Happy Birthday Nouvel Ensemble Contemporain!

La Chaux-de-Fonds’ Nouvel Ensemble Contemporain (NEC) celebrates its 25th anniversary this year and invites to its anniversary weekend. “Time to Party” is the event tied to the big birthday concert of Saturday March 14, with works by Anton Webern, Claire-Mélanie Sinnhuber and Daniel Zea, followed by a marathon of mini-concerts from Louis Jucker’s ‘Suitcase Suite’ on Sunday.

Le NEC Nouvel ensemble contemporain © Pablo Fernandez, 25 mars 2017, Temple Allemand, La Chaux-de-Fonds

Jaronas Scheurer
“Most people don’t immediately think of the NEC if questioned about contemporary music in Switzerland, but as soon as the ensemble is mentioned, it brings a smile to their faces.” – says Antoine Françoise, pianist and artistic director of the Nouvel Ensemble Contemporain (NEC, when asked regarding the secret weapon or superpower of NEC. Putting a smile on your face sums up NEC’s philosophy pretty well. About 25 years ago, a group of musicians from La Chaux-de-Fonds gathered together to share their passion for new music.

A group of friends – a solid institution 

A lot happened in the meantime: the group became a solid institution in the Swiss music scene and new musicians, including Antoine Françoise, joined. He first joined NEC as pianist, about 13 years ago and replaced founding member Pierre-Alain Monot as artistic director in 2016.


Antoine Françoise dirigiert das Nouvel Ensemble Contemporain in: Mathis Saunier, Palindrome for String Orchestra, am Antigel Festival Genève 2019,

For Françoise, ongoing change is essential. He intends to remain artistic director as long as he’ll be able to change the NEC’s aesthetic and if he can no longer do so, he hopes to hand over the reins to someone with new and fresh ideas. But what remains despite all the change is the common love for music, so NEC can still be summed up as a group of friends who want to share their passion for new music.

A full week of partying

To celebrate its 25th anniversary, NEC is presenting itself and La Chaux-de-Fonds with an entire week of concerts, beginning with a series of mini-concerts presenting solo pieces in various city locations. On Friday, the ensemble will be equipped with self-made instruments to perform the “Suitcase Suite” by punk rock guitarist Louis Jucker, on Saturday NEC will perform the big birthday concert with the fitting title “Time to Party” and for the finale, on Sunday, the NEC musicians will present the mini-concerts’ solo pieces in public.

Portrait Daniel Zea

Saturday’s concert will be particularly representative of the Nouvel Ensemble Contemporain: starting with 1940’s Variations for Orchestra, op. 30 by Anton Webern, one of 20th century music most important work, arranged for ensemble by its former director, Pierre-Alain Monot followed by “Soliloque” by French composer Claire-Mélanie Sinnhuber. It is the first time that NEC will play a one of Sinnhuber’s works. The piece “Pocket enemy” from 2017 by Colombian composer Daniel Zea, who has worked with NEC on several occasions and composed “Pocket enemy” for Antoine Françoise, will complete the evening.


Daniel Zea, Pocket enemy, Ensemble Vortex, 2017

So first a classic of the 20th century with a greeting to the former conductor Pierre-Alain Monot, followed by a more recent work by a friend of the ensemble and the discovery of a new composer – a good summary of NEC’s philosophy. All three pieces are written for a large ensemble so that, as many NEC musicians as possible, can be involved. Françoise’s only rule for putting together NEC’s programmes is the following: “I don’t shape the programmes to please the audience, but to please my musicians and when musicians are happy, I know the audience can feel it.” Goes with NEC’s goal to put a smile on everyone’s face… 
Jaronas Scheurer

Les musiciens du NEC © 2019 Pablo Fernandez. La Chaux-de-Fonds, février 2019

friday, march 13, 6:30pmopening and vernissage, Théâtre ABC, Ausstellung: Annick Burion & Pablo Fernandez (opening hours Sa: 11-24h; So: 11h-20h), musical intervention: Matthieu Grandola
8:30pm Louis Jucker, The Suitcase Suite, Temple Allemand
10pm Marcel Chagrin, tourneur de 78 tours
saturday, march 14, 8:30pmTime to party, Temple Allemand La Chaux-de-Fonds:
Anton Webern, Variations pour orchestre op. 30, nouvel arrangement pour ensemble Pierre-Alain Monod, création
Claire-Mélanie Sinnhuber, Soliloque pour ensemble
Daniel Zea, Pocket enemy pour sampler et ensemble
sunday, march 15, from 2pmMiniatures, Temple Allemand La Chaux-de-Fonds
2pm Miniatures I
2:40pm Pierre Jodlowski: Typologies du regard pour piano et électronique
3pm Apéritif SONART
4pm Miniatures II
4:40pm Matthieu Grandola, flûte: pieces from Eliott Carter, Toru Takemitsu, Kaija Saariaho, Ofer Pelz
5:15pm MIniatures III


25ans le NEC: SRF 2 Kultur, Kultur aktuell, 12./13.3.20: editorial Annelis Berger

Nouvel Ensemble Contemporain, Daniel Zea, Claire-Mélanie Sinnhuber, Louis JuckerSONART – Musikschaffende Schweiz

broadcasts SRG:
RTS, musique d’avenir, editorial: Anne Gillot
SRF 2 Kultur:
Aktuell & Kultur kompakt, 12./13.3., editorial Annelis Berger
Musikmagazin, 14./15.3., editorial Annelis Berger

neo-profiles: Nouvel Ensemble Contemporain, Daniel Zea

Man – woman – man – woman or “No fizzy powder drink.” 

Olga Neuwirth’s ‘Opus summum’ Orlando is in the home stretch at Vienna’s Staatsoper, taking an institution known for being rooted in tradition on two new ventures. For the first time in its 150-year history, an opera has been commissioned to a woman and the Staatsoper shows commitment to a diverse society. Neuwirth tells Virginia Woolf’s story of a journey through time and gender over centuries up to the present day. 

Olga Neuwirth , Portrait ©Wiener Staatsoper / Harald Hoffmann

Gabrielle Weber
Lucas Niggli is involved as percussion soloist and reports directly from Vienna on translating the story into music as well as on the interaction with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. 

“Orlando is a huge work transcending all genre boundaries, a very big spectacle and it is remarkable that something like that can be realised in such a traditionally oriented Opera house, especially in this day and age”. It needs a great deal of nerve and commitment, because the orchestra is very challenged. “Such a visionary piece of work cannot be consumed without friction, like some kind of fizzy powder drink. It requires hard work.” The second violins are microtonally tuned 60 cents lower for instance. The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra is not used to such things, which create a great richness in colours though. “It is a real pleasure to listen to,” Niggli says enthusiastically. 

Niggli plays in costume for three extended sequences and is pushed on stage on a carriage together with his drums. Neuwirth wrote the drum part with drum-specific skills, alternating between moments of freedom, big-band-like kicks and razor-sharp passages”. The interplay with the Vienna Philharmonic is particularly challenging in the sequences in which he doesn’t find himself playing in the pit, as the Philharmoniker are famous for their laid back playing, while I am usually very focused on the downbeat”. 


Lucas Niggli Solo, Alchemia Garden, 2017

The extremely modern plot portrays a personality that – in the character of Orlando – has completely changed over the centuries, also in terms of gender.  

How is this translated into music? In Neuwirth’s story, Orlando also becomes a mother – her child is given by the queer singer-performer Justin Vivian Bond. 

Justin Vivian Bond: Orlandos child ©Wiener Staatsoper / Michael Pöhn

On the other hand, Orlando’s journey throughout the centuries is expressed with blunt and cheeky music history quotations. “There are quotes from Monteverdi, Rossini, Stravinsky to Lady Gaga and a nice passage where I’m allowed to improvise with an electronic sample,” explains Niggli. Neuwirth has precise and courageous ideas about the combination of musical genres. “She almost performs a genre-bending in parallel with the narrative gender-bending: Neuwirth’s music is a bit like chewing gum: very elastic, but still cohesive.”


Olga Neuwirth, Eleanor (extrait) 2014, Ensemble intercontemporain, Matthias Pintscher (conductor), Della Miles (voice)

Drums, electric guitar, wind instruments, sometimes jazz brass instruments play an important role also in other works by Neuwirth. “This is why she also composed a solo part for jazz percussion in this ‘Opus summum’, as she defines it herself. This is how I got this great, exiting assignment.”
Interview Annelis Berger, 2.12.19 

In addition to conductor Matthias Pintscher, almost the entire artistic management team is female, with – for instance – particularly exciting costumes by Rei Kawakubo, chief designer of the fashion label Comme les garçons.
Gabrielle Weber

Lucas Niggli @Olga Neuwirth: Orlando ©Wiener Staatsoper / Michael Pöhn

For it is a love of oddities, of the paradoxical, the grotesque, virtuosity, exaltation and exaggeration that are the essence of this fictional biography, which aims to create a new morphology of a narration which is in a constant flow to create a fluid form. At all times it is also about (…) a sophisticated and highly subtle form of sexual attraction that rejects being pigeonholed in any one gender. As well as about refusing to be patronised and treated in a condescending manner – something that continually happens to women, with no end in sight” (Olga Neuwirth).

Wiener Staatsoper, Lucas Niggli, Olga Neuwirth, Justin Vivian Bond
Orlando @ Wiener Staatsoper: WP: 8.12.2019
further performances: 11., 14., 18., 20.12.2019

The performance of 18 December 2019 will be live-streamed on WIENER STAATSOPER live at home worldwide in HD.

Broadcaast SRF 2 Kultur: Musikmagazin, 7./8.12.2019

neo-profile: Lucas Niggli