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The Swiss Music Prizes will be awarded for the tenth time in 2023: in addition to the main prize, won by jazz trumpeter Erik Truffaz, another 10 prizes and special prizes will be awarded during Musikfestival Bern on September 8. Neoblog portrays some of the contemporary music related prize winners, with Katharina Rosenberger, composer, professor of composition in Lübeck and co-director of the Zurich festival for contemporary music Sonic Matter, starting the series. Katharina Rosenberger works with cross-media combinations between music, text and image and usually also involves the audience in the performance processes. She is all about communication, dialogue and participation in contemporary music. An interview by Florian Hauser.
An interview by Florian Hauser.
To receive one of the prestigious Swiss music prizes is something special and testifies to how highly your work is appreciated. What about the appreciation of your work in everyday life? You have to do what you have and want to, which is not necessarily compatible with the masses. You don’t make blockbuster films… How does your audience react to your art?
I am always very touched when people approach me and react to my music. It’s people I don’t know or people who are not insiders, i.e. not musicians themselves. They often react very positively – mainly because they discovered something new. When they get involved with this new, unknown thing and are positively surprised, it makes me very happy. Actually, these are the ideal fans who come with an open mind and just want to listen… Of course, there are also moments when the audience reacts very ambivalently. From: ‘For God’s sake, what kind of piece was that!’ to: ‘Wow, that’s the greatest thing I’ve heard in a long time’.
Communication with the audience is very important to you per se. You interact with people, also involving the public in performance processes. Why?
Let me answer with an example: I called a duet (within a video opera that premiered at the Theaterspektakel Zurich) La Chasse. Two singers face each other at a certain distance. The audience sees them only in profile. And then the voices begin to chase each other. At first only with sounds like wah, wah, wah! Very abstract, very reduced. There is no melody and it’s not so easy to listen to. But when people from the audience came up to me and talked about the experience of how powerful these sounds were in the space, how much the bodies became part of the structure of the music, a light went on: The connections between sound and space, performers and audience are incredibly important. It is not primarily about the music itself, I mean, the self-sufficiency of the music, but it is really about dialogue and exchange with the audience as well as the environment.
Katharina Rosenberger, La Chasse von Katharina Rosenberger, instrumental-version by Landmann-/Stadler-Saxofonduo, recorded NYC 2018.
Can you tell us about another example?
The Urban morphology project, a walk-in concert installation that has music-theatrical elements and is also participatory. The audience is invited to actively participate. It’s about urban change: what happens, for example, when luxurious new buildings cause neighbourhoods we grew up in to disappear? When the place I feel I belong to suddenly no longer exists? In other words, places where there is room for so many memories: When that is wiped away, what happens to us? What happens when the architectural, social, sonic components structures we orient ourselves by are gone?
The public could decide how to move. Whether visiting a performance island first or rather watch a video, attend a normal concert situation with a very focused listening or ride a bicycle in an installation to generate electricity and light.
This way, the public could also have a say in how to put the different pieces of information together. In projects like this, I always notice how important the cross-media connections are between text and music, but also image and music, spaces, bodies. How spaces open up for the audience, where they can connect to situations related with their everyday lives. This always gives rise to new questions: how do I hear music, how is music performed? And new insights emerge, which is fascinating.
You are very communicative…
Yes, of course. I also really like to be in contact with the musicians I work with for longer periods of time.
There are composers and colleagues of yours, for whom it is perfectly sufficient to sit at a desk to compose and design structures. That was never an option for you?
Sure, one doesn’t exclude the other, does it? Of course, there are phases when I am extremely isolated. But when I deal with cities, I want to walk through the streets, get to know the people. To explore the core, the content of a project. For example, in the installation quartet – bodies in performance, where I only filmed the back muscles of four musicians. You can imagine that depending on the musical instrument you play, the many, many years of practising shape the back muscles quite differently. Each performance had its own image and only the back that was playing appeared. That was a completely new way for the audience to experience performance, by seeing sound through the muscles.
In Katharina Rosenberger’s sound and video installation The journey, the singers were also filmed from unusually close perspectives, Neue Vokalsolisten Stuttgart, directed by Lutger Engels 2020
In any case, it’s a long way to the result, a common path. But how do you come up with such ideas? You walk through the world with your aesthetic antennas wide open, and bang, a theme, a topic jumps out at you?
My common thread is the human being, be it the performer with his or her body, be it the audience with their ears, eyes and bodies. And what is it about? What is actually touching us? That is the question. What is the significance of music, even in times of crisis, or of reorientation? I’m not claiming that I as an artist present this in a groundbreaking way in my work, but it’s about questioning and exploring new sonic, pictorial situations. It’s about dealing with the moment. It’s not a must. An audience never has to do something mandatory, but I want to open the doors in order to make it possible.
Schweizer Musikpreise 2023:
Grand Prix Musik: Erik Truffaz
Swiss Music Prizes:
Katharina Rosenberger, Ensemble Nikel, Carlo Balmelli, Mario Batkovic, Lucia Cadotsch, Sonja Moonear, Saadet Türköz
Helvetiarockt, Kunstraum Walcheturm, Pronto
broadcasts SRF Kultur:
Musikmagazin, 13.5.23, Schweizer Musikpreise 2023, Redaktion Florian Hauser, Café mit Katharina Rosenberger (ab Min 4:55)
SRF Kultur online, 11.5.23: Trompeter Erik Truffaz erhält den Grand Prix Musik, Redaktion Jodok Hess:
Musik unserer Zeit, 11.1.2023: Komponieren! Mit Katharina Rosenberger, Redaktion Florian Hauser
Musik unserer Zeit, 8.12.2021: «Sonic Matter» – ein aussergewöhnliches Musikfestival in Zürich, Redaktion Moritz Weber
Musik unserer Zeit, 8.8.2018: Shift – eine Begegnung mit der Komponistin Katharina Rosenberger, Redaktion Cécile Olshausen
Roman Hošek: Neuerdings – Faszination Sound @ launch srf video series
Neuerdings – a video series in collaboration with SRF 3 Sounds! and SRF 2 Kultur presents experimental music creation up close. In four portraits, it traces the creative paths in the sound labs of Noémi Büchi, Julian Sartorius, Martina Berther and Janiv Oron. Roman Hošek introduces the series and the portrayed artists for the launch at Bad Bonn Kilbi festival on June 2, 2023.
Büchi, Sartorius, Berther and Oron are all seasoned musical personalities and some already won important prizes and can regularly be encountered in renowned projects. They all pursue a radically individual creative path – in which success plays a subordinate role. For them, it’s all about doing. The four musicians talk about their uncompromising creative will in a new documentary series.
Sound is matter
Noémi Büchi takes everyday objects such as paper or screws and extracts sounds from them in order to make music. For example, she tears the paper, records the sound with a microphone and manipulates it with effects and computer software.
In this way, everything becomes an instrument for Noémi Büchi. She used to play classical piano. Today it is keyboards, tone controls and computer pads that the Zurich-based artist operates and with which she controls her self-generated sound sources. The result is a sound collage that invites the audience on a breathtaking journey and encourages them to move.
Because moving something is important for Noémi Büchi. Her symphonic music is not a commentary and carries no message, as what matters to her is making sound visible and tangible. She notices this especially live, when sound waves become physical.
Video-Portrait Noémi Büchi: Neuerdings – Faszination Sound, in house-production SRG/SSR
Sound is craft
Julian Sartorius likes to move around outdoors or, for example, through factory halls, drumming on objects with his drum sticks. The wide range of sounds he is able to extract from seemingly ordinary objects, such as lids, pipes or wires, and how he manages to produce attractive-sounding beats is amazing.
The Bernese drummer is strongly inspired by electronic music, but creates his sounds exclusively with his hands and on acoustic instruments and objects. What’s appealing to him is to create almost artificial sounds with something natural.
Another facet of Sartorius’ artistic work is the production of beats, and here too he goes his own peculiar way. For example, he likes to work with an old-fashioned cassette player, which – compared to a digital sequencer programme – limits him in terms of technical possibilities, but forces him to make immediate artistic decisions.
Video-Portrait Julian Sartorius: Neuerdings – Faszination Sound, in house-production SRG/SSR
Sound is quest
Martina Berther gets much more out of her electric bass than just low frequency notes. Violent storms or vast soundscapes open up before the mind’s eye when she gets her instrument vibrating with her effect devices and preparation tools – such as steel wool, sanding block, bottleneck or violin bow.
The solo performer from Graubünden says she makes experimental music because she can thereby surprise herself and has great freedom. At the same time, dealing with this freedom is not always easy. A contradiction? No. It is this tension – between success and failure – that is the main appeal for Martina Berther.
Just like a solo performance, the search for sounds can become a balancing act, as there are many uncertainties and even doubts. For Martina Berther, there must be an intention behind every sound before she includes it in her repertoire. No room for randomness.
Video-Portrait Martina Berther: Neuerdings – Faszination Sound, in house-production SRG/SSR
Sound is reaction
Janiv Oron is like an inventor in a music laboratory. When the former DJ creates his sounds, the record player is often still central, but he expands it in experimental ways with other sources, such as a rotating loudspeakers or marbles track.
The sound performer from Basel not only directs his sound machines, but also reacts to random impulses that he receives back, seeing this as a “source of uncertainty” and he consciously engages in it to include improvisation into his work. Oron does not turn away from the digital world, but he feels a stronger fascination with analogue and physically functioning sound sources. These may offer less possibilities in comparison, but they are haptic and can be operated by hand instead of on a screen.
Video-Portrait Janiv Oron: Neuerdings – Faszination Sound, in house-production SRG/SSR
“Neuerdings” – Faszination Sound
“Neuerdings” is a video portrait series about these four Swiss musicians. They are pioneers of tomorrow’s music, whose work is between contemporary electroacoustics, experimental music and pop, and thus also finds international acclaim.
Switzerland is particularly strong in these intermediate areas, not least because of the numerous study degree programmes focusing on transdisciplinary and progressive musical practice. On the other hand, more and more events and growing interest among the public are also slowly but surely emerging.
The portrait series, a collaboration between SRF 3 Sounds! and SRF 2 Kultur, offers a glimpse into to the sound tinkering rooms of the four musicians, who are all breaking new ground with their work and are therefore difficult to place stylistically. In the videos, they talk about their radical approaches and describe the inaccessible and innovative potential of new sounds.
The launch took place at the festival: Bad Bonn Kilbi, friday 2.6.2023
broadcasts SRF Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, 7.6.2023, 20h: “Neuerdings”: Schweizer Musik mit Pioniergeist, author Roman Hošek
in: MusikMagazin, 3./4.6.2023: Swisscorner, Vier Schweizer Soundartists (ab Min 46:59), author Lea Hagmann
srf online-Text: Sie schrauben am Sound der Zukunft, author: Claudio Landolt
broadcast SRF 3:
Sounds!, 7.6.2023, 20h: Neuerdings: Schweizer Musik mit Pioniergeist, author Claudio Landolt
Neuerdings on playsuisse
Gabrielle Weber: Portrait Mathieu Corajod / Compagnie Mixt Forma
To create a project in the great hall of the Centre Pompidou in Paris is something quite unique. The Swiss-French composer Mathieu Corajod and the Biel-based Compagnie Mixt Forma are experiencing this with their first joint work at Paris’ Manifeste Festival, namely interdisciplinary project Laquelle se passe ailleurs, a “scenic poem for four hybrid performers”, combining music, text, dance and drama with electronics. The work will also be performed in Switzerland. In the Zoom interview after Paris, where Corajod was rehearsing at IRCAM, we talked about his approach to music theatre, hybridity and interdisciplinarity.
Corajod founded the Compagnie Mixt Forma with the aim of exploring experimental music theatre’s possibilities with like-minded people. Laquelle se passe ailleur was developed together over a period of two years and convinced the Paris Association Beaumarchais-SACD in its first stages already, which made the realisation possible with a sponsorship award. Significantly, this was in the field of choreography.
Corajod’s background in musical theatre comes from his studies at the Bern University of the Arts, where he also met singer Chloé Bieri and percussionist Stanislas Pili, two Compagnie Mixt Forma members.
Corajod’s own conception of connecting different disciplines, media and technologies goes far beyond the traditional understanding of experimental music theatre as a scenic current of contemporary music. During his Parisian studies at the IRCAM, he intensively dealt with electronics as well as contemporary dance, since then the fusion of composition and choreography never left him. In collaboration with the dancers Pierre Lison and Marie Albert, he created his first piece for dance. Others followed, whereby the additional use of voice, as well as collaborative and inclusive aspects are central to Corajod. Together with Lison, Corajod is now also responsible for the choreography of Laquelle se passe ailleurs, where Lison is also involved as dancer-performer.
Mathieu Corajod, ça va bien avec comment tu vis (2019) for two dancers and electronics, Marie Albert and Piere Lison
Explorers on a joint quest
Complemented by actor Antonin Noël, the four performers of the piece undertake a joint “poetic-futuristic expedition”, each of them bringing their own expertise into the whole in order to generate something completely new. Like researchers on a common quest, says Corajod. He calls this kind of collaboration “hybridisation”. On one hand, there is the hybridity between body and machine, made possible by an on-stage technical device in co-production with IRCAM. On the other hand, the performers themselves act hybrid. They all perform everything, bringing their own approach and learning from each other.
Interdisciplinarity is always present – whether visible or not
Laquelle se passe ailleurs was intended to be intermedia from the very beginning. “The impulses I received from dancer, actor and writer extremely increased the demands on stage,” says Corajod. French author Dominique Quélen contributed new texts, based on the company’s ideas. They were then translated into music and choreography. For a performance by singer Bieri, for example, they would have transferred one of the texts not only structurally, but syllable by syllable to individual gestures and Bieri complemented with special timbres of the voice. Everything is present in each of the performing bodies – dance, text and music, says Corajod. Interdisciplinarity is always present, in one way or another, whether visible or not.
Chloé Bieri in Five young lights for voice and electronics by Pietro Caramelli, 2019
Scenes of an exploration – linked by a playful-poetic approach.
Although there is no actual story in the play, they worked with hidden narratives that the participants imagined for each other in order to be able to act on stage. “When developing a play, questions like: Who am I in this play? What am I doing? or How am I behaving? always arise. It helps if one’s able to imagine something,” says Corajod. This is how different scenes of an exploration with a kind of incomplete plot, connected by a playful-poetic approach came about: “We want to take the audience on this journey,” says Corajod and compares the atmosphere of the project to Andrei Tarkowski, David Lynch or Stanley Kubrick movies.
The choreography doesn’t follow a plot either. They would have used different strategies for individual scenes. Only some, like Bieris’ solo, are completely choreographed, others are based on improvisation and were then rehearsed and fixed step by step. There are also movement sensors in individual objects of the stage set that produce sound when manipulated by the performers, with these manipulations being choreographed to the last detail.
The aim is to design movements in such a way that they trigger something in the larger context of the stage, says Corajod. He sees the SACD’s support for the choreography as confirmation of this novel approach interweaving choreography and composition. On the one hand, it is an honour and on the other hand, he is particularly pleased because he comes from the music. The production is thus not “only” recognised in contemporary music, but also in theatre and dance.
Mathieu Corajod et Pierre Lison (mouvement), Axes (2021), instrumental dance, Duo Alto, UA Paris 2021
Because Corajod also wishes to bring contemporary music to a wider audience and he always explores the genre’s boundaries. With his previous project, the experimental opera Rendez-vous près du feu, performed as part of the “Nancy Opera Experience” at the Festival Musica 2022, he succeeded, as he was not only the composer, but also director. The new work took place partly outdoors – on the spacious square Stanislas in front of the opera – partly inside the Opéra national de Lorraine. Members of the orchestra and performers performed inside, close to the windows facing the square. The choir sang as a flash mob in the audience on the forecourt and the action was projected onto the façade by video mapping.
Mathieu Corajod, Rendez-vous près du feu (2022): Théâtre musical and experimental opera united in an exceptional format (in situ, video mapping, flash mob), commissioned by Opéra national de Lorraine and Festival Musica.
This allowed the opera to open up to the square and the city as well as being enlivened in a different way through light, scenography and actions – it also drew numerous random passers-by under the spell of scenic hybridised contemporary music.
After these two major projects, Corajod is now taking a creative break to focus on a research project dedicated to Swiss music theatre pioneer Hans Wüthrich.
Laquelle se passe ailleurs :
2. / 3.6.23, 19:30h,Theater am Rennweg 26 Biel
8.6.23, 20h, Gare du Nord Basel
12.6.23, 20h, Festival ManiFeste, Centre Pompidou Paris
9.9.23, 21h, Musikfestival Bern, Dampfzentrale Turbinensaal
Festival ManiFeste IRCAM/Centre Pompidou Paris, June 7 – July 1 2023
The British composer and conductor was honoured with the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize in 2023. His darkest opera ‘Lessons in Love and Violence’ revolves around the historical male couple Edward II and Piers Gaveston, and it can be enjoyed at Zurich’s Opera. Moritz Weber interviewed the composer before the premiere.
63-year-old George Benjamin is in a very good mood, joking and very friendly when I connect with him at his home via video conference. Birds are chirping in the background and the sun is shining on his face.
The operas he composes and is famous for, however, are anything but friendly. On the contrary: in his first global success ‘Written on skin’ (2012), the cuckolded husband serves his wife her lover’s heart for dinner. Whereas his next full-length and equally acclaimed opera ‘Lessons in Love and Violence’ (2018) is a gripping medieval drama about the former English king Edward II and his lover Gaveston, both victims of a conspiracy.
Benjamin dreamed of composing operas since his early years and conceived them for himself in his head. Were the themes for these fantasy operas already so brutal? “Yes, I’m afraid they were very brutal. I liked dramatic and dangerous stories and wasn’t at all afraid of darkness in creativity as a small child.” His first favourite operas in the repertoire were Wozzeck, Elektra, Salome and La damnation de Faust – he couldn’t do much with Mozart’s Magic Flute, and he still has problems with Rossini today. “Too nice and not scary enough for me.”
His inspiration at the time was an illustrated book of ancient myths and legends, from Hercules and Pegasus to the Piper of Hamelin (the latter eventually became material for his very first stage work, the short two-person chamber opera ‘Into the little hill’ (2006). “I am very much for merriment and for harmony between people, but in theatre you need suspense, drama, mystery and possibly darkness”.
King Edward II neglected both his people and his political business, he was completely addicted to Piers Gaveston and preferred to spend money on art and music. It was important to George Benjamin to write an opera with a homosexual couple at the centre, “and the greatest challenge was a technical one: how do you write in a modern tonal language for a pair of two baritones?”
In opera history, there are hardly any models for male lovers, apart from the operas Brokeback Mountain (Charles Wuorinen, 2014) and Edward II (Andrea Lorenzo Scartazzini, 2017). In these two works, however, the lovers sing in the baritone and tenor voice ranges. When asked whether he had also brought autobiographical elements into the composition of this male love, Benjamin replies: “You’d have to ask my partner Michael Waldman, but not as far as I know. But life in West London today is also much more peaceful than it was back then, in the palace where the opera is set,” he laughs.
Benjamin succeeded in creating some striking scenes between Edward and Gaveston, in which love and violence are sometimes mixed. Two palm reading scenes, for example (scenes 3 and 6), form an axis through the whole play. They are accompanied by almost ritualistic sounds of percussion instruments from all over the world, like two Persian tombaks, an African speaking drum and two Caribbean tumbas. In addition, there is the Central European cymbalon, “my idea was that music from all over the world should sound while Gaveston reads from the king’s hand, a bit like a window on the supernatural.”
Another key scene takes place shortly afterwards in the theatre, when the betrayed Queen Isabel invites Edward and Gaveston to an “entertainment”, with the aim to initiate a coup d’état. The music is multi-layered, because what is shown on stage is supposed to stand out from and at the same time harmonise with what is happening between the protagonists. The stage play revolves around the Old Testament love story between David and Jonathan, also a male couple, and Gaveston is to be bewitched with this performance. “It took me six months to write this scene: In this theatre on theatre, high voices sing in a texture and timbre of their own, plus the hidden hatred and discomfort.” They finally culminate and Gaveston is arrested against the king’s will. At the end of the opera, the heir to the throne invites his mother Isabel to an entertainment in which he brings the conspiracy against his father to the stage and has her partner in crime, as well as lover murdered. Edward’s son has thus learned his lessons in love and violence.
For this, which can be considered his darkest opera to date, George Benjamin also worked intensively with the singers of the world premiere production at the Royal Opera House. “They all came to my house, I accompanied them on the piano in songs and opera arias, asked them many questions about their strengths and weaknesses and their musical preferences”. The roles are written for Stéphane Degout, Gyula Orendt and Barbara Hannigan, but of course not exclusively for them. “I love it and am excited to see what timbres and characteristics other singers bring to these roles. But it is important to me that they sing all the notes clearly and in the right place, with little vibrato. Because I have matched them very carefully to the orchestral sounds.”
George Benjamin, Martin Crimp and Barbara Hannigan talk about the world premiere of Lessons in love and violence at Royal Opera House 2018
As with his other stage works, the libretto is by playwright Martin Crimp. If he hadn’t met Crimp, he probably would never have composed an opera, Benjamin says, “I waited 25 years to find him. All attempts with other librettists failed”. Now they are a well-rehearsed, congenial team, perhaps similar to Da Ponte and Mozart, or Hofmannsthal and Strauss. For Crimp and Benjamin also share common aesthetic premises: A very clear and concise (tonal) language as well as power – or violence – in expression. “He uses words very precisely and with intention; he is a perfectionist, just as I try to be when composing,” says the Siemens Music Prize winner modestly.
Fairytale-like new opera
George Benjamin’s fourth stage work will be premiered this summer at Aix-en-Provence’s opera festival in and he will conduct it himself. ‘Picture a day like this’ will be less dark than Lessons, he reveals: “Martin Crimp and I wanted to do something different, also to refresh ourselves. This opera is shorter and also has a smaller cast, five protagonists instead of eight and 22 musicians in the orchestra instead of 70”.
This work is about a quest: a woman loses her child and is supposed to find a perfectly happy person in a single day. When she doesn’t succeed, she turns to a sorceress. “I love instruments that don’t actually belong to the classical orchestra, and I use a few of them in Picture a day like this, for example tenor and bass recorders.” In this new and also shorter opera, the protagonist is on stage throughout the play, which is also a first for Benjamin and Crimp. The characters she encounters, on the other hand, are all very different. He does not reveal more yet: “I would rather have the audience discover it, without my words in mind”.
New production Opernhaus Zürich: 21.Mai -11.Juni 2023 (conductor Ilan Volkov, with: Ivan Ludlow/Lauri Vasar as König, Björn Bürger as Gaveston and Jeanine De Bique as Isabel.
Festival Aix-en-Provence, George Benjamin, Picture a day like this, UA 5.-.23.Juli 2023
Features SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, 17.5.23, 20h/ 20.5.23., 21h: Drama um den schwulen Edward II. George Benjamins düsterste Oper, Redaktion Moritz Weber.
Musikmagazin, 20./21.5.2023: Kurzportrait George Benjamin, Redaktion Moritz Weber.
The Bernese saxophone quartet celebrates its 20th anniversary with contemporary music celebration.
To produce every possible sound on the saxophone – that is the craft of the Konus Quartet. The four musicians specialise in contemporary and experimental music, showing – as an ensemble – all the kinds of different sound worlds the saxophone is capable of. This year, the Konus Quartet celebrates its 20th anniversary with a festival week full of collaborations – for example with the Gori Women’s Choir from Georgia.
Many saxophone quartets want to sound as virtuosic and full as possible, almost like an organ, but not the Konus Quartet: they play precisely and minimalistically, exploring the boundaries of saxophone music. Christian Kobi, Fabio Oehrli, Jonas Tschanz and Stefan Rolli: these are the musicians forming the Quartet, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. The four artists are all versatile, with backgrounds ranging from free improvisation, sound mixing and label management to big band and festival management. What they share is a passion for the saxophone and the love for musical experimentation.
Minimalism and precision
Christian Kobi, for example, has already created music with the saxophone’s silence. To achieve this, he mounted microphones very close to the blowpipe and recorded the instrument’s resonance without blowing into it. He amplified the silence recorded with this procedure until feedback occurred. The result is a sustained, inconspicuous sound that is easy to overhear if you don’t pay attention.
In rawlines 1, Christian Kobi lets silence become sound through feedback of resonances inside the saxophone.
Modular and forward-looking
While traditional saxophone quartets usually consist of the four main instruments of the saxophone family – baritone, tenor, alto and soprano – the Konus Quartet is modular and remains flexible in its instrumentation. Depending on the piece, they play in the traditional line-up, but sometimes also with two alto saxophones, one tenor and one baritone, or even with two tenor and two baritones.
This flexibility is also something the quartet seeks, when compositions are commissioned, working primarily with composers who have explored sound in depth and are not limited by traditional expectations of saxophone quartets. Among the pieces they perform are compositions by important names on the international contemporary music scene such as Chiyoko Szlavnics, Jürg Frey, Barry Guy, Makiko Nishikaze, Phill Niblock, Urs Peter Schneider, Martin Brandlmayr or Klaus Lang.
FORWARD & REWIND: A celebration of contemporary music
To celebrate its 20th anniversary, Konus Quartet is holding a festival weekend in Bern entitled Foward & Rewind. The two words Forward & Rewind are meant literally, as the four saxophonists revisit past collaborations and strive for new ones, showing themselves to be both thoughtful and forward-looking.
One of the already existing collaborations is, for example, with the string quartet Quatuor Bozzini. In 2021, the Konus Quartet premiered the piece Continuité, fragilité, resonance by Swiss composer Jürg Frey with them. For the festival’s opening concert, Konus Quartet and Quatuor Bozzini will revisit this piece, together with another work by composer Chiyoko Szlavnics. The musicians give themselves plenty of time and space – and patiently and precisely unfold the various sound surfaces that are hidden in the compositions.
During a Lifetime (excerpt): The Konus Quartet interprets a piece by Canadian composer Chiyoko Szlavnics.
Powerful voices from Georgia
A new collaboration is scheduled with the renowned Georgian Gori Women’s Choir, which has been presenting traditional Georgian choral singing since 1970. This polyphonic singing technique is hundreds of years old and distantly related to the yodelling we know. It is characterised in particular by the almost physically perceptible power in the voice. The women sing partly in unison, partly in microtonal ranges, mixing harmony and dissonance.
Since 2013, the choir has been led by Teona Tsiramuna and has reinvented itself, so to speak. It is very important to the director to always discover new things and to combine the vocal tradition with modern and international music. “In 1970, the choir sang for a specific, fairly homogeneous audience. It performed mainly melancholic and sustained Georgian music. Now that has expanded. We also sing Mexican, Turkish or African folk music,” says Tsiramuna in an interview for SRF 2 Kultur.
After a collaboration with Georgian-British pop and blues singer Katie Melua, the Gori Women’s Choir gained fame beyond the borders of Georgia and now performs on European stages in various constellations. The conductor’s love of experimentation also draws her to collaborations with contemporary musicians, for example at the Stanser Musiktage.
At the Stanser Musiktage 2022, they performed with four young electronic artists, merging voices with synthesiser sounds.
Air vibrations, the collaboration between the Konus Quartet and the Gori Women’s Choir, can relate on one hand to the vibration of the “air “, on the other hand in can be interpreted as “song vibrations”, from the Italian “aria”. The Gori Women’s Choir brings its voices to vibrate together with two other big names of contemporary music: Georgian-Swiss pianist Tamriko Kordzaia and Austrian composer and concert organist Klaus Lang.
Die neue Kollaboration knüpft an die erste Zusammenarbeit zwischen Klaus Lang und dem Konus Quartett, dem Stück Drei Allmenden, an.
Lang conceived and composed the concert and is featured on the organ. His works are characterised by the way he explores sound. Music is “time made audible”, says Lang. On his instrument, the concert organ, this side of sound can be explored particularly well, as one can hold the notes for any length of time.
In the Air Vibrations concert, Lang interweaves his organ playing with the Konus Quartet’s saxophones and Tamriko Kordzaia’s piano playing, laying the ground for the traditional singing of the Gori Women’s Choir. This creates music that mixes the old and the new and is thus fully in the spirit of the festival: Forward & Rewind.
FORWARD & REWIND Bern
3.5.23, 18:30: concert «Continuité, fragilité, resonance» Jürg Frey, with Quator Bozzini, les Concerts de musique Contemporaine (CMC) La Chaux-de-Fonds
5.5.-7.5.23: Fest für neue Musik , Bern
5.5. 19:30: Interlaced Resonances, Aula PROGR Bern
6.5. 19:30: Voltage Cracklings, Aula PROGR Bern
7.5. 19:30: Air Vibrations, Kirche St Peter & Paul Bern
concert: Moods Zürich
8.5.23, 20:30: «Air Vibrations»
broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Neue Musik im Konzert, 19.7.2023: Konzert Konus Quartett und Gori Women’s Choir, Bern: Air vibrations
Neue Musik im Konzert, 12.1.22: Jürg Frey: Stehende Schwärme
Musik unserer Zeit, 13.11.13: «zoom in» – der Saxophonist und Veranstalter Christian Kobi
Online-Artikel, 13.11.13: Das Rauschen des Nichts: Der Saxophonist Christian Kobi
Musik unserer Zeit, 17.07.2019: Saxophonzauber mit dem Konus Quartett
Musikmagazin, 21.5.22: Chorleiterin Teona Tsiramua: «Wir singen nicht nur Wiegenlieder»
Konus Quartett, Tamriko Kordzaia, Christian Kobi, Jürg Frey, Urs Peter Schneider, Jonas Tschanz
Female vocal performers yesterday and today
Vocal performance is very present in contemporary music. Female performers in particular can draw on a long tradition of works since Luciano Berio’s Sequenza III per voce femminile (1965) or Cathy Berberian’s Stripsody (1966). In their mini-series “Musik unserer Zeit”, Benjamin Herzog and Florian Hauser examined this genre’s historical and current exponents.
At the end of the day it always boils down to finding your own voice. Lie it in the saliva present in our oral cavities, in spatial sounds thrown around or in primal words with which we tried to communicate on our continent since 15’000 years ago.
Bel canto is a standard term in vocal practice and can be translated with “beautiful singing”. But what is beautiful? What does (in the present day) singing mean? Anyone who listens to the hybrid, multi-layered tones sound paintings of Norwegian Maja Ratkje, is fascinated by their beauty. However, they have little to do with bel canto.
Swiss singer Franziska Baumann would rather avoid comparing her singing practice with classical “Schöngesang”. “At first I didn’t know that what I do can be considered art at all.” Sche says and had to travel to New York, where the ideas of what singing can be were more open than in her native Toggenburg, to realise that perhaps it is and the self-empowerment that comes with it. There, Baumann’s home.
Another exponent which has not much in common with the Elysian realms of singing is American Audrey Chen. She states having no artistic pretensions at all with what she does. “It is a process,” she says, which rather reflects her changeable biography. A life for which Chen wanted to find her own language.
The three women are vocal performers. A term that is as general as it is fuzzy. Singer, vocalist, “singing artist” – many things bubble in the pond of this wording, yet forming a special bubble. Namely, many of these vocal performers, if we want to stick with this word, are at the same time performers as well as composers, conceptualisers.
Exploring her Toggenburg homeland
As childer, many of us probably did like Franziska Baumann on her exploratory tours through her Toggenburg homeland: combining the sounds of streams, creeks, leaves, birds and harvesting machines into an inner mixture of sounds, into some kind of music that perhaps already wanted to find its way out of the body with one or the other gurgle or peep from Baumann’s mouth. This was followed by classical studies and her escape from the rules and walls of what were still called “conservatories” back then. In New York, she found role models who simply saw what was linked to her early experiences as an art form. “It was also self-empowering” she says today.
Not to be an interpreter that reproduces, but a master of one’s own tones is something that applies to all three women presented here, with means that expand one’s own voice by several dimensions. In Franziska Baumann’s case, this is a special glove provided with sensors with which she can produce sounds, triggering them from an existing sound library and sending them around the room. A ghost orchestra that she conducts herself while at the same time performing vocally.
Franziska Baumann, Re-Shuffling Sirenes, Solo für Stimme und gestische Live-Elektronik, International Conference for Live Interfaces Trondheim 2020
Audrey Chen has discovered an entire orchestra in her own mouth. The sounds she produces in an unapologetically intimate way between cheeks, tongue, throat and in the waves of her own saliva seem like a hyperconsonants language. A supernatural being seems to be speaking to us. What constitutes “bel canto”, sailing on vowels, is not only missing here as even the consonants come out fragmented, breathless, as the sounding mouth-muscle mass of an extraterrestrial, at least quite alien.
Chen mentions regularly that she became a single mother at the age of 23, an obviously drastic experience in her biography. Did she become a stranger to herself in her life plan at that time? “I had to find my own language, also as an immigrant and daughter of an immigrant couple in the USA.” Today she lives with Norwegian trombonist Henrik Munkeby Nørstebø. Their two (musical) languages do not seem to be so different. In any case, they have been combining for years in almost astonishingly harmonious projects.
Audrey Chen &Henrik Munkeby Nørstebø, Beam Splitter, 22.04.2017, Kaohsiung Taiwan, Yard/Theater
What about Norwegian vocal performer Maja Ratkje? She says her thinking is orchestral. Piano or guitar have always been too small or little “accompaniment” for her. Anyone who talks to Ratkje should not miss this double understatement. Ratkje likes to play on many levels. As a student, she founded a group called “Spunk” to irritate her audience with the voices of the Chipmonks, the talking squirrels from the comic world. A stay at IRCAM in Paris gave rise to a fascination with electronic media, which she has been consistently deepening ever since. Her performance on the occasion of an award ceremony at the ZKM in Karlsruhe, documented on video, testifies to the virtuosity she has reached in the meantime. Ratkje succeeds in using voice and electronics to create an interlocking sound creature that, like the Greek Hydra, always has more heads than we could ever perceive, let alone conquer by hearing.
Maja S.K. Ratkje Interview about What are the words to us, world creation @Luzerner Theater 2022
In her residency at the Lucerne Theatre in the 2022/23 season, Ratkje showed that, in addition to the latest technology, she is also devoted to the ancient. Her composition Revelations (This Early Song) was integrated into a music theatre piece. Primal words like “worm”, “bark” or “spit” appear in it, words that were spoken some 15’000 years ago all over the Eurasian continent, as Ratkje told us.
Why she digs so deep into semantic depths becomes apparent upon hearing and legitimises the theme outlined in this text through the analysis of the three female exponents. The fascination that captures us when listening to Revelations is nothing less than a kind of genetic legitimisation of vocal performance as we experience it in many forms today. It’s about finding your own true voice. Finding a way to address, hiss, spit at each other with meaning. Whether we, the audience, feel more addressed by this way of communicating or whether we prefer the culinary delights of bel canto is a personal matter.
In the Musik unserer Zeit-broadcast series on vocal performance of March 8 and 15 2023, Florian Hauser also portrayed the pioneers Carla Henius and Cathy Berberian, in a conversation with singer and musicologist Anne-May Krüger, who wrote a book about the two.
Anne-May Krüger: Musik über Stimmen – Vokalinterpretinnen und -interpreten der 1950er und 60er Jahre im Fokus hybrider Forschung, Wolke-Verlag.
broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, 8.3.2023: Vokalperformance I – Gegenwartsstimmen elektronisch verwoben, Redaktion Benjamin Herzog)
Musik unserer Zeit, 15.3.2023: Vokalperformance II – Pionierinnen Carla Henius und Cathy Berberian, Redaktion Florian Hauser im Gespräch mit Anne-May Krüger
Toshio Hosokawa composer in residence @ Tonhalle Zurich
Toshio Hosokawa is the most famous Japanese composer and this season’s Creative Chair at Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich. In his tonal language, Hosokawa combines Western contemporary with traditional Japanese music. Moritz Weber interviewed the composer.
Two years ago, Toshio Hosokawa was commissioned by pianist Rudolf Buchbinder to compose a variation on Diabelli’s famous waltz in C major, over which Beethoven had once composed his monumental 33 variations. “I love piano sounds,” says Hosokawa in conversation, “but there are so many notes in this waltz”. His variations therefore sound as if in slow motion, allowing individual notes plenty of time to unfold. Because of the slow tempo, the piece became representative of his, says the Japanese composer, and even the tonal elements fit his musical language, as in the last 2 to 3 years he has become more and more interested in tonal music again, “and in the future I would also like to compose some tonal music.”
A way to traditional Japanese music through studies in Germany
He found his own language, which combines Far Eastern and Western aesthetics, through a diversion. “My family was very Japanese,” he says. With an ikebana master as grandfather, who also loved Nō singing as well as the tea ceremony and a mother who always played the koto, it was a bit “too much” for him and the traditional Japanese seemed like old-fashioned, even “boring”.
As a piano student, he was particularly enthusiastic about the classical-romantic repertoire, such as Beethoven’s late piano sonatas, so Hosokawa went to Germany to study composition with Isang Yun (in Berlin) and Klaus Huber (in Freiburg i. B.).
Klaus Huber, composition professor of Toshio Hosokawa with his Far Eastern inspired piece Plainte – Lieber spaltet mein Herz, Contrechamps 2018, in house- production SRG/SSR
At Berlin’s Meta Music Festival in the 1970s, contemporary European music was combined with traditional music from all over the world. György Ligeti with Indonesian gamelan music, Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Mantra with temple music from Japan. There, Hosokawa heard and experienced the music of his homeland from a European point of iew and in a completely different way, discovering its beauty. Mixed with homesickness and thanks to the encouragement of his teachers, Hosokawa began to combine Far Eastern sound language and philosophy with the European ones.
Differences between Western and Eastern aesthetics
An important difference between European and Japanese music is that the latter is not absolute music, but always serves as an atmosphere or background for certain events such as ceremonies or dances. It is bound to a place. European music, on the other hand, is an architecture that can be played in a variety of places, just as a sculpture or painting can be transported somewhere, Hosokawa says.
“In the Japanese musical tradition, the single note is very important. I always say our music is a caligraphy in time and space and a musical line is like a brushstroke, with a beginning and an end”. The tones are vertical events, like a calligraphic brushstroke on a white paper. In complete contrast to the groups of sounds in Western music that are linked into motifs, e.g. the famous “ta-ta-ta-taaaaaa” from Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, Hosokawa sings.
Nō theatre and Gagaku music
“The traditional Japanese Nō theatre plays from the 12th or 13th century are about healing souls and this idea is also very important to me,” says Hosokawa: “The deceased come back, tell about the afterlife, heal their souls through dance and song and then return to the realm of the dead.” Musically, the “calligraphy chant” is formative, as are the percussions: heavy beats that cut through time quasi vertically, without opening up large horizontal spaces, as the impulses are events in themselves. This is something he always points out when he works with musicians on his pieces, as he did this season as Creative Chair of the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich. “These violent vertical cuts are stronger than normal strokes, as are the sudden changes in dynamics. I always say: think when you play, you are painting a calligraphy. Don’t think too formally, but that every moment is a most important moment, every moment an eternity.”
Toshio Hosokawa, Ferne Landschaft III – Seascapes of Fukuyama (1996), Basel Sinfonietta, conductor Baldur Brönnimann 2016, in house-produktion SRG/SSR
Hosokawa also likes the microtonal colourings, which are important in shaping the Nō theatre tones. “There are always small changes around the central tones and I want to hear these, because they make the tones come alive”. Again, in the interview, he sings out a long drawn-out tone and traces the course of the tone with his hand in the air.
The mother chord of the Shô
Japanese gagaku music is about 500 years older and originally comes from China and Korea, serving as a ceremonial court music, with the sound of Japanese mouth organ shô being omnipresent. It symbolises eternity in the background, while above it melody instruments such as hichiriki or the dragon flute ryūteki “draw” sonic calligraphies.
Within shô, it is also possible to directly experience breath and circling time. Hosokawa calls this the “mother chord” and he has written various pieces for or with shô. These cycles are also very important to him, as is the idea that gagaku is a cosmic music rather than a human-emotional one.
Natural disasters as opera material
Toshio Hosokawa has become world famous for his unique tonal language and compositions in all genres. Many of his works revolve around natural disasters such as the devastating Tohoku earthquake, tsunami and the Fukushima nuclear disaster. “My goal is to become one with nature through music and composing. Actually, Japanese nature is very beautiful with its seasons, but not always friendly to people. I experienced this with the tsunami and I began to think about nature in a completely different way. With my fourth opera “Stilles Meer”, I wanted to write a lament for the victims of this drastic event, or a requiem for the dead.” In this piece, Hosokawa has not only composed the elemental force, but also the terrible images of loss, such as children’s shoes or toys floating in the flooded areas.
Toshio Hosokawa, the opera Stilles Meer is for Toshio Hosokawa a lament to the victims of the 2011 tsunami, world premiere Staatsoper Hamburg 2016
The composer is currently composing his sixth opera, which will again revolve around natural disasters, featuring a young couple, a Japanese man and a refugee from Ukraine, who visit devastated places, various “hells” in the sense of Dante’s Inferno, where they see the effects of natural disasters, according to Hosokawa. The opera is scheduled to premiere during the 2025/26 season.
Inner and outer peace
To find his inner peace, Hosokawa likes to walk in the forest or by the sea near his home in Nagano. He also meditates daily, sitting quietly and doing nothing for a few minutes. A source of strength for his contemplative state music, punctuated with eruptive outbursts.
His music should also be a place of contemplation and prayer for the audience. “In Japan, there are many carved wooden statues by anonymous artists where people pray. I want my music to have a similar meaning. It may not save people, but it can somehow protect them.
Spirituality also plays a role in his most recent works: “Ceremony” for flute and orchestra (premiere 2022) and “Prayer” for violin and orchestra (premiere 2023).
The solo instrument in these two pieces acts like a shaman, a mediator between this world and beyond, says Hosokawa, receiving and hearing the elemental force Ki (気). “I find this thought very interesting: composing, not as an expression of a person or his ego, but as receiving what is already there; the elemental force of sounds, the sometimes lovely, sometimes dramatic flow of the tones. “The orchestra represents nature and is therefore in and around the solo instrument or the shaman. He communicates with it, carries out conflicts and in the end should find harmony with it”.
Hosokawa sees himself as a sound engineer of this elemental force, and says: “I would also like to become a shaman” – if he is not one already.
When he rehearses his works with orchestras or musicians, as currently, during his time as Creative Chair of the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich, it is above all the pulsation and sense of time that sometimes need a little more work.
Zurich Tonhalle-Orchestra: Toshio Hosokawa, Creative Chair, Saison 2022/23
sunday, 26.3.23: chamber music
wednesday, 29.3.23: Meditation to the victims of Tsunami for orchestra.
broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, Mittwoch, 22.3.23, 20h, 25.3.23, 21h: Musikschamane und Vertoner der Urkraft, Autor Moritz Weber