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Portrait Collegium Novum Zurich – Season 21/22 – starting October 30, 2021
Since summer 2019, cellist and musicologist Johannes Knapp is Collegium Novum Zürich’s new artistic director, focussing on new artistic perspectives as well as on broadening the audience for the ensemble. The previous season having to be downscaled due to pandemic reasons, now the first season curated by Knapp can finally take off. Thomas Meyer spoke to him before the second concert, which took place on October 30, under the direction of Emilio Pomàrico in the newly restored main hall of Zurich’s “Tonhalle”.
New music may not be so young anymore, but it always knows how to rejuvenate itself. This becomes clear when two works written half a century apart, a classic and a newcomer, meet in the 3rd concert of Johannes Knapp’s Collegium Novum Zürich’s (CNZ) season on December 18. Éclat-Multiples will be performed together with (Re)incarnation [Yerlik]: a central work by Pierre Boulez from 1970, next to that of a 34-year-old composer whose name not many are likely to know: Kazakh Sanzhar Baiterekov who based this work on the processes of an old Tengrist myth from his homeland, dealing with the underworld and rebirth.
Such encounters have a long tradition at the CNZ. Since its founding in 1993, it has pursued on one hand the performance of important contemporary works, which set standards and are important for the musicians’ education, but also for the audience. CNZ has so established an important role in Zurich’s musical life and some of the musicians are part of the collegium since its foundation.
On the other hand, the ensemble is in quest of the young, the unknown, the challenge and the opening. Cellist and musicologist Johannes Knapp is also on the lookout for “music announcing and embodying of what tomorrow will bring”. He took over the artistic direction and management two years ago, but his first season had to be reduced due to corona.
Only four concerts and in front of small audiences could take place. Therefore, some performances were streamed for Idagio. In addition, the ensemble tackled three CD projects to be completed this year, one with music by Boulez and one featuring Swiss composer William Blank, as well as a series of student-teacher double portraits such as Heinz Holliger/Sándor Veress or Klaus Huber/Willy Burkhard. That’s also why Huber’s “Remember Golgotha” opened the new season.
Klaus Huber, Psalm of Christ, Collegium Novum Zürich, Bariton: Robert Koller, conductor Heinz Holliger, Tonhalle Zürich, in house production SRG/SSR 2015
Myths and legends
This time the focus will be on myths and legends in contemporary music, which is more to be seen as a stimulating starting idea than an ongoing motto. According to Knapp, myths have a deep connection to music because they transcend logic and words and cannot be clearly fixed. They are attempts to deal with the uncertain, even the horror.
Therefor several famous myths will appear in the programme: Orpheus in Orpheus falling by Sarah Nemtsov, the creation myth (Day 6) in Eufaunique by Stefano Gervasoni, the Egyptian sun god Ra in Sortie vers la lumière du jour by Gérard Grisey and Cathy van Eck, who teaches in Bern, will transform the Tonhalle into a “forest through which the wind blows” for Daphne’s myth in her new performance.
Gérard Grisey: Sortie vers la lumière du jour (1978), Ensemble Phoenix Basel, Leitung Jürg Henneberger, in house production SRG/SSR, Gare du Nord Basel 2016
Finally, the season will end with animal legends by Igor Stravinsky (Renard), Ruth Crawford Seeger or Frank Zappa, who was strongly influenced by Edgard Varèse and Stravinsky in his early days.
Encounter with baroque instruments
Such programs also question the absolutist dogmas of new music. Why should new music always have to “sound” “new”? Can it not overcome historical boundaries? Questions like these led to an encounter with baroque instruments, specifically with La Scintilla, the early music ensemble of Zurich’s Opera, with French composer Philippe Schoeller presenting his new work Kátoptron which revisits the ancient myth of Echo and Narcissus.
This is how Collegium Novum Zurich travels down the road. “Crazy nomads of Zurich” is how somebody once wittingly phrased the acronym CNZ, as the ensemble has no fix venue and is always looking for new ones, i.e. the Grossmünster’s crypt this year. As Knapp notes in his season editorial: “Travelling as an exploration of soundscapes by ear. Art means never arriving.”
Pierre Boulez, Sanzhar Baiterekov, Sarah Nemtsov, Stefano Gervasoni, Gérard Grisey, Frank Zappa, Igor Strawinsky, Ruth Crawford Seeger, Edgar Varèse, La Scintilla, Philippe Schoeller, Emilio Pomàrico, Christoph Delz, Dahae Boo, Kelley Sheehan, Michael Wendeberg
upcoming concerts CNZ:
Grosse Tonhalle Zürich, 30.10.21: And falls into the Netherworld, Dirigent: Emilio Pomàrico, Werke von Sarah Nemtsov, Aureliano Cattaneo, Rebecca Saunders, Stefano Gervasoni
Grosse Tonhalle Zürich, 4.12.21: Konzert 3, Dirigent: Johannes Schöllhorn, Stefan Wirth Klavier; Werke von Kelley Sheehan, Tobias Krebs, Dahae Boo, Christoph Delz
broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Neue Musik im Konzert, 1.12.21: Konzert CNZ, Tonhalle Zürich, 30.10.21
Friederike Kenneweg: 20 Years of Mondrian Ensemble: Anniversary Concerts
20 years already: the Basel based piano quartet Mondrian is celebrating its anniversary and the good thing is that some of the concerts planned for the occasion can now actually happen.
This year’s concert season was somewhat uneven and not only for the Mondrian Ensemble: too many events have been cancelled, postponed or had to be live-streamed online. But for Tamriko Kordzaia (piano), Ivana Pristašová (violin), Petra Ackermann (viola) and Karolina Öhmann (violoncello) it was even worse as they were planning to celebrate their ensemble’s 20th anniversary. The anniversary concert in autumn 2020 could take place with reduced audience. The Walcheturm event in Zurich however had to be streamed. The only advantage being that it is now accessible to everyone online.
Connecting lines between the ages
Bringing together common practice period and contemporary music has been Mondrian Ensemble’s characteristic for 20 years and their anniversary programme was no exception. A string trio by Schubert and four fantasy pieces by Schumann were combined with works by Martin Jaggi (*1978), Jannik Giger (*1985) and Madli Marje Gildemann (*1994). This allows a better perception of the different connections between musical periods, but also highlights contrasts and further developments all the more clearly. As the four musicians do not limit themselves to one period, but consider the entire history of music up to the present day for their concert programmes, they repeatedly uncover astonishing things – for example, parallels between the melancholy beauty of English Renaissance music and the slow pulsation of a piece by the Austrian Klaus Lang, or enable the audience to experience a very special kind of time travel, performing a piano trio by Schubert and a piano quartet by Morton Feldman in immediate succession.
Another important aspect is that the ensemble keeps contemporary compositions in its repertoire and plays them on various occasions over the years, allowing them to develop and unfold like interpretations of classical works. This is hardly possible in the new music business, focusing mainly on world premieres.
Great importance is also attached to working closely with the composers – sometimes over long periods of time, for example, Dieter Ammann, as the work on the world premiere of his string trio “Gehörte Form” (“Heard Form”) from 1998 led the founding members Daniela Müller on violin, Christian Zgraggen on viola and Martin Jaggi to form an ensemble in 2000.
Dieter Ammann, Gehörte Form – Hommages for string trio 1998, in house-production SRG/SSR
The joining of Walter Zoller on piano, opened new possibilities and allowed them to perform string and piano trios as well as piano quartets from all periods. The ensemble still makes full use of the flexibility that this instrumentation brings in its programming. Thus, solos or duets can also be found in the various possible combinations.
Different combination possibilities
Another composer who has accompanied the ensemble for a long time is Jannik Giger from Basel. Their collaboration was for the piece “Intime Skizzen“, as the musicians rehearsed compositional sketches by Leoš Janáček, Jannik Giger was present with his camera. The finished work offers insights into the musicians’ rehearsal rooms via a video screen, showing the piece’s appropriation process. In addition, the ensemble plays the Janáček fragments as well as the additions that Giger composed on stage. In the meantime, Giger’s piano trio “Caprice” from 2013 and string trio “Vertige“ have also become part of the ensemble’s regular repertoire.
Jannik Giger, Vertige for string trio 2020
The ensemble not only recorded a portrait CD with Austrian composer Thomas Wally (Jusqu’à l’aurore, col legno 2020), but will also perform with him on stage in May, as Wally is also violinist. In the upcoming concerts, Ivana Pristašová, Petra Ackermann and Karolina Öhmann will also join the string quartet. For the BLACK ANGELS programme, they will perform the 1970 piece of the same name by George Crumb, which refers to the Vietnam War, with electronically amplified string instruments. Tape recordings are added to the string quartet in Steve Reich’s Different trains (1988), which also refers to war – reflecting on the importance of trains during the Second World War.
50 years of women’s suffrage in Switzerland – a playable oven
The programme planned for autumn 2021 revolves around the 50th anniversary of women’s suffrage in Switzerland. A first glimpse will be given on June 4, with the premiere of “Garzeit” by artist duo LAUTESkollektiv.
LAUTESkollektiv is composer Stephanie Haensler (*1986) together with designer Laura Haensler and “Garzeit” is a multi-part piano quartet in which the usual instruments of the Mondrian Ensemble will be complemented by a playable oven.
This conveys part of the aesthetics and everyday life of women around 1971.
During the composition, switches, levers and knobs are operated by the musicians and influence the soundscape.
Stephanie Haensler: Ein Schnitt for string quintet 2019, in house-production SRG/SSR
The full programme also features several pieces by female composers of different periods and generations – from Clara Schumann (1819-1896), via Elfrida Andrée (1841-1929) and the almost forgotten St. Gallen composer and poet Olga Diener (1890-1963) to Rebecca Saunders (*1967) and Katharina Rosenberger (*1971).
Mondrian Ensemble’s programme, in which the piece “the ocarina chapter” by Christoph Gallio was to be premiered was eventually postponed to 2022. The piece has been commissioned by the ensemble to the Swiss composer and the concert was planned to be meeting of the ensemble with voice artist Theo Bleckmann from New York – an artistic encounter that the situation unfortunately does not permit at the moment.
Garzeit’s world premiere will take place on June 4, at Historisches Museum, Baden and its world premiere tour (Zurich, St. Gallen, Chur, Basel) will run until November 1, 2021.
The tour with world premiere by Christoph Gallio has been postponed to 2022.
Thomas Wally, Ivana Pristašová, George Crumb, Steve Reich, Madli Marje Gildemann, Klaus Lang, Morton Feldman, Daniela Müller, Walter Zoller, Leoš Janáček, col legno, Laura Haensler, Olga Diener, Clara Schumann, Rebecca Saunders, Elfrida Andrée, Theo Bleckmann
Sendung SRF 2 Kultur:
Blick in die Feuilletons, 8.12.20, 20 Jahre mutige Kammermusik – das Mondrian Ensemble hat etwas zu feiern (ab Min 24): a portrait by Gabrielle Weber
Mondrian Ensemble, Tamriko Kordzaia, Karolina Öhman, Petra Ackermann, George Crumb, Klaus Lang, Martin Jaggi, Jannik Giger, Dieter Ammann, Stephanie Haensler, Katharina Rosenberger, Christoph Gallio, Gare du Nord, Kunstraum Walcheturm
Michèle Rusconi will premiere her composition “Les Souffrances de Job” at Basel’s Gare Du Nord. In this interview, she explains how the tragedy by Hanoch Levin has been adapted.
Michèle Rusconi, what fascinates you regarding Hanoch Levin’s text “Les Souffrances de Job”?
I consider Hanoch Levin one of the world’s most important authors of the second half of the 20th century. I am fascinated by his grandiose language, his wit, his satire and his bitter black humour, which allow him to speak the unspeakable.
How do you mean?
I admire Levin’s sharp, uncompromising gaze, while at the same time I fear the mirror he is so relentlessly holding up to me. Levin shifts Job’s story from the Bible to the Roman era, about a thousand years later, which results in a kind of alienation effect, like the one that can be found in Brecht’s work.
Can you identify yourself with Job’s character?
Job is a parable, a universal figure. In his tragedy, Levin describes the unjustly suffering of an unjustly punished man, whose misfortune has neither cause nor purpose. It is an atheistic attitude. Because Levin answers Job’s question to his friends : «does suffering have a different meaning than suffering?» with a « No ». Levin’s Job, a brother “in spirit” of Kleist’s Michael Kohlhaas, affects me. In contrast to the biblical Job, he is not rewarded by his faithfulness to God. His loss is definitive, he dies.
Michèle Rusconi, Ratafià, Streichquartett, 2009
How did you approach the material?
A friend and translator of numerous Israeli plays, sent me an extract of «Les Souffrances de Job». I selected individual sentences and dialogues by various characters: Job, his three friends, the bailiff, the beggars, the officer, the circus director and the dead. I did not proceed by narration, but exchanged chapters and began to compose using the French text. The Israeli soprano Tehila Nini Goldstein, who lives in Berlin, was enthusiastic about the project and shortly afterwards I was able to persuade Ensemble Meitar from Tel Aviv, then Desirée Meiser from Gare du Nord and a few months later actor Zohar Wexler from Paris.
This means the project became more and more complex?
At some point I decided that, in addition to the French translation, I also wanted to work with the original Hebrew text. The voice is crucial in this piece. Job’s substance is incredibly exciting: he cries, curses, roars, fights, laughs, whispers, becomes insane, despairs, gives up. The piece ended up being sung and spoken alternately in both languages.
The two languages’ emotionalism is completely different though.
Exactly! With a singer, an actor and two languages, I had new parameters, several octaves, different acoustic colours that these languages transmit. Suddenly there were many more ways to deal with the text. I actually hadn’t noticed untill then, that I had assigned Job’s text to a female voice. In addition there are surtitles: in Tel Aviv Hebrew, in Basel and Zurich German, and in Geneva French.
What can the public look forward to?
To the great text by Hanoch Levin! And the wonderful Meitar Ensemble, the agile actor Zohar Wexler, the great soprano Tehila Nini Goldstein and myself. This coming together is a small miracle itself.
Because it is hardly feasible, logistically I mean! (laughs). We work in four different cities and stage in three different languages, which doesn’t make it easy.
Interview: Björn Schaeffner
Meitar Ensemble, Ondřej Adámek, ‘Ça tourne ça bloque’, Pierre-André Valade
« Les Soufffrances de Job » is part of the two key themes of Gare du Nord’s current season, ‘Musiktheaterformen‘ and ‘Later Born‘: « Musiktheaterformen » illustrates aspects of contemporary music theatre in presentation and conversation. ‘Later born’, on the other hand, deals with the great traumas of the 20th century – National Socialism, the two world wars and their consequences – mirrored by the questioning look of those born after them.
The premiere in Basel will be followed by a panel discussion with Michèle Rusconi and Matthias Naumann (translator, publisher and author of a publication on Hanoch Levin).
5. 12.19, 20:30h Tel Aviv, Inbal Multi Cultural Ethnic Center
7.12.19, 20h Basel, Gare du Nord
9.12.19, 19:30h Genève, Salle Ansermet
10.12.19, 19:30h Zürich, Kunstraum Walcheturm
Interview with Serge Vuille, Artistic Director Ensemble Contrechamps Geneva
After spending ten years in London, Serge Vuille, percussionist and former director of the contemporary music ensemble “WeSpoke”, is back in his native Romandie (French-speaking part of Switzerland), where he has taken over the artistic direction of the ensemble “Contrechamps”. In this interview, he tells us about the ensemble’s positioning within the contemporary music scene and the first concert season under his direction (starting in September 2019).
Serge Vuille, as a young musician-percussionist and programmer, your background is rather experimental. Now you’re leading the most important as well as steeped in tradition ensemble of this part of Switzerland. What is your position regarding the ensemble’s tradition and history?
Contrechamps’ 40-years strong history is a legacy I consider to be very important.
The “historical” side of a contemporary ensemble consists in regularly playing and fostering important masterpieces of the repertoire, which is crucial. On the other hand, the ensemble’s take on creation, research and experimentation is a critical aspect too. I enjoy combining and linking these two angles in my programmes.
Contrechamps being an instrumental ensemble in the traditional sense, how do you position yourselves in relation to the interdisciplinary and multimedia trends?
This is a key point within the regular activity of an ensemble like Contrechamps: What place do acoustic instruments occupy within the scope of 21st century sound and music experimentation? I’ve noticed that there is still great fascination for such things as instrumental music, the concept of virtuosity and even simply acoustic sound.
“There is something that remains absolutely magical about sitting in a silent room and hearing the sound of an instrument.”
It is important to find a balance between the repertoire, which is part of the history and DNA of the ensemble and innovative solutions in order to create instrumental or hybrid music, in a musical landscape that went through major revolutions over the past ten years. For this upcoming season, we will not only invite classical composers, but also artists and dancers approaching the concept of composition.
In this current season, you have scheduled two concerts that will be linked with two of the main aspects of your work during the past few years: the collaborative space between visual arts and instrumental music…
The first one is called “Sculptures sonore” (Sound Sculpture), for which I invited the sound sculptress Rebecca Glover. The musicians find different placements around the audience during the concert, while Rebecca interacts with her electronic instruments. The programme also included works by Rebecca Saunders, Alvin Lucier and Paula Matthusen.
Rebecca Saunders, Concert Sculptures sonores, Genève 1.11.2018 ©Contrechamps
The second concert featured Marianne Ammacher, an American composer working with sound perception and the physiological awareness of listening, with a significant part of electronics, in a unique combination with the instruments.
“If I had to name the things I like best in a programme, those would be the kind of creations that are highly risk-taking and focused on experimentation, but still framed in contemporary music’s historical context and relating to its canon.“
One thing that is clearly noticeable when looking at your programmes, is your commitment towards gender balance.
Gender balance is more of a general, societal issue, not specifically related to contemporary music. Arts must also act as role model in society. Finding balance, however, requires a target-oriented approach. Being convinced by my research’s findings, I believe that the quality of my programme is achieved through this balance.
You are particularly interested in the social aspect of the concert, the ritual that comes with it…
The social side of artistic approach is constantly neglected in the contemporary music world. We have to find formats that encourage daring contents while allowing spontaneous exchanges. My experience as curator of the “Kammerklang” series at the “Café Otto” in London has proved that it is possible to create a relaxed atmosphere, whilst keeping the necessary focus. But one must pay attention to it.
What can we expect from the upcoming season?
The season is called résonance par sympathie (sympathetic resonance), a physical process through which instruments placed close to a sound source begin to resonate even if they are not being touched. In Geneva, I was able to meet with many partners and I could feel this kind of resonances taking place and starting to vibrate. A major part of the season is based on this concept.
There will be twelve concerts, many creations and a lot of experimentation, for example an opera by Mathieu Shlomowitz, in collaboration with the Grand Théâtre de Genève.
As for the compositions, we invited Christine Sun Kim, a deaf-mute visual artist, the electronic musician Thomas Ankersmit, Geneva composer Jacques Demierre, Canadian Chiyoko Szlavnics, the Geneva-based Punk-Rock band Massicot and many more. For three concerts the ensemble Counterchamps has been invited to the “Gare du Nord” in Basel.
The season will start with a pre-opening, on August 25th, at six in the morning at Les Bains des Pâquis with Olivier Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin du temps; at sunrise, by the lake, outdoors, in a truly magical atmosphere….
Any wishes left for the Ensemble?
My wish is to present the scene in all its diversity and richness, paying attention to the balance between past, present and future, between genres and formats, as well as between the artists and the public.
Interview Gabrielle Weber
9.10.2019, 20h: “Musik unserer Zeit”