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

“The universe of sounds is limitless”

Christian Fluri / Gabrielle Weber: Interview Martin Bliggenstorfer – 10 years ensemble proton bern: Anniversary season 2020/21

This is where a brilliant birthday portrait regarding ensemble proton bern’s 10 years activity, with plenty of notes regarding the anniversary season was meant to be found.

Christian Fluri talked with Martin Bliggenstorfer, the Managing Director, shortly after the lockdown of the first pandemic wave. At that time, he expressed confidence and urge for action.

Now, shortly before the big anniversary celebration of November 16th was originally planned, we find ourselves in the midst of a second wave, hitting with unexpected violence.

I therefore discussed the effects of the new situation on the ensemble proton bern and its anniversary season with Bliggenstorfer in a second conversation, immediately after the Federal authorities announced the new guidelines of October 18th. Since then, measures and guidelines have been changing constantly and most performances have become virtually impossible.

The ensemble proton bern is thus representative of many ensembles, musicians and organisers who are suddenly facing cancellations, postponements and an uncertain future.

ensemble proton bern: Gruppenportrait © Oliver Oettli


Christian Fluri
ensemble proton bern has been researching with great passion since ten years now, looking for new sounds, new works and new composers. It is now one of the most in-demand ensembles in and outside Europe.

Since its foundation in 2010, the ensemble, which is based in the Dampfzentrale Bern, has performed some 273 works by 180 composers in 128 concerts, 175 of the works were world premieres. Among other highlights, its concerts at St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Concert Hall in in front of large audiences and a West Coast tour of the USA.

During the first wave of Corona, the ensemble was quite lucky, as managing director, oboist and lupophone player Martin Bliggenstorfer states: “Right before the lockdown, we were able to play the protonwerk no. 9 concert in the Dampfzentrale. But we had to cancel the second performance at Basel’s Gare du Nord.”

protonwerk is a support programme for young composers* to whom the ensemble commissions works.


Adrian Nagel, Netzwerk, UA: protonwerk no.7 / ensemble proton bern 2017

“We were able to postpone our programme terrible ten, a concert with world premieres by Thomas Kessler (My lady soul) as well as Michael Pelzel and Stefan Wirth, which was planned for May, at short notice and managed to play in September. So not all of our planned programmes went completely lost,” says Bliggenstorfer happily.

Making music together is missed

The ensemble could hardly wait to get back playing concerts after the lockdown. So terrible ten became somewhat extraordinary as making music together again after such a long time and sharing music live with the audience was a great experience for everyone involved, says Bliggentorfer.


Thomas Kessler, My lady soul, UA ensemble proton bern 2019

Even though the ensemble’s musicians were able to make productive use of the lockdown period. “What we missed was making music together, being in direct contact with each other and rehearse with the concerts in mind. But at the same time it was also good to let our brains and bodies rest for a few weeks.”

Fortunately, the ensemble’s existence is currently not in danger. “We didn’t have to return any of the received subsidies or support for the cancelled concerts. That way we’ve been able to pay out our own fees as well as those of our guest performers”. Bliggenstorfer is very grateful for the generous attitude of Switzerland’s donors.

“The universe of sounds is limitless…”

The ensemble is therefore still in an excellent position and constantly striving to develop further. This, however, will happen without its long-time conductor Matthias Kuhn, with the ensemble since its founding. “He wishes to reorient himself artistically” which is something that Bliggenstorfer understands, however important Kuhn has been for the young ensemble’s development. In the future, the work will go on with a core of eight members and without a permanent conductor, in order to develop chamber music projects as well as concerts and performances with larger ensembles and guest conductors.

The passion for contemporary music in its various genres and orientations never changed as the ensemble has no blinders on and joyfully plays and shows how full of enthusiasm, lively and vital contemporary music can be. “The universe of sounds and their possible combinations is infinite”, and Bliggenstorfer knows that ” there are new discoveries to be made throughout an entire lifespan”.


Verschiedene Komponisten click & faun, ensemble proton bern 2019

Sound possibilities of new instruments are also far from being exhausted: i.e. the “clarinet d’amore” rediscovered by Richard Haynes, the double-reed instruments “lupophone” and “contraforte” played by Martin Bliggenstorfer and Elise Jacoberger or Maximilian Haft’s “straw violin” – not to mention the variety in the realmof electronic sound production. ensemble proton bern will continue to research.
Christian Fluri

2nd interview, October 21, 2020:
Gabrielle Weber
Despite growing uncertainties and the threat of new restrictions, Bliggenstorfer still appeared to be confident regarding future concert possibilities on October 21: “Cultural events should not be cancelled as long as they are not officially prohibited. Protection concepts must of course be implemented perfectly, which worked well so far”.

Fixed appearances as main act were planned as part of the “5 years Kultur-Kino Rex” anniversary programme, with two visual artists, during which composer Ennio Morricone was to be shown from an much less known side. “Morricone is well known as film music composer – but he was also active in so called ‘art music’, among others as trumpet player of the “Gruppo di improvisazzione Nuova Consonanza” in the 60s/70s.

However, the new Berne guidelines of October 23, closed cinemas and museums with immediately effect and  the concerts had to be cancelled shortly afterwards.

“fette fête” (big fat party) – the ensemble’s 10th anniversary concert

The “fette fête” was planned for 16 November in Bern: a huge birthday party with premieres and works by Louis Andriessen, Christian Henking and Annette Schmucki. The ensemble also commissioned a work by young Swiss composer Tobias Krebs. “We are extremely pleased about this – he is an outstanding young composer whom we know from protonwerk”.


Tobias Krebs, ambra, UA Duo Vers 2018

During the interview, Bliggenstorfer held on to the possibility of performing, for “as long as it is possible to propose art as a live experience, we do not want to give up the opportunity to perform. We want to deal with the situation responsibly by observing the protection rules and concepts”.

Unfortunately, the concert had to be cancelled (as of October 30 guidelines) and will be rescheduled to February 2021 (tbc.).

Further uncertainties arise regarding future projects with guests from abroad: “If they cannot enter or travel, we will have to look for replacements. Furthermore, engagements abroad are cancelled for the time being. For the anniversary season, the ensemble had invitations to New York and Salzburg, for example.”

The financial consequences of the current situation cannot be assessed yet: “At the moment we are still in a good position financially, but the medium to long-term impact of the crisis on the funding landscape is uncertain.”

The ensemble continues to show its full commitment. The urge of research and innovation, as well as the desire to play and discover, remain intact.

However, it is impossible to foresee long-term consequences regarding live concerts, in particular as far as the international situation is concerned.
Gabrielle Weber

ensemble proton bern Gruppenportrait © Oliver Oettli

Konzerte Jubiläumssaison 20/21 &aktuelle updates

30.Oktober: The dark side of Ennio Morricone, Kino Rex Bern: ABGESAGT

16. November: “fette fête” – 10Jahre proton, Dampfzentrale Bern: ABGESAGT: VERSCHIEBEDATUM 2. Februar 2021 (tbc)**
17. November, 20h, Konzert Gare du Nord Basel: protonwerk nr.9 (Wiederaufnahme)

Sendungen SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, 28.10.20: Redaktion Florian Hauser, Gespräch zu My lady soul, mit Thomas Kessler, Martin Bliggenstorfer, Bettina Berger, Vera Schnider
Neue Musik im Konzert
, 28.10.20: My lady soul mit terrible ten, Konzertaufzeichnung vom 15.9.20, Dampfzentrale Bern, Redaktion Florian Hauser.
Musikmagazin, 25.7.20: u.a. Richard Haynes, Redaktion Florian Hauser

**DATUM OFFEN: Neue Musik im Konzert: “fette fête”, Konzertaufzeichnung, Dampfzentrale Bern, Redaktion Florian Hauser.

ensemble proton bern, Martin Bliggenstorfer, Matthias Kuhn, Richard HaynesHanspeter Kyburz, Louis Andriessen

neo-profiles: ensemble proton bern, Thomas Kessler, Michael Pelzel, Stefan Wirth, Christian Henking, Annette SchmuckiTobias KrebsTobias Krebs

Alpine blessing for Casino opening

Christian Fluri: Helena Winkelman – Composer in Residence @ Sinfonieorchester Basel 20/21

Helena Winkelman, composer, violinist and artistic director of the distinguished Camerata Variabile ensemble, is one of Switzerland’s most interesting and unconventional internationally renowned musicians and this year’s Composer in Residence with the Basel Symphony Orchestra (SOB).

Helena Winkelman, Portrait with violin

The work of Helena Winkelman includes chamber music, choral and orchestral works as well as opera and musical theatre. In her compositions she develops her own musical language, which reflects our times and is based on a wide variety of influences, such as Baroque, Jazz and various folk music, combining complexity with playfulness and profoundness with joy of life.


Helena Winkelman, Camerata Variabile: Papa Haydn’s Parrot (2016)

The SOB already commissioned Winkelman with three new pieces: Einkreisung and Gemini, whose premiere will be conducted by Ivor Bolton, SOB’s main director and Goblins for six percussionists. All three works are structured for theatrical purposes and have their own lighting concept.

Einkreisung for eight alphorns – mountain atmosphere in town

Einkreisung is one of the works that will inaugurate the renovated casino, which will present its new looks on August 22. The piece is written for eight alphorns of different lengths and tunings.

“The idea is based on the traditional Swiss alpine blessing.” explains Winkelman “For the opening of the city casino, I wanted to bring the mountain atmosphere into town and into the music hall, in order to provide the urban world with some earthiness and peace.”

The eight alphorn players, the Hornroh-Quartett together with four horn players of the SOB will be distributed both on stage and in the galleries, thus encircling the audience. Winkelman describes “Einkreisung” as a work that dramatically employs the alternation between quiet, almost traditional-sounding alpine greetings and strong sound layers along the instruments’ overtones. The sound will be passed on in a circular manner, creating an effective setting to highlight the new concert hall.

Helena Winkelman, Granithörner (Teaser), Camerata Variabile &Balthasar Streiff, 2018

Gemini – Staged interactions

Gemini, a concerto for two violins and orchestra, was written by Helena Winkelman for two great musical personalities, Patricia Kopatchinskaja and Pekka Kuusisto: it will be premiered at the SOB’s first season concert in September. The concert consists of nine short scenes, each of which portrays possible relationship modes between two people. Both soloists will be accompanied by a drummer each, moving through the piece with them during the performace. The last three scenes “Battleships”, “Partners in Crime” and “Horsing around” bring various folk music elements into play in a humorous, rapid question and answer game between soloists and orchestra. The climax of the piece is reached in a staged duel, in which the solo double bass intervenes alongside the two secondary percussionists.

During a long conversation about her music, Helena Winkelman talks about the creative process and the connection between art and life itself.

“At the beginning of a work there is often a sound that is formed by a combination of body tension, gesture and tactile imagination” she says. “These three elements in turn arise from an inner sensation or atmosphere.

In all these years I came to the insight that in the end there is no big difference between composers and non-composers, because just as in composing, there are also decisions to be made in life, along which one’s own path then unfolds. Every detail is important, the reasons are important, everything influences and intertwines. This is often an overwhelming task.

As composers we hold a magnifying glass over these decision-making processes, showing that, ideally, it is possible to make a good choice.

Conscious shaping of the world

Here I would like to contradict the often-expressed belief that art is there to interpret, reflect and process life. We find ourselves in a world of glorification of the executive. Consequently, art is perceived as being of little importance. But what if instead life asked OURSELVES for a possible, desired direction and much more than we think would depend on our creativity and vision?

Music could be our encouragement and training to awaken this creative potential and to consciously shape our world – as artists do – at any given time.”
Christian Fluri


Helena Winkelman: Atlas für Solocello (Nicolas Altstaedt), Cello und Streicher, 2019, Solist: Cello

Uraufführungen Helena Winkelman & SOB:
Einkreisung, August 22 (reopening Stadtcasino Basel), August 26, Special Concert: Neue Welt. Alphorn soloists: Hornroh-Quartett, SOB: Diane Eaton, Megan McBride, Eda Paçaci, Lars Magnus

Gemini, October, 9. and 10. Concert: Duel, Stadtcasino Basel.
Due to family reasons one of the soloists Pekka Kuusisto had to cancel. The composer herself will step in and perform his part.

Goblins, February 4, 2021, in: Concert Solmidable, Stadtcasino Basel.
Helena WinkelmanSinfonieorchester BaselCamerata VariabileCasino Basel,  hornroh modern alphorn quartetBalthasar Streiff

Broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Kontext / Künste im Gespräch, September 3, 2020, 9am/6pm: Annelis Berger im Werkstattgespräch mit Patricia Kopatchinskaja und Helena Winkelmann.
Musik unserer Zeit, September 9, 2020: Portrait Helena Winkelmann (Annelis Berger)

Neo-Profiles:
Helena WinkelmanSinfonieorchester Basel, Camerata Variabilehornroh modern alphorn quartet