Chaya Czernowin

composer

contact

Adriana Kussmaul

ak(at)karstenwitt.com

+49 30 214 594-227

General Management

CR Christopher McIntosh

Biography

"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 most outstanding work of recent years is her critically acclaimed opera Infinite Now, which premiered in 2017 under the direction of Titus Engel at the Opera Vlaanderen in Ghent and was subsequently performed 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 stretching of time within catastrophic hopelessness. Immediately after this premiere, named best of the year by Opernwelt magazine, the cello concerto Guardian was premiered in Donaueschingen by Séverine Ballon and subsequently presented at the Rainy Days in Luxembourg. In 2019, the work on the programme at the Ostrava New Music Days, shortly before the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Thomas Dausgaard presented her shortest orchestral work, Once I blinked nothing was the same as a British premiere. Also in 2019, Habekhi (Weeping), a work for the Ensemble Experimental, singers, and electronics, premiered at the SWR in Freiburg under the direction of Detlef Heusinger. In the middle of last season, Chaya Czernowin's opera Heart Chamber was premiered at the Deutsche Oper Berlin under the musical direction of Johannes Kalitzke in a staging by Claus Guth.

The 2020/2021 season begins with two world premieres, including The fabrication of light, interpreted by the Ensemble Musikfabrik as part of the festival Acht Brücken. The ensemble will also perform the work in Leipzig and at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, which has invited the composer as composer-in-residence. The second world premiere, Fast Darkness I, will be performed by the Riot Ensemble and bass clarinettist Gareth Davis. In May 2021, Ensemble Intercontemporain will premiere the second work in the three-part cycle Fast Darkness at the Philharmonie de Paris with Alain Billard on bass clarinet. The season will conclude with an orchestral work for the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, which will be presented as part of Musica viva.

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.

2020/21 Season

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Reviews

The strength of "Heart Chamber" is Chaya Czernowin's fabulously refined, precisely noted score, dictated by a sensitive musical imagination, which the ramifications in the growth and decay of nature have chosen for their roaring pandemonium of sounds and noises. [...] It conjures to mind Luigi Nono's sound mysticism, György Ligeti's "Atmosphères" cluster or Helmut Lachenmann's disturbing "Little Match-Girl” opera. The composer triumphs, after ninety non-stop minutes, receiving a standing ovation.
Süddeutsche Zeitung, Wolfgang Schreiber, 17/11/2019

…a spatial experience that takes your breath away. Instruments sound from places where there can never be instruments; voices come from directions where no singer has ever been. Who sings what, and where the line between instrumental and vocal sound runs is impossible to predict. The sonic experience of this evening is an event unto itself.
Die Deutsche Bühne, Detlef Brandenburg, 16/11/2019

With her overtone-rich music, full of microtones and a sense for the hidden, Chaya Czernowin creates a unique world – her own world, her own musical language, characterised by rhythms which branch out, and in which the composer explores stillness and its nuances of colour and sound. This is a music which creates inner peace.
BR Klassik, Kristin Amme, 18/12/2017 on the CD Hidden

Czernowin’s score includes eruptions of orchestral, vocal, and electronic pandemonium that evoke with unnerving immediacy the chaos of battle and its aftermath. She has achieved, however, something more than a sombre memorial to death and destruction.
The New Yorker, Alex Ross, 15/05/2017 on the world premiere of Infinite Now at Opera Vlaanderen, Ghent

Czernowin’s opera dwells. It inhabits its big box of time-space, all the way to its edges. It penetrates. It overwhelms. (...) Such is Czernowin’s authority as a composer. I cannot think of anyone else who could have written this opera: she is an artist at the height of her powers.
The Rambler, Tim Rutherford-Johnson, 20/04/2017 on Infinite Now

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Works

A list of all works by Chaya Czernowin can be found on the Schott Music website.

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Media Centre

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Discography

CR_Wergo

Hidden

Inbal Hever, mezzosoprano; JACK Quartet                                                                  
Wergo 2017

CR_Kairos

Wintersongs

ICE International Contemporary Ensemble
Kairos 2017

CR_Wergo

The Quiet

Works for orchestra
Wergo 2016

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