Language blending into music 

Music and language are in many ways intertwined. This year’s Spring Conference in Darmstadt will explore this broad spectrum with lectures, panels and of course concerts, with performances by slam poet Nora Gomringer, soprano Sarah Maria Sun and ensemble proton bern.
Online streaming between April 7 and 10, 2021 

INMM 2021 Verflechtungen II © zVg INMM

Thomas Meyer
Darmstadt, the venerable city in Hesse steeped in tradition and considered to be the “centre of Art Nouveau”, is also of crucial importance for 20th century music. It is not only home to a Jazz Institute with the best-stocked archive in Europe, every two years during the summer, the famous Darmstadt Summer Courses for New Music take place there and renowned teachers meet, lecture and discuss with the next generation. Since its foundation in 1946, Darmstadt – together with Donaueschingen – is one of the most important places of discussion where aesthetic directions are set – and the city gave its name to the avant-garde school led by Pierre Boulez and Karlheinz Stockhausen.   

Somewhat less well known a spring conference was also launched at that time, also dealing with new music, artistic production and musicology, but above all with its transmission, especially in music education.   

The conference is organised by the ‘‘Institut für Neue Musik und Musikerziehung (Institute for New Music and Music Education)‘ (INMM). The association also offers composition courses for children and young people as part of the spring conferences and launched a research project called ‘Campus Neue Musik‘, which is supporting cooperative composition projects with school classes.  

 


INMM Trailer concert with Sarah Maria Sun, 9.4.21 ©INMM 2021

The conference has always been prepared and carried out by a collective board of artists, educators and academics, embodying the very idea of cooperation in its structure. As the INMM states on its homepage, it can be described as “forum of interdisciplinary dialogue between production, reproduction and reflection on innovative artistic concepts of the present and recent past and their transmission in music education.“.    

Brand-new topics as well as border areas   

Brand-new topics and border areas have always been up for discussion, in recent years for example on physicality, film/video or the clash of cultures. “We want to see how different things come together,” says musicologist Till Knipper, of the collective board. This year, the diverse interweavings of word and language with music are up for debate – an ancient, actually almost fundamental topic, but one that still holds a lot of potential and opening new areas in contemporary music, which will be the theme of this year’s conference. 

  

Annette Schmucki works with language: Skizze © zVg Annette Schmucki

 

The pandemic does not allow for live performances, so for the first time, everything will be done via the internet, according to a clever schedule in which one is not overfed with material. On the one hand, pre-produced contributions can be watched online, offering an artistic statement, on topics that will be the subject of lectures from 4 p.m. onwards and roundtable discussions from 6 p.m. onwards. The evening is reserved for performances and concerts.  

The combination of music and language offers a wide spectrum. Of course, more traditional ways of making and composing music will also occur, they are even the focus on the second day, but it might turn out not being so conventional after all, for example when slam poet Nora Gomringer interacts with Günter Baby Sommer, a drummer who has also performed with Günter Grass.  

 

Nora Gomringer and Günter Baby Sommer © zVg INMM 2021

On the first day, the interconnections are incorporated into the theatrical, while on the third day, the voice itself speaks (and sounds), precisely that very medium of conveyance that is as individual as it is resilient. The Voice belonging to the outstanding soprano Sarah Maria Sun for the occasion.   

She’ll be performing or singing new songs by Rolf Riehm and Thierry Tidrow, who adds a sublayer of emoticons to his Morgenstern settings.  

 


Rolf Riehm, excerpt from song cycle after Heine / Hölderin, Der Asra, Orpheus Euphrat Panzer, Hyperions Schicksalslied, Sarah Maria Sun, Jan Philip Schulze, UA INMM 2021

For Saturday, a swiss focused finale with “Transformationen, a concert by ensemble proton bern, with no text, or at least not a conventional one, rather language is transformed into music, which is not a coincidence, as Switzerland has some special word-sound artists: Composers who transfer and transform language into mere sounds and achieve astonishing results.   

There are many mentors in the oldest generation, such as Heinz Holliger, Urs Peter Schneider or Roland Moser. It can even happen – as with Moser – that only a text’s punctuation is set into music  

The younger generation followed them, developed further, brought in something new. Composer Annette Schmucki, for example, likes to start from word lists, analyse and penetrate them and let her music emerge from them on many different levels. Sometimes the text is simply spoken, sometimes language appears as musical notation, sometimes it shapes the structure of the music.brotkunst… /54 pieces/farbstifte papier tabak“, for example, is based on texts by Adolf Wölfli. Wait and see what her new composition “drei möbelstücke” is about?  


Annette Schmucki, brotkunst / 54 stück / farbstifte papier tabak, world creation ensemble proton bern 2016

Daniel Ott, founder of the Rümlingen Festival, who directs Munich’s Biennale für Neues Musiktheater with his colleague Manos Tsangaris, has always been politically motivated as well. One of his first compositions, “molto semplicemente” for accordion solo was born against the background of the Basel chemical fire in 1986 and brought it up. The starting point of his6/7 Gare du Sud”, is the unacceptable situations that migrants are confronted with at Chiasso’s train station, so everyday issues flow into the music. These are unusual transpositions, bringing new aspects of the linguistic material to light  

The 2013 work “and then?”, for contrabforte (a newly developed type of contrabassoon) and ensemble, by Isabel Klaus will also be performed. It shows this composer’s love of the quirky, the somewhat outlandish, insistent and quietly playful cabaret.   

It is no longer an actual speech composition, as the conductor interferes with the music not only through gestures, but also by speaking and though some would like the music to be pure and textless, it is not always available in such puristic form…
Thomas Meyer   

Annette Schmucki Skizze © zVg Annette Schmucki

The 74th Spring Conference of the INMMVerflechtungen II Musik und Sprache in der Gegenwart– will take place online from Wednesday, April 7 to Saturday, April 10 2021: all events are open and free of charge. 

The lectures by Christa Brüstle and Christian Grüny are already online: 

 

concerts:
thursday, 8.4., 20h: Betrommeltes Sprachvergnügen, Nora Gomringer and Günter Baby Sommer
friday, 9.4., 20h: Sarah Maria Sun, Kilian Herold, Jan-Philipp Schulze
saturday, 10.4., 20h: ensemble proton bern: works by Annette Schmucki, Isabel Klaus, Daniel Ott, Lauren Redhead

Nora Gomringer, Günter Baby Sommer, Rolf Riehm, Thierry Tidrow, Adolf Wölfli, Manos Tsangaris, Münchener Biennale für Neues Musiktheater, Christa Brüstle, Christian Grüny

neo-Profiles
Heinz Holliger, Urs Peter Schneider, Roland Moser, Annette Schmucki, Daniel Ott, Neue Musik Rümlingen, Isabel Klaus, Sarah Maria Sun, ensemble proton bern

Faithless, but hopeful

Since neo.mx3’s launch, the four SRG stations are gradually making Swiss avant-garde archive recordings accessible. In the meantime, an enormous pool of rare recordings are already available.

This blog draws attention to individual musicians, ensembles and important works, starting with Basel composer Jacques Wildberger (1922-2006) and his relation to Paul Celan.

Corinne Holtz: Jacques Wildberger sets Paul Celan to music
Paul Celan (1920-1970) was born 100 years ago as Paul Antschel in Czernowitz in what was then known as Great Romania. He is one of the German poets whose works have been most frequently set to music and therefore contributed in shaping the history of music for some 50 years. Swiss composer Jacques Wildberger turned to Celan again in his latest work.

Jacques Wildberger explains his composition method ©zVg Michael Kunkel

In April 1953 a written communication reached the Swiss Musicians Association’s members of the board, concerning the application for membership of Swiss composer Jacques Wildberger. Among the enclosed scores a Trio for oboe, clarinet and bassoon from 1952, written after his strict studies with Vladimir Vogel in Ticino. Wildberger’s first independent twelve-tone works were openly rejected. “No one will ever accept these works. We will never have to hear them and can therefore safely accept them.” This cynical statement comes from Paul Sacher, patron and contemporary music conductor.

Jacques Wildberger: Trio for Oboe, Klarinette and Fagott, 1952, Eigenproduktion SRG/SSR

Sacher had been president of the Swiss Association of Musicians since 1946. He can be considered central regarding music-political handlings and offices at the time and his influence on the Swiss musical landscape will be decisive for the five decades to come.

Jacques Wildberger stands for that 12-tone technique which Sacher describes as “constructed” and “aggressive”. He also represents political views that are considered suspect in the Swiss post-war context. Wildberger had been a member of the PdA (Labour Party) for three years and remained a self-confessed leftist after his departure in 1947 – in protest against Stalin’s regime.

The struggle for the possibility of hope

A central idea in Wildberger’s music is “the struggle for the possibility of hope”. The hope that things will get better and fairer one day. Although secular, Wildberger acknowledges the interpretation presented in Hebrews 11:1, that faith is a sort of confidence in what one hopes for.

This belief was first explored from a compositional angle in 1978, with An die Hoffnung for soprano solo, speaker and orchestra.

Jacques Wildberger, An die Hoffnung (1978/79), Sylvia Nopper, soprano, Georg Martin Bode, speaker, Sinfonieorchester Basel, conductor Heinz Holliger

Most recently in Tempus cadendi, tempus sperandi for mixed choir and six instrumentalists, written in 1998/99 for SWR Stuttgart. The cantata resembles a legacy of the 78-year-old composer. Once again Wildberger composes a memorial for the murdered Jews, with Paul Celan’s poems “Tenebrae” and “Es war Erde in ihnen” forming the centre of the four-part cantata.

Tenebrae seen in Celan’s and Wildberger’s perspective of is breaking taboos. The poet appears sacrilegious in his demand that God must pray, not man. The composer takes this transgression at its word and writes a series of protest songs, thereby returning to the protest songs of his youth, which he had written for the Basel workers’ cabaret ‘Scheinwerfer’ and the Neue Volksbühne Basel.

Jacques Wildberger: Wir wollen zusammen marschieren, Eigenproduktion SRG/SSR

Jacques Wildberger at piano with the ‘Kampflieder’ ©zVg Michael Kunkel

Celan knew the expressive Tenebrae-scores of French baroque composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier, who wrote 31 instrumental “motets concertants” on the lamentations of Jeremiah. Instead of staging anger over the destruction of the Jewish temples, Charpentier composed consoling music for the Holy Week, the darkest days of the liturgical year. Celan was also inspired by Friedrich Hölderlin’s Patmos hymn. From ‘Nah ist und schwer zu fassen der Gott’ (close and difficult to grasp) to ‘Nah sind wir, Herr, nah sind wir, Herr, nah und greifbar” (close and touchable). Then the poet turns to the gas chambers. ‘Gegriffen schon, Herr, ineinander verkrallt, als wär der Leib eines jeden von uns dein Leib, Herr.’ (Seized already, Lord, clawed into our selves as though, the body of each of us were your body, Lord)*. At the end there is an imperative: ‘Bete, Herr. Wir sind nah’ (Pray, Lord. We are near.)

Paul Celan reads Tenebrae

Wildberger picks up this tone and produces the highest intensity with the most economical means in his 2-minute 30-second short movement. Whip strokes from drums and four-handed keyboard open the music and interfere again and again as a signal. Tenebrae’s tempo indication is “agitato” and the speed is set at 108 BPM. God needs the whip to listen. Only then the choir begins: eight voices strong, homophonically led and with rhythmic shifts like an assembly of very different voices. The music is a wake-up call behind the text: ‘Nah sind wir Herr, nah und greifbar’.

In bar 10 the Lord is shouted at fortissimo. Wildberger reinforces the accented note with the performance indication “gridato” (shouted). Five bars long, the fortissimo is “crawled into itself”.

Then a quiet part starts with ‘Bete, bete zu uns’ (Pray, pray to us). The screaming is followed by pleading: sung, spoken and ending in the voiceless ‘nn-ah’ (close). Here, a general pause marks, already at bar 20, the midpoint of the 41 bars piece.

Wildberger starts anew and lets the protest grow step by step from Celan’s line ‘windschief gingen wir hin’ (leaning we went). The music ends like the text as choral imperative: ‘Bete, Herr. Wir sind nah’ (Pray, Lord. We are near).

Wildberger’s height becomes clear once again in his solitary approach to Celan. Instead of transcending the poet and his life drama as usual, Wildberger calls for resistance and action. “I do not have the right to prescribe hope” – but to compose hope he does, with musical means at the height of times.
Corinne Holtz

Jacques Wildberger at Karlsruhe-railway station ©zVg Michael Kunkel

Other works by Jacques Wildberger can found on his Neo-Profile and Playlist.

Broadcast SRF 2 Kultur
:
Musik unserer Zeit, 18.11.20: Lieder jenseits der Menschen – Paul Celan und die Musik, Redaktion Corinne Holtz
listen there: Jacques Wildberger, Tenebrae, from Min 53.36

“making new voices heard…”

Interview with Daniel Haefliger @ Swiss Musikprize_3

Episode 3 of neoblog’s Swiss Music Prize 2020 portraits:

Swiss Chamber Concerts is the first and only concert series covering the whole of Switzerland and presenting plenty of contemporary music. Since its launch in 1999, it has continuously featured world premieres from all over the country – for a total of some 200 by now.

Swiss Chamber Concerts live © Miguel Bueno

Gabrielle Weber
The Swiss Chamber Concerts (SCC) series were born from the close musical friendship of the three founding members.

Geneva cellist Daniel Haefliger, flutist Felix Renggli from Basel and Zurich based violinist and violist Jürg Dähler had this vision of combining their chamber music series, already established in the three cities. The first national concert series took place in autumn 1999, with the participation of Heinz Holliger, who’s supporting the project to this day.

I interviewed Geneva based Daniel Haefliger via Zoom and we talked about the uniqueness and challenges of SCC. The original conversation was held in French. Haefliger is constantly on the move and not only as cellist; as we spoke he was on the train, which he describes as his second home and a place of work, after a short tour of Switzerland: first Bern, to coordinate the season of the SCC, then Sion, to determine the string quartet lessons at the Haute Ecole de Musique, and then back to Geneva, in order to work on the SCC homepage.

Congratulations on the prize first of all! Were you surprised? What does it mean to you?

Yes, we were very surprised, as we usually receive little recognition for our work from the institutions, although our audience is numerous and enthusiastic. With our series we create a link between the different language regions throughout the year and regularly make new voices heard. This is a complex challenge where we get to face quite a lot of challenges. After all, the Swiss music scene is divided into many local units that hardly ever work together. Our ideal is to connect the whole of Switzerland in a common musical project.

What inspires you?

Two things: on one hand, as a cellist, the musical dialogue with exceptional soloists – on stage as well as on the personal level; on the other hand, as chamber music teacher of the Lausanne Conservatory, the interaction with young musicians. In both areas I try to communicate, mediate and network beyond age, language and culture.

« La jeunesse m’inspire et me passionne… »

Did the pandemic impact SCC?

Same as everyone else, we had to cancel all concerts towards the end of the season. But as soon as things got a bit better, we played a free concert, on June 30th in Geneva, with Heinz Holliger and Thomas Zehetmair . It was a huge success and motivation for the season to come.

SCC builds bridges between the different parts of the country: how does the cooperation between cities come about?

We build on the basis of our personal relationships. This is the only way to avoid rigid cantonal, urban or institutional regulations that would hardly encourage cooperation across regions.


Bettina Skrzypcak, ..e subito parlando, Swiss Chamber Soloists UA 2012

“We constantly question our own standpoint.”

Do you programme together – you are three artistic directors after all?

What is played, in which cities and to whom compositions are commissioned is usually something we decide collectively. In doing so, the particular regions’ and music scenes’ proximity to those of the nearby countries are also taken into account: e.g. Geneva with France, Basel with Germany or Lugano with Italy.

On the other hand, we constantly question our own standpoint and try to adapt, at least to a certain extent to the performance venues as well as cultural areas.


Nadir Vassena, archeologie future

How do you structure your programmes?

Our aim is to propose a high percentage of world premieres by composers from all parts of the country. We always present these new works in conjunction with major works of the repertoire, in order to underline continuity in music. Our series appeals to an open-minded, broad audience, before whom the new works can and must prove themselves.

How is this combination of contemporary classics and premieres received by the public? Has the perception changed over the years?

In addition of combining the new works with the existing repertoire in terms of content, we also exchange ideas with the composers about the entire programme. Each concert is a coherent unit with its own dramaturgy. This underlines the uniqueness of each piece and creates an intensity of the overall programme. In this way we respond to the audience’s increased need to hear a story.

Are there differences in audience reactions between the different parts of the country?

Cities in the different parts of the country have a quite different “cultural pace”. Switzerland richness resides precisely in its heterogeneous cultural identities. We want to value this diversity by having new works from all over Switzerland circulating throughout the country, which is also one of the challenges.

Tell us about the next season’s world premieres you’re particularly looking forward to?

The next season will feature 12 world premieres, among others by Nadir Vassena from Ticino, Heinz Holliger from Basel, David Philip Hefti from Zurich, Xavier Dayer from Geneva. A variety of instrumentations can be heard, including wind sextet, cello solo, string trio, string quartet, voice and small ensemble. I always look forward to imagining how these various pieces will sound.

The season will start in Bern, at the Yehudi Menuhin Forum, on September 24th with a concert by Heinz Holliger and Thomas Zehetmair – a replica of the June concert in Geneva.


Heinz Holliger, Aleh stavi for Cello solo: Solist Daniel Haefliger

Do you have a vision that you haven’t been able to realise yet? Does the prize perhaps have a special meaning right now – given the pandemic?

We have already realised many of our visions, such as the international Swiss Chamber Academy or the Swiss Chamber Camerata, both connecting young professional musicians from Switzerland and abroad. But realising visions and ideals costs money. Perhaps (or hopefully) this prize will help us to obtain higher financial contributions in order to strengthen long-term links between the regions. At the moment, we are dealing with it “at arm’s length”, so to speak, as since SCC’s foundation, our work has only been possible through enormous personal efforts as well as plenty of volunteering: We often think of the god Shiva with his many arms …
Interview: Gabrielle Weber

 

Daniel Haefliger © Nicolas Schöpfer

The Swiss Chamber Concerts were founded in 1999 by Daniel Haefliger, Felix Renggli and Jürg Dähler, followed by the founding of the Swiss Chamber Soloists, a permanent pool of internationally acclaimed soloists who perform during the series, and later the Swiss Chamber Academy of Geneva, national-international string quartet academy and the Swiss Chamber Camerata, also in Geneva. All SCC concerts can be heard in Lugano, Geneva, Basel, Zurich and from this season on also in Bern.

List of SCC world & national premieres 1999-2020

Konzert 18.9.20: Festival Label Suisse, 18.9.20.: 21.15h, Werke von: Rudolf Kelterborn, Xavier Dayer, Mozart, Villa-Lobos

Konzert 24.9.20: Yehudi Menuhin Forum Bern:
Heinz Holliger, Thomas Zehetmair, Ruth Killius, Daniel Haefliger

Sendung SRG/RSI: RSI-Neo, 25.8.2020:
Incontro con Daniel Haefliger, Redaktion Valentina Bensi

Neo-Profiles: Swiss Chamber Soloists, Jürg Dähler, Heinz Holliger, Nadir Vassena, David Philip Hefti, Xavier DayerRudolf Kelterborn, Bettina Skrzypczak, Swiss Music Prize

“Tausendsassa” of contemporary music

Basel Sinfonietta’s next concert will be dedicated to Heinz Holliger’s 80th birthday and on the same occasion, neo.mx3.ch – the new SRG platform – will be launched in the German-speaking part of Switzerland.

Heinz Holliger © Daniel Vass

Thomas Meyer
The third seasonal concert presented by the Basel Sinfonietta, directed by Peter Rundel is entitled “Tausendsassa” (Jack-of-all-trades), referring to Swiss composer, oboist, conductor, pianist, etc. Heinz Holliger, whose role and contribution to Swiss music has been decisive over the last six decades. Here is not the place to present our readers the list of the many achievements and qualities gained by this musical personality, from his excellent interpretations to the instrumental inventiveness (the oboe sounds different after Holliger) and compositions, not to mention his enthusiasm for his colleagues and for literature. There wouldn’t be enough room anyway.

I would rather like to emphasize – as a personal reminiscence – the unconditional, fervent passion with which this full-blooded musician engages himself. I first met him when I heard his “Siebengesang” many decades ago. From the first note of the oboe, one remains pervaded by this composition, which has considerably changed over the decades, but without losing its intensity.


Heinz Holliger, (S)irato, Monodie für grosses Orchester (1992), Basel Sinfonietta Musicaltheater Basel 2020

After his 80th birthday in May, Heinz Holliger has been honoured in many ways and places and never lost the occasion to support music by accepting the awards and tributes. The Basel Music Academy is currently focusing on Holliger, although he never permanently studied or taught there and numerous events are scheduled until March 9, while the Vera Oeri Library also houses a highly informative exhibition about the musician.

The composing interpreter

His music is now appearing in several facets at the Basel Sinfonietta as well. On one hand, the composer with his orchestral piece (S)irató from 1992, on the other hand the composing interpreter with two Liszt transcriptions, in which Holliger did not simply orchestrate late piano pieces, but so to speak, continued composing them into the orchestra. In his own words: “an attempt to “push” (transcribe) these two enigmas of the late Liszt – who stand like erratic blocks, but also signposts into the unknown of the late 19th century musical landscape – into my own way of communicating, thinking and so to speak retrieve them from my subconscious”.

Heinz Holliger © Priska Ketterer / Lucerne Festival
Heinz Holliger © Priska Ketterer/ Lucerne Festival

All his life, Holliger committed to the music of his colleagues, commissioned and/or conducted new pieces. Thus, the orchestral work “Tenebrae” by Klaus Huber, who died in 2017, will also be presented.


Klaus Huber, Tenebrae für grosses Orchester (1966/67), Basel Sinfonietta, Musicaltheater Basel 2020

In addition, a very recent piece by German composer, pianist and singer Steffen Wick: “Autobiography” will be performed for the first time in Switzerland, commissioned by the Basel Sinfonietta. The composition aims to describe that moment in which a whole life, condensed, passes by.

Steffen Wick, Autobiography, UA 2020 Basel Sinfonietta

Launch of neo.mx3 in the German-speaking part Switzerland

An excellent opportunity to present neo.mx3.ch – the new Swiss platform for contemporary Swiss music – which SRG has launched as pilot project in 2019.

Neo.mx3.ch offers an overview of the current composed and improvised musical landscape of the entire country, but also covers international events with a connection to Switzerland, such as the recent premiere of Olga Neuwirth’s opera “Orlando” in Vienna with the participation of Swiss percussion soloist Lucas Niggli. A place for previews, portraits and debates, but also for discussions via the neo-blog, moderated by editor Gabrielle Weber. In addition, musicians, ensembles and cultural institutions can present themselves in sound, video, image as well as text.

At last, because neo.mx3.ch finally closes a gap that had been lingering in Swiss music since quite a long time. Save the date in your agenda and get ready for a big surprise, for we will not yet reveal what is planned on February 2, for the official Swiss-German launch.
Thomas Meyer

We are very much looking forward to your comments on the neoblog regarding text, concert, neo.mx3 launch as well as the Holliger series on SRF 2 Kultur!

2.2.2020, 19h, 3. Abo-Konzert Basel Sinfonietta, direction: Peter Rundel, Musicaltheater Basel
18:15h introduction: Florian Hauser talks with Heinz Holliger

Program:
Heinz Holliger, Zwei Liszt-Transkriptionen (1986)
Klaus Huber, Tenebrae (1966/67)
Stephen Wick, Autobiography (2017, CH-Erstaufführung)
Heinz Holliger, (S)Irató (1992)

Lancierung neo.mx3: Surprise-Talk:
Florian Hauser talks with:
Barbara Gysi, head radios & Musik SRF Kultur
Gabrielle Weber, curator neo.mx3
Katharina Rosenberger, composer

Basel Sinfonietta, Heinz Holligersonic space Basel / FHNWMondrian Ensemble, Klaus HuberSteffen Wick

SRF 2 Kultur
:
Kultur-Aktualität, 21.6.2019: Neue Schweizer Plattform für zeitgenössische Musik

Broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, Mittwoch, 15.1.2020, 20h: Heinz Holliger und die Literatur
Neue Musik im Konzert, Mittwoch, 15.1.2020, 21h: Portraitkonzert Heinz Holliger
Musikmagazin mit Moritz Weber, Aktuell, 1./2.2.2020

neo-profiles
: Heinz Holliger, Basel Sinfonietta, Klaus Huber, Mondrian EnsembleKatharina Rosenberger

“…play until we drop…”

 

Portrait Urs Peter Schneider ©Aart-Verlag

As part of the Focus Contemporary festival, Musikpodium Zurich is celebrating Urs Peter Schneider’s 80th birthday.
Tribute to a ‘one-of-a-kind’ by Thomas Meyer:

The 60s were a very exciting time for music, as forms dissolved and concepts, happenings, performances, aleatoric concepts and improvisation took the place of written works. While many soon returned to more traditional procedures, one group in Switzerland stubbornly devoted itself to this new openness: “Ensemble Neue Horizonte Bern”, founded in 1968 and still active to this day. “We will” – as one member of the ensemble once stated – “play until we drop”. Without this Ensemble there would probably be no Cage tradition as well as less conceptual music in Switzerland.

Ensemble Neue Horizonte Bern

Swiss Cage Tradition

Urs Peter Schneider has occupied the special position of “Spiritus rector” in this composers and interpreters collective since the beginning. Born in Bern, currently living and happily crafting his compositions, texts, structures and concepts in Biel, he celebrates his eightieth birthday this year.

For this special occasion, Musikpodium Zürich is organising a concert as part of the Focus Contemporary festival: Dominik Blum will perform piano pieces by Schneider, his Neue Horizonte colleague Peter Streiff and Hermann Meier, whose almost forgotten work Schneider has consistently stood up for. In addition to his 1977 “Chorbuch”, the choir “vokativ zürich” will perform the new work “Engelszungenreden” (angel tongues speeches), whose title indicates that Schneider’s music also likes to point up, towards more spiritual directions.


Hermann Meier, Klavierstück für Urs Peter Schneider, HMV 99, 1987

Composer/pianist/interpreter/performer/educator in one, Schneider is one of those ‘one-of-a-kind figures’, that are not uncommon in Switzerland. It is not easy to describe his music as it can be extremely varied and he often changes his procedures. Schneider likes to work with strategies, essentially following the serial techniques in which his music has its roots, often tinkering for a long time and thoroughly with permutation of tones, instruments, volumes etc. until they finally come together. For this purpose, he develops his own radical gestures of persistence.


Urs Peter Schneider, ‘Getrost, ein leiser Abschied’ für zwei Traversflöten und Bassblockflöte, 2015

Radical persistence gestures

But it goes even further, as Schneider applies such strategies not only to tones, but also to words, graphics and theatrical actions, actually to almost everything that surrounds his work, including dates, or credits. The concert programmes are also composed – another important quality of Neue Horizonte. “The components of a performance relate, complement and comment each other in a sophisticated way”. Likewise, when books or CDs are published, his pieces are never loosely assembled, Schneider rather creates a new constellation for the entire oeuvre, being a strategist obsessed with order.

Urs Peter Schneider: meridian-1-atemwende ©aart-verlag

Every element is twisted and turned, in an ongoing discovery and invention of new processes. He can actually be defined as a process composer and thus very close to conceptual music, a genre he dedicated 2016 his book “Konzeptuelle Musik – Eine kommentierte Anthologie” to, which can be considered an exemplary and indispensable compendium.

The spontaneity of these open forms probably also acts as a corrective to strictness. Sometimes the liveliness and flexibility could get lost in these procedures and order might turn out to bury these aspects. But that is precisely when surprising things often occur. For Schneider’s work contains wit, even cheerfulness, in sometimes unusual places, other times with soothing self-irony.
Thomas Meyer

Hermann Meier, Stück für grosses Orchester und drei Klaviere, 1964, HMV 60 ©Privatbesitz

The “Focus Contemporary Zürich” festival will take place from November 27, to December 1: Tonhalle Zürich, Collegium Novum Zürich, Zürcher Hochschule der Künste and Musikpodium Zürich will jointly present a selection between of experimental creations and works by renowned masters in five concerts at venues such as “Tonhalle Maag”, “ZKO-Haus” or “Musikclub Mehrspur” of the “Zürcher Hochschule der Künste”.

Focus Contemporary Zürich, 27. 11.- 1. 12, concerts:
27.11., 20h ZHdK, Musikklub Mehrspur: Y-Band: Werke von Matthieu Shlomowitz, Alexander Schubert
28.11., 19:30h Musikpodium Zürich, ZKO-Haus: Urs Peter Schneider zum Achtzigsten: Werke von Urs Peter Schneider, Hermann Meier, Peter Streiff
29.11., 19:30h Tonhalle Orchester, Tonhalle Maag: Heinz Holliger zum Achtzigsten: Werke von Heinz Holliger und Bernd Alois Zimmermann
30.11., 20h Collegium Novum Zürich, Tonhalle Maag: Werke von Sergej Newski (UA), Heinz Holliger, Isabel Mundry und Mark Andre
1. 12., 11h ZHdK, Studierende der ZHdK: Werke von Heinz Holliger, Mauro Hertig, Karin Wetzel, Micha Seidenberg, Stephanie Haensler

Musikpodium ZürichAart-Verlag

Neo-profilesZürcher Hochschule der Künste, Collegium Novum Zürich, Urs Peter Schneider, Hermann Meier, Heinz HolligerPeter Streiff, Stephanie Haensler, Karin Wetzel, Gilles GrimaitreDominik Blum