In three concerts in April 2015, Tabea Zimmermann performed Enno Poppe’s new viola concerto Filz together with Ensemble Resonanz. On this occasion, the violist talked with Till Knipper about the first encounter with new works, about whether having perfect pitch is a blessing or a curse and about why music-making and authoritarian structures are incompatible.
Many prestigious composers have written works for you. As one
can imagine, performing new pieces always means a considerable extra
effort. Why do you do this to yourself?
“Extra effort” sounds funny to me! Because I am constantly rehearsing and working on new pieces. I enjoy cracking hard nuts for several reasons. For one thing, it helps me avoid falling into routine. Also there is nothing better than achieving in-depth insight and gaining more experience. I enjoy new music, and this also makes me look at well-known music from a new perspective.
Did you and Enno Poppe try out new techniques on your instrument?
We met last winter in Berlin, and we did try out some sounds together back then. Enno Poppe already had a clear idea of a dynamic sound that he was looking for. I remember that I was quite fascinated about the sound’s kinship to the Chinese instrument Erhu.
In an interview you said about Filz: “I had to learn to play the viola again.” Why?
Because I can’t think of any other work for viola that is so focused on glissando. I have absolute pitch – which is a blessing most of the time, but it also can be a curse –, and this certainly helps me to image the music that I see in the score in the correct pitch. Poppe has composed a process of tones that is constantly changing – and I had to work this out from scratch, which I found very rewarding. Currently I am generally interested in “the way from somewhere” and in “the way to somewhere”. So Poppe’s work came at the right time.
In what way does Filz refer to the tradition?
I do see Filz in the tradition of other “good” music! Poppe does not reinvent the wheel. He uses readable staves (luckily!), and he refers to well-known note values and pitches. Only the timbre with a solo viola, 18 solo strings and four clarinets, respectively bass clarinets, is extraordinary: there has never been anything like that and this is very exciting!
What do you associate in the music with the title Filz (felt)?
I don’t think I can answer this question properly before the rehearsal period with Ensemble Resonanz has begun. Currently everything is pure imagination (and hard work). But from my conversations with Enno Poppe I would think that felt as a material and the density of it can definitely be recognised in the music.
What would you like to change about the music scene?
I would like to contribute to making the old, patriarchal structures in society and in music superfluous! In terms of music this means: I don't enjoy working with conductors who see themselves as the centre of everything. Both musicians from ensembles like Ensemble Resonanz, Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, Ensemble Modern and musicians from “normal” orchestras – they all enjoy participating in the musical process much more when there is less hierarchy, they all enjoy a music director that embraces participation and provides an artistic direction at the same time.
This is what older conductors like Claudio Abbado or Simon Rattle and artists from the younger generation such as François-Xavier Roth und Yannick Nézet-Séguin stand for. You feel that they regard themselves as a kind of catalyzer. They motivate musicians to achieve the highest levels through their knowledge, their ear and they sensitivity – and not through fear. The conductor as a leader, as a boss of his musical staff – this is obsolete. Music-making and authoritarianism are incompatible! If I can make a small contribution towards changing this situation by playing concerts with a chamber music sense of cooperation, I would be very happy.
To which projects are you particularly looking forward to?
As I am fortunate enough to be able to decide myself which concerts to play and which not to play, I am actually looking forward to all the dates in my calendar! Which is: Bartók with François-Xavier Roth in Helsinki (1 April), the world premiere and additional performances of Poppe’s Filz in Vienna, Cologne and Hamburg (11-15 April), concerts with the Arcanto Quartett, recitals with Javier Perianes. Additionally I am going to teach a master class again after a long time, this time within the framework of the Schleswig-Holstein-Musikfestival.
Interview: Till Knipper