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Gabrielle Weber: Rebecca Saunders: composer-in-residence @ Lucerne Festival1
The celebrated British composer Rebecca Saunders is composer-in-residence at Lucerne Festival, featuring eight Swiss premieres and one world premiere of hers, many of which to be performed by the new ‘Lucerne Festival Contemporary Orchestra’. This represents the festival’s long-term commitment to new and cutting-edge music and forms the artistic core of ‘Lucerne Festival Forward’, the new autumn festival for contemporary music.
Neoblog portrays the new focus on contemporary music at Lucerne Festival with several contributions and posts: The first focusing on Rebecca Saunders – composer-in-residence during the summer festival.
Rebecca Saunders, winner of the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize 2019 and highly in demand worldwide, can be experienced up close in Lucerne this year. Since studying with Wolfgang Rihm in Karlsruhe, the British composer has been living in Berlin and is present at every important contemporary music festival: be it with chamber music, orchestral works or even performative sound installations.
In Lucerne, the public can now immerse comprehensively in Saunders’ music, characterised by silence, colour and physicality.
“Silence is like the screen behind the sound, it frames the sound,” says Saunders, who mixes silence with timbres and quiet changes in timbre. Often the first thing Saunders has in mind when composing is one single sound, a real colour or a mood. “You go into a landscape, into a sonic situation when you compose and at some point, you reach absolute focus – from then on, everything you do is right.”
Whenever possible, Saunders tackles her new pieces with the interpreters, carefully approaching the instruments’ peculiarities with them. “What could be better than exchanging ideas with the musicians and discussing every little detail until the very end?”
Saunders composed the solo piece blaauw from 2004, for example, for the Dutch trumpeter Marco Blaauw, who will perform it in Lucerne. In this work, Blaauw uses the double funnel trumpet he developed to conduct a conversation, not only between the two partial trumpets, but also with the room’s acoustics, with a grand piano, in whose resonance chamber the trumpet plays, and with the audience. The title stands for the performer Blaauw and is at the same time a gentle winking allusion to Saunders’ love of colours.
Rebecca Saunders: blaauw, 2004, Nenad Markovic, trumpet / Ensemble Laboratorium, Davos Festival 2012, in house-production SRG/SSR
Blaauw’s double funnel trumpet can not only play quarter tones, but also subtle and abrupt changes in timbre or extremely long and large glissandi.
The “glissando technique” also defines the new piano concerto To an Utterance, written for pianist Nicolas Hodges, in which Saunders explores the almost physical limits of pianistic virtuosity, as she explained in a preliminary talk with Marc Sattler, festival dramaturge for contemporary music at the Lucerne Festival.
Together with pianist Nicolas Hodges, she explored the feasibility of extreme glissandi under various conditions, e.g. including only all black or all white keys. These energy-loaded sound gestures, combined with melodic lines, run through the piece and create a colourful richness.
“The piano is my home,” says Saunders. The strong relationship with the instrument is the reason why she has written many pieces for it and felt a strong desire to write a piano concerto for years. With the premiere of To an Utterance, her first piano concerto, the dream will now come true in Lucerne.
Rebecca Saunders, The underside of green for Clarinet, Violin &Klavier 1994, Collegium Novum Zürich, in house-production SRG/SSR: The underside of green is part of a series of compositions inspired by the final monologue of Molly Bloom in James Joyce’s Ulysses.
Literature, prose, poetry but also lexical and non-fiction texts have always fascinated Saunders and authors such as Samuel Becket or James Joyce constantly accompany her composing.
This fascination sometimes blossoms into pure instrumental pieces, based on texts or words, but without words. Then Saunders translates the colour of language into sound, as she did in Fletch (première 2012), a string quartet transforming the hissing pronunciation of the word fletch, into arrow-like, impulsive gestures of the string sound.
Or they result in vocal works focusing on text, or sometimes single words. Nether for soprano and ensemble (premiere 2019), for example, revolves around Molly Bloom’s monologue from the last chapter of James Joyce’s epic poem ‘Ulysses’. The vocal part will be performed in Lucerne by the British soprano Juliet Fraser, with whom Saunders has worked for a long time.
Her aim is not just to set a text to music, but to render what makes a text audible and perceptible, explains Saunders. A lot happens ‘behind and in between the lyrics’, hidden beneath the surface as the title suggests. Molly’s monologue becomes an emotional, almost theatrical, spatially arranged vocal performance. “The listeners are inside the music,” says Saunders, “as if they were sitting in the middle of a musical sculpture, in the fabric of sound.”
The Mouth for soprano and tape as well as Skin for voice and ensemble were specifically written for Fraser’s body or voice. Saunders sees mouth and skin are two of the most important interfaces between a human’s inner and outer world. For The Mouth, Saunders worked closely with Fraser to develop ‘unused forms of articulation’, in order to make this interface tangible.
Rebecca Saunders, The mouth, Juliet Fraser, World premiere 2020, Centre Pompidou Paris
In the composer’s own words, the piece wants to ‘penetrate from the surface of the sound to the essence of the voice: the physical body that produces that sound’. – Saunders re. The Mouth (UA 2020) – “Sound is a physical experience, one that engages all five senses,” says Saunders.
Rebecca Saunders – composer-in-residence at Lucerne Festival
21.8., 11h: Marco Blaauw, trumpet, Arditti Quartet, Trio Accanto (including blaauw, fletch).
4.9, 11h: Juliet Fraser, soprano, soloists of the Lucerne School of Music: Daniela Argentino, soprano, Clemens Heil, conductor (a.o. The Mouth / Skin)
Other mentioned concerts:
28.8., 22h: Juliet Fraser, soprano, ensemble of the Lucerne Festival Contemporary Orchestra, conductor: Johanna Malangré (among others Nether, Swiss premiere).
4.9., 18:30h: Nicolas Hodges, piano, Lucerne Festival Contemporary Orchestra, conductor: Ilan Volkov (among others to an utterance, world premiere)
Kultur-Aktualität, 17.1.2019: Ernst von Siemens Musikpreis an Rebecca Saunders: die Lautmalerin der Stille, Redaktion Florian Hauser (verlinken):
Musikmagazin, 22.10.2016: Kaffee mit Rebecca Saunders, Redaktion Florian Hauser
Kontext – Künste im Gespräch 26.8.2021: Rebecca Saunders: composer-in-residence Lucerne Festival, Redaktion Annelis Berger
Musik unserer Zeit, 22.9.2021, 20h: Rebecca Saunders, Redaktion Annelis Berger
Neue Musik im Konzert, 22.9.2021, 21h: Portraitkonzert Rebecca Saunders 2, u.a. the mouth & skin
Klanglieferservice (Sound delivery) Gare du Nord Basel
The Gare du Nord – Bahnhof für Neue Musik Basel team, came up with a special programme for these lockdown times: sound delivery service (Klanglieferservice).
Their motto: imaginative travel is a good way to stay mobile and keep your soul warm, especially these days.
Like any other music hall, the Gare du Nord – Bahnhof für Neue Musik Basel is closed since mid-March. As one of the most important contemporary music venues in Switzerland, it offers a unique year-round programme. In an interview with Gabrielle Weber, the artistic director Désirée Meiser, explains how Gare du Nord is coping with the current corona situation.
Désirée Meiser, the Gare du Nord website welcomes its visitors with the message: “We are working from home”: What are your days like at the moment?
We are amazed, as days are actually very busy. We’re taking care of cancellations and postponements, of course, but the programming has to go on as well. We have different chatrooms for this. Qualitatively all works well, but quantitatively it can get tiring sometimes.
You were in the middle of two seasonal highlights, “Later Born” and “Musiktheaterformen”. What does the near future look like now that all events have been cancelled for the time being?
In the worst case, we won’t be able to offer anything during this season – but that’s not certain yet. On May 8th, for example, a major cooperation project should have taken place as part of ‘Later Born’: the silent movie “The City without Jews” (1924, Karl Breslauer) with a new composition by Olga Neuwirth (premiere WienModern, 2018), performed by the Basel Symphony Orchestra. It’s a highly political project that was very important to us. But – together with the symphony orchestra – we are now planning to postpone.
Olga Neuwirth, Die Stadt ohne Juden, UA Festival WienModern, Wiener Konzerthaus 7.11.2018
How does the current situation affect you, your team and all those involved in the various projects?
It is a great challenge. We have now requested part-time work for part of the team and at the moment, we still manage somehow, but long-term forecasts are very difficult. We are trying to deal with it as solidly as possible, also with regard to the musicians and the ensembles, who find themselves in difficult situations.
Gare du Nord called for solidarity with action such as #ichwillkeingeldzurück / #solidaritätmitfreienkünstlerinnen: a very important initiative – how did it come about?
We got the idea from existing initiatives and find it important and useful. We’re discussing with the ensembles and trying to postpone certain concerts, but many are still pending. What we are experiencing is definitely great understanding from the audience as well as great empathy for all those involved in culture.
“A great deal of flexibility – also mental flexibility – is now required of everyone”
You came up with a programme to fill this gap for your audience: the sound delivery service: how did this idea originate?
Following the high streaming services demand, the idea came about to counteract this fast pace of life and the constant need to offer something new. We wanted to open windows and possibilities to browse through selected archive recordings. There are such wonderful programmes, conversations and concert recordings, especially from SRF 2 Kultur.
Performing new pieces is important and good. But a lot of great existing music is too seldom proposed. The fact that we all have to stay at home now is a great opportunity to turn our attention to works that had been forgotten.
Football was also an inspiration: as the games can no longer take place, football fans started to watch legendary games from the past. (laughs)
What is special about the sound delivery service – and why should one listen to it?
We have asked experts to send us their personal favorites and got a great flow of beautiful finds, which are always surprising and a pleasure to listen to.
aus: Klanglieferservice GdN, Tipp: Anja Wernicke, 9.4.20
Terms like ‘physical distancing’ or ‘social distancing’ are omnipresent: Do you feel socially close to your audience and your team, despite physical distance? The sound delivery service also symbolically stands for music as a unifying element…
We don’t want to overwhelm the audience with a flood of mails during this break. The sound delivery service is intended to be kind of a virtual connection, in that we find ourselves in a virtual space and listen to something together. That may give a certain comfort, but commonly experiencing live sound in a real space is something unique that cannot be replaced.
Right now, our team is incredibly precious. Despite sometimes great geographical distances, we are all highly motivated and have a strong sense of cohesion.
The emergency state as “wake-up call”
Does this Corona period also offer opportunities or potential?
One of the phenomena of this strange state of emergency triggers, is some kind of ‘wake-up call’ – we appreciate what we had and have with new awareness…
Interview: Gabrielle Weber
The sound delivery service started on March 30 and features personal highlights on the GdN homepage daily. The selections have been proposed, among others, by Mark Sattler, Author Lucerne Festival, Bernhard Günther, artistic director of WienModern and ZeitRäume Basel festivals, Anja Wernicke, managing director and main producer of ZeitRäume Basel, Uli Fussenegger, head of Neue Musik FHNW or Désirée Meiser, artistic director GdN, as well as SRF 2 Kultur music editors.
Broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit: Heinz Holliger und die Literatur
Klassiker der Moderne: Concorde Sonata von Charles Ives
Neue Musik im Konzert: Wassermusik, within: UA Katharina Rosenberger: Rein
neo.mx3: Antoine Chessex, écho/cide