Anya Leveillé: Interview Alexandre Babel Les Amplitudes La Chaux-de Fonds 21.-25.10.20
The 9th edition Les Amplitudes, conceived by percussionist, curator and composer Alexandre Babel will be presented in La Chaux-de-Fonds from October 21 to October 25.
Geneva born Alexandre Babel, currently lives in Berlin, from where he travels the world as a soloist and with numerous ensembles, exploring contemporary, improvised and experimental music as performer, composer and curator.
Artistic director of Eklekto, percussionist-drummer with the KNM Berlin ensemble as well as the experimental trio Sudden Infant, performer with Mio Chareteau in the Radial collective, composer for various instrumental ensembles (including a snare drum choir and a cello-piano duo) or Delia Hess’ animated films, Alexandre Babel extends his sound research through multiple artistic practices which will be reflected in a series of events mixing concerts, performances, conferences, projections and sound walks at Les Amplitudes.
During my phone call (or rather “Zoom” call) with Alexandre Babel in his Berlin rehearsal room, we discussed the atypical Les Amplitudes festival. Its monographic dimension makes the event unique within the galaxy of contemporary music festivals, allowing the public to discover the guest artist’s creative workshop, whose programming reveals La Chaux-de-Fonds’ urban spaces as well as architectural heritage.
How did you approach Les Amplitudes’ programming?
Les Amplitudes allows me to combine my three main activities – instrumentalist, composer and programmer – within a single event that fits into a precise framework, namely La Chaux-de-Fonds. The town becomes stage for a gigantic composition that begins on the first day of the festival and ends with the closing concert. This “composition” is made up of musical, social and urban parameters, which I perceive as one single entity formed by a constellation of concerts, events and encounters.
Alexandre Babel, the way down pour violoncelle et piano, Duo Orion 2020
You refer to the city being transformed into a huge composition. Was it to compose this urban score that you chose Alvin Lucier’s “Memory Space” for the opening of the Festival, given that the piece plays with the sound spaces of a particular place?
Alvin Lucier’s piece is programmed as part of the event entitled “I listen to the city”, developed by the artistic director of the KNM Berlin Ensemble, Thomas Bruns. This project, which creates a kind of live urban postcard, invites participants to be guided, blindfolded, through the streets of the city and discover it not through looking, but through hearing. In “Memory Space”, Lucier provides the interpreters with a text as score indicating the interpretation procedure. The musicians go to a place whose soundscape they will have to memorise by various means (recording, note-taking, drawings), but for the concert, they are asked to reproduce the sound imprint of the place from memory and with their instrument. In La Chaux-de-Fonds, these wanderings will disclose several listening layers, with participants walking around listening to the sounds of the streets and musicians musically reproducing what they have heard in the past.
the city is transformed into a gigantic composition
What do you consider to be La Chaux-de-Fonds’ specific sound characteristics?
After having participated in the production of the “I listen to the city” project in many cities, La Chaux-de-Fonds seemed extremely quiet to me. Sometimes, it is even difficult to find a noisy place, but when you walk through the streets, your hearing opens up and you start to perceive sounds that are more sustained, more distant. This project is very interesting because it allows to really express something regarding the city.
Besides from the sound walks, has La Chaux-de-Fonds inspired you for the other events programmed at Les Amplitudes?
Of course, because it’s a place that inspires a lot of images, starting with its urban plan, which is really very special. The “Pod”, this huge central avenue, and the town’s division into squares made me want to create one or more walking projects. Then there is all the heritage of music- and art- related buildings, which is remarkable for a city of this size. The Music Hall, the “Heure bleue” Theatre, the “Usine électrique”… These exceptional places led me to a lot of questions: what was the story this hall was telling me? What could I do here? How could this or that score combined with another piece “reveal” a specific place?
La Chaux-de-Fonds seemed extremely quiet to me.
You haven’t only scheduled concerts for this eighth edition of Les Amplitudes…
I am interested in sound vibration, in sound as a priority, but the question of this sound vibration can have different implicationsthat are not necessarily and always achievable in concert. At Les Amplitudes, I have, among other things, programmed a conference at Club 44 with visual artist, Latifa Echakhch, and composer and philosopher François Bonnet, director of the GRM. With Echakhch, I just started a collaboration focusing on an exhibition where the question of sound vibration will not lead to a concert or another type of sound representation, but take on other forms through plastic and conceptual work.
Thomas Kessler, 5+5: Eklekto, 2017
This is actually where Les Amplitudes’ uniqueness lies! Focusing on an artist, but by exploring different aspects of his or her practice or thought. A process that allows to build a journey during which we discover many different angles that, put together, will create and shape an image of an artistic proposal that one can make his or her own.
Interview: Anya Leveillé
2.10.20.: L’écho des pavanes, éditorial Anya Leveillé: Alexandre Babel aus Amplitudes
21. et 24.10.20, 19:03h: L’écho des pavanes: Live sur place aux amplitudes
19.10.20: Musique d’avenir, éditorial Anne Gillot: Portrait Alexandre Babel
26.10.20.: Musique d’avenir, éditorial Anne Gillot: concert finale en live
Broadcast SRF 2 Kultur:
21.10.20., 20h: dans: Musik unserer Zeit, éditorial Florian Hauser / invitée Gabrielle Weber & neo.mx3
Interview with Michael Wertmüller by Gabrielle Weber: The 10th Symphony @ Cologne & Pandemic Premiere @ Donaueschingen
Michael Wertmüller continues composing Beethoven’s fragment of the 10th symphony and the result can be heard in the Kölner Philharmonie on October 14. Immediately afterwards, a new work will be premiered at the Donaueschinger Musiktage*: a true tour de force for the SWR Symphony Orchestra, having to face the increased hygiene requirements in a reduced size.
The Berlin-based musician masterfully mixes musical styles, genres, formats and formations. He travels internationally both as jazz drummer and composer and his pieces are always shrill, fast and highly complex. Thus he constantly shakes up new music clichés and cannot be allocated to any fix place.
Wertmüller and Beethoven or Wertmüller and the pandemic conditions: is that possible?
It certainly is, reveals Wertmüller in an interview via zoom from Frankfurt, where he was discussing an upcoming music theatre production.
You are currently in Frankfurt, working live with people again, travelling. Has your work changed since the pandemic? More online, less travelling?
My work as a composer hasn’t changed at all – even before Corona I was alone at home for weeks and saw no one. At the moment there are fewer meetings, of course and I work more via zoom – like everyone else I suppose. Apart from the fact that live performances are on hold, little has changed.
Have you lost many live concerts?
In the last fifteen years I have experienced kind of a cross-fade: proportion and ratio have shifted from many tours and occasional composing to the opposite. That’s why it wasn’t so drastic for me: only one big USA tour with my trio was cancelled.
Your trio: Full Blast?
Yes, exactly, my jazz trio with Peter Brötzmann and Marino Pliakas. A big USA tour was planned, across the country from east to west. This cancellation hurts of course, especially since we had some successful tours in the States in the past. We had been invited to various festivals and were often on tour without state support, almost self-sufficient.
Michael Wertmüller, Full blast, Suzy, 2008
You are in the middle of the preparations for your 10th symphony in Cologne and the piece is part of a trilogy**. Part one had to be postponed due to the pandemic, part two was conceived differently: were there moments of uncertainty regarding the project?
Not really interestingly, as it takes place in the Philharmonie, which is huge, with its over 2100 seats and the project was always conceived for a chamber music setup. I don’t know if anything else is coming… but only 200 people are admitted.
Still three weeks to go… what does your project look like?
My piece, the 10th symphony, will take place in the great hall. It’s in the form of a music theatre. I wrote music to individual sections of a text by Gesine Danckwart, a younger Berlin author. Three singers, two string quartets and two ensembles will be interpreting it, for a total of some 25 musicians altogether.
There is also another, separate project, a sound installation distributed throughout the building, whichs can be experienced over four days.
You continued Beethoven’s 10th?
That was more of a working title, as there are only very small fragments, no more than four-five-bar sketches. I only used a tiny theme. In this project, Beethoven is relatively irrelevant to the tones themselves. Novoflot, the opera company who’s responsible for the project, asked itself and me the (big) question: what would Beethoven sound like today?
What matters most to me is that I was actually asked to do some Beethoven related work in the first place, as I would almost have been offended if I hadn’t been able to do anything about the great Beethoven anniversary. I am the biggest Beethoven fan ever.
“I am the biggest Beethoven fan ever.”
How did this fascination come about?
I was already a fan of his music as a child. As well as of Miles Davis’ and John Coltrane’s. I am actually a simple, rather romantic type of guy who easily gets enthusiastic.
Can this enthusiasm be heard in your composition?
Beethoven is constantly present in the back of my head. The music I love accompanies me always and everywhere, even in everyday life. Like Coltrane, Miles, or Bruckner and Shostakovich. This automatically flows into my music, whether I play or compose.
Will it become more tangible in Cologne or will it remain subconscious?
It’ll remain subconscious. The question of how Beethoven would compose today is answered by our line-up: Johnny La Marama, a hip Berlin jazz band, the “Ensemble of Nomades”, which brings in New Music, and three singers with a classical-romantic background. These are the three worlds that are valid for me today and combining them could certainly be something that Beethoven might have wanted to do in the present days.
Word’s out that musicians are completely overwhelmed when they have to interpret your pieces, as well as the audience… will that be the case this time?
The music will be relatively digestible, even pleasing. Very harmonious and also danceable. The only thing that could hurt is its intensity. But I have made the experience that I can trust the audience a lot – I don’t underestimate it.
Michael Wertmüller: Musikfabrik Köln, Antagonisme contrôlé, 2014
In Donaueschingen a new piece of yous will be presented in the Baarsporthalle immediately afterwards…
Donaueschingen is always a big challenge with its whole ongoing tradition. Even though I have been invited several times, I always think of something special for it.
..a ” grandiose piece…”
The piece had to meet the new increased hygiene requirements… a chamber music miniature…
It is absolutely not a miniature. On the contrary: it has on purpose become “grandiose”, megalomaniac, because of this corona affliction. It is everywhere and I have it too.
“Megalomaniac”? So in your case, the new guidelines resulting from the pandemic were inspiring, not annoying?
The instrumentation has been reduced and the normal symphony orchestra practically cut in half. I had no problems with that. I chose a soloist approach for the piece and wrote extreme virtuosity into it, which made it haunting, pathetic, shrill and very virtuosic. I have no trouble anticipating. As musicians, as artists, we must be able to anticipate, otherwise we are lost.
I take the situation seriously and have full confidence in the government, in the experts. But now it is important to carry on and to be consistent.
Every little thing I am allowed to do right now – and at the moment we can be thankful, if culture even takes place at all – I want to do right: full on. I want to cry out now, really loud and really furious – that’s what I do with my work. It will be a scream, an outcry.
Interview: Gabrielle Weber
Michael Wertmüller, Zeitschrei for Piano, Bass, Percussion, Steamboat Switzerland, 2015
**as part of the “Labor Beethoven 2020” project – Contemporary music festival for Beethoven’s anniversary, in cooperation with the Akademie der Künste Berlin
#3 The 10th Symphony, 14.10.2020, 20h: Philharmonie Cologne: Novoflot Opernkompanie, Ludwig van Beethoven, Michael Wertmüller.
Further performances are planned for December in Berlin (dates & locations tbc)
Neues Werk Donaueschinger Musiktage, 16.10.2020, 18h / 21h*:
SWR Symphonieorchester, opening concert, Dirigent Titus Engel: Paul Hindemith, Kammermusik Nr.1 (1922), Michael Wertmüller, Neues Werk / UA; Oliver Schneller, The New City / UA, Lula Romero, displaced / UA, Klaus Lang, Neues Werk / UA, Cathy Milliken, Neues Werk / UA
*DONAUESCHINGER MUSIKTAGE canceled at short notice (12.10.20):
On Friday, October 16 at 8 pm, SWR2 will broadcast a rehearsal recording of the opening concert.
Michael Wertmüller, SWR Symphonieorchester, Titus Engel, Novoflot Opernkompanie Berlin, Steamboat Switzerland, Peter Brötzmann, Donaueschinger Musiktage, Kölner Philharmonie, Gesine Danckwart, Johnny La Marama, Ensemble of Nomades
RTR launch neo.mx3 & ensemble ö!
Interview with David Sontòn-Caflisch by Thomas Meyer
RTR celebrates the launch of neo.mx3 with a special concert by local ensemble ö! on October 11, in Chur! Numerous works by Swiss musicians will be performed and RTR will record and film the performances in order to make them immediately available on the neo.mx3 plattform.
Thomas Meyer talks with violinist and composer David Sontòn-Caflisch, ensemble ö!’s artistic director.
Ensemble ö! Was founded in 2002 and at that time it developed out of a string ensemble (Musicuria), which you founded in 1991. You were still in grammar school back then… What was your purpose?
We used to include a piece of new music in every programmewith Musicuria, sometimes even world premieres. The interest then shifted more and more in that direction, so we finally formed the new ensemble ö! with some strings from Musicuria as well as winds, piano and percussion.
What does this unusual name mean?
By presenting the ensemble I said that the difference between “E- und U-Musik”* was no longer to be made and the Graubünden press interpreted my statement in the following, original way: e and u together would make eu, which pronounced in French, would become ö. Originally, however, I thought of the “ö!” expression which is used to raise a toast here in Graubünden. It is simply a toast to new music.
In your programming, you like to highlight specific topics.
Each season, we focus on one specific theme, which is examined in detail through six programmes. As artistic director, my aim is not only to select good pieces, but also to create clever programmes that tell a story and are structured as a whole, to be imagined as one big piece per evening, involving various composers.
Stephanie Hänsler, Im Begriffe, ensemble ö! 2017
..the vastness of the universe stands alongside the uniqueness of art…
The current season’s theme is “suns”.
…a wide field. When you look up into the starry sky, you often forget that almost all of these bright spots are suns. Each of them has its own world, and these worlds are incredibly far away and apart. Our nearest neighbour is more than four light years away. That shows on the one hand how small, on the other hand how unique we are. We are able to reflect the world through art or in this case music! So the vastness of the universe stands alongside the uniqueness of art.
These aspects are addressed in different ways: The concerts are called “light years”, “inaccessibility”, “energy”, “opium”… How do you structure the programmes?
In September’s “Light Years” programme for example, mass is facing emptiness: It is impossible to imagine the mass of a billion stars, but there is a great emptiness between the stars. Two of the pieces of the concert (by Vladimir Tarnopolski and Gwyn Pritchard) are incredibly dense, so dense that one cannot follow every note, but only the overall idea. Whereas Luciano Berio’s and Roland Moser’s compositions work with emptiness and are very quiet. Finally, Marc-André Dalbavie’spiece combines both elements.
Jannis Xenakis, Dikhthas, Ensemble ö! 2017
What is new is that you work with a board of curators for these programmes.
Up to now, I had always read intensively on the subject matter. Now I wanted to consult experts. This year, these are a philosopher/psychologist, a journalist, a writer and an astrophysicist, bringing together a great deal of expertise in order to explore the topics I choose even further. In our first session, we went through each programme in detail, incorporating aspects from all disciplines. Short literary texts are then created and woven into the concert. I don’t want the audience to have to deal with something purely theoretical; that is why the writer translates his or her thoughts into literature. But the texts also encourage the audience to experience a piece more intensively. They create a “fil rouge” to the music, which remains in the foreground. Furthermore, I personally introduce each concert, by going into detail about the music to be presented.
So the discussions anticipate the concerts.
This year they do, it is a pilot project. Our wish for the future is to open these meetings to the musicians as well the audience, in order to create an addition to the concerts.
It is therefore a mediating and interdisciplinary project…
Perhaps rather “transdisciplinary”. There are several disciplines that are intended to delve deeper into the music. It is still somewhat fashionable to add video or lighting elements to a concert in an interdisciplinary way, which is justified, but one also has to be careful, as this might just create an external distraction. Our music needs quite a bit of concentration and should be combined intelligently. You can’t just add entertainment elements.
Three composers appear repeatedly: the Frenchman Tristan Murail, the Austrian Klaus Lang and the Swiss Klaus Huber, who died in 2017.
Murail writes very sensual music. It is important for me to emphasise this aspect, because it is often claimed that New Music is too abstract. What fascinates me about Lang is how he creates musical widths in his own unique way. As for Huber, I consider him one of the great Swiss composers who is currently not played so often. Throughout his life, he has been concerned with the role of mankind in the universe. By the way, in his “Ein Hauch von Unzeit” for solo flute he asked performers to come up with their own, new versions and we are presenting two new ensemble versions of it.
Klaus Huber, Ein Hauch von Unzeit IV (version for soprano, piano, flute, clarinet and organ), Ensemble Neue Horizonte Bern, 1976
With Duri Collenberg’s and Martin Derungs’ world premieres you also refer to your own origins (Graubünden)…
They actually represent the youngest and the oldest generation of Graubünden composers within the “Tuns contemporans” (Contemporary Tones), our Biennale, which we founded two years ago together with the KammerphilharmonieGraubünden. We felt the need for the two professional orchestras of the canton to join forces. It should take away the fear of enjoying new music. Magnus Lindberg from Finnlandwill be composer-in-residence for the next series.
You also launched a “Call for Scores” for the festival… Who was it aimed at?
Female composers of all ages and from all over the world. The motto is: “Ladies only!”. 126 scores were submitted, three of which we will perform at the Biennale. But I will certainly take one or the other from this huge collection into account for future seasons.
Interview: Thomas Meyer
Concert spezial launch neo.mx3 &Ensemble ö!. 11. Oktober 2020:
Stephanie Hänsler: Im Begriffe, Alfred Knüsel: Mischzonen, Asia Ahmetjanova: La voix, David Sontòn Caflisch: aqua micans (danach als Video auf neo.mx3 und rtr.ch/musica).
Episode 4 of neoblog portraits concerning the Swiss Music Prize 2020:
Rudolf Kelterborn is one of the Swiss Music Prize 2020 winners.
It was in 1985, when I first heard music by Rudolf Kelterborn: the incredibly intense cello sonata, which had been freshly composed. How can someone, I wondered as a young person, write such music? It is both angry and at the same time clearly structured, very well aware of its own power. The musical gesture circles, evokes, develops itself in depth until reaching up into the heights. Singing, lamenting, twisting, losing itself. Cheering. A music that narrates and speaks to me.
“In my work,” Rudolf Kelterborn once said, “creating something fundamentally new is not the priority. What really matters to me, is to set something in motion with viewers and listeners. With motion I do not mean a vague emotionalism, but rather the opposite, solidification. Even something that has nothing to do with current affairs can be current, by stimulating thoughts, or by being touching, impressive, fascinating, exciting.”
“creating something fundamentally new..”
This is it. His music should be effective from by itself, without the need of any supplements. That has always been his credo. Rudolf Kelterborn is very old school, and if today’s music, new music, is becoming more and more interdisciplinary, or transdisciplinary, blurry at its edges and forming lliances, not to say amalgams, with many other disciplines, be it theatre or dance and installation and electronics and performance and all kinds of other things it wishes to involve – that is not Mr. Kelterborn’s thing.
Rudolf Kelterborn, Musica luminosa für Orchester 1984/85, Basel Sinfonietta
He is a veteran of the Swiss musical landscape, a contemporary witness to almost an entire century, courageous, committed, humourous and unrelenting. Someone who never made things easy for himself nor his environment.
..a veteran of the Swiss musical landscape..
It’s no coincidence that his colleagues sometimes called him Poltergern (one who tends to bluster) when he was head of the music department of Swiss Radio DRS in the 1970s. Yes, he could and can bluster – and still does so when encountering thoughtlessness. In that case he can be argumentative and hostile and polemical and perhaps even unfair.
Rudolf Kelterborn, Klavierstück 7 “Quinterno”, 2005, Klavierduo Soós-Haag
But that is only the other side of an attitude that despises the tepid or idle, while calling for unconditional commitment instead. An attitude that offers the audience a dense, narrative, highly emotional music – but which they are also supposed to expose themselves to. Comfort? No thanks. The audience has a right to be challenged, but then at the same time to draw an enormous benefit from it, a gain in experience, knowledge and pleasure.
Broadcast SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, 16.9.2020: Portrait Rudolf Kelterborn, Redaktion Florian Hauser
Interview with Daniel Haefliger @ Swiss Musikprize_3
Episode 3 of neoblog’s Swiss Music Prize 2020 portraits:
Swiss Chamber Concerts is the first and only concert series covering the whole of Switzerland and presenting plenty of contemporary music. Since its launch in 1999, it has continuously featured world premieres from all over the country – for a total of some 200 by now.
The Swiss Chamber Concerts (SCC) series were born from the close musical friendship of the three founding members.
Geneva cellist Daniel Haefliger, flutist Felix Renggli from Basel and Zurich based violinist and violist Jürg Dähler had this vision of combining their chamber music series, already established in the three cities. The first national concert series took place in autumn 1999, with the participation of Heinz Holliger, who’s supporting the project to this day.
I interviewed Geneva based Daniel Haefliger via Zoom and we talked about the uniqueness and challenges of SCC. The original conversation was held in French. Haefliger is constantly on the move and not only as cellist; as we spoke he was on the train, which he describes as his second home and a place of work, after a short tour of Switzerland: first Bern, to coordinate the season of the SCC, then Sion, to determine the string quartet lessons at the Haute Ecole de Musique, and then back to Geneva, in order to work on the SCC homepage.
Congratulations on the prize first of all! Were you surprised? What does it mean to you?
Yes, we were very surprised, as we usually receive little recognition for our work from the institutions, although our audience is numerous and enthusiastic. With our series we create a link between the different language regions throughout the year and regularly make new voices heard. This is a complex challenge where we get to face quite a lot of challenges. After all, the Swiss music scene is divided into many local units that hardly ever work together. Our ideal is to connect the whole of Switzerland in a common musical project.
What inspires you?
Two things: on one hand, as a cellist, the musical dialogue with exceptional soloists – on stage as well as on the personal level; on the other hand, as chamber music teacher of the Lausanne Conservatory, the interaction with young musicians. In both areas I try to communicate, mediate and network beyond age, language and culture.
« La jeunesse m’inspire et me passionne… »
Did the pandemic impact SCC?
Same as everyone else, we had to cancel all concerts towards the end of the season. But as soon as things got a bit better, we played a free concert, on June 30th in Geneva, with Heinz Holliger and Thomas Zehetmair . It was a huge success and motivation for the season to come.
SCC builds bridges between the different parts of the country: how does the cooperation between cities come about?
We build on the basis of our personal relationships. This is the only way to avoid rigid cantonal, urban or institutional regulations that would hardly encourage cooperation across regions.
Bettina Skrzypcak, ..e subito parlando, Swiss Chamber Soloists UA 2012
“We constantly question our own standpoint.”
Do you programme together – you are three artistic directors after all?
What is played, in which cities and to whom compositions are commissioned is usually something we decide collectively. In doing so, the particular regions’ and music scenes’ proximity to those of the nearby countries are also taken into account: e.g. Geneva with France, Basel with Germany or Lugano with Italy.
On the other hand, we constantly question our own standpoint and try to adapt, at least to a certain extent to the performance venues as well as cultural areas.
Nadir Vassena, archeologie future
How do you structure your programmes?
Our aim is to propose a high percentage of world premieres by composers from all parts of the country. We always present these new works in conjunction with major works of the repertoire, in order to underline continuity in music. Our series appeals to an open-minded, broad audience, before whom the new works can and must prove themselves.
How is this combination of contemporary classics and premieres received by the public? Has the perception changed over the years?
In addition of combining the new works with the existing repertoire in terms of content, we also exchange ideas with the composers about the entire programme. Each concert is a coherent unit with its own dramaturgy. This underlines the uniqueness of each piece and creates an intensity of the overall programme. In this way we respond to the audience’s increased need to hear a story.
Are there differences in audience reactions between the different parts of the country?
Cities in the different parts of the country have a quite different “cultural pace”. Switzerland richness resides precisely in its heterogeneous cultural identities. We want to value this diversity by having new works from all over Switzerland circulating throughout the country, which is also one of the challenges.
Tell us about the next season’s world premieres you’re particularly looking forward to?
The next season will feature 12 world premieres, among others by Nadir Vassena from Ticino, Heinz Holliger from Basel, David Philip Hefti from Zurich, Xavier Dayer from Geneva. A variety of instrumentations can be heard, including wind sextet, cello solo, string trio, string quartet, voice and small ensemble. I always look forward to imagining how these various pieces will sound.
The season will start in Bern, at the Yehudi Menuhin Forum, on September 24th with a concert by Heinz Holliger and Thomas Zehetmair – a replica of the June concert in Geneva.
Heinz Holliger, Aleh stavi for Cello solo: Solist Daniel Haefliger
Do you have a vision that you haven’t been able to realise yet? Does the prize perhaps have a special meaning right now – given the pandemic?
We have already realised many of our visions, such as the international Swiss Chamber Academy or the Swiss Chamber Camerata, both connecting young professional musicians from Switzerland and abroad. But realising visions and ideals costs money. Perhaps (or hopefully) this prize will help us to obtain higher financial contributions in order to strengthen long-term links between the regions. At the moment, we are dealing with it “at arm’s length”, so to speak, as since SCC’s foundation, our work has only been possible through enormous personal efforts as well as plenty of volunteering: We often think of the god Shiva with his many arms …
Interview: Gabrielle Weber
The Swiss Chamber Concerts were founded in 1999 by Daniel Haefliger, Felix Renggli and Jürg Dähler, followed by the founding of the Swiss Chamber Soloists, a permanent pool of internationally acclaimed soloists who perform during the series, and later the Swiss Chamber Academy of Geneva, national-international string quartet academy and the Swiss Chamber Camerata, also in Geneva. All SCC concerts can be heard in Lugano, Geneva, Basel, Zurich and from this season on also in Bern.
List of SCC world & national premieres 1999-2020
Konzert 18.9.20: Festival Label Suisse, 18.9.20.: 21.15h, Werke von: Rudolf Kelterborn, Xavier Dayer, Mozart, Villa-Lobos
Sendung SRG/RSI: RSI-Neo, 25.8.2020:
Incontro con Daniel Haefliger, Redaktion Valentina Bensi
Gabrielle Weber: Interview with Stefan Keller: Livestream – UA & Performace @ Othmar Schoeck Festival 11-13.9.20
The second Othmar Schoeck Festival is taking place in Brunnen in Central Switzerland from 11 to 13 September. The enchanted, weather-worn villa of the Schoeck family, situated high above Lake Lucerne, is once again the unique venue at the heart of this Festival.
In 2017, the composer Stefan Keller was granted a residency of several weeks at the Schoeck villa, which was linked with a commission to compose a song.
He is also the composer-in-residence at this year’s Festival, where three new songs of his will be given their first performances.
LIVESTREAM: Concert World premières Stefan Keller / Keller & Schoeck
Alvaro Schoeck, the founder and joint artistic director of the Festival, was convinced for a long time that the Festival would go ahead live this year, in the family’s “outlandishly designed artist’s villa”. But it’s since become clear that this unusual venue wasn’t built with the exigencies of a pandemic in mind. So while the Festival programme will still take place in the historic atelier of the painter Alfred Schoeck – the father of the composer Othmar – it will now be streamed live.
The “hit” of the first Schoeck Festival back in 2016 was the music-theatre event “Hauen und Stechen”. It took place in assorted rooms of the old villa, and wove the composer’s biography together with contemporary circumstances. Every performance of it was sold out.
The parallel performance at this second edition of the Festival will be HeimatLos (“HomeLess”). Women are its focus. It is about “Heimat” – “home” – as a place, as a concept, and as a feeling. HeimatLos will lead small audience groups through the villa, accompanied by music – and the livestream will follow them, putting the virtual audience at the heart of everything, winding its way through the intimate spaces of the house.
Saturday 12 September brings the world premières of the new songs by Stefan Keller.
Keller has often engaged with music traditions from other cultures, and studied the tabla for a long time in India. At the 2020 Eclat Festival, for example, he gave a virtuosic performance in a piece of his own for tabla, voice and live electronics.
Stefan Keller: Persona, Excerpts, 2019
For the Schoeck Festival, Keller has for the first-ever time turned to the more traditional combination of voice and piano. He is currently resident in Berlin, and he spoke with me from that city by Zoom about the background of his new pieces.
Stefan Keller, what were the origins of your three songs – how and where did you start to compose them?
I was in Rome from September 2019 to July 2020, thanks to a scholarship that enabled me to live in the Villa Massimo. I spent the highpoint of the first wave of the pandemic in the Villa, “locked down” with other scholarship-holders. This lockdown was much stricter in Italy than was the case elsewhere. We were in what was in fact a kind of golden cage – it was actually described thus by people on the outside – for it is a beautiful villa in a wonderful park. That had an impact on what I composed, just as everything that moves us influences what we write – even though it’s hardly possible to say exactly what it is. These intense experiences perhaps led me to attempt things that might beforehand have seemed impossible. During this extraordinary time, I started to work on the other two songs of my set of three.
What is your relationship to the work of Othmar Schoeck?
Before my residency, I didn’t have any intense connection to him. That changed when I stayed in the Schoeck villa. Schoeck’s published scores lay around me and literally “touched” me. I was also surprised by some of the stylistic things I found in him. But there are hardly any direct references to his music in my new songs. The reference point for me is the “lied” as a traditional genre that was crucial to Schoeck’s oeuvre.
The ambiance of the villa also inspired me while composing – I was able to work in a wonderful old hall with an excellent grand piano.
You have already often written works for voice, but not for the traditional combination of voice and piano. What does the genre of the lied mean to you, and how did you deal with it – also with the tradition in itself?
Composing for voice and piano was a challenge for me. The piano is in many respects an inflexible instrument with regard to sound, touch and pitch. Up to now, I have tended to employ it virtuosically and loudly, which is difficult to bring in line with my interest in the human voice.
Stefan Keller: Breathe / soyuz21, für Klavier, Akkordeon, elektrische Gitarre, Elektronik, 2016
For the voice, I imagined something rather fragile that depended on nuances of pitch and sound. So I took the approach of writing a reduced piano part, in order to give the voice enough space.
The texts of your songs are based on anagrams by the poetess Unica Zürn*: how did you deal with them?
In Zürn’s anagram poems, every line has the same letters in a different order. This combinatoriality of “alphabet sounds” gives the poems themselves a near-musical level. I wanted to make this level explicit in my music by decoding these words into their individual sounds. You don’t primarily hear the sounds themselves, but the whole words and their meanings.
In two of these three songs, the singer doesn’t sing the words conventionally or “naturally”. She provides the pianist with individual, voiceless consonants, and he articulates them with his voice. The goal, of course, is that the words are thereafter comprehensible. This makes big demands on both the singer and the pianist in matters of rhythmic and dynamic precision.
Interview: Gabrielle Weber
*Unica Zürn (Berlin 1916 – 1970 Paris), A German/French poet and artist, known for her 123 anagram poems.
The song cycle by Stefan Keller uses the following three anagram poems:
Der einsame Tisch (“The lonely table”), Es war einmal ein kleines (“There once was a little”), and Das Leben ist schoen (“Life is beautiful”).
Othmar Schoeck Festival, artistic directors: Alvaro Schoeck / Chris Walton:
–HeimatLos, 11.9.: 8:30pm / 13.9.: 6pm
-At the concert at 8 p.m. on 12.9., further works by Stefan Keller will be performed, alongside selected songs by Othmar Schoeck.
World première, Keller: Soprano: Truike van der Poel, piano: J. Marc Reichow
On Saturday/Sunday, 12./13.9., the two-day international symposium Frauen:Stimmen (“Womens:Voices”) will take place live, and will be streamed live too (via the homepage of the Othmar Schoeck Festival / in collaboration with the Musicological Institute of the University of Zurich and Mariann Steegmann Foundation).
Artistic director of the symposium: Dr. Merle Fahrholz, Chefdramaturgin / stellvertretende Intendantin Oper Dortmund
Episode 2 of the neoblog portrait series on the Swiss Music Prize 2020:
Martina Berther from Chur – a very typical and at the same time unusual bass player.
Martina Berther is a typical electric bass player because she can basically play anything, like many bassists. She’s been grooving hard with hip-hop bands, played feminist punk rock with drummer Beatrice Graf, accompanied great quality pop music with Sophie Hunger or played electro-pop for Daniela Sarda. As Frida Stroom she experiments solo on the bass and moves completely free in the realm of noise.
I met Martina Berther in her rehearsal room in Zurich Affoltern – a nice, big bright space with lots of guitars, basses, effects and drum sets everywhere.
The fact that she shares the room with several other musicians sometimes stresses her out, because it can get crowded. On the other hand, she likes it because it automatically requires a certain discipline and people help each other out.
In general, Martina seems to be someone who if life gives you nothing but lemons, makes some lemonade. The story of how she came to the electric bass in the first place is a beautiful one for example, as the former conductor of the “Jugendmusik Chur” Music School left her take over only reluctantly:
“I used to play trumpet, but it was not really my instrument, fortunately – because that’s how I stayed open-minded and kept looking for what could turn out to become my instrument. In the “Jugendmusik” there was this quite revolutionary electric bass player and bear in mind, the “Jugendmusik” was rather conservative at that time. This electric bassist was over 20 years old, so he had to quit, so they were looking for someone else, but obviously male. When I proposed to take over, the director said: ‘Oh well, we’ll have to have a meeting and discuss if that’s possible, a woman on the bass’.”
Others might have been offended and hence abandoned, but not Martina Berther. She waited patiently for the outcome of that meeting.
“Thanks to an open-minded member of the board, who was female and strongly defended my cause, I was admitted and luckily got to play bass.”
Luckily indeed! After all, this is how the Swiss music scene came to choose an electric bassist among the prizewinners. The Swiss Music Prize is what this interview will focus on.
25000 francs in Corona times, you don’t say no to that, do you?
“No! (laughs) – you don’t say no to that. You don’t say no to that in non-corona times neither.”
Were you surprised?
“Yes, indeed I was! Last year I attended the award ceremony, as my musical partner Beatrice Graf (drummer of Ester Polly) got it and I thought: If I continue to work well, maybe I’ll get it one day. It simply came much earlier… (laughs) But I would have gone on for another 50 years even without prices.
Martina Berther / Beatrice Graf @ Ester Poly – Fieldsession, B-Sides Festival 2018
Your broad profile is therefore not a business plan?
“No, definitely not! It all came about out of curiosity.”
Tell us about your role models?
I inspire myself more to sounds than to musicians. Whenever I heard an intriguing sound, be it a cello or a drum set, I would reflect on what I like about it and what I could translate about it on the bass?
So it’s all about sound?
“Sound, or energy – sometimes it is difficult for me to point out, what exactly I like about a musician. It is often a presence or an attitude, which is what I have tried to adopt as a role model. On the other hand, I quite often hear: I started playing bass because of you. Which is beautiful of course.”
When I listen to the Frida Stroom project, Hermeto Pascoal comes to mind – because of the concept that everything is music. Even his beard is music to him, or a banknote he plucks. So I asked myself: Is it this curiosity that makes them go beyond sound, energy and all that to look for something new?”
“Yes, it is mainly about sound. It can also be things that happen while you play. Sometimes I notice that the whirring of the amp was actually the most beautiful moment of a 30 minutes improvisation, so I focus mainly on that and feel the urge to develop further.”
“the whirring of the amp.. the most beautiful moment of a 30 minutes improvisation”
How do you prevent the listener from feeling excluded?
“Actually, theoretically, it is quite simple. If I myself get involved in the moment, in space, in the audience, by making myself vulnerable and start to play only from that point, the public gets involved very quickly. It becomes more difficult when there’s insecurity and I try not to allow improvisation and decide to start with a particular sound”.
Is that already too much?
“Sometimes it is. Or when I start improvising and then find myself thinking: I could do that next. I then have the feeling of being too busy to really notice what’s actually happening, in the room or with my instrument. Because everything is already there. You can do so much with very little, all you need is the courage to get involved. If I fight against it, out of insecurity, then it is more me fighting against something.
“You just have to find the courage and go for it.”
“all you need is the courage to get involved”
Martina Berther with Frida Stroom, live at Gamut Festival 2017
Is improvisation in this case something like surrendering? Letting go?
“For me it is, yes. Sometimes it works very well, sometimes less. I haven’t found a recipe yet.”
Do you never have the urge to just go groovy and conventional in such moments?
“(laughs) I have been extremely groove-oriented for many years. My first bands were hip hop bands, Breitbild for example, and I was very much into soul music as well. At the moment I’m not so much interested in this more conventional way of playing bass anymore.
Your “heart of hearts” is currently more experimentally oriented, than let’s say a project like Sophie Hunger?
“On bass it definitely is. Although wouldn’t say that I’m not interested in groovy music anymore.
I have simply already done it a lot. With Sophie Hunger one is definitely encouraged to bring in her own ideas. I really have to get out of my comfort zone. Sophie brings the necessary energy and support. I felt that I was being asked to show myself in a very good way.”
This sounds a bit like jazz?
“Yes, totally! (laughs) It was actually the biggest jazz band I’ve played with in the last few years.
Interview: Jodok Hess
Broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur: Jazz&World Aktuell, 15.9.20, Beitrag von Jodok Hess
Dieter Ammann and his piano concerto Gran Toccata @ Sternstunde Musik srf &neo.mx3
Dieter Ammann continues to push forward: with his piano concerto “The Piano Concerto – Gran Toccata”, which premiered at the BBC Proms London and was subsequently performed worldwide, the composer, currently teaching in Lucerne and Bern, is reaching a new career height. Swiss Television SRF is broadcasting an in-depth portrait in its Sternstunde Musik format. Filmmaker Daniel von Aarburg accompanied Ammann during the three years of the piano concerto’s creation: the result is a dense, subtle and humorous portrait of a process that wasn’t always easy, with insights into rehearsals, concerts as well as private situations. Ammann’s youth and his career are also explored.
In his conversation with Gabrielle Weber he talks about the making of both film and concert.
It took you three years to compose the Gran Toccata; would you describe composing a new work as a journey and was the film project also one?
It was an eventful journey: I was already involved in an independent film project initiated by director Arthur Spirk, a great music connoisseur and lover. Then SRF decided to produce a film portrait and everyone agreed to re-start the filming process with Daniel von Aarburg taking over the direction. We clicked already at our first meeting and an unbelievably beautiful cooperation developed from it.
How did the story come about?
I placed myself in the hands of the team with great confidence. The director always anticipated what he wished to film. An enormous amount of good material was produced. According to the motto “kill your darlings”, a lot of cutting and editing turned out to be necessary. For example, my teaching activities at the Lucerne University as well as some private scenes are missing, which is a pity as I am deeply rooted in my family and immediate surroundings.
You live and work mostly at night… how was that compatible with the needs of the film crew go?
It wasn’t just a job for them, they got completely involved. That’s what made it possible to capture personal and private moments. They also naturally took my rhythm into account, set the shooting in the afternoon and sometimes at night. There was great deal of idealism involved.
..and with the soloist, pianist Andreas Haefliger?
Our cooperation worked very well, but not always without problems. We had to figure out and fight about certain things. It was exciting to work thing out together and it created a lifetime relationship.
Your “Piano Concerto – Gran Toccata” was and still is a huge success, worldwide: It is known that you initially resisted for a long time to write a piano concerto and only accepted it on the condition that one of the US “Big Five” orchestras* was involved… Was the acceptance from Boston unexpected? Was it inspiring?
I was actually trying to avoid this huge task. I generally only accept assignments if I can fully support the conditions. For example, in an earlier request for an opera, I set the condition of an eight years production. This could not be guaranteed and so that was it for me.
Due to the very early request, I actually got a few years’ notice for the piano concerto before I started to compose, so I didn’t freeze…
What was the musical spark for the piano concerto?
At the beginning I listened to an enormous amount of piano literature for about six months and created an extensive collection of examples of textures. I was interested in what complexity is possible on the piano – not in the sense of New Complexity, for example, but intrinsically, developed from the instrument. This collection with all notations and verbal sketches was stolen from me during a train ride and all of a sudden I had nothing left. That was a real shock.
You once said: “Freedom is at the heart of composing contemporary music”: Particularly in the case of commissions for large orchestras, there are framework conditions, sometimes obstacles, which can be restrictive. They come from music that is not primarily and originally written to contain improvised material, where freedom is supposedly greater.
Writing for 70 musicians is not a restriction for me, but restrictions also exist when I work with an algorithm program on the computer or when I write for piano trio. It is precisely the friction with the restriction, the sounding out of limits, that fires the imagination.
Dieter Ammann, Après le silence. Für Klaviertrio, Mondrian Ensemble, 2004/05
Restriction is fuel for fantasy.
…when working with orchestras there is a strict working rhythm, with usually little time for rehearsals and little freedom.
I do not only have high demands on myself, but also on the interpreters of my music. Fortunately, it is mainly artistically outstanding soloists and ensembles who deal with my works, so when a top orchestra has four rehearsals, the world premiere really works. However, a world premiere rarely corresponds to the interpretational ideal. This requires several performances. In my opinion, the promotion of music should move away from the premieres hype and rather towards the obligation to perform a new piece several times.
There were also interpretational differences in the piano concerto. Each orchestra and every conductor come with his or her own sound. Contemporary orchestral works in particular are rarely performed twice. However, I have the qualitative claim to add something valid to the repertoire, so that a constant engagement with the music is possible through replaying, as for example in the case of “glut” for orchestra.
Dieter Ammann, glut. Für Orchester, Lucerne Festival Academy, Dirigent George Benjamin, 2019
You describe yourself as a slow composer – a new work of yours is to be expected only every few years… What’s next?
2022 I will turn – whoa! – sixty. I am looking forward to a residency with the Basel Symphony Orchestra or a birthday concert of the Sinfonietta. Perhaps there will be one or two more symphonic concerts in addition. The postponed Swiss premiere of the piano concerto will also take place in 2022, at the Lucerne Festival.
Recently, I started working on a concerto for viola and orchestra, for soloist Nils Mönkemeyer, a co-commission of the SOB with the Munich Chamber Orchestra. This will be followed by a piece for one of the world’s leading orchestras, followed by a cello concerto. If I get to live that long…;-)
Interview: Gabrielle Weber
SRF-Filmportrait Dieter Ammann / Gran Toccata, Sternstunde Musik 2020: Regie Daniel von Aarburg / producer SRF: Markus Wicker:
The Piano Concerto – Gran Toccata, Premiere is on tour since August 2019, soloist Andreas Haefliger, among others: BBC-Proms / London, Taipei Symphony Orchestra / Taiwan, Boston Symphony Orchestra / USA, Munich Philharmonic / Munich Gasteig, Helsinki Philharmonic / Helsinki. The Swiss premiere at Lucerne Festival has been postponed to 2022 due to the pandemic.
The CD recording of Gran Toccata with the Helsinki Philharmonic conducted by Susanna Mälkki on BIS Records label will be made available on neo.mx3 immediately after release.
Dieter Ammann’s neo-profile includes short videos of the original material by Arthur Spirk.
*Big Five: New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra and Cleveland Orchestra
Dieter Ammann – Gran Toccata, Sternstunde Musik, So, 23.8., 11:55h; Di, 25.8., 13:00h; Sa, 29.8., 9:40h (Dauer 1Std)
Broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Musikmagazin, 22./23.8.20, Redaktion Benjamin Herzog / Beitrag Silvan Moosmüller.
Musik unserer Zeit, 29.7.2020. (Erstausstrahlung 12.2.2020), Unspielbarkeit, Redaktion Theresa Beyer
Christian Fluri: Helena Winkelman – Composer in Residence @ Sinfonieorchester Basel 20/21
Helena Winkelman, composer, violinist and artistic director of the distinguished Camerata Variabile ensemble, is one of Switzerland’s most interesting and unconventional internationally renowned musicians and this year’s Composer in Residence with the Basel Symphony Orchestra (SOB).
The work of Helena Winkelman includes chamber music, choral and orchestral works as well as opera and musical theatre. In her compositions she develops her own musical language, which reflects our times and is based on a wide variety of influences, such as Baroque, Jazz and various folk music, combining complexity with playfulness and profoundness with joy of life.
Helena Winkelman, Camerata Variabile: Papa Haydn’s Parrot (2016)
The SOB already commissioned Winkelman with three new pieces: Einkreisung and Gemini, whose premiere will be conducted by Ivor Bolton, SOB’s main director and Goblins for six percussionists. All three works are structured for theatrical purposes and have their own lighting concept.
Einkreisung for eight alphorns – mountain atmosphere in town
Einkreisung is one of the works that will inaugurate the renovated casino, which will present its new looks on August 22. The piece is written for eight alphorns of different lengths and tunings.
“The idea is based on the traditional Swiss alpine blessing.” explains Winkelman “For the opening of the city casino, I wanted to bring the mountain atmosphere into town and into the music hall, in order to provide the urban world with some earthiness and peace.”
The eight alphorn players, the Hornroh-Quartett together with four horn players of the SOB will be distributed both on stage and in the galleries, thus encircling the audience. Winkelman describes “Einkreisung” as a work that dramatically employs the alternation between quiet, almost traditional-sounding alpine greetings and strong sound layers along the instruments’ overtones. The sound will be passed on in a circular manner, creating an effective setting to highlight the new concert hall.
Helena Winkelman, Granithörner (Teaser), Camerata Variabile &Balthasar Streiff, 2018
Gemini – Staged interactions
Gemini, a concerto for two violins and orchestra, was written by Helena Winkelman for two great musical personalities, Patricia Kopatchinskaja and Pekka Kuusisto: it will be premiered at the SOB’s first season concert in September. The concert consists of nine short scenes, each of which portrays possible relationship modes between two people. Both soloists will be accompanied by a drummer each, moving through the piece with them during the performace. The last three scenes “Battleships”, “Partners in Crime” and “Horsing around” bring various folk music elements into play in a humorous, rapid question and answer game between soloists and orchestra. The climax of the piece is reached in a staged duel, in which the solo double bass intervenes alongside the two secondary percussionists.
During a long conversation about her music, Helena Winkelman talks about the creative process and the connection between art and life itself.
“At the beginning of a work there is often a sound that is formed by a combination of body tension, gesture and tactile imagination” she says. “These three elements in turn arise from an inner sensation or atmosphere.
In all these years I came to the insight that in the end there is no big difference between composers and non-composers, because just as in composing, there are also decisions to be made in life, along which one’s own path then unfolds. Every detail is important, the reasons are important, everything influences and intertwines. This is often an overwhelming task.
As composers we hold a magnifying glass over these decision-making processes, showing that, ideally, it is possible to make a good choice.
Conscious shaping of the world
Here I would like to contradict the often-expressed belief that art is there to interpret, reflect and process life. We find ourselves in a world of glorification of the executive. Consequently, art is perceived as being of little importance. But what if instead life asked OURSELVES for a possible, desired direction and much more than we think would depend on our creativity and vision?
Music could be our encouragement and training to awaken this creative potential and to consciously shape our world – as artists do – at any given time.”
Helena Winkelman: Atlas für Solocello (Nicolas Altstaedt), Cello und Streicher, 2019, Solist: Cello
Uraufführungen Helena Winkelman & SOB:
Einkreisung, August 22 (reopening Stadtcasino Basel), August 26, Special Concert: Neue Welt. Alphorn soloists: Hornroh-Quartett, SOB: Diane Eaton, Megan McBride, Eda Paçaci, Lars Magnus
Gemini, October, 9. and 10. Concert: Duel, Stadtcasino Basel.
Due to family reasons one of the soloists Pekka Kuusisto had to cancel. The composer herself will step in and perform his part.
Broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Kontext / Künste im Gespräch, September 3, 2020, 9am/6pm: Annelis Berger im Werkstattgespräch mit Patricia Kopatchinskaja und Helena Winkelmann.
Musik unserer Zeit, September 9, 2020: Portrait Helena Winkelmann (Annelis Berger)