Of swarms, bells and insects

Michael Pelzel, Composer in Residence at this year’s Musikfestival Bern, shows the range of his compositional work through numerous world premieres. He can also a renowned organ player and interpreter. A conversational portrait by Friederike Kenneweg.

 

Portrait Michael Pelzel zVg Michael Pelzel

 

Friederike Kenneweg
When I tried to arrange an interview with Michael Pelzel in mid-July 2021, he was not easy to reach and there’s a good reason for that: the works to be premiered featuring him as Composer in Residence at the Musikfestival Bern are piling up on his desk. “It’s one after the other,” he tells me, when we finally manage to talk. The piece that is in front of him as we speak on the phone is called Aus 133 Fenstern. Although “composer in residence” in Bern doesn’t mean that you actually have to be there for an extended period of time, the conditions at the festival venue have inspired Michael Pelzel to create a special spatial composition.

From the multitude of windows that open out from the PROGR Cultural Center onto the courtyard, the audience is treated to bells, triangles, lotus flutes and ocarinas, played by children and young people and even if the target of 133 musicians is not quite reached, there is no doubt that a unique spatial and sound event awaits the audience.

 

Probe zur Uraufführung von Aus 133 Fenstern für 133 Musizierende, UA im Progr am Musikfestival Bern ©Martin Bichsel / zVg Musikfestival Bern

 

The piece is composed and written out in detail. Pelzel however does not expect the amateur musicians to manage to play in synch with each other under the special spatial circumstances. “Even professionals can’t manage to hit the percussion instruments at exactly the same time,” says Pelzel. But it is precisely this blurring tonal effect, the composer is particularly interested in. “Composers are, after all, always on the lookout for new, unheard sounds and the choral use of these metal percussion instruments is – in my opinion – not yet been explored in its full potential.”

 

“Micro Arpeggios”

 

Pelzel’s fascination with metal percussion instruments comes to the fore in several occasions during the festival. In composition Glissomaniac for two pianos and two percussionists, for example, where tubular bells produce this kind of blurs as the two percussionists and pianists play in unison. “Micro-arpeggios” is how Michael Pelzel defines the result. “It’s a bit like a river delta. Many little tributaries, each one with its peculiar course, but all with a common direction, flowing towards the sea.”

 

Michael Pelzel already combined vocal ensemble and percussion in 2019 in the piece Hagzusa zum Galsterei, premiered by the SWR Vokalensemble at Eclat Festival Stuttgart.

 

Michael Pelzel also relies on this effect in the vocal composition Luna for eight singers and percussion, with not only the percussionist using instruments, but also the eight singers playing triangles of different sizes. Due to the minimal temporal shift in the attack, metal sound clouds of different dimensions and never entirely predictable arise again and again.

Luna is a work commissioned by KlangForum Heidelberg as part of the ensemble’s series of works “Sternbild: Mensch” (Constellation: Man) and was actually to be premiered elsewhere. But as so often, had to be postponed due to the pandemic.

The work has already been premiered, but so far only in digital form. The “analogue” premiere in front of a physically present audience will now be able to take place in Bern: a special highlight in the context of a concert entitled Ferne Lichterschwärme.

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Michael Pelzel, La Luna, KlangForum Heidelberg, ‘Uraufnahme’ online june 2021

 

In combination with Pelzel’s piece La Luna, the programme also includes orchestral works by Georg Friedrich Haas (born 1953) and György Ligeti (1923-2006) and Pelzel’s compositions will be presented together with works by Haas and Ligeti also during other concerts. Probably because there is a certain affinity between the three composers, as – just like Ligeti – Pelzel appreciates intricate micro-rhythms and shares a passion for microtones with Georg Friedrich Haas. Accordingly, the combination of his works with these two greats suits him perfectly: “Between Georg Friedrich Haas, who was my esteemed teacher and György Ligeti, an important musical reference for me in many respects, I feel very comfortable”.

 

Michael Pelzel, in memoriam György Ligeti: intricate micro-rhythms link the works of György Ligeti and Michael Pelzel, inhouse production SRG/SSR

 

György Ligeti also plays an important role for Michael Pelzel as an organist. Accordingly, the organ concert with Michael Pelzel as part of the festival will feature Ligeti’s organ work Harmonies from 1967. The composition …stream of debris… by Michael Pelzel, which he will premiere himself, is seen by the composer as part of the same tradition. “It’s also a bit of a tribute to Ligeti, who worked a lot with clusters in his organ music. When I improvise on the organ myself, I also take clusters as a starting point, but I try not to simply repeat that, but also to further develop Ligeti’s approach for the present times.”

Streamed Polyphony for strings, which will be premiered by CAMERATA BERN, is appropriately announced in the programme as a “swarmig piece” in line with the festival motto “swarms”. “Swarming is not actually correct,” says Pelzel when I ask him about it. “I rather thought of three insects buzzing around a light source while composing it.”

That is why the distribution of the musicians in the room plays an important role in this piece, allowing the sound of the strings to literally buzz around the room. Even if the title of the composition no longer suggests the association with insects: perhaps the swarming and buzzing effect will still be recognizable to the listeners during the CAMERATA BERN concert.
Friederike Kenneweg

 

Michael Pelzel © Manuela Theobald / zVg Musikfestival Bern

 

 

This year’s Bern Music Festival will take place from September 1 to 5 under the motto “schwärme” (swarms) with works and world premieres by Salvatore Sciarrino, Fritz Hauser, Jürg Frey, Johanna Schwarzl, Hans Eugen Frischknecht, Pierre-André Bovey, Thomas Kessler and Jean-Luc Darbellay, among others.

The festival also features a cinema matinée on György Ligeti (documentary: Wenn die Zahnräder Menschen sind, 1996) followed by a discussion between Michael Pelzel, composer in residence, and Thomas Meyer, music journalist (Thursday, 2.9., 10h).

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World creations by Michael Pelzel:
Aus 133 FensternMittwoch, 1.9. 17h
Streamed Polyphony, in concert: Open the Spaces, Mittwoch, .1.9. 19h
Glissomania, in concert: Durch unausdenkliche WälderFreitag, 3.9. 21h
La Luna, in conczert: Ferne LichterschwärmeSamstag, 4.9. 19h
Harmonies / ...stream of debris… in concert: Con Passione, Sonntag, 5.9. 17h

Neo-Profiles:
Musikfestival BernMichael PelzelCamerata BernGyörgy LigetiGeorg Friedrich HaasThomas KesslerJürg FreyJean-Luc DarbellayFritz HauserPierre-André Bovey

Time bridges across different ages  

Friederike Kenneweg: 20 Years of Mondrian Ensemble: Anniversary Concerts  

20 years already: the Basel based piano quartet Mondrian is celebrating its anniversary and the good thing is that some of the concerts planned for the occasion can now actually happen. 

Ensemble Mondrian ©zVg Ensemble Mondrian

 

Friederike Kenneweg
This year’s concert season was somewhat uneven and not only for the Mondrian Ensemble: too many events have been cancelled, postponed or had to be live-streamed online. But for Tamriko Kordzaia (piano), Ivana Pristašová (violin), Petra Ackermann (viola) and Karolina Öhmann (violoncello) it was even worse as they were planning to celebrate their ensemble’s 20th anniversary. The anniversary concert in autumn 2020 could take place with reduced audience. The Walcheturm event in Zurich however had to be streamed. The only advantage being that it is now accessible to everyone online.  

Connecting lines between the ages 

Bringing together common practice period and contemporary music has been Mondrian Ensemble’s characteristic for 20 years and their anniversary programme was no exception. A string trio by Schubert and four fantasy pieces by Schumann were combined with works by Martin Jaggi (*1978), Jannik Giger (*1985) and Madli Marje Gildemann (*1994). This allows a better perception of the different connections between musical periods, but also highlights contrasts and further developments all the more clearly. As the four musicians do not limit themselves to one period, but consider the entire history of music up to the present day for their concert programmes, they repeatedly uncover astonishing things – for example, parallels between the melancholy beauty of English Renaissance music and the slow pulsation of a piece by the Austrian Klaus Lang, or enable the audience to experience a very special kind of time travel, performing a piano trio by Schubert and a piano quartet by Morton Feldman in immediate succession.  

Another important aspect is that the ensemble keeps contemporary compositions in its repertoire and plays them on various occasions over the years, allowing them to develop and unfold like interpretations of classical works. This is hardly possible in the new music business, focusing mainly on world premieres.  

Great importance is also attached to working closely with the composers – sometimes over long periods of time, for example, Dieter Ammann, as the work on the world premiere of his string trio “Gehörte Form” (“Heard Form”) from 1998 led the founding members Daniela Müller on violin, Christian Zgraggen on viola and Martin Jaggi to form an ensemble in 2000. 

 


Dieter Ammann, Gehörte Form – Hommages for string trio 1998, in house-production SRG/SSR

The joining of Walter Zoller on piano, opened new possibilities and allowed them to perform string and piano trios as well as piano quartets from all periods. The ensemble still makes full use of the flexibility that this instrumentation brings in its programming. Thus, solos or duets can also be found in the various possible combinations. 

Different combination possibilities 

Another composer who has accompanied the ensemble for a long time is Jannik Giger from Basel. Their collaboration was for the piece “Intime Skizzen, as the musicians rehearsed compositional sketches by Leoš Janáček, Jannik Giger was present with his camera. The finished work offers insights into the musicians’ rehearsal rooms via a video screen, showing the piece’s appropriation process. In addition, the ensemble plays the Janáček fragments as well as the additions that Giger composed on stage. In the meantime, Giger’s piano trio “Caprice” from 2013 and string trio “Vertige have also become part of the ensemble’s regular repertoire. 

 

Jannik Giger, Vertige for string trio 2020

The ensemble not only recorded a portrait CD with Austrian composer Thomas Wally (Jusqu’à l’aurore, col legno 2020), but will also perform with him on stage in May, as Wally is also violinist. In the upcoming concerts, Ivana Pristašová, Petra Ackermann and Karolina Öhmann will also join the string quartet. For the BLACK ANGELS programme, they will perform the 1970 piece of the same name by George Crumb, which refers to the Vietnam War, with electronically amplified string instruments. Tape recordings are added to the string quartet in Steve Reich’s Different trains (1988), which also refers to war – reflecting on the importance of trains during the Second World War.   

50 years of women’s suffrage in Switzerland – a playable oven  

The programme planned for autumn 2021 revolves around the 50th anniversary of women’s suffrage in Switzerland. A first glimpse will be given on June 4, with the premiere of Garzeit” by artist duo LAUTESkollektiv

 

LAUTESkollektiv 2x Haensler ©zVg Stefanie Haensler

LAUTESkollektiv is composer Stephanie Haensler (*1986) together with designer Laura Haensler andGarzeit” is a multi-part piano quartet in which the usual instruments of the Mondrian Ensemble will be complemented by a playable oven.
This conveys part of the aesthetics and everyday life of women around 1971.
During the composition, switches, levers and knobs are operated by the musicians and influence the sound
scape 

 


Stephanie Haensler: Ein Schnitt for string quintet 2019, in house-production SRG/SSR

The full programme also features several pieces by female composers of different periods and generations – from Clara Schumann (1819-1896), via Elfrida Andrée (1841-1929) and the almost forgotten St. Gallen composer and poet Olga Diener (1890-1963) to Rebecca Saunders (*1967) and Katharina Rosenberger (*1971). 

Mondrian Ensemble’s programme, in which the piece “the ocarina chapter” by Christoph Gallio was to be premiered was eventually postponed to 2022. The piece has been commissioned by the ensemble to the Swiss composer and the concert was planned to be meeting of the ensemble with voice artist Theo Bleckmann from New York – an artistic encounter that the situation unfortunately does not permit at the moment.
Friederike Kenneweg 

 

Ensemble Mondrian ©zVg Ensemble Mondrian

 

BLACK ANGELS with Thomas Wally will be performed again on May 7 and 8 (Gare du Nord Basel, Walcheturm Zurich).  

Garzeit’s world premiere will take place on June 4, at Historisches Museum, Baden and its world premiere tour (Zurich, St. Gallen, Chur, Basel) will run until November 1, 2021.

The tour with world premiere by Christoph Gallio has been postponed to 2022. 

 

Thomas WallyIvana PristašováGeorge Crumb, Steve Reich, Madli Marje Gildemann, Klaus Lang, Morton Feldman, Daniela MüllerWalter Zoller, Leoš Janáček, col legno, Laura HaenslerOlga Diener, Clara Schumann, Rebecca Saunders, Elfrida Andrée, Theo Bleckmann

Sendung SRF 2 Kultur:
Blick in die Feuilletons, 8.12.20, 20 Jahre mutige Kammermusik – das Mondrian Ensemble hat etwas zu feiern (ab Min 24): a portrait by Gabrielle Weber

 

Neo-Profiles:
Mondrian Ensemble, Tamriko Kordzaia, Karolina Öhman, Petra Ackermann, George Crumb, Klaus LangMartin Jaggi, Jannik Giger, Dieter Ammann, Stephanie Haensler, Katharina Rosenberger, Christoph Gallio, Gare du Nord, Kunstraum Walcheturm