"Alive, intuitive, wild, and as boundless as pure experience– is music capable of such things? I've heard such music – rarely – but it was life-altering. To work toward this requires a difficult balancing act: you must be so sensitive in your perception it is as if you were without skin, while at the same time maintaining the analytical clarity, precision and concentration of a surgeon with a scalpel.” C. Czernowin
Chaya Czernowin’s music is anchored in immediate sensory experience. It explores the relationship between the present and the submerged experience of the past or an imagined future through finely woven compositions, which at times erupt powerfully, as they explore the extremities of our perception. Geographically and musically, the composer is a traveller: born in 1957 in Haifa, she took her first steps in composition in Israel under Abel Ehrlich and Yitzhak Sadai before continuing her studies under Dieter Schnebel in Berlin with a DAAD grant. After a period at New York’s Bard College, the composer completed her doctorate at the University of California, San Diego as a student of Roger Reynolds and Brian Ferneyhough. During a period of travelling and composition, further grants and fellowships allowed her to work in Japan (Asahi Shimbun Fellowship, NEA grant) and Germany (Akademie Schloss Solitude).
Her orchestral and chamber works, both of which often incorporate electronic elements, have been performed at renowned contemporary music festivals across Europe, Asia and North America. Having explored fragmentation and instrumental identities in chamber works such as Afatsim (1996) and String Quartet (1995), her international breakthrough came after Pnima… ins Innere at the Munich Biennale in 2000, which received the Bayerischer Theaterpreis and was also named the best premiere of the year by Opernwelt magazine. In this piece, based on a story by David Grossmann, the composer tackles the archaeology of memory and thus indirectly her own history as the daughter of two Holocaust survivors. Her second opera Adama was commissioned by the Salzburg Festival for Mozart’s 250th birthday as a companion piece to Zaide – a revised version of the opera was revived at the Theater Freiburg in 2017.
Winter Songs, begun at the same time as these two operas, is a continuing series that interprets the same septet in ever-evolving ways in order to achieve ever new musical experiences. Maim (2001-2007) for large orchestra, soloists and electronics, explores the physicality and flexibility of musical material. In HIDDEN for string quartet and electronics, written in 2013/14 and later recorded by the JACK Quartet, the composer stretches our perception of time and provides distorted reflections of musical material.
The standout work of the last few years was her critically acclaimed opera Infinite Now, which was premiered in 2017 under the direction of Titus Engel at the Opera Vlaanderen in Ghent, before further performances in Antwerp, Mannheim and Paris. Based on a story by the Chinese author Can Xue as well as Luk Perceval’s drama Front, itself based on Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, the opera explores the elongation of time in the face of catastrophe. Following on from this, her cello concerto Guardian was given its first performance by Séverine Ballon at the Donaueschingen Festival, before a further performance at the Rainy Days festival in Luxembourg; in summer 2019, the work was also on the program at the Ostrava New Music Days, shortly before the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Thomas Dausgaard presented the British premiere of her shortest orchestral work Once I blinked nothing was the same.
The 2019/2020 season kicks off with the premiere of a new work under the direction of Detlef Heusinger at the SWR in Freiburg: Habekhi (crying), for the Ensemble Experimental, singer and electronics. At Musica in Strasbourg, Juliet Fraser interprets Adiantum Capillus-Veneris I, a piece for voice and breath, in its French premiere. A high point of the current season is Chaya Czernowin's new opera Heart Chamber, which premieres at the Deutsche Oper Berlin in November. Claus Guth directs this "exploration of love," with Johannes Kalitzke leading the musical direction. Towards the close of the season, in May 2020, the new work The fabrication of light will be interpreted by the Ensemble Musikfabrik as part of the Acht Brücken Festival in Cologne.
Teaching is central to Chaya Czernowin as a way of developing her own compositional practice. In the 1990s, she was a regular guest lecturer at the International Summer Courses for New Music in Darmstadt. From 1997 to 2006 she taught composition at the University of California, San Diego, before holding the post of Professor at the University for Music and Performing Arts in Vienna. In 2009 she was called to Harvard University, where she continues to teach as the Walter Bigelow Rosen Professor of Music. From 2003 to 2017, she led the International Masterclass for Young Composers, which she co-founded with Jean-Baptiste Joly, director of Schloss Solitude, and her husband, composer Steven Takasugi. She has also taught talented young composers at the Tzlil Meudcan Festival in Israel as well as at numerous international seminars.
The Quiet, a recording of orchestral works released on Wergo in 2017, was awarded the Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik. Other recordings of her works have been released on Mode Records, Col Legno, Deutsche Grammophon, Neos, Ethos, Telos and Einstein Records. Chaya Czernowin has received numerous awards, including the Kranichsteiner Musikpreis (1992) the Ernst von Siemens Musikstiftung Composers’ Prize (2003), the Rockefeller Foundation Prize (2004), the Fromm Foundation Award (2008), a Guggenheim Fellowship Award (2011) and the Heidelberger Künstlerinnenpreis (2016). She was Composer in Residence at the Salzburg Festival in 2005/06 and the Lucerne Festival in 2013. She has been a member of the Akademie der Künste Berlin since 2017. Chaya Czernowin’s works are published by Schott.
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