event “Hauen und Stechen”. It took place in assorted rooms of the old villa, and wove the composer’s biography together with contemporary circumstances. Every performance of it was sold out.
The parallel performance at this second edition of the Festival will be HeimatLos (“HomeLess”). Women are its focus. It is about “Heimat” – “home” – as a place, as a concept, and as a feeling. HeimatLos will lead small audience groups through the villa, accompanied by music – and the livestream will follow them, putting the virtual audience at the heart of everything, winding its way through the intimate spaces of the house.
Saturday 12 September brings the world premières of the new songs by Stefan Keller.
Keller has often engaged with music traditions from other cultures, and studied the tabla for a long time in India. At the 2020 Eclat Festival, for example, he gave a virtuosic performance in a piece of his own for tabla, voice and live electronics.
Stefan Keller: Persona, Excerpts, 2019
For the Schoeck Festival, Keller has for the first-ever time turned to the more traditional combination of voice and piano. He is currently resident in Berlin, and he spoke with me from that city by Zoom about the background of his new pieces.
Stefan Keller, what were the origins of your three songs – how and where did you start to compose them?
I was in Rome from September 2019 to July 2020, thanks to a scholarship that enabled me to live in the Villa Massimo. I spent the highpoint of the first wave of the pandemic in the Villa, “locked down” with other scholarship-holders. This lockdown was much stricter in Italy than was the case elsewhere. We were in what was in fact a kind of golden cage – it was actually described thus by people on the outside – for it is a beautiful villa in a wonderful park. That had an impact on what I composed, just as everything that moves us influences what we write – even though it’s hardly possible to say exactly what it is. These intense experiences perhaps led me to attempt things that might beforehand have seemed impossible. During this extraordinary time, I started to work on the other two songs of my set of three.
What is your relationship to the work of Othmar Schoeck?
Before my residency, I didn’t have any intense connection to him. That changed when I stayed in the Schoeck villa. Schoeck’s published scores lay around me and literally “touched” me. I was also surprised by some of the stylistic things I found in him. But there are hardly any direct references to his music in my new songs. The reference point for me is the “lied” as a traditional genre that was crucial to Schoeck’s oeuvre.
The ambiance of the villa also inspired me while composing – I was able to work in a wonderful old hall with an excellent grand piano.
You have already often written works for voice, but not for the traditional combination of voice and piano. What does the genre of the lied mean to you, and how did you deal with it – also with the tradition in itself?
Composing for voice and piano was a challenge for me. The piano is in many respects an inflexible instrument with regard to sound, touch and pitch. Up to now, I have tended to employ it virtuosically and loudly, which is difficult to bring in line with my interest in the human voice.
Stefan Keller: Breathe / soyuz21, für Klavier, Akkordeon, elektrische Gitarre, Elektronik, 2016
For the voice, I imagined something rather fragile that depended on nuances of pitch and sound. So I took the approach of writing a reduced piano part, in order to give the voice enough space.
The texts of your songs are based on anagrams by the poetess Unica Zürn*: how did you deal with them?
In Zürn’s anagram poems, every line has the same letters in a different order. This combinatoriality of “alphabet sounds” gives the poems themselves a near-musical level. I wanted to make this level explicit in my music by decoding these words into their individual sounds. You don’t primarily hear the sounds themselves, but the whole words and their meanings.
In two of these three songs, the singer doesn’t sing the words conventionally or “naturally”. She provides the pianist with individual, voiceless consonants, and he articulates them with his voice. The goal, of course, is that the words are thereafter comprehensible. This makes big demands on both the singer and the pianist in matters of rhythmic and dynamic precision.
Interview: Gabrielle Weber
*Unica Zürn (Berlin 1916 – 1970 Paris), A German/French poet and artist, known for her 123 anagram poems.
The song cycle by Stefan Keller uses the following three anagram poems:
Der einsame Tisch (“The lonely table”), Es war einmal ein kleines (“There once was a little”), and Das Leben ist schoen (“Life is beautiful”).
Othmar Schoeck Festival, artistic directors: Alvaro Schoeck / Chris Walton:
–HeimatLos, 11.9.: 8:30pm / 13.9.: 6pm
-At the concert at 8 p.m. on 12.9., further works by Stefan Keller will be performed, alongside selected songs by Othmar Schoeck.
World première, Keller: Soprano: Truike van der Poel, piano: J. Marc Reichow
On Saturday/Sunday, 12./13.9., the two-day international symposium Frauen:Stimmen (“Womens:Voices”) will take place live, and will be streamed live too (via the homepage of the Othmar Schoeck Festival / in collaboration with the Musicological Institute of the University of Zurich and Mariann Steegmann Foundation).
Artistic director of the symposium: Dr. Merle Fahrholz, Chefdramaturgin / stellvertretende Intendantin Oper Dortmund
Episode 2 of the neoblog portrait series on the Swiss Music Prize 2020:
Martina Berther from Chur – a very typical and at the same time unusual bass player.
Martina Berther is a typical electric bass player because she can basically play anything, like many bassists. She’s been grooving hard with hip-hop bands, played feminist punk rock with drummer Beatrice Graf, accompanied great quality pop music with Sophie Hunger or played electro-pop for Daniela Sarda. As Frida Stroom she experiments solo on the bass and moves completely free in the realm of noise.
I met Martina Berther in her rehearsal room in Zurich Affoltern – a nice, big bright space with lots of guitars, basses, effects and drum sets everywhere.
The fact that she shares the room with several other musicians sometimes stresses her out, because it can get crowded. On the other hand, she likes it because it automatically requires a certain discipline and people help each other out.
In general, Martina seems to be someone who if life gives you nothing but lemons, makes some lemonade. The story of how she came to the electric bass in the first place is a beautiful one for example, as the former conductor of the “Jugendmusik Chur” Music School left her take over only reluctantly:
“I used to play trumpet, but it was not really my instrument, fortunately – because that’s how I stayed open-minded and kept looking for what could turn out to become my instrument. In the “Jugendmusik” there was this quite revolutionary electric bass player and bear in mind, the “Jugendmusik” was rather conservative at that time. This electric bassist was over 20 years old, so he had to quit, so they were looking for someone else, but obviously male. When I proposed to take over, the director said: ‘Oh well, we’ll have to have a meeting and discuss if that’s possible, a woman on the bass’.”
Others might have been offended and hence abandoned, but not Martina Berther. She waited patiently for the outcome of that meeting.
“Thanks to an open-minded member of the board, who was female and strongly defended my cause, I was admitted and luckily got to play bass.”
Luckily indeed! After all, this is how the Swiss music scene came to choose an electric bassist among the prizewinners. The Swiss Music Prize is what this interview will focus on.
25000 francs in Corona times, you don’t say no to that, do you?
“No! (laughs) – you don’t say no to that. You don’t say no to that in non-corona times neither.”
Were you surprised?
“Yes, indeed I was! Last year I attended the award ceremony, as my musical partner Beatrice Graf (drummer of Ester Polly) got it and I thought: If I continue to work well, maybe I’ll get it one day. It simply came much earlier… (laughs) But I would have gone on for another 50 years even without prices.
Martina Berther / Beatrice Graf @ Ester Poly – Fieldsession, B-Sides Festival 2018
Your broad profile is therefore not a business plan?
“No, definitely not! It all came about out of curiosity.”
Tell us about your role models?
I inspire myself more to sounds than to musicians. Whenever I heard an intriguing sound, be it a cello or a drum set, I would reflect on what I like about it and what I could translate about it on the bass?
So it’s all about sound?
“Sound, or energy – sometimes it is difficult for me to point out, what exactly I like about a musician. It is often a presence or an attitude, which is what I have tried to adopt as a role model. On the other hand, I quite often hear: I started playing bass because of you. Which is beautiful of course.”
When I listen to the Frida Stroom project, Hermeto Pascoal comes to mind – because of the concept that everything is music. Even his beard is music to him, or a banknote he plucks. So I asked myself: Is it this curiosity that makes them go beyond sound, energy and all that to look for something new?”
“Yes, it is mainly about sound. It can also be things that happen while you play. Sometimes I notice that the whirring of the amp was actually the most beautiful moment of a 30 minutes improvisation, so I focus mainly on that and feel the urge to develop further.”
“the whirring of the amp.. the most beautiful moment of a 30 minutes improvisation”
How do you prevent the listener from feeling excluded?
“Actually, theoretically, it is quite simple. If I myself get involved in the moment, in space, in the audience, by making myself vulnerable and start to play only from that point, the public gets involved very quickly. It becomes more difficult when there’s insecurity and I try not to allow improvisation and decide to start with a particular sound”.
Is that already too much?
“Sometimes it is. Or when I start improvising and then find myself thinking: I could do that next. I then have the feeling of being too busy to really notice what’s actually happening, in the room or with my instrument. Because everything is already there. You can do so much with very little, all you need is the courage to get involved. If I fight against it, out of insecurity, then it is more me fighting against something.
“You just have to find the courage and go for it.”
“all you need is the courage to get involved”
Martina Berther with Frida Stroom, live at Gamut Festival 2017
Is improvisation in this case something like surrendering? Letting go?
“For me it is, yes. Sometimes it works very well, sometimes less. I haven’t found a recipe yet.”
Do you never have the urge to just go groovy and conventional in such moments?
“(laughs) I have been extremely groove-oriented for many years. My first bands were hip hop bands, Breitbild for example, and I was very much into soul music as well. At the moment I’m not so much interested in this more conventional way of playing bass anymore.
Your “heart of hearts” is currently more experimentally oriented, than let’s say a project like Sophie Hunger?
“On bass it definitely is. Although wouldn’t say that I’m not interested in groovy music anymore.
I have simply already done it a lot. With Sophie Hunger one is definitely encouraged to bring in her own ideas. I really have to get out of my comfort zone. Sophie brings the necessary energy and support. I felt that I was being asked to show myself in a very good way.”
This sounds a bit like jazz?
“Yes, totally! (laughs) It was actually the biggest jazz band I’ve played with in the last few years.
Interview: Jodok Hess
Broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur: Jazz&World Aktuell, 15.9.20, Beitrag vo