“A Madrigal Trip”: Jannik Giger – World creation@Festival Ultraschall (22.1.) – live on air! 20-25.1.2021

The Berlin festival Ultraschall will be taking place! Live and later broadcasted on Deutschlandfunk Kultur as well as rbbKultur. Composer and video artist Jannik Giger, from Basel, premieres a new piece on January 22: ‘Qu’est devenue ce bel oeuil‘ for soprano, bass clarinet and fictional four-channel organ. The concert can be enjoyed live on Friday, January 22, 2021, at 20h00 and again on February 16th

Jannik Giger Portrait ©zVg Jannik Giger

Gabrielle Weber
In his work, Giger often refers to the ‘sounding past’, with audio documents or pieces by Franz Schubert, Leos Janacek or Bela Bartok, for example. Most of his pieces also include videos, installations or spatial components. Giger also creates film music, which serve the images but can also be considered independent musical works. 


In the video installation Gabrys and Henneberger – Transformations (2014), double bass player Aleksander Gabrys improvises live to a video. (Jürg Henneberger conducts the Phoenix Ensemble in Giger’s Clash).  

In his new piece for ultrasound “Qu’est devenue ce bel oeuil” Giger turns for the first time to the Renaissance, as the work is based on the a capella madrigal with the same title by composer Claude Le Jeune.
I talked to him via zoom from Zurich to Basel shortly before the world premiere. 

Music is so to speak on hold at the moment, because of the pandemic…. How did this affect your work?  

 Working as a composer, I spend a plenty of time alone in the studio or in a room. So apart from the extreme social restrictions, little has changed. But preliminary work and rehearsals have become complicated.   

I started the new piece for Ultraschall in Berlin. I had a residency there (Atelier Mondial) and wanted to spend half a year intensively visiting museums, galleries and concerts but because of the pandemic everything was closed. On the other hand, I now know all the lakes, parks and forests in and around Berlin. Through this vacuum, I spent a protected, secluded time and was able to concentrate really well on composing, which was a positive side.  

The negative side: rehearsal and concert situations are the real reward for solitary composing. These special moments, when everything condenses, which set themselves apart from the working routine, no longer exist at the moment. 

Your works usually include visuals such as videos or installations: are there any in Ultrasound or did you adapt it for the radiophonic premiere’s purpose 

 Although it is a chamber music piece ‘for voice, bass clarinet and fictitious organ’, it was originally intended as a spatial live piece. I received the commission from the soprano Sarah Maria Sun and Nina Janssen-Deinzer, the clarinetist. Their wish to include of electronics, so I decided on a four-channel feed, an imaginary big organ consisting of four speakers placed around them. Since it now takes place without an audience and broadcasted on the radio, the initially planned spatial component is no longer included. 

Jannik Giger: Sarah Maria Sun (Sopran) in Schlotterarie from Kolik, UA Gare du Nord Basel, 2019

A Crazy Harmonic… 

How did you come across Claude Le Jeune? So far, you have been more familiar with Romantic, Classical and Baroque music, or modern masterpieces. What is your connection to the Renaissance?   

I often draw from existing pieces or materials that I come across by chance and appeal to me in some way. Singer Jean-Christophe Groffe brought this fantastic vocal piece to my attention. 

The special thing about Le Jeune is the crazy harmonies. The piece is completely chromatic and uniform: with a text, a harmony, a form, a repetitive rhythm. Starting from this material was an intuitive decision and the result was an associative, almost anti-intellectual piece with a simple concept: the combination of the chorale material with organ sounds. My own guideline was that it should not contain any samples other than organ sounds.   

Claude Le Jeune (1528-1600), Qu’est devenu ce bel oeuil

… was this maybe related to the pandemic? A reference to a distant past, to the musical renaissance….  

 No – or maybe yes… It is about decay and the piece has something nostalgic to it. Even the title question ‘Qu’est devenue ce bel oeil?‘… What happened? Everything unravels… Le Jeune accompanied me during my time in Berlin. I also composed a piece for the Arditti Quartet in which I referred to him. 

How did you proceed composing and why this instrumentation?  

I listened to many organ recordings – by Bruckner, Machaut, Bach, Brahms, Buxtehude – and sampled individual organ sounds from different organs in different tunings as well as in different rooms. Over a period of weeks, I built up an archive of sounds. Then I “built” the fictitious organ from various samples by assembling and pasting. The sequencing and overlaying of sounds and spaces created an almost orchestral complexity. 


Jannik Giger, Ausschnitt from soundtrac / ficticious organ in: Q’est devenu ce bel oeil, world creation Festival Ultraschall 22.1.2021

During the piece, both soloists get to the fictitious organ: how must we imagine it all?  

The previous track is the organ alone, each chord coming actually from a different organ. The soundtrack runs through, distributed over four speakers, and will mix with the live instruments, having the two levels interacting with each other, sometimes merging, other times in opposition. 

A “Madrigal Trip” 

Le Jeune’s original is an a capella madrigal, you transferred that aspect to the four-channel organ but how do you handle the voice?  

Sarah Maria Sun, the soprano, sings to Le Jeune’s original text. Sometimes sounding like French chanson, sometimes like Renaissance or contemporary music, occasionally with new playing techniques. The voice fluctuates from melodious and tonal to very noisy passages, playing with aesthetic references. What eventually emerged is almost a ‘madrigal trip’.  

Giger on air or streaming live: is that even possible? Do you also see opportunities in the current situation and how do you deal with it?  

If chamber music is well received, also visually, it can work as a live stream. But I approach pieces for several instruments or for orchestra differently right now. There is a physical vacuum: because the musicians’ bodies are not present and the rituals of the concerts are missing, the performance, the endings, the moments of tension. Pure documentation is no longer enough. I try to go one step further, for example, I recorded a CD with Dieter Ammann (CD Ammann-Giger, Mondrian Ensemble, Ensemble Nuance): the sound engineer Alexander Kordzaia recorded it by using close mic techniques and deliberately almost overproduced it. The music is therefore microscopically expanded and not a live reproduction, but has been given a completely different quality of perception.   

What next? In 2021, for example, a new CD on the KAIROS label is to be released with the title Krypta can you reveal anything about that? And are there other upcoming projects?  

The record combines some already produced, but not yet released instrumental music. Krypta was a sound installation for the Bern Music Festival, of which there is also a plain stereo audio track. Then there is a new piece, a montage of studio recordings with the ensembles Xasax and Thélème.    


Jannik Giger, excerpt from Krypta, Multichannel Orchestration, Musikfestival Bern 2019

I’m looking forward to a project for the Architecture Biennale in Venice. A spatial piece of mine is to be performed in the Pavillon Suisse during the opening in May – if it will happen... Based on architectural texts, I am working with the opera singer Andrej Krutojs. It’s about Venice and Italian opera. For ZeitRäume Basel on the other hand I set to work on a video installation dealing with the ‘blind audition’ theme, a form of gender-appropriate auditioning for orchestral roles 
Gabrielle Weber

Jannik Giger Portrait © zVg Jannik Giger


Ultraschall Berlin
– Festival für neue Musik: from february 20 to 24.

Konzert 22.1., 20h, live Deutschlandfunk Kultur:
Sarah Maria Sun, Sopran, and Nina Janssen-Deinzer, Klarinetten and Saxophon, UA Jannik Giger Qu’est devenu ce bel oeuil und Werke von u.a. Georges Aperghis, Toshio Hosokawa, Wolfgang Rihm.
also on 16.2.20, 23:04h, rbb Kultur in: Musik der Gegenwart

Jannik Giger, CD Ammann-Giger / a tree in a field records – Koproduktion SRF 2 Kultur, Atelier Mondial, KAIROS, Andrejs Krutojs, Alexander Kordzaia, Ensemble Nuance, Festival ZeitRäume Basel, Biennale Venezia, ThélèmeJean-Christophe Groffe

Broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur
Kultur Aktuell & Kultur Kompakt Podcast, 22.1.21, 8:05h/11:30h: Livegespräch zum Festival Ultraschall und UA Jannik Giger, Gesprächspartnerin Gabrielle Weber
Musik unserer Zeit, 3.2.21, 20h: Jannik Giger, der Scherbensammler, Redaktion Theresa Beyer
Musikmagazin, 6./7.2.21: Jannik Giger im Café-Gespräch mit Theresa Beyer

Neo-Profiles
Jannik Giger, Sarah Maria Sun, Musikfestival Bern, Ensemble Phoenix Basel, Mondrian Ensemble, Aleksander Gabrys, Dieter Ammann, Xasax Saxophonquartett, ZeitRäume Basel

“I am one of Europe’s slowest composers.”

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.

Dieter Ammann @composing

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, Andreas HaefligerLucerne Festival, Sinfonieorchester Basel, Mondrian Ensemble, Nils Mönkemeyer, Basel Sinfonietta

Broadcasts: SRF1
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

Neo-Profiles: Dieter Ammann, Lucerne Festival Academy, Sinfonieorchester Basel, Mondrian Ensemble, Basel Sinfonietta

Open-mindedness and consistency

35 years ensemble für neue music zürich

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

ensemble für neue musik zürich

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

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

Hanspeter Frehner Portrait

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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