Orchestra of excellence for new music

Benjamin Herzog

Lucerne Festival Contemporary Orchestra is the name of a newly created orchestra, whose activity began on August, 13 at the Lucerne Festival. The orchestra is strongly integrated into the newly created “Contemporary” section, a distinctive structure for the performance of new music within he Lucerne Festival. Felix Heri, head of the Contemporary section, explains what is so unique about it.
Its components are between 30 and 35 years old, both current and former Lucerne Festival Academy participants and since this year they are part of an orchestra that, according to Felix Heri, is intended to become an “orchestra of excellence for new music”. Its ambition is similar to that of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra (LFO), founded almost twenty years ago. Under the direction of its first conductor Claudio Abbado, this orchestra was said to perform in an almost magical way.

 

Portrait Felix Heri ©Gregor Brändli / zVg Lucerne Festival

 

35-year-old Felix Heri is the head of the Lucerne Festival’s new “Contemporary” section. He studied clarinet in Lucerne and cultural management in Basel, after six years of managing director for the basel sinfonietta, he is now directing the Lucerne Festival Contemporary.

 

Lucerne Festival Contemporary is an umbrella under which a three-part structure is organically growing and constantly evolving. Academy, Orchestra and a new festival (instead of the cancelled Piano Festival) in November, called Lucerne Festival Forward. “We have a unique network of 1300 people around the world,” Heri explains, “musicians who attended the Festival Academy at some point and played in the Academy orchestra at the time or in the alumni orchestra, inside and outside the festival,  of which the best and most motivated now play in the Lucerne Festival Contemporary Orchestra (LFCO).”

 

Founder Boulez

 

The Festival Academy’s goal is to deepen knowledge of how new orchestral music is played. The academy has been founded in 2003 by Pierre Boulez, who died in 2016, as a kind of master class for new music, led for five years by Wolfgang Rihm. Festival visitors have so far been able to enjoy the results of this work during the orchestra’s academy concerts. “An orchestra that – even if only very slightly – had the scent of a student orchestra,” as Heri says today.

 

Magic attraction

 

In 2013, the former academics formed an “alumni orchestra”, shifting gera to the next, more professional level. Apparently, the Lucerne magnet works, as those who have studied here under greats such as Pierre Boulez or Wolfgang Rihm want to come back. The alumni orchestra also played outside the festival and outside Lucerne, performing premieres in New York, London, Beijing, Zurich as well as Lucerne of course testify the ensemble’s network character and charisma.


Wolfgang Rihm, Dis-Kontur für grosses Orchester (1974/84): Lucerne Festival Alumni, conductor Ricardo Chailly, 8.9.2019 KKL Lucerne Festival, in house production SRG SSR

 

Logical further development

 

The now newly founded LFCO is the logical development of this structure, merging the two former orchestras, which were never completely separate in terms of personnel anyway. “All members of the LFCO have attended the Festival Academy at least once,” explains Heri. “This is where the best and most talented of those young talents play.”  In addition, there is one “leader” per segment, fifteen in all. These leaders select the other members of their segment, who gain the right to play in the orchestra for a maximum of two years. These mutual decisions allow an organic growing.

Alumni Lucerne Festival Academy in “Gedenkkonzert für Pierre Boulez”, conductor
Matthias Pintscher (Luzern, 20.03.2016) © Priska Ketterer / zVg Lucerne Festival

 

Excellence meets from excellence

 

The leaders, to name a few examples, are currently the four members of the Arditti Quartet, as well as Dutchman Marco Blaauw for the trumpets and pianist Nicolas Hodges for the keyboard instruments. The fact that the LFCO does not judge its members according to which rung of the career ladder they are on, but rather according to personal dedication, is demonstrated by the fact that there is no age limit and that neither academics nor already established musicians are excluded. Thus, musicians from Klangforum Wien, Ensemble Intercontemporain or Frankfurt’s Ensemble Moderne also play in the LFCO.

In this respect, the new Lucerne Modern Orchestra is very similar to its older brother, the Lucerne Festival Orchestra. Both orchestras feature professionals from the leading orchestras of their genre. In future, both orchestras will have an equally strong external impact on the festival.

 

With or without director? – Participation of the orchestra

 

But unlike the LFO, currently led by Riccardo Chailly, the new orchestra has no chief conductor. “We are discussing whether this is necessary,” says Felix Heri. Such a position having advantages as well as disadvantages, he adds. “The advantages are clear: more charisma, renown, a different kind of network. But it’s also good to select the conductors specifically in each case and for each project.” Another choice, this one, in which LFCO relies on mutual decision by all members. Participation is also important in the choice of the programme, as the artistic orchestra’sartistic director, Wolfgang Rihm, is still responsible for the summer program. However, the programme of the new autumn festival “Forward” will be influenced by the l orchestra’s leader themselves, acting collectively as co-curators.

 

Barblina Meierhans, Auf Distanz, for Bassflöte and kleines Ensemble (UA 2020), Lucerne Festival Alumni, conductor Baldur Brönnimann, Lucerne Festival KKL 23.8.2020, in house production SRG SSR

 

A showcase for new music

This year, LFCO will already perform at the renowned Donaueschingen Music Festival and the Berlin Festival and an international tour is planned for 2022. However, according to Heri, the autumn festival in Lucerne in particular is intended to become a “showcase of new music”, highlighting current trends from Europe, the USA and Asia. This is made possible by the global networking of the orchestra’s members as well as their different leaders.

 

Collective mastermind 

Heri is familiar with fully democratic structures within an orchestra from his earlier work with the “basel sinfonietta”. Although LFCO does not go that far, mutual decisions and discussions generate a strong sense of identification,” emphasizes Heri. This is much more necessary in an orchestra specializing in new music than in a classical symphony orchestra. “We take people and their ideas seriously.” which, he says, is a unique starting point. “We are a collective mastermind.”

He furthermore stresses: “For me, the orchestra should set standards. We want to be brave and perform new concert formats. The integration into the Lucerne Festival is of course an advantage, at the same time, however, we wish to take the necessary liberties to become a counterpart to the Festival Orchestra. That is our goal, that is what we measure ourselves by.”
Benjamin Herzog

 

rehearsal Lucerne Festival Academy, conductor Heinz Holliger © Stefan Deuber / zVg Lucerne Festival

 

The LFCO also performs this year’s Lucerne Theatre opera production in co-production with the Lucerne Festival, Mauricio Kagel’s “Staatstheater” (premiere September 5), programme until September, 19.

 

Lucerne Festival Contemorary Orchestra’s concerts at Lucerne Festival 2021

The new autumn festival for contemporary music Lucerne Festival Forward takes place from november 19. until 21. 2021.

Klangforum WienEnsemble IntercontemporainEnsemble ModernDonaueschinger MusiktageRiccardo ChaillyFelix HeriPierre BoulezWolfgang RihmMauricio KagelClaudio AbbadoArditti QuartetMarco BlaauwNicolas Hodges

broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
neoblog, 1.8.21Engagement für neue und neuste Musik – Rebecca Saunders composer in residence @ Lucerne Festival 1, Text Gabrielle Weber

Kontext – Künste im Gespräch 26.8.2021: Rebecca Saunders: composer-in-residence Lucerne Festival, Redaktion Annelis Berger

Kultur kompakt Podcast, 30.8.2021 (ab 4:59min): Lucerne Festival Contemporary Orchestra, Redaktion Florian Hauser

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

neo-profiles:
Lucerne Festival Contemporary OrchestraWolfgang RihmLucerne Festival AcademyLucerne Festival ContemporaryBasel Sinfonietta

Lucerne Festival – Commitment to new and newest music

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.

 

Portrait Rebecca Saunders © Astrid Ackermann / zVg Lucerne Festival

Gabrielle Weber
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.

 

Portrait Rebecca Saunders © Astrid Ackermann / zVg Lucerne Festival

 

“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.  
Gabrielle Weber

 

Portrait Rebecca Saunders © Johannes List – Ernst von Siemens Musikstiftung / zVg Lucerne Festival

 

Rebecca Saunders – composer-in-residence at Lucerne Festival

Portrait concerts:
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)

 

Rebecca SaundersWolfgang Rihm, Juliet Fraser, Marco Blaauw, Arditti Quartet, Trio Accanto

Broadcasts SRF2Kultur:
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

 

Neo-profiles:
Rebecca SaundersLucerne Festival ContemporaryLucerne Festival Contemporary Orchestra, Davos Festival – Young artists in concert, Collegium Novum Zürich

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