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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
Friederike Kenneweg: 20 Years of Mondrian Ensemble: Anniversary Concerts
20 years already: the Basel based piano quartet Mondrian is celebrating its anniversary and the good thing is that some of the concerts planned for the occasion can now actually happen.
This year’s concert season was somewhat uneven and not only for the Mondrian Ensemble: too many events have been cancelled, postponed or had to be live-streamed online. But for Tamriko Kordzaia (piano), Ivana Pristašová (violin), Petra Ackermann (viola) and Karolina Öhmann (violoncello) it was even worse as they were planning to celebrate their ensemble’s 20th anniversary. The anniversary concert in autumn 2020 could take place with reduced audience. The Walcheturm event in Zurich however had to be streamed. The only advantage being that it is now accessible to everyone online.
Connecting lines between the ages
Bringing together common practice period and contemporary music has been Mondrian Ensemble’s characteristic for 20 years and their anniversary programme was no exception. A string trio by Schubert and four fantasy pieces by Schumann were combined with works by Martin Jaggi (*1978), Jannik Giger (*1985) and Madli Marje Gildemann (*1994). This allows a better perception of the different connections between musical periods, but also highlights contrasts and further developments all the more clearly. As the four musicians do not limit themselves to one period, but consider the entire history of music up to the present day for their concert programmes, they repeatedly uncover astonishing things – for example, parallels between the melancholy beauty of English Renaissance music and the slow pulsation of a piece by the Austrian Klaus Lang, or enable the audience to experience a very special kind of time travel, performing a piano trio by Schubert and a piano quartet by Morton Feldman in immediate succession.
Another important aspect is that the ensemble keeps contemporary compositions in its repertoire and plays them on various occasions over the years, allowing them to develop and unfold like interpretations of classical works. This is hardly possible in the new music business, focusing mainly on world premieres.
Great importance is also attached to working closely with the composers – sometimes over long periods of time, for example, Dieter Ammann, as the work on the world premiere of his string trio “Gehörte Form” (“Heard Form”) from 1998 led the founding members Daniela Müller on violin, Christian Zgraggen on viola and Martin Jaggi to form an ensemble in 2000.
Dieter Ammann, Gehörte Form – Hommages for string trio 1998, in house-production SRG/SSR
The joining of Walter Zoller on piano, opened new possibilities and allowed them to perform string and piano trios as well as piano quartets from all periods. The ensemble still makes full use of the flexibility that this instrumentation brings in its programming. Thus, solos or duets can also be found in the various possible combinations.
Different combination possibilities
Another composer who has accompanied the ensemble for a long time is Jannik Giger from Basel. Their collaboration was for the piece “Intime Skizzen“, as the musicians rehearsed compositional sketches by Leoš Janáček, Jannik Giger was present with his camera. The finished work offers insights into the musicians’ rehearsal rooms via a video screen, showing the piece’s appropriation process. In addition, the ensemble plays the Janáček fragments as well as the additions that Giger composed on stage. In the meantime, Giger’s piano trio “Caprice” from 2013 and string trio “Vertige“ have also become part of the ensemble’s regular repertoire.
Jannik Giger, Vertige for string trio 2020
The ensemble not only recorded a portrait CD with Austrian composer Thomas Wally (Jusqu’à l’aurore, col legno 2020), but will also perform with him on stage in May, as Wally is also violinist. In the upcoming concerts, Ivana Pristašová, Petra Ackermann and Karolina Öhmann will also join the string quartet. For the BLACK ANGELS programme, they will perform the 1970 piece of the same name by George Crumb, which refers to the Vietnam War, with electronically amplified string instruments. Tape recordings are added to the string quartet in Steve Reich’s Different trains (1988), which also refers to war – reflecting on the importance of trains during the Second World War.
50 years of women’s suffrage in Switzerland – a playable oven
The programme planned for autumn 2021 revolves around the 50th anniversary of women’s suffrage in Switzerland. A first glimpse will be given on June 4, with the premiere of “Garzeit” by artist duo LAUTESkollektiv.
LAUTESkollektiv is composer Stephanie Haensler (*1986) together with designer Laura Haensler and “Garzeit” is a multi-part piano quartet in which the usual instruments of the Mondrian Ensemble will be complemented by a playable oven.
This conveys part of the aesthetics and everyday life of women around 1971.
During the composition, switches, levers and knobs are operated by the musicians and influence the soundscape.
Stephanie Haensler: Ein Schnitt for string quintet 2019, in house-production SRG/SSR
The full programme also features several pieces by female composers of different periods and generations – from Clara Schumann (1819-1896), via Elfrida Andrée (1841-1929) and the almost forgotten St. Gallen composer and poet Olga Diener (1890-1963) to Rebecca Saunders (*1967) and Katharina Rosenberger (*1971).
Mondrian Ensemble’s programme, in which the piece “the ocarina chapter” by Christoph Gallio was to be premiered was eventually postponed to 2022. The piece has been commissioned by the ensemble to the Swiss composer and the concert was planned to be meeting of the ensemble with voice artist Theo Bleckmann from New York – an artistic encounter that the situation unfortunately does not permit at the moment.
Garzeit’s world premiere will take place on June 4, at Historisches Museum, Baden and its world premiere tour (Zurich, St. Gallen, Chur, Basel) will run until November 1, 2021.
The tour with world premiere by Christoph Gallio has been postponed to 2022.
Thomas Wally, Ivana Pristašová, George Crumb, Steve Reich, Madli Marje Gildemann, Klaus Lang, Morton Feldman, Daniela Müller, Walter Zoller, Leoš Janáček, col legno, Laura Haensler, Olga Diener, Clara Schumann, Rebecca Saunders, Elfrida Andrée, Theo Bleckmann
Sendung SRF 2 Kultur:
Blick in die Feuilletons, 8.12.20, 20 Jahre mutige Kammermusik – das Mondrian Ensemble hat etwas zu feiern (ab Min 24): a portrait by Gabrielle Weber
Mondrian Ensemble, Tamriko Kordzaia, Karolina Öhman, Petra Ackermann, George Crumb, Klaus Lang, Martin Jaggi, Jannik Giger, Dieter Ammann, Stephanie Haensler, Katharina Rosenberger, Christoph Gallio, Gare du Nord, Kunstraum Walcheturm
Interview with Serge Vuille, Artistic Director Ensemble Contrechamps Geneva
After spending ten years in London, Serge Vuille, percussionist and former director of the contemporary music ensemble “WeSpoke”, is back in his native Romandie (French-speaking part of Switzerland), where he has taken over the artistic direction of the ensemble “Contrechamps”. In this interview, he tells us about the ensemble’s positioning within the contemporary music scene and the first concert season under his direction (starting in September 2019).
Serge Vuille, as a young musician-percussionist and programmer, your background is rather experimental. Now you’re leading the most important as well as steeped in tradition ensemble of this part of Switzerland. What is your position regarding the ensemble’s tradition and history?
Contrechamps’ 40-years strong history is a legacy I consider to be very important.
The “historical” side of a contemporary ensemble consists in regularly playing and fostering important masterpieces of the repertoire, which is crucial. On the other hand, the ensemble’s take on creation, research and experimentation is a critical aspect too. I enjoy combining and linking these two angles in my programmes.
Contrechamps being an instrumental ensemble in the traditional sense, how do you position yourselves in relation to the interdisciplinary and multimedia trends?
This is a key point within the regular activity of an ensemble like Contrechamps: What place do acoustic instruments occupy within the scope of 21st century sound and music experimentation? I’ve noticed that there is still great fascination for such things as instrumental music, the concept of virtuosity and even simply acoustic sound.
“There is something that remains absolutely magical about sitting in a silent room and hearing the sound of an instrument.”
It is important to find a balance between the repertoire, which is part of the history and DNA of the ensemble and innovative solutions in order to create instrumental or hybrid music, in a musical landscape that went through major revolutions over the past ten years. For this upcoming season, we will not only invite classical composers, but also artists and dancers approaching the concept of composition.
In this current season, you have scheduled two concerts that will be linked with two of the main aspects of your work during the past few years: the collaborative space between visual arts and instrumental music…
The first one is called “Sculptures sonore” (Sound Sculpture), for which I invited the sound sculptress Rebecca Glover. The musicians find different placements around the audience during the concert, while Rebecca interacts with her electronic instruments. The programme also included works by Rebecca Saunders, Alvin Lucier and Paula Matthusen.
Rebecca Saunders, Concert Sculptures sonores, Genève 1.11.2018 ©Contrechamps
The second concert featured Marianne Ammacher, an American composer working with sound perception and the physiological awareness of listening, with a significant part of electronics, in a unique combination with the instruments.
“If I had to name the things I like best in a programme, those would be the kind of creations that are highly risk-taking and focused on experimentation, but still framed in contemporary music’s historical context and relating to its canon.“
One thing that is clearly noticeable when looking at your programmes, is your commitment towards gender balance.
Gender balance is more of a general, societal issue, not specifically related to contemporary music. Arts must also act as role model in society. Finding balance, however, requires a target-oriented approach. Being convinced by my research’s findings, I believe that the quality of my programme is achieved through this balance.
You are particularly interested in the social aspect of the concert, the ritual that comes with it…
The social side of artistic approach is constantly neglected in the contemporary music world. We have to find formats that encourage daring contents while allowing spontaneous exchanges. My experience as curator of the “Kammerklang” series at the “Café Otto” in London has proved that it is possible to create a relaxed atmosphere, whilst keeping the necessary focus. But one must pay attention to it.
What can we expect from the upcoming season?
The season is called résonance par sympathie (sympathetic resonance), a physical process through which instruments placed close to a sound source begin to resonate even if they are not being touched. In Geneva, I was able to meet with many partners and I could feel this kind of resonances taking place and starting to vibrate. A major part of the season is based on this concept.
There will be twelve concerts, many creations and a lot of experimentation, for example an opera by Mathieu Shlomowitz, in collaboration with the Grand Théâtre de Genève.
As for the compositions, we invited Christine Sun Kim, a deaf-mute visual artist, the electronic musician Thomas Ankersmit, Geneva composer Jacques Demierre, Canadian Chiyoko Szlavnics, the Geneva-based Punk-Rock band Massicot and many more. For three concerts the ensemble Counterchamps has been invited to the “Gare du Nord” in Basel.
The season will start with a pre-opening, on August 25th, at six in the morning at Les Bains des Pâquis with Olivier Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin du temps; at sunrise, by the lake, outdoors, in a truly magical atmosphere….
Any wishes left for the Ensemble?
My wish is to present the scene in all its diversity and richness, paying attention to the balance between past, present and future, between genres and formats, as well as between the artists and the public.
Interview Gabrielle Weber
9.10.2019, 20h: “Musik unserer Zeit”