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20 Years Konus Quartet
The Bernese saxophone quartet celebrates its 20th anniversary with contemporary music celebration.
To produce every possible sound on the saxophone – that is the craft of the Konus Quartet. The four musicians specialise in contemporary and experimental music, showing – as an ensemble – all the kinds of different sound worlds the saxophone is capable of. This year, the Konus Quartet celebrates its 20th anniversary with a festival week full of collaborations – for example with the Gori Women’s Choir from Georgia.
Many saxophone quartets want to sound as virtuosic and full as possible, almost like an organ, but not the Konus Quartet: they play precisely and minimalistically, exploring the boundaries of saxophone music. Christian Kobi, Fabio Oehrli, Jonas Tschanz and Stefan Rolli: these are the musicians forming the Quartet, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. The four artists are all versatile, with backgrounds ranging from free improvisation, sound mixing and label management to big band and festival management. What they share is a passion for the saxophone and the love for musical experimentation.
Minimalism and precision
Christian Kobi, for example, has already created music with the saxophone’s silence. To achieve this, he mounted microphones very close to the blowpipe and recorded the instrument’s resonance without blowing into it. He amplified the silence recorded with this procedure until feedback occurred. The result is a sustained, inconspicuous sound that is easy to overhear if you don’t pay attention.
In rawlines 1, Christian Kobi lets silence become sound through feedback of resonances inside the saxophone.
Modular and forward-looking
While traditional saxophone quartets usually consist of the four main instruments of the saxophone family – baritone, tenor, alto and soprano – the Konus Quartet is modular and remains flexible in its instrumentation. Depending on the piece, they play in the traditional line-up, but sometimes also with two alto saxophones, one tenor and one baritone, or even with two tenor and two baritones.
This flexibility is also something the quartet seeks, when compositions are commissioned, working primarily with composers who have explored sound in depth and are not limited by traditional expectations of saxophone quartets. Among the pieces they perform are compositions by important names on the international contemporary music scene such as Chiyoko Szlavnics, Jürg Frey, Barry Guy, Makiko Nishikaze, Phill Niblock, Urs Peter Schneider, Martin Brandlmayr or Klaus Lang.
FORWARD & REWIND: A celebration of contemporary music
To celebrate its 20th anniversary, Konus Quartet is holding a festival weekend in Bern entitled Foward & Rewind. The two words Forward & Rewind are meant literally, as the four saxophonists revisit past collaborations and strive for new ones, showing themselves to be both thoughtful and forward-looking.
One of the already existing collaborations is, for example, with the string quartet Quatuor Bozzini. In 2021, the Konus Quartet premiered the piece Continuité, fragilité, resonance by Swiss composer Jürg Frey with them. For the festival’s opening concert, Konus Quartet and Quatuor Bozzini will revisit this piece, together with another work by composer Chiyoko Szlavnics. The musicians give themselves plenty of time and space – and patiently and precisely unfold the various sound surfaces that are hidden in the compositions.
During a Lifetime (excerpt): The Konus Quartet interprets a piece by Canadian composer Chiyoko Szlavnics.
Powerful voices from Georgia
A new collaboration is scheduled with the renowned Georgian Gori Women’s Choir, which has been presenting traditional Georgian choral singing since 1970. This polyphonic singing technique is hundreds of years old and distantly related to the yodelling we know. It is characterised in particular by the almost physically perceptible power in the voice. The women sing partly in unison, partly in microtonal ranges, mixing harmony and dissonance.
Since 2013, the choir has been led by Teona Tsiramuna and has reinvented itself, so to speak. It is very important to the director to always discover new things and to combine the vocal tradition with modern and international music. “In 1970, the choir sang for a specific, fairly homogeneous audience. It performed mainly melancholic and sustained Georgian music. Now that has expanded. We also sing Mexican, Turkish or African folk music,” says Tsiramuna in an interview for SRF 2 Kultur.
After a collaboration with Georgian-British pop and blues singer Katie Melua, the Gori Women’s Choir gained fame beyond the borders of Georgia and now performs on European stages in various constellations. The conductor’s love of experimentation also draws her to collaborations with contemporary musicians, for example at the Stanser Musiktage.
At the Stanser Musiktage 2022, they performed with four young electronic artists, merging voices with synthesiser sounds.
Air vibrations, the collaboration between the Konus Quartet and the Gori Women’s Choir, can relate on one hand to the vibration of the “air “, on the other hand in can be interpreted as “song vibrations”, from the Italian “aria”. The Gori Women’s Choir brings its voices to vibrate together with two other big names of contemporary music: Georgian-Swiss pianist Tamriko Kordzaia and Austrian composer and concert organist Klaus Lang.
Die neue Kollaboration knüpft an die erste Zusammenarbeit zwischen Klaus Lang und dem Konus Quartett, dem Stück Drei Allmenden, an.
Lang conceived and composed the concert and is featured on the organ. His works are characterised by the way he explores sound. Music is “time made audible”, says Lang. On his instrument, the concert organ, this side of sound can be explored particularly well, as one can hold the notes for any length of time.
In the Air Vibrations concert, Lang interweaves his organ playing with the Konus Quartet’s saxophones and Tamriko Kordzaia’s piano playing, laying the ground for the traditional singing of the Gori Women’s Choir. This creates music that mixes the old and the new and is thus fully in the spirit of the festival: Forward & Rewind.
FORWARD & REWIND Bern
3.5.23, 18:30: concert «Continuité, fragilité, resonance» Jürg Frey, with Quator Bozzini, les Concerts de musique Contemporaine (CMC) La Chaux-de-Fonds
5.5.-7.5.23: Fest für neue Musik , Bern
5.5. 19:30: Interlaced Resonances, Aula PROGR Bern
6.5. 19:30: Voltage Cracklings, Aula PROGR Bern
7.5. 19:30: Air Vibrations, Kirche St Peter & Paul Bern
concert: Moods Zürich
8.5.23, 20:30: «Air Vibrations»
Fabio Oehrli, Jonas Tschanz, Chiyoko Szlavnics, Barry Guy, Makiko Nishikaze, Phill Niblock, Martin Brandlmayr, Klaus Lang, Quatuor Bozzini
broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Neue Musik im Konzert, 19.7.2023: Konzert Konus Quartett und Gori Women’s Choir, Bern: Air vibrations
Neue Musik im Konzert, 12.1.22: Jürg Frey: Stehende Schwärme
Musik unserer Zeit, 13.11.13: «zoom in» – der Saxophonist und Veranstalter Christian Kobi
Online-Artikel, 13.11.13: Das Rauschen des Nichts: Der Saxophonist Christian Kobi
Musik unserer Zeit, 17.07.2019: Saxophonzauber mit dem Konus Quartett
Musikmagazin, 21.5.22: Chorleiterin Teona Tsiramua: «Wir singen nicht nur Wiegenlieder»
Konus Quartett, Tamriko Kordzaia, Christian Kobi, Jürg Frey, Urs Peter Schneider, Jonas Tschanz
Female vocal performers yesterday and today
Vocal performance is very present in contemporary music. Female performers in particular can draw on a long tradition of works since Luciano Berio’s Sequenza III per voce femminile (1965) or Cathy Berberian’s Stripsody (1966). In their mini-series “Musik unserer Zeit”, Benjamin Herzog and Florian Hauser examined this genre’s historical and current exponents.
At the end of the day it always boils down to finding your own voice. Lie it in the saliva present in our oral cavities, in spatial sounds thrown around or in primal words with which we tried to communicate on our continent since 15’000 years ago.
Bel canto is a standard term in vocal practice and can be translated with “beautiful singing”. But what is beautiful? What does (in the present day) singing mean? Anyone who listens to the hybrid, multi-layered tones sound paintings of Norwegian Maja Ratkje, is fascinated by their beauty. However, they have little to do with bel canto.
Swiss singer Franziska Baumann would rather avoid comparing her singing practice with classical “Schöngesang”. “At first I didn’t know that what I do can be considered art at all.” Sche says and had to travel to New York, where the ideas of what singing can be were more open than in her native Toggenburg, to realise that perhaps it is and the self-empowerment that comes with it. There, Baumann’s home.
Another exponent which has not much in common with the Elysian realms of singing is American Audrey Chen. She states having no artistic pretensions at all with what she does. “It is a process,” she says, which rather reflects her changeable biography. A life for which Chen wanted to find her own language.
The three women are vocal performers. A term that is as general as it is fuzzy. Singer, vocalist, “singing artist” – many things bubble in the pond of this wording, yet forming a special bubble. Namely, many of these vocal performers, if we want to stick with this word, are at the same time performers as well as composers, conceptualisers.
Exploring her Toggenburg homeland
As childer, many of us probably did like Franziska Baumann on her exploratory tours through her Toggenburg homeland: combining the sounds of streams, creeks, leaves, birds and harvesting machines into an inner mixture of sounds, into some kind of music that perhaps already wanted to find its way out of the body with one or the other gurgle or peep from Baumann’s mouth. This was followed by classical studies and her escape from the rules and walls of what were still called “conservatories” back then. In New York, she found role models who simply saw what was linked to her early experiences as an art form. “It was also self-empowering” she says today.
Not to be an interpreter that reproduces, but a master of one’s own tones is something that applies to all three women presented here, with means that expand one’s own voice by several dimensions. In Franziska Baumann’s case, this is a special glove provided with sensors with which she can produce sounds, triggering them from an existing sound library and sending them around the room. A ghost orchestra that she conducts herself while at the same time performing vocally.
Franziska Baumann, Re-Shuffling Sirenes, Solo für Stimme und gestische Live-Elektronik, International Conference for Live Interfaces Trondheim 2020
Audrey Chen has discovered an entire orchestra in her own mouth. The sounds she produces in an unapologetically intimate way between cheeks, tongue, throat and in the waves of her own saliva seem like a hyperconsonants language. A supernatural being seems to be speaking to us. What constitutes “bel canto”, sailing on vowels, is not only missing here as even the consonants come out fragmented, breathless, as the sounding mouth-muscle mass of an extraterrestrial, at least quite alien.
Chen mentions regularly that she became a single mother at the age of 23, an obviously drastic experience in her biography. Did she become a stranger to herself in her life plan at that time? “I had to find my own language, also as an immigrant and daughter of an immigrant couple in the USA.” Today she lives with Norwegian trombonist Henrik Munkeby Nørstebø. Their two (musical) languages do not seem to be so different. In any case, they have been combining for years in almost astonishingly harmonious projects.
Audrey Chen &Henrik Munkeby Nørstebø, Beam Splitter, 22.04.2017, Kaohsiung Taiwan, Yard/Theater
What about Norwegian vocal performer Maja Ratkje? She says her thinking is orchestral. Piano or guitar have always been too small or little “accompaniment” for her. Anyone who talks to Ratkje should not miss this double understatement. Ratkje likes to play on many levels. As a student, she founded a group called “Spunk” to irritate her audience with the voices of the Chipmonks, the talking squirrels from the comic world. A stay at IRCAM in Paris gave rise to a fascination with electronic media, which she has been consistently deepening ever since. Her performance on the occasion of an award ceremony at the ZKM in Karlsruhe, documented on video, testifies to the virtuosity she has reached in the meantime. Ratkje succeeds in using voice and electronics to create an interlocking sound creature that, like the Greek Hydra, always has more heads than we could ever perceive, let alone conquer by hearing.
Maja S.K. Ratkje Interview about What are the words to us, world creation @Luzerner Theater 2022
In her residency at the Lucerne Theatre in the 2022/23 season, Ratkje showed that, in addition to the latest technology, she is also devoted to the ancient. Her composition Revelations (This Early Song) was integrated into a music theatre piece. Primal words like “worm”, “bark” or “spit” appear in it, words that were spoken some 15’000 years ago all over the Eurasian continent, as Ratkje told us.
Why she digs so deep into semantic depths becomes apparent upon hearing and legitimises the theme outlined in this text through the analysis of the three female exponents. The fascination that captures us when listening to Revelations is nothing less than a kind of genetic legitimisation of vocal performance as we experience it in many forms today. It’s about finding your own true voice. Finding a way to address, hiss, spit at each other with meaning. Whether we, the audience, feel more addressed by this way of communicating or whether we prefer the culinary delights of bel canto is a personal matter.
In the Musik unserer Zeit-broadcast series on vocal performance of March 8 and 15 2023, Florian Hauser also portrayed the pioneers Carla Henius and Cathy Berberian, in a conversation with singer and musicologist Anne-May Krüger, who wrote a book about the two.
Anne-May Krüger: Musik über Stimmen – Vokalinterpretinnen und -interpreten der 1950er und 60er Jahre im Fokus hybrider Forschung, Wolke-Verlag.
Maja Ratkje, Audrey Chen, Carla Henius, Cathy Berberian, Luciano Berio
broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, 8.3.2023: Vokalperformance I – Gegenwartsstimmen elektronisch verwoben, Redaktion Benjamin Herzog)
Musik unserer Zeit, 15.3.2023: Vokalperformance II – Pionierinnen Carla Henius und Cathy Berberian, Redaktion Florian Hauser im Gespräch mit Anne-May Krüger
neo-profiles: Franziska Baumann, Anne-May Krüger
Shapes of sound and stone
Cécile Marti is both composer and sculptor. Being able to pursue these two activities makes her life balanced. On April 3rd 2023, her accordion quartet Spectra will be premiered by the Société de musique contemporaine Lausanne.
“I like to emerge out of absolute silence and I try to maintain this silence for half the day if possible,” says Cécile Marti when we meet at noon for an online conversation. Her mornings are usually dedicated to composing. “Back then, when I came to composing, it grew out of absolute silence and I seek that experience again every day.”
From silence to composition
Cécile Marti had to find her way from silence back to sound after a stroke of fate hit her. Initially, as music-loving young woman, she had a completely different career in mind and wanted to become a violinist.
“I had focused my entire life on the violin, from childhood onwards there were only the violin and the profession of becoming a violinist for me.”
But when she suffered a stroke during her studies that made it impossible for her to play the violin, a long period of letting go followed.
“I had to go through deep worlds and hit rock bottom before I was able to rethink, reinvent and recreate my life from scratch.”
Success with bubble trip
Out of this process, she discovered the composition as a way of continuing to express herself musically, although in a completely different way. She studied with Dieter Ammann, Georg Friedrich Haas and Julian Anderson and soon had her first successes – for example with her orchestral work bubble trip(2004/2007), with which she won the international composition competition at the 9th Weimar Spring Festival for Contemporary Music in 2009.
In Switzerland, bubble trip was premiered in 2010 by the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra.
Quarter tones with the accordion
Cécile Marti has just completed the work Spectra for four accordions, which will be premiered by Ensemble Xamp at the beginning of April. The special feature is that two of the ensemble’s accordions are built in a way that they can produce quarter tones. Cécile Marti has used this opportunity to explore natural tone specters, as she had done in previous works.
Dancing Spectra for sextet from 2018, for instance also relies on natural tone specters as starting point.
Auch in für Sextett aus dem Jahr 2018 nahm Cécile Marti bereits Naturtonspektren zum Ausgangspunkt.
Stones in the afternoon
Cécile Marti devotes her afternoons to stone sculpture, which she discovered when she turned to composition.
Visual design runs in the family, her father worked as graphic designer and was constantly drawing drafts and sketches, while with her ceramist mother, she was often able to follow the process of creating clay pieces. “I grew up in her workshop, so to speak, and was allowed to witness how she shaped pots and bowls and how they were baked to come out of the kiln in all kinds of shapes and colours. That was very exciting.”
Today, she shapes sculptures from hard stone herself – an always challenging process that requires great concentration.
Processes and trajectories in stone and sound
The interaction between the two art forms Cécile Marti devotes herself to on a daily basis also finds its way into her works. In Five stages of a sculpture (2019) for ensemble and two solo violas, for example, five musical movements are presented opposite five different stages in the development of a sculpture. The ensemble symbolises the materiality of the stone, to which the viola voices gradually lend a new form.
Five Stages of a Sculpture by Cécile Marti, played by Ensemble Multilatérale.
Water Crystals from 2020 takes as its starting point various structures of water crystals that researcher Masuro Emoto photographed in different corners of the world in the 1990s. Violin and piano musically explore the hexagonal crystal structures in twelve aphoristic miniatures. Twelve white marble sculptures take a spatial-visual look at the same theme.
Cécile Marti, Water Cristals for violin and piano, 2020, Video 2021 ©Martin Messmer
Cécile Marti has found something fulfilling in her two fields of activity. “It’s just something wonderful and I want to be able to pass on and share this exciting experience” she says. Because shaping and designing also has something self-empowering about it.
“It’s about the form and shaping of our lives. Giving shape and form to our own lives, also in the sense of thinking life for oneself and shaping it from within, the self-determined shaping of our own lives from the bottom up.”
Konzert: 3. April 2023, 19:00/20:15; Société de musique contemporaine Lausanne, Haute Ecole de Musique de Lausanne (HEMU)| Utopia 1 | Rue de la Grotte 2 | 1003 Lausanne: Das Ensemble Xamp spielt Werke von Cécile Marti und anderen Komponist:innen.
Cécile Marti, Steinskulpturen von Cécile Marti, Dieter Ammann, Julian Anderson, Georg Friedrich Haas, Ensemble Multilatérale, Luzerner Sinfonieorchester, Ensemble Xamp
Cécile Marti, Dieter Ammann, Georg Friedrich Haas, Luzerner Sinfonieorchester, SMC Lausanne
Becoming one with nature through music
Toshio Hosokawa composer in residence @ Tonhalle Zurich
Toshio Hosokawa is the most famous Japanese composer and this season’s Creative Chair at Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich. In his tonal language, Hosokawa combines Western contemporary with traditional Japanese music. Moritz Weber interviewed the composer.
Two years ago, Toshio Hosokawa was commissioned by pianist Rudolf Buchbinder to compose a variation on Diabelli’s famous waltz in C major, over which Beethoven had once composed his monumental 33 variations. “I love piano sounds,” says Hosokawa in conversation, “but there are so many notes in this waltz”. His variations therefore sound as if in slow motion, allowing individual notes plenty of time to unfold. Because of the slow tempo, the piece became representative of his, says the Japanese composer, and even the tonal elements fit his musical language, as in the last 2 to 3 years he has become more and more interested in tonal music again, “and in the future I would also like to compose some tonal music.”
A way to traditional Japanese music through studies in Germany
He found his own language, which combines Far Eastern and Western aesthetics, through a diversion. “My family was very Japanese,” he says. With an ikebana master as grandfather, who also loved Nō singing as well as the tea ceremony and a mother who always played the koto, it was a bit “too much” for him and the traditional Japanese seemed like old-fashioned, even “boring”.
As a piano student, he was particularly enthusiastic about the classical-romantic repertoire, such as Beethoven’s late piano sonatas, so Hosokawa went to Germany to study composition with Isang Yun (in Berlin) and Klaus Huber (in Freiburg i. B.).
Klaus Huber, composition professor of Toshio Hosokawa with his Far Eastern inspired piece Plainte – Lieber spaltet mein Herz, Contrechamps 2018, in house- production SRG/SSR
At Berlin’s Meta Music Festival in the 1970s, contemporary European music was combined with traditional music from all over the world. György Ligeti with Indonesian gamelan music, Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Mantra with temple music from Japan. There, Hosokawa heard and experienced the music of his homeland from a European point of iew and in a completely different way, discovering its beauty. Mixed with homesickness and thanks to the encouragement of his teachers, Hosokawa began to combine Far Eastern sound language and philosophy with the European ones.
Differences between Western and Eastern aesthetics
An important difference between European and Japanese music is that the latter is not absolute music, but always serves as an atmosphere or background for certain events such as ceremonies or dances. It is bound to a place. European music, on the other hand, is an architecture that can be played in a variety of places, just as a sculpture or painting can be transported somewhere, Hosokawa says.
“In the Japanese musical tradition, the single note is very important. I always say our music is a caligraphy in time and space and a musical line is like a brushstroke, with a beginning and an end”. The tones are vertical events, like a calligraphic brushstroke on a white paper. In complete contrast to the groups of sounds in Western music that are linked into motifs, e.g. the famous “ta-ta-ta-taaaaaa” from Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, Hosokawa sings.
Nō theatre and Gagaku music
“The traditional Japanese Nō theatre plays from the 12th or 13th century are about healing souls and this idea is also very important to me,” says Hosokawa: “The deceased come back, tell about the afterlife, heal their souls through dance and song and then return to the realm of the dead.” Musically, the “calligraphy chant” is formative, as are the percussions: heavy beats that cut through time quasi vertically, without opening up large horizontal spaces, as the impulses are events in themselves. This is something he always points out when he works with musicians on his pieces, as he did this season as Creative Chair of the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich. “These violent vertical cuts are stronger than normal strokes, as are the sudden changes in dynamics. I always say: think when you play, you are painting a calligraphy. Don’t think too formally, but that every moment is a most important moment, every moment an eternity.”
Toshio Hosokawa, Ferne Landschaft III – Seascapes of Fukuyama (1996), Basel Sinfonietta, conductor Baldur Brönnimann 2016, in house-produktion SRG/SSR
Hosokawa also likes the microtonal colourings, which are important in shaping the Nō theatre tones. “There are always small changes around the central tones and I want to hear these, because they make the tones come alive”. Again, in the interview, he sings out a long drawn-out tone and traces the course of the tone with his hand in the air.
The mother chord of the Shô
Japanese gagaku music is about 500 years older and originally comes from China and Korea, serving as a ceremonial court music, with the sound of Japanese mouth organ shô being omnipresent. It symbolises eternity in the background, while above it melody instruments such as hichiriki or the dragon flute ryūteki “draw” sonic calligraphies.
Within shô, it is also possible to directly experience breath and circling time. Hosokawa calls this the “mother chord” and he has written various pieces for or with shô. These cycles are also very important to him, as is the idea that gagaku is a cosmic music rather than a human-emotional one.
Natural disasters as opera material
Toshio Hosokawa has become world famous for his unique tonal language and compositions in all genres. Many of his works revolve around natural disasters such as the devastating Tohoku earthquake, tsunami and the Fukushima nuclear disaster. “My goal is to become one with nature through music and composing. Actually, Japanese nature is very beautiful with its seasons, but not always friendly to people. I experienced this with the tsunami and I began to think about nature in a completely different way. With my fourth opera “Stilles Meer”, I wanted to write a lament for the victims of this drastic event, or a requiem for the dead.” In this piece, Hosokawa has not only composed the elemental force, but also the terrible images of loss, such as children’s shoes or toys floating in the flooded areas.
Toshio Hosokawa, the opera Stilles Meer is for Toshio Hosokawa a lament to the victims of the 2011 tsunami, world premiere Staatsoper Hamburg 2016
The composer is currently composing his sixth opera, which will again revolve around natural disasters, featuring a young couple, a Japanese man and a refugee from Ukraine, who visit devastated places, various “hells” in the sense of Dante’s Inferno, where they see the effects of natural disasters, according to Hosokawa. The opera is scheduled to premiere during the 2025/26 season.
Inner and outer peace
To find his inner peace, Hosokawa likes to walk in the forest or by the sea near his home in Nagano. He also meditates daily, sitting quietly and doing nothing for a few minutes. A source of strength for his contemplative state music, punctuated with eruptive outbursts.
His music should also be a place of contemplation and prayer for the audience. “In Japan, there are many carved wooden statues by anonymous artists where people pray. I want my music to have a similar meaning. It may not save people, but it can somehow protect them.
Spirituality also plays a role in his most recent works: “Ceremony” for flute and orchestra (premiere 2022) and “Prayer” for violin and orchestra (premiere 2023).
The solo instrument in these two pieces acts like a shaman, a mediator between this world and beyond, says Hosokawa, receiving and hearing the elemental force Ki (気). “I find this thought very interesting: composing, not as an expression of a person or his ego, but as receiving what is already there; the elemental force of sounds, the sometimes lovely, sometimes dramatic flow of the tones. “The orchestra represents nature and is therefore in and around the solo instrument or the shaman. He communicates with it, carries out conflicts and in the end should find harmony with it”.
Hosokawa sees himself as a sound engineer of this elemental force, and says: “I would also like to become a shaman” – if he is not one already.
When he rehearses his works with orchestras or musicians, as currently, during his time as Creative Chair of the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich, it is above all the pulsation and sense of time that sometimes need a little more work.
Zurich Tonhalle-Orchestra: Toshio Hosokawa, Creative Chair, Saison 2022/23
sunday, 26.3.23: chamber music
wednesday, 29.3.23: Meditation to the victims of Tsunami for orchestra.
Rudolf Buchbinder, Isang Yun, Klaus Huber, Shô, Hichiriki, Ryūteki, Gamelan, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Gagaku, György Ligeti, Koto, Metamusikfestival Berlin
broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, Mittwoch, 22.3.23, 20h, 25.3.23, 21h: Musikschamane und Vertoner der Urkraft, Autor Moritz Weber
Toshio Hosokawa, Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich, Klaus Huber
Greatest possible freedom – Ligeti’s Atmosphères reinterpreted
Tuns contemporans: Ligeti 100th anniversary @Theater Chur 29.3. – 2.4.2023
Tuns contemporans, Biennale für Neue Musik Graubünden, will take place for its third edition from March 29 to April 1. With this years’ motto is 100 years of Ligeti, it highlights the pioneering composer from a present day perspective. Atmosphères, Ligeti’s monumental orchestral work known from Kubrik’s Space Odyssey 2001, will be reinterpreted at the Theater Chur as a space-spanning sound installation.
A conversation with Martina Mutzner, initiator and artistic director of the project.
28 May 1923: 100th birthday of György Ligeti
If any key work of the musical avant-garde has had unexpectedly wide circulation, it surely is Atmosphères by György Ligeti. Stanley Kubrik’s epic Space Odyssey 2001 from 1968 helped make Ligeti’s impressive orchestral work, premiered at the Donaueschingen Music Festival in 1961, famous all over the world. In the film, it accompanies an almost ten-minute tracking shot through abstract, flowing space colour fields that are considered among the most advanced camera and animation techniques possible back then.
Or was it maybe the other way round: do the images follow the music?
Sound colour surface composition
Atmosphères, Ligeti’s micropolyphonic 87-voice orchestral work, had already gained the composer a major breakthrough in professional circles. His new approach, in which tonal colours and surfaces replace structural elements, was received with enthusiasm at the premiere in Donaueschingen and played twice at the request of the audience. Ligeti, on the other hand, was in a yearlong legal dispute with Kubrik because the latter had initially used Atmosphères without asking nor paying the composer.
György Ligeti, Atmosphères, Sinfonieorchester Basel, 2015, inhouse-production SRG/SSR
The Chur project takes the idea of composing with sound colour surfaces as well as the familiarity of the work as starting points. In an immersive participatory concert sound installation, Ligeti’s Atmosphères is reborn, interpreted by 81 vocal groups: over the course of six months, school classes, semi-professional musicians and amateurs, with members aged between 7 and 77, developed their own sound surfaces. The musicians of Chur’s ensemble ö! as well as the Graubünden Chamber Philharmonic, helped creating individual layers of a large overall sound during a series of workshops.
It is now possible to immerse oneself into this soundscape during the entire festival through a loudspeaker system and embedded in a light scenography à la Kubrik set up at Chur’s Theatre.
Apparitions for orchestra (1958/59) is one of the first works in which György Ligeti composed with sound surfaces, recording with Basel Sinfonietta under Johannes Kalitzke, 2003, inhouse-production SRG SSR
Ligeti’s idea of greatest possible compositional freedom was this mediation project’s decisive factor, says Martina Mutzner, dramaturge at Theater Basel and in charge of the project.
“With Atmosphères, Ligeti wrote a piece that defied the compositional dogmas of the time. It is representative of a free-spirited approach to both artistic material and, in a figurative sense, also human beings”. There is no right or wrong. That is why it is so suitable for a shared project featuring also amateur musicians.
Inventories and botanic approach
They decided to “go the opposite way”. First, inspired by Atmosphères, they improvised, developed and recorded sounds. “We collected the sound surfaces. It was like making an inventory or some kind of a botanic approach,” says Mutzner. David Sontòn, artistic director of the Biennale, then created scores for instrumental parts from the recordings, with flute, harp and string groups complementing the vocal and noise soundscapes to Ligeti’s prescribed 87 voices.
The result is a compositional association with Ligeti’s sound-surface composition in the broadest sense and thus something completely new, fitting in perfectly with the concept of a Biennale featuroing Ligeti at its centre and relating mentors and students. The four major concerts at the Chur Theatre will feature works by Béla Bartók and Sándor Veress, two of the composers who influenced Ligeti, but also by Detlef Müller-Siemens, Michael Jarrell or Alberto Posadas, whom he in turn influenced, as well as world premieres in dialogue with Ligeti’s oeuvre.
Michael Jarrell, music for a while pour orchestre 1995, Ensemble Contrechamps, conductor Jürg Henneberger, inhouse-production SRG SSR
Mutzner brings her passion for contemporary music and its transmission to the project: “We chose Atmosphères also because it found its way into popular culture through Kubrick’s Space Odyssey. Many people heard it without knowing what it is.” Of the many contributors and also ensemble leaders, some had hardly had any exposure to contemporary music before. “In the end, the recordings sounded as if they were rehearsing regularly in a contemporary music ensemble. The musicians were in an eager flow, which gets transmitted to the listeners,” says Mutzner.
A consistent opening of contemporary music
The consistent aim of presenting contemporary music to a wider audience is a general concern of the Chur Biennale. While the 2021 concerts could only be held online due to the pandemic, this edition will also be entirely live-streamed. In addition, the tuns contemporans is also committed to a balanced mix of genres in the classical field as well as to a renewal of the orchestral repertoire. In 2021, a “Call for Scores for ladies only!” took place for the first time, resulting in three world premieres by female composers. Three new pieces will also be premiered in this edition. Los tiempos del alma for small ensemble by recently deceased young Argentinian composer Patricia Martinez (*1973-2022), leer for large ensemble by Areum Lee (*1989) from Korea and la via isoscele della sera for string orchestra by Italian composer Caterina di Cecca (*1984).
Oscar Bianchi, Contingency für Ensemble (2017), aufgezeichnet mit dem Ensemble der Lucerne Festival Alumni, conductor Baldur Brönnimann, 2020, inhouse-production SRG SSR.
A collaboration with the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana for the Saturday evening concert – including a performance of Oscar Bianchi’s Exordium from 2015 – and Mario Venzago as guest conductor or the closing concert with the Ensemble Vocal Origen, in the “roter Turm” on top of the Julier Pass, stand for both synergies and an opening of contemporary music beyond the local scene for this third festival edition.
Tuns contemporans – Biennale für Neue Musik Graubünden 2023
Atmosphères: participatory intergenerational concert project featuring professional musicians, passionate semi-professional musicians, music students and enthusiastic amateurs.
György Ligeti, Detlev Müller-Siemens, Alberto Posadas, Béla Bartók, Sándor Veress, Origen Festival Cultural, Mario Venzago, Caterina di Cecca, Areum Lee, Patricia Martinez, Martina Mutzner: Musiksalon
broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, 24.5.2023: György Ligeti 100: author Michael Kunkel
neoblog, 7.4.2021: tuns contemporans 2021 – Graubünden trifft Welt, author Gabrielle Weber
György Ligeti, tuns contemporans, Ensemble ö!, Kammerphilharmonie Graubünden, David Sontòn Caflisch, Oscar Bianchi, Michael Jarrell, Ensemble Vocal Origen
(Deutsch) Von Wechselklängen und Fokussierungen
CD Marcus Weiss
“In maletg da mia veta”
Gion Antoni Derungs (1935-2012) is not only Graubünden’s most prominent composer. He is also considered one of Switzerland’s outstanding musical personalities. Ten years after his death, he is receiving an extensive tribute through a biography and a Derungs Festival was held in Chur.
Portrait by Laura Decurtins.
The wide-ranging works of Gion Antoni Derungs reflect artistic imagination, strong musical identity and an irrepressible creative urge; he himself described them as the “image of his life”. In his productive engagement with the local musical traditions as well as with the international musical currents of the 20th and 21st centuries, Derungs achieved an unmistakable personal style. Today, his name stands for high-quality musical works of art that range from simple songs to complex instrumental works, speaking to amateurs and professional musicians alike.
Portrait Gion Antoni Derungs zVg. Fundaziun Gion Antoni Derungs
Folk Songs as “Roots” and “Source”
Gion Antoni Derungs was born on September 6, 1935 in the small village of Vella in the Val Lumnezia. After his father’s premature death, the family had to make ends meet with hardly any means, but the highly talented mother – sister of the famous musician Duri Sialm – nevertheless attached great importance to the musical education of her children. Romantic piano music, operas and the folk songs of Surselva surrounded Derungs from an early age. Furthermore, he was sometimes allowed to accompany church services on the harmonium, so that he also became familiar with the old Catholic hymns of the Surselva. The “canzun romontscha” became both a musical identity root as well as a source for Derungs’ compositions.
From piano student to musical director
In 1949 Derungs entered the grammar school of Disentis abbey and was taught piano and organ by village music teacher Giusep Huonder as well as by his uncle Duri Sialm. After graduating from high school, he was offered to study at the conservatory in Zurich, where – in addition to piano – he took composition, music theory, organ, conducting and score playing lessons; while at the same time studying school singing at the music academy. In 1960, while still in his studies, he was appointed musical director in Lichtensteig (Toggenburg) as his uncle’s successor and in 1962 he was finally appointed piano and organ teacher at Chur’s Bündner Lehrerseminar, as well as organist and director of the Romansh city choirs Alpina and Rezia.
Guinea pigs and “house interpreters”
In 1968, together with Pastor Gieri Cadruvi, Derungs founded the record series “Canzuns popularas” (CPLP) to promote Romansh songs. Until 1987, 13 recordings were released with a wide variety of programmes and performers. The main interpreter was the Ensemble Quartet grischun, an elite chamber choir founded by Derungs himself and with whom he was able to try out his latest, avant-garde vocal creations, such as the Missa pro defunctis op. 57, for which he won the gold medal at the international composition competition in Ibagué (Colombia).
Gion Antoni Derungs, Quintett op 25 für Flöte, Klarinette, Violine, Violoncello und Klavier, in house-production SRG/SSR
Derungs’ colleagues at the teacher seminar, including his cousin, organist Esther Sialm, became the actual “house interpreters” of his instrumental chamber music. Between 1969 and 1971, Radio Rumantsch offered Derungs’ so-called “musica moderna” a platform – which promptly earned him an ambiguous “modernist” reputation. The works presented included the Quintet op. 25 for flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano, a “symbiotic” combination of linear-polyphonic moments with cluster sounds and noise explosions, as well as the Silhouettes op. 17b for clarinet and piano, where silhouette-like contours increasingly emerge from an initial “jumble of lines and dots”.
Gion Antoni Derungs, Silhouetten op. 17b für Klarinette und Klavier, in house-production SRG/SSR
From the avant-garde back to tonality
Derungs composed such “musica moderna” from 1968 to the mid-1970s. Even as a student, he was fascinated by the experiments of the post-war musical avant-garde, serialism, aleatoric and minimal music, but also by the Polish School of the 1960s with its sound surface and timbre music. However, he kept his distance from the Darmstadt circles and their Summer Courses for New Music, which were setting the tone at the time.
In the mid-1970s, Derungs turned to the “simpler”, neo-tonal music of postmodernism, but without wanting to join the relevant circles. He always used the musical languages of his century very freely and undogmatically, whereby everything had to have its justification. Derungs saw “hopeful perspectives” for the further development of his personal style in the regained tonality. However, since he never sought instant success, many works waited decades “in the drawer” for a first performance.
“Looking ahead”: breakthrough and success
Derungs achieved his breakthrough in Graubünden with a vocal work written during this period: the opera-ballet Sontga Margriata op. 78. In his perception, returning to tonality also meant getting back to his musical roots: “Preserving tradition means looking forward”, and the folk songs allowed him to create contemporary music with a native tone. From what is probably the oldest Romansh song, La canzun da Sontga Margriata, he created a contemporary work that enjoyed a successful premiere in 1981 through a Graubünden-Geneva collaboration. This nationwide success motivated him to use the Romansh language also for genres that had no tradition in Graubünden: the art song on the one hand, but above all: the grand opera, which he “invented” in 1984 with Il cerchel magic op. 101. The work received a positive response also abroad – but in Romansh-speaking Graubünden, this first “opera rumantscha” has since been regarded as a musical milestone.
Gion Antoni Derungs, Il cerchel magic (der magische Kreis), 1984, in house-production SRG/SSR
Over the years, Derungs composed a large number of instrumental works: from small-scale chamber music and solo concertos to large symphonies – all of which he composed on his own initiative. Over the years, however, he also received commissions from a wide variety of formations at home and abroad, for which he created works tailored to the performers in the shortest possible time. Furthermore, Derungs also set a crime story, a fairy tale and the dramatic life of Red Cross founder Henry Dunant to music; his later work were three sacred vocal operas for the Origen Festival in Surses, based on multilingual libretti by its director Giovanni Netzer. The works are based on a mixture of free-tonal harmonies, impressionistic colours, motet-like techniques and a strong word-sound relationship.
“Everyone must step down at some point”
This tonal language showed its maturity in his last a cappella choral work, the Nachtgebet Complet op. 189, which Derungs completed in 2011. In that year he was diagnosed with cancer and suddenly had to get used to the idea of imminent death. In fact, death had accompanied him since childhood and over the years it also found its way into various compositions, connecting them to a certain extent thematically, for example the Requiem op. 74 with the 2nd Symphony op. 110, the Mourning Symphony, or the Sontga Margriata with the 8th Symphony «Sein-Vergehen» (“To Be – To Pass Away”). “Everyone must step down at some point,” Derungs noted about his 8th Symphony. “And we are all aware of this.”
Gion Antoni Derungs, Sinfonie Nr.8, op. 158 (2002/2003), in house-production SRG/SSR
Gion Antoni Derungs died on September 4, 2012, two days before his 77th birthday. He left a huge oeuvre with 191 opus works and hundreds of compositions without opus numbers. As early as 1996, he was awarded the honorary title of «Orpheus der Rätoromanen» (“Orpheus of the Rhaetians”), an artist who transcends borders and transfers the local musical tradition into art. However, the highest honour that can be received by a Graubünden citizen was to follow posthumously: in 2015 Derungs was chosen by the Romansh media as “in dils nos” (one of ours).
He never denied his Romansh roots and always considered the “little wishes” of his homeland.
Laura Decurtins is the author of the new biography on Gion Antoni Derungs, published by Chronos in the fall of 2022.
The Chur Gion Antoni Derungs Festival took place from September 1 to 4, 20220, among other places at the Theater Chur, and was mainly performed by the ensemble ö! The concerts were recorded in total on video by RTR and are available on neo.mx3.
Gion Antoni Derungs / Fundaziun
Duri Sialm, Giusep Huonder, Gieri Cadruvi, Quartet grischun, Esther Sialm, Giovanni Netzer, Henry Dunant
radio features SRF 2 Kultur:
Neue Musik im Konzert, 14.12.22: Gion Antoni Derungs-Festival in Chur, author Cécile Olshausen
Gion Antoni Derungs, Ensemble ö!
Communiquer au-delà de la musique
Eric Gaudibert, pianist, composer and lecturer from Geneva has been a key figure in the contemporary and experimental music scene of French-speaking Switzerland. Deceased ten years ago, he influenced a whole generation of musicians as teacher and promoted important ensembles for contemporary music. From December 9 to 17, they will jointly organise a tribute festival and concert marathon in Geneva’s Victoria Hall, which will include the premiere of 22 miniatures composed by his former students.
They are called Contrechamps, Ensemble Vortex, Eklekto Geneva Percussion Center or Nouvel Ensemble Contemporain (NEC) and have two things in common, they are very active in the contemporary music scene of French-speaking Switzerland and they all have a strong connection to Eric Gaudibert.
Daniel Zea, Serge Vuille and Antoine François, artistic directors of Vortex, Contrechamps and NEC, initiated the festival as a collaborative project: “the idea came up spontaneously, talking about Eric and tackling it together came very naturally,” says Daniel Zea, because Gaudibert has been important for the development of the whole scene. The Haute école de musique Genève (HEMG) will host a conference, a film screening with table ronde, and a concert by Vortex, followed by the concert marathon with the HEMG orchestra at Victoria Hall.
Gaudibert described his urge to teach as “communiquer au-delà de la musique”, communicating beyond music. He first experienced this communication in France, where, he worked from 1962 in the fields of “animation” as well as music transmission, in rural regions, after studying piano in Lausanne and composition in Paris. After returning to Switzerland, he taught composition for many years at the Conservatoire Populaire de Genève and then at HEMG. Michael Jarrell and Xavier Dayer, both renowned composers and teachers with roots in Geneva, were his students and he accompanied many other national and international careers as an artistic guiding figure, promoter and networker.
Serge Vuille, director of Contrechamps, did not study with Gaudibert directly, but was still impressed by the “Gaudibert phenomenon” and its lasting presence in the scene, also demonstrated by how quickly other partners agreed to participate in the festival. Contrechamps works constantly with Gaudibert’s former students, be they interpreters or composers. “That’s why I wanted to show this teacher-pupil aspect and its two sides at the festival,” says Vuille.
On one hand, there is Nadia Boulanger, Gaudibert’s theory teacher in Paris: Contrechamps will perform one of her orchestral works. She taught many composers who are now performed all over the world, but her own works are rarely performed. According to Vuille, she is overlooked as composer because she is mainly perceived as a teacher.
On the other hand, Contrechamps commissioned Gaudibert’s former students with short compositions. Considering the high number of 45 graduates, “only” a regionally manageable circle of those still working in or connected with French-speaking Switzerland were asked and, with two exceptions, all of them accepted. “The strong commitment by his students was very impressive,” says Serge Vuille.
Guidelines were a duration of only one minute, but open instrumentation, from large ensemble to solo and even tape, 22 miniatures will now be performed, including works by Arturo Corrales, Fernando Garnero, Dragos Tara or Daniel Zea.
Daniel Zea highlights another aspect of the teacher-pupil communication: “We are all very grateful for what he gave us and what he made possible. At the same time, it was a game of give and take: Eric was open and curious – he was interested in what we were interested in. We influenced him, for example, with traditional music from our countries.” Zea, like some of the graduates of Gaudibert’s composition class, comes from South America. His ensemble Vortex came together in Gaudibert’s classes and was accompanied and supported by him until the end.
Hekayât, pour rubâb, hautbois, hautbois baryton, alto et percussion, 2013, in house-production SRG/SSR, performed by Khaled Arman on the rubâb, an Arabic lute, is one of Gaudibert’s late works, in which he seeks to integrate instruments, their performers, and modes of play from other cultural spaces.
Electroacoustics and diversity
Gaudibert, born in Vevey in 1936, studied in Paris with Nadia Boulanger and Henry Dutilleux. He is best known for his poetic and visual instrumental works, but there are also other, lesser-known sides: Back in Switzerland, he researched electronic sounds during the early seventies in his self-described “experimental” phase at Lausanne’s radio experimental studio.
Vortex’s concert of December 10 is entirely dedicated to his electroacoustic works, which is consistent with the ensemble’s multimedia orientation: “it’s an important phase of his work that is rarely revealed,” says Daniel Zea. Together with John Menoud, composer and multi-instrumentalist, he visited Gaudibert’s widow Jacqueline and together they went through many videos, audio cassettes and scores. Pieces for instruments and tape or live electronics, often performed only once or twice, will be performed by musicians who worked closely with Gaudibert. Benoît Moreau, for example, who will play En filigrane for epinette (spinet) and tape, which was performed only once, by Gaudibert himself, at the premiere 20018 – with Moreau present.
The choice of repertoire for the final concert shows Gaudibert’s versatility. “We decided to combine key works such as Gong – his last major ensemble work – with rarely performed pieces to show the diversity of his oeuvre,” says Vuille. Gong is dedicated to pianist Antoine Françoise, who will also interpret it at the festival, together with Contrechamps. François, now an internationally sought-after solo pianist and director of the NEC, also had a close relationship with Gaudibert, who, pianist himself, accompanied and supported François’ development from their first meeting when he was 16 years and relied on his skills for Gong’s demanding part when he was only 24.
Gong &Lémanic moderne ensemble, in house-production SRG/SSR
In addition to his instrumental works, Gaudibert’s electroacoustic phase will also be represented at Victoria Hall: Vortex performs Ecritures from 1975 for one voice and tape, created in Lausanne’s Experimental Studio, in a new version for four voices distributed in the room. “The piece lives on with new technical possibilities, which would have been in Gaudibert’s spirit,” says Zea. Eric Gaudibert would certainly have welcomed the fact that his former students continue to work together – in communication beyond music.
Nadia Boulanger, Henri Dutilleux
“Eric Gaudibert, pianiste, compositeur, enseignant”. Film Plans fixes, 48mn, Suisse, 2005 : In this 2005 film portrait, Gaudibert talks about his most beloved themes, such as his fondness for literature and painting, his times in Paris, teaching and the influences of other cultures on his musical work: the film is the focus of a panel at Geneva Festival Gaudibert on December 10.
9/10 décembre 2022, HEMG : Congrès / Concerts : Composers and lecturers Xavier Dayer, Nicolas Bolens and ethnomusicologist as well as interpreter Khaled Arman, among others, will discuss the portrait at HEMG.
17 décembre 2022, Victoria Hall Genève, 18:30h : Concert marathon Contrechamps, Eklekto, le NEC, Vortex, orchestre de la HEMG, chef d’orchestre : Vimbayi Kaziboni, Gaudibert, Boulanger, UA 22 miniatures
musique d’avenir, 6.2.2023: Festival Gaudibert 2022, author: Anne Gillot
Eric Gaudibert, Daniel Zea, Antoine Françoise, Arturo Corrales, Fernando Garnero, Dragos Tara, Ensemble Vortex, Contrechamps, Nouvel Ensemble Contemporain, Eklekto Geneva Percussion Center, John Menoud, Benoit Moreau, Ensemble Batida, Xavier Dayer, Michael Jarrell