New listening environments for new music

Gabrielle Weber
Lucerne Festival Forward
– the festival’s name sounds like the future, which is exactly what the new Lucerne Festival for Contemporary Music stands for. Ist fisrt edition will take place from November 19 to 21. The Lucerne Festival is thus once again committing to new and cutting-edge music and creating another platform for its Lucerne Festival Contemporary Orchestra (LFCO), freshly founded this summer.  

Future means diversity, mindfulness in dealing with each other and the environment, a close dialogue with the audience and examination of essential questions of our time. Behind the intitution is not a single head, but an 18-member collective, which sets new standards, as the responsibility for an entire festival belongs to a collective of young musicians, composers and performers.

Before the opening, I spoke with Stephen Menotti, trombonist and co-curator from Basel, as well as with Swiss composer Jessie Cox, who will have his new piece “Alongside a Chorus of Voices for ensemble” premiered.

 

Portrait Jessie Cox ©Adrien-H.-Tillmann / zVg. Lucerne Festival Forward. Cox’ Musik is dealing with the Universe and our future in it.

 

The curative process behind the festival programme is elaborate. In April 2021 calls for entries in the Academy network started and the network reached some 1300 musicians, consisting of musicians from all over the world who have attended the Festival Academy at some point and played in the former Academy Orchestra and later in the Alumni Orchestra. Many of them now also play in the LFCO. On the one hand, one could apply for a ‘Leadership Programme’, on the other hand for a ‘Call for Proposals’ with own concert programmes. The many high-quality, complementary applications led to the high number of 18 curators, says Menotti. He is delighted that he can now be part of the curatorial collective as co-curator and contemporary leader.

The newly elected collective started by examining the concert proposals. Certain ‘leitmotifs’ came up again and again, Menotti explains. The future of our planet, our coexistence and our interaction with nature, but also experimentation with concert forms and listening environments. These themes became the festival’s common thread and shaped the final concert programmes.

The uniqueness about this unusually large curatorial collective and its work was that the participants came from very different corners of the world, like the USA, Asia or Canada, bringing very different perspectives. In this way, everyone could benefit from the others and a truly “democratic team” emerged, says Menotti.   

The festival starts on Friday evening with an ‘opening/happening’ in KKL and on Europaplatz with “Workers Union”, an openly interpretable piece by the recently deceased Dutch composer Louis Andriessen from 1975 – a kind of politically engaged, rhythmic and explicitly loud street music between classical music and jazz. The fact that the audience is physically involved is welcome here, unlike in the classical concert formats.

LFCO’s musicians strike quieter notes at the «Kunstmuseum im KKL», where they improvise to works by artist Viviane Suter. In doing so, they interpret Suter’s works, hanging in the middle of the room, as visual scores. The importance of creating new listening environments is once again highlighted as the audience does not sit on chairs, but moves freely through the space with the musicians.

Intimate listening situations are proposed in the realm of the so-called one-to-one performances by violinist, performer and curator Winnie Huang, who – in short solo performances for only one listener – adapts her performance, facial expressions and body language individually to her counterpart.

 

LFCO concerts

 

Four concerts in the KKL concert hall will be performed by the LFCO ensemble, directed by Mariano Chiachiarini and Elena Schwarz. The concerts bear titles such as “Water/Nature“, “From darkness to light” or “Rainfall“. A mixture of works by young and established composers, all involving the space, with the musicians moving around the concert hall, or involving the audience. One piece even takes place in the dark.

Kirsten Milenko, ‘Traho‘ for orchestra, a composition commissioned by the Roche young composer commission, was premiered at the Lucerne Festival 2021 by LFCO, directed by Lin Liao at KKL Luzern.

 

 

Water and Memory” by Annea Lockwood stands for learning from nature. The piece by the New Zealand-American electronic pioneer develops from a polyphonic humming, with the performers distributed around the room coming up with their personal memories – and finally involving the audience in the collective humming.

 

Portrait Annea Lockwood © Nicole Tavenner / zVg. Lucerne Festival Forward. Lockwood’s music deals with the balance between nature and mankind, in the piece “Water and Memory” water carries personal memories.

 

Space travelling

The new piece by Jessie Cox is also future oriented. The composer and percussionist, who grew up in Biel, is currently studying in New York and is considered an international insider tip. His music is focussing on nothing less than the universe and our future in it with an approach he describes as “space-travelling”, borrowing from Afrofuturism aesthetics, with the aim to create visionary future spaces in which black lives are definitely welcome.

“My music thrives on the exchange between different geographical, cultural and temporal spaces,” Cox says. In his new piece “Alongside a Chorus of Voices for ensemble”, Cox uses small bells, representing a stereotypical sound of Switzerland on one hand and African-American history on the other as they were used in the USA during slavery times to locate slaves by landlords. These different levels of meaning intertwine.

 


Jessie Cox has been working with bells for some time. In the string quartet conscious music, for instance they play a role that changes over the course of the piece – at first they can be localized, then they gradually become a free component of the piece.

 

During the performance, the musicians pass the bells on to the audience in order to raise questions about how we want to live together in the future. This also involves a confrontation with racism in Switzerland. “Music is a suitable place to negotiate this matter” says Cox.
Gabrielle Weber

Louis Andriessen, Annea Lockwood, Winnie Huang, Liza Lim, Kirsten MilenkoMariano Chiachiarini, Elena Schwarz

Lucerne Festival Forward will take place
from Friday November 19, to Sunday 21.

concerts mentioned:
Opening/Happening, Freitag, 19.11., 22h, Europlatz
Museum Concert, Samstag, 20.11., 16h, Kunstmuseum
Forward Concert 1, Samstag, 20.11.21, 19:30h: “Water/Nature
Forward Concert 2, Samstag, 20.11.21, 22h: “From Darkness to light

neo-blog-Lesende erhalten vergünstigte Karten für folgende Konzerte:
-Forward-Konzert 1: 20.11., 19.30h mit Werken von Annea Lockwood, George Lewis und Liza Lim unter Angabe des Codes PRO1M0AR
-Forward-Konzert 2: 20.11., 22.00h mit Werken von Pauline Oliveros, Luis Fernando Amaya, José-Luis Hurtado und Jessie Cox unter Angabe des Codes PROMA1KR.

 

Radiofeatures SRF 2 Kultur:
Kultur kompakt, Fr. 19.11.21, Redaktion Annelis Berger
MusikMagazin, Sa/So, 20./21.11.21, Café mit Winnie Huang, Redaktion Annelis Berger
Musik unserer Zeit, 1.12.21: Lucerne Festival Forward – neue Hörsituationen für neue Musik, Redaktion Gabrielle Weber

neoblogs:
Exzellenzorchester für neue MusikAutor Benjamin Herzog, online 26.8.2021

Lucerne Festival – Engagement für neue und neuste Musik, Autorin Gabrielle Weber, online 1.8.2021

neo-profiles:
Jessie Cox, Stephen Menotti, Lucerne Festival Contemporary, Lucerne Festival Contemporary Orchestra (LFCO), Lucerne Festival Academy

Open-mindedness and consistency

35 years ensemble für neue music zürich

Setting significant standards since three decades: the “ensemble für neue music zürich” was founded in 1985, when contemporary music was only just beginning to emerge – today it is facing particular challenges.
A review with perspective by Thomas Meyer.

ensemble für neue musik zürich

One must remember the musical situation in Zurich around 1980. The Conservatory still lived up to its name: a place of preservation, not at all focusing on creation as it is today. Premieres for instance were highly unappreciated at the Tonhalle. There were small concert series dedicated to new music, but no specialist ensemble for it. There was a lot to be done.

When the “Tage für Neue Musik” were first held in 1986, a young ensemble, simply called “ensemble für neue musik zürich” emerged. It had presented itself for the first time only one year earlier and gathered a handful of musicians who were looking for something new. The musicians supported young composers of their generation and their environment and who had a very broad concept of music. Everything started with a concert by the “Gruppo Musica Insieme di Cremona” during the Zurich Junifestwochen, with mezzo-soprano Cathy Berberian. “It was an eye-opener: I felt the urge to do something like that,” says flutist Hanspeter Frehner, who founded the ensemble with other young students and still leads it today. Together with the pianist Viktor Müller, he is the only member of the original line up.

Hanspeter Frehner Portrait

Two essential characteristics define the ensemble: open-mindedness and consistency. Their open-mindedness is reflected, for example, by the choice of presenting female composers’ programmes from very early on, commissioning works to Liza Lim or Noriko Hisada. Another characteristic is asking jazz musicians to compose – which launched, for example, the career of Dieter Ammann. They also dedicated themselves to the visual arts, as in their homages to the Zurich sculptor Hans Josephsohn or in their collaboration with the experimental artist Peter Regli.


Verwandtschaft, composer: Junghae Lee, UA Winterthur, Villa Sträuli  2019, ensemble für neue musik zürich

But above all, they pushed music theater to a new level: the ensemble’s instrumentation is based on Schönberg’s cabaret-like “Pierrot lunaire”: flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano, complemented by percussion, similar to Peter Maxwell Davies’ “Fires of London”. With two short operas by Davies, the “ensemble” proved early on that it was possible to create grandiose musical theatre with a few, consistently applied means. Another experiment, together with director Herbert Wernicke, was a radical version of the “Merry Widow” – so bold that Léhar’s heirs promptly banned it. Since then, chamber operas have been a permanent feature of the programme. Next November, for example, the operetta “Neues vom Weltuntergang” by Dortmund composer Johannes Marks is on schedule.

Their consistency is reflected in the long collaboration among each other, but also with the composers. Noriko Hisada, from Japan, states for example, that “ensemble für neue music is one of those groups in which I have deep trust” and Sebastian Gottschick has been the ensemble’s guest conductor for a long time. These days, the “Hat Hut” record label (ezz-thetics) is releasing two new CDs with his “Notturni” as well as arrangements of Charles Ives songs. A remembrance of composer Franz Furrer-Münch, who died in 2010, is also planned for next autumn. This all shows that it’s not only a matter of featuring the big names of new music, but also about working, as well as promoting, from the base upwards…


Trailer ZUHÖAN, composition duo: Christoph Coburger / Sebastian Gottschick, UA 2015, ensemble für neue musik zürich

This is how the “ensemble” has been setting standards for some three and a half decades. Some time ago, the rumour started to circulate, that the musicians were gradually reaching retirement age. Actually, financial support from the city of Zurich will expire at the end of 2021, but Frehner says there are still a few ideas and projects beyond that. Moreover, he believes that it would be perfectly fine, if the regular city support were invested in the future, i.e. a young ensemble.

One has to consider the situation in Zurich today: New Music does not have a fixed venue such as the Gare du Nord in Basel and with the Walcheturm in Kaserneareal, at least one option for the independent scene is available. The Tage für Neue Musik are on the verge of a new conception, the orchestral concerts are not exactly bursting with innovations. Although creation is flourishing at the ZHdK and the city has a fixed chamber orchestra “Collegium Novum Zurich”, a new smaller ensemble would also require support and there is still a lot to be done.
Thomas Meyer

The concerts planned for May and June were cancelled due to the current Covid-19 restrictions and will be made up on the following dates:
Stöckli/Neumann/Ustwolskaja (instead of 16.5.20): 5.2.21
CD Taufe Ives/Gottschick (instead of 14.6.20): 12.12.20
Grüsse an Regli (instead of 28.6.20): 29.6.21

ensemble für neue musik zürich, Hat HutSebastian Gottschick, Liza Lim, Franz Furrer-Münch, Dieter Ammann, Hans Josephsohn, Johannes Marks, Peter Regli

Neo-Profilesensemble für neue musik zürich, Dieter Ammann, Junghae Lee