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Episode 4 of neoblog portraits concerning the Swiss Music Prize 2020:
Rudolf Kelterborn is one of the Swiss Music Prize 2020 winners.
It was in 1985, when I first heard music by Rudolf Kelterborn: the incredibly intense cello sonata, which had been freshly composed. How can someone, I wondered as a young person, write such music? It is both angry and at the same time clearly structured, very well aware of its own power. The musical gesture circles, evokes, develops itself in depth until reaching up into the heights. Singing, lamenting, twisting, losing itself. Cheering. A music that narrates and speaks to me.
“In my work,” Rudolf Kelterborn once said, “creating something fundamentally new is not the priority. What really matters to me, is to set something in motion with viewers and listeners. With motion I do not mean a vague emotionalism, but rather the opposite, solidification. Even something that has nothing to do with current affairs can be current, by stimulating thoughts, or by being touching, impressive, fascinating, exciting.”
“creating something fundamentally new..”
This is it. His music should be effective from by itself, without the need of any supplements. That has always been his credo. Rudolf Kelterborn is very old school, and if today’s music, new music, is becoming more and more interdisciplinary, or transdisciplinary, blurry at its edges and forming lliances, not to say amalgams, with many other disciplines, be it theatre or dance and installation and electronics and performance and all kinds of other things it wishes to involve – that is not Mr. Kelterborn’s thing.
Rudolf Kelterborn, Musica luminosa für Orchester 1984/85, Basel Sinfonietta
He is a veteran of the Swiss musical landscape, a contemporary witness to almost an entire century, courageous, committed, humourous and unrelenting. Someone who never made things easy for himself nor his environment.
..a veteran of the Swiss musical landscape..
It’s no coincidence that his colleagues sometimes called him Poltergern (one who tends to bluster) when he was head of the music department of Swiss Radio DRS in the 1970s. Yes, he could and can bluster – and still does so when encountering thoughtlessness. In that case he can be argumentative and hostile and polemical and perhaps even unfair.
Rudolf Kelterborn, Klavierstück 7 “Quinterno”, 2005, Klavierduo Soós-Haag
But that is only the other side of an attitude that despises the tepid or idle, while calling for unconditional commitment instead. An attitude that offers the audience a dense, narrative, highly emotional music – but which they are also supposed to expose themselves to. Comfort? No thanks. The audience has a right to be challenged, but then at the same time to draw an enormous benefit from it, a gain in experience, knowledge and pleasure.
Broadcast SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, 16.9.2020: Portrait Rudolf Kelterborn, Redaktion Florian Hauser
Dieter Ammann and his piano concerto Gran Toccata @ Sternstunde Musik srf &neo.mx3
Dieter Ammann continues to push forward: with his piano concerto “The Piano Concerto – Gran Toccata”, which premiered at the BBC Proms London and was subsequently performed worldwide, the composer, currently teaching in Lucerne and Bern, is reaching a new career height. Swiss Television SRF is broadcasting an in-depth portrait in its Sternstunde Musik format. Filmmaker Daniel von Aarburg accompanied Ammann during the three years of the piano concerto’s creation: the result is a dense, subtle and humorous portrait of a process that wasn’t always easy, with insights into rehearsals, concerts as well as private situations. Ammann’s youth and his career are also explored.
In his conversation with Gabrielle Weber he talks about the making of both film and concert.
It took you three years to compose the Gran Toccata; would you describe composing a new work as a journey and was the film project also one?
It was an eventful journey: I was already involved in an independent film project initiated by director Arthur Spirk, a great music connoisseur and lover. Then SRF decided to produce a film portrait and everyone agreed to re-start the filming process with Daniel von Aarburg taking over the direction. We clicked already at our first meeting and an unbelievably beautiful cooperation developed from it.
How did the story come about?
I placed myself in the hands of the team with great confidence. The director always anticipated what he wished to film. An enormous amount of good material was produced. According to the motto “kill your darlings”, a lot of cutting and editing turned out to be necessary. For example, my teaching activities at the Lucerne University as well as some private scenes are missing, which is a pity as I am deeply rooted in my family and immediate surroundings.
You live and work mostly at night… how was that compatible with the needs of the film crew go?
It wasn’t just a job for them, they got completely involved. That’s what made it possible to capture personal and private moments. They also naturally took my rhythm into account, set the shooting in the afternoon and sometimes at night. There was great deal of idealism involved.
..and with the soloist, pianist Andreas Haefliger?
Our cooperation worked very well, but not always without problems. We had to figure out and fight about certain things. It was exciting to work thing out together and it created a lifetime relationship.
Your “Piano Concerto – Gran Toccata” was and still is a huge success, worldwide: It is known that you initially resisted for a long time to write a piano concerto and only accepted it on the condition that one of the US “Big Five” orchestras* was involved… Was the acceptance from Boston unexpected? Was it inspiring?
I was actually trying to avoid this huge task. I generally only accept assignments if I can fully support the conditions. For example, in an earlier request for an opera, I set the condition of an eight years production. This could not be guaranteed and so that was it for me.
Due to the very early request, I actually got a few years’ notice for the piano concerto before I started to compose, so I didn’t freeze…
What was the musical spark for the piano concerto?
At the beginning I listened to an enormous amount of piano literature for about six months and created an extensive collection of examples of textures. I was interested in what complexity is possible on the piano – not in the sense of New Complexity, for example, but intrinsically, developed from the instrument. This collection with all notations and verbal sketches was stolen from me during a train ride and all of a sudden I had nothing left. That was a real shock.
You once said: “Freedom is at the heart of composing contemporary music”: Particularly in the case of commissions for large orchestras, there are framework conditions, sometimes obstacles, which can be restrictive. They come from music that is not primarily and originally written to contain improvised material, where freedom is supposedly greater.
Writing for 70 musicians is not a restriction for me, but restrictions also exist when I work with an algorithm program on the computer or when I write for piano trio. It is precisely the friction with the restriction, the sounding out of limits, that fires the imagination.
Dieter Ammann, Après le silence. Für Klaviertrio, Mondrian Ensemble, 2004/05
Restriction is fuel for fantasy.
…when working with orchestras there is a strict working rhythm, with usually little time for rehearsals and little freedom.
I do not only have high demands on myself, but also on the interpreters of my music. Fortunately, it is mainly artistically outstanding soloists and ensembles who deal with my works, so when a top orchestra has four rehearsals, the world premiere really works. However, a world premiere rarely corresponds to the interpretational ideal. This requires several performances. In my opinion, the promotion of music should move away from the premieres hype and rather towards the obligation to perform a new piece several times.
There were also interpretational differences in the piano concerto. Each orchestra and every conductor come with his or her own sound. Contemporary orchestral works in particular are rarely performed twice. However, I have the qualitative claim to add something valid to the repertoire, so that a constant engagement with the music is possible through replaying, as for example in the case of “glut” for orchestra.
Dieter Ammann, glut. Für Orchester, Lucerne Festival Academy, Dirigent George Benjamin, 2019
You describe yourself as a slow composer – a new work of yours is to be expected only every few years… What’s next?
2022 I will turn – whoa! – sixty. I am looking forward to a residency with the Basel Symphony Orchestra or a birthday concert of the Sinfonietta. Perhaps there will be one or two more symphonic concerts in addition. The postponed Swiss premiere of the piano concerto will also take place in 2022, at the Lucerne Festival.
Recently, I started working on a concerto for viola and orchestra, for soloist Nils Mönkemeyer, a co-commission of the SOB with the Munich Chamber Orchestra. This will be followed by a piece for one of the world’s leading orchestras, followed by a cello concerto. If I get to live that long…;-)
Interview: Gabrielle Weber
SRF-Filmportrait Dieter Ammann / Gran Toccata, Sternstunde Musik 2020: Regie Daniel von Aarburg / producer SRF: Markus Wicker:
The Piano Concerto – Gran Toccata, Premiere is on tour since August 2019, soloist Andreas Haefliger, among others: BBC-Proms / London, Taipei Symphony Orchestra / Taiwan, Boston Symphony Orchestra / USA, Munich Philharmonic / Munich Gasteig, Helsinki Philharmonic / Helsinki. The Swiss premiere at Lucerne Festival has been postponed to 2022 due to the pandemic.
The CD recording of Gran Toccata with the Helsinki Philharmonic conducted by Susanna Mälkki on BIS Records label will be made available on neo.mx3 immediately after release.
Dieter Ammann’s neo-profile includes short videos of the original material by Arthur Spirk.
*Big Five: New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra and Cleveland Orchestra
Dieter Ammann – Gran Toccata, Sternstunde Musik, So, 23.8., 11:55h; Di, 25.8., 13:00h; Sa, 29.8., 9:40h (Dauer 1Std)
Broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Musikmagazin, 22./23.8.20, Redaktion Benjamin Herzog / Beitrag Silvan Moosmüller.
Musik unserer Zeit, 29.7.2020. (Erstausstrahlung 12.2.2020), Unspielbarkeit, Redaktion Theresa Beyer
Basel Sinfonietta’s next concert will be dedicated to Heinz Holliger’s 80th birthday and on the same occasion, neo.mx3.ch – the new SRG platform – will be launched in the German-speaking part of Switzerland.
The third seasonal concert presented by the Basel Sinfonietta, directed by Peter Rundel is entitled “Tausendsassa” (Jack-of-all-trades), referring to Swiss composer, oboist, conductor, pianist, etc. Heinz Holliger, whose role and contribution to Swiss music has been decisive over the last six decades. Here is not the place to present our readers the list of the many achievements and qualities gained by this musical personality, from his excellent interpretations to the instrumental inventiveness (the oboe sounds different after Holliger) and compositions, not to mention his enthusiasm for his colleagues and for literature. There wouldn’t be enough room anyway.
I would rather like to emphasize – as a personal reminiscence – the unconditional, fervent passion with which this full-blooded musician engages himself. I first met him when I heard his “Siebengesang” many decades ago. From the first note of the oboe, one remains pervaded by this composition, which has considerably changed over the decades, but without losing its intensity.
Heinz Holliger, (S)irato, Monodie für grosses Orchester (1992), Basel Sinfonietta Musicaltheater Basel 2020
After his 80th birthday in May, Heinz Holliger has been honoured in many ways and places and never lost the occasion to support music by accepting the awards and tributes. The Basel Music Academy is currently focusing on Holliger, although he never permanently studied or taught there and numerous events are scheduled until March 9, while the Vera Oeri Library also houses a highly informative exhibition about the musician.
The composing interpreter
His music is now appearing in several facets at the Basel Sinfonietta as well. On one hand, the composer with his orchestral piece (S)irató from 1992, on the other hand the composing interpreter with two Liszt transcriptions, in which Holliger did not simply orchestrate late piano pieces, but so to speak, continued composing them into the orchestra. In his own words: “an attempt to “push” (transcribe) these two enigmas of the late Liszt – who stand like erratic blocks, but also signposts into the unknown of the late 19th century musical landscape – into my own way of communicating, thinking and so to speak retrieve them from my subconscious”.
All his life, Holliger committed to the music of his colleagues, commissioned and/or conducted new pieces. Thus, the orchestral work “Tenebrae” by Klaus Huber, who died in 2017, will also be presented.
Klaus Huber, Tenebrae für grosses Orchester (1966/67), Basel Sinfonietta, Musicaltheater Basel 2020
In addition, a very recent piece by German composer, pianist and singer Steffen Wick: “Autobiography” will be performed for the first time in Switzerland, commissioned by the Basel Sinfonietta. The composition aims to describe that moment in which a whole life, condensed, passes by.
Steffen Wick, Autobiography, UA 2020 Basel Sinfonietta
Launch of neo.mx3 in the German-speaking part Switzerland
An excellent opportunity to present neo.mx3.ch – the new Swiss platform for contemporary Swiss music – which SRG has launched as pilot project in 2019.
Neo.mx3.ch offers an overview of the current composed and improvised musical landscape of the entire country, but also covers international events with a connection to Switzerland, such as the recent premiere of Olga Neuwirth’s opera “Orlando” in Vienna with the participation of Swiss percussion soloist Lucas Niggli. A place for previews, portraits and debates, but also for discussions via the neo-blog, moderated by editor Gabrielle Weber. In addition, musicians, ensembles and cultural institutions can present themselves in sound, video, image as well as text.
At last, because neo.mx3.ch finally closes a gap that had been lingering in Swiss music since quite a long time. Save the date in your agenda and get ready for a big surprise, for we will not yet reveal what is planned on February 2, for the official Swiss-German launch.
We are very much looking forward to your comments on the neoblog regarding text, concert, neo.mx3 launch as well as the Holliger series on SRF 2 Kultur!
2.2.2020, 19h, 3. Abo-Konzert Basel Sinfonietta, direction: Peter Rundel, Musicaltheater Basel
18:15h introduction: Florian Hauser talks with Heinz Holliger
Heinz Holliger, Zwei Liszt-Transkriptionen (1986)
Klaus Huber, Tenebrae (1966/67)
Stephen Wick, Autobiography (2017, CH-Erstaufführung)
Heinz Holliger, (S)Irató (1992)
Lancierung neo.mx3: Surprise-Talk:
Florian Hauser talks with:
Barbara Gysi, head radios & Musik SRF Kultur
Gabrielle Weber, curator neo.mx3
Katharina Rosenberger, composer
Basel Sinfonietta, Heinz Holliger, sonic space Basel / FHNW, Mondrian Ensemble, Klaus Huber, Steffen Wick
SRF 2 Kultur:
Kultur-Aktualität, 21.6.2019: Neue Schweizer Plattform für zeitgenössische Musik
Broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, Mittwoch, 15.1.2020, 20h: Heinz Holliger und die Literatur
Neue Musik im Konzert, Mittwoch, 15.1.2020, 21h: Portraitkonzert Heinz Holliger
Musikmagazin mit Moritz Weber, Aktuell, 1./2.2.2020
neo-profiles: Heinz Holliger, Basel Sinfonietta, Klaus Huber, Mondrian Ensemble, Katharina Rosenberger
Composer Jürg Frey devoted four months to the composition of his new piece “Elemental Realities”, commissioned for the closing concert of the “Donaueschinger Musiktage”. In this interview he talks about this extreme state, about “listening” per se and the privilege of not having to compose on commission only.
The British music scene revolving around Cornelius Cardew and the London Scratch Orchestra or Christian Wolff played a decisive role in Jürg Frey’s early years. Today he is regularly played in London’s insider circles, but this hasn’t always been the case. For many years he was considered an insider tip, he hardly ever composed for the public and from the 90s onwards he did so in close collaboration with the composers collective and label “Wandelweiser”, a community of likeminded people aiming to do “radically quiet things”. Then, in 2015, as Composer in Residence at the Huddersfield Festival, he set off on a rather unexpected late international career.
Jürg Frey, Floating Categories 2015, live recording 2017
Jürg Frey, you define yourself “composer of silence”. How do you feel before the premiere of Donaueschinger Musiktage’s closing concert?
Calm right now. In my case tension is at its highest peak before the first rehearsal – the first meeting between my music, the conductor and the orchestra. If things go well then, I can attend the premiere in a confident state of mind.
How did this commission come about?
That is not clear to me neither (he laughs). I received an e-mail from Björn Gottstein, the artistic director, with the subject: “Attention, short-term request”. I thought it was going to be around 2020. I first took a few days to think about it but eventually agreed and set to work for four months, non-stop. I reached the limits of both my physical as well as mental capabilities.
How did you start to work on your new piece ‘Elemental Realities’?
The beginning, the first three to four weeks, was the most difficult time for me. At first there were hundreds of ideas, a real thunderstorm or flickering of them. Then the energy and direction of the piece started to take shape. In order to be able to work at all, I had to bring down the exuberant initial creativity to a reasonable level.
Were there guidelines or could you just set to work?
I could do whatever I wanted. The piece just shouldn’t turn out to be overly long: that’s the nice thing about short-term requests, no demands allowed.
In a quote regarding the piece you refer to “sheet of music as membrane” between silence and sound – and to the individual performer as fragile link between “private silence” and “music resonating in public space”…
Every single note occurs to me in awareness that it resonates into a room and that it comes in touch with silence on the back of the sheet. Each note has two directions and each note counts. The interpreter also stands on the threshold between sound and silence and this threshold is fascinating to me.
Jürg Frey, Extended Circular Music No.8 (excerpt), Live at Dog Star Orchestra, LA 2015
“The piece gives musicians the opportunity to shine.”
What can we expect concretely in terms of sound?
There are two components taking turns with each other. On one hand a two-dimensional one: for example strings or percussionists, playing continuous stationary sounds.
On the other hand, small musical elements, such as short melodies and chords, sequences of individual notes, all very delicately instrumented. The musicians are very challenged.
You spoke about the composition, conductor and acoustic entity triptych, but what role does the audience play?
The act of “listening” – be it carried out by the musicians or the audience – is crucial in my opinion. The connection to the audience occurs through listening. When musicians play but also listen precisely, this is conveyed to the audience, even in large concert halls.
“Mine is music for the ears, for the listeners’ eardrums – be they sitting in the concert hall or in the orchestra.”
Jürg Frey, Louange de l’eau, louange de la lumière, Basel Sinfonietta 2011
Donaueschingen, especially a closing concert performance, is regarded as a key moment in a composer’s career – has your composing changed since then?
It had no influence on the act of composing itself. But the work situation has changed since my music now has more resonance. In the past, 90% of my works were written without commission and my only motivation was artistic urge. Now I sometimes decline commissions because I wish to continue composing freely and if I feel the inner need to do so. I consider this freedom as a great privilege.
Interview Gabrielle Weber
The Donaueschinger Musiktage will take place from October 17th to 20th. In addition to Jürg Frey’s, the event will feature premieres and panel discussions by and with Michael Pelzel, Beat Furrer and the Collegium Novum Zürich.
World Premiere Jürg Frey: “Elemental Realities”, Donaueschinger Musiktage, Sunday, October 20, 17h, Saalsporthalle
Sendungen SRF 2 Kultur: t.b.a.