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“I accepted a long time ago that my inner self continuously compels me to react to the complex circumstances of the present age by posing new aesthetic questions in each of my works.”
The composer Hans Zender is an interdisciplinary artist par excellence, who seeks to comprehend the essence of the listening experience, both through his compositions and in his work as a conductor and author of insightful essays. He is as concerned with other cultures and the re-evaluation of our musical past as he is in engaging with cultural-political issues. Through the development of his own form of microtonal harmony, he has created the possibility of pure sound, freed from the constraints of tempered tuning.
Hans Zender sees his oeuvre as a successor to the works of Schoenberg as well as Zimmermann. It comprises the whole musical spectrum, from chamber music to large orchestral pieces and music theatre, and is characterised by series of works which draw on references from literature, philosophy, history, and religion. His Cantos series, which he began in 1965 and which also comprises the Logos-Fragmente (2006-2009), includes vocal music for ensembles of various sizes. Hans Zender has repeatedly drawn on works by Friedrich Hölderlin, to whom he dedicated the cycle Hölderlin lesen, as well as those by Hugo Ball, William Shakespeare, and Henri Michaux. Oh cristalina…, the fourth composition in his cycle, with texts from the Canto spiritual by the lyricist and mystic San Juan de la Cruz, was performed for the first time by the SWR Vokalensemble Stuttgart and SWR Symphony Orchestra under Emilio Pomàrico as part of the opening concert of the Donaueschinger Musiktage 2014. Zender sheds new light on music history with his “composed interpretations,” a newly created genre that includes his arrangements of Schubert’s Winterreise and Beethoven’s Diabelli-Variationen (33 Veränderungen über 33 Veränderungen).
Through the practice of Zen, Hans Zender found guidance in his search for inner composure and the refinement of perceptive skills, a search that pervades his entire creative body of work. His interest in the philosophy and aesthetics of the Far East resulted in the series of “Japanese” pieces written between 1975 and 2009 for various instrumentations – from solo instruments to orchestra – which all focus on our perception of time.
His works for music theatre also deal with temporality and move beyond linear storytelling. In his first opera, Stephen Climax (1979/84), adapted from James Joyce’s Ulysses, Hans Zender draws on Zimmermann’s idea of the ubiquity of the past, present, and future. Don Quijote de la Mancha, which received its world premiere in 1993, consists of “31 theatrical adventures,” each with a different cast of characters. A selection of these “adventures” can be rearranged and presented in a new order, giving a new perspective on the classic story. Similarly, the music theatre work Chief Joseph (2003) uses a narrative which shifts between different viewpoints. In the words of the composer, it deals with “the inability of Western society to productively deal with fundamentally different lifestyles.”
Born in Wiesbaden in 1936, the composer began his musical career as a pianist, conductor, and composition student of Wolfgang Fortner in Freiburg. As the chief conductor of various orchestras, he spent decades advocating for a deeper engagement with music, both artistically and in cultural-political terms, and campaigned with an unprecedented openness and curiosity for the works of numerous contemporary composers. Following his first posts in Bonn (where he was the youngest German General Music Director from 1964 to 1968) and Kiel, he also held positions at the Radio Symphony Orchestra Saarbrücken, Radiokamerorkest of the Netherlands Radio, as General Music Director in Hamburg and General Music Director of the Hamburg State Opera, and was a regular guest conductor and member of the artistic direction of the SWR Symphony Orchestra.
He was Professor of Composition at the Frankfurt Musikhochschule from 1988 until 2000 and taught, amongst others, Hanspeter Kyburz, Isabel Mundry, Hans Thomalla and José Sánchez-Verdú. Hans Zender is a member of the Freie Akademie der Künste Hamburg, Akademie der Künste Berlin, and Bayerische Akademie der Schönen Künste Munich. He has won many accolades including the Art Prize of the Saarland, Goethe Prize of the city of Frankfurt, Culture Prize of Hessen and the Award of European Church Music. With the establishment of the “Hans und Gertrud Zender Foundation” in 2004, the Zenders have established an outlet for their cultural-political involvement, including the bestowal of the Happy New Ears prize for composers and music mediators.
His 80th birthday in November 2016 was celebrated with performances of his works across the world: musica viva honoured the composer with a portrait concert, Wien Modern presented a concert symposium, his opera “Don Quijote de la Mancha” was revived with the Ensemble Modern, and the SWR Symphony Orchestra presented a series of birthday concerts. His well-known cycle Winterreise was performed by Christoph Prégardien and Peter Rundel at Casa da Música with a new staging, as well as at New York’s Carnegie Hall by Mark Padmore under the direction of Sir Simon Rattle.
The 2018/19 season – which includes performances of Winterreise in Shanghai with Ian Bostridge and Paris with Mark Padmore, among others – also features reprisals of Issei no kyo [Song of a sound] (2008/9) in Zurich and Cabaret Voltaire (2001) with Salome Chamber and the Philharmonia Orchestra in London. At the Internationalen Ensemble Modern Akademie in Meersburg, where the composer resides, Hölderlin lesen III and V will also be performed.
An impressive series of philosophical, aesthetic, musical and cultural-political essays finds its continuation with Sehen Verstehen SEHENMeditationen zu Zen-Kalligraphien, which was written in collaboration with the religious scholar and Zen master Michael Brück and published by Karl Alber in autumn 2018.
Last year, Karl Alber also published Denken hören – Hören denken, the latest collection in Hans Zender’s impressive series of essays dealing with philosophical, aesthetic and cultural-political issues.
This biography is to be reproduced without any changes, omissions or additions, unless expressly authorised by the artist management.
Julian Prégardien, Tenor; Deutsche Radio Philharmonie Saarbrücken Kaiserslautern; Robert Reimer, conductor
Angelika Luz, Ernst Kovacic, Klangforum Wien, Sylvain Cambreling, Bavarian Radio Choir and Symphony Orchestra, Susanna Mälkki, SWR Vokalensemble Stuttgart, SWR Symphony Orchestra Baden-Baden and Freiburg, Emilio Pomàrico
Wergo, WR 73362, 2016
SWR Vokalensemble Stuttgart, SWR Symphony Orchestra Baden-Baden and Freiburg , Emilio Pomàrico
Wergo, WER 6765 2, 2013
Ensemble Modern, Hans Zender
Ensemble Modern Medien, EMCD-020, 2013
Salome Kammer, Klangforum Wien, Hans Zender
KAIROS, 0012522KAI, 2006
Julie Moffat (soprano), Matthias Klink (tenor), Roswitha Staege (flute), Uwe Dierksen (trombone), Christoph Grund (piano), SWR Vokalensemble Stuttgart, SWR Symphony Orchestra Baden-Baden and Freiburg , Sylvain Cambreling
KAIROS, 0012612KAI, 2006
KAIROS, 0012262KAI, 2001
Christoph Prégardien, Klangforum Wien, Sylvain Cambreling
KAIROS, 0012002KAI, 1999
In Zender’s “Schubert-Chöre” the choral setting of the Viennese romantic composer remains unchanged. On the other hand, the instrumentalists very subtly embellish, interpret, counteract and defamiliarise the material. It sounds as if Schubert’s fastidious and calculated music is being cleverly interrupted – yet, never destroyed – by Zender, a multifaceted and holistic musical thinker. The work has great appeal, particularly when sung as excellently as by the SWR vocalists and the lyric tenor Alexander Yudenkov. A few elements are worth mentioning: the kinship to Schubert and Mahler in “Coronach”; the blissful excursion to the spiritual dimension in Schubert’s setting of Psalm No. 23 (“Gott ist mein Hirt”); and on the other hand, Zender’s original music for “Oh Cristalina”; (…) Zender’s usual musical style, simultaneously intellectual and sensuous; (…) his use of natural tones and intervals as well as intimate, delicate and labyrinthine sounds; (…) the nuanced and skillfully defined orchestral playing; and the outstanding interpretation, profound and multi-faceted, by Cornelius Meister, an experienced conductor of Zender.
BADISCHE ZEITUNG, 21/12/2016
The Munich musica viva concert series’ grand portrait concert honouring Hans Zender, one of the most intellectually active and stimulating composers of our time, was not simply a matter of course. (…) Lastly, a highlight was Fragment IX, “Geist” – the work creates a mysterious collage from the biblical tale of the Outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, using compelling accounts of speaking in tongues from ancient Greek, Latin and Lutheran texts. (…) This perceptual experience is a pleasure that conquers the ears and astonishes the audience, who brought loud applause. “Happy New Ears”: Hans Zender has often wished this to his listeners.
SÜDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG, 09/10/2016
The concert in the Congress Hall began with the premiere of Hans Zender’s “Hannya Shin Gyo” for male choir and orchestra, written after one of the most famous Buddhist texts. This was a work of high emotional concentration, despite its sternness, that eschews a pleasant approximation of the Far East. Rather, it draws its stimulus from the instrumentation and application of micro-intervals as well as from the confrontation of hardness and silence. The eleven singers of the Chorwerk Ruhr, prepared by Sebastian Breuing, were admirable, and impressed with perfect intonation and wide-ranging expression. The composer was loudly applauded by both audience and orchestra.
SAARBRÜCKER ZEITUNG, 24/05/2016
No composer had dared to take on “Winterreise” as a complete cycle until Hans Zender’s “composed interpretation”, a song recital premiered in Frankfurt am Main by Ensemble Modern and Christoph Prégardien in 1993. Zender’s version leaves the vocal part mostly intact but creates a dazzling orchestration from the piano accompaniment. The piece quickly established itself in concert halls, and today even delights the purists.
DAS OPERNGLAS, 08/03/2016, M. Fielder
At the end of this fantastical “Winterreise”, the world comes apart at the seams. And as it is the musical world of Schubert, which Hans Zender took on in his 1992 “composed interpretation”, the tonality goes haywire, unfamiliar voices interweave through the melody, time and space tangle in an obscure dance of the dead. (…) Zender does not content himself with the “colouring in” of the piano movement. He distills from his thoughts the essence of the new work’s interpretation. (…) This work is 100 percent Schubert, and Prégardien cultivates his singing that serves the language, making one pleasantly shiver.
RHEINISCHE POST, 28/09/2015 on “Winterreise” with Christoph Prégardien
Among today’s distinguished musicians, Hans Zender is one of the best writers and one of the clearest thinkers (…). Hans Zender has the distinction of being a musician who also holds a unique position as composer, conductor, pedagogue, music theorist and very well-read literary figure.
NEUE ZÜRCHER ZEITUNG, 15/01/2015 - ALFRED BRENDEL on Hans Zender’s book “Waches Hören“
The term “Logos” refers here primarily to the word – and Zender explores this (like Pound in his “Cantos”) in a veritable multilingual celebration – which can be traced back to ancient times and contains fragments of Ancient Greek, Latin, English and German, in some cases translated by Zender himself.
MUNDOCLASICO.COM, 04/08/2014 – on the new release of Logos-Fragmente by WERGO.
The grandmaster of First Viennese School is brought right up to date, the work’s cosmos is analytically taken apart and newly put back together. Namely in a way that comes across to the listener as an extremely intelligent mixture of solemnity and flippancy. (…) The variations are like hot and cold baths; it is not possible to ensconce oneself comfortably in them. Beethoven already looked backwards and forwards. His present interpreter, for whom the Diabelli Variations represent the “path from strangeness to the sublime”, imitates him – but very individually. He tries to build a bridge between us and Beethoven. He succeeds. Parody included.
BADISCHE ZEITUNG, 28/06/2013 on the CD recording of “33 Veränderungen über 33 Veränderungen“ with the Ensemble Modern