Sorry, this entry is only available in German.
Summer series for Swiss Music Prize No. 3: A special prize goes to Kunstraum Walcheturm, as – according to the jury – the concert venue “occupies an outstanding position for the further development of experimental music and art in Switzerland”.
Jaronas Scheurer spoke to its artistic director Patrick Huber.
I meet Patrick Huber while he is supervising the set-up of a party to take place that same evening. The party has rented the room and there is a lot to explain and negotiate. Huber is also about to go on holiday: Between discussions with the sound engineers, briefings for the bar staff and final holiday preparations, he still finds time for an interview. Being in-between things, i.e. different projects, parties, experimental music, contemporary art and experimental film, in-between-ness seems to be a modus operandi for Patrick Huber and the Kunstraum Walcheturm: “This place shouldn’t really exist,” he says during the interview.
This venue – the Kunstraum Walcheturm in the old Zeughaus courtyard, about 10 minutes’ walk from Zurich main station – is the city’s most important venue for contemporary and experimental music and it received one of this year’s special music prizes from the Federal Office of Culture (BAK).
How is it, that Walcheturm came to be known primarily for exciting concerts and less for exciting art? After all, it was founded in the 1950s as an association to promote young Swiss art and artists. And in the 1980s, the now internationally renowned art dealers Eva Presenhuber and Iwan Wirth moulded it into one of the most important places on the Zurich art scene, named after its first location on Walchestrasse. “At some point it became clear, that an association was not the right vehicle for an internationally active gallery with such commercial endeavour”, says Huber. A spin-off took place in the mid-1990s, from which the Eva Presenhuber and Hauser&Wirth galleries emerged. The Walcheturm association then went through a difficult phase before the association’s management was handed over to Patrick Huber in 1999. Huber applied with the vision of turning the gallery into an art space: “A rupture – not a gallery, nor an art market anymore – but an art space,” as Huber outlined his idea at the time.
Luigi Archetti: LAVA – Part 01, Label Karluk 2021
From gallery to art space
Patrick Huber already had a lot of experience in organising exhibitions, parties and festivals. He had been organising parties since the 1980s: techno, hip hop, drum’n’bass, curating exhibitions in off-spaces and, since 1998, the experimental film festival VideoEx.
“When I took over, there were no members, so to speak, and there wasn’t even a hammer at hand, to hammer in nails for the artworks.” However, this also had its advantages, as it allowed him to create something from scratch. He was able to build on a large network of friends on one hand and his experience as a party organiser on the other. “For the first few years, parties, often techno parties, financed the art space.” The income generated from the big evening parties was channelled into the art space and the exhibitions during the day. “I didn’t even realise back then that one could apply for financial support,” Huber says with a laugh. But the Walcheturm art space soon had to move. Fortunately, they were accepted for the current location in the old armoury. “We got the key in January 2002. The key opened a dusty room. It was 5 degrees outside and the same temperature inside. Gravel on the floor, not much else. There wasn’t much money, but there was a big deal of help, a whole group of people: Someone was able to drive an excavator and dredged out a few cubic metres of gravel. Others were able to install electricity, someone installed heaters, etc.” says Huber, describing the move. “Then, in May, the floor was installed and the experimental film festival VideoEx was held for the first time. In August, there was an official opening with a project featuring 12 drummers. A performance, categorised as art, with twelve drummers playing.”
Katharina Rosenberger: REIN, Basel Sinfonietta under the direction of Baldur Brönnimann, premiere 2019 in Basel
From contemporary art to experimental music
The transition from exhibition space for contemporary art to a venue for experimental music seemed to be already apparent at the opening. “I was interested in contemporary, experimental music. I found it to be exciting. But there also seemed to be a need for such a space in Zurich. Because there has always been space for contemporary art in Zurich,” says Patrick Huber, explaining the change.
Julian Sartorius: Locked Groove 093, Label OUS 2021
These days, Walcheturm hosts mainly concerts. In addition to several important festivals such as VideoEx, Sonic Matters, Taktlos Zürich and FemaleClassics, musicians and ensembles play somewhere between noise, free improvisation, new music, sound art and free jazz. Patrick Huber receives numerous requests for concerts, but the problem with the programme is funding. The Kunstraum Walcheturm is supported by the canton of Zurich, which barely covers the rental expenses. Beyond that, they have no budget, so to speak. “The amazing thing about Walcheturm is the musical diversity despite the tight financial guidelines,” says Huber. For this to work, a good deal of pragmatism and common sense is required. In concrete terms, the groups that play at Walcheturm, finance the place depending on the level of their own funding. “If the other side has a yacht, then please let our side have some money too, if they’re in a small rowing boat, then we can row around too. We’ve always done that,” says Huber with a laugh. “On paper, our calculations don’t actually work out. But somehow they do.”
And so they carry on – the impossible space in the centre of Zurich: two to four concerts a week, with the help of friends, a healthy dose of pragmatism and, above all, a lot of love and commitment to the music.
Broadcasts SRF Kultur:
SRF Kultur online, 11.5.23: Trompeter Erik Truffaz erhält den Grand Prix Musik, Redaktion Jodok Hess.
Musikmagazin, 22.7.23, Carlo Balmelli: Ein Leben für die Blasmusik, Redaktion Annelis Berger, Musiktalk mit Carlo Balmelli (ab Min 9:40).
Musikmagazin, 17.6.23, Inspirationen mit offenem Ende: Die Vokalkünstlerin Saadet Türköz, Redaktion Florian Hauser, Musiktalk mit Saadet Türköz (ab Min 8:38).
Musikmagazin, 13.5.23, Schweizer Musikpreise 2023, Redaktion Florian Hauser, Musiktalk mit Katharina Rosenberger (ab Min 4:55)
Roman Hošek: Neuerdings – Faszination Sound @ launch srf video series
Neuerdings – a video series in collaboration with SRF 3 Sounds! and SRF 2 Kultur presents experimental music creation up close. In four portraits, it traces the creative paths in the sound labs of Noémi Büchi, Julian Sartorius, Martina Berther and Janiv Oron. Roman Hošek introduces the series and the portrayed artists for the launch at Bad Bonn Kilbi festival on June 2, 2023.
Büchi, Sartorius, Berther and Oron are all seasoned musical personalities and some already won important prizes and can regularly be encountered in renowned projects. They all pursue a radically individual creative path – in which success plays a subordinate role. For them, it’s all about doing. The four musicians talk about their uncompromising creative will in a new documentary series.
Sound is matter
Noémi Büchi takes everyday objects such as paper or screws and extracts sounds from them in order to make music. For example, she tears the paper, records the sound with a microphone and manipulates it with effects and computer software.
In this way, everything becomes an instrument for Noémi Büchi. She used to play classical piano. Today it is keyboards, tone controls and computer pads that the Zurich-based artist operates and with which she controls her self-generated sound sources. The result is a sound collage that invites the audience on a breathtaking journey and encourages them to move.
Because moving something is important for Noémi Büchi. Her symphonic music is not a commentary and carries no message, as what matters to her is making sound visible and tangible. She notices this especially live, when sound waves become physical.
Video-Portrait Noémi Büchi: Neuerdings – Faszination Sound, in house-production SRG/SSR
Sound is craft
Julian Sartorius likes to move around outdoors or, for example, through factory halls, drumming on objects with his drum sticks. The wide range of sounds he is able to extract from seemingly ordinary objects, such as lids, pipes or wires, and how he manages to produce attractive-sounding beats is amazing.
The Bernese drummer is strongly inspired by electronic music, but creates his sounds exclusively with his hands and on acoustic instruments and objects. What’s appealing to him is to create almost artificial sounds with something natural.
Another facet of Sartorius’ artistic work is the production of beats, and here too he goes his own peculiar way. For example, he likes to work with an old-fashioned cassette player, which – compared to a digital sequencer programme – limits him in terms of technical possibilities, but forces him to make immediate artistic decisions.
Video-Portrait Julian Sartorius: Neuerdings – Faszination Sound, in house-production SRG/SSR
Sound is quest
Martina Berther gets much more out of her electric bass than just low frequency notes. Violent storms or vast soundscapes open up before the mind’s eye when she gets her instrument vibrating with her effect devices and preparation tools – such as steel wool, sanding block, bottleneck or violin bow.
The solo performer from Graubünden says she makes experimental music because she can thereby surprise herself and has great freedom. At the same time, dealing with this freedom is not always easy. A contradiction? No. It is this tension – between success and failure – that is the main appeal for Martina Berther.
Just like a solo performance, the search for sounds can become a balancing act, as there are many uncertainties and even doubts. For Martina Berther, there must be an intention behind every sound before she includes it in her repertoire. No room for randomness.
Video-Portrait Martina Berther: Neuerdings – Faszination Sound, in house-production SRG/SSR
Sound is reaction
Janiv Oron is like an inventor in a music laboratory. When the former DJ creates his sounds, the record player is often still central, but he expands it in experimental ways with other sources, such as a rotating loudspeakers or marbles track.
The sound performer from Basel not only directs his sound machines, but also reacts to random impulses that he receives back, seeing this as a “source of uncertainty” and he consciously engages in it to include improvisation into his work. Oron does not turn away from the digital world, but he feels a stronger fascination with analogue and physically functioning sound sources. These may offer less possibilities in comparison, but they are haptic and can be operated by hand instead of on a screen.
Video-Portrait Janiv Oron: Neuerdings – Faszination Sound, in house-production SRG/SSR
“Neuerdings” – Faszination Sound
“Neuerdings” is a video portrait series about these four Swiss musicians. They are pioneers of tomorrow’s music, whose work is between contemporary electroacoustics, experimental music and pop, and thus also finds international acclaim.
Switzerland is particularly strong in these intermediate areas, not least because of the numerous study degree programmes focusing on transdisciplinary and progressive musical practice. On the other hand, more and more events and growing interest among the public are also slowly but surely emerging.
The portrait series, a collaboration between SRF 3 Sounds! and SRF 2 Kultur, offers a glimpse into to the sound tinkering rooms of the four musicians, who are all breaking new ground with their work and are therefore difficult to place stylistically. In the videos, they talk about their radical approaches and describe the inaccessible and innovative potential of new sounds.
The launch took place at the festival: Bad Bonn Kilbi, friday 2.6.2023
broadcasts SRF Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, 7.6.2023, 20h: “Neuerdings”: Schweizer Musik mit Pioniergeist, author Roman Hošek
in: MusikMagazin, 3./4.6.2023: Swisscorner, Vier Schweizer Soundartists (ab Min 46:59), author Lea Hagmann
srf online-Text: Sie schrauben am Sound der Zukunft, author: Claudio Landolt
broadcast SRF 3:
Sounds!, 7.6.2023, 20h: Neuerdings: Schweizer Musik mit Pioniergeist, author Claudio Landolt
Neuerdings on playsuisse
Gabrielle Weber: Portrait Mathieu Corajod / Compagnie Mixt Forma
To create a project in the great hall of the Centre Pompidou in Paris is something quite unique. The Swiss-French composer Mathieu Corajod and the Biel-based Compagnie Mixt Forma are experiencing this with their first joint work at Paris’ Manifeste Festival, namely interdisciplinary project Laquelle se passe ailleurs, a “scenic poem for four hybrid performers”, combining music, text, dance and drama with electronics. The work will also be performed in Switzerland. In the Zoom interview after Paris, where Corajod was rehearsing at IRCAM, we talked about his approach to music theatre, hybridity and interdisciplinarity.
Corajod founded the Compagnie Mixt Forma with the aim of exploring experimental music theatre’s possibilities with like-minded people. Laquelle se passe ailleur was developed together over a period of two years and convinced the Paris Association Beaumarchais-SACD in its first stages already, which made the realisation possible with a sponsorship award. Significantly, this was in the field of choreography.
Corajod’s background in musical theatre comes from his studies at the Bern University of the Arts, where he also met singer Chloé Bieri and percussionist Stanislas Pili, two Compagnie Mixt Forma members.
Corajod’s own conception of connecting different disciplines, media and technologies goes far beyond the traditional understanding of experimental music theatre as a scenic current of contemporary music. During his Parisian studies at the IRCAM, he intensively dealt with electronics as well as contemporary dance, since then the fusion of composition and choreography never left him. In collaboration with the dancers Pierre Lison and Marie Albert, he created his first piece for dance. Others followed, whereby the additional use of voice, as well as collaborative and inclusive aspects are central to Corajod. Together with Lison, Corajod is now also responsible for the choreography of Laquelle se passe ailleurs, where Lison is also involved as dancer-performer.
Mathieu Corajod, ça va bien avec comment tu vis (2019) for two dancers and electronics, Marie Albert and Piere Lison
Explorers on a joint quest
Complemented by actor Antonin Noël, the four performers of the piece undertake a joint “poetic-futuristic expedition”, each of them bringing their own expertise into the whole in order to generate something completely new. Like researchers on a common quest, says Corajod. He calls this kind of collaboration “hybridisation”. On one hand, there is the hybridity between body and machine, made possible by an on-stage technical device in co-production with IRCAM. On the other hand, the performers themselves act hybrid. They all perform everything, bringing their own approach and learning from each other.
Interdisciplinarity is always present – whether visible or not
Laquelle se passe ailleurs was intended to be intermedia from the very beginning. “The impulses I received from dancer, actor and writer extremely increased the demands on stage,” says Corajod. French author Dominique Quélen contributed new texts, based on the company’s ideas. They were then translated into music and choreography. For a performance by singer Bieri, for example, they would have transferred one of the texts not only structurally, but syllable by syllable to individual gestures and Bieri complemented with special timbres of the voice. Everything is present in each of the performing bodies – dance, text and music, says Corajod. Interdisciplinarity is always present, in one way or another, whether visible or not.
Chloé Bieri in Five young lights for voice and electronics by Pietro Caramelli, 2019
Scenes of an exploration – linked by a playful-poetic approach.
Although there is no actual story in the play, they worked with hidden narratives that the participants imagined for each other in order to be able to act on stage. “When developing a play, questions like: Who am I in this play? What am I doing? or How am I behaving? always arise. It helps if one’s able to imagine something,” says Corajod. This is how different scenes of an exploration with a kind of incomplete plot, connected by a playful-poetic approach came about: “We want to take the audience on this journey,” says Corajod and compares the atmosphere of the project to Andrei Tarkowski, David Lynch or Stanley Kubrick movies.
The choreography doesn’t follow a plot either. They would have used different strategies for individual scenes. Only some, like Bieris’ solo, are completely choreographed, others are based on improvisation and were then rehearsed and fixed step by step. There are also movement sensors in individual objects of the stage set that produce sound when manipulated by the performers, with these manipulations being choreographed to the last detail.
The aim is to design movements in such a way that they trigger something in the larger context of the stage, says Corajod. He sees the SACD’s support for the choreography as confirmation of this novel approach interweaving choreography and composition. On the one hand, it is an honour and on the other hand, he is particularly pleased because he comes from the music. The production is thus not “only” recognised in contemporary music, but also in theatre and dance.
Mathieu Corajod et Pierre Lison (mouvement), Axes (2021), instrumental dance, Duo Alto, UA Paris 2021
Because Corajod also wishes to bring contemporary music to a wider audience and he always explores the genre’s boundaries. With his previous project, the experimental opera Rendez-vous près du feu, performed as part of the “Nancy Opera Experience” at the Festival Musica 2022, he succeeded, as he was not only the composer, but also director. The new work took place partly outdoors – on the spacious square Stanislas in front of the opera – partly inside the Opéra national de Lorraine. Members of the orchestra and performers performed inside, close to the windows facing the square. The choir sang as a flash mob in the audience on the forecourt and the action was projected onto the façade by video mapping.
Mathieu Corajod, Rendez-vous près du feu (2022): Théâtre musical and experimental opera united in an exceptional format (in situ, video mapping, flash mob), commissioned by Opéra national de Lorraine and Festival Musica.
This allowed the opera to open up to the square and the city as well as being enlivened in a different way through light, scenography and actions – it also drew numerous random passers-by under the spell of scenic hybridised contemporary music.
After these two major projects, Corajod is now taking a creative break to focus on a research project dedicated to Swiss music theatre pioneer Hans Wüthrich.
Laquelle se passe ailleurs :
2. / 3.6.23, 19:30h,Theater am Rennweg 26 Biel
8.6.23, 20h, Gare du Nord Basel
12.6.23, 20h, Festival ManiFeste, Centre Pompidou Paris
9.9.23, 21h, Musikfestival Bern, Dampfzentrale Turbinensaal
Festival ManiFeste IRCAM/Centre Pompidou Paris, June 7 – July 1 2023
The Bernese saxophone quartet celebrates its 20th anniversary with contemporary music celebration.
To produce every possible sound on the saxophone – that is the craft of the Konus Quartet. The four musicians specialise in contemporary and experimental music, showing – as an ensemble – all the kinds of different sound worlds the saxophone is capable of. This year, the Konus Quartet celebrates its 20th anniversary with a festival week full of collaborations – for example with the Gori Women’s Choir from Georgia.
Many saxophone quartets want to sound as virtuosic and full as possible, almost like an organ, but not the Konus Quartet: they play precisely and minimalistically, exploring the boundaries of saxophone music. Christian Kobi, Fabio Oehrli, Jonas Tschanz and Stefan Rolli: these are the musicians forming the Quartet, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. The four artists are all versatile, with backgrounds ranging from free improvisation, sound mixing and label management to big band and festival management. What they share is a passion for the saxophone and the love for musical experimentation.
Minimalism and precision
Christian Kobi, for example, has already created music with the saxophone’s silence. To achieve this, he mounted microphones very close to the blowpipe and recorded the instrument’s resonance without blowing into it. He amplified the silence recorded with this procedure until feedback occurred. The result is a sustained, inconspicuous sound that is easy to overhear if you don’t pay attention.
In rawlines 1, Christian Kobi lets silence become sound through feedback of resonances inside the saxophone.
Modular and forward-looking
While traditional saxophone quartets usually consist of the four main instruments of the saxophone family – baritone, tenor, alto and soprano – the Konus Quartet is modular and remains flexible in its instrumentation. Depending on the piece, they play in the traditional line-up, but sometimes also with two alto saxophones, one tenor and one baritone, or even with two tenor and two baritones.
This flexibility is also something the quartet seeks, when compositions are commissioned, working primarily with composers who have explored sound in depth and are not limited by traditional expectations of saxophone quartets. Among the pieces they perform are compositions by important names on the international contemporary music scene such as Chiyoko Szlavnics, Jürg Frey, Barry Guy, Makiko Nishikaze, Phill Niblock, Urs Peter Schneider, Martin Brandlmayr or Klaus Lang.
FORWARD & REWIND: A celebration of contemporary music
To celebrate its 20th anniversary, Konus Quartet is holding a festival weekend in Bern entitled Foward & Rewind. The two words Forward & Rewind are meant literally, as the four saxophonists revisit past collaborations and strive for new ones, showing themselves to be both thoughtful and forward-looking.
One of the already existing collaborations is, for example, with the string quartet Quatuor Bozzini. In 2021, the Konus Quartet premiered the piece Continuité, fragilité, resonance by Swiss composer Jürg Frey with them. For the festival’s opening concert, Konus Quartet and Quatuor Bozzini will revisit this piece, together with another work by composer Chiyoko Szlavnics. The musicians give themselves plenty of time and space – and patiently and precisely unfold the various sound surfaces that are hidden in the compositions.
During a Lifetime (excerpt): The Konus Quartet interprets a piece by Canadian composer Chiyoko Szlavnics.
Powerful voices from Georgia
A new collaboration is scheduled with the renowned Georgian Gori Women’s Choir, which has been presenting traditional Georgian choral singing since 1970. This polyphonic singing technique is hundreds of years old and distantly related to the yodelling we know. It is characterised in particular by the almost physically perceptible power in the voice. The women sing partly in unison, partly in microtonal ranges, mixing harmony and dissonance.
Since 2013, the choir has been led by Teona Tsiramuna and has reinvented itself, so to speak. It is very important to the director to always discover new things and to combine the vocal tradition with modern and international music. “In 1970, the choir sang for a specific, fairly homogeneous audience. It performed mainly melancholic and sustained Georgian music. Now that has expanded. We also sing Mexican, Turkish or African folk music,” says Tsiramuna in an interview for SRF 2 Kultur.
After a collaboration with Georgian-British pop and blues singer Katie Melua, the Gori Women’s Choir gained fame beyond the borders of Georgia and now performs on European stages in various constellations. The conductor’s love of experimentation also draws her to collaborations with contemporary musicians, for example at the Stanser Musiktage.
At the Stanser Musiktage 2022, they performed with four young electronic artists, merging voices with synthesiser sounds.
Air vibrations, the collaboration between the Konus Quartet and the Gori Women’s Choir, can relate on one hand to the vibration of the “air “, on the other hand in can be interpreted as “song vibrations”, from the Italian “aria”. The Gori Women’s Choir brings its voices to vibrate together with two other big names of contemporary music: Georgian-Swiss pianist Tamriko Kordzaia and Austrian composer and concert organist Klaus Lang.
Die neue Kollaboration knüpft an die erste Zusammenarbeit zwischen Klaus Lang und dem Konus Quartett, dem Stück Drei Allmenden, an.
Lang conceived and composed the concert and is featured on the organ. His works are characterised by the way he explores sound. Music is “time made audible”, says Lang. On his instrument, the concert organ, this side of sound can be explored particularly well, as one can hold the notes for any length of time.
In the Air Vibrations concert, Lang interweaves his organ playing with the Konus Quartet’s saxophones and Tamriko Kordzaia’s piano playing, laying the ground for the traditional singing of the Gori Women’s Choir. This creates music that mixes the old and the new and is thus fully in the spirit of the festival: Forward & Rewind.
FORWARD & REWIND Bern
3.5.23, 18:30: concert «Continuité, fragilité, resonance» Jürg Frey, with Quator Bozzini, les Concerts de musique Contemporaine (CMC) La Chaux-de-Fonds
5.5.-7.5.23: Fest für neue Musik , Bern
5.5. 19:30: Interlaced Resonances, Aula PROGR Bern
6.5. 19:30: Voltage Cracklings, Aula PROGR Bern
7.5. 19:30: Air Vibrations, Kirche St Peter & Paul Bern
concert: Moods Zürich
8.5.23, 20:30: «Air Vibrations»
broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Neue Musik im Konzert, 19.7.2023: Konzert Konus Quartett und Gori Women’s Choir, Bern: Air vibrations
Neue Musik im Konzert, 12.1.22: Jürg Frey: Stehende Schwärme
Musik unserer Zeit, 13.11.13: «zoom in» – der Saxophonist und Veranstalter Christian Kobi
Online-Artikel, 13.11.13: Das Rauschen des Nichts: Der Saxophonist Christian Kobi
Musik unserer Zeit, 17.07.2019: Saxophonzauber mit dem Konus Quartett
Musikmagazin, 21.5.22: Chorleiterin Teona Tsiramua: «Wir singen nicht nur Wiegenlieder»
Konus Quartett, Tamriko Kordzaia, Christian Kobi, Jürg Frey, Urs Peter Schneider, Jonas Tschanz
Gion Antoni Derungs (1935-2012) is not only Graubünden’s most prominent composer. He is also considered one of Switzerland’s outstanding musical personalities. Ten years after his death, he is receiving an extensive tribute through a biography and a Derungs Festival was held in Chur.
Portrait by Laura Decurtins.
The wide-ranging works of Gion Antoni Derungs reflect artistic imagination, strong musical identity and an irrepressible creative urge; he himself described them as the “image of his life”. In his productive engagement with the local musical traditions as well as with the international musical currents of the 20th and 21st centuries, Derungs achieved an unmistakable personal style. Today, his name stands for high-quality musical works of art that range from simple songs to complex instrumental works, speaking to amateurs and professional musicians alike.
Portrait Gion Antoni Derungs zVg. Fundaziun Gion Antoni Derungs
Folk Songs as “Roots” and “Source”
Gion Antoni Derungs was born on September 6, 1935 in the small village of Vella in the Val Lumnezia. After his father’s premature death, the family had to make ends meet with hardly any means, but the highly talented mother – sister of the famous musician Duri Sialm – nevertheless attached great importance to the musical education of her children. Romantic piano music, operas and the folk songs of Surselva surrounded Derungs from an early age. Furthermore, he was sometimes allowed to accompany church services on the harmonium, so that he also became familiar with the old Catholic hymns of the Surselva. The “canzun romontscha” became both a musical identity root as well as a source for Derungs’ compositions.
From piano student to musical director
In 1949 Derungs entered the grammar school of Disentis abbey and was taught piano and organ by village music teacher Giusep Huonder as well as by his uncle Duri Sialm. After graduating from high school, he was offered to study at the conservatory in Zurich, where – in addition to piano – he took composition, music theory, organ, conducting and score playing lessons; while at the same time studying school singing at the music academy. In 1960, while still in his studies, he was appointed musical director in Lichtensteig (Toggenburg) as his uncle’s successor and in 1962 he was finally appointed piano and organ teacher at Chur’s Bündner Lehrerseminar, as well as organist and director of the Romansh city choirs Alpina and Rezia.
Guinea pigs and “house interpreters”
In 1968, together with Pastor Gieri Cadruvi, Derungs founded the record series “Canzuns popularas” (CPLP) to promote Romansh songs. Until 1987, 13 recordings were released with a wide variety of programmes and performers. The main interpreter was the Ensemble Quartet grischun, an elite chamber choir founded by Derungs himself and with whom he was able to try out his latest, avant-garde vocal creations, such as the Missa pro defunctis op. 57, for which he won the gold medal at the international composition competition in Ibagué (Colombia).
Gion Antoni Derungs, Quintett op 25 für Flöte, Klarinette, Violine, Violoncello und Klavier, in house-production SRG/SSR
Derungs’ colleagues at the teacher seminar, including his cousin, organist Esther Sialm, became the actual “house interpreters” of his instrumental chamber music. Between 1969 and 1971, Radio Rumantsch offered Derungs’ so-called “musica moderna” a platform – which promptly earned him an ambiguous “modernist” reputation. The works presented included the Quintet op. 25 for flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano, a “symbiotic” combination of linear-polyphonic moments with cluster sounds and noise explosions, as well as the Silhouettes op. 17b for clarinet and piano, where silhouette-like contours increasingly emerge from an initial “jumble of lines and dots”.
Gion Antoni Derungs, Silhouetten op. 17b für Klarinette und Klavier, in house-production SRG/SSR
From the avant-garde back to tonality
Derungs composed such “musica moderna” from 1968 to the mid-1970s. Even as a student, he was fascinated by the experiments of the post-war musical avant-garde, serialism, aleatoric and minimal music, but also by the Polish School of the 1960s with its sound surface and timbre music. However, he kept his distance from the Darmstadt circles and their Summer Courses for New Music, which were setting the tone at the time.
In the mid-1970s, Derungs turned to the “simpler”, neo-tonal music of postmodernism, but without wanting to join the relevant circles. He always used the musical languages of his century very freely and undogmatically, whereby everything had to have its justification. Derungs saw “hopeful perspectives” for the further development of his personal style in the regained tonality. However, since he never sought instant success, many works waited decades “in the drawer” for a first performance.
“Looking ahead”: breakthrough and success
Derungs achieved his breakthrough in Graubünden with a vocal work written during this period: the opera-ballet Sontga Margriata op. 78. In his perception, returning to tonality also meant getting back to his musical roots: “Preserving tradition means looking forward”, and the folk songs allowed him to create contemporary music with a native tone. From what is probably the oldest Romansh song, La canzun da Sontga Margriata, he created a contemporary work that enjoyed a successful premiere in 1981 through a Graubünden-Geneva collaboration. This nationwide success motivated him to use the Romansh language also for genres that had no tradition in Graubünden: the art song on the one hand, but above all: the grand opera, which he “invented” in 1984 with Il cerchel magic op. 101. The work received a positive response also abroad – but in Romansh-speaking Graubünden, this first “opera rumantscha” has since been regarded as a musical milestone.
Gion Antoni Derungs, Il cerchel magic (der magische Kreis), 1984, in house-production SRG/SSR
Over the years, Derungs composed a large number of instrumental works: from small-scale chamber music and solo concertos to large symphonies – all of which he composed on his own initiative. Over the years, however, he also received commissions from a wide variety of formations at home and abroad, for which he created works tailored to the performers in the shortest possible time. Furthermore, Derungs also set a crime story, a fairy tale and the dramatic life of Red Cross founder Henry Dunant to music; his later work were three sacred vocal operas for the Origen Festival in Surses, based on multilingual libretti by its director Giovanni Netzer. The works are based on a mixture of free-tonal harmonies, impressionistic colours, motet-like techniques and a strong word-sound relationship.
“Everyone must step down at some point”
This tonal language showed its maturity in his last a cappella choral work, the Nachtgebet Complet op. 189, which Derungs completed in 2011. In that year he was diagnosed with cancer and suddenly had to get used to the idea of imminent death. In fact, death had accompanied him since childhood and over the years it also found its way into various compositions, connecting them to a certain extent thematically, for example the Requiem op. 74 with the 2nd Symphony op. 110, the Mourning Symphony, or the Sontga Margriata with the 8th Symphony «Sein-Vergehen» (“To Be – To Pass Away”). “Everyone must step down at some point,” Derungs noted about his 8th Symphony. “And we are all aware of this.”
Gion Antoni Derungs, Sinfonie Nr.8, op. 158 (2002/2003), in house-production SRG/SSR
Gion Antoni Derungs died on September 4, 2012, two days before his 77th birthday. He left a huge oeuvre with 191 opus works and hundreds of compositions without opus numbers. As early as 1996, he was awarded the honorary title of «Orpheus der Rätoromanen» (“Orpheus of the Rhaetians”), an artist who transcends borders and transfers the local musical tradition into art. However, the highest honour that can be received by a Graubünden citizen was to follow posthumously: in 2015 Derungs was chosen by the Romansh media as “in dils nos” (one of ours).
He never denied his Romansh roots and always considered the “little wishes” of his homeland.
Laura Decurtins is the author of the new biography on Gion Antoni Derungs, published by Chronos in the fall of 2022.
The Chur Gion Antoni Derungs Festival took place from September 1 to 4, 20220, among other places at the Theater Chur, and was mainly performed by the ensemble ö! The concerts were recorded in total on video by RTR and are available on neo.mx3.
Gion Antoni Derungs / Fundaziun
radio features SRF 2 Kultur:
Neue Musik im Konzert, 14.12.22: Gion Antoni Derungs-Festival in Chur, author Cécile Olshausen
Eric Gaudibert, pianist, composer and lecturer from Geneva has been a key figure in the contemporary and experimental music scene of French-speaking Switzerland. Deceased ten years ago, he influenced a whole generation of musicians as teacher and promoted important ensembles for contemporary music. From December 9 to 17, they will jointly organise a tribute festival and concert marathon in Geneva’s Victoria Hall, which will include the premiere of 22 miniatures composed by his former students.
They are called Contrechamps, Ensemble Vortex, Eklekto Geneva Percussion Center or Nouvel Ensemble Contemporain (NEC) and have two things in common, they are very active in the contemporary music scene of French-speaking Switzerland and they all have a strong connection to Eric Gaudibert.
Daniel Zea, Serge Vuille and Antoine François, artistic directors of Vortex, Contrechamps and NEC, initiated the festival as a collaborative project: “the idea came up spontaneously, talking about Eric and tackling it together came very naturally,” says Daniel Zea, because Gaudibert has been important for the development of the whole scene. The Haute école de musique Genève (HEMG) will host a conference, a film screening with table ronde, and a concert by Vortex, followed by the concert marathon with the HEMG orchestra at Victoria Hall.
Gaudibert described his urge to teach as “communiquer au-delà de la musique”, communicating beyond music. He first experienced this communication in France, where, he worked from 1962 in the fields of “animation” as well as music transmission, in rural regions, after studying piano in Lausanne and composition in Paris. After returning to Switzerland, he taught composition for many years at the Conservatoire Populaire de Genève and then at HEMG. Michael Jarrell and Xavier Dayer, both renowned composers and teachers with roots in Geneva, were his students and he accompanied many other national and international careers as an artistic guiding figure, promoter and networker.
Serge Vuille, director of Contrechamps, did not study with Gaudibert directly, but was still impressed by the “Gaudibert phenomenon” and its lasting presence in the scene, also demonstrated by how quickly other partners agreed to participate in the festival. Contrechamps works constantly with Gaudibert’s former students, be they interpreters or composers. “That’s why I wanted to show this teacher-pupil aspect and its two sides at the festival,” says Vuille.
On one hand, there is Nadia Boulanger, Gaudibert’s theory teacher in Paris: Contrechamps will perform one of her orchestral works. She taught many composers who are now performed all over the world, but her own works are rarely performed. According to Vuille, she is overlooked as composer because she is mainly perceived as a teacher.
On the other hand, Contrechamps commissioned Gaudibert’s former students with short compositions. Considering the high number of 45 graduates, “only” a regionally manageable circle of those still working in or connected with French-speaking Switzerland were asked and, with two exceptions, all of them accepted. “The strong commitment by his students was very impressive,” says Serge Vuille.
Guidelines were a duration of only one minute, but open instrumentation, from large ensemble to solo and even tape, 22 miniatures will now be performed, including works by Arturo Corrales, Fernando Garnero, Dragos Tara or Daniel Zea.
Daniel Zea highlights another aspect of the teacher-pupil communication: “We are all very grateful for what he gave us and what he made possible. At the same time, it was a game of give and take: Eric was open and curious – he was interested in what we were interested in. We influenced him, for example, with traditional music from our countries.” Zea, like some of the graduates of Gaudibert’s composition class, comes from South America. His ensemble Vortex came together in Gaudibert’s classes and was accompanied and supported by him until the end.
Hekayât, pour rubâb, hautbois, hautbois baryton, alto et percussion, 2013, in house-production SRG/SSR, performed by Khaled Arman on the rubâb, an Arabic lute, is one of Gaudibert’s late works, in which he seeks to integrate instruments, their performers, and modes of play from other cultural spaces.
Electroacoustics and diversity
Gaudibert, born in Vevey in 1936, studied in Paris with Nadia Boulanger and Henry Dutilleux. He is best known for his poetic and visual instrumental works, but there are also other, lesser-known sides: Back in Switzerland, he researched electronic sounds during the early seventies in his self-described “experimental” phase at Lausanne’s radio experimental studio.
Vortex’s concert of December 10 is entirely dedicated to his electroacoustic works, which is consistent with the ensemble’s multimedia orientation: “it’s an important phase of his work that is rarely revealed,” says Daniel Zea. Together with John Menoud, composer and multi-instrumentalist, he visited Gaudibert’s widow Jacqueline and together they went through many videos, audio cassettes and scores. Pieces for instruments and tape or live electronics, often performed only once or twice, will be performed by musicians who worked closely with Gaudibert. Benoît Moreau, for example, who will play En filigrane for epinette (spinet) and tape, which was performed only once, by Gaudibert himself, at the premiere 20018 – with Moreau present.
The choice of repertoire for the final concert shows Gaudibert’s versatility. “We decided to combine key works such as Gong – his last major ensemble work – with rarely performed pieces to show the diversity of his oeuvre,” says Vuille. Gong is dedicated to pianist Antoine Françoise, who will also interpret it at the festival, together with Contrechamps. François, now an internationally sought-after solo pianist and director of the NEC, also had a close relationship with Gaudibert, who, pianist himself, accompanied and supported François’ development from their first meeting when he was 16 years and relied on his skills for Gong’s demanding part when he was only 24.
Gong &Lémanic moderne ensemble, in house-production SRG/SSR
In addition to his instrumental works, Gaudibert’s electroacoustic phase will also be represented at Victoria Hall: Vortex performs Ecritures from 1975 for one voice and tape, created in Lausanne’s Experimental Studio, in a new version for four voices distributed in the room. “The piece lives on with new technical possibilities, which would have been in Gaudibert’s spirit,” says Zea. Eric Gaudibert would certainly have welcomed the fact that his former students continue to work together – in communication beyond music.
“Eric Gaudibert, pianiste, compositeur, enseignant”. Film Plans fixes, 48mn, Suisse, 2005 : In this 2005 film portrait, Gaudibert talks about his most beloved themes, such as his fondness for literature and painting, his times in Paris, teaching and the influences of other cultures on his musical work: the film is the focus of a panel at Geneva Festival Gaudibert on December 10.
9/10 décembre 2022, HEMG : Congrès / Concerts : Composers and lecturers Xavier Dayer, Nicolas Bolens and ethnomusicologist as well as interpreter Khaled Arman, among others, will discuss the portrait at HEMG.
17 décembre 2022, Victoria Hall Genève, 18:30h : Concert marathon Contrechamps, Eklekto, le NEC, Vortex, orchestre de la HEMG, chef d’orchestre : Vimbayi Kaziboni, Gaudibert, Boulanger, UA 22 miniatures
musique d’avenir, 6.2.2023: Festival Gaudibert 2022, author: Anne Gillot
Eric Gaudibert, Daniel Zea, Antoine Françoise, Arturo Corrales, Fernando Garnero, Dragos Tara, Ensemble Vortex, Contrechamps, Nouvel Ensemble Contemporain, Eklekto Geneva Percussion Center, John Menoud, Benoit Moreau, Ensemble Batida, Xavier Dayer, Michael Jarrell
The Lucerne Festival Forward has taken place in Lucerne from November 18 to 20, 2022. Alongside big international names such as Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Patricia Kopatchinskaja and Tito Muñoz, the programme also included the collective intervention A Clean End to end the festival.
During an interview, Lucerne composer and musician Urban Mäder described himself as an expert on all kinds of cleaning machines – and there is a good reason for that. Because for the closing of this year’s Lucerne Festival Forward (LFF), for once it is not the musicians of the Lucerne Festival Contemporary Orchestra (LFCO) who are in the spotlight, but, among others, KKL’s cleaning staff and their various types of hoovers, mops and cleaning machines.
Urban Mäder and Peter Allamand: sound installation ‘Balgerei’ at the festival Alpentöne, Altdorf 2015.
Researching at 6 o’clock in the morning
After LFF’s first edition last year and the performance of Ricefall by Michael Pisaro by 49 amatuers, another participative action took place this year: A Clean End. The action is called a collective intervention and its driving forces are Urban Mäder, Nora Vetter, Pia Matthes and Peter Allamand. The intervention took place as closing event of the last concert.
But what is there to do at the end of a festival or a concert? Well, cleaning, so that the whole thing has “a clean end”. This was the premise on which the four artists based their work and dealt intensively with the used cleaning equipment. After every KKL concert, a fifteen people strong cleaning team from Vebego arrives at 6 AM on the following morning and cleans each and every corner of the place, concert hall, foyer, toilets and the numerous rooms. They do not use buckets and brooms, however, but various ultra-modern cleaning machines, which Mäder, Vetter, Matthes and Allamand studied intensively, examining exactly the different sounds they could generate, as Urban Mäder reports. They even went to the KKL at 6 o’clock in the morning to watch the Vebego team at work. Their research and work eventually gave birth to a composition for a group of amateurs who responded to a call from LFF to become the actual A Clean End performers.
The team behind A Clean End
A Clean End is an initiative by Lucerne composer and improvisation teacher Urban Mäder; violist, composer and performer Nora Vetter; artist and scenographer Pia Matthes, who has a strong bond with sound art and Urban Mäder’s long-time collaborator Peter Allamand. Each of the four artists brought in a different perspective, says Nora Vetter in conversation. Urban Mäder has his very own language and a huge experience in this field, Pia Matthes has a good feeling for dramaturgy and, as a trained product designer, an eye for visuals, Peter Allamand knows very well how things work and takes great pleasure in trying things out and fiddling around. For example, he brought a leaf blower to a meeting of the four so that they could try out directly in the café where they met how such things sounds and works. As for herself, Nora Vetter explains that, in addition to the focus on the sound and compositional aspects which she shares with Urban Mäder, the political dimension in this work has been of great importance. Thus, she says, it was important for the actual cleaning staff to appear. As a result, fourteen of the fifteen employed cleaners were actually featured and while the musicians on stage come from all over the world and are rightly celebrated for their performances, the cleaning staff, who are often migrants, usually remain hidden. Furthermore, the cliché is attached to this occupation that the cleaners unfortunately have no other choice. “But,” says Nora Vetter, “at the end of the day, both making music and cleaning are work tasks and both are equally necessary for a festival like the LFF to happen.”
Nora Vetter: ‘Dream Paralysis’, latenz ensemble, Zürich 2021.
To be taken seriously
To be taken seriously are perhaps the keywords that can be used to summarise the various concerns behind the collective intervention A Clean End. Both the people who do the important but invisible work of cleaning and tidying up, as well as the sonic, even musical potential of the cleaning equipment are to be taken seriously.
The initiative’s aim is not to put on a funny show, but to take the sonic possibilities of the cleaning activity and the cleaning equipment seriously, says Urban Mäder. Their intervention is based on a clear musical idea, which is comparable to classical compositions. “When you compose for the orchestra, over time you get to know the woodwinds, the brass, the percussion instruments and so on. Now we know about all the cleaning machines and how they sound.” And above all – the audience finally sees the people who make sure that the KKL presents itself clean, tidy and in impeccable at every concert and can thank these mostly invisible people with the applause they deserve.
Trailer of the intervention “A clean End” from Urban Mäder, Nora Vetter, Peter Allamand and Pia Matthes. Lucerne Festival Forward, November 20 2022, KKL Luzern.
The Lucerne Festival Forward took place from November 18 to 20 in Lucerne.
The collective intervention was premiered at the final concert on the 20th of November in the concert hall of the KKL.
Beside Urban Mäder and Nora Vetter, Pia Matthes and Peter Allamand are part of the team behind A Clean End.
When she is not on the road presenting her music, which is played by the most important contemporary ensembles and large symphony orchestras, Lisa Streich lives with her family on the Swedish island of Gotland. She uses the most modern compositional techniques to create a universal musical language that speaks directly to the audience and captures today’s zeitgeist without being ingratiating. Annelis Berger tries to find out how she manages in a conversation.
Contrasts, over and over again: sharp whip beats penetrate the ear, and in the gaps – these horrible gaps between the beats – hover strangely enraptured pianissimo chords, where one does not know whether the ear is deceiving itself or the orchestra musicians are softly singing along. One sits there amazed and immersed in a surprising musical language that somehow “makes sense”, although complex and multi-layered. Segel is the title of Lisa Streich’s piece, which premiered at the Lucerne Festival in 2018.
It is my first contact with the Swedish composer’s music. Later, I realised that this musical language is typical of Lisa Streich’s works: they surprise, and at the same time speak directly to the listener. One does not feel excluded, not even at first hearing. There is no hermetic superstructure that one first has to figure out to find access to the music, despite the fact that each of the pieces is the result of very elaborate intellectual, artistic and technical work.
In Segel from 2017, Lisa Streich used a “spectral tonality” for the first time.
Lisa Streich was born in Sweden in 1985, she trained as organist and later studied composition in Berlin, Stockholm, Salzburg, Paris and Cologne. She avoids the spotlight, the stage is not her thing. But in the gallery, alone at the organ, this “breathing creature that doesn’t belong to you and that smells different in every church”, that’s where she feels comfortable. The same goes for composing at home on the island of Gotland, which lies on the Baltic Sea between the Baltic States and Sweden and where, close to the sea and in the midst of a picturesque landscape, she alternately occupies herself with family fife and composition. This also includes tinkering, handicrafts, building devices. At some point, Lisa Streich started to incorporate electronics into her music, small machines that she builds in an old shed next to her house: She soldered, built, assembled and then, for example, in the piece Pietà for motorised cello and ensemble, created an almost mechanical sound that is so exciting precisely because it becomes universal through mechanical anonymity.
Pietà ends quietly. All of Lisa Streich’s pieces, without exception, end in piano. During the interview, she tells me that, until now, she has forbidden herself to allow loud endings; a fortissimo finale feels like plagiarism to her, like a worn out, cheap effect. Such statements are typical of the Swedish composer, who speaks perfect German. She has a high, almost moral claim to be honest with her music. That is why a statement by the Greek composer Georges Aperghis, according to which an artist must be a good liar, still concerns her today. Somehow, she can see what he means and it makes sense, but it doesn’t work for her, she says.
No, that doesn’t work for Lisa. Her music is instead distinguished by a playful spirituality, one not achieved through artifice, but through authenticity, honesty, not a moralistic sourness, but a sensual truthfulness. How she achieves this remains a secret, but, she says, she perhaps captures a certain feeling of the times with her music, which corresponds to today’s audience. Naturally, one does not have control over this. But sometimes something creeps into a work that hits the core of our time.
So what are the most important compositional elements that make Lisa Streich’s music so authentic, exciting and “current”?
Spectral tonality and electronic sounds
There is, for example, the so-called spectral tonality, which Lisa Streich used for the first time in the above-mentioned work “Segel”. To create such floating chords, she looks for recordings of amateur choirs, which by their very nature are not perfect. She takes chords from these intonationally not quite clean recordings and makes a spectral analysis of them. She then works with this spectrogram in order to create a microtonal or “spectral tonality”. Lisa Streich says that she loves tonal music, but that through frequent playing and listening she gradually felt nothing more about it. On the other hand, when she listens to amateur choirs that don’t have a completely clean intonation, she experiences tonality in a new way. In other words, when familiar chords are a little off, you can experience major and minor anew.
Another compositional mean in Lisa Streich’s music is electronic sounds, which she creates by attaching small devices to the instrument. This creates a very unique, soulful, mechanical atmosphere – often in contrast with sharp ensemble sounds that collide with these mechanical “Olimpia worlds” (E.T.A. Hoffmann).
Echoes of Roman polychoralism
There is also an affinity with the human voice and choral traditions that runs through Lisa Streich’s oeuvre. For example, in the wonderful work Stabat for 32 voices and four choirs, written in Rome during Streich’s stay at Villa Massimo. It is one of her longest pieces and inspired by Roman polychoral music, which, unlike the Venetian, is hardly cultivated any more, as it is very expensive to perform this 400-year-old, multi-choral music. In those days, boys sang on the balconies and even in the dome of St. Peter’s, connected to the conductor only by hatches. In the church of S. Giovanni in Laterano, for example, where the choral work was first performed, there are twelve balconies. This many-choir system was originally used to create a kind of unplugged Dolby Surround sound system, which fascinated Lisa Streich and she tried to bring this sound into the 21st century in a four-choir work. The resulting piece is a kind of meditation for choir, suggesting a vast landscape, or a timeless and spaceless level into which one can fall without landing softly nor hard. One simply IS.
32 voices distributed over four choirs can be heard in Stabat by Lisa Streich from 2017. Here she translates the 400-year-old Roman polychoral into the 21st century.
Lisa Streich answers the question about religious content of such works, which already refer to an ecclesiastical tradition from their title, hesitantly. Yes, religion used to play an important role in her life. Less so today, but it is still important. However, it is less linked to a specific religion. “I am sure that there is a world that is invisible, but stronger and bigger than our visible one. Music, too, allows us to experience or feel things that are perhaps not of this world at all.”
In fact, Streich’s music offers the possibility of spiritual openings, if one allows oneself to be drawn into it. Perhaps this is precisely what appeals in the composer’s work, not the programme, but an underlying current that one consciously or unconsciously perceives.
On Saturday, October 8, at 7:3pm, the Collegium Novum Zurich will premiere her piece OFELIA at Zurich Tonhalle.
broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, 12.10.22, 20h / 15.10.22, 21h: Im Innern der Orgel: Lisa Streich, composer and organist, author Annelis Berger
Thomas Adès, one of the most successful and played composers of our time, is “composer in residence” at the Lucerne Festival this summer 2022. In many ways, the 51-year-old Adès is a perfect fit for this year’s motto “Diversity”.
It is not a very common thing these days to see a busy and internationally active composer also appear regularly as a conductor and instrumentalist. British composer Thomas Adès, however, appears in the music world in many different ways: in addition to his creative work, he gives concerts as a pianist, chamber musician and song accompanist, records works and conducts his own works as well as the classical-romantic repertoire.
In his professional life, most of his time is spent composing, “because no one but myself can compose my pieces,” says Thomas Adès laconically in his deep bass voice.
During Lucerne Festival too, he’ll appear in all three roles, plus as conducting teacher. Playing, conducting and composing are obviously very compatible for him: “Playing the piano always goes along with it, so to speak, because I compose on the piano. But during one activity I can also well recover from the other. In contrast to the creative process, playing, for example, is a more muscular process, the fingers have to stay fit and you have to train them like a racehorse,” says Adès, showing his impressive paws.
Time for imagination and dreams at the piano
When he has time for himself, not practising or composing, he likes to take any scores from his shelf and play whatever he feels like. “It stimulates the imagination and dreaming. I love playing other people’s music, feeling its shape and form in time.” Very often it is Schumann and also Beethoven’s scores “usually don’t make it back to the shelf”. But Adès also likes to play other great composers such as Chopin, Haydn, Mozart or Couperin again and again.
He explicitly refers to François Couperin in three of his works, Sonata da Caccia (1993) for horn, baroque oboe and harpsichord, Les baricades mistérieuses (1994) for chamber ensemble and Three Studies from Couperin (2006) for chamber orchestra.
Thomas Adès, Three studies for Couperin for chamber orchestra, Tonhalle-Orchester, conductor Alan Gilbert, 2006, inhouse-production SRG/SSR
Thomas Adès generally likes to draw inspiration from already existing music. Like many contemporary composers, he draws on various styles and periods and is not an avant-gardist in the sense that his cause is to radically break with all tradition. Igor Stravinsky, for example, was and is in some respects a “guiding star” for Adès, a kind of mentor and “father figure”.
Varied, brilliant music
Thomas Adès achieved an international breakthrough in his early 20s. Compositions such as Still Sorrowing (1992) for prepared piano earned praise, and his stellar career was further fuelled, among other things, by winning the prestigious Grawemeyer Award for his first major orchestral work, Asyla (1997) – making him the youngest awarded composer.
Opera about an outcast
The choice of material for his first full-length stage work, the chamber opera Powder her face (1995) was daring and audacious. “I sat down with lyricist Philip Hensher and told him that I would like to write an opera about a person who is brought down by external forces. This would fit well with my musical language.” Hensher immediately suggested the scandalous divorce of Margaret Campbell, which had been widely exploited by the media. “We can’t do that,” was Adès’ first reaction, but the two quickly came up with ideas for individual scenes.
In the resulting tragicomic grotesque about the love affairs of hedonistic and fun-loving Duchess of Argyll, the composer was able to bring in his humor. But not only: “It was actually also about ourselves: two adolescent gay men in 90s London against the backdrop of the AIDS crisis. We felt that the society we were living in perceived us as scandalous, sacrilegious and even dangerous – a society that outrageously pretended it had never heard of oral sex. We wanted to put this and hypocrisy at the centre of my first opera. Because even if it’s hard to admit: I think there’s one or two of the Duchess’ characteristics in most of us.”
The result is a cheeky, swinging and extremely stage-effective chamber opera full of ravishing tango and music hall echoes, including a musically very explicit fellatio aria by the Duchess.
Thomas Adès, Powder her face, Ópera de Cámara Teatro Colón 2019
Towards the end of the piece, on the other hand, the composer found a touching tone for the Duchess, who is dying because of society’s given prudery and cruelty. Every note radiates compassion and identification with his character there.
Two more full-length operas with large casts followed this first coup: the modern Shakespearean opera The Tempest (2003) and the supernaturally creepy The Exterminating Angel (2016), inspired by Luis Buñuel’s film of the same title.
Creation as a Piano Concerto
This year’s Lucerne Festival will also feature one of Adès’ few multimedia works, a piano concerto on creation entitled In Seven Days (2008) with visuals by his then life partner, filmmaker and video artist Tal Rosner. Formally, they are variations on a chord progression that the composer already had in mind for The Tempest, but didn’t find the right place for it in the opera. One of the particularly charming moments in this concert piece is the fifth part: a tricky fugue with which Adès portrays the creation of animals and their scurrying out into the world.
Premiere of the new piece for violin and orchestra with Anne-Sophie Mutter
This year’s commission from “ Roche Commissions” is a work for soloist and orchestra, simply called “Air” and will be premiered by violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter. In contrast to Adès’ first violin concerto, which swirled up in whirling figures, the movement here seems more concentrated, almost reduced, after a first glance at the score. Mainly in quiet quarter notes, a seemingly endless song unfolds, hovering for almost 15 minutes in those ethereal the composer loves so much. “The endurance, concentration, purity and clarity of her playing inspired me to write this music” says the composer. “Musically, several lines shift against each other in a tight canon. In terms of content, it is also a contemplation on what we have experienced during this pandemic, a kind of lament. During the composition, I condensed the texture more and more, deleted a lot – as I often do – until I finally got to the essence of the music.”
Older and new chamber music
The wide-ranging spectrum of Thomas Adès’ oeuvre will be rounded off with chamber music with Quatuor Diotima performing the early string quartet Arcadiana (1996) and, together with clarinettist Mark Simpson, the clarinet quintet Alchymia, premiered last year. The title refers to the alchemists of Elizabethan London around 1600: “I think all creative artists, including myself, act alchemically, so to speak. We bring motionless material to life and magically transform it into gold, if all goes well. In Alchymia I was able to express in a very intimate way how I personally feel and think about the world.”
Thomas Adès at Lucerne Festival – concerts mentioned
20.8.22., 22h, Luzerner Saal KKL, Lucerne Festival Contamporary Orchestra, conductor Elena Schwarz, u.a. In Seven Days
27.8.22., 19:30h, Konzertsaal KKL, Anne-Sophie Mutter, a.o. Air
4.9.22., 16h, Musikhochschule Salquin Saal, chamber music Quatuor Diotima
broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur
Musik unserer Zeit, 7.9.22, author Moritz Weber
Weltklasse live aus Luzern, 27.8.22, u.a. UA “Air”, with Florian Hauser
MusikMagazin, 10.9.22 Thomas Adès: talk with Moritz Weber
SRF-online-Text: Früher gemobbt, heute berühmt: Thomas Adès steht für Vielfalt, author Moritz Weber