Maria Kalesnikava the face of Belarus

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: ECLAT AGAIN ONLINE FROM 17.2. till 21.2.!

Gabrielle Weber
The contemporary music festival Eclat Stuttgart is taking place online with extensive focus dedicated to the pro-democracy movement in Belarus.   

Through Maria Kalesnikava, icon of the peaceful democracy movement since September 2020 and currently in prison, the conflict has a strong connection to the Stuttgart cultural scene. As musician, educator, mediator and organiser, she was active here for many years and will be awarded the Human Rights Prize 2021 by the Gerhart and Renate Baum Foundation during the festival.   

Maria Kalesnikava ©zVg Eclat / Musik der Jahrhunderte Stuttgart

Echoes – Voices from Belarus, is a project gathering short artistic statements on the conflict by Belarusian and international artists.   

Two Swiss composers, Andreas Eduardo Frank and Oscar Bianchi, are part of this initiative and I discussed their work for Eclat with them. 

I met Oscar Bianchi in his studio in Berlin via Zoom. This renowned and internationally active composer with roots in Ticino has been associated with the Festival Eclat for a long time and presented new pieces in Stuttgart time and again.   

Bianchi explains that his project on Belarus has a background history. Traumatised by the tragic death of George Floyd through police violence and the related media coverage, he processed his concern into a short piece in the summer of 2020, addressing not only racial discrimination, but oppression and brutality in general. 

Oscar Bianchi ©Philippe Stirnweiss

When asked by Christine Fischer, artistic director of Eclat Stuttgart, about the Belarus project, Bianchi suggested a different take on the piece. “I want to emphasise and contribute by stressing that any form of brutality and oppression can not be tolerated,” he says. 


Oscar Bianchi, With you, World creation Murten Classics 2020

Fischer herself initiated the project out of personal concern, as one of the main leaders of the Belarusian democratic movement, Maria Kalesnikava, had been active in the Stuttgart cultural scene for many years, as musician, teacher and project manager, e.g. at the Musikhochschule as well as the Eclat festival.   

Before returning to Belarus for another assignment, where she immediately joined the democratic movement, quickly becoming one of its leading figures, Kalesnikava was in charge of Eclat festival’s social media activities. Together with Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, leader of the opposition and close collaborator Veronika Zepkalo, she is vividly remembered for close collaborator various appearances on democratic movement podiums. She was abducted on September 8, 2020 and is in prison ever since.

Maria Kalesnikava with Swetlana Tichanowskaja and Veronika Zepkalo at protests in Minsk ©zVg Eclat / Musik der Jahrhunderte Stuttgart

When Maria Kalesnikava, whom Bianchi knew well from the Eclat Festival, was imprisoned, it became apparent, that the Belarusian government was counting on the time factor and relying on the fact that media would be fading, so Bianchi. This makes such cultural actions all the more important to keep up the debate and raise people’s awareness. 

‘The balaclava – symbol of institutionalised power and oppression’.   

Bianchi teamed up with Belarusian video artist Vasilisa Palianina. In their joint work, they explored the image of police troops in full combat gear and balaclava, representing the omnipresent, violent threat in Belarus and other comparable conflicts. The anonymity of the balaclava is a symbol for loss of transparency, accountability and institutionalised power and oppression. And everything happens secretly.   

“The images and sound together tell their own story,” says Bianchi about the common work. 

Voices from Belarus also features Basel composer Andreas Eduardo, whose theatrical music often includes video and multimedia. For the Belarus project, he composed music to a video.  

He too, has been associated with the Stuttgart cultural scene for a long time and initiated – ‘ SuperSafeSociety’ an online Corona project exploring new digital participatory concert formats during the first Lockdown. The result was an online music theatre, taking place individually for each audience member. For this reason artistic director Christine Fischer approached him about the Belarus project. Especially in times of Corona, the Belarus project is also an opportunity to promote and support oppressed Belarus artists, says Frank, and that’s why he immediately accepted.  

Andreas Eduardo Frank ©Andreas Eduardo Frank

Frank worked with Maria Kalesnikava in this environment. And he was not surprised to suddenly see her at the forefront of the democratic movement. Maria has incredible charisma and appeal, which is inspiring and very media-effective.     

For his contribution, Frank teamed up with the Belarusian video artist Mikhail Gulin, completing his video Sisiphus with a soundtrack consisting of eight eight self-pronounced words: “exploit / hurt / fought / suppressed / punished / choked / repeat / proceed”. 

Frank extracted these words out of conversations with Gulin: “There is the complex of Sisiphus and then there is the complex of Belarus and the commitment to it. Come together in the artistic commentary,” Frank explains. The parallels between Sisiphus and being an artist are, plain to see, such as the permanent struggle or the artists’ being at the mercy of the powerful state machinery.   

“exploit / hurt / fought / suppressed / punished / choked / repeat / proceed”  

Frank fed the words into a sampler and then improvised to the video with a small electronic setup, distorting the words, played them faster or slower, filtering them. “This resulted in sounds like those of ‚driven pigs’ or stifled breathing next to recognisable words. Then there is also a trace of bitter irony: the violent words take on a new semantic, combined with the image of hay bales being pushed around,” says Frank.   

Andreas Eduardo Frank& Mikhail Gulin: Sisiphos, UA Eclat Stuttgart 2021

The project also significantly increased Frank’s own awareness of the conflict. “Here we are, actually doing very well – and the people there are being abducted and tortured, they simply disappear”. He remembers an encounter right before the completion of the project: Frank had finished his part, but Gulin hadn‘t yet. Whereupon Gulin told him: “Today, a close friend, was taken to the police. People are imprisoned, abducted, beaten. The judicial system does not work.“
Gabrielle Weber

Frauenpower und mediale Aufmerksamkeit in Belarus, September 2020 ©zVg Eclat/Musik der Jahrhunderte Stuttgart

Several formats address the Belarusian conflict at Eclat Festival: 
Friday, 5.2. Echoes – Voices from Belarus: Co-productions of Belarusian with international artists and musicians/composers.

Sunday, 7.2., 17h: Awarding of the Human Rights Award 2021 by the Gerhart and Renate Baum Foundation to Maria Kalesnikava, combined with Trio vis à vis (Kalesnikavas Trio) concert. The award is conferred by former Federal Minister Gerhard Baum and received by Kalesnikava’s sister Tatsiana Khomich.

3.-7.2.: digital exhibition, Belarus – the way to oneself: to be walked through online during the festival.

The 41st edition of ECLAT will offer 13 most live-streamed concerts with exclusively digital pieces and numerous world premieres, as well as interviews, chats, discussions, games and much more. 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: ECLAT AGAIN ONLINE FROM 17.2. till 21.2.!
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Belarus – short reminder: In August 2020, authoritarian head of state Lukashenko confirmed himself as president after democratic elections, although civil rights activist and opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya had won the majority. The EU did not recognise the results. Tikhanovskaya is now in exile in Lithuania and her collaborator Veronika Zepkalo in Poland. Maria Kalesnikava was arrested in Minsk on September 8, after resisting deportation. She is still in pre-trial detention.   

On 27 January 2021, Amnesty International denounced torture in Belarus. 
‘Musik der Jahrhunderte’ / Eclat has been working together with human rights organisations and with political support since September 2020 to secure her release.  

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Eclat / Musik der Jahrhunderte, Trio vis à vis, Mikhail Gulin, Vasilisa Palianina

Broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Kultur aktuell / Kultur kompakt Podcast, 4.2.21: editorial Theresa Beyer, critique concert Voice Affairs / Festival Eclat

Kultur aktuell / Kultur kompakt Podcast, 5.2.21: editorial Gabrielle Weber, Portrait Maria Kalesnikava / Festival Eclat

in Musik Magazin, 6.2./7.2.12: editorial Moritz Weber, feature by Gabrielle Weber, Portrait Maria Kalesnikava / Festival Eclat

Neo-Profiles: Andreas Eduardo Frank, Oscar Bianchi

“Tausendsassa” of contemporary music

Basel Sinfonietta’s next concert will be dedicated to Heinz Holliger’s 80th birthday and on the same occasion, neo.mx3.ch – the new SRG platform – will be launched in the German-speaking part of Switzerland.

Heinz Holliger © Daniel Vass

Thomas Meyer
The third seasonal concert presented by the Basel Sinfonietta, directed by Peter Rundel is entitled “Tausendsassa” (Jack-of-all-trades), referring to Swiss composer, oboist, conductor, pianist, etc. Heinz Holliger, whose role and contribution to Swiss music has been decisive over the last six decades. Here is not the place to present our readers the list of the many achievements and qualities gained by this musical personality, from his excellent interpretations to the instrumental inventiveness (the oboe sounds different after Holliger) and compositions, not to mention his enthusiasm for his colleagues and for literature. There wouldn’t be enough room anyway.

I would rather like to emphasize – as a personal reminiscence – the unconditional, fervent passion with which this full-blooded musician engages himself. I first met him when I heard his “Siebengesang” many decades ago. From the first note of the oboe, one remains pervaded by this composition, which has considerably changed over the decades, but without losing its intensity.


Heinz Holliger, (S)irato, Monodie für grosses Orchester (1992), Basel Sinfonietta Musicaltheater Basel 2020

After his 80th birthday in May, Heinz Holliger has been honoured in many ways and places and never lost the occasion to support music by accepting the awards and tributes. The Basel Music Academy is currently focusing on Holliger, although he never permanently studied or taught there and numerous events are scheduled until March 9, while the Vera Oeri Library also houses a highly informative exhibition about the musician.

The composing interpreter

His music is now appearing in several facets at the Basel Sinfonietta as well. On one hand, the composer with his orchestral piece (S)irató from 1992, on the other hand the composing interpreter with two Liszt transcriptions, in which Holliger did not simply orchestrate late piano pieces, but so to speak, continued composing them into the orchestra. In his own words: “an attempt to “push” (transcribe) these two enigmas of the late Liszt – who stand like erratic blocks, but also signposts into the unknown of the late 19th century musical landscape – into my own way of communicating, thinking and so to speak retrieve them from my subconscious”.

Heinz Holliger © Priska Ketterer / Lucerne Festival
Heinz Holliger © Priska Ketterer/ Lucerne Festival

All his life, Holliger committed to the music of his colleagues, commissioned and/or conducted new pieces. Thus, the orchestral work “Tenebrae” by Klaus Huber, who died in 2017, will also be presented.


Klaus Huber, Tenebrae für grosses Orchester (1966/67), Basel Sinfonietta, Musicaltheater Basel 2020

In addition, a very recent piece by German composer, pianist and singer Steffen Wick: “Autobiography” will be performed for the first time in Switzerland, commissioned by the Basel Sinfonietta. The composition aims to describe that moment in which a whole life, condensed, passes by.

Steffen Wick, Autobiography, UA 2020 Basel Sinfonietta

Launch of neo.mx3 in the German-speaking part Switzerland

An excellent opportunity to present neo.mx3.ch – the new Swiss platform for contemporary Swiss music – which SRG has launched as pilot project in 2019.

Neo.mx3.ch offers an overview of the current composed and improvised musical landscape of the entire country, but also covers international events with a connection to Switzerland, such as the recent premiere of Olga Neuwirth’s opera “Orlando” in Vienna with the participation of Swiss percussion soloist Lucas Niggli. A place for previews, portraits and debates, but also for discussions via the neo-blog, moderated by editor Gabrielle Weber. In addition, musicians, ensembles and cultural institutions can present themselves in sound, video, image as well as text.

At last, because neo.mx3.ch finally closes a gap that had been lingering in Swiss music since quite a long time. Save the date in your agenda and get ready for a big surprise, for we will not yet reveal what is planned on February 2, for the official Swiss-German launch.
Thomas Meyer

We are very much looking forward to your comments on the neoblog regarding text, concert, neo.mx3 launch as well as the Holliger series on SRF 2 Kultur!

2.2.2020, 19h, 3. Abo-Konzert Basel Sinfonietta, direction: Peter Rundel, Musicaltheater Basel
18:15h introduction: Florian Hauser talks with Heinz Holliger

Program:
Heinz Holliger, Zwei Liszt-Transkriptionen (1986)
Klaus Huber, Tenebrae (1966/67)
Stephen Wick, Autobiography (2017, CH-Erstaufführung)
Heinz Holliger, (S)Irató (1992)

Lancierung neo.mx3: Surprise-Talk:
Florian Hauser talks with:
Barbara Gysi, head radios & Musik SRF Kultur
Gabrielle Weber, curator neo.mx3
Katharina Rosenberger, composer

Basel Sinfonietta, Heinz Holligersonic space Basel / FHNWMondrian Ensemble, Klaus HuberSteffen Wick

SRF 2 Kultur
:
Kultur-Aktualität, 21.6.2019: Neue Schweizer Plattform für zeitgenössische Musik

Broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, Mittwoch, 15.1.2020, 20h: Heinz Holliger und die Literatur
Neue Musik im Konzert, Mittwoch, 15.1.2020, 21h: Portraitkonzert Heinz Holliger
Musikmagazin mit Moritz Weber, Aktuell, 1./2.2.2020

neo-profiles
: Heinz Holliger, Basel Sinfonietta, Klaus Huber, Mondrian EnsembleKatharina Rosenberger