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Summer series on the Swiss Music Prize: No. 2 : Ensemble Nikel.
Vibrant and virtuoso interpretations of contemporary music form the unique DNA of Ensemble Nikel led by electric guitarist Yaron Deutsch (*1978). Nikel almost acts as a pop band and transcends the image of an often radically loud electro sound. Nikel is “radically contemporary”, according to the justification for the Swiss Music Prize 2023 awarded to the Basel ensemble. Gabrielle Weber met Yaron Deutsch, electric guitarist and founder of the ensemble.
What does the prize mean for Nikel?
It is simply heartwarming and rewarding to be noticed and recognized for the work you do. Especially when there is no application involved, nothing prepared us for receiving the message from the committee, making it even more special. From the most pragmatic angle the award opens further doors for us and allows additional means to fulfil large scale plans we have for our future artistic growth.
An ‘alternative chamber music sound’ mixing electronic and instrumental sounds characterises the ensemble. Let’s talk about the beginning of Nikel: How did you find your way to contemporary classical music with the electric guitar – the combination is not obvious?
Playing the electric guitar, I was initially drawn to rock and jazz, but I felt like a ‘copy cat’ of an American culture that is not mine. Then, in 2005, I came across a piece by Luis Andriessen: ‘Hout’ (1991) for saxophone, electric guitar, percussion and piano. It felt like a ‘eureka’ moment. The piece mixes musical genres and elements in an uncomplicated way. I found a connection to my roots and the European classical music avant-garde felt like a sort of homecoming. It gave me a kind of direction in which soundscape I wanted to go.
With Hout we gave our first concert in Tel Aviv in 2006 and its instruments became the permanent line-up of Nikel. After a few changes, we have now been the regular line-up for about ten years: Brian Archinal on percussion, Antoine Françoise – piano, Patrick Stadler – saxophone and me on the electric guitar. We inspire each other.
..and what does the name mean?
Three points: First, I didn’t want a music related name, then it should feature ‘metal’ as is one of our timbres and lastly, it is reminiscent of Israeli artist Lea Nikel and her abstract colour-intensive works. She was active in Paris and New York in the sixties and seventies and died in Tel Aviv in 2005.
It’s like water drops slowly gathering into an organism.
How come you settled in Switzerland?
The fact that three out of four members live in Switzerland has been decisive. I have always been a ‘missionary’ of non-nation related music-making and ensembles without national nor local definition: for me it’s all about working with the musicians I’m most interested in, who inspire me, no matter where they live. That’s how I got to Patrick Stadler in Basel, for instance. But our vision is international. It’s like water drops slowly gathering into an organism.
Starting from an invitation for a concert we get together. Our task as artists is to be fascinating, interesting and also good enough to create a demand. It’s about passion: as long as we are passionate, we exist as a group.
Your first performance in Donaueschingen in 2012 was legendary – this vibrant energy and raging virtuosity, for example in the premiere of Michael Wertmüller’s piece “Skip a beat”, is a lasting memory for me: How did the invitation come about?
In 2010 we performed at the Darmstadt Summer Courses. The new artistic director at the time was Thomas Schäfer and he wanted to present new voices in his first edition, so he invited us and our performance had a great echo. Shortly after, Armin Köhler, Donaueschingen’s artistic director, called and invited us to the festival two years later.
Michael Wertmüller, Skip a beat, Ensemble Nikel, world creation Donaueschinger Musiktage 2012
What did this performance do for Nikel?
Performing in front of a large audience with international resonance was one thing: a career ‘boost’: the familiarity with the international scene was very important for our growth. But Donaueschingen also enabled us to play four world premieres by four important composers who wrote especially for us and our instrumentation. We wouldn’t have had the financial means to commission such pieces ourselves. We have played these completely different pieces all over the world ever since. This mechanism continues by the way: when the festivals invite us, they commission pieces for us which we then keep in our repertoire. We always get involved in the selection process and suggest composers we are enthusiastic about and this enthusiasm is tangible during our performances.
Our memory tends to remember extremes
Nikel’s performances are known for an often radically loud electronic sound…
First of all, I have to reject this ‘loud’ ensemble definition as we also play many subtle pieces, quiet, tactile music. Probably our virtuoso quality leads to the impression: “the musicians can make walls shake…. “ (laughs…)
Masculine power, is not our thing. Our memory tends to remember extremes. But so much happens outside the extremes, in fact most…
We are like an ‘electrified string quartet’, an organism that works very well together and whose sound blends very well. We are able to finetune and find balance between loud and soft.
In 2017, Nikel released a comprehensive CD for the ensemble’s 10th anniversary – do the chosen pieces reflect the characteristic of the specific “Nikel sound”?
Quite hard to say, especially since the first decade was very formative so from a bird’s eye view the collection and curation of the pieces summarises our characteristics but once zooming in you notice that each work, though capturing predominant qualities of the group, still keeps our artistic character on the elusive end.
Stefan Prins, Fremdkörper 2, Ensemble Nikel 2010 (Decennial-Box).
You just got back from the Darmstadt Ferienkurse where you performed new pieces by Jennifer Walshe and Matthew Shlomowitz: what was the atmosphere like and how did it feel to be back at one of Nikel’s first important performance venues?
Darmstadt was fantastic: it was our fourth visit there. We played a piece we feel very comfortable with, both artistically and personally: an extraordinary collaboration of over two years with Matthew & Jennifer, who also accompanied us on stage. With two sold-out shows and a very positive review in the New York Times, it was a perfect premiere for the project.
Minor characters, Matthew Shlomowitz / Jennifer Walshe, Ensemble Nikel, world creation Ferienkurse Neue Musik Darmstadt 2022.
We have a new album (Radio Works) coming up with pieces commissioned and recorded by various European radio stations during the pandemic, including the Shlomowitz/Walshe piece followed by a world premiere of a four-piece cycle by composer Sarah Nemtsov for nikel and orchestra, due in Cologne and Essen with the WDR Symphony Orchestra. Our new season in Switzerland will begin in January 2024 with a world premiere by John Menoud.
Sarah Nemtsov, Tikkun pour orchestre, part 1 of the tetralogy, Ensemble Nikel, Camerata Ataremac, Ensemble Vertigo, conductor: Peter Rundel, Festival Les amplitudes 2022, SRG/SSR in-house production.
Kritik Darmstadt 2023: Seth Colter Walls, New York Times, 13.8.2023
A Decade, Decennial-Box 2017, 4 CDs mit Doku-DVD und Buch zum Ensemble.
Yaron Deutsch, Live in New York City, 2022
Schweizer Musikpreise 2023:
Grand Prix Musik: Erik Truffaz
Katharina Rosenberger, Ensemble Nikel, Carlo Balmelli, Mario Batkovic, Lucia Cadotsch, Sonja Moonear, Saadet Türköz
Helvetiarockt, Kunstraum Walcheturm, Pronto
broadcasts SRF Kultur:
SRF Kultur online, 11.5.23: Trompeter Erik Truffaz erhält den Grand Prix Musik, Redaktion Jodok Hess.
Musikmagazin, 22.7.23, Carlo Balmelli: Ein Leben für die Blasmusik, Redaktion Annelis Berger, Musiktalk mit Carlo Balmelli (ab Min 9:40).
Musikmagazin, 17.6.23, Inspirationen mit offenem Ende: Die Vokalkünstlerin Saadet Türköz, Redaktion Florian Hauser, Musiktalk mit Saadet Türköz (ab Min 8:38).
Musikmagazin, 13.5.23, Schweizer Musikpreise 2023, Redaktion Florian Hauser, Musiktalk mit Katharina Rosenberger (ab Min 4:55)
Enno Poppe @Lucerne Festival 2023 – A portrait by Annelis Berger
Enno Poppe is considered one of the most original composers of our time. The 55-year-old composer’s music is highly complex and yet extremely attractive to the ears and often as exciting as a thriller. Enno Poppe is this year’s composer-in-residence at the Lucerne Festival. He’ll present his work Fett, among others, as well as the orchestral piece Prozession.
He is a city person through and through: “Life in the countryside would be too complicated for me. I really like living in the city, where I can buy a litre of milk at any time without having to think much. This doesn’t mean that I don’t like to climb a mountain or jump into a lake sometimes.” Unfortunately, he won’t have time for that in Lucerne: “No way, I know that from the last time I worked with the Academy. I look after some 100 young people, all greedy and hungry for knowledge; they want to work from morning to night and experience things, so no time for climbing mountains”.
Poppe studied composition and conducting in Berlin, still lives in the German capital and works throughout Europe with the most important contemporary music ensembles. I met him in Zurich, where he has just rehearsed with the Collegium Novum ensemble. A midsummer late afternoon, Poppe could just have a beer before the interview. We first talk about what distinguishes his music.
“I like intense and expressive music, I like to take the listeners with me. But I have to look for a new form of expressivity, expressivity cannot only be claimed, nor can it be imposed or sentimental. I cannot borrow the expressivity of a Bruckner symphony, I have to find one that has something to do with today and with the means available today. It is not simply a search for new sounds, but a search for a new expressivity. That’s something that constantly occupies me.”
The piece Procession is an example of this. “The work is actually a single process of growth,” says Poppe. “It begins with single notes, from which melodies emerge, then chords, which accumulate into chorale-like passages and the piece continues to build up, becoming more and more intense. Formally, there are nine big waves of increase, the sixth being the biggest and then it slowly decreases again. Every single musician in the ensemble has a solo part here and then leads one part at a time until the next part comes with the next solo.”
Enno Poppe, Procession, 2015/20, Ensemble Musikfabrik Köln, conductor Enno Poppe, Ensemblefestival for Contemporary Music 2020, Leipzig Kölner Philharmonie Nov. 22nd, 2020
An important source of inspiration for this work was the Catholic procession “Semana Santa” in Seville, which takes place every year during Easter. “They run through the city for seven days, 24 hours at a stretch with brass bands and drums, the Basel Fasnacht is a doddle compared to that. This Spanish processional music has a deep connection with the piece, without me quoting it directly.”
Prozession is a work that develops a pull during the listening process, as it really becomes denser and denser and one can hardly escape it. The work also conveys the feeling of tenacity: there’s no way of evading this music, its expressivity is very direct.
Enno Popp finds a compositional means for expressivity in glissandos and vibratos, which is beautifully demonstrated in Wald from 2010 for four string quartets. For many years, Enno Poppe has been working with the “moving” tone, inspired, among other things, by the Asian tradition of tones that are always in motion, i.e. one never hears the same tone twice, the musician intones it differently each time. Enno Poppe has often worked with this. “In Wald, every note is constantly sliding, moving up and down, back and forth. At the most varied speeds. That, in turn, is immensely expressive, because every single tone becomes animated.”
Enno Poppe also deals with the “moving” sound in the ensemble work Scherben, in the recording with the Collegium Novum Zürich, conductor: Enno Poppe, 2008, in-house production SRG/SSR.
Enno Poppe talks easily about his music. It is rare to find composers who do this in such an uninhibited and relaxed way. That makes a meeting with him very pleasant.
Of course I would also like to talk with him about the work Fett, one of the highlights at Lucerne Festival, conducted by Susanna Mälkki in the great KKL hall: “The piece IS indeed fat! Otherwise it shouldn’t be called that,” he says with a smile. In this composition, Poppe completely dispenses with melodies and themes and everything else that classically characterises symphonies. He worked with Chord clusters – at first only four-note chords that get bigger and bigger. “Towards the end we have 40-50-note chords! And not just octaves, but microtonal agglomerations.”
Enno Poppe, Fett (2018/19): Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, conductor Susanne Mälkki, World premiere 10.5.2019, Helsinki Music Center
Finally, the conversation turns to the composer’s working method. He always enjoys both composing and conducting. Otherwise he wouldn’t do it at all. Sometimes, when opening a door to a new tonal world for a composition – like the microtonal agglomerations in Fett’s case – it is very easy for him because he quickly finds himself at ease in the new world. “Fett went incredibly fast. I was really into it. It was untouched terrain, which always invigorates me, I can then sometimes work very quickly. For Fett it took me about ten weeks, it’s actually a mystery to me why it went so quickly, because there are an incredible number of notes in this work.” There is a sense of lightness – and that is precisely what distinguishes Enno Poppe’s music: it is complex and multi-layered, but never bulky. This takes the listener on a journey through a world that never stands still.
Enno Poppe at Lucerne Festival 2023
broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Künste im Gespräch, 3.8.2023, Enno Poppe, Composer in Residence am Lucerne Festival, editor/author Annelis Berger.
Musik unserer Zeit, 13.9.2023, Enno Poppe im Portrait, editor/author Annelis Berger.
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
Toshio Hosokawa composer in residence @ Tonhalle Zurich
Toshio Hosokawa is the most famous Japanese composer and this season’s Creative Chair at Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich. In his tonal language, Hosokawa combines Western contemporary with traditional Japanese music. Moritz Weber interviewed the composer.
Two years ago, Toshio Hosokawa was commissioned by pianist Rudolf Buchbinder to compose a variation on Diabelli’s famous waltz in C major, over which Beethoven had once composed his monumental 33 variations. “I love piano sounds,” says Hosokawa in conversation, “but there are so many notes in this waltz”. His variations therefore sound as if in slow motion, allowing individual notes plenty of time to unfold. Because of the slow tempo, the piece became representative of his, says the Japanese composer, and even the tonal elements fit his musical language, as in the last 2 to 3 years he has become more and more interested in tonal music again, “and in the future I would also like to compose some tonal music.”
A way to traditional Japanese music through studies in Germany
He found his own language, which combines Far Eastern and Western aesthetics, through a diversion. “My family was very Japanese,” he says. With an ikebana master as grandfather, who also loved Nō singing as well as the tea ceremony and a mother who always played the koto, it was a bit “too much” for him and the traditional Japanese seemed like old-fashioned, even “boring”.
As a piano student, he was particularly enthusiastic about the classical-romantic repertoire, such as Beethoven’s late piano sonatas, so Hosokawa went to Germany to study composition with Isang Yun (in Berlin) and Klaus Huber (in Freiburg i. B.).
Klaus Huber, composition professor of Toshio Hosokawa with his Far Eastern inspired piece Plainte – Lieber spaltet mein Herz, Contrechamps 2018, in house- production SRG/SSR
At Berlin’s Meta Music Festival in the 1970s, contemporary European music was combined with traditional music from all over the world. György Ligeti with Indonesian gamelan music, Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Mantra with temple music from Japan. There, Hosokawa heard and experienced the music of his homeland from a European point of iew and in a completely different way, discovering its beauty. Mixed with homesickness and thanks to the encouragement of his teachers, Hosokawa began to combine Far Eastern sound language and philosophy with the European ones.
Differences between Western and Eastern aesthetics
An important difference between European and Japanese music is that the latter is not absolute music, but always serves as an atmosphere or background for certain events such as ceremonies or dances. It is bound to a place. European music, on the other hand, is an architecture that can be played in a variety of places, just as a sculpture or painting can be transported somewhere, Hosokawa says.
“In the Japanese musical tradition, the single note is very important. I always say our music is a caligraphy in time and space and a musical line is like a brushstroke, with a beginning and an end”. The tones are vertical events, like a calligraphic brushstroke on a white paper. In complete contrast to the groups of sounds in Western music that are linked into motifs, e.g. the famous “ta-ta-ta-taaaaaa” from Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, Hosokawa sings.
Nō theatre and Gagaku music
“The traditional Japanese Nō theatre plays from the 12th or 13th century are about healing souls and this idea is also very important to me,” says Hosokawa: “The deceased come back, tell about the afterlife, heal their souls through dance and song and then return to the realm of the dead.” Musically, the “calligraphy chant” is formative, as are the percussions: heavy beats that cut through time quasi vertically, without opening up large horizontal spaces, as the impulses are events in themselves. This is something he always points out when he works with musicians on his pieces, as he did this season as Creative Chair of the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich. “These violent vertical cuts are stronger than normal strokes, as are the sudden changes in dynamics. I always say: think when you play, you are painting a calligraphy. Don’t think too formally, but that every moment is a most important moment, every moment an eternity.”
Toshio Hosokawa, Ferne Landschaft III – Seascapes of Fukuyama (1996), Basel Sinfonietta, conductor Baldur Brönnimann 2016, in house-produktion SRG/SSR
Hosokawa also likes the microtonal colourings, which are important in shaping the Nō theatre tones. “There are always small changes around the central tones and I want to hear these, because they make the tones come alive”. Again, in the interview, he sings out a long drawn-out tone and traces the course of the tone with his hand in the air.
The mother chord of the Shô
Japanese gagaku music is about 500 years older and originally comes from China and Korea, serving as a ceremonial court music, with the sound of Japanese mouth organ shô being omnipresent. It symbolises eternity in the background, while above it melody instruments such as hichiriki or the dragon flute ryūteki “draw” sonic calligraphies.
Within shô, it is also possible to directly experience breath and circling time. Hosokawa calls this the “mother chord” and he has written various pieces for or with shô. These cycles are also very important to him, as is the idea that gagaku is a cosmic music rather than a human-emotional one.
Natural disasters as opera material
Toshio Hosokawa has become world famous for his unique tonal language and compositions in all genres. Many of his works revolve around natural disasters such as the devastating Tohoku earthquake, tsunami and the Fukushima nuclear disaster. “My goal is to become one with nature through music and composing. Actually, Japanese nature is very beautiful with its seasons, but not always friendly to people. I experienced this with the tsunami and I began to think about nature in a completely different way. With my fourth opera “Stilles Meer”, I wanted to write a lament for the victims of this drastic event, or a requiem for the dead.” In this piece, Hosokawa has not only composed the elemental force, but also the terrible images of loss, such as children’s shoes or toys floating in the flooded areas.
Toshio Hosokawa, the opera Stilles Meer is for Toshio Hosokawa a lament to the victims of the 2011 tsunami, world premiere Staatsoper Hamburg 2016
The composer is currently composing his sixth opera, which will again revolve around natural disasters, featuring a young couple, a Japanese man and a refugee from Ukraine, who visit devastated places, various “hells” in the sense of Dante’s Inferno, where they see the effects of natural disasters, according to Hosokawa. The opera is scheduled to premiere during the 2025/26 season.
Inner and outer peace
To find his inner peace, Hosokawa likes to walk in the forest or by the sea near his home in Nagano. He also meditates daily, sitting quietly and doing nothing for a few minutes. A source of strength for his contemplative state music, punctuated with eruptive outbursts.
His music should also be a place of contemplation and prayer for the audience. “In Japan, there are many carved wooden statues by anonymous artists where people pray. I want my music to have a similar meaning. It may not save people, but it can somehow protect them.
Spirituality also plays a role in his most recent works: “Ceremony” for flute and orchestra (premiere 2022) and “Prayer” for violin and orchestra (premiere 2023).
The solo instrument in these two pieces acts like a shaman, a mediator between this world and beyond, says Hosokawa, receiving and hearing the elemental force Ki (気). “I find this thought very interesting: composing, not as an expression of a person or his ego, but as receiving what is already there; the elemental force of sounds, the sometimes lovely, sometimes dramatic flow of the tones. “The orchestra represents nature and is therefore in and around the solo instrument or the shaman. He communicates with it, carries out conflicts and in the end should find harmony with it”.
Hosokawa sees himself as a sound engineer of this elemental force, and says: “I would also like to become a shaman” – if he is not one already.
When he rehearses his works with orchestras or musicians, as currently, during his time as Creative Chair of the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich, it is above all the pulsation and sense of time that sometimes need a little more work.
Zurich Tonhalle-Orchestra: Toshio Hosokawa, Creative Chair, Saison 2022/23
sunday, 26.3.23: chamber music
wednesday, 29.3.23: Meditation to the victims of Tsunami for orchestra.
broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, Mittwoch, 22.3.23, 20h, 25.3.23, 21h: Musikschamane und Vertoner der Urkraft, Autor Moritz Weber
Tuns contemporans: Ligeti 100th anniversary @Theater Chur 29.3. – 2.4.2023
Tuns contemporans, Biennale für Neue Musik Graubünden, will take place for its third edition from March 29 to April 1. With this years’ motto is 100 years of Ligeti, it highlights the pioneering composer from a present day perspective. Atmosphères, Ligeti’s monumental orchestral work known from Kubrik’s Space Odyssey 2001, will be reinterpreted at the Theater Chur as a space-spanning sound installation.
A conversation with Martina Mutzner, initiator and artistic director of the project.
28 May 1923: 100th birthday of György Ligeti
If any key work of the musical avant-garde has had unexpectedly wide circulation, it surely is Atmosphères by György Ligeti. Stanley Kubrik’s epic Space Odyssey 2001 from 1968 helped make Ligeti’s impressive orchestral work, premiered at the Donaueschingen Music Festival in 1961, famous all over the world. In the film, it accompanies an almost ten-minute tracking shot through abstract, flowing space colour fields that are considered among the most advanced camera and animation techniques possible back then.
Or was it maybe the other way round: do the images follow the music?
Sound colour surface composition
Atmosphères, Ligeti’s micropolyphonic 87-voice orchestral work, had already gained the composer a major breakthrough in professional circles. His new approach, in which tonal colours and surfaces replace structural elements, was received with enthusiasm at the premiere in Donaueschingen and played twice at the request of the audience. Ligeti, on the other hand, was in a yearlong legal dispute with Kubrik because the latter had initially used Atmosphères without asking nor paying the composer.
György Ligeti, Atmosphères, Sinfonieorchester Basel, 2015, inhouse-production SRG/SSR
The Chur project takes the idea of composing with sound colour surfaces as well as the familiarity of the work as starting points. In an immersive participatory concert sound installation, Ligeti’s Atmosphères is reborn, interpreted by 81 vocal groups: over the course of six months, school classes, semi-professional musicians and amateurs, with members aged between 7 and 77, developed their own sound surfaces. The musicians of Chur’s ensemble ö! as well as the Graubünden Chamber Philharmonic, helped creating individual layers of a large overall sound during a series of workshops.
It is now possible to immerse oneself into this soundscape during the entire festival through a loudspeaker system and embedded in a light scenography à la Kubrik set up at Chur’s Theatre.
Apparitions for orchestra (1958/59) is one of the first works in which György Ligeti composed with sound surfaces, recording with Basel Sinfonietta under Johannes Kalitzke, 2003, inhouse-production SRG SSR
Ligeti’s idea of greatest possible compositional freedom was this mediation project’s decisive factor, says Martina Mutzner, dramaturge at Theater Basel and in charge of the project.
“With Atmosphères, Ligeti wrote a piece that defied the compositional dogmas of the time. It is representative of a free-spirited approach to both artistic material and, in a figurative sense, also human beings”. There is no right or wrong. That is why it is so suitable for a shared project featuring also amateur musicians.
Inventories and botanic approach
They decided to “go the opposite way”. First, inspired by Atmosphères, they improvised, developed and recorded sounds. “We collected the sound surfaces. It was like making an inventory or some kind of a botanic approach,” says Mutzner. David Sontòn, artistic director of the Biennale, then created scores for instrumental parts from the recordings, with flute, harp and string groups complementing the vocal and noise soundscapes to Ligeti’s prescribed 87 voices.
The result is a compositional association with Ligeti’s sound-surface composition in the broadest sense and thus something completely new, fitting in perfectly with the concept of a Biennale featuroing Ligeti at its centre and relating mentors and students. The four major concerts at the Chur Theatre will feature works by Béla Bartók and Sándor Veress, two of the composers who influenced Ligeti, but also by Detlef Müller-Siemens, Michael Jarrell or Alberto Posadas, whom he in turn influenced, as well as world premieres in dialogue with Ligeti’s oeuvre.
Michael Jarrell, music for a while pour orchestre 1995, Ensemble Contrechamps, conductor Jürg Henneberger, inhouse-production SRG SSR
Mutzner brings her passion for contemporary music and its transmission to the project: “We chose Atmosphères also because it found its way into popular culture through Kubrick’s Space Odyssey. Many people heard it without knowing what it is.” Of the many contributors and also ensemble leaders, some had hardly had any exposure to contemporary music before. “In the end, the recordings sounded as if they were rehearsing regularly in a contemporary music ensemble. The musicians were in an eager flow, which gets transmitted to the listeners,” says Mutzner.
A consistent opening of contemporary music
The consistent aim of presenting contemporary music to a wider audience is a general concern of the Chur Biennale. While the 2021 concerts could only be held online due to the pandemic, this edition will also be entirely live-streamed. In addition, the tuns contemporans is also committed to a balanced mix of genres in the classical field as well as to a renewal of the orchestral repertoire. In 2021, a “Call for Scores for ladies only!” took place for the first time, resulting in three world premieres by female composers. Three new pieces will also be premiered in this edition. Los tiempos del alma for small ensemble by recently deceased young Argentinian composer Patricia Martinez (*1973-2022), leer for large ensemble by Areum Lee (*1989) from Korea and la via isoscele della sera for string orchestra by Italian composer Caterina di Cecca (*1984).
Oscar Bianchi, Contingency für Ensemble (2017), aufgezeichnet mit dem Ensemble der Lucerne Festival Alumni, conductor Baldur Brönnimann, 2020, inhouse-production SRG SSR.
A collaboration with the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana for the Saturday evening concert – including a performance of Oscar Bianchi’s Exordium from 2015 – and Mario Venzago as guest conductor or the closing concert with the Ensemble Vocal Origen, in the “roter Turm” on top of the Julier Pass, stand for both synergies and an opening of contemporary music beyond the local scene for this third festival edition.
Tuns contemporans – Biennale für Neue Musik Graubünden 2023
Atmosphères: participatory intergenerational concert project featuring professional musicians, passionate semi-professional musicians, music students and enthusiastic amateurs.
György Ligeti, Detlev Müller-Siemens, Alberto Posadas, Béla Bartók, Sándor Veress, Origen Festival Cultural, Mario Venzago, Caterina di Cecca, Areum Lee, Patricia Martinez, Martina Mutzner: Musiksalon
broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, 24.5.2023: György Ligeti 100: author Michael Kunkel
neoblog, 7.4.2021: tuns contemporans 2021 – Graubünden trifft Welt, author Gabrielle Weber
Young composer Anda Kryeziu stages Ingmar Bergman’s cult film “Persona” as music theatre for Theater Basel. A musical reflection on voice, silence and identity.
Anda Kryeziu and I met for an interview on a rainy February evening in downtown Basel. The final rehearsal phase for her music theatre “Persona”, based on the film by Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, has just begun and she is facing a stressful final rehearsal month, with rehearsals from Monday to Saturday all day followed by revisions at night. One might think that the 30-year-old composer is under a lot of pressure, as writing a full-length musical for the renowned Theater Basel is not something everyone gets to do. But Anda Kryeziu seems surprisingly relaxed and at ease during the interview.
Originally from Kosovo, she studied piano and composition with Dieter Ammann in Bern, then composition and electroacoustic music in Basel and Berlin with Caspar Johannes Walter and Daniel Ott as well as cross-media composition with Wolfgang Heiniger. Her catalogue is already astonishingly extensive, featuring theatrical works, performances, orchestral compositions, works for instrumental ensembles with or without electronics, multimedia compositions, installations and acousmatic pieces. Kryeziu switches effortlessly between different formats and instrumentations and has already presented her works at renowned festivals such as Impuls Festival Graz, Neue Musik Rümlingen or the Munich Biennale. Her rich and diverse portfolio might be the reason for her ability to keep calm and relaxed, despite the prestigious Theater Basel commission.
Anda Kryeziu: «Infuse: Playtime» (2021), Ensemble Recherche.
She is setting Ingmar Bergman’s film “Persona” to music for Theater Basel and describes her work, for soprano, performer, four instruments and electronics as an “ambivalent music-theatrical format, oscillating between opera, theatre and performance”. Bergman’s 1966 cult movie revolves around two women, actress Elisabeth Vogler and nurse Alma. Elisabeth has suddenly stopped speaking and is therefore sent to be cured with Alma in a villa by the seaside. Due to Elisabeth’s silence, Alma takes over the speaking and tells Elisabeth about her innermost wishes, dreams and well-kept secrets from her childhood. A complex relationship develops between the two women and Elisabeth’s silence takes on very different facets, from arrogant distance to empathetic participation or passive aggressiveness. More and more, the boundaries between the two protagonists become blurred. Bergman’s film is on one hand an accurate chronicle of this unusual relationship and on the other hand a reflection on what actually makes a person and whether we are not just wearing different masks.
To what extent does the voice define our identity and what happens when the voice factor suddenly disappears? “Persona” captured Anda Kryeziu’s, as well as director Caterina Cianfarini’s and dramaturge Meret Kündig’s attention because it deals with voice, silence and identity in close connection.
Anda Kryeziu: «co-» (2016-2017), played by Theo Nabicht (Kontrabassklarinette), Seth Josel (E-Gitarre) und Gabriella Strümpel (Cello) from the Ensemble KNM Berlin.
How does one compose silence?
The main character’s silence of Perona’s central aspects. But how does one actually compose silence? Music consists of sounds and silence does not. Whereby, as Anda Kryeziu emphasises, “silence is not the same as stillness. Silence is the decision not to speak, while stillness is the absence of sounds”.
However, she did not need to actively compose silence: “silence was already there conceptually and actually triggered all the other musical ideas in the piece. For me, silence is the strongest and most blatant stylistic tool in this project. With Elisabeth’s silence, I try to shape all the dynamics and energy of the work and it serves as an igniting spark for many musical and dramatic situations.”
Anda Kryeziu sees the main character’s silence as a welcome challenge and composed it as an important factor. It is a similar story with the the other main character’s voice. Nurse Alma does the talking for both of them. For Kryeziu, the voice of soprano Álfheiður Erla Guðmundsdóttir, in the role of Alma, is the starting point for her composition. “The human voice is a complex mean of communication, a whole package of information, a semiotic system through which one can learn a great deal about identity,” says Kryeziu.
Guðmundsdóttir’s voice is alienated, distorted and multiplied by Kryeziu through electronics. “With the changes in the sound of the voice, I can also change the perception of the person speaking. She can suddenly sound masculine, childlike or totally destroyed.”
Anda Kryeziu: “Kreiswanderung im Raum”, from the production “Grosse Reise in entgegengesetzter Richtung” at the Münchener Biennale 2022. Jens Ruland (percussion) and the Ensemble Hand Werk.
The voice through the instruments
In addition, Kryeziu relates the voice to various counterparts: through loops, Guðmundsdóttir’s voice speaks to herself, through room-filling playback and re-recording it enters a dialogue with the space and with the help of so-called transducers, Kryeziu can project the sound of the voice or individual snippets of it onto the four instruments. The voice then kind of speaks through the instruments. A coherent metaphor for the fact that an identity operates in close connection and constant interaction with the outside world.
A voice speaking through many instruments is perhaps another fitting image for Kryeziu’s work. The identity theme emerges again and again, in her diverse work. “Identity never comes by itself in my opinion, as it cannot be separated from a socio-political context. We do not exist as abstract entities. We are the way we are because of our environment, our history and biography,” says Kryeziu. Her works are never autobiographical, but perhaps her migrant biography is one reason why the theme of identity regularly comes up.
Music theatre “Persona” is a Theater Basel production and will be presented at Gare du Nord on March 4, 6, 7, 15, 16 17 – 2023, featuring: Álfheiður Erla Guðmundsdóttir: soprano, Alice Gartenschläger: performance, Jeanne Larrouturou: percussion, Chris Moy: guitar, Maria Emmi Franz: cello and Aleksander Gabrýs: double bass.
Geneva’s AMR association (AMR stands for “Association pour l’encouragement de la Musique improvise”) is the oldest Swiss institution for improvised music. Since it’s foundation in 1973, it has been committed not only to improvised concerts but also to offer rehearsal opportunities and lessons in improvised music. Its almost 50-year commitment is now being recognised with the Special Music Prize 2022.
Especially in niche genres like improvised music, most of the work is done on a voluntary basis. Fees for the musicians are low, the work behind the scenes is based on goodwill and the money for the organisers is generally scarce. The pandemic, during which no concerts could be held for months and general uncertainty reigned for even longer, exacerbated this deplorable situation. Not so in Geneva – where AMR managed to paid both the musicians who were booked but couldn’t perform as well as the technicians and staff who were unable to work. This is not only extremely honourable, but also quite unusual. “We had the money and we had booked them, furthermore the musicians were worse off than the organisers,” explains Brooks Giger, secretary of the AMR programme committee and double bass player.
John Menoud: Which way does the blood red river flow? Nouvel Ensemble Contemporain and the trumpeter Mazen Kerbaj, 2017. John Menoud is member of the AMR programme committee.
Milestone of Geneva’s cultural landscape
The AMR exists since 1973, almost fifty years. In the 1970s, the free jazz scene in Europe was buzzing. Peter Brötzmann, Alexander von Schlippenbach, Peter Kowald & Co. in Germany, Irène Schweizer and Pierre Favre in Switzerland. John Stevens and his “Spontaneous Music Ensemble” or the improvisation ensemble AMM in the UK, not to mention the USA with Charles Mingus, Alice and John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Sam Rivers, etc. The time was right for a few musicians in Geneva, who go together and devoted themselves to this musical genre.
This is how the AMR idea came about. When the association was founded in 1973, its members already knew that they wanted more than just a stage and organising concerts. “There was this great desire of the founding members to have something where they could gather, work together and create. Where they can listen to this music in concert and share it in the classroom.” – says Brooks Giger. From the beginning, AMR included also a music school as well as rehearsal rooms. The City of Geneva was receptive to this concept and soon financial support was allocated. “We were also very, very lucky that we received support from the city in the 70s and to this day,” Brooks Giger says regarding Geneva and its special situation.
In 1981, the AMR was able to rent a building on Rue des Alpes, the “Sud des Alpes”, which is still the association’s centre and headquarter. Until 2006, the “Sud des Alpes” was gradually renovated and today, it houses not only the AMR offices, but also 13 rehearsal rooms (including two large ones for ensembles) and two concert halls, one in the basement for 50 people and one on the ground floor for 120 people. In the meantime, AMR has become an integral part of the city’s cultural landscape. Brooks Giger describes it this way: “If someone in town asks where to listen to some jazz – AMR. If someone is looking for musicians for a gig – AMR.” In the meantime, they have become an institution for jazz and improvised music in Geneva, which means they still get money from the city – “on croise les doigts” (fingers crossed), says Brooks Giger.
Concert programme between local scene and international stars
The City of Geneva’s financial support is tied to the condition that at least 60 per cent of the performing musicians must be from the region. The programming of the 250 to 300 annual concerts and the two festivals is therefore always balanced between local artists, national stars and international guests. The workshops held at the AMR also show what they have learned in regular concerts. So it may well be that in the same week one can enjoy the New York star saxophonist Chris Potter with his quartet, a South African-Swiss combo, a local jazz band and the AMR’s funk workshop. Fair play reigns not only through the concert programme, as the AMR staff is composed of musicians and thanks to the part-time employment at AMR, they are assured a regular income. Performing musicians who live in Switzerland can also be employed by the AMR, which ensures certain employment and welfare benefits. The ticket prices are moderate, so that everyone can afford the AMR concerts and since a few years ago, a group of members promotes gender-balanced concert programmes.
The group Noe Tavelli & The Argonauts from Geneva at the AMR Jazz Festival 2022
A Geneva gem for improvised music
In 2022, AMR is on solid fondations: it has a location with the necessary premises for lessons, concerts and rehearsals, financial support seems to be secured for the longer term, it has survived the pandemic and is again presenting a colourful, interesting concert programme. But above all, the AMR has a lively and committed music scene behind it and its commitment to improvised music has now been recognised by the Federal Office of Culture with the Special Music Prize 2022: “The association is a place of culture, equality, debate and growth,” writes the FOC on the reasons that led to the award.
Brooks Giger, however, doesn’t see growth as a top priority. “We already do a lot with concerts, festivals, workshops and the rehearsal rooms. There is no need to do more. What we have is already a gem, a diamond. We just have to keep polishing it and taking care of it.”
Next year, AMR will turn 50. There will of course be some special events, such as a photo exhibition at Bains de Pâquis and a publication with photos and essays. Furthermore, a documentary about the AMR is currently in the making and last but not least, there will of course be plenty of good, improvised music from Geneva, Switzerland and from all over the world at “Sud des Alpes”.