Super instruments and beautiful monsters – Xenakis turns 100

Xenakis-Tage Zürich will take place on May 28 and 29 2022, to mark Iannis Xenakis’ 100th birthday. The festival was initiated by the musicologist Peter Révai, who managed to bring Iannis Xenakis to Zurich in 1986, during the “concert series with computer music” founded by Révai. The three concerts of the Xenakis-Tage present a wide range of the composer’s work.

 

 

Portrait Iannis Xenakis 1973 © les amis de Xenakis

 

Cécile Olshausen
Composer Iannis Xenakis (1922-2001) is usually defined as follows: Greek resistance fighter with a severe facial injury, Le Corbusier’s assistant (later also competitor), and musical mathematician. His daughter Mâkhi brings another and surprising aspect into play, reporting that her father was actually a romantic and that Johannes Brahms was his favourite composer. The book that Mâkhi Xenakis wrote about her father in 2015 is soon to be published in German and co-editor Thomas Meyer will present it in Zurich. Father and daughter were bound by a loving but also ambivalent relationship. Xenakis absolutely wanted his daughter to follow the mathematical and scientific path, with art coming later; just as he had exemplified. As a compromise, Mâkhi Xenakis studied architecture, but she became a sculptor and painter.

So apparently Xenakis loved Brahms while developing his visionary sound worlds. He worked with electronic music and percussion because he saw a great potential for sounds that had never been heard before.

 


Iannis Xenakis often worked with percussion, an instrument in which he saw great potential for new sounds, Rebonds B for percussion (1987-1989), Marianna Bednarska, Lucerne Festival 22.8.2019, SRG/SSR production

 

But he also transformed one of the most traditional genres, the string quartet, into something new. His string quartets will be performed in their entirety in Zurich by the Arditti Quartet, for whom Xenakis composed three of the four quartets. A tour de force, because the works are extremely difficult to play.


«Superinstrument» String Quartet

Goethe Bonmot’s statement that one hears “four reasonable people talking among themselves” in a string quartet does not match these works. Xenakis breaks with almost each and every tradition of the string quartet. There is no exchange of musical thoughts, no development of motifs, no individual statements. Rather, Xenakis seems to be writing for a single, intricate “super instrument”, tracing and racing through the entire tonal space, from extremely low to pointedly high, constantly changing timbres with tremoli, pizzicati of all kinds and “col legno” parts, i.e. notes played or struck with the wooden part of the bow. And above all: the four string players whiz their fingers across the fingerboards, leaving trails of fire behind. Especially in the first two quartets (ST/4 and Tetras), the glissando is Xenakis’ favourite musical medium. With it, he creates a fascinating weightlessness of sound. Xenakis also realised this floating in his architecture: the Philips Pavilion he designed for the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels, with its bold curves, is glissando music cast in concrete.

 


In Phlegra for ensemble from 1975 Xenakis’ fondness for glissandi can be heard well, Ensemble Phoenix Basel, Dir. Jürg Henneberger, Gare du Nord, 3.11.2018, SRG/SSR production

 

Rarities will also be part of the Xenakis-Tage Zürich and they reveal a completely different side of his oeuvre, namely chamber music reminiscent of folk music. These compositions belong to Xenakis’ early days. The composer was born in Romania and the very first music he heard as a child was folk music, played in the coffee houses and on the radio of his native city Brăila. That is why traditional Romanian and Greek music finds an echo in his early chamber music works.

Another aspect of Xenakis’ work will be featured during a matinée on Sunday morning in the Pavillon Le Corbusier, with his last electronic composition: GENDY3 from 1991, where Xenakis’ great dream of a composing automaton became reality. In GENDY3, the computer uses random operations to control not only the sound events, i.e. rhythm, pitch and tone sequence, but also the timbres. Compared to some of today’s computer-generated music, which is not meant to sound like a computer at all, GENDY3 embraces the fact that a machine is in charge, roaring and squeaking and humming. Xenakis once said that he hoped his music would not sound “like a monster”. But GENDY3 does sound like a living thing – a fantastic, beautiful monster.
Cécile Olshausen

 

Portrait Iannis Xenakis 1988 © Horst Tappe

Les amis de XenakisIannis XenakisJohannes BrahmsMâkhi XenakisThomas MeyerArditti QuartetLe CorbusierPhilips PavilionPeter RévaiPavillon Le Corbusier

 

Xenakis Tage Zürich, 28. and 29. May 2022

mentioned events:
Saturday 28. May, 20:00, Concert String Quartets, Arditti Quartet, Vortragssaal Kunsthaus Zürich
Sunday 29. May, 11:00, Concert and discussion, GENDY3, Pavillon Le Corbusier
Sunday 29. May, 18:00, Concert introduction with Thomas Meyer / Concert Chamber Music, Swiss Chamber Soloists, Kirche St. Peter Zürich

radio programs SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, Wednesday, 25.5.2022, 20:00, Musik und Architektur – Iannis Xenakis zum 100 Geburtstag, editor Cécile Olshausen
Musik unserer Zeit, Wednesday, 23.6.2021, 20:00, Nackte Wucht: Iannis Xenakis’ “Metastasis”, editor Moritz Weber

neo-profiles:
Iannis XenakisArditti Quartet

“Swiss Days for New Chamber Music in the Ruhr”

From May 6 to 8, Wittener Tage für neue Kammermusik’s programme will feature works by composers from 17 different nations with almost a third of the pieces by Swiss composers.

 

Peter Révai 
The Wittener Tage für neue Kammermusik are the country’s most renowned festival for advanced musical creation. Those who want to experience or listen to the current state of the art in contemporary musical thinking meet in the south-east of the Ruhr region for a spring weekend, just as they did before the pandemic. The festival has been jointly organised by the town of Witten and Westdeutscher Rundfunk WDR since 1969. It owes its reputation to WDR music editor Harry Vogt, artistic director since 1990, he has always succeeded in presenting the most relevant acts in contemporary music with his knowledgeable selections. The punch line is that most of the pieces are commissioned works from all over the world, premiered here and regularly break the common rules codes of chamber music. Another of Vogt’s specialities is that he always has the pieces performed by the best possible interpreters. To the great regret of the scene, Vogt is stepping down as director with this year’s edition.

 

Portrait Harry Vogt © WDR / Claus Langer

 

Helvetians ante portas

Regarding the high proportion of participants from Switzerland, Vogt says that this year’s edition could almost be labeled “Swiss days for new chamber music in the Ruhr”. There are also many musicians with foreign backgrounds but teaching in Switzerland, such as the electric guitarist Yaron Deutsch, who will lead the contemporary music department at the Basel Musikhochschule in autumn, soprano Sarah Maria Sun, also teaching there and Lugano-born conductor as well as Arturo Tamayo student Elena Schwarz. As director of Ensemble Moderne, she completes a huge programme with three concerts such as one featuring works by old master Georges Aperghis and one by 38-year-old composer-in-residence Milica Djordjevic, from Serbia, former student of Kyburz, among others. She still lives in Berlin and first caused a sensation in Witten 2017 with the lively sound treatment in her doubled string quartet.

 

Portrait Elena Schwarz, Lucerne, 19.03.2016 ©: Elena Schwarz/ Priska Ketterer

 

Teodoro Anzelotti, who teaches in Biel, will also make a special appearance. For Witten, he, for whom more than 300 solo pieces have been written, has now also taken on a solo accordion piece by Hanspeter Kyburz, which was long overdue because of the pandemic. Anzelotti reports that they have been talking about it for some 15 years.

Anzelotti has high expectations, especially since, according to him, there are few compositions in which the basic elements of structural thinking and sensuality of sound are so well combined. The composer informs us that the piece is called Sisyphe heureux after French existentialist author Albert Camus, only to add at the end that one should imagine Sisyphus happy – “il faut imaginer Sisyphe heureux”.

Beat Furrer’s new trio also has a longer genesis behind it. Ins Offene should actually have been ready in 2018, but was delayed because of his opera Violetter Schnee, whose premiere took place in Berlin in 2019. The following two years, as we all know, the virus raged. Furrer wrote the piece for Trio Accanto featuring Basel saxophonist Marcus Weiss. Its basis, as in many of Furrer’s works, is the idea of metamorphosis. The permanent, organic transformation takes place on several levels, which are suddenly interrupted by cuts and contrasts, resulting in high emotional qualities and physical moments.

 


Beat Furrer, Il mia vita da vuolp, Marcus Weiss, Saxophone, Rinnat Moriah, Soprano, world creation, Festival Rümlingen 2019, in house-production SRG/SSR

Furrer’s more recent works address the processing problem in a special way. As he explains: “I was interested in the phenomenon of doubling, but also of distorting in a shadow image, and as a result of cutting voices into each other, the emerging of processuality”.

Further world premieres include works by Betsy Jolas, Sarah Nemtsov, Rebecca Saunders (in cooperation with Enno Poppe) and Iranian Elnaz Seyedi. Despite her 96 years of age, Jolas work in particular, which always opposed the serial abstraction of her French contemporaries, is awaiting due reception in the German-speaking world. A pupil of Darius Milhaud and Olivier Messiaen, Jolas worked for the radio for a long time, then became lecturer in analysis and composition at the Conservatoire de Paris as Messiaen’s successor. Her piece as well as the one by Nemtsov will be performed by Trio Catch with Zurich cellist Eva Boesch.

 

 Ricardo Eizirik, Trio Catch: obsessive compulsive music, world creation 2019

 

In the Park

For several years now, sound installations have been one of the festival’s essential parts. Every year, different corners and places in Witten are occupied for this purpose. This time it will be a park, designed in 1906 as place of recreation for Protestant nuns who worked in the hospital. They were to get “light and air” there. Now it will offer twelve sound installations and interventions. Of the twelve sound artists involved, four are connected to Switzerland. Visual artist and performer Lilian Beidler, who teaches at the University of the arts in Bern, tries to fathom the joys and longings of yesteryear’s nuns.

 


Lilian Beidler, Art Mara – Women’s ground 2018

In her work Lustwurzeln und Traumrinden (Pleasure Roots and Dream Barks), she wants to “listen to nature”, to hear whether the confidential conversations of the “lust-walking” nuns are still present in the old trees, seeped into the ground or murmuring in the stream, as SRF editor Cécile Olhausen describes the work. In contrast, the the experienced performer Daniel Ott contributes with a permeable intervention for trumpet, steel drums and voices ad libitum under his own direction.

Mum Hum by Mauro Hertig from Zurich on the other hand deals with completely different natural sounds: the basic material are sounds provided by Ensemble Garage and supposed to correspond to those that an unborn child hears in the womb. Hertig provides an installation setting in which one side of a telephone represents the outside world and the other the soundscape of the foetus in the womb of Hertig’s partner, artist Camille Henrot.

 

Mauro Hertig: The great mirror, Version Royaumont 2019

 

Andrea Neumann, who teaches in Basel, created the music choreography Überspringen, for four performers and four mobile loudspeakers. Since 1996, the Freiburg-based artist has been developing her own set of instruments, the so-called inner piano, with which she tracks down beauties in sounds.

But why such an accumulation of works of Swiss provenance? On the one hand, it is probably due to the “performance backlog” as a result of the lockdown measures. There have been no more live concerts in Witten in the last two years – apart from a few streaming broadcasts. On the other hand, many Swiss composers such as Furrer and Kyburz might fit in well with the intendant’s taste and queries, as they create pieces combining technical finesse with great emotional qualities, which Arnold Schönberg would have described as “driving sounds”.

Not to mention the significant support provided by Swiss funding institution Pro Helvetia.
Peter Révai

 

 

 

The Wittener Tage für neue Kammermusik did take place this year from May 6 to May 8. Most of the concerts are available on WDR.
Teodoro Anzellotti, Hanspeter Kyburz, Trio Accanto, Arturo-Tamayo, Elena Schwarz, Georges Aperghis, Rebecca Saunders, Sarah Nemtsov, Betsy Jolas, Enno Poppe, Elnaz Seyedi, Camille Henrot, Andrea Neumann, Milica DjordjevicYaron Deutsch

neo-profiles:
Marcus Weiss, Beat Furrer, Lilian Beidler, Mauro Hertig, Sarah Maria Sun, Daniel OttTrio Catch, Ensemble Modern

The world’s madness

Cécile Olshausen
“Sometimes I feel like I’m living on a train,” says Helga Arias and she laughs. The Basque composer was born in Bilbao in 1984 and now lives in Switzerland. She describes herself as a nomad, because she has been on the move since her childhood and lived in many different places. In the spring of 2020, however, everything suddenly had to stop because of Corona.

 

Portrait Helga Arias zVg Helga Arias

 

Hours of video calls

Helga Arias had actually planned a longer stay in the USA; the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), an artists’ collective from New York, having invited her as composer in residence. But she had to stay in Europe because of the pandemic and the ICE‘s musicians in New York were also isolated and could not rehearse because of the lockdown. This standstill triggeerd creative energies in Helga Arias though and so the work I see you for amplified string quartet and live video was created and premiered at the opening concert of the SONIC MATTER Festival in Zurich in December 2021.

As real encounters as well as planned collective forms of work were not possible, Helga Arias brought the ensemble together through video call. First connecting individually with each member, recording sounds and tones for hours, but also having conversations about art, taste, music and mental states. She assembled audio-visual material and then distributed it among the quartet’s members. Bringing them together, even though everyone was stuck at home. An artificial, but also artful form of communication.

It was only a few hours before the premiere in Zurich that the composer and the quartet finally met in person and were able to assemble the virtually created video and score of I see you on. During the pandemic, a creative and different model of collaboration emerged, one in which all participants, both composer and players, are artistically involved on an equal level.

 

Helga Arias, I see you, International Contemporary Ensemble, UA Festival Sonic Matter Zürich, 2.12.2021 / Sound-recording: Eigenproduktion SRG/SSR

 

Intoxicated by stimuli

Helga Arias is sensitive and modern, observing everything without ever ignoring the world, including the virtual world of digital media, when composing: Hatespeech, Me Too debates and Fake News are elements of her music. “Contact with society is very important to me,” she explains, “it’s called contemporary music, so it has to be contemporary. What happens in the world also has an effect on my musical ideas.”

In her performance Hate-follow me – world premiered during the Bern Music Festival in September 2021 – Arias mixes the vocal sounds of four sopranos with intrusive signals of mobile phones and social media rush images on video: spiteful insults alternate with intrusive body poses, a mixture of senseless seduction and hatred, accompanied by incessant vibrating, ringing, tweeting and beeping.

 

Helga Arias: Hate-follow me, UA Musikfestival Bern, UA 5.9.2021

 

This oppressive excess of acoustic as well as visual inputs ist the composer’s goas though which Helga Arias draws our attention to the waterfall of messages that pours in on us every day. Even if we could read one message, it is immediately replaced by the next. The individual piece of information losing its meaning. In the process, the composer condenses sound and image in a scary, fascinating way and one begins to suspect why hate news in particular spreads so quickly and so widely.

 

“So sorry”

Hate-follow me drastically shows that the unlimited space of the World Wide Web is not used for maximum openness and diversity. Rather, the perspective narrows when influencers and bloggers spread standardised clichés and cement old role models. Instead of celebrating differentiated polyphony, uninhibited hate speech silences many on the internet. Hate-follow me ends – after a mediatic collapse – in a torrent of apologies. But this is not conciliatory, for the thousands of them “sorrys” seem tacky and hypocritical. This piece is an astonishing paradox: Helga Arias composes music that won’t let us go, by asking us to turn it off. If we do, we withdraw from the madness of the world; if we don’t, we submit to it.

 

For Helga Arias, works like Hate-follow me or I see you are opportunities to reflect on her role as composer as well as her relationship with performers and audiences: “The performers of my music are not playing machines and I am not their boss telling them what to do! It’s about complex interactions.” Also with the audience. Thus Helga Arias does not and doesn’t want to convey a message. We listeners have to find out for ourselves how to cope with the contradictions and craziness.
Cécile Olshausen

 

Portrait Helga Arias zVg Helga Arias

 

International Contemporary Ensemble

On March 26, Helga Arias will be in Ascona for a conferenza-concerto as part of the Festival Ticino Musica.

Radio programs SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit: I see you – die Komponistin Helga Arias, editor Cécile Olshausen, Wednesday, 9.2.22, 20:00h / Saturday, 12.2.22, 21:00h
SRF-online, 14.2.22: Komponistin Helga Arias – Sie macht auch Hate Speech zu Musik, Text Cécile Olshausen

neo-profiles:
Helga AriasFestival Sonic MatterMusikfestival BernTicino Musica

No catchy tunes! Festival ear we are

Cécile Olshausen: earweare @ Alte Juragarage Biel 3-5.2 2022

Cécile Olshausen
ear we are is bold and innovative. A festival for new listening experiences beyond the mainstream. Founded in 1999 in Biel as a stage for free improvisation, it has become internationally renowned for improvised contemporary music. The audience trusts the festival’s curators as well as the risks they take and numerously shows up at the Alte Juragarage on the edge of Biel’s old town. People come with open ears and minds: ear we are!

 

Christine Abdelnour & Magda Mayas participate at Festival ear we are 2022 ©zVg Festival ear we are

 

The festival is like a well-stocked bookshop, where – in addition to bestsellers – one can find literature by unknown writers and trut the shop owner’s choices. This is also what the curators propose in Biel every two years, sometimes well-known names, but often insider tips. The four artistic directors of the festival – Martin Schütz, Hans Koch, Christian Müller and Gaudenz Badrutt – are all proven artists in the realm of free improvisation, they contributed in developing this genre in recent years and are leading it into the future with their own performances.

 

Martin Schütz, Cellist and one of the co-curators of the festival: solo, live december 2019, zVg. Martin Schütz

 

Their programming procedure for the ear we are festival is an essential and valuable process: a lot of music is listened to, discussed, discarded and re-evaluated together. The curatorship is looking for creative musicians who take risks, play with risk, improvise in the best sense of the word, i.e. do not always know in advance where exactly the path they have chosen will lead, the notes show and disclose the way. ear we are offers such artists a creative space and allows them to experiment and work across musical stylistic boundaries during three days. All of this in an appropriate location, the Alte Juragarage, a Bauhaus factory building, built in 1928 and cleared out especially for the festival. A special place for special music, for improvisation, but also for concept and composition. In other words: for present day music.   

It is no coincidence that such an innovative music festival has flourished so successfully in Biel, as the free improvisation scene is particularly lively there. In fact, so-called “free improvisation” has a long tradition in Switzerland. It was in the early 1970s that a group of young likeminded musicians invented a new way of making music. Those who came from jazz no longer wanted to play standards and grooves and even free jazz started to feel like a golden cage to them. Those who came from classical music no longer wanted to practise and perform scores full of noises and special effects for hours on end, they wanted to become inventive themselves. This is how free improvised music came into being, and it developed faster in Switzerland than elsewhere. Subsidies and new festivals helped the musicians to organise themselves and soon they were invited to major international festivals. Free improvisation has long since become part of the institutional training programme of the music schools and conservatories.  

 

Improvisation – collectively shaped art

Free improvisation is a collective art, where people play together and the joint performances are not only musical, but also social encounters, with musicians paying attention to each other, lending each other an ear. This art of listening to each other is definitely a quality criterion, as anyone who cannot hear what the others are playing or singing, who exclusively follows his own score in his head, ultimately proves to be a poor improviser. From all these musical-aesthetic and psychosocial premises, a specific musical genre has emerged that can be described as musical bridges from nothing to nothing, eruptive moments, the avoidance of “normal” singing or playing, instead many sounds that are explored out of the voice and invented on the instruments, with surprising playing devices such as knitting needles, brushes or wires, often also numerous electronic aids; and above all: the music is developed in the very moment, nothing is pre-set and yet these are all arrangements that are also rehearsed, taught and learned. As a result, the intended innovations and departures of improvised music can sometimes become somewhat predictable and free improvisation limits itself in its own freedom.  

But in the city of Biel, renowned for its watches and watchmakers, the clock hands are always on the present time, also in free improvisation. The ear we are festival contributes a lot to this, not least because it invites musicians from all over the world to contribute with their specific experiences and backgrounds. The 2022 edition in particular, which should have taken place last year but was postponed because of the pandemic, clearly shows how much genre boundaries are dissolving and individually shaped questions and experiments are taking centre stage.  

Swiss vocalist Dorothea Schürch for example uses her voice as her centre, sound laboratory as well as research tool; she creates her soundscapes without electronic transformations and recently wrote a dissertation on voice experiments of the 1950s.

 


ensemble 6ix with Dorothea Schürch, improvisations to Dieter Roth, Kunsthaus Zug 27.11.2014, in house-production SRG/SSR

 

British trumpeter, flugelhorn player and composer Charlotte Keeffe also focuses on her instrument. Fascinated about how painters create their work on canvas, she too explores colours and shapes in her pointed improvisations and sees her instrument as a kind of “sound brush”. Another example is the beguiling sounds of the Australian Oren Ambarchi. The Sydney-born musician, originally a brilliant drummer in numerous free jazz bands, questions the so-called professional “mastery” of an instrument: without ever having enjoyed a lesson, he takes the liberty of unfolding his surreal musical world on the guitar with various utensils. Last but not least the American poet, musician, artist and activist Moore Mother counters Eurocentric traditions with Afro-American culture and socially critical rap, where very concrete political positions – which are rarely heard so explicitly in free improvisation – are voiced.
So open you ears for ear we are 2022!
Cécile Olshausen

 

Zu erleben am ear we are 2022: die amerikanische Dichterin, Musikerin, Künstlerin und Aktivistin Moor Mother

 

earweare 2022 -The current programme may can undergo short notice changes due to the pandemic situation, 3.-5.2.22.

Hans Koch, Christian Müller, Gaudenz Badrutt, Charlotte Keeffe, Oren Ambarchi, Moor Mother

broadcasts SRF2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit / Neue Musik im Konzert 2.3.2022:
Ohne Ohrwürmer! Das Bieler Festival earweare, autor Cécile Olshausen

Musik unserer Zeit, 13.10.2021: Vinyl – Hype, Retro Kult, talk with Oren Ambarchy, autor Gabrielle Weber

neo-profiles:
Martin Schütz, Dorothea Schürch, Florian Stoffner

concerts à l’aube: Not for you if you’re not a morning person

Ensemble Batida @ Les aubes musicales Genève ©zVg Batida

Gabrielle Weber
Watching the sunrise on the shores of Lake Geneva while listening to live music: what could be better? Lausanne’s `Musiques à l’aube` and Geneva’s ‘les aubes musicales’, two open-air concert series invite early risers to enjoy early-morning concerts. ‘Vivre la musique’ could be the summer motto in French-speaking Switzerland.

Lausanne’s musiques à aubes started in 2017. Every Saturday, at 6am in the morning, connoisseurs, enthusiasts and curious meet at the central city harbour ‘jetée de la Compagnie’ for a unique start into the day with live music.

The series was founded by four jazz lovers and focused entirely on jazz during the first years, offering initially five concerts. This year, the programme is broader with ten scheduled concerts: “A live moment without constraint and limits, for an audience with curious gourmet ears” should be the focus, according to the curators. This season’s programme varies between jazz, improvisation, experimental modernism, electroacoustics and rock. Solo concerts by pianists Nik Bärtsch and Cédric Pescia easily share the bill with performances by Louis Jucker and Evelinn Trouble.

On July 10, for example, pianist Nik Bärtsch will perform a solo concert featuring pieces from his new CD ‘Entendre‘ on grand piano. The CD was released in March 2021* and collects what Bärtsch calls “modules”: repetitive minimal pieces that have been created over the years and can be interpreted variably. On July 10 Bärtsch will play solo on piano, but he also often performed them with his band Ronin. Between composition and improvisation, they arise and change shape with each live performance.

 


Nik Bärtsch & Ronin, Modul 58, in house-production SRG/SSR 2018

 

Pianist Cédric Pescia will will play the ‘Sonatas and Interludes’ by John Cage (1946-48) on a prepared piano on July 31. Equipped with objects made of wood, metal or plastic between the strings, the piano turns into a small percussion ensemble.

 

Cédric Pescia ©zVg Musiques à l’aube Lausanne 

 

An acoustic oasis in the midst of noise and tarmac – in the hottest month of August

The city of Geneva also has its own series for early risers, Les Aubes musicales, every Sunday at 6am. In the very central ‘jetée des paquis’, it presents itself since 2007 as an early morning window on the world. An acoustic oasis in the midst of noise and tarmac, in the hottest month of August.

Just as in Lausanne, here too, stylistic openness and shared experience are characteristic. “The series is something unique, incomparable to anything else. It’s about the magical moment between darkness and light,” says Marie Jeanson, co-director of the series and artistic director of the Archipel Genève New Music Festival.

The Geneva New Music Ensemble Contrechamps always opens the season with its performance at ‘Les Aubes musicales’. For Serge Vuille, the artistic director of Contrechamps, this is always “a magical event”. This year, on August 22, Contrechamps will perform Gérard Grisey’s ‘Prologue’ from 1976, along with Geneviève Calame’s ‘Mantiq-al-Tayr’, composed in 1973 and Claude Debussy’s ‘Sonata’ from 1915.

 

Seong-Whan Lee, Là où les eaux se mêlent, Contrechamps, création 2021, in house-production SRG/SSR

 

Geneviève Calame, Geneva composer who died in 1993, devoted herself in particular to the combination of electronics with acoustic instruments or electroacoustic music. After studying in the USA, Paris and Stockholm, she co-founded Geneva’s ‘Studio de musique électronique, Vidéo et d’informatique’ and composed numerous – still little known – pieces for classical orchestra, synthesizer or audio-visual setup.

Both series are dedicated to local yet internationally influential musicians, thoroughly and openly understanding contemporary music-making.

In French-speaking Switzerland, dealing with music genres is admirably uncomplicated and barriers are hardly noticeable, neither among the organisers nor the audience. The focus is on shared experience and openness to the unknown. Music is life and enjoyment, sensuality and poetry: that’s what people in Lausanne and Geneva like to get up early for.
Gabrielle Weber

 

Nik Bärtsch ©zVg Musiques à l’aube Lausanne

Nik Bärtsch: Entendre, ECM, März 2021

Musiques à l’aube, Lausanne,concerts take place on Saturdays at 6h, June 26 to August 28, venue: ‘La Jetée de la Compagnie & Le Minimum’. In case of bad weather, concerts are rescheduled on the following Sunday, decision the evening before.

Les Aubes musicalesGenève, concerts take place on Sundays at 6h, August 1 – 29, venue: bain des Paquis. In case of bad weather indoors at: ‘l’Abri‘.

broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur
Klangfenster, 20.6.21: Nik Bärtsch, Entendre, autor Cécile Olshausen

Jazz & World aktuell, 16.3.21: Mehr als die Summe, interview with Nik Bärtsch by Roman Hošek

Blick in die Feuilletons, musique à l’aube, 13.7.21 (min 00:18), autor Gabrielle Weber

neo-profiles
Nik Bärtsch, Contrechamps, Ensemble Batida, Festival Archipel

tuns contemporans 2021 – Graubünden meets the world

In 2019, two of Graubünden’s professional orchestras, Ensemble ö! and Kammerphilharmonie Graubünden, already co-initiated Graubünden’s Biennale for New Music – tuns Contemporans 

Its second edition focuses on female composers on one hand and on local music creation on the other. Three pieces out of a call for scores for ladies only will be premiered and the Biennale also commissioned works to three generations of Graubünden composers.   

Slogan is: Graubünden meets the world, the familiar meets the unfamiliar, the new meets the even newer.  

Kammerphilharmonie Graubünden ©zVg Kammerphilharmonie Graubünden

 

Gabrielle Weber
The Chur Biennale for Contemporary Music tuns contemporans has had a somewhat difficult start into its second edition. In September 2020, it launched a Call for Scores for ladies only and at that time, the near future seemed a bit brighter as one could hope that live concerts might have taken place again the following spring.   

Now, in the midst of the third pandemic wave and with no prospect of live concerts in front of an audience any time soon, it was eventually decided to hold the Biennale anyway. Like so many other festivals, it will take place without an audience on site, but broadcasting live via online stream.  

A blessing in disguise as a variety of new works will be made available in and from Chur, all over the world, during four concerts between April 9 and April 11. 

The Biennale was initiated by David Sontòn Caflisch, artistic director of the Ensemble ö! together with the Kammerphilharmonie Graubünden.  

 

David Sonton Caflisch ©zVg David Sonton Caflisch

 

In addition to his ensemble ö! engagement, Sontòn Caflisch is active as violinist in various contemporary music formations as well as a composer. The Chur-based ensemble ö! regularly premieres works by up-and-coming composers, but also specifically by Graubünden musicians. In addition to Chur, it performs in Zurich, Basel and international guest performances. 

 

Stefanie Haensler, Im Begriffe for Quintet, world creation ensemble ö! 2016, Video in house produktion SRG/SSR, Launch neo.mx3 & Ensemble ö!, Postremise Chur, 11.Oktober 2020.

 

Call for scores – for ladies only!

The submitted scores were judged by a jury consisting of renowned contemporary music connoisseurs:   

The two women Asia Ahmetjanova, Ensemble ö!’s pianist and composer, and Karolina Öhman, solo cellist and member of Ensemble Mondrian, among others. Joined by Philippe Bach, Kammerphilharmonie Graubünden’s and tuns contemporansartistic director, Baldur Brönnimann, guest conductor at tuns contemporans and artistic director of the Basel Sinfonietta, as well as Sontòn Caflisch.   

Of 124 submitted works, the following three pieces were selected for a world premiere: Fragmente einer Erinnerung (Fragments of a Memory) for small ensemble by Elnaz Seyedi (Tehran), Still Images by Vera Ivanova (Moscow) for large ensemble and Accord by Katrin Klose (Germany) for chamber orchestra. They will be separately premiered during one of the Biennale concerts. 

 

Katrin Klose: winner Call for Scores / Kat. Kammerorchester, world creation Accord with Kammerphilharmonie Graubünden, opening concert Theater Chur, friday, 9.4.21, 19h.

 

tuns contemporans will also offer an insight into four generations of Graubünden musicianship, as commissions for three new works by Sontòn Caflischs, Martin Derungs and Duri Collenberg have been awarded. While the Sunday matinée will stage songs and a cello solo by Benedikt Dolf (1918 -1985).    

 


Benedikt Dolf, Concertino für Streichorchester 2008, Eigenproduktion SRG/SSR

 

The Kammerphilharmonie Graubünden has always been committed to local music-making, both in Chur as well as in smaller concert venues of Graubünden’s valleys. With its commitment to tuns contemporans and Call for Scores, it is now setting an example for the orchestral repertoire’s renewal and for more gender diversity among the next generation of composers. 

The internationally renowned Finnish composer Magnus Lindbergh has been invited as composer in residence. He will be present during the entire Biennale and will have his works performed in each of the four concerts.   

The opening evening with the Kammerphilharmonie Graubünden at the Chur Theatre for instance will present his Violin Concerto from 2006, together with a world premiere by Sontòn Caflisch and the new piece by Katrin Kloss, winner of Call for Scores chamber orchestra category.    

 


David Sontòn Caflisch, Enceladus-Variationen 2019, in house production SRG/SSR

 

Apartment House after John Cage, tuns contemporanspromising mediation project, had to be cancelled at short notice due to the pandemic. Cage’s groundbreaking work from 1976 was to become a plea for social diversity and collective art in Chur. In collaboration with a large number of local artists, the festival wanted to cover all of Theater Chur’s rooms as well as the outside area. Now it turned into a symbol for the current physical distancing measures. 

The Chur Theatre and the Bündner Kunstmuseum, from where all concerts will be streamed live are also involved in this festival, aiming to move contemporary music closer to everyday cultural life in Chur again, a resolution one would wish for in many a larger city.   

Tuns contemporans promise a dense and varied programme: Graubünden meets the world!
Gabrielle Weber

 

60 female composers from 30 different countries submitted 124 works in tuns contemporans Call for Scores. 84 of them in the category “small ensemble”, 22 for the “large ensemble” category and 18 in the “chamber orchestra”category. Three works were selected for a premiere in each category. All details regarding concerts and livestream details can be found on tuns contemporanshomepage  

In October 2020, the RTR launch of neo.mx3 took place in the Postremise in Chur, featuring ensemble ö! during the short time in which live concerts were possible. The whole concert was recorded and filmed by RTR and is available on ensemble ö!’s neo.mx3 profile. 

 

tuns contemporans, Magnus Lindberg, Katrin KloseElnaz SeyediVera Ivanova


Broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:

Neue Musik im Konzert: Ein Fest der neuen Musik, final concert tuns contemporans 2019, editor Cécile Olshausen, 15.4.2020

neoblog, Ein Prost auf die Neue Musik!, post by Thomas Meyer, 27.9.2020

Musik unserer Zeit: ö! ensemble für neue Musik, editor Florian Hauser, 11.11.2020

Neo-profiles:
Ensemble ö!, Kammerphilharmonie Graubünden, David Sontòn Caflisch, Karolina Öhman, Asia Ahmetjanova, Basel Sinfonietta, Ensemble Phoenix Basel, Philippe BachStefanie Haensler

A Quiet Rumble – Composer Charles Uzor

A portrait by Cécile Olshausen:

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

Charles Uzor Portrait ©zVg Charles Uzor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

… traditional Igbo sayings spoken on tape….

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Charles Uzor Portrait ©zVg Charles Uzor

Musikfestival Bern – Mothertongue, Rupert HuberPercussion Art Ensemble Bern

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

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

Chan e See dänke?

Can a lake think? A musical tribute to the city of Biel
World premiere of Jean-Luc Darbellay’s melodrama “Belena” on February 19, 2020 at Kongresshaus Biel

Sinfonie Orchester Biel Solothurn © Joel Schweizer

Cécile Olshausen
The Biel Solothurn Symphony Orchestra is celebrating its 50th anniversary and to mark the event, its main conductor Kaspar Zehnder has commissioned Bernese composer Jean-Luc a bilingual work focused on the city of Biel and its surroundings.

Accordingly, Darbellay decided to collaborate with two different writers: French-speaking poet and novelist François Debluë and Guy Krneta, who writes his poetry in Swiss-German-dialect, approaching their complex texts musically in the form of a melodrama.

Portrait Jean-Luc Darbellay

Rousseau and melodrama

This genre dates back to the late 18th century and is nowadays rather neglected. Between and on top of the music the words are spoken instead of sung. Its inventor is none other than the Geneva-born, French-Swiss philosopher and composer Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who in 1770 composed the very first melodrama in the history of music: “Pygmalion”.

Rousseau is at the core of Darbellays composition, as François Debluë’s text is based on a fictitious letter by Robert Walser concerning Jean-Jacques Rousseau, namely his stay on the St. Petersinsel in Lake Biel. Rousseau claimed to have spent the best time of his life there in the autumn of 1765. But the city of Berne’s Secret Council expelled the famous philosopher, also from Môtier (Val-de-Travers), where he lived with his companion Thérèse Levasseur, where he was no longer welcome and – so the story goes – stones were thrown at them. This prompts Debluë to a wide rêverie about stones. “Je sais le langage des pierres”. (French in the original text)

Guy Krneta reacts to Debluë’s text with an artistic Berndeutsch language study and develops a monologue on water set on the shores of Lake Biel “Chan e See dänke? Was würd’r dänke, wen’r chönnt dänke? und Steine Het e Schtei mau grännet?”. (Swiss-German in the original text)

 

Portrait Guy Krneta © Guy Krneta

“Schifere” and “Steineln”

The act of “ricochet” or throwing stones to make them bounce on water – “ds’Schifere” in Bernese dialect – is the central connection between Debluë’s and Krneta’s texts. As Krneta puts it: “Wen e Schtei über ds Wasser gumpet, vo Oberflächi zu Oberflächi, chan i ahne, wi’s isch gsi, wo d Schteine no gläbt hei, wo si gfloge sy wi Vögu” (When a stone jumps on water, from surface to surface, you can sense how it must have been, in the old days, when stones were still alive and flying like birds). In Debluë, it is round soft pebbles that bounce on water; if there were children there, they would compete in throwing them (“Steineln”). Mais il n’y a pas d’enfant (But there are no children) – in allusion to Rousseau, who placed his children in orphanages.


,Wenn ich denke‘, Guy Krneta for Jean-Luc Darbellay, Play SRF, Morgengeschichte, 5.10.2019

Jean-Luc Darbellay has decided to compose for this complex literary model, in a way that music does not try to compete with literature, but rather supports the words. The speaker should be able to develop freely and rhythm is therefore never precisely set. Sometimes music takes on an illustrative function, as for example in the case of stones flying over water. But often Darbellay simply leaves a chord to resonate or even completely renounces any presence of sound. In this way, both spoken languages come to full effect in their characteristic style and peculiarity.


Jean-Luc Darbellay, Pour une part d’enfance, für Sprecherin und Ensemble, Melodram über einen Text von François Debluë, 2018

The title “Belena” also refers to Biel, for the city’s name can be traced back to “Bĕlĕna” in linguistic history, although researchers still don’t know exactly what it refers to. Maybe a Celtic sun goddess? Or Belenus as a god of power? It remains a puzzle to this day – but fits this thoroughly “Biel”-related music-theatrical work perfectly.
Cécile Olshausen


Jean-Luc Darbellay, Belena, UA 19.2.2020 SOBS

The Biel Solothurn Symphony Orchestra makes its world premiere recordings available on neo.mx3, like the “Concerto for Violoncello and Orchestra” (world premiere) by Jost Meier,  recorded November 13, 2019 at the Kongresshaus Biel, you can stream here:

Jost Meier, Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, UA 13.11.2019 SOBS

Carnaval Bilingue, 6. Sinfoniekonzert SOBS, 19. Februar 2020, 19:30h, Kongresshaus Biel, Sinfonie-Orchester Biel Solothurn, Kaspar Zehnder – Leitung, Isabelle Freymond – Sprecherin
Programm:
Antonin Dvorak, Carnaval, Konzertouvertüre op. 92
Jean-Luc Darbellay, Belena, Melodramatisches Konzert für eine Sprecherin und Orchester
Joseph Lauber, Sinfonie Nr.1

Sinfonie Orchester Biel Solothurn, Jean-Luc Darbellay, Guy Krneta

Sendungen SRF 2 Kultur: Im Konzertsaal, Do, 26.3.2020, Di, 19.5.2020

neo-profiles: Jean-Luc Darbellay, Sinfonie Orchester Biel Solothurn