Sorry, this entry is only available in German.
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