“I am one of Europe’s slowest composers.”

Dieter Ammann and his piano concerto Gran Toccata @ Sternstunde Musik srf &neo.mx3

Dieter Ammann continues to push forward: with his piano concerto “The Piano Concerto – Gran Toccata”, which premiered at the BBC Proms London and was subsequently performed worldwide, the composer, currently teaching in Lucerne and Bern, is reaching a new career height. Swiss Television SRF is broadcasting an in-depth portrait in its Sternstunde Musik format. Filmmaker Daniel von Aarburg accompanied Ammann during the three years of the piano concerto’s creation: the result is a dense, subtle and humorous portrait of a process that wasn’t always easy, with insights into rehearsals, concerts as well as private situations. Ammann’s youth and his career are also explored.

In his conversation with Gabrielle Weber he talks about the making of both film and concert.

Dieter Ammann @composing

It took you three years to compose the Gran Toccata; would you describe composing a new work as a journey and was the film project also one?

It was an eventful journey: I was already involved in an independent film project initiated by director Arthur Spirk, a great music connoisseur and lover. Then SRF decided to produce a film portrait and everyone agreed to re-start the filming process with Daniel von Aarburg taking over the direction. We clicked already at our first meeting and an unbelievably beautiful cooperation developed from it.

How did the story come about?

I placed myself in the hands of the team with great confidence. The director always anticipated what he wished to film. An enormous amount of good material was produced. According to the motto “kill your darlings”, a lot of cutting and editing turned out to be necessary. For example, my teaching activities at the Lucerne University as well as some private scenes are missing, which is a pity as I am deeply rooted in my family and immediate surroundings.

You live and work mostly at night… how was that compatible with the needs of the film crew go?

It wasn’t just a job for them, they got completely involved. That’s what made it possible to capture personal and private moments. They also naturally took my rhythm into account, set the shooting in the afternoon and sometimes at night. There was great deal of idealism involved.

..and with the soloist, pianist Andreas Haefliger?

Our cooperation worked very well, but not always without problems. We had to figure out and fight about certain things. It was exciting to work thing out together and it created a lifetime relationship.

Your “Piano Concerto – Gran Toccata” was and still is a huge success, worldwide: It is known that you initially resisted for a long time to write a piano concerto and only accepted it on the condition that one of the US “Big Five” orchestras* was involved… Was the acceptance from Boston unexpected? Was it inspiring?

I was actually trying to avoid this huge task. I generally only accept assignments if I can fully support the conditions. For example, in an earlier request for an opera, I set the condition of an eight years production. This could not be guaranteed and so that was it for me.

Due to the very early request, I actually got a few years’ notice for the piano concerto before I started to compose, so I didn’t freeze…

What was the musical spark for the piano concerto?

At the beginning I listened to an enormous amount of piano literature for about six months and created an extensive collection of examples of textures. I was interested in what complexity is possible on the piano – not in the sense of New Complexity, for example, but intrinsically, developed from the instrument. This collection with all notations and verbal sketches was stolen from me during a train ride and all of a sudden I had nothing left. That was a real shock.

You once said: “Freedom is at the heart of composing contemporary music”: Particularly in the case of commissions for large orchestras, there are framework conditions, sometimes obstacles, which can be restrictive. They come from music that is not primarily and originally written to contain improvised material, where freedom is supposedly greater.

Writing for 70 musicians is not a restriction for me, but restrictions also exist when I work with an algorithm program on the computer or when I write for piano trio. It is precisely the friction with the restriction, the sounding out of limits, that fires the imagination.


Dieter Ammann, Après le silence. Für Klaviertrio, Mondrian Ensemble, 2004/05

Restriction is fuel for fantasy.

…when working with orchestras there is a strict working rhythm, with usually little time for rehearsals and little freedom.

I do not only have high demands on myself, but also on the interpreters of my music. Fortunately, it is mainly artistically outstanding soloists and ensembles who deal with my works, so when a top orchestra has four rehearsals, the world premiere really works. However, a world premiere rarely corresponds to the interpretational ideal. This requires several performances. In my opinion, the promotion of music should move away from the premieres hype and rather towards the obligation to perform a new piece several times.

There were also interpretational differences in the piano concerto. Each orchestra and every conductor come with his or her own sound. Contemporary orchestral works in particular are rarely performed twice. However, I have the qualitative claim to add something valid to the repertoire, so that a constant engagement with the music is possible through replaying, as for example in the case of “glut” for orchestra.


Dieter Ammann, glut. Für Orchester, Lucerne Festival Academy, Dirigent George Benjamin, 2019

You describe yourself as a slow composer – a new work of yours is to be expected only every few years… What’s next?

2022 I will turn – whoa! – sixty. I am looking forward to a residency with the Basel Symphony Orchestra or a birthday concert of the Sinfonietta. Perhaps there will be one or two more symphonic concerts in addition. The postponed Swiss premiere of the piano concerto will also take place in 2022, at the Lucerne Festival.

Recently, I started working on a concerto for viola and orchestra, for soloist Nils Mönkemeyer, a co-commission of the SOB with the Munich Chamber Orchestra. This will be followed by a piece for one of the world’s leading orchestras, followed by a cello concerto. If I get to live that long…;-)
Interview: Gabrielle Weber

SRF-Filmportrait Dieter Ammann / Gran Toccata, Sternstunde Musik 2020: Regie Daniel von Aarburg / producer SRF: Markus Wicker:

The Piano Concerto – Gran Toccata, Premiere is on tour since August 2019, soloist Andreas Haefliger, among others: BBC-Proms / London, Taipei Symphony Orchestra / Taiwan, Boston Symphony Orchestra / USA, Munich Philharmonic / Munich Gasteig, Helsinki Philharmonic / Helsinki. The Swiss premiere at Lucerne Festival has been postponed to 2022 due to the pandemic.

The CD recording of Gran Toccata with the Helsinki Philharmonic conducted by Susanna Mälkki on BIS Records label will be made available on neo.mx3 immediately after release.

Dieter Ammann’s neo-profile includes short videos of the original material by Arthur Spirk.

*Big Five: New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra and Cleveland Orchestra

Dieter Ammann, Andreas HaefligerLucerne Festival, Sinfonieorchester Basel, Mondrian Ensemble, Nils Mönkemeyer, Basel Sinfonietta

Broadcasts: SRF1
Dieter Ammann – Gran Toccata, Sternstunde Musik, So, 23.8., 11:55h; Di, 25.8., 13:00h; Sa, 29.8., 9:40h (Dauer 1Std)

Broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Musikmagazin, 22./23.8.20, Redaktion Benjamin Herzog / Beitrag Silvan Moosmüller.
Musik unserer Zeit, 29.7.2020. (Erstausstrahlung 12.2.2020), Unspielbarkeit, Redaktion Theresa Beyer

Neo-Profiles: Dieter Ammann, Lucerne Festival Academy, Sinfonieorchester Basel, Mondrian Ensemble, Basel Sinfonietta

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

The alchemy between analog, digital and the body

Charlotte Hug talks about four new CD releases.

Charlotte Hug: Portrait ©Alberto Venzago

Gabrielle Weber
Charlotte Hug, composer-performer, viola player, voice- and media artist, navigates between composition and improvisation, intertwining music and visual art. Four new CDs reflect her diversified artistic personality. In this interview, she describes them as “harvest” of the recent years.

Charlotte, in your performances you push the boundaries of your instruments – viola and voice – to their limit, adding a strong combination with visual aspects. Can you tell us more about the connection between these three elements?
Solo work is an important starting point for me, but I am always in a state of dialogue. The voice and the viola communicate with each other. They often disagree. To me, music is about being in communication with people.

“The viola and I are looking for new dialogues day by day.”

The connection to the visual aspect is something I achieve through the so-called “Son-Icons”, a combination between music and image (or Sounds and Icons). I capture the music I perceive  – whether heard or imagined – as well as random ambient sounds with my hands, like several pens dancing with each other on semitransparent paper. The results can be small picture boards, meter-long paper sheets, room installations, animated video scores. With Son-Icons I created a composing procedure.

“Eye and ear often decide in different directions.”

The Son icons are stimuli and inspiration for music and make the energy of its origination visible.


Portrait Charlotte Hug, Son-Icons ©Art-TV 2016, Michelle Ettlin 

Improvisation is an important foundation of your work. What does improvisation mean to you?
Improvisation is an artistic elixir of life, especially the magic of musical encounters with other artists such as Lucas Niggli (CD Fulguratio). Improvisation means creating in the moment. When I play with the London Stellari String Quartet, which I founded in 2000 (CD Vulcan), every performance leads to new creations. The London improvisation scene has influenced me heavily for almost twenty years. First as permanent member, now as guest and guest conductor, I regularly played with the London Improvisers Orchestra (CD 20th anniversary).

On the basis of this interaction-notation you developed, you elaborate intermedial compositions for orchestra and choir. How do these collaborations concretely look like?
I draw an individual Son-Icon for each musician. It can be turned and reversed, mirrored, read as “Krebs” or “Umkehrung”, on the same principles as J. S. Bach’s or the Second Viennese School’s compositions. I then hold individual coaching sessions and every musician develops his or her own musical material based on the Son-Icon.

“Interaction-Notation enables musical encounters at eye level, the use of various artistic resources, precise interplay without cultural barriers.”

The Interaction-Notation is a structuring method. An interface combines conventional western notation, Son-Icons, graphic notations, movement symbols, or plays live recordings. This creates the framework condition for musicians with different cultural or interdisciplinary backgrounds to interact with each other.

Charlotte Hug, Son-Icon ©Alberto Venzago

How do you work as a conductor in intermedial settings with larger ensembles?
I see myself as a giant ear. I create an ambiance and a state of trust and acceptance, so that courageous things can happen. If routine creeps in, I stimulate awareness through the unexpected.

The new Son-Icons CD features intermedial compositions. How can this connection between visuals and sound translate to a “sound-only” medium like the CD?
An intermedial performance on stage is a celebration, an immersive sensual experience one can dive into, a state of aggregation. But Son-Icons do also work in exhibitions as “visual music” without sound. They awaken inner music.

Charlotte Hug, Moscow Contemporary Music Ensemble, Lucas Niggli ©MAMM 2018 

On the other hand, as recordings don’t carry any visual impulses, the music awakens the listener’s inner images. The advantage of a CD is that you can take it with you, listen to it on your own, play it again, immerse into it more than just once.

“Music and Son-Icons are self-sufficient – they act as different states of aggregation.”

Tell us about your upcoming projects, do you have a dream project?
In my solo work I am mainly researching with live electronics, particularly focusing on the alchemy and connections between analog, digital and the body.

On the other hand, there is this coming together of Son-Icons with scenic-intermedial elements as well as dynamic musical dramaturgy   have in mind – perhaps some kind of “commedia dell’ascolto intermediale interculturale”…Interview Gabrielle Weber

CDs:
Fulguratio Duo Niggli-Hug, Label: Sluchaj
Son-Icon Musik von Hug für Chor und Orchester (Lucerne Festival Academy Orchestra, via nova Chor München), Label: Sluchaj
-CD Vulcan, Stellari String Quartet, Wachsmann, Hug, Mattos, Edwards Label: Emanem
-Doppel-CD Twenty years on London Improvisers Orchestra 

London Improvisers Orchestra, Via Nova Chor München

Broadcasts SRF:
Swisscorner, Musikmagazin, Annelis Berger zu CD Fulguratio, 27.4.19
Die grosse Nachtmusik, Passage, 9.12.11 

neo-profilesCharlotte Hug, Lucas Niggli, Lucerne Festival Academy, Lucerne Festival