Fly bird, fly!

The synthesiser and me – that pretty much sums up Nicolas Buzzi’s life. The Swiss artist has been playing electronic musical instruments ever since his early years. Today he invents sounds that – perhaps – never existed.

 

Nicolas Buzzi im Klang-Rohr, Portrait ©zVg Nicolas Buzzi

 

Benjamin Herzog
Is there even a word for it? Like Synthesizerist? Electronic musician? Not really. Nevertheless, there are people who dedicate their lives to synthesisers and electronic music. For Nicolas Buzzi, this passion began early and in a rather unusual place… the attic of a farmhouse. As a twelve-year-old he found an old Yamaha synthesiser there. “A stroke of luck,” says Buzzi, as he is a much sought-after musician today.

Nicolas Buzzi: US VII/VIII/IX, unison in seven parts, 2.12.2020:

He learned the game by himself, throughout his entire youth. Was it love at first sight? Yes, but not in a strict sense as that Yamaha is now something that belongs to the past, long gone. “Devices come and go,” he says, “what matters and stays is the way of dealing with them, the musical thought.” That musical thought, however, is a little more complicated than one might think. So let’s have a closer look.

 

Donald “Don” Buchla – inventing new sounds

 

San Francisco, the 1960s. If you imagine Donald Buchla, one of the main figures in the synthesiser’s development, with a flowered shirt, long hair and blue shades, that might not be entirely wrong. “Don” Buchla cultivated this look until his death. Somewhat guru-like. Throughout his life, Buchla presented numerous model series of electronic musical instruments: the Buchla synthesizers.  

 

Nicolas Buzzi at Buchla, Portrait ©zVg Nicolas Buzzi

Nicola Buzzi mainly plays on one of these models, the “Buchla 200e”. To say synthesiser is perhaps not correct, for “synthesise” or imitate sounds that already exist wasn’t actually what Buchla’s meant to do.

He was more interested in inventing new sounds, new music, in harmony with the spirit and optimism of those years. John Cage, for example, experimented with various random techniques at the same institute in San Francisco, even if in his case the music was played by people on conventional instruments. (More or less: Cage also wrote music for sounding cactus). 

Don Buchla invented a corresponding generator, a random generator, which can generate unprogrammed sequences, not foreseen by humans, on his devices.

So the synthesiser “makes” music, right? Nicolas Buzzi puts it into perspective. He says that he does receive impulses from the instrument, which is constructed in a way that it runs through its own random processes, which are still mostly controlled. In other words, what he wants, he kind of shows the instrument the way. But that also means: “Most instruments and we players orient ourselves to existing music.” Which raised the question whether something really new can emerge this way.

 


Nicolas Buzzi, Negotiating the space between rhythm and timber, 2020

“When I play as Nicolas Buzzi, I always have my own cultural memory, which is not easily to be erased,” says Buzzi. “My body, the pulse, the breath – all of these aspects also play a role in making music.”

The realm of artificial sounds is therefor made of people and that includes us, the listeners, who immediately classify what they hear. Comparisons are made, familiar things are brought up, drawers are torn open in order to tidy up and stow away the unknown.

In a way, the whole thing is supposed be left in charge of the machines..

In a way, the whole thing is supposed be left in charge of the machines.
In fact, there are research projects on this with self-learning computers that are supposed to create a non-human music, not linked to any memories. “But I can’t imagine that sounding good,” Buzzi says sceptically. And rightfully so. In any case, something like that is hard to imagine. Speaking of our imagination … if music doesn’t relate to our world, what is it supposed to draw inspiration from? “Perhaps perception,” says Buzzi. “Perception of time, sound, or figures.” A different perception, therefore, is to be presumed, but can one perceive the unknown? This is where it gets hazy.

Music that is oriented towards the perception of time, sound and figures.  

The musical thought that has occupied Buzzi for most of his life with his synthesizers could lead to abysses. Maybe it’s a good thing to enter solid collaborations with other musicians. Buzzi plays in a trio with his wife, artist and musician Martina Buzzi, as well as with architect and musician Li Tavor. Three synthesizers combined in one project under the name of “Pain”. Not inappropriate, since it was born in the Corona year 2020. “As all the venues where we could have performed were closed, we moved our common soundscape to the digital,” Buzzi explains. 

Headphone music is created in this way. In and within one, or rather three, different digital sound spaces. One reacts very differently to his or her fellow musicians, says Buzzi, more independently, freer, listening with fresher ears. Ideal conditions, actually, for new things to happen on Buchla’s magical device.  


Nicolas Buzzi / pain mit Martina Buzzi und Li Tavor: places 2
Let’s have a listen. In parts of “Pain”’s sounds one can hear creatures snarling and grunting at each other. It barks, trembles, hisses, as in an independent sonic bestiary and that’s what I hold on to. What would happen if I let myself fall into this rather unknown cosmos?

 

Nicolas Buzzi am Buchla von hinten ©zVg Nicolas Buzzi

 

Letting go is where my brain actually starts getting in the way, as it obviously prefers to wander through an imaginary zoo with this music. The new music on Buzzi’s Buchla 200e, the “musical thought” about it, that also concerns the listener, who obviously likes to cling to his branch like a bird in a tree. Spread your wings and fly bird, fly!
Benjamin Herzog

 

In the “I sing the body electric” project, Nicolas Buzzi met the Ensemble Thélème. The result was a combination of synthesiser and Renaissance music


Nicolas Buzzi und thélème: I sing the body electric, Buchla Synthesizer trifft Chansons von Josquin, Eigenproduktion SRG/SSR

From September 21 to 23, the project Rohrwerk – Fabrique sonore, featuring sound installations by Nicolas Buzzi, German Toro Perez, Marianthi Papalexandri-Alexandri, etc. will be presented again (after Basel, Zurich and Lausanne SMC) at Lausannes’ Rolex Learning Center at EPFL.

 

Don Buchla, Li Tavor

Sendungen SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, 3.3.21, Nicolas Buzzi und sein Synthesizer, editor Benjamin Herzog / verlinken:

Neue Musik im Konzert, 31.3.21, 21h, I sing the body electric, editor Florian Hauser

Neoblogpost, 2.9.2019Reibung erzeugt Wärme: Marianthi Papalexandri Alexandri @ Rohrwerk – Fabrique sonore/Zeiträume Basel, autor Theresa Beyer

Neo-profiles:
Nicolas Buzzi, thélème, Germán Toro Pérez, Marianthi Papalexandri Alexandri,  Musikpodium der Stadt Zürich, Beat Gysin, Société de musique contemporaine – SMC Lausanne

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.!
—————————–

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.  

——————————————

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

“A Madrigal Trip”: Jannik Giger – World creation@Festival Ultraschall (22.1.) – live on air! 20-25.1.2021

The Berlin festival Ultraschall will be taking place! Live and later broadcasted on Deutschlandfunk Kultur as well as rbbKultur. Composer and video artist Jannik Giger, from Basel, premieres a new piece on January 22: ‘Qu’est devenue ce bel oeuil‘ for soprano, bass clarinet and fictional four-channel organ. The concert can be enjoyed live on Friday, January 22, 2021, at 20h00 and again on February 16th

Jannik Giger Portrait ©zVg Jannik Giger

Gabrielle Weber
In his work, Giger often refers to the ‘sounding past’, with audio documents or pieces by Franz Schubert, Leos Janacek or Bela Bartok, for example. Most of his pieces also include videos, installations or spatial components. Giger also creates film music, which serve the images but can also be considered independent musical works. 


In the video installation Gabrys and Henneberger – Transformations (2014), double bass player Aleksander Gabrys improvises live to a video. (Jürg Henneberger conducts the Phoenix Ensemble in Giger’s Clash).  

In his new piece for ultrasound “Qu’est devenue ce bel oeuil” Giger turns for the first time to the Renaissance, as the work is based on the a capella madrigal with the same title by composer Claude Le Jeune.
I talked to him via zoom from Zurich to Basel shortly before the world premiere. 

Music is so to speak on hold at the moment, because of the pandemic…. How did this affect your work?  

 Working as a composer, I spend a plenty of time alone in the studio or in a room. So apart from the extreme social restrictions, little has changed. But preliminary work and rehearsals have become complicated.   

I started the new piece for Ultraschall in Berlin. I had a residency there (Atelier Mondial) and wanted to spend half a year intensively visiting museums, galleries and concerts but because of the pandemic everything was closed. On the other hand, I now know all the lakes, parks and forests in and around Berlin. Through this vacuum, I spent a protected, secluded time and was able to concentrate really well on composing, which was a positive side.  

The negative side: rehearsal and concert situations are the real reward for solitary composing. These special moments, when everything condenses, which set themselves apart from the working routine, no longer exist at the moment. 

Your works usually include visuals such as videos or installations: are there any in Ultrasound or did you adapt it for the radiophonic premiere’s purpose 

 Although it is a chamber music piece ‘for voice, bass clarinet and fictitious organ’, it was originally intended as a spatial live piece. I received the commission from the soprano Sarah Maria Sun and Nina Janssen-Deinzer, the clarinetist. Their wish to include of electronics, so I decided on a four-channel feed, an imaginary big organ consisting of four speakers placed around them. Since it now takes place without an audience and broadcasted on the radio, the initially planned spatial component is no longer included. 

Jannik Giger: Sarah Maria Sun (Sopran) in Schlotterarie from Kolik, UA Gare du Nord Basel, 2019

A Crazy Harmonic… 

How did you come across Claude Le Jeune? So far, you have been more familiar with Romantic, Classical and Baroque music, or modern masterpieces. What is your connection to the Renaissance?   

I often draw from existing pieces or materials that I come across by chance and appeal to me in some way. Singer Jean-Christophe Groffe brought this fantastic vocal piece to my attention. 

The special thing about Le Jeune is the crazy harmonies. The piece is completely chromatic and uniform: with a text, a harmony, a form, a repetitive rhythm. Starting from this material was an intuitive decision and the result was an associative, almost anti-intellectual piece with a simple concept: the combination of the chorale material with organ sounds. My own guideline was that it should not contain any samples other than organ sounds.   

Claude Le Jeune (1528-1600), Qu’est devenu ce bel oeuil

… was this maybe related to the pandemic? A reference to a distant past, to the musical renaissance….  

 No – or maybe yes… It is about decay and the piece has something nostalgic to it. Even the title question ‘Qu’est devenue ce bel oeil?‘… What happened? Everything unravels… Le Jeune accompanied me during my time in Berlin. I also composed a piece for the Arditti Quartet in which I referred to him. 

How did you proceed composing and why this instrumentation?  

I listened to many organ recordings – by Bruckner, Machaut, Bach, Brahms, Buxtehude – and sampled individual organ sounds from different organs in different tunings as well as in different rooms. Over a period of weeks, I built up an archive of sounds. Then I “built” the fictitious organ from various samples by assembling and pasting. The sequencing and overlaying of sounds and spaces created an almost orchestral complexity. 


Jannik Giger, Ausschnitt from soundtrac / ficticious organ in: Q’est devenu ce bel oeil, world creation Festival Ultraschall 22.1.2021

During the piece, both soloists get to the fictitious organ: how must we imagine it all?  

The previous track is the organ alone, each chord coming actually from a different organ. The soundtrack runs through, distributed over four speakers, and will mix with the live instruments, having the two levels interacting with each other, sometimes merging, other times in opposition. 

A “Madrigal Trip” 

Le Jeune’s original is an a capella madrigal, you transferred that aspect to the four-channel organ but how do you handle the voice?  

Sarah Maria Sun, the soprano, sings to Le Jeune’s original text. Sometimes sounding like French chanson, sometimes like Renaissance or contemporary music, occasionally with new playing techniques. The voice fluctuates from melodious and tonal to very noisy passages, playing with aesthetic references. What eventually emerged is almost a ‘madrigal trip’.  

Giger on air or streaming live: is that even possible? Do you also see opportunities in the current situation and how do you deal with it?  

If chamber music is well received, also visually, it can work as a live stream. But I approach pieces for several instruments or for orchestra differently right now. There is a physical vacuum: because the musicians’ bodies are not present and the rituals of the concerts are missing, the performance, the endings, the moments of tension. Pure documentation is no longer enough. I try to go one step further, for example, I recorded a CD with Dieter Ammann (CD Ammann-Giger, Mondrian Ensemble, Ensemble Nuance): the sound engineer Alexander Kordzaia recorded it by using close mic techniques and deliberately almost overproduced it. The music is therefore microscopically expanded and not a live reproduction, but has been given a completely different quality of perception.   

What next? In 2021, for example, a new CD on the KAIROS label is to be released with the title Krypta can you reveal anything about that? And are there other upcoming projects?  

The record combines some already produced, but not yet released instrumental music. Krypta was a sound installation for the Bern Music Festival, of which there is also a plain stereo audio track. Then there is a new piece, a montage of studio recordings with the ensembles Xasax and Thélème.    


Jannik Giger, excerpt from Krypta, Multichannel Orchestration, Musikfestival Bern 2019

I’m looking forward to a project for the Architecture Biennale in Venice. A spatial piece of mine is to be performed in the Pavillon Suisse during the opening in May – if it will happen... Based on architectural texts, I am working with the opera singer Andrej Krutojs. It’s about Venice and Italian opera. For ZeitRäume Basel on the other hand I set to work on a video installation dealing with the ‘blind audition’ theme, a form of gender-appropriate auditioning for orchestral roles 
Gabrielle Weber

Jannik Giger Portrait © zVg Jannik Giger


Ultraschall Berlin
– Festival für neue Musik: from february 20 to 24.

Konzert 22.1., 20h, live Deutschlandfunk Kultur:
Sarah Maria Sun, Sopran, and Nina Janssen-Deinzer, Klarinetten and Saxophon, UA Jannik Giger Qu’est devenu ce bel oeuil und Werke von u.a. Georges Aperghis, Toshio Hosokawa, Wolfgang Rihm.
also on 16.2.20, 23:04h, rbb Kultur in: Musik der Gegenwart

Jannik Giger, CD Ammann-Giger / a tree in a field records – Koproduktion SRF 2 Kultur, Atelier Mondial, KAIROS, Andrejs Krutojs, Alexander Kordzaia, Ensemble Nuance, Festival ZeitRäume Basel, Biennale Venezia, ThélèmeJean-Christophe Groffe

Broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur
Kultur Aktuell & Kultur Kompakt Podcast, 22.1.21, 8:05h/11:30h: Livegespräch zum Festival Ultraschall und UA Jannik Giger, Gesprächspartnerin Gabrielle Weber
Musik unserer Zeit, 3.2.21, 20h: Jannik Giger, der Scherbensammler, Redaktion Theresa Beyer
Musikmagazin, 6./7.2.21: Jannik Giger im Café-Gespräch mit Theresa Beyer

Neo-Profiles
Jannik Giger, Sarah Maria Sun, Musikfestival Bern, Ensemble Phoenix Basel, Mondrian Ensemble, Aleksander Gabrys, Dieter Ammann, Xasax Saxophonquartett, ZeitRäume Basel

Wien Modern playing with no audience

17 new streaming productions during lockdown: 6.-29.11.20

Gabrielle Weber
The city of Vienna is going through troubled times. Hit hard by the pandemic and declared quarantine region at an early stage, then locked down at short notice during the month of November. Not to mention the outrageous terrorist attack. The unique Wien Modern music festival happens to be, both in terms of time and geography, in the midst of it, as it’s usually staged in various locations of the city centre throughout the month.

Konzerthaus Wien without public ©Markus Sepperer 

Under the slogan Stimmung (‘mood’ as well as ‘tuning’), the festival traces the current 2020 mood in complex and diverse ways. 44 new productions and 85 new pieces should have been performed, over 32 days, but only the opening weekend could take place in front of an audience, showing six productions, a mere 14% of the total programme.

On the third (as well as second-last) evening, the premiere of Edu Haubensak’s “Grosse Stimmung” could be presented. Wien Modern spared no effort and – almost in anticipation of what was to come – the Wiener Konzerthaus’ auditorium was emptied for eleven differently tuned grand pianos. The audience was, of course, still present – but in the stands only.

This allowed Haubensak’s work to be experienced live and in its integrity for the first time. After partial performances, the planned integral premiere at the Ruhrtriennale had to be cancelled in summer due to the pandemic. Despite quarantine, the three Swiss pianists Simone Keller, Tomas Bächli and Stefan Wirth were there to perform.

Edu Haubensak, Grosse Stimmung © Markus Sepperer

Then came the lockdown with its banned events and curfew. The quick decision in response was that a total of 24 events, i.e. more than half of the concerts, will now be performed without an audience and streamed free of charge.

Five days only after the lockdown was declared, the first streaming concert took place in front of an empty Musikverein hall on the 6th of November: the world premiere of Sofia Gubaidulina’s long-awaited new orchestral work “Der Zorn Gottes” performed by the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra (RSO) and directed by Oksana Lyniv. The planned premiere at the Salzburg Easter Festival with the Staatskapelle Dresden and Christian Thielemann had already been cancelled after several postponements.

The fact that it eventually premiered online is of significant importance given the situation as well as the terror that Vienna had to endure. Gubaidulina sees the performance as a sign of peace in times of increasing hatred and “a general overstrain affecting civilisation”.

Klaus Lang: tönendes Licht

Livestream from Stephansdom Wien: Klaus Lang, tönendes Licht, world creation 19.11.20

Other important highlights are a concert with three world premieres on November 18, in the Vienna Konzerthaus. In addition to new works by Friedrich Cerha and Johannes Kalitze, a piece by Matthias Kranebitter, winner of the Erste Bank Composition Prize, will be premiered – “a new encyclopaedia of pitch and deviation”. Performed by Klangforum Wien and directed by Kalitzke himself. On November 19, live from Vienna’s St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the premiere of  the “giant organ concerto” (cit. Wien Modern) “tönendes licht” by Klaus Lang, for a space wise dispersed Vienna Symphony Orchestra, directed by Peter Rundel.

20 years Ensemble Mondrian – Anniversary concert in Vienna:
This production has unfortunately been postponed to 2021, due to Swiss quarantine regulation guidelines.

Portrait Mondrian Ensemble & Thomas Wally © Markus Sepperer

There is also something to be heard from the Swiss side: On November 21, the Mondrian Ensemble will mark its 20th anniversary by presenting works by Martin Jaggi and Thomas Wally, both long-time collaborators of the Basel based ensemble.


Ensemble Mondrian, Thomas Wally, Podcast

Premieres of Andres Bosshard with Zahra Mani and Mia Zabelka, however, had to be postponed to November 2021. Same for Basel ensemble Nikel’s concert with works by Thomas Kessler and Hugues Dufourt.

Bernhard Günther, artistic director of Wien Modern, made the following statement in a in-depth reflection on the lockdown and the cultural mood in Austria: “The current mood here indicates that clear signals are urgently needed to prevent culture from being perceived as a victim of the health system, winter tourism in the mountains and Christmas shopping. A captain must of course try and avoid the iceberg, but at the moment he must also do everything he can to prevent the ship from sinking on the opposite side”.

Through streaming, Wien Modern now tries to maintain Vienna’s cultural life and make part of it accessible. Perhaps – to stick with the festival’s motto – the actual mood can be somewhat improved, even if this doesn’t diminish the life threatening situation that cultural production is currently facing.

To express our solidarity, SRF 2 Kultur and neo.mx3, are pleased to inform their public, users and listeners regarding the different streaming possibilities and details.
Gabrielle Weber

Portrait Bernhard Günther © Wien Modern

All streams on: Wien Modern or (partially) on Musikverein and ORF RSO 

Broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur

Kultur kompakt Podcast9.11.20: Theresa Beyer, “Der Zorn Gottes” entlädt sich im Stream zur UA Wien Modern, Sofia Gubaidulina:

Neoblog, Corinne Holtz: Wenn aus Leidenschaft Subversion wird – Portrait Simone Keller

Kontext, 21.10.20, Corinne Holtz: Zehn neu gestimmte Klaviere

In Musik unserer Zeit21.10.20: Florian Hauser / Gabrielle Weber:  zu neo.mx3: Simone Keller & Edu Haubensak

Neo-profiles
Simone Keller, Stefan Wirth, Wien Modern, Edu Haubensak, Mondrian Ensemble, Martin Jaggi, Thomas Kessler

“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