Nature’s superiority

Eiger, a new opera by Fabian Müller, will be premiered by Theater Orchester Biel Solothurn on December 17. Christian Fluri spoke to the composer before the premiere about his relationship with this mountain, which fascinated him for a long time. 

Christian Fluri
“The story of the second attempt to scale the Eiger’s north face can hardly be topped drama wise,” says composer Fabian Müller enthusiastically about his work. In 1936, two German climbers, Toni Kurz and Andreas Hinterstoisser, along with two Austrian colleagues, were the first to attempt to scale the mountain’s mighty north face. They failed and all four died. The film and opera director Philipp Stölzl already devoted himself to this story in his 2008 film Nordwand, now writer and librettist Tim Krohn and Fabian Müller are giving it another go. When asked if they had been influenced by the movie, Müller denies. “We tell the drama from a completely different angle and although the historical framework is the same, the story allows a lot of freedom.”

 

Portrait Fabian Müller rehearsing Eiger zVg SOBS 2021

 

 

The story of the Eiger opera tells the initial enthusiasm with which the climbing tour began, through the looming failure, all the way to the battle against death, which even expert Toni Kurz loses in the end. “The opera is about powerlessness of men against nature’s superiority.” Müller gives the mountain a voice – a woman’s voice. “As it were the song of the mountain, which, towards the end of the opera, gazes in bird’s-eye view over the storm, the drama and the weather’s wildness. The dying man is torn between last attempts to save his life and the mountain’s seductive song, which makes him slip more and more into a surreal, otherworldly state.”

 

At the foot of the Eiger

 
16 years before the premiere of the opera, Fabian Müller had already been dealing with the Eiger and its north face. In 2004, he was commissioned by the Interlaken Music Festival to write
Symphonische Skizze Eiger and did so in his composer’s cottage, a chalet in Grindelwald, at the foot of the mountain, where he had spent his holidays with his parents as a child and teenager.

 

Fabian Müller, Eiger – Eine symphonische Skizze, UA 2004, Latvian Symphony Orchestra, Dirigent Andris NelsonsMüller integrates music history in his compositions. In his Symphonische Skizze Eiger (2004), he partly used serial techniques.

 

 

“Since my childhood I have been connected with the mountain landscapes around Grindelwald” says Müller about this place of inspiration. After his training, the chalet became a retreat where his creativity could flourish. When he wrote his symphonic sketch in 2004, “the Eiger looked down on me, watching me scribble my notes on the paper,” he says.  

 
Even at that time, he thought that the 1936 drama would make excellent operatic material. “Now, starting from the sketch, I have developed the music into the opera and used everything that is in the sketch in some way – although rarely identically,” he explains.  
“I encounter many of my former pieces like a stranger and in general, it’s often quite hard for me to dive back into an older composition of mine. The
Symphonische Skizze Eiger, on the other hand, has always remained present. Perhaps because the opera was still to be written.” However, the opera’s composition hardly ever took place at the foot of the Eiger, but mostly at home in Zurich.
 

The lyrics’ musicality


Müller began his composing work with Tim Krohn’s libretto on his table. He has great confidence in the musicality of his librettist, with whom he is already working for the third time: “Tim Krohn has an affinity for music and a great understanding of the musicality that a libretto must have. There was nothing in his text for which a musical solution could not be found.”  Even tricky passages became a delightful challenge. Of course, he maintained an intensive exchange with Tim Krohn; but “in the end, we didn’t make a single change to the libretto.”

 
Both German and the Austrian alpinists of that period showed closeness to National Socialism in their thinking and often in their acts as well which is also a subject of Tim Krohn’s libretto. It draws the characters in their ambivalence, Müller notes. “Their political stance resonates in the drawing of their characters. It also becomes a problem when it comes to trust each other, which is essential in climbing. This characters’ ambivalence also finds expression in my music.”

 

Portrait Tim Krohn zVg SOBS

 

While Müller was still in the composing process – for the opera with a large orchestra – he received a commission for Eiger from Theater Orchester Biel Solothurn (TOBS). After completing the score, he therefore wrote an additional version for chamber orchestra, which will now be premiered in Biel in a production by Barbara-David Brüesch and directed by  Kaspar Zehnder.

 

Letting music happen 

But what does Müller’s music sound like? He is certainly not one of the experimental composers, nor does he want to be. He is convinced that the tonal possibilities of a symphony orchestra are exhausted today. But something new can arise in the combination and the connection of sounds and sound figures.  
 
In his compositions, Müller always keeps music history in mind: he is not afraid to use traditional harmonies or sound structures. His points of reference are Gustav Mahler, young Arnold Schönberg, Alban Berg, as well as the French music of the early 20th century and feels related to today’s Scandinavian, Eastern European and Anglo-American composers, to name but a few.

 


Fabian Müller, Munch’s Traum(a) für Violine Solo, UA 2010:Müller’s music is about emotional expression. He cites Gustav Mahler, young Arnold Schönberg or Alban Berg, but also György Ligeti and Olivier Messiaen as music points of reference.

 

Of course, he has intensively studied the German and French avant-garde of the post-war period and its history – such as the serial technique, which for him, however, clearly belongs to the past. “György Ligeti already overcame it in 1961 with his grandiose work Atmosphères, and the same goes for others of his contemporaries.Ligeti and Olivier Messiaen are important pillars for him. but he also greatly appreciates the composers “who broke new ground in the 1970s” – away from experimental paths, such as the Finn Einojuhani Rautavaara (1928-2016), with whom he was linked by a long correspondence.  

Müller describes himself as an intuitive composer who is always concerned with emotional expression. “Once the composition process has begun, I let myself be guided by the music itself. As to why my music sounds the way it does, all I can really say is that it’s the music I perceive internally when I’m doing what interests me most, namely composing.”
Christian Fluri

 


Composer Fabian Müller introduces his opera Eiger

 

Theater Orchester Biel Solothurn, opera Eiger
Premiere on December 17, 2021 at Theater Biel, further performances during season 21/22

Toni Kurz, Andreas Hinterstoisser, Philipp Stölzl, Tim Krohn, Gustav Mahler, Arnold Schönberg, Alban Berg, György Ligeti, Olivier Messiaen, Einojuhani Rautavaara

neo-profiles:
Fabian Müller, Sinfonie Orchester Biel Solothurn

Interpretation of contemporary works as an investment for the future

Christian Fluri: 100 Years Winterthurer Streichquartett (Winterthur String Quartet)  

One of neo.mx3’s purposes is to make rare SRG recordings of the Swiss musical avant-garde accessible on an ongoing basis. In this already significant collection, Christian Fluri discovered the Winterthurer Streichquartett for neoblog
In the exceptional year 2020, it experienced an extraordinary anniversary. 

Winterthurer Streichquartett ©zVg Musikkollegium Winterthur

Christian Fluri 
The Winterthurer Streichquartett is unique in the best possible sense of the word. What other string quartet has ever been able to celebrate its 100th anniversary? Normally, string quartets develop and unfold their art in the same setup, living together in such a way that they communicate blindly with each other and if – for whatever reason – the musicians break up, the quartet dissolves. This was basically the case with the Lasalle Quartet, one of the most influential in 20th century music. The Arditti Quartet, just as influential for contemporary music, is a little different, as it is bound to, shaped by and named after its first violinist and founder Irvine Arditti, while the other positions experienced various changes.  

Constant renewal ensures longevity    

Winterthurer Streichquartett, consisting of the respective Musikkollegium Winterthur principals, is quite different. When a new leader joins the string section, the quartet line-up changes too. Thus, the four positions are regularly renewed, which demands great flexibility its members. But this flexibility is exactly what gives provides quartet with its liveliness.   

Winterthurer Streichquartett 1930ies ©zVg Musikkollegium Winterthur, Handzeichnung Gustav Weiss

In the anniversary year 2020, the position of second violinist Pär Näsbom, became vacant, as after having held the principal second violin position since 1987, he has left the Musikkollegium for retirement reasons. In addition, first violinist and concertmaster Roberto González Monjas will become the orchestra’s principal conductor from the 2021/22 season onwards, which means that the concertmaster position will also need to be filled soon. Therefore, after seven years of the same line-up, the next changes are imminent and there will once again be a renewal.   

Winterthurer Streichquartett 2016: cast Chmel, González-Monjas, Näsbom, Dähler ©zVg Musikkollegium Winterthur

Violist Jürg Dähler (since 1993), who is also a leading member of the Swiss Chamber Soloists and performs in various chamber formations related to the ensemble, as well as cellist Cecilia Chmel (since 1989), another outstanding chamber musician, will continue to be part of the quartet. 

Unfortunately, Corona measures prevented the quartet from being able to proudly celebrate its anniversary with a big concert in November. That was a bit sad, Cecilia Chmel remarked in our electronic conversation… but “At least we were able to play our anniversary concert for some 50 listeners and stream it live.  

Always in touch with the present    

Since the early beginnings, contemporary music has had a steady place in the quartet’s repertoire alongside common practice period works. In 1921 already, it played Arnold Schönberg’s String Quartet in F-sharp minor op.10 with its first line-up led by concertmaster Ernst Wolters, as music historian Verena Naegele mentioned in her 100th birthday laudatory speech.

Winterthurer Streichquartett 1952: cast Dahinden, Rybar, Wigand, Tusa, mit Unterschriften ©zVg Musikkollegium Winterthur

Current cellist Cecilia Chmel stresses the importance that new music has for the ensemble: When you play mainly the classical-romantic repertoire, it is particularly important to also perceive the present and look to the future. The interpretation of contemporary works is an investment for the future. 

Since its founding, Winterthurer Streichquartett has regularly collaborated with composers and commissioned works. Celilia Chmel mentions for example the collaboration with great Basel master Rudolf Kelterborn and with Zurich composers Alfred Felder and Ursina Braun, both excellent cellists as well.    

Also a History of New Music   

The quartet’s prolific involvement with 20th-century music by Swiss composers is reflected in the newly accessible recordings from the SRG archive. On neo.mx3 you will find numerous recordings featuring contemporary works from the years 1948 to 1975.   

Rudolf Kelterborn, Streichquartett Nr.2, 1958, in-house production SRG/SSR

A particular gem is Kelterborn’s early 2nd string quartet in three movements. The 1958 recording with Peter Rybarm (1st violin), Clemens Dahinden (2nd violin), Heinz Wigand (viola) and Antonio Tusa (cello), is of astonishing presence and clarity and so is the interpretation itself, combining analytical spirit and passion for the work. The young Kelterborn is on the way to finding his own compositional language and already shows high qualities in combining emotionality, musical depth, density and accuracy in a composition that stands at the height of its time, transcending technical matters and serialism.   

Just as captivating is the 1963 recording of Ernest Bloch’s fantastic Quintet for Piano and Strings No.1 (1923). Here, the ensemble is joined by pianist Rudolf am Bach, who taught at the Winterthur Conservatory and was equally committed to Swiss music of his time. The first agitato movement, like the concluding Allegro energico, is of thrilling rhythmic conciseness and the interpretation penetrates content and structure of the work deeply and with great tonal transparency, sharpening the dissonances even in the slower middle movement. 

Ernest Bloch, Quintett für Klavier und Streicher 1963, in-house production SRG/SSR

At the 1975 Swiss Tonkünstlerfest in Basel, the quartet consisting of Abraham Comfort (1st violin), Clemens Dahinden (2nd violin), Marcel Gross (viola), and Markus Stocker (cello) played Hermann Haller’s 2nd String Quartet (1971). A fascinating pieace based on a dark, melancholic basis and distinct compositional language, combining late romanticism with modern vocabulary. 

Herman Haller, Streichquartett Nr.2, 1971, in-house production SRG/SSR

The Winterthurer Streichquartett is distinguished by precise interpretative approach, clarity of sound and close dialogue between the four musicians and their newest recording featuring a different line-up is no different from the consistently high level of the earlier recordings, which is astonishing.   

They are probably one of the few quartets able to renew high artistic standards, musical vitality and passion – in this case for contemporary music by well-known as well as lesser-known composers – with ever-changing line-up.
Christian Fluri

Winterthurer Streichquartett 2006: cast Chmel, Näsbom, Zimmermann, Dähler ©zVg Musikkollegium Winterthur

In 2021, the following three contemporary quartets are scheduled: Farewell (1995) by US-American John Corigliano, Tenebrae (2002) by Argentinean Osvaldo Golijov and Arcadiana, opus 12 (1994) by Englishman Thomas Adès.   

Samstag, 6.3.2021, 19h: House concert Winterthurer Streichquartett: The death and the maiden, John Corigliano, Streichquartett Nr.1 Farewell , Franz Schubert Streichquartett d-Moll D 810 The death and the maiden

The concerts above, like most of the Musikkollegium concerts during the pandemic, will take place live and can be enjoyed via live stream. Further details are to be found in the concert calendar. 

John Corigliano, Oswaldo Golijov, Thomas Adès, Verena Naegele, LaSalle String Quartet, Arditti Quartett, Arnold Schönberg, Ernest Bloch

Neo-Profiles: Winterthurer Streichquartett, Musikkollegium WinterthurSwiss Chamber SoloistsSwiss Chamber ConcertsRudolf Kelterborn, Hermann Haller

Open-mindedness and consistency

35 years ensemble für neue music zürich

Setting significant standards since three decades: the “ensemble für neue music zürich” was founded in 1985, when contemporary music was only just beginning to emerge – today it is facing particular challenges.
A review with perspective by Thomas Meyer.

ensemble für neue musik zürich

One must remember the musical situation in Zurich around 1980. The Conservatory still lived up to its name: a place of preservation, not at all focusing on creation as it is today. Premieres for instance were highly unappreciated at the Tonhalle. There were small concert series dedicated to new music, but no specialist ensemble for it. There was a lot to be done.

When the “Tage für Neue Musik” were first held in 1986, a young ensemble, simply called “ensemble für neue musik zürich” emerged. It had presented itself for the first time only one year earlier and gathered a handful of musicians who were looking for something new. The musicians supported young composers of their generation and their environment and who had a very broad concept of music. Everything started with a concert by the “Gruppo Musica Insieme di Cremona” during the Zurich Junifestwochen, with mezzo-soprano Cathy Berberian. “It was an eye-opener: I felt the urge to do something like that,” says flutist Hanspeter Frehner, who founded the ensemble with other young students and still leads it today. Together with the pianist Viktor Müller, he is the only member of the original line up.

Hanspeter Frehner Portrait

Two essential characteristics define the ensemble: open-mindedness and consistency. Their open-mindedness is reflected, for example, by the choice of presenting female composers’ programmes from very early on, commissioning works to Liza Lim or Noriko Hisada. Another characteristic is asking jazz musicians to compose – which launched, for example, the career of Dieter Ammann. They also dedicated themselves to the visual arts, as in their homages to the Zurich sculptor Hans Josephsohn or in their collaboration with the experimental artist Peter Regli.


Verwandtschaft, composer: Junghae Lee, UA Winterthur, Villa Sträuli  2019, ensemble für neue musik zürich

But above all, they pushed music theater to a new level: the ensemble’s instrumentation is based on Schönberg’s cabaret-like “Pierrot lunaire”: flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano, complemented by percussion, similar to Peter Maxwell Davies’ “Fires of London”. With two short operas by Davies, the “ensemble” proved early on that it was possible to create grandiose musical theatre with a few, consistently applied means. Another experiment, together with director Herbert Wernicke, was a radical version of the “Merry Widow” – so bold that Léhar’s heirs promptly banned it. Since then, chamber operas have been a permanent feature of the programme. Next November, for example, the operetta “Neues vom Weltuntergang” by Dortmund composer Johannes Marks is on schedule.

Their consistency is reflected in the long collaboration among each other, but also with the composers. Noriko Hisada, from Japan, states for example, that “ensemble für neue music is one of those groups in which I have deep trust” and Sebastian Gottschick has been the ensemble’s guest conductor for a long time. These days, the “Hat Hut” record label (ezz-thetics) is releasing two new CDs with his “Notturni” as well as arrangements of Charles Ives songs. A remembrance of composer Franz Furrer-Münch, who died in 2010, is also planned for next autumn. This all shows that it’s not only a matter of featuring the big names of new music, but also about working, as well as promoting, from the base upwards…


Trailer ZUHÖAN, composition duo: Christoph Coburger / Sebastian Gottschick, UA 2015, ensemble für neue musik zürich

This is how the “ensemble” has been setting standards for some three and a half decades. Some time ago, the rumour started to circulate, that the musicians were gradually reaching retirement age. Actually, financial support from the city of Zurich will expire at the end of 2021, but Frehner says there are still a few ideas and projects beyond that. Moreover, he believes that it would be perfectly fine, if the regular city support were invested in the future, i.e. a young ensemble.

One has to consider the situation in Zurich today: New Music does not have a fixed venue such as the Gare du Nord in Basel and with the Walcheturm in Kaserneareal, at least one option for the independent scene is available. The Tage für Neue Musik are on the verge of a new conception, the orchestral concerts are not exactly bursting with innovations. Although creation is flourishing at the ZHdK and the city has a fixed chamber orchestra “Collegium Novum Zurich”, a new smaller ensemble would also require support and there is still a lot to be done.
Thomas Meyer

The concerts planned for May and June were cancelled due to the current Covid-19 restrictions and will be made up on the following dates:
Stöckli/Neumann/Ustwolskaja (instead of 16.5.20): 5.2.21
CD Taufe Ives/Gottschick (instead of 14.6.20): 12.12.20
Grüsse an Regli (instead of 28.6.20): 29.6.21

ensemble für neue musik zürich, Hat HutSebastian Gottschick, Liza Lim, Franz Furrer-Münch, Dieter Ammann, Hans Josephsohn, Johannes Marks, Peter Regli

Neo-Profilesensemble für neue musik zürich, Dieter Ammann, Junghae Lee