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“Vital, visceral, wild and undefined as experience itself – can music be that? I have heard such music, rarely, but, it has changed my life. Attempting to work towards it, though, is a difficult balancing act: one must be as sensually sensitive as if one has no skin, while exercising the analytical clarity, precision and focus of holding a surgeon’s knife.” 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 the tuition of Dieter Schnebel in Berlin with a DAAD scholarship. 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 scholarships allowed her to work in Japan (Asahi Shimbun Scholarship, NEA Scholarship) 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 her String Quartet (1995), her international breakthrough came after Pnima… ins Innere at the Munich Biennale in 2000, which was named Premiere of the Year by Opernwelt Magazine and received the Bayerischer Theaterpreis. 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. Closely intertwined with Mozart’s work, Adama shows the desperation of the voiceless in a world consumed by nationalist fervour.
Winter Songs, begun at the same time as these two operas, is a continuing series that interprets the same septet in ever new 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 (2013-14) for string quartet and electronics, the composer provides a glance at another world through stretching our perception of time and providing distorted reflections of musical material.
Several large works by Chaya Czernowin were premiered last year. Her eagerly awaited opera Infinite Now was first performed in April under the baton of Titus Engel at Opera Vlaanderen in Ghent, before further performances in Antwerp, Mannheim and Paris, and was met with critical praise. 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. At the end of March the Ensemble intercontemporain gave the inaugural performance of On the Face of the Deep as part of their 40th anniversary Genesis project, commissioning works for each of the seven days of Creation.
The 2017/18 season begins with the premiere of her new cello concerto Guardian by Séverine Ballon at the Donaueschinger Musiktage. The work will also be performed in November as part of the Rainy Days festival in Luxembourg. Elsewhere in the season will be the premiere of a new work composed for the Ensemble Loadbang and their unusual instrumentation (baritone, trumpet, trombone, bass clarinet).
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 Composition Professor at the University for Music and Performing Arts in Vienna. In 2009 she was called up to Harvard University, where she now teaches. Since 2003, she has led the International Masterclass for Young Composers, which she founded with Jean-Baptiste Joly, director of Schloss Solitude, and her husband, composer Steven Takasugi. She also teaches at the Tzlil Meudcan Festival in Israel.
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. The Quiet, a recording of orchestral works released on Wergo, 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’s works are published by Schott. She is a member of the Akademie der Künste Berlin.
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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
A list of all works by Chaya Czernowin can be found on the Schott Music website.