Melancholic elegance

Concerto en Sol – the new cello concerto by grandmaster Wolfgang Rihm – will start its world premiere tour from January 20 onwards. “Sol” stands not only for the key but is also referring to the exceptional cellist Sol Gabetta, to whom the work is dedicated. In this interview Wolfgang Rihm talks about the background and the particular period of his life in which the piece was composed, but also tells us about inspiration and interpretation of his works.

Wolfgang Rihm Portrait ©Wolfgang Rihm

Gabrielle Weber
Mr Rihm, after being awarded the author prize for your lifetime achievement at the beginning of 2019, your creative frenzy continues. You are at currently in high demand as composer, covered with prizes and flooded with commissions and requests: What does it take to secure a commission and how did the new work for the Basel Chamber Orchestra come about?
Sol Gabetta asked me if I wanted to write a concert piece for her more than five years ago. I was very happy and set to work, but a serious illness got in the way and the sketches were left on the table. When I re-emerged in 2017, I immediately tried to continue the piece, which worked fine and I enjoyed it very much, so I was able to complete the concerto in the same year.

What is the piece’s central idea?
It definitely relates on its dedicatee, whose melancholic elegance and powerful lines I appreciate very much. I didn’t want to come up with heavy artillery, but rather linger in the area of transparency and not outwardly turned mobility. What I liked best was the idea that everything unfolds from a vocal perspective – but this is something that applies to almost all my concert works.

Inspiration – a form of enthusiasm

You once said: ‘Inspiration is the only thing an artist possesses – it is all about putting inspiration into action’: What does ‘inspiration’ mean to you?
Inspiration? Maybe it’s a way of being enthusiastic? I can sense this in the fact that the many decisions involved can eventually lead to alternative paths that I would never have thought about at first. My advice: if an artist wants to be “consistent”, he should not want to be inspired – that would only lead to confusion. But since I’m very good at confusion…


Wolfgang Rihm ‘Marsyas‘, Lucerne Festival Academy, Leitung: George Benjamin , 1.9.2019

The solo part is tailor-composed for Argentinian-Swiss cellist Sol Gabetta. Gabetta’s playing style is characterized by both temperament and intimacy. She says that she almost dances on the cello and inwardly sings while playing: (How) were you inspired by a distinctive interpreter like Sol Gabetta?
I try to imagine how the interpreter would handle and respond to my notes – other than that, I write what I imagine as music.

Dmitrij Schostakovitsch, 2. Cellokonzert, hr-Sinfonieorchester | Frankfurt Radio Symphony, Sol Gabetta, Pablo Heras-Casado, Alte Oper Frankfurt, 14. Juni 2019

You usually demand ‘the extreme’ from your performers, whereby things are dared that were unimaginable before the collaboration – how do you get such ‘hidden’ potential out of the performers?
You have to ask the performers that… I think the most important thing is to have something to interpret at all, opening several unexpected possibilities, even to the composer. Interpretation is the opposite of ‘execution’. The best interpretation is probably the one that leaves a lot of incalculable things open, without stuffing the listeners with apparent certainties.

Melancholy – yes. But not too much darkness.

So every new work bears something unexpected for you too: were you surprised yourself while composing ‘Concerto en Sol’?
I hope that the piece develops and flows naturally. As if an event were to emerge out of context and give rise to the next one.

What surprised me was that after a long experience of illness three years ago, I was able to keep a relative state of ease throughout the piece. Melancholy – yes. But not too much darkness.

Sol Gabetta © Julia Wesely

What can we expect in terms of sound and look forward to in particular? 

The possibility of some kind of casual – unspectacular achievement…
Interview Gabrielle Weber

The program will combine Igor Stravinsky’s “Concerto in Re”, composed for Paul Sacher in 1947 and commissioned by KOB for the orchestra’s 20th anniversary, with Wolfgang Rihm’s “Concerto en Sol” and will be complemented by Felix Mendelssohn’s “Scottish Symphony”.

The Geneva concert will be recorded by RTS and made available immediately on neo.mx3 in full length.

We are looking forward to your feedbacks on the individual concerts on the Neoblog!

Concerto für SolKammerorchester Basel, Leitung Sylvain Cambreling
Igor Strawinsky, Concerto in Re für Paul Sacher, UA KOB 1947
Wolfgang Rihm, Concerto en Sol für Sol Gabetta, Auftragswerk KOB, UA
Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, Sinfonie Nr. 3 a-moll Op. 56 (‘Schottische‘)

concerts
Montag, 20.1., 20h: Genf, Victoria Hall
Dienstag, 21.1. 19:30h: Zürich, Tonhalle Maag
Mittwoch, 22.1. 19:30h: Bern, Kultur Casino
Donnerstag, 23.1., 19:30h: Basel, Martinskirche
Freitag, 24.1., 20:30h: Grenoble | F, MC2: Auditorium
Sonntag, 26.1., 20h: Freiburg | D, Konzerthaus

broaadcaasts SRG:
21.1.20: Kritik UA Genf in Kultur kompakt
22.1.20, 22h: SRF Kulturplatz
25.1.20, 10h / 26.1., 20h: Musikmagazin, Café mit Sol Gabetta
30.1.20, 20h: RTS Espace deux: Le concert du jeudi
20.2.20, 20h: SRF 2 Kultur: Im Konzertsaal

neo-profiles: Kammerorchester Basel, Lucerne Festival Academy, Lucerne Festival Alumni, Sol Gabetta, Wolfgang Rihm

Friction generates heat – Marianthi Papalexandri-Alexandri @Festival “ZeitRäume Basel”, September 13-22, 2019

Marianthi Papalexandri-Alexandri

“ZeitRäume” festival welcomes you in the courtyard of Basel’s “Kunstmuseum” with a walk-through and interactive sound sculpture. Composer and sound artist Marianthi Papalexandri-Alexandri’s contribution to this major collaborative work is her mysterious tube instrument “Untitled VII”.
Theresa Beyer visited Marianthi Papalexandri-Alexandri for neo.mx3 at her studio in Wald – Zurich region.

In the old days, textiles used to be woven in these large and bright factory rooms. Today Marianthi Papalexandri-Alexandri and kinetic artist Pe Lang live and work here. Their loft is a lab full of machines, electronics and mechanical objects.

At the back of a workbench, Pe Lang flips a toggle switch and a disc starts turning on black cardboard, Marianthi pulls out needles of various sizes and sticks them into the cardboard. With this gesture, the object turns into an instrument: whenever the small tubes that pop up from the disc touch the needles, fine bell tones are generated. When several performers insert needles into the cardboard of several machines according to a certain pattern, this concept grows into the work “Resonators”. Conceiving this kind of acoustic settings is the core of Marianthis and Pe Lang’s work.


Marianthi Papalexandri-Alexandri und Pe Lang: Modular No.3

Long-term materials research

Each and every detail of these sound objects is the result of countless material tests – and “Untitled VII” – incorporated by “ ZeitRäume” Festival into the large sound sculpture “Rohrwerk/Fabrique Sonore” – makes no exception. In the studio, Pe Lang shows the prototype: “The 24 tubes are made of transparent acrylic, a material that has the potential to produce warm sound. Each tube is then covered with a TPE foil through which we have stretched a nylon string. And the wheels at the front of the small electric engines are made of hard cotton fabric and coated with a kind of rosin. Sound is produced by increasing the friction.”

Visualization Rohrwerk Fabrique sonore© Made in

Pe Lang turns on the small engines of the tube instrument, generating a continuous tone, the result is complex, organic and beautiful at once – an independent sound sculpture with the potential of growing into a composition. To unfold this potential, Pe Lang slips into the role of performer and slowly changes the speed of the engines, the tension of the nylon string and the position of the clamps attached to it. The sonic reaction is immediate – sometimes reminiscent of a modular synthesizer, sometimes of an organ rich in overtones, sometimes of Eliane Radigue’s or La Monte Young’s meandering drones.

Marianthi compares the delicacy and carefulness with which the instrument is to be played to a Japanese tea ceremony: “Although each and every gesture are the result of great calculation, it all appears to be effortless and simple. Each movement being part of a natural flow”.

Marianthi Papalexandri-Alexandri: Untitled II (“Untitled VII” is a sequel of “Untitled II.”)

The Charme of the flawed

There is one further element playing its role in “Untitled II”’s sound flow: the material itself. “The diaphragm’s tension decreases over time, the rosin wears off and the engines begin to wobble a bit,” says Pe Lang, “these inaccuracies have been incorporated deliberately. The tube instrument, pretending to be clean, minimalistic and controllable, is not a perfect machine after all.”

This is another reason why Marianthi’s and Pe Lang’s sound sculptures and compositions always move in spaces between accurate and inaccurate, object and performance, mechanical and electronic. And when they leave the studio in Wald, they end up somewhere between galleries and concert halls.

But who is actually composing here: the composer, the performer, or the instrument itself? Those are exactly the lines that Marianthi is trying to blur with her sound sculptures. “I want to place composer, performer and instrument on the same level and thereby also question the whole idea of authorship”. So finally, who or what is in charge always depends on the point of view.
Theresa Beyer

Marianthi Paplexandri-Alexandri: Untitled VI

With its 30 projects, this year’s edition of “ZeitRäume – Biennale für neue Musik und Architektur” in Basel is the largest to date. The 45-metre-high sound tower “Rohrwerk/Fabrique sonore” can be experienced in the courtyard of the Kunstmuseum, from September, 15 to September, 21. Marianthi Papalexandri-Alexandri is one of the six composers and four musicians bringing this mixture of pavilion and musical instrument to life. 

This year’s Swiss Music Prize will be awarded on September, 20, at the Kunstmuseum Basel, as part of the ZeitRäume festival. Among the nominees, Cod.act, Michael Jarrell, Pierre Favre, Laurent Peter (d’incise) and Kammerorchester Basel.

Zeiträume – Biennale für neue Musik und Architektur, Marianthi Papalexandri-Alexandri, Pe Lang

neo-profiles: ZeitRäume BaselMarianthi Papalexandri-Alexandri, Pe Lang, Kammerorchester Basel, Michael Jarrell, Pierre Favre, d’incise / tresque

Broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, Marianthi Papalexandri-Alexandri, Pe Lang: 11.September, 20h, Wiederholung 14.September, 20h;
Passage: Cod.act -Maschinenmusik aus La Chaux-de-Fonds: 20. September, 20h; Kontext, 20. September