A competition to keep an ear on

The tree price winners are:
1. price: Yiquing Zhu
(Shanghai) for Deep Grey (Basel Sinfonietta / Peter Rundel)
2. price: Arthur Akshelyan
(Yerevan) for Three pieces for Orchestra  (Sinfonieorchester Basel / Francesc Prat)
3. price: Miguel Morate
(Valladolid) for Comme s’en va cette onde  (Kammerorchester Basel / Frank Ollu)

Gabrielle Weber
The Basel Composition Competition (BCC) is taking place for its third edition. During one week, Basel will become the centre of new orchestral music.

Twelve international candidates will compete with new compositions, premiered by three major orchestras: Basel Symphony Orchestra, Basel Sinfonietta and Basel Chamber Orchestra. Due to the pandemic, the concerts will take place without an audience, but played live and streamed online. During the final concert on Sunday, three to five selected works from the preliminary rounds will be performed again and the jury will award the prizes live, on location.  

Portrait Michael Jarrell, Juryvorsitz ©zVg Basel Composition Competition

The international and biennial competition’s goal is to encourage the creation of new orchestral works and in doing so, it carries on the tradition of Paul Sacher’s promotion of such significant compositions. The Paul Sacher Foundation is also represented in the competition’s jury and contributes with its know-how. 

The fact that such a large-scale project could become a reality in Basel is due to initiator and director Christoph Müller, who also manages the Basel Chamber Orchestra. His enthusiasm for contemporary music is such, that he believes it deserves more than being relegated to encores next to the orchestral common practice period repertoire and hopes that the competition will help the pieces find their way into the standard repertoire of the three competition-, as well as other important orchestras. 

12 candidates have been invited to the competition. Their new works will be premiered by the three orchestras during three concerts. Seven for symphony orchestra, five for chamber orchestra, which is amazing in pandemic times.

Müller is particularly happy about the Don Bosco venue, Basel’s new cultural centre, offering ideal conditions. For example, pandemic-related distances between the musicians can be maintained and there is enough room between jury and orchestra.

Sakiko Kosaka, Micro roots, candidate BCC 2019

The Basel competition – unlike others – hardly imposes any exclusion criteria or restrictions, like ages limit or diplomas. The only condition is that the submitted works must not have been performed nor awarded prizes before.

Candidates from all over the world   

The high number of applications also shows that the Basel Composition Competition fulfils certain needs and demands, says Müller. Not all composers follow a ‘straight path’ and are ‘ripe’ for a competition at exactly the right age.    

There were 355 applications in total, from all age groups – with candidates between 14 and 87 years of age, from all over the world and with the most diverse musical backgrounds. The percentage of women was very modest however, at only 8%.  

Of course the competition is also made attractive by conductors Peter Rundel, Franck Ollu and Francesc Prat, who promise the highest musical level, the online distribution and the total prize sum of 100000 Swiss Francs, which guarantees considerable prizes. 

Anonymous procedure  

The procedure for the preliminary round was anonymous, as the submitted scores were evaluated, without considering the corresponding CVs.   

A high-calibre international jury, chaired by composer Michael Jarrell from Geneva, was responsible for the pre-selection, which took place during an intensive weekend in November 2020.  

The jury includes Korean composer Unsuk Chin, living in Berlin, Swiss composers Beat Furrer and Andrea Lorenzo Scartazzini and Dr. Felix Meyer, director of the Paul Sacher Foundation, joined by three representatives of the participating orchestras. 

Unsuk Chin, composer / member Jury 2021 ©zVg Basel Composition Competition

With the exception of two candidates who, due to the pandemic, are participating via zoom, all the invited candidates have travelled to the competition even from far away, like Japan, Korea, China, Spain, Germany or the United States. Usually, the composers also attend the rehearsals of their fellow competitors, but for this edition – due to the pandemic – they are only assisting the creation of their own piece.  

Swiss music is underrepresented this time. Artur Ashkelyan from Armenia is a composer that can be considered part of the Swiss scene as he studied composition at the Haute école de musique de Genève. For him, the competition has a special significance, because unlike most of the other candidates, he has so far composed mainly in the realm of chamber music. His new piece Three pieces for orchestra will now be premiered by the Basel Symphony Orchestra.   

Artur Akshelyan, candidate 2021 / 2nd price 2021: Sinouos for Piano Trio 2015

The edition of 2019 of the highly remunerated Basel Prize had experienced controversial debates, for – despite a gradually greater gender balance in the relevant New Music institutions – the young competition apparently did not succeed in integrating female composers into the jury.   

Efforts were made to recruit suitable women for the jury, says Müller. Several were approached, but for various reasons, they were turned down.   

Things look a little different now, as Unsuk Chin, an internationally renowned female composer, is part of the jury.   

 

On the other hand, unlike for the 2017 and 2019 editions, not a single woman made it into the final competition in this year’s edition. This is alarming, but not surprising given the low number of works submitted by women. Müller would therefore like to specifically encourage women to apply. 

The Basel Composition Competition sends out the important message that large orchestras can work together in order to promote contemporary music. This is crucial, especially at a time when there are hardly any performance opportunities and orchestras have to cope with high pressure.   

Feedback from the composers who made it into the competition confirms this. Having a new piece will be performed live by a great orchestra and made accessible to a worldwide audience, especially now, is an invaluable opportunity, says Oliver Mattern, a candidate from Germany. His fellow competitor from Japan, Hiroshi Nakamura, who has travelled from Tokyo, can hardly believe that his piece will be conducted by Peter Rundel, a conductor he admires ever since he attended a performance of Luigi Nono’s Prometeo conducted by him in Japan, at a very young age. 

There will definitely be exciting works to listen to: 12 pieces from all over the world, 12 completely different approaches to the genre of orchestral works. Many pieces refer to other genres and media, to visual art, philosophy, Nô theatre, or physics and astronomy. They also deal with the present, the current pandemic situation or spirituality and religion. 

The suspense continues until the end, when the three prizes will be awarded.  

Let’s hope for a higher number of female jurors next time, and above all more female candidates as well as prize winners of course.
Gabrielle Weber

The three competition concerts (Thu-Sat, 4-6-3.21) will be streamed live and can be listened to afterwards on neo.mx3.ch and youtube
The competition entries of the last edition 2019 (11 concerts) are also available on neo.mx3. 

Basel Composition Competition, 3. Durchführung: 4.-7.März 2021
Live-Stream 1. Wettbewerbskonzert, Donnerstag, 4.3.21., 19h: Basler Sinfonieorchester, Leitung Francesc Prat
2. Wettbewerbskonzert, Freitag, 5.3.21., 19h: Basel Sinfonietta, Leitung Peter Rundel
3. Wettbewerbskonzert, Samstag, 6.3.21., 19h: Kammerorchester Basel, Leitung Franck Ollu
Final concert, sunday, 7.3.21., 20h: on Idagio Global Concert Hall (until april 14th 2021)

broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Musikmagazin, 6./7.3.21 (beginning): Annelis Berger talks with Gabrielle Weber about the BCC, editorial Annelis Berger
Kultur Aktuell / Kultur kompakt, 8.3.21: critique final concert, editorial Benjamin Herzog
Musik unserer Zeit, 14.4.21: Basel composition competition – , editorial Gabrielle Weber

profiles neo.mx3:
Basel Composition CompetitionMichael Jarrell, Beat Furrer, Andrea Lorenzo ScartazziniArtur Akshelyan

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

Multi-sensorial and comprehensive performances: duo eventuell.

Discover! Julian Kämper selected saxophone duo eventuell. from the growing pool of neo-profiles. Their distinctive element is a multi- sensorial approach, dwelling on their own artistic existence as well their own body.  

He talked to the two saxophonists and performers Manuela Villiger and Vera Wahl about their aims and ideas.   

 

eventuell.: Manuela Villiger and Vera Wahl ©zVg eventuell.

Julian Kämper
In 2015, instrumentalists Manuela Villiger and Vera Wahl founded their duo “eventuell.” as a saxophone duet. But the saxophone being a relatively young instrument and the duo line-up atypical, the classical repertoire turned out to be rather limited. For this reason, eventuell. started collaborating intensively with mostly young and international composers such as Yiran Zhao, Loïc Destremau, Mauro Hertig and Victor Alexandru Coltea. Alternatively, they create their own compositions.  

Their programmes are often visual, physical and scenic: comprehensive performances, whose aim is not to be perceived and enjoyed only auditorily, but on a multi-sensorial level. In their projects, the two performers, who studied together in Lucerne and Zurich, incorporate extra-musical contexts and repeatedly focus on their artistic existence and their own bodies. 


Manuela Villiger Beat for two soprano saxophones, video and electronics, eventuell., UA 2020

The developed concert formats the duo creates are far from commonly taught and so to speak conventional musical practices. I asked myself about the impulses and reasons for sharpening one’s own artistic profile this way and arranged to talk with Manuela Villiger and Vera Wahl. 

Your repertoire includes pieces with live electronics, video and performative elements. You exhaust the sound and playing possibilities of the saxophone and often treat the instrument in unusual ways – for example in Julian Siffert’s composition “Grammars of Crisis”. What is it like to not only use the saxophone but also sensors, everyday objects or your body as instruments?    

VW: It’s an automatically happening process if you are interested in this kind of music. We can take our musicality from playing the saxophone and transfer it to performative elements. It doesn’t matter what you have in your hands. The main thing is that you like to express yourself with your body. The piece actually features both, passages with and without an instrument. 

Julian Siffert Grammars of Crisis for soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, video and electronics, eventuell., UA 2019

In this piece, you’re practicing sports, prepare your instruments. In other cases, you operate all kinds of electronic devices. Are you not entering foreign territory?   

MV: With the use of electronics, it was and is “learning by doing” as well as “trial and error”. It’s more a question of aesthetic means. We spent hours, days, weeks practicing the saxophone and learning all its techniques. If we have to reproduce something exactly, then the saxophone is a vehicle, as we’re 99% sure of what will happen if we do this or that. But in certain pieces, these aesthetics are not in demand, it’s precisely about not having everything under control. We use this contrast consciously: we do have a tool with which we can execute something very precisely, but we don’t always want to use this – otherwise it loses its expressiveness.  

VW: In the first part of Grammars of Crisis, when the video with our sports exercises is playing, we play what we hear, doubling the soundtrack, so to speak. The instrument serves the purpose there as we would not be able to reproduce this any instrument other than the one we know best.    

Making individuals with differences visible on stage 

Speaking about loss of control: Why do you expose yourselves to unpredictable and physically demanding situations during some performances   

MV: This focus on being an individual is very important for us. When I personally go to a concert, I first see a person in his role as a musician. It fascinates me to hear someone breathe or to observe how they move while playing, which is also how I notice that one musician is different from another. In a classical concert, however, this is usually omitted as much as can be, it’s all about the sound result, which is supposed to sound like it’s written on the score. We want to show that we are all individuals with differences on stage.   

VW: The different kinds of limits is actually the main theme of our eventuell. limit” programme. We are not concerned with playing everything as perfectly as possible and concealing everything that is not. All performers are human beings and not machines, so mistakes and imperfections are part of them and of the exciting things of their performances. 


Manuela Villiger augenBlick for two amplified soprano saxophones, eye-blink sensors, video and electronic sounds, eventuell., UA 2019

In your own compositions, you often focus on your own bodies or body parts and eyes or feet become visual and musical material. Is that a strategy to put yourself in the spotlight as a performer?  

MV: It’s not about self-staging, but rather an exploration of the physical conditions we carry as human beings. Which brings us to the subject of individuality: What distinguishes me from others? It is obviously the body. This has been a theme for us for a long time and we want to transfer it into our performances and concerts, that’s why some pieces contain video sequences showing parts of our bodies. 


Vera Wahl foot prints for two alto saxophones, video and tape, eventuell., UA 2020

Emotional statements – political discourses    

You also describe your concerts as “emotional statements” and “political discourses”. Can you explain further 

VW: We invest a lot of time in our projects, discuss a lot and ask ourselves questions about what we are doing. We then translate all of these – let’s say – philosophical themes and emotional aspects into our performances. We don’t necessarily choose some political topic and then give our opinion. We rather ask questions: These questions are sometimes very diffusely hidden in the pieces. Sometimes we also work with text elements, in order to encourage the audience to deal with certain topics. 

MV: I believe that every contemporary musician most probably thought about what profit society gets from what he or she does? For me personally, the certainty that I am dealing with society matters justifies all the time invested in various projects. I know there are composers and musicians who are convinced that music stands for itself and that it doesn’t need extra-musical contexts. That’s not true for us. After concerts we often have interesting conversations with people who have interpreted our concepts quite differently from our original idea. Which is a nice confirmation for us, as this means that our performance has encouraged them to think about those concepts.
Julian Kämper

eventuell.: Manuela Villiger und Vera Wahl ©zVg eventuell.

eventuell., Julian SiffertYiran Zhao, Loïc Destremau

Planned concert series:
eventuell. connected21, 20.05.-01.06.2021: Kompositionen von Lara Stanic und Mathieu Corajod, Zürich, Basel, Olten, Baden and Luzern

Planned broadcast:
BR KLASSIK Horizonte, 06.05.2021, 22:05: da sein. Das Saxophon-Duo eventuell., author: Julian Kämper, Redaktion: Kristin Amme

neo-Profiles: eventuell., Manuela Villiger, Vera Wahl, Mauro Hertig, Victor Alexandru Coltea, Lara Stanic, Mathieu Corajod

Maria Kalesnikava the face of Belarus

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: ECLAT AGAIN ONLINE FROM 17.2. till 21.2.!

Gabrielle Weber
The contemporary music festival Eclat Stuttgart is taking place online with extensive focus dedicated to the pro-democracy movement in Belarus.   

Through Maria Kalesnikava, icon of the peaceful democracy movement since September 2020 and currently in prison, the conflict has a strong connection to the Stuttgart cultural scene. As musician, educator, mediator and organiser, she was active here for many years and will be awarded the Human Rights Prize 2021 by the Gerhart and Renate Baum Foundation during the festival.   

Maria Kalesnikava ©zVg Eclat / Musik der Jahrhunderte Stuttgart

Echoes – Voices from Belarus, is a project gathering short artistic statements on the conflict by Belarusian and international artists.   

Two Swiss composers, Andreas Eduardo Frank and Oscar Bianchi, are part of this initiative and I discussed their work for Eclat with them. 

I met Oscar Bianchi in his studio in Berlin via Zoom. This renowned and internationally active composer with roots in Ticino has been associated with the Festival Eclat for a long time and presented new pieces in Stuttgart time and again.   

Bianchi explains that his project on Belarus has a background history. Traumatised by the tragic death of George Floyd through police violence and the related media coverage, he processed his concern into a short piece in the summer of 2020, addressing not only racial discrimination, but oppression and brutality in general. 

Oscar Bianchi ©Philippe Stirnweiss

When asked by Christine Fischer, artistic director of Eclat Stuttgart, about the Belarus project, Bianchi suggested a different take on the piece. “I want to emphasise and contribute by stressing that any form of brutality and oppression can not be tolerated,” he says. 


Oscar Bianchi, With you, World creation Murten Classics 2020

Fischer herself initiated the project out of personal concern, as one of the main leaders of the Belarusian democratic movement, Maria Kalesnikava, had been active in the Stuttgart cultural scene for many years, as musician, teacher and project manager, e.g. at the Musikhochschule as well as the Eclat festival.   

Before returning to Belarus for another assignment, where she immediately joined the democratic movement, quickly becoming one of its leading figures, Kalesnikava was in charge of Eclat festival’s social media activities. Together with Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, leader of the opposition and close collaborator Veronika Zepkalo, she is vividly remembered for close collaborator various appearances on democratic movement podiums. She was abducted on September 8, 2020 and is in prison ever since.

Maria Kalesnikava with Swetlana Tichanowskaja and Veronika Zepkalo at protests in Minsk ©zVg Eclat / Musik der Jahrhunderte Stuttgart

When Maria Kalesnikava, whom Bianchi knew well from the Eclat Festival, was imprisoned, it became apparent, that the Belarusian government was counting on the time factor and relying on the fact that media would be fading, so Bianchi. This makes such cultural actions all the more important to keep up the debate and raise people’s awareness. 

‘The balaclava – symbol of institutionalised power and oppression’.   

Bianchi teamed up with Belarusian video artist Vasilisa Palianina. In their joint work, they explored the image of police troops in full combat gear and balaclava, representing the omnipresent, violent threat in Belarus and other comparable conflicts. The anonymity of the balaclava is a symbol for loss of transparency, accountability and institutionalised power and oppression. And everything happens secretly.   

“The images and sound together tell their own story,” says Bianchi about the common work. 

Voices from Belarus also features Basel composer Andreas Eduardo, whose theatrical music often includes video and multimedia. For the Belarus project, he composed music to a video.  

He too, has been associated with the Stuttgart cultural scene for a long time and initiated – ‘ SuperSafeSociety’ an online Corona project exploring new digital participatory concert formats during the first Lockdown. The result was an online music theatre, taking place individually for each audience member. For this reason artistic director Christine Fischer approached him about the Belarus project. Especially in times of Corona, the Belarus project is also an opportunity to promote and support oppressed Belarus artists, says Frank, and that’s why he immediately accepted.  

Andreas Eduardo Frank ©Andreas Eduardo Frank

Frank worked with Maria Kalesnikava in this environment. And he was not surprised to suddenly see her at the forefront of the democratic movement. Maria has incredible charisma and appeal, which is inspiring and very media-effective.     

For his contribution, Frank teamed up with the Belarusian video artist Mikhail Gulin, completing his video Sisiphus with a soundtrack consisting of eight eight self-pronounced words: “exploit / hurt / fought / suppressed / punished / choked / repeat / proceed”. 

Frank extracted these words out of conversations with Gulin: “There is the complex of Sisiphus and then there is the complex of Belarus and the commitment to it. Come together in the artistic commentary,” Frank explains. The parallels between Sisiphus and being an artist are, plain to see, such as the permanent struggle or the artists’ being at the mercy of the powerful state machinery.   

“exploit / hurt / fought / suppressed / punished / choked / repeat / proceed”  

Frank fed the words into a sampler and then improvised to the video with a small electronic setup, distorting the words, played them faster or slower, filtering them. “This resulted in sounds like those of ‚driven pigs’ or stifled breathing next to recognisable words. Then there is also a trace of bitter irony: the violent words take on a new semantic, combined with the image of hay bales being pushed around,” says Frank.   

Andreas Eduardo Frank& Mikhail Gulin: Sisiphos, UA Eclat Stuttgart 2021

The project also significantly increased Frank’s own awareness of the conflict. “Here we are, actually doing very well – and the people there are being abducted and tortured, they simply disappear”. He remembers an encounter right before the completion of the project: Frank had finished his part, but Gulin hadn‘t yet. Whereupon Gulin told him: “Today, a close friend, was taken to the police. People are imprisoned, abducted, beaten. The judicial system does not work.“
Gabrielle Weber

Frauenpower und mediale Aufmerksamkeit in Belarus, September 2020 ©zVg Eclat/Musik der Jahrhunderte Stuttgart

Several formats address the Belarusian conflict at Eclat Festival: 
Friday, 5.2. Echoes – Voices from Belarus: Co-productions of Belarusian with international artists and musicians/composers.

Sunday, 7.2., 17h: Awarding of the Human Rights Award 2021 by the Gerhart and Renate Baum Foundation to Maria Kalesnikava, combined with Trio vis à vis (Kalesnikavas Trio) concert. The award is conferred by former Federal Minister Gerhard Baum and received by Kalesnikava’s sister Tatsiana Khomich.

3.-7.2.: digital exhibition, Belarus – the way to oneself: to be walked through online during the festival.

The 41st edition of ECLAT will offer 13 most live-streamed concerts with exclusively digital pieces and numerous world premieres, as well as interviews, chats, discussions, games and much more. 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: ECLAT AGAIN ONLINE FROM 17.2. till 21.2.!
—————————–

Belarus – short reminder: In August 2020, authoritarian head of state Lukashenko confirmed himself as president after democratic elections, although civil rights activist and opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya had won the majority. The EU did not recognise the results. Tikhanovskaya is now in exile in Lithuania and her collaborator Veronika Zepkalo in Poland. Maria Kalesnikava was arrested in Minsk on September 8, after resisting deportation. She is still in pre-trial detention.   

On 27 January 2021, Amnesty International denounced torture in Belarus. 
‘Musik der Jahrhunderte’ / Eclat has been working together with human rights organisations and with political support since September 2020 to secure her release.  

——————————————

Eclat / Musik der Jahrhunderte, Trio vis à vis, Mikhail Gulin, Vasilisa Palianina

Broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Kultur aktuell / Kultur kompakt Podcast, 4.2.21: editorial Theresa Beyer, critique concert Voice Affairs / Festival Eclat

Kultur aktuell / Kultur kompakt Podcast, 5.2.21: editorial Gabrielle Weber, Portrait Maria Kalesnikava / Festival Eclat

in Musik Magazin, 6.2./7.2.12: editorial Moritz Weber, feature by Gabrielle Weber, Portrait Maria Kalesnikava / Festival Eclat

Neo-Profiles: Andreas Eduardo Frank, Oscar Bianchi

“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

Dominik Grenzler aka An Moku. Sound artist and explorer

Discovery! is one of our goals for the new year, so neoblog will regularly portray something particular, picked from the growing pool of profiles and starting with Dominik Grenzler aka An Moku. I talked to Grenzler every now and then over the years.

Gabrielle Weber
Grenzler aka An Moku has been enormously productive since before the first Shutdown, but the pause actually suited his music in an almost organic way, as it combines urban with nature sounds. Grenzler, the nature-loving electronic sounds explorer, took advantage of the first to start new collaborations, making use of field recordings as well as material from his environment, nature, everyday life and previous travels.

In a very short time, three new CDs were produced one after the other.

Dominik Grenzler aka An Moku ©zVg Dominik Grenzler

“For my Shutdown collaborations, I used field recordings from my large collection gathered during my travels. They are like some kind of travel diary. Since I couldn’t be on the road physically, I travelled with them online and in addition, I digitally explored unexpected territories”.

Grenzler is originally from Gdynia, Poland, he moved to Germany when he was young, where he started making a name for himself as electric bass player in the club and pop scene first. A few years ago he relocated to Zurich and started various collaborations with local musicians as An Moku, his pseudonym for experimental music. He is also planning on new collaborations, for example with bassist Martina Berther.


An Moku & Frederik Vanderlynden, Mirror / Of Mirrors, 2020

The CD Of Mirrors dates from 2012 already and was created together with Belgian sound artist Frederic Vanderlynden aka Virlyn, using field recordings from Iceland. The album languished on a shelf for a long time and only found its final shape through collaborations with Swiss musicians Cornelia Stromeyer, piano, Oriana Zänerle, violin and Jacki Knöpfel, cello. “The CD actually reflects a journey into the past,” says Grenzler.


An Moku & Frederik Vanderlynden, Frost / Of Mirrors, 2020

Of Mirrors offers an incredibly wide and extremely subtle variety of colours. The first track begins with a shimmering, crackling sound. Minimal tonal changing sound carpets, repetitive patterns gradually break the electronic flickering, while instrumental sounds evoke concrete, indeterminate places over and over again. In Of Mirrors, Grenzler conveys moods with an almost cinematic approach: images are created in the mind, vague landscapes, vastness and distance.

Music evoking images is also the subject of An Moku’s CD with Joel Gilardini. The opportunity to collaborate came about through Grenzler’s invitation to Zurich’s tenth edition of “Marathon des Zelluloids” in December 2019. A silent film festival where the soundtracks are performed live.


An Moku & Joel Gilardini, 2020

The CD features improvisation sessions by Grenzler and Gilardini dating from autumn 2019 onwards and during which the two found a common voice regardless of the specific movie, Grenzler explains. This was only announced shortly before the festival: three short films by US avant-garde filmmaker Maya Deren from the 1940s. Grenzler states that Maya Deren did well serve as a soundtrack, but what actually took shape was some kind of “Kopfkino” (cinema inside the viewer’s mind).

The tracks on the CD are also vague, almost mysterious, and leave room for the listener’s own imagination. For instance, they have no titles, only enigmatic numberings: 5 – 11.2 – 2 – 13 – 8 – 11.1 – 10, giving no clue regarding their content.

“The album has just been nominated in the Top 100 Ambient Albums of 2020 by music blog “Post Ambient Lux”, says Grenzler happily. On the latest album ‘Where We Meet’ meets Belgian guitarist Stijn Hüwels. It was created during the spring lockdown, between Zurich and Leuven and is their first collaboration.


An Moku & Stijn Hüwels, Where we meet, 2020

“The album is filled with tiny field recordings. A few seconds are usually enough for me to give the musical context an interesting colour, or a twist. With today’s technology, even a woodpecker in the forest can sound strange…”, says Grenzler about the album.

Atonal madness and imagined worlds

“In the old days, I used to play rock and pop. Nowadays I’m less interested in harmonic melodies and more in moods,” says Grenzler, describing An Moku’s music as “atonal weirdness”, and his musical genres as “experimental music, dark ambient, drone, soundtrack”.

An Moku, his alter ego, comes from the Japanese and means: “tacit, unsaid, implicit”, thus embracing what cannot or should not be put into words and resonates or is self-evident. That sums up An Moku’s secret.

An Moku evokes distant worlds, both geographical and temporal, leaving room for one’s own imagination. Accordingly, the CD covers are characterised by a Japanese minimalist aesthetic: black and white to deep blue, mostly Grenzler’s own photographs, with landscapes and few unrecognisable people. “Minimalism runs through everything with me – whether sound or image. I would prefer to make music consisting of only one element.” he confirms.

For the time being, another shutdown born album in collaboration with Stefan Schmidt from Germany is planned for early 2021 on Karlrecords, as well as a minimalist bass-guitar solo album to be released in spring by the New York based label Puremagnetik.
Gabrielle Weber

Dominik Grenzler aka An Moku ©zVg Dominik Grenzler

Of Mirrors: Collaboration between Grenzlers Zurich based Label EndTitels and british Label Audiobulb.

An Moku und Joel Gilardini: on japanese Label  Bullflat3.8.

Where We Meet: on british Label Slowcraft Record

An Moku, Martina Berther, Maya Deren, Stijn Hüwels, Joel Gilardini, Frederic Vanderlynden aka Virlyn, Marathon des Zelluloids, Stefan Schmidt, Karlrecords, Puremagnetik, «Post Ambient Lux»

Neo-Profiles
An Moku, Martina Berther, Joel Gilardini

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