A Quiet Rumble – Composer Charles Uzor

A portrait by Cécile Olshausen:

At the age of seven, he forgot his mother tongue Igbo and learned Swiss German. In his music, composer Charles Uzor sets out on a journey back to his Nigerian childhood, to the “pounding and quivering nature” of the African tropics, to the distant voice of his mother. Cécile Olshausen visited Charles Uzor.

Charles Uzor Portrait ©zVg Charles Uzor

Cécile Olshausen
It’s raining as I get off the train in St. Gallen. My smartphone I supposed to show me the way to Charles Uzor’s flat, in the centre of St. Gallen, just a two-minute walk away. Nevertheless, I manage to get lost.

Detours have led me to Charles Uzor. Many years ago, we happened to sit next to each other during concert and we talked. Since then, I often heard his name and music, but we never met in person again.

As he opens the door I shake off a few raindrops and Charles Uzor welcomes me into his spacious city flat. My gaze falls on a grand piano, on shelves full of books and CDs, while in the kitchen a radiator ripples like a fountain. A parasol leans in a corner of the living room reminding me of summer, while outside a big Christmas star hangs over the small balcony.

We take a seat at the dining room table. And from the urban holiday lights outside his window, our conversation slowly moves into the life and sound of Charles Uzor, a biography in which so many paths cross.

Charles Uzor was born in Nigeria in 1961. A few years later, a brutal war for independence broke out in his home region of Biafra. At the age of seven, he escaped the horrors of war and found a new family in St. Gallen, where he went to school and graduated. His studies – first oboe, then composition – later took him to Rome, Bern, Zurich and London. Finally, he wrote his doctoral thesis on melody and inner time consciousness. Charles Uzor’s works are many and varied: operas, dance, orchestral and choral compositions, but also many pieces for different ensemble settings.

Through music, Charles Uzor connects with his past and his childhood in Nigeria.

Our chat is calm, a conversation that allows for silence. A silence that I also find in some of Charles Uzor’s pieces, in Nri/ mimicri (2015/2016) for Ondes Martenot, percussion ensemble and tape for example. It is not a linearly developing composition, but rather a soundscape through which one senses by listening attentively. It is as if you enter a tropical house and find yourself – as soon as you step over the threshold – in a completely different world. For Charles Uzor, Nri/ mimicri is an approach to his “African origins”, as he puts it, a piece in which one can perceive ” pounding and quivering of nature”. And it is a reference to his ancestors, the Nri, a legendary Nigerian tribe.


Charles Uzor, Nri/mimicri, Percussion Art Ensemble Bern, UA 2016, Production SRG/SSR

Charles Uzor belongs to the Igbo people and grew up in the south-east of Nigeria, in the Niger Delta, a region with tropical rainforest and many rivers. He spoke Igbo with his family. When he came to Switzerland at the age of seven, this language disappeared within a very short time. To this day, Charles Uzor is haunted by the fact that he could simply forget his mother tongue.

… traditional Igbo sayings spoken on tape….

Fortunate circumstances led to him finding his family again after the Biafra War. As a teenager and firmly anchored in his Swiss life, Charles Uzor decided to stay with his St. Gallen family. However, he has stayed in touch with his Nigerian mother, who now lives in the USA, ever since. And in his cycle Mothertongue (2018), you can hear her voice, speaking traditional Igbo sayings on tape.


Charles Uzor, Mothertongue Fire / mimicri for tape, Maria Christina Uzor, 2018

Uzor processes these recordings into a composition and thus connects sonically with a language he no longer understands, his mother tongue.


Charles Uzor, Mothertongue for Mezzosoprano, Ensemble and tape, Ensemble Mothertongue, world creation Musikfestival Bern 2020, Prodcution SRG/SSR

Charles Uzor’s compositional paths lead him not only back to the past of his African childhood, but also to centuries afar. During a short break in the conversation, when we open the windows to les some fresh air in, I take a look at Charles Uzor’s bursting, colourful CD shelf – and notice a lot of music by Pérotin, Guillaume de Machaut, Johannes Ockeghem or Costanzo Festa. I’m curious to learn, where this love for early music comes from as soon as we continue our conversation.

According to Uzor, pre-baroque music opens up a vastness and wildness, an order and structure that magically attracts him: “I often have the feeling that I was there; images of myself as a Renaissance man come to me, that’s how close I relate to it”. This music with its rounds, rhythms and repetitions also has something African for Charles Uzor. Thus, early music and African language sounds come together in his compositions. Paths that meet, moments of encounter.

What his music manages to combine effortlessly, the old and the new, the African and the Swiss, cracks in his everyday life experience. Because as a black man, Charles Uzor is affected by racism – even in Switzerland. And, as he tells me, every day. Everyday racism.

8’46” – that’s how long George Floyd’s agony lasted

Charles Uzor could not remain silent when George Floyd was murdered. For the black US citizen who was violently killed by the police in May 2020 and whose murder triggered worldwide protest – along with the Black Lives Matter movement, Charles Uzor composed the piece 8’46” seconds – that’s how long George Floyd’s agony lasted when his breath was taken from him. The composition only consists of breathing sounds. For Charles Uzor it was a necessity to write this piece in order to process his own deep shock and to externalise it.


Charles Uzor, 8’46” – Floyd in memoriam, world creation Musikfestival Bern 2020, Prodcution SRG/SSR

Charles Uzor’s homage to George Floyd was premiered in Bern on September 4, 2020. I have an intense memory of this focused performance by the Mothertongue ensemble, directed by Rupert Huber. Not pathetic at any moment. And at the end of the 8’46” no applause – but concern, quietness and just silence.

The rain has stopped now and it’s dark outside. We talked for a long time. In the kitchen, Charles Uzor makes coffee and the soothing ripples of the radiator brings us back from the depths of our conversation to the present. Then I set off towards the station. Now I know the way.
Cécile Olshausen

Charles Uzor Portrait ©zVg Charles Uzor

Musikfestival Bern – Mothertongue, Rupert HuberPercussion Art Ensemble Bern

Broadcast SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, Mittwoch, 16.12.20, 22h: Pochen und Beben – der Komponist Charles Uzor, Redaktion Cécile Olshausen.

Neo-Profile: Charles Uzor, Musikfestival BernPercussion Art Ensemble Bern

Faithless, but hopeful

Since neo.mx3’s launch, the four SRG stations are gradually making Swiss avant-garde archive recordings accessible. In the meantime, an enormous pool of rare recordings are already available.

This blog draws attention to individual musicians, ensembles and important works, starting with Basel composer Jacques Wildberger (1922-2006) and his relation to Paul Celan.

Corinne Holtz: Jacques Wildberger sets Paul Celan to music
Paul Celan (1920-1970) was born 100 years ago as Paul Antschel in Czernowitz in what was then known as Great Romania. He is one of the German poets whose works have been most frequently set to music and therefore contributed in shaping the history of music for some 50 years. Swiss composer Jacques Wildberger turned to Celan again in his latest work.

Jacques Wildberger explains his composition method ©zVg Michael Kunkel

In April 1953 a written communication reached the Swiss Musicians Association’s members of the board, concerning the application for membership of Swiss composer Jacques Wildberger. Among the enclosed scores a Trio for oboe, clarinet and bassoon from 1952, written after his strict studies with Vladimir Vogel in Ticino. Wildberger’s first independent twelve-tone works were openly rejected. “No one will ever accept these works. We will never have to hear them and can therefore safely accept them.” This cynical statement comes from Paul Sacher, patron and contemporary music conductor.

Jacques Wildberger: Trio for Oboe, Klarinette and Fagott, 1952, Eigenproduktion SRG/SSR

Sacher had been president of the Swiss Association of Musicians since 1946. He can be considered central regarding music-political handlings and offices at the time and his influence on the Swiss musical landscape will be decisive for the five decades to come.

Jacques Wildberger stands for that 12-tone technique which Sacher describes as “constructed” and “aggressive”. He also represents political views that are considered suspect in the Swiss post-war context. Wildberger had been a member of the PdA (Labour Party) for three years and remained a self-confessed leftist after his departure in 1947 – in protest against Stalin’s regime.

The struggle for the possibility of hope

A central idea in Wildberger’s music is “the struggle for the possibility of hope”. The hope that things will get better and fairer one day. Although secular, Wildberger acknowledges the interpretation presented in Hebrews 11:1, that faith is a sort of confidence in what one hopes for.

This belief was first explored from a compositional angle in 1978, with An die Hoffnung for soprano solo, speaker and orchestra.

Jacques Wildberger, An die Hoffnung (1978/79), Sylvia Nopper, soprano, Georg Martin Bode, speaker, Sinfonieorchester Basel, conductor Heinz Holliger

Most recently in Tempus cadendi, tempus sperandi for mixed choir and six instrumentalists, written in 1998/99 for SWR Stuttgart. The cantata resembles a legacy of the 78-year-old composer. Once again Wildberger composes a memorial for the murdered Jews, with Paul Celan’s poems “Tenebrae” and “Es war Erde in ihnen” forming the centre of the four-part cantata.

Tenebrae seen in Celan’s and Wildberger’s perspective of is breaking taboos. The poet appears sacrilegious in his demand that God must pray, not man. The composer takes this transgression at its word and writes a series of protest songs, thereby returning to the protest songs of his youth, which he had written for the Basel workers’ cabaret ‘Scheinwerfer’ and the Neue Volksbühne Basel.

Jacques Wildberger: Wir wollen zusammen marschieren, Eigenproduktion SRG/SSR

Jacques Wildberger at piano with the ‘Kampflieder’ ©zVg Michael Kunkel

Celan knew the expressive Tenebrae-scores of French baroque composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier, who wrote 31 instrumental “motets concertants” on the lamentations of Jeremiah. Instead of staging anger over the destruction of the Jewish temples, Charpentier composed consoling music for the Holy Week, the darkest days of the liturgical year. Celan was also inspired by Friedrich Hölderlin’s Patmos hymn. From ‘Nah ist und schwer zu fassen der Gott’ (close and difficult to grasp) to ‘Nah sind wir, Herr, nah sind wir, Herr, nah und greifbar” (close and touchable). Then the poet turns to the gas chambers. ‘Gegriffen schon, Herr, ineinander verkrallt, als wär der Leib eines jeden von uns dein Leib, Herr.’ (Seized already, Lord, clawed into our selves as though, the body of each of us were your body, Lord)*. At the end there is an imperative: ‘Bete, Herr. Wir sind nah’ (Pray, Lord. We are near.)

Paul Celan reads Tenebrae

Wildberger picks up this tone and produces the highest intensity with the most economical means in his 2-minute 30-second short movement. Whip strokes from drums and four-handed keyboard open the music and interfere again and again as a signal. Tenebrae’s tempo indication is “agitato” and the speed is set at 108 BPM. God needs the whip to listen. Only then the choir begins: eight voices strong, homophonically led and with rhythmic shifts like an assembly of very different voices. The music is a wake-up call behind the text: ‘Nah sind wir Herr, nah und greifbar’.

In bar 10 the Lord is shouted at fortissimo. Wildberger reinforces the accented note with the performance indication “gridato” (shouted). Five bars long, the fortissimo is “crawled into itself”.

Then a quiet part starts with ‘Bete, bete zu uns’ (Pray, pray to us). The screaming is followed by pleading: sung, spoken and ending in the voiceless ‘nn-ah’ (close). Here, a general pause marks, already at bar 20, the midpoint of the 41 bars piece.

Wildberger starts anew and lets the protest grow step by step from Celan’s line ‘windschief gingen wir hin’ (leaning we went). The music ends like the text as choral imperative: ‘Bete, Herr. Wir sind nah’ (Pray, Lord. We are near).

Wildberger’s height becomes clear once again in his solitary approach to Celan. Instead of transcending the poet and his life drama as usual, Wildberger calls for resistance and action. “I do not have the right to prescribe hope” – but to compose hope he does, with musical means at the height of times.
Corinne Holtz

Jacques Wildberger at Karlsruhe-railway station ©zVg Michael Kunkel

Other works by Jacques Wildberger can found on his Neo-Profile and Playlist.

Broadcast SRF 2 Kultur
:
Musik unserer Zeit, 18.11.20: Lieder jenseits der Menschen – Paul Celan und die Musik, Redaktion Corinne Holtz
listen there: Jacques Wildberger, Tenebrae, from Min 53.36

Musique de creation – An insider tip from Geneva at GdN Basel

Gabrielle Weber: Interview with Jeanne Larrouturou, Ensemble Batida & Diĝita: Romandie @GdN Basel_1, 26.11.10

The instrumentation is unusual… and convincing: three percussionists and two pianos. Even more unusual is the collaboration with the cartoon collective Hécatombe. At Diĝita, Geneva-based ensemble Batida combines music with comics. On November 26, at the Gare du Nord, focus of the “Romandie” season.

Basel’s Gâre du Nord, the Station for New Music’s main focus extends over three seasons, with three times three concerts. In the long run, this will build solid bridges to the other Swiss language region, which is of high importance, especially now, as the ensembles of the French-speacking part of Switzerland cannot perform there due to the regional lockdown.

Neoblog portrays the guest ensembles and neo.mx3 accompanies the concerts’ live broadcasts together with RTS.
Episode one: Ensemble Batida Genève: A portrait

Gabrielle Weber
I met Jeanne Larrouturou, percussionist and co-artistic director, for a conversation via Zoom during the Geneva Lockdown. Larrouturou comes from France, grew up in Geneva, and after her studies at the Haute école de musique Genève (HME), she specialised in contemporary music at the Musikhochschule Basel. Since then she has been acting as bridge-builder between the two regions’ music scenes.

Ensemble Batida: Concert Le Scorpion © Pierre-William Henry

Batida’s lineup was rather accidental. Larrouturou explains that the ensemble originated as a “classic Bartok formation”, referring to Bartok’s 1937/38 sonata for two pianos and percussion. In 2010 four of the ensemble members formed for a concert at the HME and further joint performances followed. When a percussionist left for abroad, Larrouturou stepped in and stayed. The core formation has since then remained unchanged: three percussionists Jeanne Larrouturou, Alexandra Bellon and Anne Briset complement Viva Sanchez Reinoso and Raphaël Krajka on piano.

A stroke of luck, because many new works were created for this unique lineup. On one hand by composers, on the other hand by collective composition of the ensemble’s members themselves, which also began by chance. During a project with a dance company, the choreographer asked Batida to compose something. “This is how the first composition commission happened and we carried on composing together afterwards. Next came music for a project with a puppet theatre,” says Larrouturou.

Ensemble Batida, Haïku, collective composition 2013

“The way we compose strongly draws on experimentation. We start from an idea of general structure, a concept and then we “go”: we play, we listen to each other, record ourselves, listen to the recordings together. We structure, organise and record “. A kind of creation that combines improvisation and notation. Generally, the improvisational elements are retained.

musique de création

Batida does not want to get stuck in a set musical genre. “We see ourselves in contemporary music, but don’t like what’s behind that label very much” says Larrouturou. In France there are several more fitting designations: ‘Musique de création’ is the most appropriate for her: “it’s sufficiently open, but at the same time excludes traditional ‘contemporary music’.”

Ensemble Batida: Mean E, kollektive Komposition 2013

The ensemble has hardly had performances in German-speaking Switzerland so far. After the Concours Nicati in Bern 2014, performances at the festival Zeiträume Basel and in Andermatt followed. Quite the opposite to the Romandie , as well as abroad, where the ensemble performed at many festivals, toured France, Russia, Portugal and Cyprus. Another tour – with Diĝita – was planned in the USA (but had to be postponed due to the pandemic).

Larrouturou explains the meagre exchanges between language regions as follows: “I have been living in Basel for about four years now and my network is in Basel, Geneva and Lausanne. It never ceases to amaze me how little the scenes know each other. At the university in Basel, I noticed that there were fundamental differences in aesthetic orientation. Certain very highly considered musicians in Basel, are hardly known in the French-speaking part Switzerland. The French-speaking part is more closely linked to France, while the German-speaking part is to Germany,”.

Larrouturou curates the Lausanne concert series Fracanaüm together with composer Kevin Juillerat, a fellow student from Basel, based in Lausanne. They try to transcend such divisions. “We don’t even ask ourselves where someone comes from and invite musicians from our network from both regions. I’m convinced that these small initiatives create and develop long term relationships”.

But Batida is also about building bridges between divisions. Most projects are transdisciplinary and developed in collaboration with other artists, with dance, puppet theatre, architecture, video or comic artists.

The collaboration with the Geneva-based drawing collective Hécatombe is ongoing, since their first joint project in 2016.

Ensemble Batida & Hécatombe: Oblikvaj, collective composition 2016-2018

“In our first project Oblikvaj (2016-2018), it immediately became apparent, that we were on the same wavelength. Each of the five members of Hécatombe created a graphic score, in form of a 24-page black and white comic strip and Batida reacted with collective compositions. It worked brilliantly”. Concerts with live encounters followed.

Diĝita is primarily about the joint creation process. “In the summer of 2019 we took a 14-day retreat in an old farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. We didn’t bring any instruments, but collected and recorded existing sounds, for example big machines, tractors and engines.

Diĝita, Trailer ©Gare du Nord, Batida & Hécatombe

The title Diĝita stands on one hand for the ‘fingers’, on the other hand for digital vs. analogue. The recorded and sampled sounds refer to the digital realm, while the music performers work with their fingers. The musicians perform within a transparent cube, with screen-display walls onto which 3D videos by the drawing collective are projected: life-size comic figures on the videos overlap and thus alienate the real bodies of the musicians in the cube.

Diĝita was able to give a concert in Lausanne on 31 October: “It was an extreme experience as we all knew that we wouldn’t be playing live again for a while, so we enjoyed the moment even more,” says Larrouturou. The Diĝita tour with follow-up concerts in Geneva was unfortunately interrupted by the lockdown.

During our conversation, it turned out that Batida is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year. A party with partners and audience is planned in Geneva, but due to the pandemic it will not take place before 2021.
Gabrielle Weber

Ensemble Batida Portrait ©Batida

Ensemble Batida: Klaviere: Viva Sanchez Reinoso, Raphaël Krajka
Percussion; Jeanne Larrouturou, Alexandra Bellon, Anne Briset
Diĝita: Video: Giuseppe Greco, Ton: David Poissonnier

Gare du Nord: Batida & Hécatombe: Diĝita, 26.11.20, 20h
(because of lockdown in Basel, they played twice for 15 persons, combined with a Livestream for everybody else)

Ensemble Batida, FracanaümKevin Juillerat, haute école de musique genève – neuchâtel, Hochschule Musik Basel, Hécatombe,

broadcast RTS:
l’écho des pavanes, 20.11.20, rédaction Anne Gillot, Gespräch mit Désirée Meiser, Intendantin Gare du Nord
broadcast SRF 2 Kultur:
in Musik unserer Zeit zu neo.mx3, 21.10.20, Redaktion Florian Hauser / Gabrielle Weber

neo-Profiles: Ensemble Batida, Gare du NordAssociation Amalthea, Kevin Juillerat

Wien Modern playing with no audience

17 new streaming productions during lockdown: 6.-29.11.20

Gabrielle Weber
The city of Vienna is going through troubled times. Hit hard by the pandemic and declared quarantine region at an early stage, then locked down at short notice during the month of November. Not to mention the outrageous terrorist attack. The unique Wien Modern music festival happens to be, both in terms of time and geography, in the midst of it, as it’s usually staged in various locations of the city centre throughout the month.

Konzerthaus Wien without public ©Markus Sepperer 

Under the slogan Stimmung (‘mood’ as well as ‘tuning’), the festival traces the current 2020 mood in complex and diverse ways. 44 new productions and 85 new pieces should have been performed, over 32 days, but only the opening weekend could take place in front of an audience, showing six productions, a mere 14% of the total programme.

On the third (as well as second-last) evening, the premiere of Edu Haubensak’s “Grosse Stimmung” could be presented. Wien Modern spared no effort and – almost in anticipation of what was to come – the Wiener Konzerthaus’ auditorium was emptied for eleven differently tuned grand pianos. The audience was, of course, still present – but in the stands only.

This allowed Haubensak’s work to be experienced live and in its integrity for the first time. After partial performances, the planned integral premiere at the Ruhrtriennale had to be cancelled in summer due to the pandemic. Despite quarantine, the three Swiss pianists Simone Keller, Tomas Bächli and Stefan Wirth were there to perform.

Edu Haubensak, Grosse Stimmung © Markus Sepperer

Then came the lockdown with its banned events and curfew. The quick decision in response was that a total of 24 events, i.e. more than half of the concerts, will now be performed without an audience and streamed free of charge.

Five days only after the lockdown was declared, the first streaming concert took place in front of an empty Musikverein hall on the 6th of November: the world premiere of Sofia Gubaidulina’s long-awaited new orchestral work “Der Zorn Gottes” performed by the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra (RSO) and directed by Oksana Lyniv. The planned premiere at the Salzburg Easter Festival with the Staatskapelle Dresden and Christian Thielemann had already been cancelled after several postponements.

The fact that it eventually premiered online is of significant importance given the situation as well as the terror that Vienna had to endure. Gubaidulina sees the performance as a sign of peace in times of increasing hatred and “a general overstrain affecting civilisation”.

Klaus Lang: tönendes Licht

Livestream from Stephansdom Wien: Klaus Lang, tönendes Licht, world creation 19.11.20

Other important highlights are a concert with three world premieres on November 18, in the Vienna Konzerthaus. In addition to new works by Friedrich Cerha and Johannes Kalitze, a piece by Matthias Kranebitter, winner of the Erste Bank Composition Prize, will be premiered – “a new encyclopaedia of pitch and deviation”. Performed by Klangforum Wien and directed by Kalitzke himself. On November 19, live from Vienna’s St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the premiere of  the “giant organ concerto” (cit. Wien Modern) “tönendes licht” by Klaus Lang, for a space wise dispersed Vienna Symphony Orchestra, directed by Peter Rundel.

20 years Ensemble Mondrian – Anniversary concert in Vienna:
This production has unfortunately been postponed to 2021, due to Swiss quarantine regulation guidelines.

Portrait Mondrian Ensemble & Thomas Wally © Markus Sepperer

There is also something to be heard from the Swiss side: On November 21, the Mondrian Ensemble will mark its 20th anniversary by presenting works by Martin Jaggi and Thomas Wally, both long-time collaborators of the Basel based ensemble.


Ensemble Mondrian, Thomas Wally, Podcast

Premieres of Andres Bosshard with Zahra Mani and Mia Zabelka, however, had to be postponed to November 2021. Same for Basel ensemble Nikel’s concert with works by Thomas Kessler and Hugues Dufourt.

Bernhard Günther, artistic director of Wien Modern, made the following statement in a in-depth reflection on the lockdown and the cultural mood in Austria: “The current mood here indicates that clear signals are urgently needed to prevent culture from being perceived as a victim of the health system, winter tourism in the mountains and Christmas shopping. A captain must of course try and avoid the iceberg, but at the moment he must also do everything he can to prevent the ship from sinking on the opposite side”.

Through streaming, Wien Modern now tries to maintain Vienna’s cultural life and make part of it accessible. Perhaps – to stick with the festival’s motto – the actual mood can be somewhat improved, even if this doesn’t diminish the life threatening situation that cultural production is currently facing.

To express our solidarity, SRF 2 Kultur and neo.mx3, are pleased to inform their public, users and listeners regarding the different streaming possibilities and details.
Gabrielle Weber

Portrait Bernhard Günther © Wien Modern

All streams on: Wien Modern or (partially) on Musikverein and ORF RSO 

Broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur

Kultur kompakt Podcast9.11.20: Theresa Beyer, “Der Zorn Gottes” entlädt sich im Stream zur UA Wien Modern, Sofia Gubaidulina:

Neoblog, Corinne Holtz: Wenn aus Leidenschaft Subversion wird – Portrait Simone Keller

Kontext, 21.10.20, Corinne Holtz: Zehn neu gestimmte Klaviere

In Musik unserer Zeit21.10.20: Florian Hauser / Gabrielle Weber:  zu neo.mx3: Simone Keller & Edu Haubensak

Neo-profiles
Simone Keller, Stefan Wirth, Wien Modern, Edu Haubensak, Mondrian Ensemble, Martin Jaggi, Thomas Kessler

“The universe of sounds is limitless”

Christian Fluri / Gabrielle Weber: Interview Martin Bliggenstorfer – 10 years ensemble proton bern: Anniversary season 2020/21

This is where a brilliant birthday portrait regarding ensemble proton bern’s 10 years activity, with plenty of notes regarding the anniversary season was meant to be found.

Christian Fluri talked with Martin Bliggenstorfer, the Managing Director, shortly after the lockdown of the first pandemic wave. At that time, he expressed confidence and urge for action.

Now, shortly before the big anniversary celebration of November 16th was originally planned, we find ourselves in the midst of a second wave, hitting with unexpected violence.

I therefore discussed the effects of the new situation on the ensemble proton bern and its anniversary season with Bliggenstorfer in a second conversation, immediately after the Federal authorities announced the new guidelines of October 18th. Since then, measures and guidelines have been changing constantly and most performances have become virtually impossible.

The ensemble proton bern is thus representative of many ensembles, musicians and organisers who are suddenly facing cancellations, postponements and an uncertain future.

ensemble proton bern: Gruppenportrait © Oliver Oettli


Christian Fluri
ensemble proton bern has been researching with great passion since ten years now, looking for new sounds, new works and new composers. It is now one of the most in-demand ensembles in and outside Europe.

Since its foundation in 2010, the ensemble, which is based in the Dampfzentrale Bern, has performed some 273 works by 180 composers in 128 concerts, 175 of the works were world premieres. Among other highlights, its concerts at St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Concert Hall in in front of large audiences and a West Coast tour of the USA.

During the first wave of Corona, the ensemble was quite lucky, as managing director, oboist and lupophone player Martin Bliggenstorfer states: “Right before the lockdown, we were able to play the protonwerk no. 9 concert in the Dampfzentrale. But we had to cancel the second performance at Basel’s Gare du Nord.”

protonwerk is a support programme for young composers* to whom the ensemble commissions works.


Adrian Nagel, Netzwerk, UA: protonwerk no.7 / ensemble proton bern 2017

“We were able to postpone our programme terrible ten, a concert with world premieres by Thomas Kessler (My lady soul) as well as Michael Pelzel and Stefan Wirth, which was planned for May, at short notice and managed to play in September. So not all of our planned programmes went completely lost,” says Bliggenstorfer happily.

Making music together is missed

The ensemble could hardly wait to get back playing concerts after the lockdown. So terrible ten became somewhat extraordinary as making music together again after such a long time and sharing music live with the audience was a great experience for everyone involved, says Bliggentorfer.


Thomas Kessler, My lady soul, UA ensemble proton bern 2019

Even though the ensemble’s musicians were able to make productive use of the lockdown period. “What we missed was making music together, being in direct contact with each other and rehearse with the concerts in mind. But at the same time it was also good to let our brains and bodies rest for a few weeks.”

Fortunately, the ensemble’s existence is currently not in danger. “We didn’t have to return any of the received subsidies or support for the cancelled concerts. That way we’ve been able to pay out our own fees as well as those of our guest performers”. Bliggenstorfer is very grateful for the generous attitude of Switzerland’s donors.

“The universe of sounds is limitless…”

The ensemble is therefore still in an excellent position and constantly striving to develop further. This, however, will happen without its long-time conductor Matthias Kuhn, with the ensemble since its founding. “He wishes to reorient himself artistically” which is something that Bliggenstorfer understands, however important Kuhn has been for the young ensemble’s development. In the future, the work will go on with a core of eight members and without a permanent conductor, in order to develop chamber music projects as well as concerts and performances with larger ensembles and guest conductors.

The passion for contemporary music in its various genres and orientations never changed as the ensemble has no blinders on and joyfully plays and shows how full of enthusiasm, lively and vital contemporary music can be. “The universe of sounds and their possible combinations is infinite”, and Bliggenstorfer knows that ” there are new discoveries to be made throughout an entire lifespan”.


Verschiedene Komponisten click & faun, ensemble proton bern 2019

Sound possibilities of new instruments are also far from being exhausted: i.e. the “clarinet d’amore” rediscovered by Richard Haynes, the double-reed instruments “lupophone” and “contraforte” played by Martin Bliggenstorfer and Elise Jacoberger or Maximilian Haft’s “straw violin” – not to mention the variety in the realmof electronic sound production. ensemble proton bern will continue to research.
Christian Fluri

2nd interview, October 21, 2020:
Gabrielle Weber
Despite growing uncertainties and the threat of new restrictions, Bliggenstorfer still appeared to be confident regarding future concert possibilities on October 21: “Cultural events should not be cancelled as long as they are not officially prohibited. Protection concepts must of course be implemented perfectly, which worked well so far”.

Fixed appearances as main act were planned as part of the “5 years Kultur-Kino Rex” anniversary programme, with two visual artists, during which composer Ennio Morricone was to be shown from an much less known side. “Morricone is well known as film music composer – but he was also active in so called ‘art music’, among others as trumpet player of the “Gruppo di improvisazzione Nuova Consonanza” in the 60s/70s.

However, the new Berne guidelines of October 23, closed cinemas and museums with immediately effect and  the concerts had to be cancelled shortly afterwards.

“fette fête” (big fat party) – the ensemble’s 10th anniversary concert

The “fette fête” was planned for 16 November in Bern: a huge birthday party with premieres and works by Louis Andriessen, Christian Henking and Annette Schmucki. The ensemble also commissioned a work by young Swiss composer Tobias Krebs. “We are extremely pleased about this – he is an outstanding young composer whom we know from protonwerk”.


Tobias Krebs, ambra, UA Duo Vers 2018

During the interview, Bliggenstorfer held on to the possibility of performing, for “as long as it is possible to propose art as a live experience, we do not want to give up the opportunity to perform. We want to deal with the situation responsibly by observing the protection rules and concepts”.

Unfortunately, the concert had to be cancelled (as of October 30 guidelines) and will be rescheduled to February 2021 (tbc.).

Further uncertainties arise regarding future projects with guests from abroad: “If they cannot enter or travel, we will have to look for replacements. Furthermore, engagements abroad are cancelled for the time being. For the anniversary season, the ensemble had invitations to New York and Salzburg, for example.”

The financial consequences of the current situation cannot be assessed yet: “At the moment we are still in a good position financially, but the medium to long-term impact of the crisis on the funding landscape is uncertain.”

The ensemble continues to show its full commitment. The urge of research and innovation, as well as the desire to play and discover, remain intact.

However, it is impossible to foresee long-term consequences regarding live concerts, in particular as far as the international situation is concerned.
Gabrielle Weber

ensemble proton bern Gruppenportrait © Oliver Oettli

Konzerte Jubiläumssaison 20/21 &aktuelle updates

30.Oktober: The dark side of Ennio Morricone, Kino Rex Bern: ABGESAGT

16. November: “fette fête” – 10Jahre proton, Dampfzentrale Bern: ABGESAGT: VERSCHIEBEDATUM 2. Februar 2021 (tbc)**
17. November, 20h, Konzert Gare du Nord Basel: protonwerk nr.9 (Wiederaufnahme)

Sendungen SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, 28.10.20: Redaktion Florian Hauser, Gespräch zu My lady soul, mit Thomas Kessler, Martin Bliggenstorfer, Bettina Berger, Vera Schnider
Neue Musik im Konzert
, 28.10.20: My lady soul mit terrible ten, Konzertaufzeichnung vom 15.9.20, Dampfzentrale Bern, Redaktion Florian Hauser.
Musikmagazin, 25.7.20: u.a. Richard Haynes, Redaktion Florian Hauser

**DATUM OFFEN: Neue Musik im Konzert: “fette fête”, Konzertaufzeichnung, Dampfzentrale Bern, Redaktion Florian Hauser.

ensemble proton bern, Martin Bliggenstorfer, Matthias Kuhn, Richard HaynesHanspeter Kyburz, Louis Andriessen

neo-profiles: ensemble proton bern, Thomas Kessler, Michael Pelzel, Stefan Wirth, Christian Henking, Annette SchmuckiTobias KrebsTobias Krebs

When passion turns into subversion

A portrait of Simone Keller – pianist, curator, music mediator @ Festival Wien Modern & Edu Haubensak: Grosse Stimmung 31.10.20
by Corinne Holtz

2020 begins with tightly scheduled concerts. For Laptop4, an instrumental play by Lara Stanić, Kukuruz Quartet also used a camera and a microphone, while for Ensemble Tzara and world premieres by Patrick Frank and Trond Reinholdtsen, Simone Keller is featured at the piano. On March 12th, the day before the lockdown is announced, she and the thélème choir present a whimsical programme of vocal music ranging from Guillaume de Machaut to Francis Poulenc.

Portrait Simone Keller © Lothar Opilik

Then the lights go out… the premiere of Grosse Stimmung by Edu Habensak for differently tuned pianos is also affected. The Ruhrtriennale is cancelled, but the Wien Modern festival is scheduled for the end of October. The parquet chairs in the great hall of the Vienna Konzerthaus have to be moved apart, in order to create space for a total of ten differently tuned concert pianos.

Simone Keller, Samuel Bächli and Stefan Wirth are determined to play the cycle, which lasts over three hours, on October 31st. The finale is a newly commissioned tutti, featuring students of the University of Music and Performing Arts.

“Yes, we will go to Vienna, unless there is really a travel ban on entry. We would also accept the quarantine. I played at the Wiener Festwochen in early September. The organisers were extremely careful regarding rules and measures, so that the performances could take place”.

A woman’s advice: “show less emotions and discuss your hairstyle with a man beforehand…”

Simone Keller is also candid when it comes to the financial consequences of the pandemic. She has been able to cover 80% of the work losses in recent months, thanks to government support measures. The new Covid law, which became effective in September, guarantees compensation for work loss until June 2021, but only to those who can prove a loss of at least 55% compared to 2015-2019. “This is of course ridiculous when, like me, one earns some 40’000 francs a year… which means you can barely get by even at 100%”.

Simone Keller in Lara Stanic, Fantasia for Piano-Solo and electronics, 2020

The crisis is existential. Are women harder hit than men? “As a freelance artist, I am at the bottom of the food chain anyway, where it’s probably not a gender-based classification anymore.” Things are different when women stand on a stage and send signals that the audience evaluates. “An advice given to me by a woman in a high management position was eye-opening to me. She advised to show less emotions when making music and to always discuss my hairstyle with a man. She herself would always ask her husband what he thought of her appearance before an important meeting”. Since then, Simone Keller has also been taking a closer look at “sexism among women”.

Simone Keller plays Julia Amanda Perry © Wiener Festwochen 2020 reframed

“turning the impossible into possible “

She explores herself by revealing little-known repertoire as well as daring refreshing forms of programming, for example in the context of the carte blanche granted to her by Zurich’s Moods Jazz Club. “Turning the impossible into possible”, says the pianist and curator on the sold-out opening night of the ‘Breaking Boundaries’ festival. Her driving force seems to be passion and subversion at once, carried by the flame of finally being able to play in front of an audience again.

Simone Keller selected three venues for the three programme elements: four concert pianos, each in its own mood for a cross-section of Edu Haubensak’s piano cycle Grosse Stimmung, six pianos for music by Julius Eastman – interpreted with three refugees as fellow musicians – and Moods’ grand piano the for the improvisation by Vera Kappeler with Peter Conradin Zumthor on percussion. “The effort was enormous, we must thank piano manufacturer Urs Bachmann and his team for the commitment, without them it wouldn’t have happened”.

An invitation to listen to colours – a single key becoming a microcluster.

Simone Keller sparks when she gets going. Every tone gets the exact amount of energy it needs and is precisely placed in space and time, shaped by pianistic subtlety. Patterns become comprehensible phrases. Shock moments are as deeply developed as lyrical gestures. The extremely physical music of Haubensak becomes vivid. Haubensak describes the resulting sounds as “noise cubes”: they literally jump at the listener. The whirring of the overlapping vibrations in Collection II, releases colours never heard before. The ear is in the eye of the storm. Haubensak has created his own mixed mood for the scordatura of Collection II, which gives each position on the piano a special character. If all three strings (or tones) of a key are tuned differently, the horizon widens. A single key becoming a microcluster. The piano becomes unbounded when all 241 strings are tuned differently. And the attack on the sovereign instrument becomes an invitation to listen to colours.


Simone Keller plays Edu Haubensak Pur, for piano in Skordatur (2004/05, rev. 2012)

Simone Keller formulates “bold wishes” beyond art: social security for artists, basic granted income with personal responsibility for risk, integrating outsiders into cultural practice. There will be a lot on the plate there, because the crisis has only just begun. The pianist has been leading the artists’ collective ‘ox+öl’ together with director Philipp Bartels since 2014. It runs composition and improvisation workshops for and with children with a migration background and organizing participative concerts with violent juvenile criminals in prison.

Simone Keller is preparing for the uncertain future. This summer, she embarked on another area: an “intensive education programme in sign language, triggered by a music theatre project with deaf people”. Perhaps she will do an apprenticeship and become a sign language interpreter, “a very sought-after profession”. Another possibility she talks about is increasing her socio-cultural work in prison as well as in the refugees sector and play less concerts.”
Corinne Holtz

Portrait Simone Keller

Festival Wien Modern, Edu Haubensak: Grosse Stimmung, 31.10.20

Simone Keller, Wien Modernox&öl – Breaking Boundaries Festival, Philipp Bartels, Edu Haubensak, Tomas Bächli, Stefan Wirth, Ensemble Tzara, Lara Stanic, Patrick Frank, Ensemble thélème, Duo Kappeler Zumthor, Urs Bachmann, Trond ReinholdtsenMoods Club, Kukuruz Quartett

broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Kontext, Mittwoch, 21.10.20, 17:58h: Künste im Gespräch, Redaktion Corinne Holtz

in: Musik unserer Zeit, Mittwoch, 21.10.20., 20h: Redaktion Florian Hauser / Roman Hošek / Gabrielle Weber: Sc’ööf! & neo.mx3

neo-Profiles:
Simone KellerEdu Haubensak, Lara Stanic, Stefan Wirth, Ensemble Tzara, Patrick Frank, Peter Conradin Zumthor, ox&öl, Kukuruz Quartett, Trio Retro Disco

texts:
Thomas Meyer: Edu Haubensak – Das wohlverstimmte Klavier, in: Schweizer Musikzeitung, Nr. 11, November 2011
Edu Haubensak: von früher…von später. Im Dickicht der Mikroharmonien, in: MusikTexte 166, August 2020
Pauline Oliveros: Breaking Boundaries

the city – a gigantic composition

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.

Alexandre Babel Portrait © Martin Baumgartner

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.

J’écoute la ville / Nicolas Masson

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

Delia Hess, Ensemble KNM BerlinSudden Infant, Mio Chareteau, RadialEklekto Geneva Percussion Center

Broadcasts RTS:
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

Neo-Profiles: Les amplitudes, Eklekto Geneva Percussion Center, Alexandre Babel

“the biggest Beethoven fan ever.”

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.

Full blast, Peter Broetzmann sax, cl Marino Pliakas e-b Michael Wertmueller dr

Gabrielle Weber
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.

Portrait Michael Wertmüller

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.

…anticipate…?

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 SwitzerlandPeter BrötzmannDonaueschinger Musiktage, Kölner Philharmonie, Gesine Danckwart, Johnny La Marama, Ensemble of Nomades

Neo-Profiles: Michael Wertmüller, Steamboat Switzerland, Donaueschinger Musiktage

A toast to new music!

RTR launch neo.mx3 & ensemble ö!
Interview with David Sontòn-Caflisch by Thomas Meyer

RTR celebrates the launch of neo.mx3 with a special concert by local ensemble ö! on October 11, in Chur! Numerous works by Swiss musicians will be performed and RTR will record and film the performances in order to make them immediately available on the neo.mx3 plattform.

Thomas Meyer talks with violinist and composer David Sontòn-Caflisch, ensemble ö!’s artistic director.


Asia Ahmetjanova, La voix, UA ensemble ö!, Chur 2020

Ensemble ö! Was founded in 2002 and at that time it developed out of a string ensemble (Musicuria), which you founded in 1991. You were still in grammar school back then… What was your purpose?

We used to include a piece of new music in every programmewith Musicuria, sometimes even world premieres. The interest then shifted more and more in that direction, so we finally formed the new ensemble ö! with some strings from Musicuria as well as winds, piano and percussion.

David Sontòn-Caflisch & Ensemble ö!

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.

 “Ladies only!”

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 

* in German the expression “E- und U-Musik” refers to “ernste Musik und Unterhaltungsmusik”, which can be translated with serious vs. popularmusic.

Ensemble ö!-Verbeugung

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).

Ensemble ö!: Saison 20/21
Tuns contemporans, Biennale für Neue Musik Chur: 9.-11. April 2021

Broadcast SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, 11.11.20.: ö! Ensemble für neue musik, Redaktion Florian Hauser

Stephanie Haensler, Asia AhmetjanovaMagnus Lindberg, Tristan MurailVladimir Tarnopolski, Gwyn Pritchard, Klaus LangMarc-André DalbavieAsia Ahmetjanova

Neo-profiles: Ensemble ö!, David Sontòn CaflischKlaus Huber, Stephanie Hänsler, Martin Derungs, Roland Moser, Alfred Knüsel