“…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

Clanking cold dancing with burning fire

Helmut Lachenmann is invited at “Hochschule der Künste Zürich» and «Opernhaus» Zurich.

Helmut Lachenmann ©Klaus Rudolph, CC BY-SA 4.0

Corinne Holtz
Helmut Lachenmann, one of the most important contemporary composers, wrote his first opera at the age of 62 and achieved the biggest success of his life with its world premiere in 1997. Avant-gardist and pupil of Luigi Nono, feared by the orchestras as “noise” composer, Darmstadt’s “victim” – as he amusingly defines himself – gives his take on Andersen’s fairy tale “Das Mädchen mit den Schwefelhölzern”, focusing mainly on the social and critical message of the material.

Lachenmann interprets the fairy tale as metaphor for the icy coldness of post-capitalist societies and breaks the narrative with texts by Leonardo da Vinci and Gudrun Ensslin. Synopsis: A girl tries in vain to sell matches on New Year’s Eve. She eventually lights the sticks herself and experiences the delight of bourgeois warmth for a brief moment in the “glow” of the flames. The girl ends up freezing to death and her dead grandmother takes her to heaven.


Interview with Helmut Lachenmann about Das Mädchen mit den Schwefelhölzern, Ruhrtriennale, Jahrhunderthalle Bochum 2013

Not a story, but “meteorological conditions.”

Lachenmann sees beauty as “denial of the accustomed” and music as a “liberated art of perception”, beginning with the creation of sound and the necessary efforts in order to achieve it. Lachenmann uses eight horns in his opera. “The eight horns are one single instrument. It all boils down to new ways of hearing and to do so I must start with suspending the melodious perspective.” Things he demands from the musicians are for example fluttering tongues, air noises, valve rattles and vibrations. This acoustically attractive effect results from the overlapping of two oscillations with frequencies only slightly differing from one another. But he goes even further and calls the opera a “pretext to write for singing voices”. The music does not tell a story but represents “meteorological conditions”. The girl is surrounded by freezing cold and feels burning fire for a moment.

The core of Lachenmann’s gestural music is actually theatrical. Those who experience it live can observe busy performers and invent their own scenery. Transforming these actions into the art form of ballet is a challenge. How can one create a choreography that goes beyond images and leaves room for music and its actors?


Helmut Lachenmann, Das Mädchen mit den Schwefelhölzern, Opernhaus Zürich 2019, Trailer

This new production: “Das Mädchen mit den Schwefelhölzern” is the focus of a three-day symposium, which the Zurich University of the Arts organises in cooperation with the Zurich Opera House, as well as the starting point for an interdisciplinary examination of Lachenmann’s work. Musicologist Hans-Ulrich Mosch illuminates Nono’s shadow, music journalist Julia Spinola the methods used in previous productions, dance scientist Stephanie Schroedter the transformation of musical score into movement. Finally, the composer and his choreographer Christian Spuck will discuss the opportunities and limitations of the new production with composer Isabel Mundry.

“Can an Adorno student be happy in the act of composing?”

Lachenmann’s utopian musical thinking has fallen out of date and is – perhaps for this very reason – of vital importance. In addition, the composer knows how to convey his beliefs in a humorous way. His colleague Hans Werner Henze once asked him if it was possible for him – as an Adorno pupil – to be happy in the act of composing. “No. Never happy, but I’ve been joyful.” What about the feeling of happiness after the premiere of a new production? “Every performance is an adventure and its outcome always uncertain.”
Corinne Holtz


Helmut Lachenmann, Allegro sostenuto 1986/88, interpreted by Trio Caelum

ZHdK: Zu Gast: Helmut Lachenmann: Congress / conference / symposium, 8.-10.11.19

Opernhaus Zürich: ‘Das Mädchen mit den Schwefelhölzern‘, 12.10.-14.11.19

neo-Profiles: ZHdK, Philharmonia Zürich, Basler Madrigalisten