No panic – Christoph Prégardien, one of the leading tenors of our time, is still on tour as a soloist, making appearances this season alone in cities including London, Porto, Rome, Warsaw, Amsterdam, Berlin, Oxford and Dresden. However, considering the success of his St. John and St. Matthew Passions it is no surprise that the singer will increasingly be seen on the conductor’s podium. He caught the conducting bug on tour with the Ensemble Le Concert Lorrain, Nederlands Kammerkoor and Balthasar Neumann Chor, and in 2019 will conduct the Duisburg Philharmonic in works including Mozart’s Requiem. In conversation, Christoph Prégardien discusses his feelings about his new role, where he finds inspiration for his interpretations and to what extent life on tour is different for singers and conductors.
According to the common cliché, tenors are only interested in the sound of their own voice. You, on the other hand, are also interested in the score, and have started to conduct. How did this happen?
I never planned to become a conductor; rather, the idea slowly awoke in me. I increasingly had the feeling – especially in works that I knew very well – that some conductors didn’t take care to ensure that a performance had a singular artistic vision, especially one that encompassed the orchestra, choir and soloists. Soloists particularly are often left to their own devices, and receive little feedback regarding ornamentation, appoggiaturas or vibrato. This results in performances in which the choir and orchestra are great, but in which the soloists are almost like foreign bodies. There are a few conductors – interestingly, mostly period musicians – that care for a consistency with the soloists: René Jacobs, for example, as well as Herreweghe, Koopman and Gardiner.
Do soloists sometimes find it an imposition when someone tells them which ornamentation to use, for example?
There’s a great openness in the fields in which I’ve worked. The younger generation of singers has a different approach towards their work. This diva-ish behaviour which you associate with big names in opera is a thing of the past for the current generation. I have never had problems in telling singers to try it like this, to use a little less vibrato here, or to sing a little quieter there.
Here you surely have a lot more authority than a conductor who isn’t so familiar with the voice.
Exactly. Choirs are especially open and happy when there is someone standing up front who knows their problems well. On the other hand, I can’t work with the orchestra on a string issue as well as someone who has been there for 30 years and might also be a violinist themselves. Here I rely on the help of the principal violinist or cello continuo. But as well as working with singers, there are other things that conductors who are instrumentalists might pay less attention to, for example phrasing. Something else which is very important to me is the connection between words and music, and the composer’s interpretation of the source material. I have great experience of this from my long career and have insights that might be new for some. In this respect I have profited from some great conductors with whom I have been able to work, for example the way in which Harnoncourt built pieces around the text rather than the musical structure. This made a great impression on me and was very informative. On another level, I felt that no-one understood Bach quite so well and was so close to the text as Philippe Herreweghe. He can get so much from the baroque language, especially on a spiritual level. This subtext is very important, especially in spiritual music.
Could you perhaps take a half-step back and briefly describe how you came to conduct for the first time?
In the context of my dissatisfaction with certain performances, I was speaking to Stephan Schultz, artistic director of Le Concert Lorrain, and mentioned that I had a desire to conduct. Then we planned the St. John Passion for 2012. I had always sung the part of the Evangelist from the full score, not the piano reduction, and so thought that I already knew the score fairly well. But when I began to prepare, I realised just how complex such a score is. I read lots of secondary literature and took conducting lessons and met with Marcus Creed, who had a wonderful assistant who I still meet when problems arise. I also got in touch with Fabio Luisi: “Fabio, I will be conducting for the first time in 2012, would you give me a couple of lessons?” He said: “I’ll show you how conducting works if you explain to me a little about Bach.” When he conducts, his body, hands and head act as one, regardless of whether the music is from the 20th, 19th or 18th century, which is exactly what I am aiming for. I wanted to confound the expectation that I wouldn’t be able to pull it off since I’m a singer, and so prepared very intensively for my first appearance.
You have now been on tour several times as a conductor. Life on the road as a conductor must be quite different, since as a singer you have to protect your voice whilst as a conductor you have to speak a lot before the orchestra.
What is very interesting is the energy level. As a singer you always need to make sure that you save yourself for the evening of the concert, and therefore try to relax on the day of the concert. When you have a large part to sing, such as the Evangelist in the St. Matthew Passion, you also try not to over-exert yourself in rehearsal in the days leading up to the performance. In contrast, as a conductor you are the first to arrive and last to leave. However, this doesn’t affect you; you still have so much energy. I’m not sure whether that is because of the responsibility, or because it is just so much fun. What is also interesting is that the pre-concert nerves are totally different: when I go on-stage as a singer, I am extremely nervous half an hour before – that is actually still the case. As a conductor it was also bad the first time. I thought, “You have to go out now, give the upbeat and be present for the whole piece.” But it was such fun that an energy came to me I couldn’t have foreseen, and before my second appearance I was totally not nervous anymore. And do you know what the best part of it is? As a singer, one is used to looking at the audience. Whilst one often sees nice things, sometimes one dwells on how they are behaving or reacting. But as soon as you turn around as a conductor, you see 30, 40, 50 musicians before you, all looking at you with bright and expectant eyes.
You have also done both simultaneously – sung and conducted.
Yes, both the St. Matthew and St. John Passions. On my first tour I actually wanted to just focus on conducting, but of course I received requests to also sing the Evangelist, which I repeatedly turned down until a performance in Lucerne. That was the twelfth concert out of thirteen, and there I said to myself: “You can do it”. It was somewhat difficult in terms of choreography, as I had already conducted eleven times in a normal configuration and didn’t want to change everything around. However, it went very well and was a tremendous success, and we did the St. Matthew Passion there the same way two years later. I must say, when you are not just the conductor but also get to sing the Evangelist; that really is the icing on the cake – albeit very demanding!
You will conduct Mozart for the first time in 2019 with the Duisburg Philharmonic as well as the three great Bach works. Do you have to upgrade or rethink your conducting technique for this?
I think it is a similar procedure on another level. Naturally, a work such as Mozart’s Requiem is constructed differently than the St. Matthew Passion, for example. There are longer movements, a different style and an orchestra used to a “normal” conductor. I will of course have to adjust myself a bit. In early music circles the conductor is on the same level as the musicians, but with a symphony orchestra one has another authority. But I think I’ll get along just fine as I have ample experience with such orchestras, especially with the Duisburg Philharmonic, with whom I have sung a lot as a soloist. I am particularly excited for the first part of the programme, in which I’ll perform concert arias by Mozart together with my son Julian and niece Julia Kleiter. There are lots of extended recitative sections which are very demanding for the conductor.
Apart from your upcoming performances do you have any other pieces that you would like to conduct, perhaps also “pure” orchestral works?
Nothing of the sort has been planned yet; I have a great respect for structuring a symphonic movement so that it makes sense musically. The structure of a phrase in vocal music is often self-evident, since one has the text as a basis. In a pure orchestral piece one doesn’t have this, and in a classical symphonic movement one has to create a musical arc that stretches for 15 or 20 minutes. I would love to do this when the opportunity arises, but not quite yet. Firstly I will lead an a cappella programme with the Netherlands Bach Society in 2019, with Schütz’s St. John Passion and motets by Bach and Mendelssohn. Another great experience in May was a big celebration concert for Philippe Herreweghe’s 70th birthday, featuring many of his friends from the music world, in which I had the chance to conduct the Collegium Vocale for the first time – an ensemble with whom I have sung many concerts. That was very emotional for me. At the end there was a birthday serenade for all the musicians written by a Belgian composer, which I also conducted. The whole thing led to a possible invitation to lead the Collegium Vocale on tour in the Christmas Oratorio in 2020. To be able to lead Philippe’s ensemble and orchestra on tour would be wonderful. Regarding wishes, there are two pieces that I would really like to conduct. One would be Mendelssohn’s Elijah, and the other Hans Zender’s “composed interpretation” of Winterreise with my son Julian, which I have also often sung. When I look through the repertoire there are quite a few things that I can imagine doing.
“In Stromab the whole orchestra is sent like a boat down the great river in its dazzling diversity,” says Johannes Maria Staud about his new orchestral piece, premiered this season by three leading international orchestras. The world premiere will be given in Copenhagen by the Royal Danish Orchestra under Alexander Vedernikov, before the Wiener Symphoniker under Francois-Xavier Roth give the Austrian premiere a few weeks later. In January 2018, Stromab will find its American premiere in Cleveland under Franz-Welser Möst, followed by further concerts in in the US. Ahead of the upcoming premiere, Johannes Maria Staud talks about the finished score and its relationship to Algernon Blackwood’s short story The Willows, which the composer describes as “one of the most beautiful horror stories of all time”. The conversation with Dr. Frank Reinisch is published with the kind permission of his publisher, Breitkopf & Härtel.
The most popular river composition, Smetana’s Moldau, is considered a perfect example of programme music, and a reason for this might be that this work seizes tensions, it addresses nature and history, and hence is by no means idyllic. However, in your work commentary you decidedly reject this overly concrete description. But then you speak about the whole orchestra being “sent like a boat down the great river in its dazzling diversity.” In what extent is the Danube shimmering through your score?
I rather had the abstraction of a big stream somewhere in the center of Europe in mind, a stream that, since time immemorial, in peace as in war, has been connecting innumerous cultures and languages from West to East; a stream whose wildness will in the end always remain untamable, despite all human intervention. I was absolutely aware of the mental associations with Smetana, but in the end, this was not really of importance for my process of composing. Yet even Smetana with his Moldau and the whole Ma Vlást cycle went far beyond the self-imposed rules of program music that had become fashionable at that time. For that, these symphonic poems are probably too visionary soundwise, their compositional abstractions too appealing.
The work has several segments that are provided with extremely vivid tempo markings. Those alone give rise to the image of a river, which in part is very hard to be travelled on. The adjective “wild” is used almost as a leitmotif, “viscous” is also of importance, the conjunction “with viscous wildness” (measure 40–46) seems almost like an oxymoron, and then again “poisonous” (measure 161–188) reads downright dangerous. But is it really the river which is meant here or is it rather the orchestra and its protagonists, with the conductor in the first place?
The dramaturgy of this work – hence the title – is allegoric for a journey down a stream in a small canoe which at times is at the mercy of the raging waters. You may see the orchestra and its conductor as an extremely experienced canoe team that masters dangerous and risky situations with creative verve and presence of mind and, plunge down the great stream as if there was no tomorrow.
Stromab was commissioned by three orchestras from Denmark, Austria and the United States and will be realized in the season 2017/18 by three different conductors, one of them being Franz Welser-Möst with whom you had been in touch previously. Only rarely does a newly composed work experience such a broad and prestigious reception. What do you expect from the three interpretations, each of them involving an intensive rehearsal phase?
I am already looking forward to cooperating with the different orchestras and conductors. And I am already anxious to learn how the readings, the approaches to interpretation differ from each other. Even if I try to accurately note down my inner sound visions as usual, I still need people who get into the spirit of my sound world and at the same time fill the journey along my imaginary stream with individual life. I am often surprised myself of hidden details that are brought to shine in different interpretations.
On the other hand, Stromab is a work associated with the opera Die Weiden (The Willows), which will be premiered in the Vienna State Opera in December 2018. Die Weiden is about a mystically tragic river journey of two lovers who are lost to the world. To what extent is Stromab related to the opera score that is currently being written?
Indeed, Stromab is the starting point for my opera, a focal point out of which it will be developed. The great stream, which is continuously present in the opera, is musically in the center of the orchestral work. Material from the orchestral piece will be taken up, developed further and then put into the compositional grinder. Moreover, many different ideas are added in Die Weiden which compete with the material of Stromab and which are going to collide with it. The prologue for instance is musically totally different from Stromab, while the subsequent prelude is going to refer directly to the orchestral work.
So, without the opera commission, Stromab would not have been composed like this?
That I don’t know. Stromab owes its main inspiration primarily to Algernon Blackwood’s wonderful short story “The Willows” from the year 1907, with which the opera is going to overlap only here and there, despite the title. I would have read Blackwood’s story anyway – and it would have inspired me to inventions of my own – but who knows what would have happened … It’s hard to tell.
To conclude, we are already allowed to take a peek at your continually growing opera score. The prologue has been composed, and Lea sings, when taking farewell of her parents: “Stromab (downstream) everything is easy, so easy”. This alleged easiness – that much can be revealed – is going to become dangerous, and I believe that composing Stromab was far from easy for you. A good omen?
(Laughs) The most difficult question at the end. Let me say it like this: I hope so!
Interview: Dr. Frank Reinisch, Breitkopf & Härtel, 9/2017
Stromab (2016/17) for large orchestra
Commissioned by: The Royal Danish Orchestra; The Cleveland Orchestra, Franz Welser Möst, Music Director; Carnegie Hall; Wiener Symphoniker, Wiener Konzerthausgesellschaft, with support from the Ernst von Siemens Music Foundation
The Royal Danish Orchestra, Alexander Vedernikov
Copenhagen, The Royal Danish Opera House, 22/9/2017
Wiener Symphoniker, François-Xavier Roth
Vienna, Konzerthaus, 25/10/2017
The Cleveland Orchestra, Franz Welser-Möst
Cleveland, Severance Hall, 11/1/2018 (also 12, 13 & 23/1)
New Generation Artist – Mariam Batsashvili in conversation
Mariam Batsashvili has stunned, fascinated and touched audiences at the most renowned concert halls in Europe during her tour as a “Rising Star” of the European Concert Hall Organisation (ECHO). Now, the young Georgian pianist has just received the exciting news that she will be a BBC New Generation Artist, as part of which she will perform at major festivals and concert venues across the UK during the next two seasons. In conversation, she shares her impressions on a whirlwind few months, the magic of the classical concert, and her tips for surviving the rigours of life on tour.
Mariam, you’re coming to the end of a big season in which you performed in practically all the major European concert halls. What are your reflections on the tour?
Of course, I was told that I would be playing in venues including large concert halls and chamber music halls, but to start with the Cologne Philharmonic, which really is huge, was quite a shock. What I can say is that I found almost all the halls acoustically perfect, whether big or small, and I now understand why they are built in this way. It’s inspiring to know that so many great musicians have performed there before me. The halls have a particular spirit because of this history. As well as the concerts, we also tried to communicate with the public through projects with school children as well as question and answer sessions and concert introductions. It is great that the ECHO tour provided this opportunity. We also had to play contemporary music written especially for us – my piece was by a young Spanish composer. The ECHO project is not only about supporting performers and the popularisation of classical music, but also young composers.
You had the chance to play your pieces very often and in various places. Did they change throughout the tour?
I played the Sonata by Franz Liszt almost everywhere; this has always been my favourite piece. But, of course, the interpretation changes. There are two ways in which this can happen. Firstly, it can get worse – your playing becomes routine and you start to lose some of the detail. This is of course terrible, and hopefully this didn’t happen to me. In fact, I found the opposite; that every performance became better. Listening back to recordings, as well as whilst playing, I kept finding new things, new details I hadn’t noticed before. I wondered how that could be possible, since I had already worked so thoroughly on the piece. But in concert, new and interesting things come to life. Things can change depending on the aura in the room, on the people, and your relationship to them. It’s a kind of magic.
How did you prepare for the sheer amount of concerts and life on the road?
The Liszt competition also gave me the opportunity to go on a big concert tour for two and a half years, so I have really been travelling since 2014. Therefore I already had a routine which I took very seriously. Sometimes there were moments where the travel became too much, but I have a little trick: talking to myself in the mirror. I tell others to do the same, as it really helps remind yourself what you want and what your real goals are. Don’t let these moments interfere with the larger plan, but rather gather your strength. Performing after a sleepless night, after a long flight, with jetlag – I have been through all this, so I know my own strength. You can only achieve things if you really want to, if you are motivated and have ambition.
Regarding practicing on the road, I always take my scores in my hand luggage. Practicing mentally with the scores is part of my routine – it helps me a lot, and I use the opportunity to do it whilst travelling. One other thing: travelling stops being fun or exciting when you do it six times a month. I always look forward to the concerts, but there was a period when I became quite tired of being on the road. But then I said to myself, OK, when would I otherwise get to sit down for about four or five hours a day and do something I wouldn’t normally get the chance to do; read a couple of books for example. Now I have learned to use this time for my own pleasure.
As well as recitals, you are increasingly performing as a soloist with orchestras. How do you find working with a musical partner, an orchestra or a conductor, with their own musical agenda?
The most important thing is to meet the conductor alone first, to play through the piece, talk about it, and decide what you want to do. You can’t leave it until rehearsals to decide this, when the orchestra is sitting there.
Critics have particularly praised your ability to really play together with the orchestra.
The orchestra helps me, and is there for me. I am really allergic to the idea of saying “I’m the soloist, just follow me.” This never works! You have to work together with the conductor – we are both there to serve the same thing, the piece.
Could we briefly take a look at the future? After a series of summer festivals, you will play a lot of new repertoire next season.
Yes, this is really exciting; I will be playing the Goldberg Variations and Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata. The fact that I am going to play both these pieces, which are at the very core of the repertoire, is a big thing for me. After playing a lot of concerts, I am looking forward to practicing these new pieces, as well as playing some works with orchestra - Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 and Gershwin’s Piano Concerto. I have been playing a lot of Liszt recently because of the competition, but something new is coming now, which excites me!
Dimensional dialectics – Friedrich Cerha’s “Spiegel”
At the end of August and the beginning of September, Friedrich Cerha’s monumental Spiegel cycle will be performed by the Lucerne Festival Academy Orchestra under Matthias Pintscher. Conceived as a kind of “world-theatre about humankind”, the seven parts of the cycle are concerned in purely musical terms with one of the composer’s life-long interests: the relationship between the individual and society. To mark the 2011 CD release of Spiegel, recorded by the SWR Symphony Orchester under Sylvain Cambreling, composers of various generations contributed their personal encounters with Friedrich Cerha’s cycle. These quotations are published with the kind permission of Kairos.
Pierre Boulez (Paris, 21/12/2009)
I have always regarded Friedrich Cerha as one of the most important personalities of his generation. I have followed his composing with great interest whenever I had the opportunity to listen to a work or read it during its creation. I am delighted that an album has now appeared which makes it possible to get an impression of his music’s remarkable development. I hope that this will serve to create an awareness of his true significance.
György Kurtág (Salzburg, 26/01/2010)
Friedrich Cerha’s Spiegel deeply impressed me. The impulsive drama, the constant – sometimes quite low-velocity – emotional movements had me captivated to such an extent that I almost didn’t notice that I had already listened to 80 minutes of music. I completely forgot to listen for how it had come to be, how it was made; I constantly had visions, sometimes large Rothko-like surfaces, sometimes Munch paintings, and then Turner or simply landscapes long familiar to me that blended into one another, at times eerily lit and then friendlier once more. I am thankful that I was able to experience this; Sylvain Cambreling’s recording is magnificent – and I hope to have the opportunity of hearing Spiegel in concert someday, as well.
Helmut Lachenmann (Stuttgart, 02/02/2010)
I have finally heard Cerha’s Spiegel cycle – twice! These are indeed impressive soundscapes, composed with a feel for sound that is simultaneously assured and prophetic.
Hans Zender (Freiburg, 19/02/2010)
When today, looking back over 50 years, one encounters the Spiegel pieces by the young Cerha, one is uncertain just what one should admire more: the mastery in the handling of means that were new at the time, the appearance of a clearly recognizable individuality within a texture more prone to negating the individual, or the determination of the composer, later on, to depart from the – narrow – basis of the recognizable compositional brand that he had hit upon, and to do so just as soon as possible. To leave it for a stylistic opening to the full breadth and freedom of the many facets of the modern era, to a universal stance – which also quite naturally included dealing with historical styles – of a great musician whose individuality could not be expressed in terms of the then-current formulas of the compositional field. In the very diversity of his stylistic palette, Cerha’s oeuvre embodies in a unique way the spirit of a–not doctrinaire, but rather lively – modernism that selects and uses available means freely and in often-new ways.
Brian Ferneyhough (Stanford, 02/03/2010) Camera lucida – camera obscura
I always used to think that a standard-setting piece of orchestral music really had to be able to close more doors than it was capable of opening; this notion leads me to think of pieces such as Gruppen and Atmosphères. What I found particularly interesting about Cerha’s Spiegel cycle, on the other hand, was to just what extent these stylistically quite disciplined structures communicate an entirely different impression. As I first listened, I was immediately captivated by the meticulous detail of the figuration, captivated by it in accordance with the extent to which the cluster-like quality of the overall structure did not blot out, but rather sharpened and deepened this necessarily up-close impression. Even just in connection with the title of the cycle, I thought of comparing it to the so-called “Claude Glass”, that mirror-like accessory made of black obsidian that was used by 19th-century painters. By virtue of the fact that all of the colour is forced out of that which is reflected in the glass, one gets the impression of a raised perspective: the extreme limitation in the one respect leads inevitably to an almost “surrealist” excess of sharpness in both the objects as well as the conditions of the sonic space which they project. This is how I view the dimensional dialectics borne within these compositions.
Georg Friedrich Haas (Basel, 24/02/2010)
Friedrich Cerha’s virtuosically composed orchestral work Spiegel is a milestone of music history. Within the space of one-and-a-half hours, there unfolds a drama of changing sonic densities, dynamic levels and contrasting structures. The work’s rational calculation leads to an emotionally compelling effect. In 1972 – as a young man who was just beginning to study music – I was able to experience the first-ever performance of the complete cycle. This performance numbers among those impressions which decisively influenced my musical thinking.
Beat Furrer (Vienna, 03/03/2010)
During my university studies, I hardly missed a single opportunity to be at Cerha’s rehearsals and performances of Baal, Netzwerk, Monumentum and the Spiegel pieces. His concerts with die reihe opened numerous doors for me: to the music of the Second Viennese School, of Varèse and others. Along with Haubenstock-Ramati, Cerha played a crucial role in that process of opening in Viennese musical life which eventually led to the establishment of the Wien Modern festival in the late 1980s. His orchestral and music theatre works bear witness to consummate mastery. Particularly the Spiegel series, written during the 1960s, is pioneering and radical in terms of its development of form from the sound itself; to this day, the cycle retains every bit of its original strength and freshness.
Bernhard Lang (Vienna, 21/12/2009)
I first heard Spiegel as a music student back in the ’80s when it was performed at the musikprotokoll festival in Graz, and I was deeply impressed. I still remember a great, very slowly swelling orchestral sound, which was mirrored, however, at its energetic centre – thereafter passing into an equally slow decrescendo. Sound as a surface, as an instrumental simulacrum of electronic sounds, as a staging of structure: that is what was so fascinating about these pieces. The multidimensionality of the mirror’s programmatic nature referred to Webern – but also, as in Foucault’s discussion of ladies-inwaiting, to a step towards the postmodern, to a way of viewing the subject as something mirrored multiple times and ultimately ungraspable.
Michael Jarrell (Geneva, 24/02/2010)
For me, Cerha’s Spiegel cycle is one of the most impressive orchestral cycles of the second half of the 20th century. In its richness of perspective, I detect a strong inner relationship with Grisey’s Les espaces acoustiques. It is a cycle of great strength and eruptiveness which artistic significance is comparable to that of Apparitions and Atmosphères.
Mark André (Berlin, 30/01/2010)
The Spiegel cycle by Friedrich Cerha is a thoroughly fascinating work. From the very beginning, one senses a wholly unique sort of breath-like pulsations. This “breathing” allows the work’s structure as such to unfold in all its complexity. The consistency of its composition gives rise to massive tension, which strength acts on one’s perception with great immediacy. It is about contemplating and admiring a multilayered message.
Marcelo Toledo (Wien, 05/03/2010)
Sometimes the work of an artist is manifested through a process that arrives to its final product from outside of the intrinsic mechanisms of that particular art form. Then a complete new world is presented to us. In the Spiegel series Cerha gives the impression of building his monumental orchestral pieces not from the language of music but rather from the tradition of drawing, sculpture, architecture, geology or any field in which the visual imagination is extended to its limits. The Spiegel are fundamentally sound shapes, textures, colors and densities transformed in time. It is music projected into space similar to the way visual artists and architects, sketch volumes, textures, forms and proportions into a plane. The Spiegel are, in their own way, the ultimate expression of what Varèse called organized sounds. The fact that after those two years of the seven Spiegel Cerha moved on into new music worlds keeping his prolific catalog could suggest the existence of these pieces as one more aspect of his work. We could be sure that these seven pieces stand up in themselves together with Charles Ives' unfinished Universe Symphony, Varèse' Arcana, Stravinky's Le sacre du printemps and few other orchestral pieces from the second part of the XX century as part of the tradition of utopian works of modern music.
Rebecca Saunders (Berlin, 26/01/2010)
I am fascinated by Cerha’s flexibility of line, by the body and weight of the orchestral sound. Cerha’s Spiegel leads one into a visionary sonic landscape which is of great sensuality. The architectural lines of the whole cycle possess an extraordinary clarity. Both strange and arresting.
José M. Sánchez-Verdú (Berlin, 24/02/2010) A distant star: Friedrich Cerha
As a student in Spain, the name of Cerha was like a far-off star to me: brilliant, and at the same time infinitely distant… I had experienced Cerha as a conductor by listening to numerous recordings by his ensemble die reihe; I will always associate the Chamber Concerto by Ligeti with his name. And at the same time, this name was also inseparably connected to Alban Berg and Lulu. Cerha was a reflection of Vienna and its culture – in many senses. die reihe was, for me, a reference to something great that this composer and conductor from Vienna had led forward, always in a lively way. Later on, he came closer to me: this allowed me to get to know several compositions by him, and I finally also learned more about his personality, including how he taught composition to some of my colleagues, one of whom was a Spanish composer. But then, Cerha’s name was still like that of a neighbour in my own world, a name from the culture of Austria and of Europe. Brilliance, awareness, dedication, interpretation and creativity were all summarized by this name of “Cerha”. The star and its radiance had come quite near. The musical universe needs stars like this.
Bernhard Gander (Vienna, 15/12/2009)
…I had the pleasure of hearing the Spiegel cycle only this year–around 50 years after its composition – in a complete performance. It had a frightfully refreshing effect on me. In terms of sound and emotion, this work is compelling in a way that other pieces written around that time and made from similar materials simply do not manage to be. To my mind, this is one of the outstanding qualities of Cerha’s music – he does not simply leave sound material to be sound, but much rather forms it, always making it his own.
Klaus Lang (Vienna, 04/02/2010)
I heard Spiegel for the first time in class, back when I was a student, and I was fully impressed by the idea of blocks of sound that were conceived quite sculpturally, like objects. Ligeti, for example, lends Atmosphères or Lontano a poetic connotation. With Cerha, on the other hand, I enjoy pure music – the immersion in a pure experience of sound where it is not about it's leading anywhere, to any particular message. Cerha consistently does without the illustration of moods.
Elena Mendoza (Berlin, 22/12/2009)
I became acquainted with Cerha’s Spiegel thanks to KAIROS, and I was immediately taken with the work. I ask myself why I had not run into this milestone of the 1960s avant-garde much, much sooner, for it could have far more clearly suggested to me a route to my own musical language than the compositionally similar orchestral works by Ligeti and Penderecki (Atmosphères, Threnos, etc.). In Cerha, the newly invented material is not the theme per se, but rather a means to an end in order to shape a musical story that is quite exciting in a dramatic sense. Cerha plays imaginatively with the material, leading it to unexpected destinations, seeking out expressive twists, and he is every bit as much a master of organic transitions as he is of sharp contrasts. He takes what he needs from 1960s compositional methods in order to shape sounds for his musical discourse: this is highly differentiated on the inside, and dramaturgically overwhelming from an overall formal perspective. An appeal to the symphony orchestras out there: please give frequent performances of this lively orchestral cycle, every exciting minute of it! It represents a real opportunity for a large number of inexperienced listeners to understand the language of the avant-garde and make it their own.
Johannes Maria Staud (Vienna, 31/12/2009)
Cerha’s Spiegel cycle, this gigantic quarry of ideas and textures, this gold mine of unfettered sonority and audacious twists, this kaleidoscope of shimmering hues and orgiastic masses of sound, is a work which is compelling and refuses to let you go once you have wandered into its claws. As with a spider web, Cerha envelops the listener in his seductive and suggestive sounds, abducting him into a cosmos of generous architectonic dimensions which is governed by its own laws. Without a doubt, this work represents a milestone of 20th-century music. What continues to baffle me today is how fresh and unworn, how visionary and exciting this music sounds even fifty years after it was created. The uncompromising and economical way in which it was composed and the innovativeness of its notation and orchestration go hand-in-hand with an unbelievable bounty of sweet and iridescent, coalescent and eruptive, bizarre and unforgettable moments.
Hèctor Parra (Barcelona, 14/01/2010)
Giving a deep listen to the cycle Spiegel by Friedrich Cerha takes us to the limits of our perception and cognition of all things sound. Masses of frequencies very often contain modal spectra in constant evolution towards chaos. Or, contrastingly, towards harmonicity and powerful abstraction, an overwhelming power which unifies space and time as if mirroring the physical reality of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. A curved world expands from the very first acoustic stimuli: immense, moving, majestic, full of mystery. Cerha's Spiegel pieces allow through their deep and immense nature, as well as their sounding space-time, the emergence and interaction of connected emotions in the deepest architectural sense of our creativity.
The composer Mark Andre began July with an eventful week: as part of the musica viva weekend he received the biennial “Happy New Ears” prize (named after John Cage’s well-known provocation to listen with fresh ears) from the Hans und Gertrud Zender Stiftung in collaboration with the Bavarian Academy of Arts, musica viva and BR Klassik. The day before, the Arditti Quartet gave the world premiere of Miniaturen, and on the day of the prize ceremony his orchestral work woher… wohin was premiered by the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra under Matthias Pintscher. In conversation with Jeffrey Arlo Brown, the composer discussed teachers and companions, his German-French heritage and the aesthetics of fragility.
This interview is reproduced here with the kind permission of VAN Magazine, where it was published immediately before the prize ceremony.
VAN: You studied at the Paris Conservatory from 1987 to 1993, with Gérard Grisey among others. At that time, Pierre Boulez had great influence over the music scene in France. What was your experience like?
Mark Andre: I only studied with Grisey for a year, which happened more or less by chance. He talked a lot about Ligeti and Scelsi. Of course, he was strongly opposed to other… “factions,” let’s say [laughs]. It was hard not to be aware of the fight between him and Boulez. But I had a lot of respect for Boulez—I was able to work with him, much, much later. I also had a lot of respect for the Spectralists. But neither of them felt like family, I didn’t fit in with either group.
Was it hard being young and not knowing where you fit in?
Of course. But Claude Ballif, my other teacher, was fantastic for me. He made us aware of Ivan Wyschnegradsky, who was a close friend of his. Claude even had Wyschnegradsky’s piano with the two keyboards at home. He supported him, because at the end of Wyschnegradsky’s life in Paris, he became quite isolated. Unfortunately, Claude has been a little bit forgotten—that happens fast.
After graduating from the Paris Conservatory you moved to Stuttgart, Germany, to study with Helmut Lachenmann. Lachenmann speaks German in a famously complex, layered way. Were you even able to understand what he was saying at the beginning?
Well, I’m from Alsace in France. At home we spoke Alsatian, which helped. For me it actually felt like a homecoming, because of the language and the culture. I felt better in Stuttgart than in Paris. And later, my close relationship with Helmut helped me feel at home as well.
Was he very strict as a teacher?
What he cared most about was a kind of typology of observation. How and what do I observe? At what point am I authentic? Where is the potential in my work? In that sense he was extremely strict. You learned to be very reflective. That was his way of challenging you, of making you confront yourself.
What changed in your music during that time?
It went more in the direction that I wanted. Maybe, when I was in Paris, I didn’t have the willpower to follow that path by myself. For example, in Paris they were always asking us, “What is your compositional language?” I tried to give them a decent answer, but on the inside I was thinking, “I don’t have a language, in music it’s not about the language.” With Helmut it was about the way each musical situation breathed.
You changed your name from its French spelling, Marc André, to a German spelling, Mark Andre. Where did that come from?
My family is Franco-German. Our last name was originally Andress, but it was changed in 1924, when my grandparents were living in France. You know, my grandfather had two brothers who died in World War II. One was killed in Stalingrad [fighting for the Nazis], and the other died in a concentration camp with the French. But they are buried together. So we’re neither Germans nor French nor Alsatians. We have a fluctuating, shifting identity.
You were raised by your grandparents. Did that affect you in any particular way?
What definitely shaped me was the constant closeness to old, fragile people, who were often sick, who took lots of medicines and told stories from earlier times, from their childhoods. I felt the way the war created these difficult questions of identity for them. They didn’t talk much about it—in fact, it was somewhat taboo—but it still had a permanent effect on me. Also, I’m from a very religious family, particularly my grandmother; that also had a major influence on me as a child.
What was your experience of religion when you were young?
I went to Sunday School every week. And one of the lessons the nun gave was about the Holy Spirit. For many Christians that is an abstract, intangible concept. But for me it was exactly the opposite. It was almost as if I felt it, as a presence or energy. Somehow, I felt something that was blowing inside me, like wind. Wind and to blow are the same word in Hebrew.
Today’s conversations about Christianity tend to focus mainly on its political implications, such as the morality of abortion. How do you approach these issues?
Thank you for asking me that. Especially as Protestants, we’re confronted with the commandments of Moses on the one hand and the extremely complex teachings of the gospels on the other. So you have to make individual decisions.
What’s extremely important to me is the episode of Jesus and the adulterous woman. Jesus makes this incredible statement: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” And of course, nobody throws a stone. Instead, they go home and reflect. And this teaching is in itself a kind of compositional lesson as well, because reflection is a very central part of composition. That episode gets at the heart of the creative process.
The central category of my work is one of disappearance. I mean that in an intuitive sense, not a negative or melodramatic one. In the gospels, there are episodes where Jesus of Nazareth disappears as soon as he is recognized. And in my compositions things disappear in a similar way: structures, sounds, and different kinds of time.
What do you mean concretely by “disappearance”?
For example, I recently wrote a piece for [the clarinettist] Jörg Widmann. Together we developed these different multiphonics with double trills, which were very pianissimo. That meant that the sounding result was always fluctuating; the sounds were always introduced on the verge of their disappearance.
Listening to your pieces “hij I” and “hij II,” I think I hear a certain fragility—a word you used in connection with your grandparents. Is that something you hope to achieve in your music?
I do believe that fragility can create a space for intensity. In my work it’s not supposed to be a mannerism, an atmosphere, or even a dramaturgical element, though; instead, it’s the result of a series of structural, timbral, temporal, and organizational decisions. The musical situations unfold, they are there to be perceived. Everyone is capable of using their antenna to observe things in their own way. I have great admiration for musicologists, but you don’t need a doctorate in musicology to experience that.
Several years ago I heard a piece of yours with friends who had never been to a contemporary classical music concert before. And the music had quite a strong effect on them.
That’s an honour. I don’t want to be melodramatic, but when you are spoken to and touched at your innermost core—for me, that’s the result of observation at a very high level. I have a lot of respect for anyone who observes a concert with intensity.
In 2011, the Guardian wrote, in an article about your music, that it’s not particularly well known in the UK or the U.S. Do you have any idea why?
No, but I regret that.
Maybe it has something to do with the way your work is anchored in the central European tradition of new music?
You know, I was in Finland once and had an interview for the radio there. And the reporter told me, “Your music is post-War-traumatized-German-music” [laughs]. You never know what other people will observe about your work, but that surprised me.
How do you work, day to day?
I work very, very much. At least eight hours a day, or until I’m completely exhausted. Maybe it sounds melodramatic, but that’s my life. I see everything through the prism of my work, it determines everything. And that might even be dangerous, in a sense. It leaves very little time for other things.
I also work in my apartment. I need to be close to my computer, to my sketches—I need their presence. Those things breathe and live on their own, like an organism. And the danger—maybe I need that too.
Brad Lubman’s official title at this year’s Grafenegg Festival is “only” Composer-in-Residence. However, at Schloss Grafenegg in August, the many facets of his musical life will be on display: as a conductor, he will give the closing concert with the Tonkünstler Orchestra, leading Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 and Mahler’s Rückert Lieder with Waltraud Meier, and for which Brad Lubman as a composer has written a new orchestral piece, Reflections. He has also acted as a door opener for a generation of young musicians through his teaching, as he explains in conversation with Sarah Laile Standke. In Grafenegg, he will once again help young musicians navigate the rocky terrain of contemporary music as leader of the festival’s composition workshop INK STILL WET.
In total there will be three compositions by Brad Lubman premiered in Grafenegg. His Grafenegg Fanfare will open the festival, and his ensemble piece Theater of the Imagination will be heard on the final day of the festival in a prelude to the closing concert which features Reflections. Grafenegg presents a rare opportunity to get to know the American-born musician as a composer, who is more familiar on the conductor’s podium with the great orchestras and ensembles in Europe and USA as well as with Ensemble Signal, the group he founded in New York. The five composition students participating in INK STILL WET, who will work with the Tonkünstler Orchestra for five days, will profit from Brad Lubman’s multi-faceted musical perspective as well as from his long teaching experience as a Professor at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester.
This edited excerpt from Brad Lubman’s conversation with Sarah Laila Standke about his compositional work and his view of the role of new music in contemporary concert programming is reproduced here with the kind permission of the author and the Austrian magazine morgen. The original German text can be read in full at http://www.morgen.at/htm/downloads/2017_03_24.pdf
SLS: When and why did you decide to be a conductor first and a composer second?
BL: I was interested in becoming a conductor when I was 14 or 15 years old. I don’t know why, but for some reason I became obsessed with the idea, mostly because of the music of Mahler, Beethoven and Debussy. From the age of 14 until I entered college when I was 18, I would practice conducting to records of lots of different repertoire. I also started studying scores of the basic orchestral repertoire. Then, during my time in college, I organized various ensembles and was always conducting something (both old and new music). As soon as I got out of college I freelanced as a percussionist and a year after that I was conducting new music with different ensembles in New York. The main impulse was to conduct, but I couldn’t stop myself from composing. I see myself mainly as a conductor who composes, but composing is a serious part of what I do.
Does that mean you always have musical ideas in your head?
Yes, that’s an interesting question: How does a piece start? Does it come from a musical idea or an emotional state? Very often ideas come while I’m listening to someone else’s music, or backstage waiting to go out to a concert. In the early 1990s I considered giving up; I thought that maybe I actually have no ideas, and just imitate and emulate composers that I like. For two years I completely stopped composing, and started to listen to composers whose music I didn’t know, and explore things other than music; I read a lot of John Cage and Samuel Beckett and watched art films. After this two year crisis I just had to compose again; there is obviously an innate need to create on some level.
What fascinates you in music?
As a composer I’m influenced among others by Carter, Boulez, Feldman and Reich. In my own works of the last few years, I have been focusing on a non-narrative, incongruent, surrealist approach: to take the listener and surprise them. In general, I’m very interested in structure and logic, as seen in the music of Bach, Webern, Boulez and Carter, as well as music with a mysterious and emotional side, for example Mahler, Schubert and Debussy. I’m also fascinated with colour in life and in design, which is why I am really fond of spectralist composers like Grisey and Haas - although the latter wouldn’t call himself that.
What role do you think new music plays in the concert hall and in people’s minds?
I think that it should play a different role than it does at the moment. For many people it is still “that weird music”. Imagine if the only thing you ever ate was a bread roll and a tuna fish salad. That’s terrible! You would never get to experience Italian and Indian cuisine or ice cream. The standard repertoire is great and uplifting and I love all of it, but I find that if it is all that you know, it can be very limiting. The role of new music should be to keep people open-minded. If you can learn to be open to new music and new art forms, you can be open-minded and understanding with other people even if you’re from different cultural backgrounds. The typical response of most people is: “I don’t want to hear it, I’m afraid I won’t understand it,” but maybe there is nothing to understand – just listen to it. Maybe you’ll love it, maybe you’ll hate it, or maybe when you hear it again in ten years, you’ll love it. This takes a lot of work. I think that maybe we were getting somewhere in the 1970s, whereas now we are taking a step backwards. The most important thing nowadays is ticket sales and not art for art’s sake. However, with younger people who start their own ensembles, especially in New York, there is a great enthusiasm about new music. I think the concert world is very predictable and needs revitalising: some of the new music that’s being commissioned seems to stay within a safe zone. A lot of these pieces are fantastic, but I think it’s the job of presenters and performers and conductors to not only play that type of new music which may be user friendly, but to create a more open experience.
How do you think this could change? Do composers or audiences have to change?
A lot of places are now reaching out to younger audiences and trying to introduce them to new music. That’s a step in the right direction, because if you get to someone when they are eight or 15 years old, you can change their life in a very profound way. Steve Reich once spoke about how a friend played him Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 and some John Coltrane when he was 14 years old. He said it was as if somebody had opened the door to a room in his own house that he had never seen before. I think there are many people who would be open to this and just need to be shown the right way.
Why do you think people are afraid of listening to contemporary music?
I think people are basically afraid in general. It also has something to do with one’s upbringing. People want to feel like they are a part, like they belong. And if they feel removed from it, they might say: “I don’t want to go to a classical music concert because I don’t understand it. The orchestra wears these ancient tuxedos, and I don’t know what to do.” This person would rather go to a crazy loud rock club. Perhaps the person who only goes to orchestral concerts should also go to a night club and experience the energy. It is just the fear of being open. Who knows if we can ever discover a way around it, but I think that’s the first boundary that we have to get past.
The death of death? – Ligeti’s “Le Grand Macabre” in London and Berlin
The semi-staged production of György Ligeti’s absurdist opera Le Grand Macabre was performed this year to great acclaim from critics and audiences alike in London and Berlin. Directed by Peter Sellars, boasting a luxury cast of singers and performed by two of world’s best orchestras – the London Symphony and the Berlin Philharmonic respectively – both runs were conducted by Sir Simon Rattle. Here is a collection of the most important press quotes as well as a trailer of the production and a short film of the conductor and director talking about their work.
This grotesque parable of war turns death on his head, and is enriched with elements from absurdist theatre, the medieval “danse macabre”, all the attractions of the funfair and the fictitious setting of Breughelland. Premiered in 1978 and revised in 1996, the work is characterised by grotesque alienation, comic book-esque exaggeration and mannerised excess. Musically, the opera sets off fireworks of ironically refracted, virtuosically exaggerated references to the operatic tradition as well as various musical languages of the 20th century as well as pop culture.
Le Grand Macabre was presented in a semi-staging in January and February 2017 at London’s Barbican Hall and the Berlin Philharmonie which played to the acting abilities of the outstanding singers, and was elevated through the stage design and use of video.
Thrilling: Ligeti's opera is brought arrestingly up to date in this production (…) the stunning virtuosity of the score was all the more effective for the taut, disciplined delivery by the LSO under Rattle.
Evening Standard, Barry Millington, 16.01.2017 (London)
From the opening toccata played on car horns which parodies the canzona from Monteverdi’s Orfeo, to the radiant passacaglia that supports the final scene, everything in Ligeti’s score is heard more vividly than it could ever be in an opera house, and the playing of the LSO is astoundingly good.
The Guardian, Andrew Clements, 16.01.2017 (London)
The miracle of the score consists in the fact that Ligeti musically connects the droll and trivial with the highly constructivist, the voluptuous and sensual with the surreal and farcical – the work is as adventurous as it is complex and agile. The work has not yet been more emphatically or precisely realized.
Süddeutsche Zeitung, Wolfgang Schreiber, 20/02/2017 (Berlin)
Beginning with a cacophony of car horns, the work builds to explosions, executions, insinuations and provocations, and encompasses coloratura, canon, chorales, shouts, screams and noises. (…) “Le Grand Macabre” remains easily comprehensible despite its complexity and Baroque ornateness; has a highly original conception and witty instrumentation; and is deeply rooted in the formal and sonic conventions of classical tradition. It is simultaneously bracingly acerbic, artfully allusive, outrageously funny and deadly serious – every generation can find their own meaning in this piece. This masterpiece has never disappeared from the repertoire.
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Eleonore Büning, 22/02/2017 (Berlin)
The smallest island of strangeness: an interview with Chaya Czernowin
Clara Ianotta from VAN magazine interviews Chaya Czernowin on her upcoming opera Infinite Now, art’s power to preserve individuality, and the intimacy of breath.
In the first week of February, I talked to composer Chaya Czernowin, my professor in composition at Harvard University, about her upcoming opera “Infinite Now,” which is due to be premiered in Ghent in April 2017, followed by performances in Antwerp, Mannheim, and Paris. Drawing texts from Can Xue’s story “Homecoming” and Luk Perceval’s play “Front,” which is based on All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, “Infinite Now” represents Czernowin’s largest-scale undertaking to date.
In the 20th century composers tended to avoid calling a piece of theater an “opera”—I’m thinking for example of “Prometeo” (“tragedy of listening”) by Luigi Nono, “Neither” (“anti-opera”) by Morton Feldman, “Die glückliche Hand” (“drama with music”) by Arnold Schoenberg, or most of the stage works by Luciano Berio. When you talk about “Infinite Now” you say “opera.” What makes this piece an “opera”?
You know, when I wrote “Pnima,” I also called it an “anti-opera.” I think that at that time I was very attached to the progressive, and I even said to people that I hated opera—which was not completely accurate because, for example, listening to “Pelléas et Mélisande” by Debussy actually changed my life. Sometimes I would call “Infinite Now” a work of music theater, but the truth is that I feel that there is something very conclusive, total, about the piece, because it uses so many means. As opposed to a string quartet, where you have four instruments that actually are an atomic family, four individuals speaking almost with the same voice, “Infinite Now” is the place where you are given all the means in abundance, a kind of euphoric abundance of everything you could be, in a way, a stage for all your ideas. That was how I came to view “Infinite Now,” after a while. And for me, that is really connected to the experience of an opera. There is something which is very holistic about it—it is not merely the abstraction that music can give you, but it really is connected to life, in a way. It brings voices from reality. I use a lot of field recordings: there are places where you have 10 layers of field recordings from different kinds of experiences that you can actually not even decipher. You have so many things that are happening, which create a kind of magma or a mini-reality. And that for me is one of the operatic aspects of the piece.
So why is “Pnima” an anti-opera and “Infinite Now” an opera?
“Pnima” was an eruption of emotions, a psychological growth over a long time. But at that time, my means were very restricted: two women, two men. In “Infinite Now” I have a trio—and while the difference between a duo and a trio seems small it is actually huge. A trio is actually a group. So, I had those two duos, six soloists and a string orchestra, which is almost a magnification of a string quartet. My approach fittingly was one of focus and abstraction. In some ways, “Infinite Now”—which came 16 years after—is a response to myself, to “Pnima”; “Pnima” is my debt to my past and to my family; “Infinite Now” is my debt to my future and to who I have become.
Our political present, our “now,” represents an extremely difficult moment for humanity. I feel like composers have no role in contemporary society and our music does not have the same meaning that it had in the past, for example, when it was possible for the premiere of Luigi Nono’s work “Intolleranza” to be interrupted by a group of neo-fascists.
The topics you used for your operas, “Pnima,” “Zaïde/Adama,” and “Infinite Now,” are very political. How does a composer like you deal with the current political situation? Is there even a meaning for what we are doing?
Well, it’s a very important question, and it can be a very long answer. A little while ago, I was talking with my son Ko about political movements, their power, and also their corruption of power. When we are in a group, a political group, we are active, we can contribute. The group can become strong and then acquire power. And my son Ko said to me, “this is where the art comes in,” because when a political change is needed we need the power of the collective. But later, and also at the same time even, we do need to regain a path to our individuality. At that moment you need the presence of the artists to split these two things up again, and help society in regaining that path. The collective is very important for making change happen, but then the balance of collective and individuality is necessary for our existence. This is where we come in. I don’t have so much trust in works of art which serve a political purpose—I’ve always been very suspicious of them, even though I understand that they are needed. In new music I always believed that individualization is one of the most important parameters.
You write that “Infinite Now” is an “experience, a state: in the midst of a morass, the presence of an imminent disaster.” I had the privilege of listening to the recording of the first half of the work, and I kept asking myself why I could not feel the presence of that “imminent disaster.” Everything felt safe, nearly familiar. But then I started to wonder whether your intention was to create an environment where you feel protected, where you can almost build memories.
Will the “disaster” follow this part?
Well, it is very interesting. I think that in “Infinite Now” I discovered different kinds of time. I call it “the time within the wrinkle”—I am listening to something which is happening in real time, but as I am listening to it, I realize that at the end of my field of listening there is something that is almost unrecognizable but that takes my ear. I zoom in on it, and as I do, it opens up and I discover a whole new gamut of things inside it. Now, this is not an addition, because it was there the whole time, but I am now just stopping that small sound and I am exploring the inside of it. As it unfolds, there is another onion-layer that comes from a totally different direction that didn’t even register when I was listening to the big flow stream of the initial river. And that is why I call it wrinkle, because you go inside a point in time and you discover that what you thought to be just a small detail is actually a whole physical presence of a universe of multiplicities, of heterogeneous happenings.
From the beginning, I knew the piece was going to be very long, and I also knew I did not want a climax at the end. In “Infinite Now” everything is building, building, building, and from the middle point on (where the breathing comes in) you begin to understand its direction, even though the flow is not at a constant rate. From a certain point, where your legs seem to be very strongly planted on the ground, because you are given many structural icons you can trust—every act starts the same way and has a very similar construction— everything becomes more and more alien, suddenly the two texts begin to relate to each other, and you end up on the smallest island of strangeness that you have never been able to see because it’s so hidden from your eye, but you are very safely getting to it. Everything goes there, and it is not like the two themes have been integrated to celebrate their unity. There is an inevitability in this opera that becomes stronger and stronger the more we continue to go. That is my hope.
So what I heard at the end of the third act is breathing, not sleeping?
If I look at the texts you use there is an internal space [“Homecoming”]—which is represented both by the psychological struggle of the female character and the fact she is physically trapped in her house—and an external space, the war [“Front”], the letters written by soldiers. These texts are all written in the past, but they become real again in the moment they are read in your opera. And then—but this is because I interpreted the breathing for sleeping—exactly when we hear the recording of the BBC news, which represents our present, we are sleeping. But you are telling me it’s just breathing, right?
Well, I don’t mind so much how you interpret it. Sleeping is a very interesting state. I asked my collaborator Carlo Laurenzi to give every breath its own individuality, highlighting different registers through reverb or dryness or careful slight filtering, and I created the timing in such a way that the breathing becomes a hyper-realistic state of utmost intimacy that has to do with our non-controlled mechanism. Again, it’s a kind of a wrinkle in our perception because when we zoom into that very essential and preliminary state, it can be a symphony. It doesn’t matter if it’s sleeping or breathing, what’s really important here is the moment when you succeed to get into this intimacy because the music compels you to start listening to all those details (you almost smell the mouth of the person breathing), and then you have the BBC News jingle approaching. It’s not coming as a huge contrast, it comes very softly, but it is so foreign, and that is exactly the place where politics come into the world for me.
In “Infinite Now” you use many field recordings. It’s particularly powerful when you are able to recognize not only the sound source of the recording, but the space where it first took place. It is almost like a window opens at that particular moment and we are suddenly projected elsewhere. This does not quite happen within the live instrumental music though, which seems to have its own space. So, how is the space within the texts reflected in the music?
It’s very strange because these spaces, in a way, are a kind of living architecture, and let me explain what I mean by that. Every act starts with this material of a metal gate closing. Of course, none of them are the same, it’s kind of a developing variation, some of them are extremely reduced and simplified, but it’s a very clear signal: we are in the next act. And before those gates there is always a 12-second break.
You mentioned that in “Infinite Now” time does not flow linearly, but the way you explain the structure of the opera is extremely linear—we start always from the same point (the gate closing), the breath that becomes the wind, etc. Every element seems to develop smoothly. Can you please elaborate on that?
I hope I can find the right way of putting this into words. You have elements A, B, C, and variations of these. Moving between these As-Bs-Cs you begin to get something which is linear and not linear at the same time because you are basically repeating them, but repetitions are just not the same. So, the sameness, the not sameness, and the repetition find a kind of a new meaning. That something is a huge structure that is repeated and it’s reinterpreted and then it’s reinterpreted again. And the way that the reinterpretation works is that, even though the constraints of what is repeated is still clearly identified with what it was before, every repetition directs you much further away, but you feel that you are on safe ground because you can recognize a certain element of repetition. This allows me to take the listener to very alien places gradually, not as a contrast, and also not as a clean process.
What happens in the second half of the opera?
I can give a short attempt to describe it, but it’s hard to put it into words. In the fourth act the two material sources begin to work together, and at a certain point they even kind of answer each other; suddenly they find themselves in the same universe. From there, that universe is beginning to act. That is what I call living architecture—it’s not enough that you build this huge space, palace, hollow, whatever you want to call it, at a certain point it or they begin to wake up and move, they begin to do something, which is why they were created. Then comes the fifth act, where all the voices, the train, the breathing, all these kinds of air sounds become a desert of wind. The whole opera house becomes like a desert which contains all the wind in the world. And within that wind the orchestra begins to push, and we reach a place which I call “the rocks,” where you are suddenly in a huge space and you just have these very isolated rocks. The sixth act is the place where music actually begins to talk with all the energy that it took from before, from all the extra-musical things. Suddenly the music has the way of talking which for me encapsulates everything we heard before with a new focus. And when this is done, we are in a place where the woman [from the “Homecoming” section] is adjusted, so to say, and Paul Beumer is talking about how the reality was so powerful and so terrible at the time of the war, and he says “Leben, aber das Leben” [“life, but life”], and in that moment, out of nothingness and desolation, life starts to appear.
Having heard the first half, I was expecting destruction, but you transformed it into a void.
You know, it is a way of finding life and continuation in the most restricted place, not through the contrast, not through the fight, not through the outward resistance, but through the understanding that—and I am saying it now in a very extreme way—that even if we will not exist anymore as human beings, the ants will live on [laughs]! I know it sounds very optimistic [laughs].
One of the questions I had while listening to the first half of the opera was, How it would end? Does life continue after war, or does it stop and it’s just time that keeps going? Can we dare ourselves to keep living?
Yes, basically it is a metaphor for the person whose life was ripped apart, and how to continue, how to find that one tissue of emotion, of place that you can actually hold on to and continue. In the craziness, in the most alien possibility, to still have something you can hold on to, a ground from which you can later move on.
On the move in Europe and equipped with freshly composed American music as is so often the case, the Mivos Quartet is also travelling with a two-month-old this time (“a travel baby, he falls asleep to Ferneyhough,” the parents assure). Whatever the situation, the four musicians have made it their mission to bring the latest music from the new world to the rest of the world. On their recent concert tour, which took them to the Stuttgart Eclat Festival amongst other venues, the ensemble also performed in Berlin, and we took the opportunity to discuss transatlantic cultural hopping and the liberating effect of the most contemporary music.
“People here in Europe are surprised by what is happening in America, even in new music circles,“ violist Victor Lowrie explains, and violinist Olivia De Prato adds: “In Europe, a lot of people think that American new music is all Steve Reich and Phillip Glass, all minimal music. But there are many extremely interesting young composers who do very different styles of music. For example, we play a lot of music by a collective from New York called the Wet Ink Ensemble. Alex Mincek, Kate Soper and Sam Pluta – these are some of the composers that we truly believe in and would like to share with audiences around the world.” Victor Lowrie notices in his fellow composing countrymen a common characteristic that, unlike their European counterparts, they indulge less in ideologically charged aesthetic skirmishes. “There is more of a stylistic eclecticism that can lead to surprising creative avenues“, he concludes.
Interestingly, this eclecticism – the mixing, penetrating, delimiting – is not placeless and arbitrary in itself. In fact, their geographic home is probably the factor that moulds the quartet’s character most. In today’s America, and especially in New York, something is happening that – layer by layer so to speak, in several cultural working steps – has always occurred there in a more concentrated, more radical way than anywhere else. Together with the waves of immigrants, music also immigrated into the country, resulting in a particular competence in “how that works with people’s influences, their personal background in the music that they are familiar with.”
The melting pot qualities of their home city are conducive to the quartet in many ways. Cellist Mariel Roberts explains: “Especially in New York, there are so many artists of the highest calibre in every realm of life, every type of music, every type of art. There are people who do traditional modes of performance, and all of the people who do experimental versions of that mingle together. So we work with artists who do experimental jazz, experimental electronic music, hip hop, mixed media – everything you can think of. All these people are pushed into the same circles and are interested in each other’s work – a really interesting collaborative space to work in”. Cultural life in the US is far less institutionalised than in Europe in those areas in particular – for better or for worse a factor that fosters special alliances. “We’ve been lucky to work with these people who are not in ‘our world’, to explore for example more improvisation as a group. It is something that can be difficult to achieve as a string quartet because of the mould that you are expected to fit into“, says Mariel Roberts.
The project they performed in Berlin also originated from within their New York network. Atemwende for string quartet and trumpet, a composition by Bojan Vuletic from his cycle Recomposing Art, has been part of the Mivos Quartet’s repertoire with trumpet player Nate Wooley for quite a while. On the tour, it is interwoven with letters by Paul Celan and Ingeborg Bachmann, based on a concept by the actress Britta Shulamit Jakobi. “We have worked with Nate for many years,” explains Victor Lowrie. “In 2011, he recommended us to Bojan Vuletic who is now an artistic friend of the ensemble and invites us annually to his asphalt festival in Düsseldorf.”
The Mivos Quartet has also been a repeat guest at the Darmstadt International Summer Course for New Music. The musicians describe this kind of new music biotope as a clear contrast to the atmosphere in New York. “There is a different kind of criticism that happens, particularly in Darmstadt. People are more concerned with history, lineage, the proper form of things, and are more combatant about aesthetics,” says Mariel Roberts. “In the States, since the history of classical music isn’t technically an American history, people don’t become too defensive of or attached to certain aesthetic choices.”
Accordingly, the four use their time in Darmstadt and at other European festivals as a musical stimulus, an opportunity to meet musicians, and they consider the disputes that sometimes take place more as a distraction from the music. After all, they were attracted to new music in the first place mostly because they felt less limited by aesthetic prejudice when playing it. “There is something very liberating about new music, growing up playing classical string quartet repertoire. In new music you can wipe the slate clean and decide how something should be performed,” violinist Lauren Cauley explains. Crucial to all four is the pleasure they take in working with composers and thus in finding new solutions for musical situations. It is not only through partnerships with composers, some of which they have enjoyed for many years now, but also through two composing competitions under their aegis, that new and interesting scores fall into their hands. Olivia De Prato explains: “Whereas a lot of classical players say, this or that is not possible on the instrument, I feel like for us, nothing is impossible. Even if technically something doesn’t work out, we can talk to the composer and see what he or she wants, and then we will come up with an idea that fits that image.” Mariel Roberts adds: “It frees a lot of our own creativity to collaborate directly where you are not just playing notes on a page but making music with someone on a really intimate, immediate level.”
When it comes to the joy they take from this artistic process, it does not make any difference whether a composer of the older European generation such as Rihm or Lachenmann, whether their peers from New York, or whether musicians from other genres are their partners. This openness means that the Mivos Quartet frequently works with stars from other music scenes – stars who the ensemble can (or must) introduce to its own audiences. The trombonist and musician George Lewis, for example, whose new string quartet Playing with Seeds is on their agenda for their visit to the Eclat Festival in Stuttgart, is also seen by European concertgoers as eminent in the world of avant-garde jazz and free improvisation; as head of the jazz department at Columbia University he leads one of the most prestigious jazz institutes in America. Translated for a concert hall audience with less of an affinity for improvisation, the quartet describes him as “a really incredible American composer who until recently has not been played that much either in the States or in Europe and who has a background in improvisation”. Similarly, Saul Williams, world-renowned in hip-hop and spoken-word circles, can still be a new discovery for other audiences. The quartet will perform a whole programme with him at the ACHT BRÜCKEN Festival in Cologne. In addition to NGH WHT by Thomas Kessler, they will premiere a new piece by Ted Hearne. Colton as Cotton, written by the quartet in co-operation with Saul Williams, has also been performed several times in recent years.
That’s right, now and again the quartet members also compose. Cross the border – close the gap one might want to call out in happy postmodern nostalgia to summarise the whole thing. Instead, we continued talking about current US politics.
Young British composer Charlotte Bray was propelled to success in her home country whilst still in her 20s. After receiving her first BBC Proms commission in 2012, the orchestral work At the Speed of Stillness, she was tipped as one of the most influential young Londoners in the Evening Standard and described as at the “forefront of younger British composers” by Gramophone magazine.
Speaking to me in her Berlin studio, sketches for her latest composition open at the keyboard, she agrees that this acclaim came with its own pressure, but hasn’t had much of a chance to contemplate her success. “When you’re in the middle of trying to finish a piece it’s quite hard to define what, why, how you got where you are.”
Since then, she has written three new orchestral works in addition to a catalogue of chamber pieces as well as her first chamber opera, Entanglement. Incredibly, she feels like she is just making up lost ground. Having originally studied cello at Birmingham Conservatoire, she didn’t start composing in earnest until she was 20, and promptly switched course to study with Joe Cutler.
“Whilst studying cello I always knew that I couldn't express myself on the outside how I could on the inside. I remember very vividly sitting in orchestra and being so fascinated by the conductors, because they seemed to communicate with me on a musical level that I wanted to join in.” Composition, on the other hand, came naturally, and she went on to study with Mark-Anthony Turnage at London’s Royal College of Music.
Not that she regrets what she perceives as her late start in composition. It may even have given her a unique sense of creative freedom. “It’s that naïveté that allows you to play with ideas. There are some ideas or pieces that, if I’d known that other composers had done something similar, I would never have written.”
We are speaking at the end of a particularly good year that saw the premieres of two new orchestral works by the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Stone Dancer was performed at the Aldeburgh Festival under Oliver Knussen – one of the composer’s many champions in the UK. Falling in the Fire was her first large-scale concerto and second BBC Proms commission, and was performed there last August by cellist Guy Johnston under conductor Sakari Oramo.
This particular work would prove to be pivotal. Initially it was to be based on a chamber piece she had written for the cellist’s chamber music festival in Hatfield, England. But on the morning she was to put pen to paper, news broke of the destruction of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra by ISIS troops. “I wrote down some musical material in a bit of a daze, not really thinking very clearly. It took me by surprise really, but I really felt compelled to do something.”
The resulting piece is compelling and anguished; after the premiere, another composer described it to her as “troubling.” Has this awoken a political interest in the composer? “I definitely wonder why we don’t look at political subject matter more as composers and really think about the world we’re living in.”
She feels that she has a moral responsibility as an artist – “if you're not going to say anything, then that's also saying something” – but doesn’t claim to be offering any solutions to a complex issue. “Whatever I say is just an expression of my feeling about the situation. I’m certainly not claiming to be trying to find an answer. What answers are there?”
Whilst not always political, much of her work is sparked by influences from outside music; “I think you could probably get more from a book written by a painter than an orchestration book”. Interested in art, poetry and architecture, her work has diverse sources that intersect in unexpected ways, for example in her recent oboe quartet Bluer than Midnight.
“When I came to write the piece, I had Ezra Pound in my head, who was always talking about blue.” The work’s title references both a line from the poet’s Cantos CX (“waves under blue paler than heaven/over water bluer than midnight”) as well as artist Yves Klein’s minimalist studies in deep blue.
Influences from visual art and literature give her different perspectives on her creative practice, and push her work in new directions. However, her compositional process often starts with sound – “but, something that isn’t really a sound, but rather a feeling or a texture; something quite tactile.” Coupled to this is a strong focus on melody, and a natural grasp of orchestral colour.
The composer is coming to the end of a short-term teaching post as visiting professor at L’Escola Superior de Música de Catalunya in Barcelona, which has been a source of inspiration in itself. “It’s so refreshing to meet young composers who have totally free minds and explore their ideas.” In this respect, the composer’s attitude to her art has not changed much since her own creative beginnings: “It does get harder and more difficult, but playing with material and creating something is a fun thing to do.”
This October, the Bochumer Symphoniker and their long-standing Music Director Steven Sloane celebrated a milestone with the opening of their long-awaited new home, the Anneliese Brost Musikforum Ruhr.
The grand opening of the Musikforum was marked by a performance of Mahler’s First Symphony as well as the premiere of Stefan Heucke’s cantata, Baruch ata Adonaij – Gesegnet seist du, Herr, performed by the Bochumer Symphoniker under Steven Sloane alongside baritone Martijn Cornet, massed choirs from Bochum and the Ruhr region and pupils from the Bochum Music School, which is situated in the new building. A recording of the opening concert is available to stream on the Arte website.
The new Anneliese Brost Musikforum Ruhr is built around the Marienkirche, and will not only be home to the Bochumer Symphoniker, but also provide a regional centre for culture. Before its opening, the project was praised for engaging with the local community, and for creating a versatile concert hall at a low cost in difficult economic circumstances in a relatively short space of time. The concert hall’s opening was covered by newspapers including the Neue Zürich Zeitung and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, who praised the conception of the project and the acoustics of both new halls.
Steven Sloane marked his 20th anniversary with the orchestra in the 2014/15 season. During his time as Music Director, he has transformed the ensemble into one of Germany’s leading orchestras, and brought international recognition to the arts in the Ruhr region through work including the European Capital of Culture RUHR 2010.
The new concert forum plays a leading role in the following video streams with Steven Sloane:
In November, Antje Weithaas celebrated her 50th birthday with a special performance at the Konzerthaus Berlin with the Camerata Bern, the chamber orchestra she has led since 2009. Ahead of the concert, we spoke to her about her multi-faceted career as a soloist, chamber musician and teacher, and why she is always looking for something new.
You’re celebrating your 50th birthday this year. Does it feel like a milestone?
To be honest, I don't care about numbers. As long as I feel well, then I don't mind. Sometimes I can't believe it’s already 50. But, it’s a birthday like any other, in a way.
Has it given you pause to reflect on your career?
Not really. My career was always very flexible and never just moved in one direction. Opportunities just came up, for instance the Arcanto Quartet many years ago, and then Camerata Bern. I need these completely different kinds of activities – playing solo concertos, recitals, chamber music in every possible formation. I'm always looking forward to what's coming next.
Is there anything you have in common with the young violinist at the beginning of her career?
Today I think I know what’s important for me in making music. I wouldn't say I knew that when I was young. Teaching helped me a lot, because when I was young I was an instinct musician. When I started teaching I had to be much clearer about my thoughts as I had to explain them. You can’t just say “That’s the way I feel it”. You really need to prove that you’re careful with the scores and with the special language of a composer.
Was playing the violin always a way of expressing yourself?
Absolutely. I would say that it’s really my voice. I’m much better at playing than at talking! (Laughs) I always try to communicate with the people on stage, and also with the audience in the hall. You can’t really explain what happens in this moment, but you feel the tension, and that it creates a very special atmosphere that only occurs in a live concert.
Does this urge to communicate explain why you are so active as a chamber musician?
People often say that chamber music is more communicative and that when you are playing solo it’s different. For me there isn’t a difference. If you play with an orchestra and a conductor and there’s no communication, who wants to hear that? I really want to communicate, even with a large group.
At the Konzerthaus, you’ll be performing with the Camerata Bern. What are the challenges of leading an orchestra, as opposed to, say, a string quartet?
It is completely different in rehearsal, and how you prepare. You need to have a very clear concept of what you want to do with the piece. Then you need the freedom to react to what the others give and create something together. Another thing is the energy on stage… This is a miracle I can’t explain. We can play a piece one way in rehearsal, but on stage a million different things can happen. It’s very challenging in the moment, but also very satisfying.
When you joined the orchestra did you have an idea of the type of music you wanted to play?
We started with the normal repertoire and transcriptions for string orchestra, but from year to year we became more bold and courageous. Beethoven’s First or Eighth Symphonies are possible, because they’re very classical, but we also tried the Beethoven Violin Concerto without a conductor and it worked. Sometimes it can work better with or without a conductor, but this direct communication and sense of creating something together in the moment can be very hard to achieve if you have a conductor involved.
At the Konzerthaus, you’ll be performing Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata, arranged for string orchestra.
Yes, but you shouldn’t expect the sonata for violin and piano! Every note Beethoven wrote is there – nothing added, and nothing taken away – but it’s a completely different sound world. The second movement becomes like a string sextet, whilst the last movement has this absolute energy and presto feeling. We don’t want to make the piece better – we just want to take another approach and hear the piece in a new way.
What attracts you to a piece? Is there a common thread in your repertoire?
I always try to find something new. I would find it boring to specialise in one style. That’s really why I want to play the whole range of repertoire, everything from Bach to contemporary music. What is important to me is to play every piece in the style it belongs. Every composer has his or her own language and needs a different sound, phrasing, articulation, etc.
Do you still get nervous when you go on stage?
Of course. I learnt to handle it, but I can’t go on stage without this tension. If it’s positive, then it’s energy. It’s a natural part of performance to be nervous beforehand. If I notice that it becomes routine when I go on stage then I’ll say “no more”. That’s why I don’t play the same piece twenty times. Every week I am doing something different. That way it remains fresh and I always have a new approach. I hope I keep playing for as long as possible!
A portrait concert as part of Bavarian Radio’s musica viva series in Munich, a concert symposium at Wien Modern, performances of the opera Don Quijote with the Ensemble Modern, a series of birthday concerts with the new SWR Symphony Orchestra and a performance of his Winterreise at New York’s Carnegie Hall with Mark Padmore under the direction of Sir Simon Rattle: in addition to this long list of events honouring the work of Hans Zender last year, the great composer, conductor and music philosopher celebrated his 80th birthday on 22 November.
The latest collection in Denken hören – Hören denken, Hans Zender’s impressive series of essays dealing with philosophy, music aesthetics and cultural-political issues, was published by Karl Alber in October to tie in with the celebrations. Also in the pipeline is Penser avec le sens, a selection of essays from the volume Die Sinne denken, which will be published Contrechamps Editions Geneva.
Furthermore, two new CDs were released to mark the composer's birthday. 4 canciones nach San Juan de la Cruz, recorded by the soprano Angelika Luz, violinist Ernst Kovacic, Klangforum Wien under Sylvain Cambreling, the Bavarian Radio Choir and Symphony Orchestra under Susanna Mälkki, SWR Vokalensemble Stuttgart under Marcus Creed, and the SWR Symphony Orchestra under Emilio Pomàrico, was released by WERGO. His “composed interpretation” of Winterreise, recorded by tenor Julian Prégardien and the Deutschen Radio Philharmonie Saarbrücken Kaiserslautern under Robert Reimer, was released on P.RHÉI.
"Music is simply the most beautiful and fulfilling part of my life", says Tabea Zimmermann on why she is celebrating her 50th birthday with a concert. A few weeks before the festivities she tells us about her plans for the matinee performance, a new world premiere and her multi-faceted life as a violist, professor and festival director.
The impressive list of musical well-wishers sharing a stage with Tabea Zimmermann at Berlin's Radialsystem on 9 October points to the richness of her professional life. The violist explains: "I may have recorded two CDs with Kirill Gerstein but we've actually performed very little together in concerts. We now have the chance to play together, since he also lives in Berlin. Jörg Widmann is a close friend and we've been playing together for years; as a guest with the Arcanto Quartett or in our trio with Dénes Várjon, with whom we premiered Jörg's trio Es war einmal... ("Once upon a time..."). This long-standing bond is wonderful." Tabea Zimmermann’s commitment to contemporary music is combined with her love of teaching: "Benjamin's Viola, Viola is a very challenging piece that I play every now and again with students, and have been working on with German Tcakulov." She will also perform Dvořák's quintet with the esteemed Armida Quartett – four young musicians with whom she has become good friends. Among them is her former student, Teresa Schwamm: "Teresa is now a colleague and we make music together. A happy coincidence!"
Reflecting on her achievements is not Tabea Zimmermann’s priority as she celebrates her milestone birthday. When she does briefly consider her long career on the stage, the musician is a little amazed, having started viola lessons at the age of three and still becoming "increasingly familiar" with her instrument after 47 years. "Playing, travelling and working have accompanied me throughout my life and it is still a positive experience. I take huge pleasure in making music! There’s no end in sight yet, although in the past I would never have thought I would still be playing the viola at the age of 50." She does not know whether she will still be playing in ten years' time. "In the meantime I can, however, imagine that I will be. Of course health is something to be taken into consideration. I don't feel impaired yet but playing a stringed instrument is such a complex activity that one can surely not carry on in the same way at the age of 80."
Another reason that 50 is a significant number for her is a very personal one: Tabea Zimmermann's first husband, the conductor David Shallon, suddenly passed away shortly before his 50th birthday."Back then we wanted to have a big party but sadly never got round to it. The fact that I'm now passing over this threshold, 16 years later, is of great significance to me."
"So now I'm celebrating", concludes Tabea Zimmermann, adding that she has never done this before. The violist now feels she has been "lucky". "I have received an awful lot in life, from the Lahr Music School, my teachers in Freiburg and Sándor Végh in Salzburg: to my surprise, I've always had support and encouragement. From a very young age, I was told, 'Don't change' and 'Continue like that'. That gives you a decent following wind!" When she says this experience has given her a sense of responsibility, it is not just a cliché; it is the impetus for a whole range of activities. As well as her teaching commitments, which have become ever more important to her, there is her relatively new involvement with the Hindemith Foundation, her appointment as chair of the board of the Beethoven-Haus Bonn and her artistic directorship of the Beethoven-Woche. "I don't believe in big changes from the outside", she explains. "I have observed that in society you can only change things in your own area. For me that has a lot to do with personal contact. I don't like dealing with power structures and hierarchies."
She has increasingly arranged her own musical activities in accordance with this maxim, choosing special musical partnerships. She spent two intensive years as artist in residence with the Ensemble Resonanz, premiering Enno Poppe's viola concerto Filz among other works. The piece was recently performed again at the Musikfest Berlin to great acclaim. "The Ensemble Resonanz is a small group with a democratic attitude that has developed a very strong profile for itself. When I lead a programme with them, I have my own thoughts, but it's not about telling the others what to do. I would rather suggest something that the ensemble just cannot turn down." The collective search for new musical insights is also integral to her teaching. "Everything that I work on with my students comes into my own work and vice versa: the things that I experience during rehearsals and concerts make their way into the classroom the following week. It's a continual growth that I'm really happy about and thankful for."
Will Michael Jarrell's new viola concerto also appear in a lesson in the not too distant future? The score is on Tabea Zimmermann's music stand at home at any rate, but before it can be celebrated, there is the small matter of its world premiere. She describes this exceptionally virtuosic and formally varied work as "practically unplayable but still huge fun. I’ve premiered over 50 compositions so I’m able to enjoy a bit of confidence and hope that everything goes smoothly again.” Laughing, she adds: “But I never know for sure. For all the preparation, practice and tinkering, it only comes together during rehearsals”. This is a process that demands trust and openness from all involved. “My attitude before a world premiere is that I mustn’t judge the piece but rather make it possible for the sounds to be heard.”
Tabea Zimmermann looks to her own future with a similar openness. “The question ‘What next?’ has occupied me since my first competition, when I was asked what I would like to be doing in ten years’ time. I wasn’t and am still not able to give an answer! I'm happy that I didn’t always have everything meticulously planned out. My favourite music is always what is currently on my music stand.”
A drama of salvation: Toshio Hosokawa’s opera ‘Matsukaze’
The evening / is bitter / for those / whose lover is as far / as the sky.
(Japan, unknown poet, 920 AD)
Matsukaze and Murasame share a passionate and unrequited love for the same man. Hundreds of years after their death, their ghosts return to the salt shack where they spent their lives. From 6 until 9 April, Toshio Hosokawa’s opera Matsukaze can once again be seen at La Monnaie in Brussels where choreographer Sasha Waltz’s original production received its world premiere. As in 2011, Barbara Hannigan and Charlotte Hellekant will take on the roles of Matsukaze and Murasame. Later in the month, the production will be performed at the Polish National Opera.
Matsukaze is based on material from classical Nō theatre that is very well-known in Japan. The composer describes the story as a drama of salvation: “Matsukaze and Murasame return to our world once again. They have a very sad fate and suffer a great yearning from which they wish to free themselves. This aspect of the story is very important for me personally. Through composing, I would like to free myself from such attachments; through music, I seek to purify my existence.”
As in many of Toshio Hosokawa’s pieces, nature plays a significant role in Matsukaze. “The title of the opera is important because the name Matsukaze is a compound word meaning wind (kaze) in the pines (matsu). What the women sing can be understood as sounds of nature. This was important to me as I composed the work; without song, I cannot bring nature into the score. When I make music, my sounds become one with the entire cosmos. In Matsukaze, music, song and dance create this connection to nature. At the end, Matsukaze becomes wind and Murasame becomes water and rain – that is a very Japanese way of thinking.” Toshio Hosokawa sees the two main protagonists as intermediaries between the world of the living and the world of the dead: “These days, we live in a world that we want to separate from death. We forget the dead, although we all die. Shamans establish a connection to the world of the dead, they move between the living and the dead.”
As classic as the story and its spiritual influences may sound, Hosokawa’s treatment of the material is far removed from the ritualised art of Nō theatre. “These strict movements and rules come from the samurai times when Nō theatre emerged,” the composer explains. “In many Japanese arts, Kabuki for instance, I recognise a very strict societal order, a hierarchy, a male society with very strict laws. It’s not possible to breathe. I don’t like that, and I’d like to free myself and art from this. But the thought, the basic theme, interests me.”
Toshio Hosokawa also based his opera Hanjo (2004) on Nō theatre. However, while the libretto of Hanjo was newly interpreted by the Japanese poet Yukio Mishima, Matsukaze was composed upon a German libretto by the young author Hannah Dübgen, who closely references the Japanese original by Zeami.
The traditions of Japanese culture influence Toshio Hosokawa greatly but do not confine him. His relationship to European music is similar. “I need both music from Japan and music from the rest of the world. I love European music more than Japanese music, already having studied it as a child. Almost all Japanese people love European music because it broadens their perspective. The Japanese tradition is very narrow. I feel our Japanese music to be less independent. Our music needs atmosphere, context, climate and special places in order to exist, and only comes alive through the joining of these components. In contrast, European music is an abstract form, a bigger world. It is possible to utilise it in other contexts,” he explains.
Aside from its riches, Toshio Hosokawa also sees weaknesses in the European music and opera tradition. “In European opera, music and movements are separate. The vocals are wonderful but the gestures are always the same. Coming from Japanese theatre, one is used to song and movement relying on one another. I would like to create something new, a truly new opera and for this, new impulses and personalities are essential.”
In the last scene of Matsukaze, it is dance that brings deliverance to the souls of the two sisters who long for the fulfilment promised in a poem penned by their lover:
Today is the hour of parting / the gates of the capital are waiting for me / yet when I hear your longing / call, loved one - / I will return.
GrauSchumacher pay homage to Busoni’s ‘visionary spirit’ in 150th year
Ahead of their performance of Busoni’s complete works for two pianos at the Musikfest Berlin this September, the GrauSchumacher Piano Duo tell us why Busoni is under-represented in concert programmes today, and how he broke the mould at the turn of the 20th century.
This year marks what would have been Ferruccio Busoni’s 150th birthday. In his day, the Italian-German pianist, composer and essayist was renowned the world over for his dazzling virtuosity at the keyboard. He continues to hold a special significance for pianists: his piano compositions are astounding artistic and technical achievements that set the most irresistible challenge for performers at the highest level.
In his compositions, Busoni aimed for a middle way between the forward-looking modernism of contemporaries such as Arnold Schönberg and the timeless melody and counterpoint of the great composers of the past, especially Bach. However, his music has gained a reputation as being dense, difficult and foreboding. For the GrauSchumacher Piano Duo, “Busoni is absolutely under-represented in today’s concert culture. That may be because he is not readily seen as a universal genius.”
Andreas Grau and Götz Schumacher are challenging this perception with a new programme incorporating Busoni’s complete works for two pianos. Having performed the programme in August at the Busoni Festival and the Piano Festival Husum, the duo will now perform the programme as part of the Musikfest Berlin on 4 September.
The duo is well known for its serious and intelligent approach to concert programming. This programme, however, was of Busoni’s own devising. “In his writings, Busoni speaks of a ‘through-composed’ programme that incorporates his complete works for two pianos,” Andreas Grau says. The programme was never performed by Busoni, and has been rarely heard since – although he points out “there was one recording years ago on LP by the Swiss duo Isabel and Jürg von Vintschger.”
Busoni conceived the programme after finishing his transcription of Mozart’s Fantasie für eine Orgelwalze. He saw that this work could be combined with his transcription of Mozart’s Duettino concertante to create a new sonata. As Andreas Grau explains, “the contrasting parts of Fantasie für eine Orgelwalze function as the 1st and 2nd movements and the Duettino concertante, as in the original Piano Concerto KV 459, functions as the virtuosic and brilliant conclusion.” Busoni then framed this new sonata with two of his improvisations on Bach, including his famed Fantasia contrappuntistica, reworked for two pianos.
For the GrauSchumacher Piano Duo, this programme displays the scope of Busoni’s work. “It is fascinating to see the breadth of Busoni’s composition, which spans from close correspondence with the original work – as in the Duettino concertante, which could as well pass for Mozart’s original – to an almost complete reinvention – as in Fantasia contrappuntistica, which transfers Bach’s music into the 20th century.”
As well as this, the programme offers an opportunity to appreciate what Andreas Grau calls Busoni’s “visionary spirit.” For the duo, “it is always fascinating to play works from this period whose creators were also their interpreters. In this respect, Busoni stands in the tradition of Franz Liszt, who edited his works for his own use. This gives us a new way of looking at the relationship between an original and its interpretation and transcription.”
Indeed, many of Busoni’s works are transcribed or edited versions of pre-existing music, and are a kind of homage to the great composers of the past. This, along with the fact that much of his music was created specifically for his own performance, means that his creative work breaks the mould of what we expect from a composer working at the beginning of the 20th century.
With this programme, the GrauSchumacher Piano Duo aims to redress the balance of Busoni’s contemporary reception. As too do a host of institutions holding concerts and exhibitions in Busoni’s anniversary year. The duo’s concert will be held at the Kunstbibliothek Berlin, where it will open a special exhibition entitled ‘BUSONI. Freiheit für die Tonkunst!’
Using artefacts from the Busoni estate held by the Staatsbibilothek zu Berlin, the exhibition will display the composer’s music manuscripts, programmes and arrangements of other composer’s works alongside letters between Busoni and contemporaries such as Schönberg, Stefan Zweig and George Bernard Shaw, and works by artists who were important to Busoni, such as Pablo Picasso.
This exhibition, as with the duo’s Musikfest Berlin performance, aims to paint a truer, more nuanced picture of Busoni in his 150th birthday year. As well as a piano virtuoso, and a composer indebted to the music of his forebears, he was a radical visionary who dreamt of a new kind of music, and who challenges our idea of what a classical composer looks like.
He may be a neglected figure in contemporary concert programmes, but the GrauSchumacher Piano Duo “hope that his two anniversaries in 2016 and 2024” – which will mark the 100th anniversary of his death – “will help to change that, and that this fascinating music can be brought to a wider audience.”
According to his official biography, the decision to dedicate himself to conducting was made fairly recently: in 2010 Pierre Bleuse chose not exactly to give up his highly successful career as a violinist but at least to let it rest in order to begin studying with Jorma Panula in Finland. It may therefore come as a surprise that the Frenchman has been a regular guest conductor of the Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse for several years. In the meantime the Orchestre National Bordeaux-Aquitaine also extends invitations to him and he is now setting out on an international career – in July he made his US debut with the Utah Symphony. In answer to the question of whether he took a secret shortcut to the conductor's podium, he says no and laughs: "I actually first became obsessed with conducting when I was four, before I even started playing the violin. So it was always my first love and even as a violinist I was always connected to conducting."
In order to live out this love the sought-after violinist, who performed as an orchestral and chamber musician, and as a concertmaster with orchestras such as the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, became a student again. "It required a certain amount of humility but taking the time to do this was both essential and very rewarding. Jorma Panula told me point-blank, ‘You are a conductor, stop your job and concentrate!’" The great teacher of conducting served as a door opener to the Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse. "It's not necessarily easy for an orchestra to accept a colleague from the same city in the role of conductor – I was solo violinist with the Orchestre de Chambre de Toulouse until 2010. Luckily our first meeting in 2012 went so well that the result has been an annual collaboration ever since."
In any case Pierre Bleuse's past as a violinist was advantageous for his conducting training as he had an intimate knowledge of repertoire from baroque to contemporary music, and an accurate insight into the inner workings of an orchestra from the musicians' point of view. From 2005 to 2010 he regularly led the Orchestre de Chambre de Toulouse as solo violinist – an experience which influenced his current understanding of the conductor's role. "My work seems to me to be a natural continuation of what I tried with the chamber orchestra: I'd like to communicate what the music is saying and focus completely on that. At the same time I am convinced that as a conductor you have to listen to the wonderful musicians who you are working with. Of course I have a clear idea of how I want to shape a piece of music but I am always open to what the musicians have to contribute. It makes me happy when every musician can be an artist and not just a little soldier in a concert." This thought leads him in preparation for his concert in Utah. "Every orchestra has its own sound. You cannot necessarily prepare for it. But it helps to be aware and alert in the first moments of the rehearsal for these differences. That doesn't however mean that you have to adapt, you have to stay true to yourself."
In the meantime Pierre Bleuse counts himself lucky that he also has the opportunity to put programmes together. "As a young conductor you are often not able to choose what you would like to conduct. This is currently changing for me – in October I'll conduct a programme for the first time with works by Ravel and Dukas in Toulouse." As a co-founder of the Festival Musika Toulouse, Pierre Bleuse devoted himself intensively to programmatic questions. "I like this adventure. For Musika I spent a lot of time developing unusual programmes and interesting concert formats." The idea for the festival first came about through Pierre Bleuse's concert activity in Norway where he met musical partners and sponsors for a French-Norwegian cultural exchange. As a networker and creative mind, he was able to co-develop an economically and musically successful festival that has since taken on a different form: the Musika Orchestra Academy, still under the artistic and musical direction of Pierre Bleuse and in co-operation with the Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse, creates a playing field for young musicians to work and learn at the highest level.
Another important point on the conductor's wish list will be crossed off in the years to come. "In my musical life I'd like to have as good a balance as possible between symphonic repertoire and opera", explains Pierre Bleuse. He continues, "My mother is a singer and I was exposed to a lot of vocal music as a baby. When I was twelve years old I had the opportunity to play the young violinist in Offenbach's Orpheus. It was an unforgettable experience performing on stage with the singers and getting to know this musically and theatrically rich world." He is therefore delighted to be conducting Offenbach's Barbe-Bleue in three years' time. "But I also have a love affair with Britten and I'm crazy about Wagner", he adds. Another special opera production is due in the coming year when he will conduct Michael Jarrell's Cassandre at the Festival Aix-en-Provence. "I feel very close to this music. And it is important for me to conduct a wide repertoire in which romantic works feature just as much as contemporary ones. I am sure that conducting Michael Jarrell's opera will once again give me a new and fresh perspective when I then conduct a late romantic symphony, for example."
Pluralism of Voices – an interview with Philippe Manoury
Fundamental questions about space and time are keeping Philippe Manoury busy at the moment: his “Köln Trilogy” is a large-scale spatial-triptych that scrutinises the architecture of modern concert halls and orchestral spatial concepts from an aesthetic point of view, turning them into compositional material. The first part of the trilogy, Ring, will receive its world premiere on 22 May.
The Gürzenich Orchestra Cologne will continue the trilogy in 2017 with its performance of In Situ, which was premiered in Donaueschingen in 2013, before a third new composition completes the cycle in 2019. In this interview Philippe Manoury describes his journey of musical discovery and what guides him in his musical research as a composer.
Philippe, you were the portrait composer at the 2014 Wittener Tage für neue Kammermusik. Was that the first time you have been the main focus at a German festival?
At that point yes. It was the first retrospective on such a scale, also including world premieres. Ten years ago my music was practically never played at German festivals. I told a few people about this and two artistic directors answered straight away: Hans-Peter Jahn in Stuttgart and Armin Köhler in Donaueschingen. Fortunately the situation has changed since then.
You grew up in the ‘province’, in the Corrèze département. Did you discover music by chance?
No, there was music at home. But it wasn’t the kind of music that I compose these days. My father played the accordion and was a folklore specialist of the Massif Central region. In this rural setting there weren’t any points of contact with classical culture or art music. When I say that I cannot help thinking that there’s a social appropriation to music, which was always associated with the ruling classes, first with the nobility and then with the middle classes. When we moved to Paris – I lived in the countryside until the age of seven – I was exposed to more music albeit in a very special way. Music became my refuge. I was a child accustomed to country life and Paris, and in particular my first contact with school, was therefore a great shock. Music was a way of escaping from the dark and narrow world that I associated with school.
You began your musical training in the early 1970s at the Conservatoire de Paris. What was the Paris music scene like at that time?
The stuffy atmosphere of the interwar period was still at large with regards to music education. Composers who are recognised as important figures nowadays – I’m talking about the generation from the 1950s including Stockhausen, Boulez, Berio, Nono, Ligeti – didn’t feature in education at all. As students we studied them outside the classroom, that wasn’t forbidden, but in composition and music theory classes they were never discussed. The standard of academic education was good if not very good but it focused completely on the traditional tonal concept and had a very French bias. I remember the great paragon in composition classes was still Gabriel Fauré who was defined as the ultimate high point in harmonic development. Composers such as Richard Strauss, Mahler or early Schönberg – even late Wagner – were not taught. French neoclassicism with Cocteau as the main protagonist and the associated anti-German stance was still very of the moment. Still, there was Messiaen who enjoyed a certain prestige. Boulez didn’t live in France. Xenakis and Pierre Schaeffer’s Groupe de recherches musicales (GRM) were present and spectralism was just emerging.
When did you discover electronic music?
That happened during my studies at the conservatoire. In those years students composed either for electronics or instruments. There was a strict division between the two. I found myself in a dilemma because with my traditional training I didn’t know anything about the electronic processes that I felt drawn towards. I was enrolled as a student in Pierre Schaeffer’s GRM class. But the anticipated light bulb moment never came. I was never able to warm to this purely intuitive aesthetic of musique concrète that refrained from using theoretical principles. The person who showed me the way was Stockhausen. He came to Paris every winter and gave concerts. That’s how I witnessed the French premiere of Mantra, and heard Kontakte, Hymnen, Telemusik, Gesang der Jünglinge, all of them extremely impressive works. And I discovered that someone hadn’t just bridged the gap between electronic and acoustic music but had done this within a work and, as in Mantra, in real time. This really did release shock waves. Real time was certainly still very rudimentary back then but I discovered this world through Stockhausen. I always say that Stockhausen is for electronic music what Monteverdi is for opera. He didn’t invent it but he was the first person to develop a strong vision for it.
Music in real time (La musique du temps réel) is the title of your book that was published in 2012 containing interviews with Omer Corlaix and Jean-Guillaume Lebrun. It seems to me that you have had a great influence on this concept. What does it mean exactly?
Instrumental music is composed in a “divergent time”, that is to say the time needed to conceive and write the work is not the same as the length of the finished piece. But as soon as these compositions are performed we move into real time. The notes that were recorded on the paper lead to a production of sounds that have a birth, a life and a death, that are absolutely unique and unrepeatable. There are two sides to time, the divergent time of the compositional process and the real time of the performance. The development of very powerful computers suddenly resolved this situation in the 1970s: the notes are not necessarily predetermined any more in all their components but calculated in the moment when you hear them. While this is happening we can work on them, change and control them just like an instrumentalist would do with acoustic music. The following situation can describe music in real time: a machine calculates notes with a speed that our ears cannot detect. So I didn’t invent the term, it comes from the world of science. Let’s put it this way: I have theorised aspects of this idea in the field of composition and one of the most obvious of these aspects is the reintroduction of performers into electronic music.
Maybe we can come back to Witten to illustrate this and in particular to the world premiere of Le temps, mode d’emploi for two pianos and live electronics with the GrauSchumacher Piano Duo. What was this collaboration like?
I was working with two formidable pianists – they don’t just play fantastically well, you can also feel their mutual understanding. This unity is immediately noticeable just like with an orchestra that has played under the same conductor for many years and a blink of the eye is enough for the musicians to understand what is wanted. The GrauSchumacher Piano Duo had a purely musical approach, that is they gave themselves over to the music and tackled it in the same way they would any other work. Of course I can explain the details of my composition but if this musical spark in which the music is expressed isn’t there, something very fundamental is missing. It was immediately clear with the duo. In Le temps, mode d’emploi the electronics generate structures that are regenerated every time. I wrote the piano parts in such a way as to afford the pianists the freedom to react to the electronics because they cannot foresee in detail when moments of great silence or great activity will occur.
In recent years you have composed a series of orchestral pieces that demonstrate your affinity to large-scale formats, to orchestras. Do you see yourself as an “orchestral composer”? And do you associate yourself with any particular school of thought?
Certainly I see myself as an orchestral composer because I often say that the two media that interest me the most are large orchestras and electronics. The latter is a kind of new orchestra for me, by the way. Large orchestras offer a multitude of sources and I like this pluralism of voices. Writing for orchestras is like playing chess: the combinations are infinite even if we do know all the rules. However it isn’t so easy to pigeonhole me. I don’t belong to post-serialism or post-spectralism, and I don’t have noise music tendencies or compose neotonally. I would say that my first influence as a composer was Wagner. The plasticity of his music, in which the polyphony expands and tightens, and the lengthening and contraction of time never fail to impress me. Debussy remains important as the one who did away with hierarchies in orchestras. The strings no longer dominate and he distributes the weight in a new way. And Mahler should also be mentioned with his suspended time and unique counterpoint. I’d like to mention Boulez and Ligeti from among the contemporary musicians. Boulez made interesting discoveries with the orchestra with regards to time. Faced with the great variety of elements, of individuals in the orchestra he found ways to allow each group to react with a precise temporality. For example in Répons the soloists are grouped around the conductor and can act freely while the orchestra plays more metrically. This mutual penetration of the temporal layers is often overlooked but it gives his music a unique dramatic tension. Ligeti found poetry in time and space that is very attractive. The music sometimes seems to come from far away; sometimes it seems to be frozen like in a hallucination. All in all one could say that what interests me the most about orchestral music at the moment is the sound-space relationship.
Interview: Sarah Pieh | Translation: Celia Wynne Willson
He has been sorely missed as an unconventional, distinguished and astute mixer of tone colours since 2006, and in the run-up to the tenth anniversary of György Ligeti’s death, the music world unveiled two very different kinds of memorial over the summer. One classic and traditional – a commemorative plaque unveiled at the house he lived in on Mövenstraße in Hamburg. The other more high-tech and using the full potential of the internet – the website Explore the Score offers an enormously multi-faceted platform to listen to (and even play) Ligeti’s piano music.
This website, which has been developed by the Ruhr Piano Festival Foundation with the help of numerous partners, and under the artistic aegis of Pierre-Laurent Aimard, is far more than an archive. Its interactive scores invite visitors to embark on an eclectic journey into the very heart of Ligeti’s universe of piano miniatures. While users can follow the score of the work they are currently listening to on-screen, with the added bonus of Ligeti’s own comments if desired, there is also the possibility to gain a deeper understanding of the works presented. For this purpose, the tour guide (and most important interpreter of Ligeti’s piano music) Pierre-Laurent Aimard vividly shares his experiences gained through close collaboration with the composer: short introductory videos highlight the compositional dramaturgy of the pieces and the challenges that performers face, and excerpts from masterclasses can be activated at specific points in the score, showing Aimard working through the pieces with piano students at the Aldeburgh Festival. The website, which went online over the summer with material covering the Piano Étude No. 13 L’escalier du diable and Musica ricercata No. 1, is continually being expanded and in its final form will also include the Études Nos. 2, 8 and 12, as well as Musica ricercata Nos. 3 and 5.
A commemorative plaque now marks the building where many of these works were probably composed. Mövenstraße 3, near the Außenalster lake in Hamburg was where György Ligeti lived from 1973 to 2002 together with his wife Vera, who unveiled the plaque on 10 July 2015. Colleagues and musicians were joined by former students including Manfred Stahnke, Wolfgang-Andreas Schultz, Georg Hajdu and Xiaojong Shen, who György Ligeti taught at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater from 1973 to 1989.
Explore the Score , interactive website created by the Ruhr Piano Festival Foundation
On 10 March Samir Odeh-Tamimi's new composition L'Apocalypse Arabe I received its world premiere at the Klara Festival in Brussels, interpreted by the ensemble for early music B'rock and the Wroclaw Philharmonic Choir. Embedded in director Pierre Audi's music theatre version of Bach's St. John Passion And You Must Suffer, the piece develops its own musical world that is by no means orientated towards Bach's soundscape or the religious images of the Passion.
In Pierre Audi's stage version of the St. John Passion, the historical time of Christ's crucifixion, the period when the Passion was created and the current view of the issues raised in the work coalesce: the director stages a reflection on religion and conflict, suffering and compassion, and truth and identity together with musicians who are experienced in historical performance practice, with artist Wim Delvoye and his set design incorporating a modern version of the Stations of the Cross, and with the integration of new compositions (including a work by Annelies Van Parys written especially for the project).
It was only after Samir Odeh-Tamimi rejected Pierre Audi's other text ideas that contained obvious religious references during initial meetings about the commission and brought writer and painter Etel Adnan on board, that it became clear that both artists shared a fascination for her poetic work. "I had no idea that Pierre Audi has known Etel Adnan for 30 years and holds her work in high esteem. He reacted enthusiastically and gave me the go-ahead straight away", remembers the composer.
Samir Odeh-Tamimi has also personally known the author (who was born in 1925 and grew up as the daughter of Greek and Syrian parents in Lebanon, went to a French school there and later lived in the USA for a while) for years. "Her way of portraying and formulating things appeals to me. She's a very astute observer." He already set one of her poems, a comment on the events in the Arab world, to music in a 2007 commission by the Festspielhaus Hellerau: Jenin was developed as a literary echo to the Israeli invasion of the Palestinian refugee camp. "The Arab Apocalypse is a work that she wrote between 1979 and 1980 - in one breath, as she says", explains Samir Odeh-Tamimi. "I find it intriguing how she manages to describe this apocalypse (at that time referring to the Lebanese Civil War) in linguistically abstract images. The whole story of the Middle East becomes visible in an unbelievable language that is also very clear."
The musical power of the language in particular motivated him to deal with Etel Adnan's work. "I like texts that carry a rhythm and sound in them. I can examine them in detail with my music", explains Samir Odeh-Tamimi. "In this first part I leave the texts to be spoken. First in French, the original language of the book, and also in Arabic. There are highly complex Arabic words in the text that are very hard to pronounce. That's why I decided to carry on with French and to repeat the Arabic from the beginning. I succeeded in creating a kind of collage from the first and thirteenth poems."
When asked about the meaning of the sound of the language in the various translations the composer adds, "For the subsequent parts of this work that I would like to compose, I will have the poem translated into Greek. I'm sure that it will be a valuable asset soundwise. It's also got to do with the poet whose mother is Greek and who can also speak the language herself." Samir Odeh-Tamimi sees Etel Adnan's poetic technique as reminiscent of her mother's language. "She expresses what she wants to say using very simple means that always repeat themselves. For me, this reduction is the Greek in her coming out and personally really speaks to me. Xenakis' music was also developed in this way: there is an element that is continuously varied while always retaining its individuality."
From this perspective it seems to be logical that Samir Odeh-Tamimi's work arises from its own vocabulary despite its integration in Bach's St. John Passion. "I initially experimented in my head whether it was possible to develop my music from elements of Bach. But I noticed that this was very foreign to me. I would like to create my own music and be faithful to myself", says the composer. This is also true on a textual level: "The St. John Passion is a message of hope and I am able to understand it as this. But I don't have to believe in it from a religious point of view. The idea of Gods in general – in ancient Babylon or Ancient Egypt, wherever – fascinates me. The concept of one God is also intriguing. I am a spiritual person but spirituality doesn't necessarily have anything to do with a conventional religion."
Samir Odeh-Tamimi doesn't want to see the principle of hope as utterly destroyed by his composed apocalypse. "I don't believe in resurrection in a religious sense. My hope is rather that I make people aware of this tragedy, which everyone knows about anyway, and of Etel Adnan's poetry. Adonis, the Syrian poet, says that he believes in her Arab Apocalypse insofar as in his opinion the Arab world is a culture that is doomed to be destroyed, a dead culture. But I don’t believe that. There will be a new form. The Middle East is full to brim with cultural treasures and one can see traces of these all over the world. That is also my hope: that the spirit of this culture is reborn. I know that flowers will once again bloom after this catastrophe."
However both text and composition are a far cry from a meadow of flowers. Light years away as it were, made palpable for the visitors to the world premiere through the portrayals of the blazing sun that pervade Etel Adnan's literary tableau. "This sun always has a different face from one moment to the next", says Samir Odeh-Tamimi. "Sometimes it is beautiful, sometimes it is ugly, sometimes it is red, sometimes it sits in a boat, sometimes it is in a person's hand. It is very strong."
To mark the composer’s 90th birthday Edwin Baumgartner paints a picture of Friedrich Cerha’s life and work as a composer and artist for the Wiener Zeitung. You can read the article in German at www.wienerzeitung.at.
Friedrich Cerha talked about his eventful life in a video interview for the online magazine wien.at (in German).
Our three-part series of interviews celebrating Eliahu Inbal’s 80th birthday concludes with the conductor’s memories of his recording successes, and reflections on orchestral sound and the interpretation of works.
Alongside numerous other vinyl and CD productions, the Bruckner cycle with the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra (hr-Sinfonieorchester), then the Radio-Sinfonie-Orchester Frankfurt, was the one that really brought you into the public eye and is still considered legendary. How did your relationship with the orchestra begin?
I came upon an orchestra that had lots of opportunities but also lots of problems. Generally the attitude was that the orchestra wasn’t meant to play in the premier league – and I wanted to go straight into the premier league! I had to change a lot of things and unfortunately that meant making some painful cuts. Back then I was very enthusiastic and thought that the orchestra wasn’t doing anything – no records, no tour – and that just wouldn’t do. I started with recordings. The large cycles that we recorded were very important for the orchestra because they were appreciated by international audiences.
How did this opportunity come about?
When I was still with Philips I made recordings with the London Philharmonic and Claudio Arrau, which were very successful. With Bruckner I was the first person to conduct the original versions of the third, fourth and eighth symphonies, which no one wanted to play because they are so difficult. Teldec was keen to record them and this resulted in a complete recording. Many other projects followed including the cycles by Dvořák and Stravinsky. Denon became aware of me because I always conducted a Mahler symphony to great acclaim when I went to Japan. They then released the Mahler cycle with the RSO Frankfurt. I think it was the first digital complete recording and thousands of copies were sold. Later on I also recorded the cycles by Berlioz and Shostakovich, Schumann, Webern and Brahms with Denon. All of that, first the vinyl records and then the CDs, put my name on the map as it were. And it has stayed there ever since.
When a conductor arrives with a recording team and is able to make such great recordings happen, this must also have an effect on his relationship with the orchestra.
Yes, of course. The orchestra developed enormously, as did the tours that we went on with this repertoire. A provincial atmosphere surrounded the orchestra when I first encountered it, and I changed this. When I left the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra it was internationally famous and it still enjoys this level of prestige today.
The recordings also promoted you as a conductor.
Without a doubt. I would put it like this: when a conductor comes to an orchestra there are two situations. Either he is unknown and it all depends on how he presents himself in the first few minutes; or he arrives with a history, he has a name, then he automatically enjoys more authority. I profit enormously from the latter. Some also possess natural authority or charisma but the fact that I was particularly well-known as an interpreter of Mahler and Bruckner thanks to the recordings was doubtless an advantage.
Your work with the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra was far from your only long-term post as chief conductor. What is it like for you now when you guest conduct these orchestras with which you have such a close connection?
When I return to an orchestra, which I have worked with for many years the sound changes the moment I stand in front of the musicians. They know what I wanted back then – this happens with La Fenice, the Konzerthausorchester Berlin, in Frankfurt, with the Tokyo Metropolitan, Czech Philharmonic. It’s as if I have returned to my family. This contact remains. And the phrase “Inbal sound” is used.
These orchestras differ greatly regarding their individual sound. Do you have an “Inbal-Konzerthausorchester-sound” in your head and an “Inbal-Fenice-sound” or do you wish to achieve the same sound with every orchestra?
That is an interesting aspect because every orchestra has its own quirks. And then I come along with my vision. There is an “Inbal sound”. But it cannot be the same with every orchestra; I would never want to take the Japanese part out of Tokyo for example. I would like to keep the qualities, features and characteristics of each orchestra and profit from them – and on top of that achieve my “Inbal sound”, and of course my interpretation.
How do you develop your interpretation – how do you find your key to a work?
There are things that are easy to understand: analysing the score, the structure, is the same for all conductors. But then the spiritual and emotional content needs to be taken into consideration. The meaning of the music: what story is it telling, what does it want to imply. This is when the person Inbal comes into play and I have to be in harmony with the score. Let’s take Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4 as an example. I have conducted it many times but now I take another look at the score and explore what it is saying to me and what that means to me. New aspects emerge each time because times change, I change, the world faces different problems. This is all reflected in the music. And of course there is no right or wrong. It’s individual and that’s what makes the interpretation. Another conductor will discover something else in the music. And that’s fine, otherwise it would be boring.
We’ve also spoken indirectly about where you have lived – today you live in Paris. That does not seem like an obvious choice: your wife is German, your children partly grew up in Germany.
That may be due to sentimentality. One’s student years are very important, very formative – romance and of course the material itself that you studied combine. The desire to live in Paris again someday was always very strong. I lived in Germany for a long time until 1990 and after that considered moving back to Israel but my wife didn’t want to. And so we returned to Paris.
You are conducting a lot of concerts around your birthday. Are you fulfilling yourself with them?
I am happy with my current experiences. Getting to know new orchestras and returning to many I already know well gives me great pleasure. All that I now wish for is quite banal: health and a long life so that I can see my children – and grandchildren – for a long time to come.
We wish you that too from the bottom of our hearts!
In the second instalment of our three-part series of interviews to mark Eliahu Inbal’s 80th birthday, the conductor looks back on his apprenticeship years in Israel and Europe – a period when he encountered important teachers and musicians.
Mr. Inbal, as a young conductor in Israel you met Leonard Bernstein. How did this meeting come about?
At that time I was concertmaster of the army symphony orchestra and assisted the conductor – this was my military service. People had already heard of me in this role, I had a reputation as a gifted young man. Suddenly I get a call from the Israel Philharmonic: I am to visit them the following day and conduct for Bernstein. I had the flu and a temperature but I went anyway and conducted Coriolan. Bernstein took me to one side and said: “You have the talent to become a great conductor. You must go abroad and study!” Thanks to his letter of recommendation I received a scholarship. Bernstein was therefore extremely important for my career. I can’t say what might have happened if I hadn’t met him. Maybe I still would have forged ahead as a conductor somehow but I have him to thank for the fact that I went abroad and studied there. He was also important for me as a role model, just like Karajan was a model for others. At that time I also experienced a range of great conductors in Israel.
And you visited the rehearsals.
Yes, unofficially. It wasn’t allowed. I slipped through a window in the room and hid. A few years later when I was conducting the Israel Philharmonic myself I showed them the window I used to creep through. That’s how I witnessed Bernstein, Kubelik, Markevitch, Fricsay at work, many great conductors and soloists too of course. That was my inspiration and my school because of course you learn during rehearsals. And playing in the orchestra is an even better schooling. There you get to know exactly how it works – what is important, what is wrong, what is efficient or what is more of a hindrance. I learnt by doing.
I read that you were shocked to hear French orchestras when you came to Paris.
Shocked is perhaps an overstatement but they did sound very different, without the patina, the fullness of sound. I grew up more with the Viennese sound. And when I conducted French orchestras as a student at the conservatoire I already tried to teach them this sound. Orchestras are very different, sometimes even within the same city or country. I teach them what I need for the repertoire that I am conducting. When I conduct Debussy or Ravel with a German orchestra I have to demand different things than I would in France. And vice versa: when I conduct Bruckner with French orchestras I demand different things than I do with German orchestras that automatically bring something with them thanks to their culture. That still holds true today.
Your time as a student in Paris had a great impact on you, particularly as a result of several encounters that you had there.
First of all I also went to lots of rehearsals and saw interesting conductors at work, from whom I learnt a lot. Messiaen taught me something important: his music analysis class was completely different to what I had previously learnt because he didn’t start out with the structure of the motifs but with the colours and sound combinations. That was a different aspect, a different perspective. At that time Nadja Boulanger was probably older than I am now and instead of doing practical exercises, she talked about the philosophy of music, about her thoughts and preferences. She did not like Richard Strauss for example, or Wagner. But among other things she taught us interesting facts about Stravinsky. With Louis Fourestier, my teacher at the conservatoire, we also dealt more with the view on music: what you should look out for in a score, how to perceive it and organise it so that you can conduct the music. Then I went to Celibidache in Siena and he had a very scientific style. Even one’s movements should follow certain principles. Everyone did his exercises, the whole class with 20 active students and 40 passive. Of course it’s absurd because conducting movements are something very personal. But it teaches you discipline and structure that you are able to arrange yourself in the movement. Celibidache also had a very firm opinion on score analysis. By contrast my other conducting teacher Franco Ferrara in Hilversum, with whom I had already taken lessons before I went to the conservatoire, was very spontaneous. He used his instinct. When he was observing a student, he knew what that person’s strengths and weaknesses were and worked with everyone differently.
So you learned your conducting trade from very different teachers.
Yes, the two extremes – Ferrara and Celibidache – were very good for me. Together with Fourestier, who conveyed a very successful didactic method of score learning, it resulted in a comprehensive training. And the most useful thing was that I always had an orchestra at my disposal. In Hilversum for example, there were five radio orchestras at that time – one for each political party. A pianist can practise on the piano, as a violinist I could practise on a violin, but what about a conductor? In my opinion you cannot practise in front of the mirror. In my life I have never practised conducting movements and gestures. Instead I took the score and thought about how I would achieve what I wanted, then everything else came naturally. The way a conductor uses his body has to emanate from the nature of things.
Surely a lot of prerequisites have to be fulfilled in order to conduct from within oneself.
I had brilliant teachers from the very beginning, from primary school right through to the conservatoire and the classes with Celibidache and Ferrara. I already mentioned Mr. Blumenthal at primary school, and Josef Tal, Edith Gerson-Kiwi, Abel Ehrlich in Israel – they were all fantastic teachers. Having the opportunity to learn from these people was a godsend because I believe that teachers can have a big influence. A teacher can make sure that a pupil learns good technique and if he’s got musical talent, this will be brought out through this technique. Other teachers are able to establish interpretative roots. Unfortunately when my son was learning the viola I realised that there are also teachers who cannot teach anything sensible and who don’t really have any kind of method.
Did you ever consider teaching more intensively yourself?
No – I still think of myself as a student. I am always learning something new. Maybe when I am 90 I will say: Right, now I know something, now I can pass it on to others.
Eliahu Inbal – two years younger than everyone else
Part one of the three-part series of interviews to mark Eliahu Inbal’s 80th birthday.
There are not many conductors today who can look back on more experience than Eliahu Inbal: already by his mid-twenties he had become an internationally sought-after guest conductor, and in the decades that followed he shaped the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra (Sinfonieorchester des Hessischen Rundfunks Frankfurt), Orchestra del Teatro la Fenice, Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI, Orchestra of the Konzerthaus Berlin, Czech Philharmonic and Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra as chief conductor.
Conducting engagements with these orchestras, with which he is still closely affiliated, remain an integral part of his still intensive concert activities. And so it was that we were able to meet Eliahu Inbal in Berlin one month before his birthday, where he was conducting the orchestra of the Konzerthaus in three concerts. In the first part of our interview he tells us about his childhood and the early stages of his musical career in Palestine and Israel.
Mr. Inbal, you turn 80 on 16 February. But I have heard that you have two birthdays. How does that work?
My official birthday is on 16 February. A violist at La Scala who could read horoscopes wanted to know exactly when I was born, at what time. I asked my mother and she said, “Oh that’s easy, it was at sunset on the evening of the Shabbat.” I have a watch that can determine which day of the week a certain date is. The watch said Sunday. So I rang my mother again and said, “I was born on a Sunday“. And she said, “No, it was Saturday evening but according to Jewish tradition, after sunset is already the next day.” That’s why I have two birthdays: the calendar day would actually have been the 15th but the time of birth is sunset. My uncle who was a great Rabbi said, “That is a sign that he will be a spiritual person.”
I read a lot about you to prepare for this interview but I did not find very much about your background, about your family.
My parents came from the Orient, my mother from Damascus, now Syria and my father from Aden, then under British mandate and now part of Yemen. My father worked in Palestine for the British Administration. I therefore had some contact to British culture and still own a British passport.
Is it true that there is a special story behind your name?
Yes. My original surname was Josef. And since Josef is also a first name it always led to confusion. When I made a definite decision to become a conductor I thought I needed a surname that isn’t a first name. That’s when I chose Inbal. Inbal is the clapper in a bell and that suits a conductor well. I’m the clapper and the orchestra chimes, not me.
How did you first discover music? Did music play an important role in your family?
Yes absolutely, but only liturgical music in the synagogue, choir, singing on my own. That’s where my whole musical side comes from. However, when I was at school – and I started school a lot earlier than was normal, I was two years younger than everyone else in the class – a music teacher stood in for another teacher. He brought us sheet music and I began to compose; it was then that I discovered secular music.
Why did you then start learning the violin?
When I was about seven years old my uncle helped me to make a kind of guitar-cum-violin from plywood and strings and I began to play. After that my sister took me to the conservatoire where my sense of hearing was tested and so on. They immediately made a scholarship available to me and gave me a violin. That is how it started.
The 1940s and 1950s was an enormously turbulent time in Israel, both politically and musically – just thinking about the history of the founding of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, for example.
Bronislaw Huberman, the great violinist, knew in advance what was coming. He went to the large orchestras in Central Europe in 1932/33 and told the Jewish musicians they had no future there; they had to go to Israel. And so it was that the Palestine Symphony Orchestra, later renamed the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, was founded with the best talent from Central Europe in 1936, the year I was born. The members of the radio orchestra in Jerusalem were also refugees, one can call them that today – musicians who fled the Nazi regime.
And who shifted their whole musical tradition from Europe to another place.
That’s right. Like I said, I have oriental parents and one could wonder why I have such a connection to Bruckner and Mahler. Indeed, from a musical perspective I grew up in the midst of an absolute abundance of Central European tradition! All my teachers, whether they taught harmony, counterpoint, composition, all came from Germany. My violin teacher Lorand Fenyves, a quite brilliant violin teacher and leader of the Palestine Symphony, came from Hungary. I learnt musical analysis from the great composer Josef Tal, counterpoint with Abel Ehrlich. Even in primary school there were lots of teachers from Germany, such as my English teacher Mr. Blumenthal, a larger than life personality. He didn’t just teach us Shakespeare, rather about the principles of life.
You say that your family background is oriental. Does that also play a musical role for you?
Very much so! It gave me an extreme sensitivity for colours, for intonation, and this has stayed with me throughout my life. However back then we also had a wonderful gramophone that was a veritable piece of furniture and it still worked purely mechanically. I had my early musical experiences through this gramophone, and more so through the radio. I would listen to the Jerusalem broadcaster Kol Israel every day before I went to school. I was captivated by this western symphonic music, and it became my music.
Part two of our interview will be published on Elihu Inbal’s birthday and will focus on his apprenticeship years as a young conductor in Israel and Europe.
The Berlin festival MaerzMusik will present a world premiere on 18 March that defies categorisation. Described by the project’s creators as a “musical exhibition space”, the concert installation will showcase the artistic forces of the Zafraan Ensemble, recorder player Jeremias Schwarzer, concert designer Folkert Uhde, visual artist Chiharu Shiota, composers Stefan Goldmann and Samir Odeh-Tamimi and the vocal artist Salome Kammer.
alif::split in the wall is a multilayered perceptive experiment for both the audience and performers. Through the combination of installation, performance, club atmosphere and concert situation the Radialsystem changes into an accessible, living organism. A landscape of pulsating tubes can be walked through or around, explored on one’s own and experienced from different perspectives. The dramaturg Ilka Seifert spoke to Jeremias Schwarzer, who developed the project’s concept and is the artistic director of alif, in the run-up to the premiere.
You gathered the artists participating in alif, you will direct the concert and also perform yourself, you account for the idea of this exceptional project. How did it all evolve?
The idea was born in 2012 when I was invited to Kyoto/Japan for a couple of concerts and a three week residency at the Goethe Institute. At the time Stefan Goldmann was a scholarship holder at the Villa Kamogawa. When we met there we talked about “trance” as a state of consciousness that is often sought by the audience of nightclubs or electronic music performances: a state of mind that is supposed to dismantle a “personal” consciousness into something greater, or collective. What I was particularly interested in was how someone skilled in this field can create a situation that at first glance is very different from what an audience of “classical” music expects. Generally speaking people attending nightclubs very rarely go and see classical concerts: I wondered what the intersection of what the night clubbers’ want and the setting of (contemporary) classical music performance might look like.
Reflecting on Chiharu Shiota's installations added another important aspect as they evoke something that also fascinates me in Ai Wei Wei's site-specific artwork: their works are “symbolic” in a very vivid sense because they address certain societal or political issues exceeding their specifically artistic identity. At the same time they can provoke very personal memories and an intense psychic involvement originating from the spectator's very own history. This shows that the artwork is effective on very diverse levels: it triggers various realms of perception and different relations. Contemplating this kind of installation – such as Chiharu Shiota's “The key in the hand” for example – stirs up plenty of personal, as well as collective memories. By exploring the installation in time one shifts between various stages of alertness and levels of association.
The idea that I was eager to work on was the conception of a musical artwork whose form of presentation is based on characteristics commonly associated with the visual arts: a long-lasting performance that can be entered and exited and re-entered, which invites the audience to constantly redefine the relation between the spectator and the artwork.
What exactly are you trying to explore through this particular artistic format?
I used to call the project “a theatre of consciousness“. There will be a variety of artistic approaches that simultaneously affect different levels of perception. Electronic music, arranged instrumental music, Chiharu Shiota's installation, the configuration of the exhibition space, and Zafraan Ensemble's musical performance generate a range of sensations that continuously complement each other and connect in different ways. The way of joining all these disparate elements – which images and associations emerge, which individual “pathways” along the various modes of perception one decides to follow – will crucially differ amongst visitors. Everyone will experience the work in their very own manner.
The title – alif – refers to a Sufi parable. What is the story about and how is it represented in the installation/performance?
It tells the story of a young student who repeatedly writes one single letter: the first letter of the alphabet; the alif. The teacher encourages him to practise the other letters too, but the student just says: “I still haven't got it!” and continues to practise the alif. While the other students steadily learn all the letters of the alphabet this one student goes on writing the alif. After he drops out of school the teacher almost forgets about him but one day there's a knock on the door: the student has returned to say, “I think that I've got it now!” He goes to the blackboard and draws the alif in one single line: the board and the wall behind it burst into two pieces.
The story describes the repetition of an essential and spiritual practice as a means to get to another reality. The iteration of something that seemingly stays the same creates an empty space, which at one point is invaded by a completely different, powerful reality.
For me, the story therefore describes the phenomenon of dissolution of the Individual – the purpose of all spiritual exercise – in regards to two modes of temporality: the endless repetition on one hand and the sudden irruption of “another reality”. They relate to each other but this relation is indeed enigmatic: first of all it is uncertain if and when the manifestation of a final understanding or even an epiphany is achieved through the repetition of spiritual practice. Then again when it happens, it is so “different” that reality as we knew it – and that exercising was part of – must burst and show this “split in the wall”.
What is your intention in contrasting two composers who produce and present their music in very different contexts?
First of all, their backgrounds are not as dissimilar as you may think. The son of composer Friedrich Goldmann, Stefan Goldmann is of course well versed in contemporary classical music, while Samir Odeh-Tamimi started his musical career as a keyboard player in Arabic dance hall bands...
In this particular project, Stefan Goldmann's music represents the principle of repetition due to its durational quality. Samir Odeh-Tamimi's intense, energetic musical language emphasises the “here and now” and demands attention in the present moment.
How do you want to make these various states of perception between continuity and eruption, between inward and outward attention come alive?
The musical parts oscillate between more expanded or “flat” sounds and parts that are more “short-phased”. They are placed and articulated in very different manners. Additionally, the visitor is permanently confronted with Chiharu Shiota's work which strongly dominates the space. Visitors can choose themselves how to harmonise their perception with these various rhythms. The relations experienced by everyone in a unique personal manner become themselves a significant part of the installation, which is also emphasised by the fact that one can choose individually when to leave the performance.
In what way is the performance defined by its duration, its expansion in time?
The scheduled duration of four hours is – besides perhaps Richard Wagner's operas – everything but conventional. This alone forces the listener to take a stance: do I want to see an extract of the performance or “the whole thing”? It will soon become evident that certain elements of the performance reoccur in similar, yet never identical forms. It is thereby hardly possible to keep a general view – necessarily “the whole” is only perceptible as a reflection of its components. This in itself activates perception, as of course everyone is looking for some relations and “meaning” in the part they chose to witness. The plurality of what is offered – maybe even the alleged monotony, which is also an important aspect of the perception of the performance – produce a quite personal image, hence an individual “story” that everyone will follow separately during the whole performance and in each singular moment.
How important is improvisation?
It isn't improvisation as it is commonly understood. There will be material that is developed during rehearsals without a pre-written score, especially when it comes down to the parts that communicate with Stefan Goldmann's electronic compositions.
Could you describe working together with the different contributors?
Samir Odeh-Tamimi, Stefan Goldmann and I have regularly met since spring 2015 to exchange ideas on the musical concept. In addition to that I meet with Folkert Uhde, Ilka Seifert and Chiharu Shiota every couple of weeks. The structures of the performance evolved gradually over time. Now that the musical material has been produced almost entirely, we have started to work on a concept for the order and proportions of the different parts. At the same time we start practising with the musicians who will not only play as a large ensemble, but also in smaller line-ups or even solos. The specifications of the space, the interaction with the electronic parts and Chiharu Shiota's installation will be worked on during two final rehearsal sessions, which will take place in February and again right before the premiere in March.
We must look at what has happened – Toshio Hosokawa on his new opera
The premiere of Toshio Hosokawa’s eagerly awaited opera Stilles Meer will be celebrated at the Hamburg State Opera on 24 January. The work, which has been staged by the Japanese director Oriza Hirata under Kent Nagano’s musical direction, deals with traditional noh theatre subject matter that is brought up to date in the context of the tsunami and Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011. We met Toshio Hosokawa for an interview during a recent visit to Berlin as part of the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra’s anniversary tour during which his piece Nach dem Sturm received its world premiere.
KWMM: Mr. Hosokawa, first of all a belated happy birthday! Is it an important day in Japan?
TH: Thank you! Yes, 60 is an important number: five times twelve years. Twelve years form a whole, which is why this birthday is always a big celebration.
In your new opera Stilles Meer you also familiarise us with a Japanese ritual: around the equinox when day and night are of equal length in spring and autumn, the souls of the dead are invited for a day and depart in the evening. In your opera, a German woman living in Japan wishes to take part in this ritual as she has lost her child and second husband, who is Japanese, in the tsunami. Her first husband, the child’s father, wants to convince her to return to Germany. What is the importance in the opera of the two cultures that the family moves in?
There are two literary templates behind the opera. The first comes from the noh theatre tradition: Sumidagawa is the story of a mother who has lost her child and cannot believe it. The second is taken from our classical modern era and is a good hundred years old. Maihime [The Dancing Girl] tells the story of the doomed love affair of a Japanese man in Berlin. Mori Ogai’s book about his own experiences in Germany, which was also inspired by German literature, is very well-known in Japan. In my opera it’s the other way round: a German man comes to Japan to find his lover. Engaging with the culturally different is always interesting for us.
This engagement plays a central role in your own life. You studied composition in Germany discovering Japanese culture from a distance for yourself in the process. You have subsequently drawn on noh theatre subject matter twice in your operas. Stilles Meer goes beyond the traditional subject matter, unlike Hanjo and Matsukaze, in terms of both the change in cultural perspective and the current reference to the tsunami and nuclear disaster in Fukushima. How did you personally experience these events?
My principal theme musically-speaking is being at one with nature, finding harmony with it. This intention runs through all my works. We destroyed nature in Fukushima! The natural disaster was much more terrible than anything we could have imagined. I was born in Hiroshima. Before my birth this city experienced a major catastrophe. And then Fukushima... It was a shock and I have grappled with the topic for a long time since. There’s one scene in the opera during which the people go to the sea shore with lanterns and give the lights back to the sea. This ritual reveals what we believe – the human soul comes from the sea and returns to the sea after death. But this sea isn’t clean any more. So where can we return to?
It becomes apparent in the libretto that a rupture runs through the opera: you are dealing with historical subject matter, a traditional ritual and suddenly people appear in protective clothing. Is this a new aspect in your operas?
Yes. We cannot just make “nice” operas. I myself was in Fukushima, I saw the deserted towns and cities, it was awful. It seemed to me to be… our future. The end of the world. I really saw that, I’ll never forget it. Now in Japan we want to turn a blind eye to this. But we must see what has happened.
Oriza Hirata developed the libretto, which Hannah Dübgen then refined into its final version, and he is directing the opera in Hamburg. In Japan he is well known for using colloquial language and staging realistic productions. How does this fit with opera?
Georges Delnon, the new intendant of the Hamburg State Opera, asked for this collaboration. He wanted to bring something quite different to the stage compared to what is normally shown in German opera productions nowadays. Up until now Oriza Hirata has only taken on one small opera production, Hanjo, in Hiroshima. He did a wonderful job. Furthermore, he has already used robots in other theatrical work and also uses them in my opera: only robots are allowed access to the protected area. In one scene they lead the choir, which performs in protective clothing, into this area.
With the conductor Kent Nagano, a third person with Japanese roots is involved in the production.
Kent Nagano is a marvellous conductor, I’ve worked with him several times already. He is American and is constantly looking for his identity. I know a number of people who grew up between two cultures and all of them are searching. It can be interesting – how do the cultures come together, how can you learn about foreign cultures and reshape them?
There is another cultural bridge in this piece and generally in your work: dance. Your previous noh operas Hanjo and Matsukaze were staged by well-known European choreographers, Anne Teresa de Keersmaekers and Sasha Waltz. The main female character in the new work used to be a ballet dancer, and a child who was taught by her dances for her during the ceremony by the sea, slipping momentarily into the role of the dead child. What role does dance play for you?
In noh theatre, all movements are predefined and stylised. And when I’m working on a production with choreographers, the singers move very beautifully. I need that. In Japanese dance, the dancers move very slowly, with the Earth. European ballet tries to work against gravity. These thoughts were a great source of inspiration for me. I have composed some works for imaginary dance, my inner Japanese dance music.
At the heart of the opera is a process of parting and, overall, the noh theatre tradition is about healing. How can that also happen in the opera, and what happens to the spectator?
My reason for making music is that I need healing, spiritual salvation. In my opera, this sad mother sings and experiences healing through this. The audience also experiences this spiritual healing through listening to the music. Benjamin Britten used the Sumidagawa subject matter to compose Curlew River. I think it is a very good opera but too Christian. I would like to make a Buddhist opera that is more about acceptance. Noh is the drama of the process of healing the soul and that is what my opera should also be.
And the healing here is the fact that, in another state of consciousness, we are able to perceive and accept reality?
Yes. That we see, through music, what really happened in Japan. That is the only thing that artists can do today. We cannot directly express ourselves politically. But with music, we are able to show the catastrophe and also good order.
A recording of the celebrated production of Arthur Honegger’s dramatic oratorio Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher with the Orquestra Simfònica de Barcelona under the direction of Marc Soustrot with Marion Cotillard in the title role was recently released on CD and DVD.
The actress convinced audiences in the concert performance with her thrilling embodiment of Joan of Arc. Set to a libretto by Paul Claudel, Honegger’s scoring of the material incorporates a speaking role for the main character who appears alongside a brilliant ensemble of singers in the production in Barcelona.
Originally commissioned by the Russian actress and dancer Ida Rubinstein and premiered by her in 1938, the hybrid work (partly oratorio and partly opera) uses a wide range of musical expressions. Imaginary folklore and choral music can be found alongside parodic echoes from jazz and baroque music.
The Telegraph was impressed by the recording: “This imaginative collaboration between Honegger and the poet Paul Claudel, conceived originally for the dancer/actor Ida Rubinstein, is performed here under Marc Soustrot with terrific presence, the work’s ethereal reflectiveness countered by passages of down-to-earth realism in a vivid theatrical experience.”
Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher
Marion Cotillard, Xavier Gallais, Barcelona Symphony & Catalonia National Orchestra, Marc Soustrot
Alpha Productions, ALPHA 709
Overwhelming possibilities: The GrauSchumacher Piano Duo plus orchestra
They perform classical concert repertoire, prevent works of the 20th century from sinking into oblivion, and continue to prompt composers to write new pieces for orchestra and two pianos: no other piano duo is currently taking to the stage with such a wide repertoire with orchestras. In the run-up to the world premiere of Luca Francesconi’s concerto for two pianos and orchestra Macchine in Echo, Götz Schumacher talks about the new work, world premieres during the last few years and the diversity of aesthetic strategies in concertos – from Bach to Berio and Mozart to Manoury.
Amid preparations for the work’s world premiere, which the GrauSchumacher Piano Duo will give together with the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne under the direction of Peter Rundel, Götz Schumacher appears enthusiastic about the Italian’s creation. “It’s a sensational piece”, he says. “This music has an intensity and a strength that to me seems almost unbearable, it’s so full and complex. But it is still transparent, well-balanced. There are unbelievable pianistic figures that demand exceptional skills but which, as a result, sound truly virtuosic.” In a short introductory text on his new work, Luca Francesconi describes his fascination for the piano – as an instrument and more so the sheer number of possibilities in duo-formation and when combined with an orchestra: “Hammers, mirrors, hits, concentric, retrograde, multiplications, inversions of ranges, harmonies, noise, rhythm, rotation, duel, resonance, extremes. Two pianos are frighteningly powerful.“
The piano does indeed seem to be an instrument that can do everything, that is able to depict a whole orchestra in all its polyphony. How do composers deal with the immense possibilities that are created when two of these instruments are available – plus a full symphony orchestra? “There are so many approaches. In Mozart’s music, for example, dialogue is very distinct”, explains Götz Schumacher. “In his music there’s a continual to and fro between the instruments: one piano finishes a phrase, the other begins the next playing it to the end of the phrase before the other answers in a different octave. A counterexample would be the music of Bartók or Eötvös who adopt a uniform piano sound and almost use the two pianos as a double instrument.” The pianist also observes many solutions regarding the role of the orchestra: “Bach relays an additional colour to the orchestra when it plays its tutti. Later, in Bernd Alois Zimmermann or Luciano Berio’s music, the orchestra is no longer there as a mass of instruments but also as a group of individuals – there is dialogue between the pianos and particular instruments. And by that point, the possibilities become overwhelmingly diverse.”
For many years, Andreas Grau and Götz Schumacher have set themselves the task of reviving the boost that the Kontarsky brothers gave the repertoire for two pianos in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, and firmly anchoring the milestones of that time in concert halls. Alongside numerous world premieres, the pianists have recorded almost all the major works for piano and orchestra, including concertos by Zimmermann, Berio, Rihm and Veress. This autumn, the third part of their Concerti series, a collaboration with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin and Deutschlandradio Kultur, will be released. The first two CDs feature concertos by Mozart, Bartók, Bach and Stravinsky, as well as composer Stefan Heucke’s arrangement of Liszt’s Concerto pathétique for two pianos and orchestra, a project which was prompted by the duo. The third CD in the series, which also includes Francis Poulenc’s Concerto for two pianos, presents repertoire from the 20th century and provides further evidence that most composers by no means use the “overwhelming possibilities” that Götz Schumacher described to create musical bombast. The Canadian composer Colin McPhee, whose concerto features on the new CD alongside that of John Adams, proceeds in a very unique way. “Colin McPhee creates a Balinese sound”, explains Götz Schumacher. “We take on the role of a gamelan in a way. The pianos blend with the sound of the full orchestra but are mostly closely intertwined with the percussion. In Adams’ work there’s another, very different, job to be done: embedded in his Minimal style he develops virtuosic gestures for both pianos, and in doing so quotes almost Beethoven-like cascades of sound. He dreams that the two grand pianos are two Cadillacs driving down the highway and generating a frenzy of sounds.”
According to Andreas Grau and Götz Schumacher, the repertoire profits from the fact that the piano is for most composers a highly trusted instrument that they use in their daily work and often have an excellent command of. “This joy of playing is very apparent with Philippe Manoury for example, himself a superbly trained pianist. You can tell from the music how well-written it is for the piano”, says Götz Schumacher. Philippe Manoury, who alongside fellow composers such as Peter Eötvös and Jan Müller-Wieland has dedicated a piano concerto to the duo in the last few years, seems excited about the collaboration: “The way they both immersed themselves in the music without having to ask any technical questions, I value this very highly. Of course I can answer such questions. But when the musical spark, which is the vital part of musical expression, no matter what technical means are being used, doesn’t ignite straight away, then something gets lost. With the duo everything was perfectly clear from the outset.” Götz Schumacher describes Philippe Manoury’s work as “highly virtuosic, spectacular and concise with a boisterous energy. This joy of playing is a development that we are rediscovering in Francesconi’s music – the passion to take full advantage of the piano’s potential. Virtuosity has effectively returned.”
Pablo Rus Broseta’s new position is an ocean and a continent away: the young Spanish conductor will begin his post as Assistant Conductor at the Seattle Symphony at the start of the new season. And while he is currently relocating to the centre of the Pacific Northwest in the USA, it has already become apparent that he will have to cross the continent and the ocean on a regular basis; an increasing number of orchestras who have come to know him as an excellent up-and-coming conductor for classical and contemporary repertoire want to see him on their podiums in Europe too.
“In Seattle I’ll be fulfilling two different roles”, explains Pablo Rus Broseta. “In my first year I will be the cover conductor for all orchestral concerts, which means that I have to master the whole repertoire for the season. I’ll also be conducting all the community concerts – educational projects, concerts for families and school groups etc.”
As one of the first two graduates of the International Conducting Academy in Berlin, Pablo Rus Broseta could not be better prepared for the first part of his new function. He has spent the last year on the newly developed postgraduate programme for young conductors who have already embarked on professional careers, mostly learning a large repertoire in a very short space of time with a range of professional orchestras – alongside his regular engagements which have taken him to the symphony orchestras of the SWR, WDR, BBC and Spanish Radio, for instance. “The programme gave me a routine of preparing myself efficiently over a short period”, says Pablo Rus Broseta.
His second function is also by no means a small one. The Seattle Symphony, like many North American orchestras, is deeply committed to making itself accessible to all social groups in the city. “This American way of being an orchestra interests me a lot: that they really see themselves as an institution for the people of the city”, says the Spaniard. At the “side-by-side” concerts for example, he will conduct joint performances of the Seattle Symphony with orchestras from local high schools and universities where the young musicians share desks with the professionals.
The fact that these performances are labours of love rather than inconvenient obligations can be explained by Pablo Rus Broseta’s own musical beginnings. “I grew up near Valencia where there is a huge wind band tradition. These orchestras play all sorts of things – Mediterranean pieces, classical, modern works”, he explains. “It’s about doing something as a community, socialising. In the village where I come from, almost everyone plays an instrument.” Pablo Rus Broseta’s first subject at the music college in Valencia was thus the saxophone, before he went on to study composition in Lyon and begin his training as a conductor in Amsterdam, in Frankfurt at the Ensemble Modern Akademie, and finally at the ICAB in Berlin.
“I learnt an awful lot about the psychology of musicians in the years I spent in the wind band,” says Pablo Rus Broseta. “Amateur musicians want to enjoy making music and as a conductor, I have to make sure they can experience this enjoyment. And this can be transferred to working with professional musicians. Many great conductors, Abbado for example, say they love working with students because they are so open and bring so much energy to the music. Sometimes this energy gets a bit lost in the professional world but you can rekindle it.”
Peter Rundel and the Remix Ensemble: Ready for New Challenges
There is a good excuse to party in Porto. This year, the Remix Ensemble celebrates 15 years since it was founded and ten years since the soloist ensemble for contemporary music moved into the new breathtaking Casa da Música concert hall. The ensemble’s artistic director, Peter Rundel, tells us the story of its early days and piques our interest in Remix`s latest project: an anniversary tour with a new opera by the Italian composer Francesco Filidei.
A commitment to trying new things and taking bold decisions was key to the ensemble’s astonishing success story, and allowed a soloist ensemble for contemporary music to be created for a building which had yet to be built: Casa da Música. “Remix was initially the only sure act that Casa da Música had for its opening,” explains Peter Rundel. “Pedro Burmester, the Portuguese pianist who initiated this concert hall, was sure that he wanted to forge a permanent collaboration between the hall and an ensemble for contemporary music.” The results were an international announcement and auditions across the whole of Europe. “Before the hall was even built, the musicians had already worked on it for five years,” says Peter Rundel, who took over from Stefan Asbury as director of the ensemble shortly before it moved into Casa da Música.
Of the many concert halls built in the past decades, Casa da Música is certainly one of the most interesting ones. Like a jewel perching up high, Rem Koolhaas and his renowned architectural office OMA’s geometric construction lies at the heart of Portugal’s economic hub. It boasts spectacular views, a variety of work spaces and of course an acoustically outstanding hall. It might be the kind of building that you would think had been created for the wealthier members of society – with a programme lining up large international orchestras and star soloists. Or else one that in its modernity might stand for a musical culture of the future, one that is available to a wider audience? “In the period following its opening, this kind of representative culture in the concert hall was the main policy,” admits Peter Rundel. But in the following years, more and more of the financial resources from foundation funds and government grants were used for the Casa’s own programme. “It was a clear move away from mere representation towards production.” Alongside Remix, other ensembles were gradually following suit and becoming part of the hall: for example, the previously independent Orquestra Sinfónica do Porto was taken on, and a chamber orchestra for early music with Lawrence Cummings as conductor was created. “Last but not least a choir conducted by Paul Hillier was founded, meaning that today the hall has four of its own ensembles. This is unique within Europe!”, Peter Rundel goes on to say. “It is also the result of a shrewd political decision to actively encourage regional artistic strengths.”
The fact that this cultural-political decision came at a time when a young generation of excellent musicians was entering the scene in Portugal was a stroke of luck for all of those involved. Of course, Remix is an international ensemble but it also enjoys a surprisingly high proportion of Portuguese members. “And one has to point out that this is because of the achievements”, Peter Rundel clarifies. “Young musical talent in Portugal is now on an international level. This is apparent at our auditions, at the Remix Ensemble’s summer academy and when we work with young soloists who perform at Casa da Música on various occasions.”
The programmatic concept of the concert hall is both distinct and transparent, matching the self-confidence of this new generation. Peter Rundel confirms that collaboration with Casa da Música’s artistic director, António Pacheco, is an important key to the Remix Ensemble’s success. “There is a clear focus on contemporary music – Remix is an important advocate of this – and there is an overall dramaturgical concept, for example focusing on a different country each season.” Not only pieces belonging to the respective country’s musical tradition take centre stage; prominent composers in residence also stand for these focal points. Helmut Lachenmann is currently the focus for Germany in this anniversary year, for example; in two years’ time Harrison Birtwistle will visit Porto, each visit being accompanied by performances by all of the in-house ensembles. “At the same time, every year we offer a young Portuguese composer the opportunity to present themselves to a wider audience”, Peter Rundel adds. “What is more, there is a series of “mini festivals” for all ensembles throughout the season, each with its own theme. This clear structure is very user-friendly for audiences and also allows for great diversity. Casa’s success rests on the concert hall and the concerts being very well received by as diverse a cross-section of Porto’s population as possible.”
This development would be good news for any city – and for Porto, the value of a functioning cultural centre that is able to give impetus to the musical life of a city beyond its own four walls is of the utmost importance. As Portugal’s economic centre, the world heritage city in the Douro region is an energetic urban space but it is also a place, which seems to lie on the edge of Europe from the perspective of European music metropolises – those who wish to go to concerts in other cities certainly have a long way to travel. By the same token, this situation has provided the Remix Ensemble with the specific wish to find its audience elsewhere. “From time to time we play in Lisbon at the Gulbenkian Foundation but Portugal is a small country with few performance opportunities”, Peter Rundel explains. “It’s all the more important for us that we have the possibility to face the competition and introduce ourselves to other audiences at European festivals for contemporary music or showcase our opera projects. This artistic challenge is very important for the ensemble and thanks to it we have taken a definite step forward in the last few years.”
The contemporary music theatre projects that the Remix Ensemble regularly presents on tours have caused a particular stir. “There’s a close collaboration with the French production company T&M - Théâtre et Musique”, explains Peter Rundel. “Wolfgang Mitterer’s Massacre was extremely successful for example; this year there’s even a revival of it in Toulouse after a long period. Then of course the Ring Saga four years ago, a mammoth project that could only be realised with the help of other partners.” The arrangement of Wagner’s Ring, boiled down to three days and to ensemble size, was seen across France and in Italy and was recorded by the television channel ARTE. “Following a break, we are now giving the world premiere of the first opera by the young Italian Francesco Filidei’s, surely one of the most interesting composers of his generation”, says Peter Rundel delightedly.
Giordano Bruno can be seen in Porto as an opera in twelve scenes from mid-September before Remix presents the work in Strasbourg and Reggio Emilia. “I think that Francesco Filidei succeeded in creating a musically absolutely brilliant work”, enthuses the conductor after the first rehearsal with singers and choir. “The material has been transformed with a hypnotic music.” The opera traces, on one level in the form of Stations of the Cross, the stages of the life of Giordano Bruno until his imprisonment by the Venetian inquisition and his burning at the stake, interspersed on a second level with the contemplation of Bruno’s spiritual universe. “The plot level is arranged around central tones and moves downwards chromatically, while the philosophical level moves upwards. As part of this stringent concept there are lots of references to sacred music and for me, the work touches on the tradition of the oratorio; it makes one think of pieces such as Haydn’s Letzte Worte or Schubert’s Lazarus. Still, Filidei has managed to create a completely unique soundscape.”
Opera in two parts and twelve scenes by Franceso Filidei
Breathing differently every evening: the conductor Alejo Pérez
The Argentinian conductor will make his debut at the Salzburg Festival in August with the Mozarteumorchester in concert performances of Massenet’s Werther. In the run-up to the festival, Alejo Pérez talked about the interaction between directors and conductors in opera productions, his love of language and literature, and magical moments on-stage.
Mr. Pérez, it is no secret that you are a big Mozart fan. Your debut in Salzburg will unfortunately be with Massenet…
AP: Not unfortunately (laughs). It’s true that I love Mozart with all my heart and that the invitation to come to Salzburg was a happy surprise. But I also feel very at home with French repertoire, which is why I am looking forward to conducting Werther with the Mozarteumorchester.
Is it true that your connection to the Salzburg Festival was established through the former artistic director Gérard Mortier?
I can only assume that. Gérard was always an extremely discreet man and never spoke of such suggestions on his part. But I can well imagine that this was the case. I liked Gérard a lot and he was always very generous to me.
You have regularly conducted at the Teatro Real Madrid since the 2010/11 season. This collaboration during Gérard Mortier’s tenure hinted at much more than a normal guest contract.
That was a system that Gérard Mortier favoured: there was a strong group of four or five regular conductors with whom he planned the seasons. He didn’t look for specialists in particular eras and styles but always looked for people who, in his eyes, had a command of all the relevant areas. He became a confidant for this small group of artists, very friendly and full of respect. The collaboration was ongoing; we planned three or four seasons in advance. I went to the theatre up to four times a year and was also on the panel at auditions. In this way I developed a permanent relationship with the orchestra, with the choir, with the whole house. It was a very special period for me.
After Gérard Mortier’s death in 2014 your relationship with Madrid did not end, however.
No, I have since been involved in projects that were not planned by Mortier.
As musical director of the Teatro Argentino in La Plata, where you pulled the artistic strings from 2009 to 2012 and conducted great works of the opera and concert repertoire, you were able to witness the productions first hand (in Madrid too, to a certain extent). Is it possible to get so close to a production as a normal guest conductor?
Only if you are in contact with the director from a very early stage. For me it’s ideal to meet him as soon as he starts developing his concept – if indeed he is open to that. Then right at the beginning of the staging rehearsal, and of course later as often as possible. It’s definitely crucial to not come in just at the end, as is unfortunately often the case in the opera world.
During the initial stages of a production, do you simply read up on the director’s concept or do you give your own input?
It’s always different. The exciting thing is that the action is contained in the music; a lot about the psychology of the characters is apparent in the music. It is difficult if the staging involves lots of conflicting meanings and the director claims that there is a different meaning behind the words that the singer sings. Sometimes this difference is simply not there in the music and that can lead to conflicts. Of course, I always do my best to make sure the production works well as a unity, not just on the musical side. In this respect I do intervene – respectfully, but most of all with respect for the work.
Alongside directors who enjoy this, there are doubtless some who are not so open to this kind of team work…
In my opinion, one can say anything one likes; you just have to choose your words more carefully. As long as my counterpart understands that I’m looking for the best for the work and not just for me, it’s not a problem. But it really depends and I have to admit that there are conflicts between directors and conductors – it’s even typical. You have to understand the director’s set of problems: during the performances they can’t change or influence anything anymore. Everything is then in the hands of the artists on-stage, the conductor in the orchestra pit and the director can only observe. It’s a difficult role.
Coincidentally, Peter Konwitschny’s staging of Rihm’s opera Die Eroberung von Mexiko will be running in Salzburg while you are rehearsing there. You will take over conducting this production next year in Cologne.
I already conducted the piece in a different staging at the Teatro Real and it’s very useful to see the production in Salzburg now and make inquiries: how was this or that problem solved? There really are a lot of difficulties in the piece, for which there is not necessarily one single solution.
Before that, you are involved in another large work: in December you will conduct Parsifal in your native Argentina at the Teatro Colón.
It was originally going to be staged by Katharina Wagner but in the interim the theatre direction changed and the new artistic director went for a different production. I have already worked on many operas with Marcelo Lombardero, who will now stage Parsifal. Naturally for me it’s exciting to be conducting Parsifal at the Colón.
Alongside the many operas, you have also conducted orchestral concerts with a range of renowned soloists in recent years.
There have been collaborations with artists that have shaped me greatly, even if it was just for one concert. Meeting Martha Argerich was a very special experience, so too was meeting Mischa Maisky. These were encounters with great musicians who have enormous expressiveness when they perform, and who also have very warm personalities.
It is probably very relaxing to be able to concentrate wholly on the music during concerts without the necessary communicative trimmings that come hand in hand with opera productions?
Of course. I love both. Although in opera you can also experience real magic. Sometimes it works better with some directors than with others – but, together with the singers and musicians, I definitely enjoy this feeling of ‘this evening it’s going to be different, without fail’. Sometimes the stars are aligned correctly and then it just happens: everyone listening together, picking up on every nuance as if playing chamber music rather than a four hour-long opera. There is a certain element of freedom involved, you breathe differently every evening. It is exciting to sense these subtleties and the enthusiasm of the many artists who are on-stage in front of you, and to react to this. It’s what makes the job exhilarating.
You can generally communicate with the musicians and singers in their mother tongues – alongside Spanish you also speak excellent Italian, French, English and German, and you are learning Russian. Do you go the extra mile to facilitate rehearsals?
I do it for the love of languages, of literature. I believe it enriches a person and you learn nuances and subtlety. When I was younger, I read a lot and it was a dream to frequently read in the original language. If it now benefits my work then that is obviously a great thing. I try very hard to get as close to the musicians as possible and to come across as naturally as possible with the help of language.
... and your language knowledge is also no doubt very useful regarding opera repertoire. Do you currently have your heart set on any particular repertoire that you would like to conduct in the near future?
When it comes to repertoire, I haven’t left any stone uncovered so far. I would like to exhaust, extend and intensify every possibility. German repertoire has always fascinated me – Strauss, Wagner, Mahler – and then of course the 20th century: Janáček, Stravinsky, Shostakovich. But there is so much more. French music… and so on. I could go on forever about composers whose works I would like to study.
Vanishing notes: Toshio Hosokawa‘s speech at the MozartLabor
On 31 May, Toshio Hosokawa was invited by the Mozartfest Würzburg to give a speech during the MozartLabor (Mozart Laboratory), a three-day symposium for academics, composers, musicians and music lovers. While describing his specific perspective on Mozart’s music, he took the opportunity to reflect on his own cultural and musical background, and on how Western and Japanese art deals with sorrow and mortality.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to thank you first of all for the kind invitation to this wonderful Mozart Festival.
When I heard the well-informed and insightful comments of my dear friend and colleague Jörg Widmann, who spoke at last year’s MozartLabor, I thought it must have been a mistake that I received an invitation this year. Jörg’s physical presence alone was a clear indication of how he lives and breathes the European music tradition; he creates his own, new music from the heart of this tradition as it were.
I, on the other hand, grew up in Hiroshima in a family for which there was hardly any contact with European music. As a child I started to take piano lessons but this hardly went beyond a superficial level: what I experienced and learned in my lessons must have been fundamentally different from what one could learn in Europe, the world in which this music has its roots. Moreover, my family was characterised by traditional Japanese art – ikebana, tea ceremonies and Japanese music heritage. Yet in the 1960s, Western music found its way gradually even into this family. The music that Japanese children came into contact with at school was now almost entirely European, and they had practically no experience of traditional Japanese music. When I was younger I found the Japanese music that my grandfather and mother loved so much nothing other than bland and dull; I was much more fascinated and impressed by Western composition, particularly Beethoven, Mozart and Schubert, and later the European moderns – Stravinsky, Bartók, Debussy. In their music I felt something thrillingly modern, new and powerful.
It was towards the end of the 1970s during my studies in Berlin that I rediscovered traditional Japanese music. At that time there was a festival in the city that presented both the music of different peoples and cultures, and modern music and it was there that I first heard traditional Japanese music as “music”, touched by the idiosyncrasies and beauty of its soundscape. This was the first time that I had been away from home, a Japanese student studying abroad, and it was only through having this spatial distance that I was able to appreciate what was typically Japanese. Furthermore there was a particular reason why I was now able to appreciate traditional Japanese music with a new ear: I had encountered contemporary Western music and thus at the same time a way of listening to music that is different from the classical European tonal system of 18th and 19th century music. In 20th century Western music, it became necessary to not just observe the harmonic relationship between notes but also to capture the existence of the notes themselves – as an intrinsic value – and to develop an ear for the energy within them.
You, dear listeners, now know that my music is a far cry from the traditions of Western music and that it is from precisely this perspective that I appreciate and cherish Western music. However, at the same time I cultivate my own musical language, based on my feeling of being rooted in traditional Japanese music and, thus trying to create a new kind of music. It may be that I succeeded in discovering the potential of a non-Western music only through this experience of the other, the culturally different.
Enough about the background of my experiences for the time being. I am not sure what I can even tell you – lovers and researchers of Mozart’s music – with this background; but I would like to try to explain to you how I hear Mozart’s music and what I love about it.
As you may know, “Ikebana” is the Japanese art of flower arranging. Flowers are arranged and displayed in a particular room in the house and a specific world view is unfurled, which is quite different from European flower arrangements. There are lots of flowers on display at this Mozart Festival. I believe we do this to make the rooms seem more sumptuous and at the same time to insert some of the beauty of nature into the human world as decoration. In Japan one often sees these sorts of flower decorations. But the actual, traditional art of Ikebana is very different from this sort of flower arrangement.
In Ikebana, the flowers are seen as things that have been cut from the fields and brought into a room that people live in. These flowers breathed in the earth, but their “lives” have been cut off; death is already there in the background. And as one makes the last shimmer of their lives palpable in the room, life’s worth – the ability to have an effect and to resist – becomes all the more apparent. These flowers do not make a lush bouquet, the aim is to bring out just one flower or place a couple of them together. It is very important where these flowers are placed: the background becomes an essential part of the arrangement.
We Japanese find the volatility of passing things beautiful. That is why we love “Sakura”, the cherry blossom in the spring. These cherries are not edible. And the flowering season is very short. They blossom for four to five days at the most then the flowers fall. It is precisely this process of falling petals that we find beautiful. Because our own lives do not last forever; they blossom for a short time only to vanish. We feel this is precious thanks to this awareness of fleetingness.
I believe there are two different sorts of aesthetics in art: firstly art that resists mortality and disappearance, and secondly art that faces up to vanishing time and mortality. In Europe, many art forms seem to have grown out of a resistance against time passing by. This corresponds to the Christian belief that God gave man eternal life. In this way Bruckner’s symphonies, for example, seem to me to anticipate something like eternity in their “sound architecture”.
But what is a note? It comes and it goes. It is born from silence and sinks back into silence. Our traditional Japanese music is based on the prerequisite of the tone’s evanescence, of its inherent perishability. We hear the individual notes and appreciate at the same time the process of how the notes are born and die: a sound landscape of continual “becoming” that is animated in itself. The silence in the background of the sound has an essential meaning at all times.
When I am composing, I present my music as calligraphy in space and time. In Asian calligraphy you use a paintbrush and a white fabric to draw lines. The white area – the empty space on the fabric – is just as important as the lines themselves. I once met a leading Zen doyen who did calligraphy every day. One time, he drew the Chinese character “do” (the way) on a large white canvas for me. He said: “Calligraphy is not about starting to draw on paper straight away. Instead you define a point in the empty space and from this point you start to draw, finally returning to that point. This circling-linear movement is calligraphy.” This idea had a fundamental impact on my music.
The musical movement also begins before you hear anything. The notes we hear are much more of an indication of a deeper inaudible world.
In the traditional Japanese art of poetry there is the term “mononoaware” (loosely translated as a nostalgic/wistful feeling for the transience of things). This does not simply contain sadness but also an attitude of valuing everything that is transient. In the depths of human existence there is a bottomless darkness but there is also an attitude that this finite, fragile existence must be perceived with love and appreciation. In darkness there is also the brightness of “resignation”.
Perhaps it is just my subjective perception but I hear this “mononoaware” in Mozart’s music; a feeling of sorrow and deep resignation towards passing life and time. It is an attitude that transcends the self, an attitude not to hold on to the notion of eternity. His clarinet concerto or quintet are examples of where this love of transience can be felt. The “sorrow” in this music is like a transparent, clear sky on an autumn’s day.
In my opinion, Mozart’s music is not created through a “self”; it appears as if from another, otherworldly sphere, just as if it were only audible through the – carefully listening – medium of Mozart. I also love the magnificent music of Beethoven but I always get the impression that a strong “self” is struggling against the transience of this music. Compared to that, I think the genius Mozart examined how notes naturally flow; he shows this in the most beautiful way in his music.
Perhaps it is my subjective perception. I do think, however, that there is a kind of resonance that goes beyond the boundaries between the Western and Eastern worlds in really exceptional artistic expression. Mozart’s music seems to me to be such a transcendental, borderless art.
Today I have tried to explain how I appreciate and perceive the music of Mozart from the point of view of traditional Japanese music.
Encounters and Reflection: Jens Joneleit in Russia
The Osnabrücker Symphonieorchester and Academic Symphony Orchestra Volgograd commemorated the victims of war and terror in recent months with concerts to mark 70 years since the end of the Second World War, thereby creating scope for exchange, discussion and mourning. In May, the composer Jens Joneleit accompanied the orchestras and his work Ehrfurcht (Andacht) (“Veneration (Reverence)”), composed especially for the occasion, to Moscow and Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad). He took the opportunity to discuss his piece, hear opinions on the current political situation and talk to war veterans about their experiences.
The performance of the work on 9 May at the site of the crushing German defeat in 1943, today one of Russia’s most important memorials, was also attended by the German Minister for Foreign Affairs Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who was in Russia on a state visit, and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov. Together with approximately 10,000 other audience-members, they heard a light, restful piece that in no way tried to depict the horrors of war. “I didn’t want to depict the end of the war with a particular atmosphere,” explains Jens Joneleit. “The music ought instead to bring something of the present day to this period in time. As I tackled the topic through the Osnabrück orchestra’s commission, my own family history played an important role – my grandfather was a soldier in Russia, a parson in the field. After this experience he always had the urge to convey to me the horrors of war, the senselessness, the terror.” But the overall tone of his piece is influenced most of all by his grandmother’s stories. “She said that when war is over, it’s not like a light switch that you can turn off. It takes a long time to come to terms with the horrors that one witnessed. In the first few weeks a sense of ambivalence dominates, there’s an uncertainty as to whether peace will remain or whether war will flare up again. I tried to convey this in my music. The listener is transported to a place where he can feel that something is shifting, something is becoming lighter but something black appears – and then it remains grey. This limewash grey, between black and white, this uncertainty is the central theme of my composition.”
It seemed as though the project would come to an abrupt end when the political situation in Ukraine escalated. “Shortly after I started composing, there were protests in Kiev's Maidan Nezalezhnosti square,” explains Jens Joneleit. After the Crimean crisis and the shooting down of the aeroplane over eastern Ukraine, sponsors pulled out. “So for me there was also an acute, very concrete state of uncertainty. I had composed two thirds of the piece and didn’t know if it would ever be played.” Feelings of ambivalence and uncertainty oversaw the compositional process all the more when he travelled to eastern Ukraine three times on private visits. “It was very distressing looking into the empty faces of Ukrainian soldiers who couldn’t look you in the eye when you talked to them. It really shocked me: I’m writing a piece to mark 70 years since the end of the Second World War and here I am now, a 46 year-old in the middle of Europe, talking to a Ukrainian soldier in front of a T-72 battle tank that is fully loaded and ready to be fired.” The memories and stories of his grandfather, who was stationed near Kiev, also accompanied Jens Joneleit on these visits. “That I was now following in his footsteps with my piece, in the very region where the war ended 70 years ago and where a new war is now taking place, was a strange and appalling feeling. The awareness that the current situation can change at any moment is also in the piece.”
One can be sure that concerts are rarely as politically and emotionally charged as the joint performances in Moscow and Volgograd, programmes rarely discussed so critically about their suitability for the historical situation. And yet before the two orchestras travelled to Russia with the piece, concerns were brought to Jens Joneleit’s attention that his tranquil and reverent piece might be met with rejection. This is because, despite the loss of approximately 26 million Soviet citizens in the Second World War, 9 May is celebrated as Victory Day in Russia, with fireworks, military parades and expressions of thanks and flowers for the veterans. A confrontational interviewer for Russian television boiled the doubts down to the reproach: “We are celebrating and you are offering us a requiem”. Jens Joneleit retorted with, “But I can’t come with victory music,” and talked about how the soldiers of the Soviet Army pushed the Germans further and further back until they put an end to the Nazi horror. “I am the result of their acts,” he says. “My parents’ generation grew up in the rubble of war. They knew exactly why there was rubble: the Germans instigated a colossal war. They passed on this legacy, this coming to terms to their children. And the veterans often grasped this much quicker than listeners who were born after the war. They felt more provoked with regard to the tone of my music.”
“However, these were only solitary experiences,” he concedes and says that he has never given so many autographs than on this trip. “And when you’re giving out autographs, people ask critical questions too. They want to know something from you, they won’t just go to the concert and say, ah a world premiere, how nice.” His encounters with war veterans were particularly moving. “Lots of veterans came to me after the concert in Volgograd and embraced me, half crying half laughing. Just the fact that we were there, taking into account the crisis in Ukraine, made them very happy. Many of them said they cannot comprehend what is happening at the moment – this playing with fire. One has to give it to the Soviet veterans: they have a bigger perspective than the younger generation in Russia.”
Those who seemed to call for triumphant victory music the least were the veterans of all people. “They were the ones who said, Jens, you’ve hit the right note,” says the composer. “For many of them, Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7 was simply too loud.” The “Leningrad” symphony, that was completed a few weeks after the German attack on the Soviet Union, was the second work on the programme in Moscow and Volgograd. “It’s music that aimed to inspire listeners at the time not to give up and naturally has a very different tone compared to my work. The difference couldn’t be more extreme.” Before the tour, Jens Joneleit favoured the eighth symphony. “Shostakovich wrote the eighth to throw critical light on his seventh and his perspective at the time. It is also victory music but above all it reveals the torments of war. He experienced the beginning of the Siege of Leningrad but fled shortly afterwards to the east. There, no one had the foggiest idea what it was like on the front. He was shocked after speaking to injured Soviet citizens and regretted having engulfed people in the war and in their misery with his seventh symphony that was so apt to be used as propaganda. This critical tone is evident in the eighth.” In Moscow, Jens Joneleit observed that many concert-goers shared his opinion. “Russians who are familiar with music know about Shostakovich and the problems he had with the Soviet state. Many said, but we have music for this occasion! The eighth symphony contains music composed with a critical eye, why isn’t that being played?“
It was not only the music connoisseurs in the audience who welcomed the stark contrast of Ehrfurcht (Andacht) alongside the symphony. “Many were glad to hear a piece that permitted mourning. Of course 9 May is a victory day in Russia. But the celebrating and the fireworks cannot be mentally endured year after year. A veteran said to me: ‘Finally someone is giving me something to make me cry.’ I found that phenomenal and it just goes to show that this project was really worthwhile.”
And this is how Jens Joneleit sums up the experience, despite his sympathy for the reluctance and ambivalence of the German politicians who struggled with visits to Russia to commemorate the Second World War given the current crisis: “I personally find it momentous that we took the step to go there and to carry on with the project, and I also think it is good that the commemoration was interwoven with the current situation. That is why we have these occasions and memorials: to ensure something like this never happens again.”
From Gyeonggi to Berlin: in conversation with Shiyeon Sung
The Korean conductor Shiyeon Sung has held her first post as Chief Conductor since January 2014 with the Gyeonggi Philharmonic Orchestra. The orchestra is now touring Germany, taking in the Berlin Philharmonie, the city of Wiesbaden and the Musikfestspiele Saar. Shiyeon Sung is therefore leading her orchestra to the country where she learnt her conducting trade and where she acquired her reputation as one the most exciting emerging talents on the international music scene.
In 2006, after graduating from the Hochschule für Musik Hanns Eisler in Berlin, she won two conducting competitions in quick succession: the International Conductors‘ Competition Sir Georg Solti and the Gustav Mahler Conductors‘ Competition. Since then, the former assistant of James Levine and the Boston Symphony Orchestra is regularly invited to guest conduct international orchestras, enjoys close ties with the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra – and is now facing new challenges with her own orchestra.
Ms. Sung, can you tell us something about your Gyeonggi Philharmonic Orchestra?
Gyeonggi-do is South Korea’s most populous province and at its centre, 30 minutes by car from our orchestra’s base, is Seoul. Our orchestra belongs to this region, the area that surrounds Seoul. It is now 19 years old, so still relatively young. The approximately 100 musicians are also fairly young, on average around 35 years old. We only have a few youth orchestras in Korea; the system is a bit different to that in Germany. That’s why many musicians come directly to us after their studies in Europe or America and gain intensive orchestral experience here for the first time. That’s a big challenge for them but at the same time we have a lot of fun! I can say that, as a result, they are really spirited and highly motivated. You don’t just sit comfortably in your chair and do the bare necessities; everyone is very committed to and passionate about the music.
Does the repertoire have any particular focal points?
Our strength is the late Romantic repertoire. We do also discover new works though and want to perform more contemporary music. At the moment I’m trying to develop a composer residency and a Korean composer, Heera Kim, is accompanying us to our performances in Germany. She studied under Wolfgang Rihm and in her piece, of which we are performing the German premiere, one can really get a sense of his influence. I think that nowadays we have to preserve classical performance practice but at the same time it is our duty to attract new audiences and provide younger generations with new works to discover.
Concert audiences in Germany are getting older – is the same phenomenon occurring in Korea?
Not exactly. But it is indeed true that we don’t sing as much at school any more and there isn’t as much music-making at home as there used to be. Therefore the younger generation has less contact with live music. I think that it’s possible to change a lot with music. I believe in that and that’s why I try out new things. I’m planning, for example, to work on Kurt Weill’s Aufstieg und Fall der Soldat Mahagonny with a well-known film producer to awaken interest in normal audiences rather than just classical music lovers.
It appears that Korean and European orchestras face similar challenges. What makes the mutual exchange interesting for both sides? And what could make a Korean orchestra stand out for audiences in Europe?
I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say this since there is always a particular aesthetic and emotional significance in music… But I think that the Korean mentality is simply more emotional than it is rational. The orchestra is capable of creating wonderful moments and as a Korean, I can immediately feel this emotional opening up and commitment.
That doesn’t fit the stereotype that Europeans have of Asian people at all; we tend to think that you are more reserved.
There is a further aspect: in Korea we have a word – han – which cannot be translated. It is a very specific Korean mentality or emotion because we were often suppressed as a small country located between China and Japan, although our culture was very developed. The Koreans suffered a lot because of this. Without really being able to express it, “han” is present in every art form.
In Korea there is also a particular interest in the history of divided Germany. Will this play a role for the orchestra during its visit to Berlin?
The concert in the Berlin Philharmonie will take place on the 70th anniversary of Korea’s independence from Japan. It is a great opportunity for us to mark this in Germany. Furthermore many of the musicians, including myself, have studied in Germany, some even in Berlin, and are looking forward to seeing the city again.
Before the orchestra performs with the violin virtuoso Suyoen Kim in Berlin, it can be seen at the Musikfestspiele Saar and in Wiesbaden with Wieniawski’s violin concerto performed by Albena Danailova, and Szymanowski’s Symphony No. 2. How did this programme come to be?
The Saarland Festival this year focuses on Poland, which is why they asked us to perform a Polish programme. But we thought, not everyone wants to hear us play solely Polish music. With Heera Kim’s piece we can prove that our contemporary composers also have something to say. Last June we performed Szymanowski’s Symphony No. 4 and I found the work really interesting and unbelievably well written. That’s why I wanted to do another work by him so that we have the opportunity to show our emotional side. The concert in Berlin will include Tchaikovsky, then it will become Russian too (laughs).
How does working with your own orchestra differ from your previous work as a guest conductor?
From my point of view it is a very productive time. You always have a certain adjustment period when guest conducting as you get to know the orchestra. Then after two days the concert is upon you and you move on to the next orchestra. But with your own orchestra – and particularly when you work with highly motivated people – you can try out lots of things. By that I don’t mean trying out new techniques but feeling my capacity. How much am I giving and how much am I getting back in terms of energy and response? And at the next concert I can focus on a different thing. How can I move the baton perhaps just two centimetres and still take charge of the orchestra? These things can be developed more intensely with one’s own orchestra – and then applied to other orchestras. The other thing is that I’m learning a lot about the organisation of the orchestra, planning projects in the near future and making long-term decisions. In Germany it’s not usually necessary for chief conductors to deal so intensively with these questions but in the US for example, it is extremely important that the chief appears and is involved. I myself am working diligently on creating a network of sponsors and securing financial backing. All of this is a great learning curve for me.
Tora Augestad welcomes me into her Berlin apartment. Between performances of Christoph Marthaler’s music theatre piece Tessa Blomstedt gibt nicht auf at the Berlin Volksbühne and her guest performances at the Royal Opera House London with Marthaler’s King Size, she is currently catching her breath and is using the time to prepare for new projects. The score of the opera Adam and Eve – A Divine Comedy is lying on her piano; she will give the world premiere of the work, composed by Cecilie Ore and commissioned by Tora Augestad herself, at the Bergen International Festival on 28 May. She says that God speaks more or less throughout the whole opera and flicking through the music, she quotes some extracts.
TA: “The women and the little ones, the livestock and everything else in the city, all is spoil of war, you shall take as plunder for yourself, and you shall enjoy the spoil of your enemy, which the Lord, your God, has given you.” That part’s about rape. Another passage deals with women covering their heads: “If a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her hair. For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image of glory of God, but a woman is the glory of man, for man was not made from woman, but woman from man.”
These quotes sound outrageous. What is the opera’s objective? It has been advertised as a “burlesque chamber opera”…
TA: The criticism in Adam and Eve does not refer to Islam but to religion in general. That’s why there are passages from the Old and New Testaments, so Jewish and Christian texts, as well as texts from the Koran. It examines how religion is used to oppress women. This is unfortunately unbelievably topical at the moment. Some say, for example, that it is worse now for women in Iraq than it was under Saddam Hussein. It’s hard to believe. The same is true in Afghanistan. And at the same time there are men and women in our society, in Germany and Norway, who say, “Enough with this feminism. It’s too much. This is taking equality too far.“ But how can equality go too far? In Norway, if you think it’s unfair that as a woman you earn less than your male counterpart, people say, “You’ve got so many rights. Think of the women in Iraq, in Afghanistan, they’ve got it hard.” For me feminism means only one thing: solidarity. If we change what we can at home, it doesn’t for one second mean that we don’t show solidarity with other women. I’m a singer, for example. This would be impossible if I were Iranian because over there it’s illegal to be a solo singer. I think of this a lot. Of course Adam and Eve deals with difficult subject matter but it is such an important topic. I think we’re going to get a lot of reactions to this.
How is the subject matter dealt with in the work and in the staging?
The music is quite minimalistic. There is a lot of repetition in the text, everything is repeated and the same is true of the music. I think it will feel a bit like being in a cage. I’m intrigued as to how the piece will develop during rehearsals; the material is really intense but it has to be funny at the same time. The director Susanne Øglænd has some great ideas; the audience will sit like a jury at court in the concert hall, for example.
At this year’s Bergen Festival, you are not just appearing in this world premiere. You can also be seen in Christoph Marthaler’s staged Lieder recital King Size, with which you have been touring Europe. What does the festival mean to you?
Bergen is my home town and I’ve grown up with the festival as it were. As a teenager, I always waited with anticipation for the programme to be published and bought tickets for performances. I first appeared as a soloist there just a few years ago and then again in 2013 with my band Music for a While. That was a great success. This year I’m also taking part in a few smaller projects alongside the big productions. I’ll be at the opening concert and will take part in a discussion about music theatre, for example. I have a good bond with the festival and the artistic director Anders Beyer. In the coming year I’m curating something else: a cabaret late night performance inspired by Schönberg in which I will also sing.
Curating and working as artistic director is nothing new for you; you are also co-directing the Hardanger Festival. How do you feel in this role?
I love programming. I used to have my own festival in Norway and can imagine leading larger festivals too at some point in the future. Why not? I’ve worked in a wide range of areas – in theatres, opera houses, with large ensembles, small ensembles… You really get to know the scene when you work as a freelancer, as I do, and are continuously on the move. You make useful contacts, listen to lots of music and gain invaluable experience.
As artistic director in Hardanger, you now not only profit from this know-how but also from your sound knowledge of the German music scene.
It’s funny that the Hardanger Festival’s theme this year is Germany of all things. It wasn’t my idea – it had already been decided before I took over the artistic direction alongside Terese Birkelund Ulvo. Together we found a good mixture with several programmes that address Germany: “Brecht as a Poet” involves two actors and the accordionist Stian Carstensen, then there’s a discussion accompanied by music with the journalist Sten Inge Jørgensen who has written a book entitled “Tyskland stiger frem” (“Germany Emerges”). And of course there are lots of concerts with music by German composers from Bach through to Hindemith and Lachenmann. In total there are about 35 events over the course of five days, as well as children’s concerts and performances in retirement homes.
The Hardanger Festival is actually a festival for classical chamber music. Many of the concerts, including performances by your band Music for a While, do not fall into this category strictly speaking. Are you moving away from the festival’s original profile or are such things generally less strict in Norway?
The Norwegian music scene is certainly more open regarding categorisation but you’re right that there are lots of crossover events this year. Classical music does remain at the heart of the festival however, and Norwegian folk music also plays a central role. It was important for us to further establish the festival in Hardanger. We would like to reach the people who live in the region and not only tourists who travel here just for the festival.
You yourself commute between Norway, your Berlin home and other international engagements. How much time do you spend in your native country?
I’m working quite a lot in Norway this year and I’d guess I spent a quarter of my time there in the current season. However all in all, I’m spending more and more time in Germany and I like that. It can’t be denied that Germany is currently the leading European country when it comes to culture. It has the most orchestras, there is money to be invested in culture and above all there are interested audiences who are culturally educated. But I will always continue to have projects in Norway in the future, although my profile is slowly changing. My two last albums with Music for a While already took a new direction: instead of jazz and cabaret we recorded arrangements of classical pieces. In Norway overall, I have a reputation of being a singer who does many highly varied things throughout Europe.
Adam and Eve – A Divine Comedy 28 and 29/5/2015, 19:30
Bergen, Logen Teater
In three concerts in April, Tabea Zimmermann will perform 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.
Feedback for conductors: Steven Sloane and the International Conducting Academy Berlin
After the successful first round in the academic year 2014/15, young conductors can again apply for an internationally unique programme at Berlin’s University of the Arts (UdK): The International Conducting Academy Berlin (ICAB), conceived and directed by Steven Sloane, offers, alongside a two-year master's degree programme, a one-year postgraduate course, specifically tailored to the individual needs of the participants. It offers conductors with first work experience, who are already beyond the master’s level, a very focused way to improve upon their capabilities, benefitting from a variety of collaborations with orchestras and opera houses in Berlin and other German cities.
Pablo Rus Broseta, one of the first two students of the Advanced Professional Training for Conductors, explains why it was the right decision for him as a professionally successful young conductor to again spend time at a University. "It's true that I am already conducting important concerts. However, life as a conductor can suddenly be very lonely. No one comes to you and says, be careful in this bar, maybe you should try this technique. I have certainly conducted at a professional level before but during this year, I can still evolve a lot thanks to the great feedback."
“Usually there is only one conductor in the room," says Harry Curtis, who, as teacher and course coordinator for the ICAB, keeps the many organisational threads of the study programme in hand. "The musicians in front of you notice if something doesn’t work out. But they can’t tell you why! It is this information that the students get from us. The Academy therefore aims to create a platform that puts them in a live situation as often as possible – but not without help," he says. For Pablo Rus Broseta’s agenda, this means: "At the beginning of the semester, I look at the plan and I see, for example, that in October we will travel to the orchestras in Frankfurt and Brandenburg. So, let’s say in one month you have two different repertoires. This is a lot of work, but it prepares you for professional life in the future. Because normally if things go well, you have a lot to do and a lot to study in a very short time.”
The info leaflet promoting the University of the Arts’ new course describes the etymology of the verb ‘to conduct’: originally it means, ‘to bring together’. And this is exactly what the ICAB does. Both within the university and in relation to the cultural opportunities available in Berlin as a city of music, it creates a network of people, places and resources to be used by the students. And this can be taken as a clear indication of Steven Sloane’s handwriting. After all, he has gained much esteem as a "conductor" not only on the podium, but also in this extended sense. At the moment, his role in the creation of a new concert hall in Bochum is raising the German media’s attention in particular. As the city of Munich is facing a controversial and seemingly desperate debate about the necessity of a new concert hall, the Bochum concert hall seems like a benchmark: it shows that even in an economically desolate city it is possible to build a cultural centre that will both serve the Bochumer Symphoniker as an adequate home and host the city’s music school, thus becoming a place for education and dialogue. Not only as the orchestra’s chief conductor – now in his 20th season – and networker for the new concert hall, but also as a member of the artistic board of the European Capital of Culture RUHR 2010 and for countless small and large projects in the Ruhr region, Steven Sloane has brought together people, institutions and ideas.
But back to the ICAB: Harry Curtis explains how cooperation and networking are achieved at the Academy. First of all, the university itself offers great possibilities. Sound engineers, composers, Early Music specialists, singers – they all study or respectively teach just down the hallway and are available for project-based collaborations as well as individual meetings on the young conductors’ specific questions. Pablo Rus Broseta found the collaboration with the opera department especially valuable, including fully staged opera rehearsals with singers and orchestra. "I have not worked in this area so much, that’s why it is so important to me,” he says. “And Steven Sloane is a great teacher for opera. From him I am learning a lot about how drama evolves, how everything is connected to the text. His special technique was new to me – he really created his own conducting vocabulary for the opera repertoire."
In order to be able to respond to the learning needs of the participants, who bring along not only an individual professional experience but also manage their concert agendas parallel to their studies, the organisational setup of the Advanced Professional Training for Conductors is a special one: as a postgraduate training programme of the University of the Arts’ Career College, it offers more freedom than other programmes that have to undergo the German university system’s complicated formal recognition procedures. Candidates do not necessarily have to speak German, nor do they need a formal university degree in conducting as long as they can prove their technical and artistic maturity. There is also no curriculum, as Harry Curtis explains. "When Pablo, for example, has a concert or if he wants to do more opera, then we can respond to that. These are things that can be customised, also because of the very small number of students."
With this setup, it is possible to attract the kind of applicants that Steven Sloane and Harry Curtis have in mind for their Academy. "You cannot post a beginner in front of a professional orchestra. And because we are constantly working with orchestras, we wanted to have very advanced students who can really benefit from this," says Harry Curtis as he explains how the work with orchestras is designed. "We offer three types of orchestral experience: The student-staffed studio orchestra which we use for projects within the university. There are also professional orchestras which are engaged by us for our master classes and concerts, for example the Brandenburger Symphoniker, the Neue Philharmonie Westfalen, the Bochumer Symphoniker – German orchestras from A to Z which we visit or which visit us. And then there is this rather unusual thing, the cooperation with institutions such as opera houses and orchestras in Berlin and other German cities. As our partners, they have a genuine interest in the training of conductors at this level. We have developed a partnership with the Deutsche Oper; we will soon rehearse Shostakovich's Fifth with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin; the Komische Oper is also part of it."
In addition to the university and the cultural institutions, there is a third partner, a teacher, so to speak, which is always available to the students: the cultural metropolis of Berlin. "Berlin is really a leading city, a great city to study in," says Harry Curtis. "It's a shame when there are no attractive courses in such a city, and you have to study in a small town instead where there is nothing to watch at night. All great conductors come here, you can visit rehearsals in the Philharmonic Hall and benefit from it. There are a lot of opportunities for ambitious young conductors." Pablo Rus Broseta confirms that the city itself was crucial for his decision to apply. "I've always wanted to live in Berlin for a while. The city is full of culture. I've lived in some great cultural spots in Europe, Amsterdam, Lyon and Paris, but hardly anywhere you can find more orchestras than here, and such an open atmosphere".
Harry Curtis believes that there is every chance the ICAB may develop within the next few years into one of the world's most important centres for the training of conductors. "We are at a time in which it is not entirely clear where you should study as a conductor and whether the schools which had a great reputation in the past are still so good. Thus, we have a special opportunity to develop something new for the training of conductors right now. It is certainly courageous of the University of the Arts to take this slightly different route. But I think with time, the ICAB will awaken forces. Agencies, theatres, orchestras will be able to follow who is currently studying here and will get interested in our graduates.”
Meanwhile, Pablo Rus Broseta’s prospects are already good: strengthened by the feedback of a whole year and more experienced than ever, he will set off to new shores: as Assistant Conductor of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra.
The application deadline of ICAB for the academic year 2015/16 runs until 3/14/2015; Entrance examinations will be held on 20 and 21 April.
At a press conference on 2 February, the Minister-President of Bavaria Horst Seehofer and the Mayor of Munich Dieter Reiter announced that – instead of building a brand new concert hall for Munich, as originally foreseen – they were aiming to renovate the Philharmonic Hall at the Gasteig, and the Herkulessaal; subsequently, the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (BRSO) and Munich Philharmonic Orchestra (MPhil) were supposed to share both spaces. Bavarian Radio asked karsten witt musik management to produce a report at short notice, detailing the consequences of this decision.
The study was published by Bavarian Radio on 26 February under the title “Braucht München (k)einen neuen Konzertsaal” (Is Munich in (no) need of a new concert hall?). You can download the report in German here . Karsten Witt hopes that the study will help to bring the discussion in Munich back to a factual level. At the end of the 19-page paper, it comes to the following conclusions:
For at least one decade, a new first class concert hall for symphonic music has been demanded in Munich. In his government statement released well over a year ago, the Bavarian Minister-President recognised its necessity and promised its realisation: “We should facilitate new concert halls in Munich and Nuremberg for our world-famous orchestras.” There is nothing to suggest a revision of this intention.
The main arguments for such an additional concert hall are:
If the BRSO and MPhil were to share the Gasteig, there would be no concert space for other promoters during the 24 weeks of each season when both orchestras work in Munich. These other promoters currently organise by far more concerts than the MPhil and BRSO together and thereby contribute significantly to the Gasteig’s earnings.
The Philharmonic Hall at the Gasteig, opened in 1985, is a very good and highly successful multifunctional space with an unusually large audience capacity of around 2,400 seats. A hall of this size is, from an acoustic point of view, always problematic. The conversion of such a hall into an internationally first-class concert hall for symphonic music would be costly and risky. If it were indeed to succeed, a new multifunctional concert hall with considerably more than 2,000 seats would need to be built in Munich elsewhere. The Philharmonic Hall has proven that Munich needs such a hall.
The Herkulessaal, Munich’s post-war provisional hall, is unsuitable for large orchestras due to its size. This – not the acoustic weaknesses of the Gasteig – is the main reason why a new large concert hall for classical music is required in Munich.
Moreover, the Herkulessaal cannot come into consideration as a replacement venue for the Gasteig during an eventual period of closure. If both orchestras were to try to serve their audiences in this hall with its 1,270 seats, the concert dates, which are at present available in the Herkulessaal throughout the entire season, would not suffice. The orchestras would also not be able to rehearse sufficiently and there would be absolutely no room for the remaining 250 concerts that are currently taking place fifty-fifty in the Herkulessaal and the Gasteig.
If the Gasteig has to be refurbished, it must first be thoroughly investigated whether the refurbishment of the Philharmonic Hall can be carried out during several longer holiday periods. If a closure of more than one year were is necessary, a replacement venue would have to be built. Considering the costs of such a project, it would be more sensible to invest the necessary funds into a new concert hall.
The study contains the following recommendations:
Since the new hall will serve future generations of composers, musicians, promoters and concertgoers, future forms of presentation and communication, as well as future technologies and media must be taken into consideration. Intensive conceptual work is required in order to develop a vision for such a concert hall, which is supposed to accommodate performances throughout the entire space as well as live electronics, screenings, multimedia projects, perhaps even dance. The development of the vision for the new hall must be started straight away and must certainly not be left to future architects, as is unfortunately sometimes the case in Germany.
Alongside successful auditoriums, the particular architectural and organisational requirements of pioneering international concert halls (such as the The Sage Gateshead) should be taken into account. It is not just a question of achieving the best possible acoustics, but also connecting music with other art forms, integrating new forms of communication, new media, audience participation and much more.
The proponents of the concert hall project should start a fundraising campaign soon to make it plausible that a substantial engagement exists behind the project and that a considerable part of the costs will be borne by private partners. Each party must clarify which contribution they can make.
The difficulty discussed here also exists in other cultural metropolis. In order to incorporate experience from elsewhere and generally broaden the debate, it would seem sensible to appoint an international advisory committee that would support the project for a new concert hall throughout the process.
Alertness, Trust, Humility: Jonathan Stockhammer in profile
An American conductor who lives in Germany, leading a radio orchestra that belongs to a station once founded by American occupation authorities, with a programme that includes works by Ives, Barber and Bernstein: it cannot get much more transatlantic than this in mid-February when Jonathan Stockhammer will conduct the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra and Gächinger Kantorei. Hans-Klaus Jungheinrich, a longstanding editor of the Frankfurter Rundschau and prominent author of books on topics such as opera and New Music, met the conductor to talk about a lifestyle based on dialogue, about exemplary conductors – and last but not least, about the music scene on both sides of the Atlantic.
When Jonathan Stockhammer meets me at a rather noisy café in the centre of Frankfurt, the grey winter’s day becomes noticeably lighter. He had an early start, flying in from Berlin this morning. He does a lot of travelling. But he does not give the impression of being over-busy or rushed. He has taken plenty of time for our meeting. Two and a half hours go by in a flash and at the end it is not he who has to leave for another meeting, but me. Jonathan is able to convey something of an inner peace, a profound serenity with great animation and tireless eloquence. Someone whose only aim is to pursue the next methodical step of his career strategy would certainly not look like this.
The slim, wiry man in his mid-forties enjoys talking but he can also listen. His artistic enthusiasm has something inviting, convincing and thoroughly surprising about it. And yet he gives the person opposite time to speak, waits for their reaction, which gives the other person’s own enthusiasm further impetus and substance. One gets the sense that, in relation to conductors, the term “charisma” will have to be newly defined. For Jonathan, “charisma” does not arise so much from the aloof authority of an iron will but from the flexibility and alertness of a lifestyle based on dialogue, which gains its own security and legitimacy from communication with others. That may be typical of a new generation of conductors that relies on collegiality rather than old-fashioned authoritarian structures. Jonathan’s artistic-humanist ethos seems to go further, however. It combines with terms such as trust, alertness, humility and vulnerability, and views working on an interpretation as a process similar to giving birth; it is “allowed to happen” and actively created in equal measures, a Taoist intention to an extent.
The Far East is also certainly nearer to the American way of thinking than to Europeans who are more focused on themselves. Jonathan Stockhammer was born in Hollywood. Of course, films become a special part of life there. Jonathan’s father was a violinist at the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. He was therefore exposed to great conductors from an early age, including the likes of Zubin Mehta, Carlo Maria Giulini, Esa-Pekka Salonen and Georg Solti (who was often invited as a guest conductor with his Chicago Symphony Orchestra). Esa-Pekka Salonen and Peter Eötvös in particular left lasting impressions on Jonathan; he was assistant to both conductors who are also well-known as composers of contemporary music.
Jonathan has now lived in Berlin for eleven years and does not conceal the fact that in his opinion, the Central European music scene seems to be better developed than others. His relationship to German music was always very intense. Jonathan, who grew up in a Jewish liberal household, started dealing with specifically Christian subject matter relatively late. Regarding Wolfgang Rihm’s Deus passus, which he will conduct in Strasbourg, this opened up a new spiritual world, which he responds to with increasing respect.
Being part of the circles around Peter Eötvös, it seemed natural that Jonathan Stockhammer had a lot to do with New Music and would be associated with it. He is a regular guest with unusual initiatives at advanced collectives such as Ensemble Modern and the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra. Jonathan does not strive for great positions in opera houses and concert halls at all costs. He is also interested in the organisational side of things and so for him it is more important to be able to realise programme ideas effectively, preferably in ongoing collaboration with leading institutions. The disruptive nature of constantly travelling would not be able to satisfy him in the long run.
He is also not especially fixated on a particular aspect of the music industry. For all his tendencies towards modern and experimental music, he does not want to neglect the universality of the “whole” music (to which for him as an American, the pop music tradition also belongs, even if he does not place value on its commercial attraction). The breadth of his artistic orientation includes Michael Gielen’s strict renditions of Mahler and Beethoven, as well as a recollection of listening to a recording of “Swan Lake” as a child, conducted by Herbert von Karajan, which he listened to once again much later in order to verify it. Its magical purple cover: a radiantly unforgettable early memory. This is how diversely rooted an intellectually electrifying, synaesthetically permeated artist’s life can be.
February 2014, Hans-Klaus Jungheinrich | Translation: Celia Wynne Willson
It is Sarah Wegener’s third encounter with Jörg Widmann’s Drittes Labyrinth: on 21 February the soprano will perform the solo part in the roughly 50-minute-long piece for voice and large orchestra at Casa da Música with the Orquestra Sinfónica do Porto under Peter Rundel. The world premiere at the Kölner Philharmonie was a turbulent one for her; the music came at the very last minute. “It was extremely nerve-wracking because the piece is unbelievably difficult,” she remembers during our discussion.
“We had so little time that Jörg Widmann rang me and we spent three hours going through the score together. We literally practised over the phone.” Laughing, she reconstructs the situation: “I went diii daaa then he said, no no, a bit more diii diii.” The performance itself was a roaring success, even if it did involve palpitations. “On top of that, it was broadcast live on the radio! Everything worked out fine in the end because luckily I’m a quick learner and have nerves of steel. And the second performance in the Concertgebouw Amsterdam with the Radio Filharmonisch Orkest under Emilio Pomàrico was a lot more relaxed.”
In the run-up to the performance in Porto, she is pleased that not only the piece has become an old acquaintance. Working with Peter Rundel will also be a reunion. “I know him from the world premiere of Georg Friedrich Haas’s revised version of the opera Bluthaus at the Wiener Festwochen,” she says and tells of other partners with whom she enjoys working with and on a regular basis. The composer Georg Friedrich Haas is among them, so too is the oboist and composer Heinz Holliger, as well as conductors such as Emilio Pomárico, Michael Hofstetter and Frieder Bernius with whom she has performed many gems of the orchestral and oratorio repertoire in and around Stuttgart. “What unites us is that we are always thinking about the end result: the music takes centre stage. Many people who I am able to work well with are modest and I would also say that about myself. I don’t like rivalry at all.”
Since that world premiere, another member of her musical circle is Jörg Widmann. Their first meeting happened by chance at Stuttgart train station. The singer was picking up Georg Friedrich Haas from there to go through an operatic role together. “And he met Jörg Widmann on the platform by coincidence.” He was delighted to meet the singer who he had heard so much about and who he already had in mind for his Labyrinth.
Jörg Widmann also wanted to get Sarah Wegener on board as soloist in his work Dunkle Saiten. “At first I really didn’t want to do it because it’s far too high, downright risky,” explains the singer. “But the problem was that Jörg then said he would re-write it for me; he would do anything for me to sing it.” And laughing heartily, she adds: “Now I can’t get out of it.” The work, which received its world premiere in 2000 and is described by the composer himself as an “excess”, will take Sarah Wegener to three concerts in March with the NDR Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Thomas Hengelbrock.
The fact that Sarah Wegener’s concert calendar includes performances of contemporary works that present physical challenges as well as plenty of classical and romantic repertoire is a blessing to the singer. The beginning of 2015 features performances of Dvořak’s Stabat Mater with the Collegium Vocale Gent and the Orchestre des Champs-Élysees under Philippe Herreweghe and Beethoven’s Mass in C major, Op. 86 with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen under Hans-Christoph Rademann. “Traditional repertoire forms the bulk of my work after all. Oratorio, lied, chamber music. And I have to say, thank goodness for this foundation,” she says.
That said, New Music also continues to give her stimuli for the classical repertoire. “When I sing a new opera such as Bluthaus, for example, followed by a programme with Bach, it’s so inspiring, a real experience,” she says. “New Music opens one’s ear in another way, for example it makes one listen more deeply. When you sing a Schumann lied afterwards, it certainly sounds different, more expanded. Moreover, with New Music one is constantly thinking: Oh, I won’t be able to manage that, I can’t do that – you come up against barriers, practise and manage it in the end. In this instance a leopard can change its spots; you gain a freedom that can also be used in traditional music.”
However, she does not choose to sing every new work that is offered to her randomly. “The music has to be sensual in some way,” she says and with a laugh adds, “Georg’s music is of course pure sensuality.” Georg Friedrich Haas has entrusted substantial works to the singer for some years now, including ATTHIS for soprano and 8 instruments and the cycle …wie stille brannte das Licht, as well as main roles in his operas. The composer met Sarah Wegener in 2008 when she was covering the main role in the world premiere of his opera Melancholia. The composer walked into the room just as she stepped in as substitute during a rehearsal. “That was the start of a long musical friendship,” she says. A friendship that will lead her to two large opera houses in 2015 and 2016: the world premiere of a new opera with a libretto by Jon Fosse will take place in the autumn at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, with the German premiere following in 2016 at the Deutsche Oper Berlin. Sarah Wegener will also sing one of the main roles at the Schwetzinger SWR Festspiele in Koma, the third and final part of Georg Friedrich Haas’ opera trilogy based on texts by Händl Klaus. The opera follows Bluthaus (2011) and Thomas (2013).
“It may sound silly, but it just seems to happen to me,” explains the soprano regarding these prospects. “I try not to force anything; these large engagements come to me of their own accord.” The common denominators of allowing things to come to her, following an impulse with great enthusiasm, and being inspired by encounters are perhaps characteristic of Sarah Wegener’s entire musical career. Her initial love of music was sparked intuitively and unencumbered by family input (“My parents are both musical, they just don’t know it”) in the headmaster’s office of the local music school. With curiosity, the young Sarah Wegener marvelled at an enormous instrument. Would she like to hear how it sounds, asked the headmaster. “And then he leaned this double bass again me and played the low E string. Everything vibrated and that’s when I fell in love.”
Today the double bass no longer plays a large role in Sarah Wegener’s life: “Only for grounding and pitching. But apart from that, I’m out of practice.” However, she does still profit from her orchestral past and her degree in school music with double bass as her main subject. “I have a great foundation thanks to playing the double bass. It has trained my ear immensely, as did my eleven years leading a church choir. I hear from the bottom up through the whole orchestra,” she explains. She therefore also feels completely contented when standing as the soloist in the middle of the orchestra, as was the case recently in her celebrated performances of Strauss’ Vier letzte Lieder. “That’s my cup of tea, really great,” she gushes. “On the opera stage you’re further away from the orchestra. In orchestral lieder, I feel at home being right at the centre of the action.”
With so much enthusiasm for orchestras, one might ask why Sarah Wegener switched to being a singer. “I don’t know how to explain that either,” she says but tries to anyway. “In 2002 towards the end of my studies, something happened to me that forced me to stop completely. I couldn’t do anything; I was exhausted and stayed at home for about nine months. During this time, something from deep within me came to the surface, it wanted to get out, and suddenly I sang. Before that moment, I had almost never done that! I simply realised: of course, I just have to SING! In effect, I was walking along a path without looking to the left or right, and then I was forced to stand still. I was able to look around me and I noticed, yes hang on a moment, I’m going in THAT direction.”
Looking back, Sarah Wegener is amazed at how consistently the stations along this path have emerged, how she now wanders along it with her high-profile musical partners visiting the major European opera houses and concert halls and performing almost every kind of repertoire, from her own lieder recital ideas to large new orchestral works. One gets a sense that she feels comfortable with this success. She’s clearly not addicted to it – at the most to making music itself. And she doesn’t always need the big stage for this obsession; sometimes a few friends in her living room are enough. “I’ve revived the tradition of salon music at my home,” she says and describes the strict rules of her house concerts: “Those who practise have to leave. Perfectionism upsets the flow. We therefore try to make music outside people’s subject areas wherever possible, so my guests don’t play their main instrument. It’s just supposed to be a bit of fun.”
Mr. Engel, what made you want to become a conductor?
It was a philosophically motivated and emotional decision. When I was exploring career options, it became clear to me that I wanted to invest my energy in the arts world. I would also have liked to become a film director, I still love the cinema, but a foray into this area showed me that my creative vision was not large enough. Music is the art form in which my talents lie.
At the time, I played the double bass in all sorts of formations, in youth orchestras, various jazz bands, as a continuo player in baroque projects. Then the opportunity arose to try out conducting with the youth orchestra; I started a project with music by Olivier Messiaen and it immedialtely enthralled me on an emotional level. That’s when I knew that I wanted to become a conductor.
But you studied musicology and philosophy before conducting.
Yes, I wanted to build a firm foundation for my cultural education. I first studied in Zurich and then in Berlin. Five years after the Berlin Wall came down, there was an incredibly stimulating atmosphere in the city. Musically speaking, there was something going on every evening. Claudio Abbado, Daniel Barenboim, Christian Thielemann, Kent Nagano and Vassily Petrenko were active in the city at the time. And my fellow-students were really great, many of them now hold important positions in the German and international music scene. I founded a tutorial for contemporary music together with Viktor Schoner, to which we invited many renowned composers. And after we met Gerard Mortier, we initiated the “Akademie Musiktheater Heute” (Academy of Music Theatre Today), which is now run by the Deutsche Bank Stiftung.
Why did you study conducting in Dresden?
In Christian Kluttig I met a wonderful teacher who conveyed the classical conductor’s craft to me. And I knew that in Dresden, in keeping with great east German tradition, I would have the opportunity to gain practical experience with professional orchestras. That is the most important thing during a conductor’s training. Dresden proved itself to be my lucky break. By my second year, I was already conducting an opera; the world premiere of Benjamin Schweitzer’s Jakob von Gunten. After that I was made Musical Director of the ensemble courage with whom I learnt a great deal over the course of ten years.
However you were not fixed on Dresden?
It was clear to me that I wanted to spread my wings. I got the chance to assist many fascinating conductors, including Sylvain Cambreling, Marc Albrecht, Peter Rundel and Lothar Zagrosek. During my studies I experienced the atmosphere at the Salzburg Festival, Deutsche Oper Berlin and the Opéra de Paris. Alongside this, I gained first-hand experience as Musical Director of the ensemble resonanz in Hamburg, taking on advanced productions of Weber’s Freischütz, Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Monteverdi’s Orfeo.
You now conduct at renowned opera houses including the Teatro Real Madrid and the Frankfurt, Hamburg and Stuttgart Operas, and lead long-standing ensembles such as the WDR and SWR Symphony Orchestras. You are also a regular guest at the festivals in Salzburg and Lucerne. How did this all come to be?
I would call it a happy and organic process of growth. New projects and opportunities always came out of my engagements and assistantships, my area of activity was always growing. I got really lucky when Gerard Mortier brought me to the Teatro Real Madrid where I have conducted several world premieres (including Wuorinen’s Brokeback Mountain, the last from Mortier’s time), as well as classical concerts. I have a very trusting relationship with the orchestra.
What is it about contemporary music that fascinates you?
It is music of our time, an expression of our current culture and society. And collaborating with living composers is a terrific aspect of my work. I always learn something new, new sounds, new conceptual approaches to works. And I am also reminded of the boundaries of notation. That allows me to deal with earlier music more freely.
In the last few years you have conducted a very wide repertoire, from Monteverdi, Offenbach and Wagner, right up to contemporary music. Does that not contain a certain risk of arbitrariness?
No, I don’t think so. On the contrary, I think that the interpretations of these works spur each other on. When I phrase a melody in a contemporary piece, I can hear the possibilities of Baroque music. When I conduct Wagner, I try to bring out what his music is leading to. And my jazz experience also continues to help me to find the groove in a work. I love combining early and new music in my programmes. Contemporary music should wherever possible be performed in combination with classical music rather than in isolation – that way it can fully develop.
You also go beyond the norm and programme concerts with Islamic contemporary music, and work with poetry slammers, rappers and beat boxers.
My collaboration with composers from the Islamic world brings me a lot of joy, it is wonderful music and a small contribution to a mutual understanding between cultures. The classical music world must not isolate itself but open itself up to all areas of society. That’s why it is of great concern to me to bring different musical and artistic worlds together.
What is your approach to interpreting early music?
On the one hand I always deal intensively with historical performance practice. How would a work have been conducted when it was first performed? What do we know about the traditions of the time that isn’t noted in the score? But as opposed to those who advocate historical performance practice, I don’t stick solely to this approach. One mustn’t forget that we cannot reconstruct the audiences of a certain era, which is what would be necessary for a really authentic performance. I therefore also deal with the question of what this music means to me today and for our society, and then try to incorporate both sides in my interpretation.
How do you see your role as conductor in relation to an orchestra, a choir and soloists?
I love making music together. I go to rehearsals with a clear concept of my interpretation but I am also open to spontaneity and suggestions from my fellow musicians. I have great esteem for their individual skills and do not see myself as the dominating force but rather as a primus inter pares. When I first started conducting, I worked with democratic ensembles and that shaped me. When conducting an orchestra you have to lead firmly, but open-minded listening is the most important thing.
What does working with stage directors mean to you?
Just as I love working with composers, so too do I love working with directors. The atmosphere at an opera production is marvellous. Ideally with a long preparation period, you try to find a coherent interpretation together. It is a productive examination of the material and of oneself. I learnt that from Gerard Mortier and Sylvain Cambreling. With both of them it was clear that music and stage have to combine to make a relevant dramatisation. If you only get involved during the orchestra rehearsals on-stage, you won’t understand the directional concept. There I have to reproach many of my colleagues.
What importance does philosophy have for your conducting?
There are two vital influences. I always find it important to contextualise musical works. In other words, music doesn’t stand in isolation, it has a connection and a relevance to us people. We as creative artists are responsible for standing up for progressive values and campaigning for peace and tolerance. The second vital influence that philosophy has on my work is the habit of critically questioning tradition. I always start with the score and not with “famous” recordings. And I try to bring to scores what I learnt during my studies from rereading and reflecting on philosophical texts, namely a deeper probing of texts. There’s a nice quote by Nadja Boulanger: “One should never hestitate to analyse music because the more one analyses it, the more one delves into its mystery.”
But there is also a very funny aspect where music goes beyond philosophy and that is emotions. In our economically streamlined world there is unfortunately often not enough time to act on one’s feelings. In music you can act on them. That personally brings me a lot of enjoyment and fulfilment – and to my listeners too, I hope.
Breathless Through the Night: Tora Augestad at the Volksbühne Berlin
The singer and actress Tora Augestad can be seen this season at the Volksbühne Berlin in Christoph Marthaler’s tongue in cheek production Tessa Blomstedt gibt nicht auf (Tessa Blomstedt won’t give up). She has already impressed premiere audiences in the role of Kekke:
Whether Tora Augestad is singing John Dowland’s breathtaking “Come again” or Elfi Graf’s sentimental “Am schönsten ist es zu Hause” – you could listen spellbound until the end of time. Neue Züricher Zeitung
It is possible that no performer will ever parody Whitney Houston with such shivering movements as the strong-voiced Tora Augestad (…). Der Tagesspiegel
Tora Augestad delivers the gorgeous final song in an incredible black velvet trouser suit from the 1970s with the full version of Elfi Graf’s tear-jerker “Am schönsten ist es zu Hause”. Die Welt
Once again she can show the full extent of her versatility as both a singer and an actress: the musical offering features arias by Henry Purcell and John Dowland, as well as hits by Abba, Udo Jürgens, Whitney Houston and Matthias Reim, among others.
Tessa Blomstedt’s search for that happily-ever-after and the challenges that go along with it in the age of digital dating can be seen again at the Volksbühne Berlin on 30 November 2014, 18:00 and on 7 and 26 December 2014, 18:00. Further performances in 2015 are already planned; you can watch a taster of the production here:
This is Tora Augestad’s seventh production with director Christoph Marthaler. In the 2014/15 season she can also be seen in his staged liederabend King Size, which will be performed on international stages including in Girona (November), Geneva (March), Douai/Arras (April), Prato (April), Rotterdam (May), Turin (June), at the Bergen International Festival (June), and at London’s Royal Opera House/Linbury Studio Theatre (April).
Mindful of the small things – Friedrich Cerha as a visual artist
Musicians who also express themselves in other artistic fields are at the centre of this year’s Donaueschingen Festival. A composer who many will see in a new light on this occasion is Friedrich Cerha. With over 900 paintings and collages as well as sculptural works produced over the many decades of his musical career, the composer leads a veritable double life. In Donaueschingen both sides of the artist Friedrich Cerha are on display.
During the opening concert on 17 October, his new orchestral piece Nacht (“Night”) will receive its world premiere by the SWR Symphony Orchestra under Emilio Pomàrico. In addition, his visual art is featured in an exhibition alongside that of several other composers, and this will be only the fourth time that it is presented to the public. In the following text, written for the third of these exhibitions which was held in the Bavarian town of Waidhofen in 2012, the composer describes his art.
Even as a child I was drawn to the little things that surround us, and I collected all that I found beautiful and appealing: stones, roots, old wood, pieces of metal, seeds, tree barks, coins – and I lived among them. Nowadays, people are not as mindful of their surroundings. Many things are used without further regard, and carelessly discarded afterwards.
Very early on, I tried to incorporate these objects into my visual works, even before I had ever heard anything about object art. I have been a visual artist for virtually my entire life, except between the ages of sixteen and twenty-two. The reason was not the war but my art teacher at school who decided I lacked talent after I failed to capture a rock formation in true perspective. That affected me so deeply that I fell “silent”.
After the war (during which I deserted twice as a soldier) I began to paint in watercolours. In the 1950s I had close ties with the Art Club where I played contemporary music as a violinist with Hans Kann. That was the beginning of a lifelong friendship with Hans Fruhmann and Karl Prantl which had a big influence on me.
1958 was an important year for me. I was chosen to represent the Second Viennese School (Schoenberg, Webern, Berg) at the Expo in Brussels and had the chance to see the works by painters of other nationalities. I immersed myself in the French art of the 1940s and 1950s and learned about African painting and sculpting traditions. I was fascinated by the montages of Kurt Schwitters – I felt very close to him – and I admired the works of Bracusi, Pevsner and Naum Gabo. In 1963, I began to paint on wood and integrate metal, stones and objects that I found into my paintings, and in the 1970s I started to work in stone, too.
There are some points of contact between my visual art and my music. Back when I was working on act three of Berg’s Lulu there was a painting, Jack the Ripper, and two paintings from the time of my opera Baal, Baal’s Women and Baal. At one time, my visual art also inspired me musically, with the ensemble piece Catalogue des objets trouvées.
During the almost 50 years of my creative life, ideas have been developed, transformed, resumed and re-created, as one would expect. The selection for the current exhibition focuses on geometric arrangements which recur in different ways through different periods. Beside these rigid arrangements, many of my paintings also betray a remnant of imprecision that I welcome and that matters to me because it bears witness to the creative act and natural human imperfection.
Throughout my long life, I never had careerist ambitions with my art. Creative work has always been an end in itself. I have to work, just as I have to breathe. Music must be performed in order to be perceived, and these performances brought about something of an international career in my case. My visual art has been publicly shown on only two occasions so far, once in Salzburg and once in Graz, and both times without my initiative. But I appreciate the opportunity to make it accessible to those who are interested.
'These really are new sounds' – Hans Zender in Donaueschingen
Above the vineyards by Lake Constance, with stunning views of the ‘Swabian Sea’, lies the Glazier House, summer home of Gertrud and Hans Zender. It is here that we meet to talk about the composer’s new work, which is to be premiered just a stone’s throw away from here. On 17 October Oh cristalina... will form part of the opening concert of the Donaueschingen Festival, with the SWR Symphony Orchestra and SWR Vokalensemble Stuttgart. It is with happy anticipation that Hans Zender is looking forward to the event: "Since I stopped conducting, I now enjoy just sitting down and listening," he says, especially as he knows that the world premiere is in the hands of conductor Emilio Pomárico, "one of my favorites, really."
"I tend to steer towards choral and vocal music and for me, the highlight of composing is when I can use both singers and orchestra," Hans Zender explains. One look at his catalogue of works confirms this – his Cantos, a series of pieces for voices and instruments which he worked on throughout his entire career, is extensive. However, Oh cristalina… is part of a different cycle; the composer did not want it to be included in the Cantos. "These are four short pieces between ten and 25 minutes in length, which can be performed independently – or now, as a whole.” The first of these pieces, Adónde? Where? which is based on the Cántico espiritual by the Spanish mystic San Juan de la Cruz, was premiered five years ago in Berlin by the Klangforum Wien. It was followed by Oh bosques! / O forests! (premiered in 2010 by the Bavarian Radio Choir and Symphony Orchestra) and Por qué? / Why? (March 2014, SWR Vokalensemble). "The new piece contains texts from the beginning of the Cántico espiritual that I had not used before because for the other pieces, I had randomly picked out verses that I liked. The first 13 or 14 stanzas are now complete, albeit in the wrong order, and the whole work becomes a cycle, which was not planned from the start," says the composer.
However, it is not too surprising that he could not get Saint John of the Cross out of his head so quickly. "For me he is one of the great poets of world literature, and I have adored him from a young age, but for a long time I dared not touch him." The priest’s Cántico espiritual from 1578 – probably his most well-known text – is a free paraphrase of the Song of Songs. For Hans Zender, this is familiar territory as he used the entire Song of Songs in Hebrew and German for his Canto VIII. "This is now the utmost perfection in poetry that I know of," he says about San Juan de la Cruz's work. "As a composer I let myself be led, although not par for par, by the rhythm and the sound of the poem. In this case, it is not only the characteristic sound of the Spanish language, but also a very interesting metric structure that alternates between seven and eleven syllables per line. And this oscillation between seven and eleven interested me rhythmically, as it results in a very strange feeling of being in limbo." Musically, Hans Zender did not use historical or geographical localisations of the text – the 16th century and the rich Iberian musical tradition are not his subject matter. "However, subliminally there is a certain chromaticism at work or more precisely, the microtonality attempts to carry forward the vowels of San Juan de la Cruz with their incredible colours. And that is really where I start musically: to present microtonality, which I have dealt with a lot in my work since the 1990s, in a very dense network once again."
Unlike many spectralist composers who rely on a fundamental tone in order to make overtones tangible, taking into account harmonic constraints, and also in contrast to Luigi Nono, who exposed smaller and smaller intervals using microtonal differentiation, Hans Zender took his own path into microtonality. "Of course, all these routes come close to each other because you become obsessed with the new sounds. Because these really are new sounds!" explains the composer. "However, compared with Nono, I do the contrary: I try to purify the intervals that are, due to the tempered tuning, “dirty” in our sound system by working with twelfth tones. Thus, I have 72 tones per octave, six times twelve. If I, for example, detract a twelfth tone from a major third, I get a pure interval, just like when I detract a sixth tone from a minor seventh. And if I take a tritone and detract a quarter tone, or three twelfths, then I get a pure tritone."
"This technique makes these strong intervals seem purified," he continues. "For me, it has something to do with air pollution and marine pollution. If you remove the toxins in different quantums, you can attain pure water again. This was one of my main objectives in my handling of harmony over the last 25 years." For Hans Zender, the attention to pure intervals practised by specialists of Early Music has always been exemplary. "I wanted to have the same thing in New Music, but with much more complex harmonies," he says. Under no circumstances would he sacrifice the achievements of atonality for a pure sound – and he dedicated the first part of the cycle to Arnold Schoenberg. On first glance, this dedication may even seem paradoxical, as Schoenberg's twelve-tone compositions require the perfect temperament of the halftone scale. However, in his theory of harmony dating from 1911, the composer had predicted, in a prophetic way, a new engagement with the worlds of overtones and had called the tempered system "a ceasefire of indefinite length."
As this ceasefire was observed over centuries on most parts, Hans Zender's works place the listener into new sound situations. "My music demands the listener to pay very close attention in order to then rediscover harmony. That's the dream," says the composer. The harmony is supposed to be crystal clear. "That is why I liked the title Oh cristalina... so much. It occurs in the text and refers to the sound that I have in mind as an ideal – not only in this piece, but especially here. Because the sound is a reflection of what San Juan de la Cruz is looking for in poetry. It is hard to describe, and I am not a linguist – but I have the feeling that in his writing, he reaches an extraordinary pureness. He does not describe the spiritual world as a projection or as a construct or as a subjective sensation, but he describes it as a reality. We are not used to this today; in modern literature, we find the terms and images deconstructed or extinguished, in a kind of negative dialectic. But there is also the possibility to do the opposite. And this is actually my way, to put everything together again, only in a much more nuanced and subtle way – harmonically, formally, in every respect."
For Hans Zender, the quest for integrity is at the heart of the Cántico espiritual: "It is about the interaction between the physical, represented here by the bride, and the spiritual, the groom. Due to the contact becoming ever closer, eventually leading to fusion, the bride in this poetic image is freed and flies up as a dove. At this moment the groom says to her: You must not fly away. ‘Vuélvete paloma', turn back! In order for us to meet each other, you have to stay on the ground and do all the hard work.” And with a wink he adds: "You cannot just fly away and operate solely from your emotion, but you have to build everything yourself, brick by brick – and then it flies."
The new piece can of course only take off after an intense rehearsal process in which the singers and the instrumentalists must first learn how to deal with the modified intervals. This might be difficult, but it is manageable especially due to the fact that the "purified" third, seventh and tritone intervals always sound together with their root. "That means that the performers can check with their own ear: am I in tune? And they actually learn it in a short space of time," says the composer. Another helping factor is that Hans Zender's musical language is anything but alien to the musicians of the SWR Radio Symphony Orchestra and SWR Vokalensemble. Hans Zender has had a close connection with the SWR Symphony Orchestra for a long time and not only as a conductor; the orchestra has also performed many of his works. "And the Vokalensemble has just premiered the penultimate piece of the cycle this year, again incredibly well! I feel really blessed with these two ensembles. It is all the worse, of course, that one of them is to be closed down," he regrets. "There are not many orchestras like the SWR Symphony Orchestra, where the musicians are so passionate about New Music that they invest so much. They explore new pieces in their spare time, they play chamber music by composers whose works they perform in Donaueschingen, they even award a prize to the orchestral piece which they consider to be the best. This is really a paradise, not to be found anywhere else in the world."
Beauty is a weapon: The Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan
It is always a sensation for the dance world when the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan brings one of their productions to Germany. The great dance critic Jochen Schmidt described the company’s performance of the trilogy Cursive in the Berliner Haus der Kulturen der Welt in 2006 as, "Currently the most relevant dance piece in the world," and Pina Bausch warmly welcomed the ensemble in 2008 to her NRW International Dance Festival with great enthusiasm. The productions that have been performed in Germany over the last two decades are without exception electrifying and have received high praise from audiences and critics alike.
It is also a special occasion each time the choreographer, Lin Hwai-min, takes his dancers to the Taiwanese provinces to perform in villages, taking his art to the most remote corners of the country. One can hardly believe that one of the most famous people in Taiwan is a choreographer. However, the islanders’ love for "their" dance company cannot be disputed: up to 60,000 people attend the large open-air performances in Taipei; a street, a national holiday and even an asteroid have been named after the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre.
Lin Hwai-min’s unique dance vocabulary has arisen from his inimitable mix of modern western dance, which he studied in New York under Merce Cunningham and Martha Graham, with Asian themes and movement culture. Alongside ballet and modern dance, his dancers also practise meditation, qigong, calligraphy and far eastern martial arts in order to gain permeability of the body and variety of expression to their dancing. In order to understand how deeply this synthesis goes, it is worth having a look at the varied history of the company, which Lin founded following studies in the United States in 1973. The young man, who at that time still had absolutely no experience in choreography and little dancing experience, used his prominence as a writer (Lin became an overnight success in Taiwan at the age of 22 with his novel Cicada, which is still a bestseller), to bring the first modern dance company of the Chinese-speaking world into being. The success of the company meant that artistic gambles also became possible. The production Legacy, for example, which tells the story of the pioneering settlers of Taiwan, was a risk when it was performed under Chaing Kai-shek’s government – this was not popular in a state, which saw itself as the better China. However, on the day of the premiere, the political situation changed. Jimmy Carter broke diplomatic relations with Taiwan, the country lost its protecting power and suddenly the first play about the history of Taiwan was inadvertently performed as a founding piece of art supporting the state and a new national identity.
Perhaps this was only a brief incident as Lin Hwai-min does not see himself primarily as a political artist. He does, however, recognise the explosive power of aesthetics: "Beauty is a weapon; as I understand it, it is based above all on an incredible degree of freedom." The social involvement of his company also stands for its determination to touch and strengthen people. In this way, the many Cloud Gate schools across Taiwan are in no way "drill" academies, preoccupied with producing uniform dancers. Instead, they wish to arouse physical awareness in a playful way, allow dance as a basic ability in life to be experienced by everyone and promote freedom and responsibility. Cloud Gate 2, the youth, educational and outreach wing of the company, is thus not simply an elite training school for the main ensemble to pay homage to their master’s repertoire, as is so often the case in other companies. It offers a place for the ideas of younger choreographers to be showcased, and pursues a wide range of individual social projects.
Just as the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan has given a lot to its Taiwanese audience during its almost 40-year existence, so too did it need the support of its compatriots in 2008 following a devastating fire that destroyed the company’s rehearsal studio. In a catastrophic turn of events, costumes and the whole technical archive were lost. However, provisional arrangements meant that rehearsals for the production Whisper of Flowers could be resumed on the second day after the fire. It was performed half a year later and the company was able to build a new studio thanks to generous donations from Taiwanese companies and private individuals.
It was here, in a building once used by Radio Taiwan International, that the company’s latest production was developed. In China, Water Stains on the Wall is a popular metaphor that represents the highest state in the aesthetics of calligraphy. It stands for the organic and unpretentious qualities that result from processes of natural evolution. In an interview on his internationally renowned trilogy , Lin Hwai-min said in 2006, "Calligraphy and movement are closely linked to one another. Before you start to write, you warm yourself up: you make your body soft and supple. It’s important to watch your rhythm and your breathing. You can be a good writer only if you breathe properly. It’s exactly the same with dance. A good calligrapher is a dancer. He leaves his energy on blank rice paper, while dancers in space."
In Water Stains on the Wall, projections of dragging cloud formations appear in alternating shades like ink that is always developing new forms in a continuous flow. Through Toshio Hosokawa’s music, the dancers’ light skirts take off from the slanted stage into the room, just like the clouds. The Japanese composer has, for his part, a strong connection with calligraphy: "My music is calligraphy, drawn on the open border between time and space. Each individual sound is shaped like a line or a point, drawn by a brush," Hosokawa says, revealing his aesthetic kinship with Lin Hwai-min’s choreography. It is a work of abstract beauty that awaits audiences – and most certainly a one-off dance event.
For Michael Jarrell, the world premiere of his new work at the Festival Musica in Strasbourg is a home game of sorts. Works of the Swiss composer have made the festival programme no fewer than 16 times over the last three decades, and every year since 2007. His new piece for the Arditti Quartet and Bamberg Symphony, however, was a special challenge. “For me, composing for a string quartet is like writing for an orchestra,” he explains. But then an idea came to him that kick-started the creative process and also provided the work with its title, Spuren (“Traces”). “The string quartet presents a musical idea and leaves behind traces, so to speak. The orchestra then functions as a screen onto which the string quartet’s musical ideas are projected and enlarged.”
It is not just the festival with which Michael Jarrell shares a long history but also the protagonists of the world premiere. “It’s easier when I know for whom I am writing,” he says. “After all, music is a human endeavour. As a composer, I work with the soloists and the conductor; the conductor, in turn, works with the orchestra; and the orchestra plays for the audience. That network is very important for me.” He has cooperated closely with Jonathan Nott, who will conduct the Bamberg Symphony in Strasbourg on 3 October, as well as Irvine Arditti. “I talked with Irvine while composing the first movement, for instance,” he recalls. “It uses only pizzicato throughout, and I had a question about the tempi. That is something you simply have to try out.”
However, Michael Jarrell is not looking for constant contact with the musicians. “I always think about the performers while I’m composing but there are certain advantages to the composer’s perspective, too. You see things differently than someone who has always practiced the same patterns for his whole life. As a composer, I respect the tradition of the instrument, but I also have the freedom to approach it in a more abstract and unprejudiced manner.” His approach to finding new but playable solutions is thoroughly hands-on. “I have a violin at home, for instance, and I go through everything myself – though not in real-time, of course. I’m not a violinist.” Time and again, his technical solutions baffle his soloists. “For instance, I wrote a violin concerto for Isabelle Faust, and in the first rehearsal she asked me: ‘Michael, how did you come up with that? That is the only way you can play this phrase.’ Well, it’s because I see things from the composer’s perspective, not from the one of the performer.”
To always keep an open mind is something Michael Jarrell learned early in life, when at the age of 5 he started taking piano lessons in Geneva. “My teacher encouraged us to invent something on the piano, and then she helped us to write it down. For every recital, we had to learn one of our pieces. Those were also my first lessons in notation, composition and music analysis. And it is why I never had inhibitions about composing, even when I went to the conservatory and I was confronted on my lack of formal training: ‘What, you haven’t done any counterpoint yet?’ They thought that you should finish your studies first before starting to compose in earnest.”
As a child, Michael Jarrell made his way through music history, from Mozart to Beethoven, discovering Chopin, Schubert, Bach and, as a teenager, Stravinsky and Debussy. “It became clear to me that there were no breaks running through the history of music. It continues and there is nothing unusual about it. The big difference between composers of different eras is the way the human place in the world has changed. In Haydn’s works, for example, you just hear that the social structures were clearer and simpler in his time. With Beethoven, things get more complex, and nowadays we live in a world where no one knows how things will turn out.” For Michael Jarrell, his first encounter with new music was hardly the shock it was for other composers of his generation. “You shouldn’t forget that in the military sense of the word, the avant-garde always stays in contact with the main army and cannot just detach from them. Even at its most extreme, the avant-garde is always connected to the world we all live in.”
When he moved from his home town Geneva to Freiburg as a student, however, he also entered into unchartered territory, musically speaking. Here, he explored, step by step, the aesthetics and techniques of contemporary composers, making valuable contacts along the way. “Klaus Huber often told me that my pieces had a French flair to them. This annoyed me and, at the same time, only deepened my affinity to French composers,” he explains laughing. “I am convinced,” he adds, “that our mother tongue, its melody and grammar, shapes how we perceive music.” When he became a professor for composition in Vienna in 1993, he was again reminded of how deep this French streak runs. “In Vienna, the music that appealed to me was considered shallow and playful, and things I didn’t like as much were hyped. But I think these differences are something we should cherish, especially in our times.”
“And that’s what you have to learn as a composer: Who am I and where do I stand?” he continues. “It is my way to get to know myself and evolve, and also to come to terms with who I am.” These early years of professional success proved formative in this regard. Frustrated with a system that is eager to pigeonhole young composers, effectively damning them to repeat themselves again and again, he stopped composing for a year. “The pieces that came after that were very surprising. Before my hiatus, virtuosity had been very important to me, and my music had been quite energetic. I was convinced that music is essentially a play of tension and resolution.” Then I wrote Music for a While, which has a complex form but is based on only a few tones.”
Since then, Michael Jarrell has been careful to create new challenges for himself without losing sight of his identity as a composer. “With my first string quartet Zeitfragmente, for instance, that I wrote for the Arditti Quartet in 1998, I wanted to take new aesthetic risks. So I used something I’d long abandoned, namely working with noises. It was a clear defeat. I recognised that my decision to forgo these things was no coincidence. I always try to move forward, but I cannot rewrite my own history.”
If noises play a role in his music today, it is because Michael Jarrell rediscovered them via a different route. “I was invited to the IRCAM relatively early in my career. That was crucial for me since I’ve always been fascinated by orchestration. The electronics allowed me to further explore the spatial dimension and to study the noises that arise from the transformation of instrumental sounds. My attitude towards noises changed when I noticed that I can create a relation between sounds and noises. Through electronics I learned to incorporate these things into my music, even when I write for acoustic instruments.”
The world premiere of Michael Jarrell’s concerto for string quartet and orchestra Spuren with the Arditti Quartet and Bamberg Symphony under Jonathan Nott will take place on 3 October at 20:30 at Strasbourg’s Palais de la Musique et des Congres, as part of the FestivalMusica.
Nina Rohlfs, 10/2014 | Translation: Christoph Dennerlein
The trumpet player Jeroen Berwaerts juggles many balls at once – as a soloist he performs the most virtuosic contemporary trumpet concertos, he is writing a yoga-inspired book on the art of breathing, and develops new and exciting programmes for the recitals he gives with a variety of smaller ensembles. In the following interview, he explains what connects him to the brass band tradition and why singing became an essential part of his trumpet recitals. We met Jeroen Berwaerts at the Bregenz Festival.
KWMM: Jeroen, you have just come out of the dress rehearsal with the Vienna Symphony and Claus Peter Flor. Can you say something about the work you are going to play tonight?
JB: HK Gruber, known to many as Nali, wrote his second trumpet concerto Busking for Håkan Hardenberger, with banjo, accordion and strings. Busking means street music, and accordion and banjo are the poor man’s continuo group, so to speak.
You are only the second trumpeter who has dared to perform the work. What makes it so challenging?
Together with another work by Nali, it is simply the most difficult piece that has ever been written for my instrument, physically speaking. It took me seven months to learn it, and I don’t think many people are willing to make this sacrifice. It is like preparing for Iron Man or a marathon.
In this piece, HK Gruber alludes to a variety of musical genres. Is that something that attracted you to the piece, seeing as you are also at home in different musical worlds?
I do feel a really deep connection to this composer, who is also a conductor and chanson singer. Last night, I heard him performing poetry and chansons. I was very impressed with his ability to captivate his audience as I am a chanson singer myself. When I performed Busking for the first time, I combined it with chansons by Jacques Brel that I sang during the second half of the concert.
… the performance with the Ensemble Resonanz at the Hamburg Music Festival was a great success.
I’ve always been looking for a kind of music that appeals to more than just one audience. This music is more broadly conceived, it has a certain groove to it. HK Gruber is often mentioned in the same breath as Kurt Weill, and indeed both do share a certain freedom of thought. Nonetheless, he speaks a language of his own, one which also differs from established contemporary music.
How did you find your way into music, and when did you come across the different styles that characterise your work today?
I played in brass bands as a teenager. These ensembles hail from England where they were founded by miners. I was also in different funk and pop bands. I had not listened to any real classical music before I was 18. When I began studying the trumpet at the conservatory in Belgium, I also enrolled in jazz singing. Then I decided to concentrate on the trumpet and went to Karlsruhe in Germany where I studied with Reinhold Friedrich. I was very lucky to meet him since he has a very broad outlook. He plays baroque trumpet, contemporary music, in orchestras – he does everything and passed that on to his students.
And when did jazz re-enter into your life?
Later in Vienna, I started a Chet Baker revival band with some people I met there, and then, step by step, I played more and more jazz. Nowadays, there is rarely a trumpet recital where I don’t also sing. This is a wonderful opportunity to develop incredibly varied programmes that speak to a wider audience. When I give a recital that includes songs by Chet Baker and Jacques Brel, there are always many people who wouldn’t attend otherwise. And they get to hear Ligeti and Hindemith and Enescu as well as Telemann and Handel – music which they might not have listened to as much.
You are also working on a book about yoga for wind players. Can you tell us about that?
It’s called The Art of Breathing. I’ve taken yoga lessons for a long time now. It helps me to focus, and I’ve not been nervous onstage for quite a while. For the book, we comprised a variety of exercises to cultivate breathing awareness. The trumpet is a wind instrument, so the air is central. If it flows freely, then the sound of the trumpet does too. That gives you a lot of strength and allows you to take on demanding pieces like Busking.
So, does practice come down to discipline?
Well, practice is more than music. It may also involve physical training, breathing exercises or meditation. But right now I try to get away from the notion that discipline is everything. In the end, strength also requires relaxation. Compare it to interval training in sports, for instance. Until last season, besides all these solo concerts, I also played in the NDR Symphony Orchestra and taught as a professor in Hanover. Now, I have left the orchestra in order to focus on my solo career. That has been a very important step for me.
You returned to the NDR Symphony Orchestra as the soloist in Toshio Hosokawa’s new trumpet concerto, a piece for which you also gave the world premiere in Tokyo and that you have just performed with the NHK Symphony Orchestra.
To me this is really one of the best contemporary trumpet concertos, together with HK Gruber’s works. It is just so beautiful and intimate. It is based on a poem by Hermann Hesse, Im Nebel. The solo trumpet represents a person who is walking through the woods – the orchestra –, and sometimes you hear me, sometimes you don’t. A few weeks before the world premiere, I was in Takefu where Toshio’s festival takes place. One month earlier, I had just performed a piece by Peter Eötvös, Jetstream. It contains a cadenza for which I tried different techniques, such as removing the mouth piece and singing right into the trumpet. I liked this effect because it is a bridge between playing and singing, the difference seems to disappear. I showed that to Toshio, and he used it in his work to create some terrific and very moving moments.
Of course, you have also immersed yourself in the classical trumpet repertoire. How important is that for you?
My task, as I see it, is to try to understand the language of the composer and, as a kind of medium, communicate it to the audience. That’s why I’m also interested in the Baroque trumpet, for instance. But I’m touring with so many demanding pieces right now – Hosokawa, Gruber, Shostakovich, Zimmermann –, you have to pace yourself physically and mentally in order to handle this. Playing these works has really become my thing, my language. With regard to new works for trumpet, we all have Håkan Hardenberger to thank, and also Reinhold Friedrich who had many great works written for him. Of course, I enjoy playing world premieres but I also want to perform all these great works – by Gruber, Ligeti, Birtwistle and Rihm – that already exist. It would be a crime to let this magnificent repertoire fall silent.
Nina Rohlfs 08/2014 | Translation: Christoph Dennerlein
A lost flâneur: Johannes Maria Staud on his new opera
Johannes Maria Staud characterises the protagonist of his music-theatre work Die Antilope as “a young man who refuses to yield to society’s demands in an unusual way”. The libretto of the work, which will be premiered during the composer’s residency at the Lucerne Festival, was developed with the poet Durs Grünbein. Unlike in their previous collaboration on the opera after Edgar Allan Poe, Grünbein and Staud did not use any existing literary model. The composer spoke of his new opera to the dramaturge Christian Kipper from Lucerne Theatre, which commissioned the work together with Lucerne Festival.
Victor, the only named character in this opera, is essentially a tragic hero: he jumps out of a window in order to escape an office party and encounters various figures from whom he remains alienated, without ever being able to break through his isolation. What kind of character is that?
Victor is the common thread in this cyclical work who guarantees cohesion throughout the episodes. The remaining characters, who are exemplary, simplistic, exaggerated types that we all know, remain accessories as it were, the background onto which Victor’s strange interactions with his surroundings are quintessentially portrayed. Again and again, Victor protests against being subjected to clearly defined roles, something which seems a given in his world. He doesn’t want to conform to society, breaks free and therefore also speaks another language in a grand act of Dadaist liberation, which must remain incomprehensible to those around him. Nevertheless, he continues to try and make contact in the varied situations into which he stumbles – but in precisely his own way. Victor is not a “classic” outsider, a castoff in the mould of Wozzeck or Billy Budd. I see him more as a flâneur who wanders the earth, who doesn’t belong anywhere, but observes everything around him very precisely. His forlornness may indeed be read as a symptom of modernity in which communication becomes increasingly meaningless, reduced to empty clichés. Victor remains a puzzle until the very end, making him something of a musical figure.
There is one scene that takes place in a zoo but it hardly explains the title. Why is the work called Die Antilope
When you listen carefully to the libretto, many animal metaphors crop up. Animals are of course beings that we more or less live with and that possess their own kind of communication that we can only follow to some extent. Victor, with his own language, can somehow approach these beings. Perhaps he feels particularly close to the antelope as a tenacious, erratic animal that is often on the run, fearing for its life? The gobbledygook that Victor speaks – during the working process, Durs and I called it “antelopish” – basically relies on different artificial languages. In one scene, for instance, he speaks Esperanto, which is appealing because the meaning of the words also filters through to those who do not speak the language. When we were creating Victor’s language – in principle he speaks a different language in every scene – we combined our playful instincts, our enjoyment of phonetic peculiarities with a systematic puzzle, the encoding of hidden content. It is not important whether the spectator sees through the system. Much more important is that the hero’s failed attempts at communicating are central. Only at one point does Victor receive an answer in his language, albeit from a sculpture – the decisive turning point in our opera.
What is the role of the music in this work?
We didn’t think an awful lot about the relationship between text and music. We didn’t want to create a literary opera in the conventional sense of the word but at the same time, we also didn’t want to stifle the plot by favouring static music images. It was supposed to be somewhere in the middle, hovering between narration and exaggeration, between realism and absurdity. The music has to take into account the comprehensibility of the text, but ought also to inject meaning, deceive, seduce and imply the un-said. In some places we have employed speech because the recitative has no place in my compositional style. Alongside the individual situations, the figures are also characterised with the help of the music although I, like every composer, had to be careful not to fall into clichés. However, for me it is important that there is also a part of the composition that remains unexplained, something unexpected that captivates and engages us.
Most of your experience lies in instrumental music. You are currently composing a violin concerto for the Lucerne Festival. What do you have to do “differently” when you compose an opera?
My instrumental music is essentially based on dramatic principles: it is always about a precisely calibrated build-up of tension. Each of my compositions is a small drama, even without text. Nevertheless, one has to go about composing an opera differently because you have to keep in mind what is happening on the stage. The music must not only follow its own rules as is the case in an instrumental work. The dramatic situation is decisive for the compositional process but is also very inspiring for me as a composer. That is why I contributed so much during the development of the libretto, constantly discussing with Durs in a climate of deep artistic trust. It always started with a vague atmosphere, which we then defined more and more precisely. For some scenes I needed more text, for others less. During this process, Durs’ ability to communicate the essential points succinctly and with a poetic emphasis came in very handy. I find it dull to receive a finished text which I am supposed to then set to music. I gain my inspiration through ideas, exchange and collaboration. In this way, the libretto was developed at the same time as the music.
Christian Kipper, 08/2014 | Translation: Celia Wynne Willson
‘No one can understand the text’ – DIALOGUES Festival focuses on the music of György Ligeti
The Mozarteum Foundation’s Dialogues Festival this year revolves around the theme Word. It is not by chance that György Ligeti’s works – alongside those of Mozart and Peter Eötvös – form the focus of the festival: Ligeti has repeatedly examined the sound of the human voice and the structure of linguistic communication in his works.
The festival’s opening concert on 3 December will feature the Hungarian composer’s Aventures and Nouvelles Aventures for three singers and seven instrumentalists with the Ensemble musikFabrik. Ligeti developed a text together with the music that grammatically and semantically has no meaning in order to express, “human emotions that are ritualised through social conventions such as approval and disagreement, domination and submission, honesty and lying, arrogance, disobedience, indeed the subtlest nuances of irony that are hidden behind apparent approval, and of esteem that are concealed behind apparent contempt”. Of the two pieces, Ligeti went on to write, “No one can understand the text. Even I cannot understand it and I wrote it. (…) In the Aventures, there are several layers of the strange, the anxious, the very aggressive, the sentimental and the erotic.”
The film version of the work, which was recorded by the ensemble die reihe under Friedrich Cerha in 1971 and directed by Klaus Lindemann, will also be shown in Salzburg (4 December). The film programme will be accompanied by All Clouds Are Clocks, a 1976 BBC portrait film about György Ligeti by Leslie Megahey, as well as Stanley Kubrick’s cult science fiction film 2001: A Space Odyssey. The soundtrack, which features alongside Atmosphères, a series of further works by Ligeti, contributed significantly to the composer’s popularity outside the New Music community.
The Musicbanda FRANUI offers an unusual approach to Ligeti’s music on 4 December with Wolfgang Mitterer on organ and electronics as part of their project dealing with the dance music of the Alpine valleys. Excerpts from Ligeti’s compositions Balada Si Joc (Ballad and dance for two violins), Három lakodalmi tánc (three wedding dances for piano, four hands) and Música Ricercata will be performed in a new arrangement conceived by the ensemble, as well as in their original versions.
On 7 December, Artikulation will be the main topic of a lecture concert with Stefan Fricke and Peter Eötvös. György Ligeti composed the work in 1958 and even at that time, he was using electronic music to evoke an imaginary conversation, in which he replaced semantics with the newly acquired sounds.
After performances of the famous Continuo for Cello (Florian Birsack on 4 December) and the String Quartet No. 2 (Calder Quartet on 5 December), two larger works can be heard towards the end of the festival: Melodien für Orchester will be performed by the Mozarteumorchester Salzburg under Peter Eötvös on 6 December before Ligeti’s Lux aeterna for 16-voice mixed chorus a cappella sung by the Salzburg Bach Choir closes the Dialogues on 7 December.
He plays Bartók, Brahms and Prokofiev in the world’s great concert halls, works closely with contemporary composers such as Bruno Mantovani and Marc Monnet, his recording of Liszt’s Harmonies poetiques et religieuses has received glowing reviews – however the key element of pianist François-Frédéric Guy’s musical world is Ludwig van Beethoven. He describes in poetic language his special relationship to the composer’s works: “You plunge into them as if on a deep-sea expedition and discover a secret world, which seems familiar and mysterious at the same time.”
François-Frédéric Guy has recorded practically all of Beethoven’s piano works on CD in concert cycles. His recording of all 32 piano sonatas was released last autumn on the label Zig Zag Territoires, for example. But it took a while to get to that point. The highly gifted child grew up in a small town in Normandy and started receiving lessons with Dominique Merlet at the Conservatoire de Paris at the age of 11. After taking part in a tour for young pianists, in which six French pianists of his generation performed the cycle of Beethoven sonatas, he took it upon himself to master all of the sonatas before his 40th birthday. Now, he can regularly be heard performing the cycle, which he premiered at the 2008 Monaco Festival in a series of ten concerts over the course of twelve days. In the 2014/15 season he will also be performing it in Rio de Janeiro and Pordenone in Italy.
In addition to the complete sonatas, he has recorded all five of Beethoven’s piano concertos. The pianist, who at the start of his career almost decided to go down the route of conducting, is leading orchestras from the piano with increasing frequency. However, for the recordings released on the Naïve label, his close confidante Philippe Jordan conducts the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France. “We feel like chamber music partners,” the pianist says of their relationship.
François-Frédéric Guy has found genuine chamber music partners for the next stage of his project: he collaborated with violinist Tedi Papavrami and cellist Xavier Phillips for concerts in Arsenal de Metz, which has become a musical home for him as Artist in Residence over the course of several seasons. In this way, François-Frédéric Guy is not far off having performed literally all of the works which Beethoven wrote for the piano in concert cycles. Does this mean that his personal Beethoven project will soon be over? “Not at all, you can never be done with Beethoven,” he claims. In the decades to come, he still wants to be diving into the ocean of Beethoven’s works. He’s not afraid of becoming bored; aside from Beethoven, in the last few months he has also performed Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concerto No. 5 in Zurich, Bartók’s second piano concerto in Warsaw and Scriabin’s Prométhée in Monte Carlo. And on top of all this, François-Frederic Guy may also be preparing himself for the next world premiere.
You can find detailed information on François-Frédéric Guy's Beethoven project here .
“I couldn‘t live without playing string quartets,” says Ilya Gringolts, and that is how the Gringolts Quartet came into existence. At 15 to 20 concerts per year, it has become a substantial part of the violinist’s musical agenda. In August, for instance, the four string players can be heard at the Salzburg Festival and the Menuhin Festival Gstaad.
“For me, it wasn’t enough to just perform as a soloist or in the occasional chamber music setting,” explains Ilya Gringolts. He shares his love for the vast string quartet repertory with his wife, the violinist Anahit Kurtikyan, with whom he founded the ensemble in 2008. “The repertoire is incredibly diverse and you could spend a lifetime on the Haydn quartets alone. Our approach, on the other hand, is to try and play as many different works as possible, including contemporary ones.”
In Salzburg the couple, together with violist Silvia Simionescu and cellist Claudius Herrmann, will perform Marc-André Dalbavie’s 2012 string quartet. It will feature alongside the world premiere of his new opera Charlotte Salomon. The Dalbavie quartet will be complemented by Ravel’s only string quartet as well as the original string septet version of Richard Strauss’ Metamorphosen which is now more widely known in the version for 23 solo strings.
In 2013, their recording of the septet was awarded the ECHO Klassik for the best chamber music recording of the year. On the same CD, the Gringolts Quartet and cellist David Geringas juxtaposed the Metamorphosen with the roughly contemporaneous string quintet by the Nazi-persecuted composer Walter Braunfels. The music magazine Rondo described it as “a CD that not only invites but almost compels the listeners to let themselves become immersed in the music.”
The ensemble’s first CD with chamber music works by Robert Schumann was met with similar enthusiasm. In a review, the magazine KulturSpiegel noted that, “from the violin sonatas to the piano quintet, everything is thrilling and well-executed.” Peter Laul, the pianist who joined the quartet for the Schumann CD, was also involved in their most recent release on Orchid Classics, a complete recording of Brahms’ three string quartets and his piano quintet. Together with pianist Leon Fleisher the quartet will be performing the latter piece in concert in Gstaad.
“In a string quartet, a real friendship grows out of the music,” says Ilya Gringolts on the inner workings of the quartet. As the first three entries in their discography already demonstrate, these bonds of friendship extend to a number of high-profile chamber music partners as well. For the four members of the quartet themselves, it is their friendship that allows them to make plans for the long-term: to explore, work by work, the wonders of the quartet repertoire and at the same time break new musical ground with world premieres. “Under these premises, I’m sure we can look ahead to a long history together.”
Nina Rohlfs, 07/2014 | Translation: Christoph Dennerlein
The one with knowledge exists through his knowledge – Samir Odeh-Tamimi’s 'Mansūr'
Samir Odeh-Tamimi’s Mansūr for large choir, four brass players and two percussionists received its world premiere at the Salzburg Festival on 26 July 2014 with great success. The work, which was commissioned by the Festival, is based on texts by and reflections on the Sufi mystic Mansūr Al-Hallāğ (858-922), with which the composer has dealt with in several of his works already. This article originally appeared in the Salzburg Festival programme booklet for the world premiere.
Mansūr begins with low drum beats, hardly audible, sounding from behind the audience, appearing out of nowhere besides the rhythmic singing of a few singers. Upon closer inspection, the whole piece reveals itself during this simple start: Samir Odeh-Tamimi has split the text between four choir groups. These, as well as the instrumentalists, are positioned around the audience in the room. The composer does not distribute the different registers and instruments symmetrically but lets them form triangles with voices and instruments throughout the whole room. When the trombones and percussion then combine with these tones, the acoustic space extends right out into the whole church. He pitches individual notes extremely high or low in order to enlarge this space and envelop the audience in piano and pianissimo notes or captivate them with mezzo forte or fortes.
The first low notes played by the instruments lay the foundations for the basic element of the piece, the text from the The Garden of Knowledge by Mansūr Al-Hallāğ. He is quoted straight away in the first few bars: "she is not him and he is not her, and only she is him and only he is her." The explosive power of the mystic Mansūr Al-Hallāğ’s message can already be gleaned in these verses, which still seem confusing at first glance. He invited his followers not to look for new definitions for and images of Allah. According to Mansūr Al-Hallāğ you will only find true knowledge within yourself. For Samir Odeh-Tamimi, these are the central verses, so dense and meaningful in terms of content that he practically lets them ring out on their own.
The Sufi rhythm in which Mansūr Al-Hallāğ wrote these verses becomes the rhythmic foundation for the music. Even if Samir Odeh-Tamimi says that he is not a religious man and that he did not write this work for religious reasons, this Sufi rhythm does mean a lot to him musically speaking. The dance-like triple rhythm, with a spring in its step, a rhythm which has a light movement to it, has been with him since childhood. It is a rhythm that is alive, that is changing. It leads him back to the Sufi rituals prescribed during prayer, which he experienced as a child with his grandfather who led such rituals as a Sufi master, a ritual that took place in secret and which could transport the partaker into a trance. But this rhythm was also present in his day-to-day life, when his grandmother continually muttered the verses in the Sufi rhythm or moved her lips wordlessly, running a string of beads through her fingers. This build-up and constant repetition of the Sufi rhythm can lead to a trance-like state, which for many signifies the absolute path to religious knowledge.
Samir Odeh-Tamimi has linked this physical, meditative ritual with Mansūr Al-Hallāğ’s philosophical insight. In the Sufi rhythms of his texts, Odeh-Tamimi has given the words, "she is not him and he is not her, and only she is him and only he is her," to the singers as a recitative. In the hand-written score, one can see these words graphically distributed on the page so that their movement in the room can be recognised, the movement through the room in which the audience sits.
The composer interrupts these passages that are dominated by this rhythm with musical interludes in the form of sometimes wild, loud, dense sounds. Often, Odeh-Tamimi builds clusters of neighbouring notes around the central tone F-sharp, producing sharp dissonances and creating passages of hightened tension in the process. They interrupt for a moment the flow of the Sufi rhythm, which induces a trance-like state. They lead into the musical world of Samir Odeh-Tamimi, which he developed after immersing himself in the music of Arnold Schönberg, Younghi Pagh-Paan and many contemporary composers.
It is a world through which he has been accompanied by Mansūr Al-Hallāğ’s philosophy, resulting not only in works that use texts by Al-Hallāğ but also lots of sketches that he had in mind during the working process and which he inserted into "Mansūr" at specific points. During the compositional process, his thoughts became more concrete and, looking back on what he had already written, individual notes emerged that he then placed throughout the room. During the interludes, Samir Odeh-Tamimi works without concrete texts, with breathing sounds in the voices and open vocals, written in Greek because for him, this language embodies the archaic fundamental form of language. Again and again, there is a reduction to a deeply tranquil sound from these musical spaces, from which the voices are able to soar anew.
While the male voices ruminate for a while over Mansūr Al-Hallāğ’s confusing mysteries – "he is not her and she is not him" – dominating the soundscape, the female voices suddenly appear. They sing about Allah and articulate Mansūr Al-Hallāğ’s knowledge: "The one with knowledge is the one who can see, and knowledge is eternal, the one with knowledge exists through his knowledge."
This Arabic text is supposed to be articulated like a German text by the choir. Samir Odeh-Tamimi expects an inner understanding. And those who have understood are persuasive in their assertions. This attitude can be traced back to a key experience that the composer, who has lived in Germany for 24 years, had. Someone read a German poem aloud and, even if he wouldn’t have been able to translate every word directly, he understood the secret of the text.
In the original handwritten score of "Mansūr," there are few corrections. Samir Odeh-Tamimi felt challenged for the first time, not simply to cut, copy, paste and rework material during the compositional process, but also to document the knowledge he gained in his own handwriting, handwriting that perfectly shows his logic.
In the score, Samir Odeh-Tamimi notes tempi that range from "legatissimo" to "as fast as possible," suggesting that it is not purely a matter of speeding-up but more of changing the inner attitude, a process of letting go not unlike what we find in a Sufi ritual. Right at the end only individual syllables are left. Concepts fade away, but the knowledge remains.
When Henry VIII set off on his quest to dissolve monasteries throughout his kingdom, this was a turning point not only for religion and economy, but also for the history of English music: while the king, a keen musician himself, is today known as a patron of Renaissance composers, his systematic destruction of the monastic libraries in the 1530s account for the fact that only a minute amount of mediaeval sacred music was preserved – many manuscripts merely survived because they were set aside as scrap paper.
The three sopranos of Trio Mediaeval chose to consider the gaps in historic evidence as a chance when they decided to reconstruct a "Ladymass", based on fragments of music manuscripts from the Worcester monastery: "We did not despair when we found out that there was no Credo to be found in the manuscripts," Anna Maria Friman explains. "We immediately saw the possibility of including a contemporary Credo and asked Gavin Bryars to compose the piece."
Votive Masses to the Virgin Mary were frequent in mediaeval England, which was then called the "Garden of Mary" because of its special devotion to her. While the Mass could be reconstructed with some accuracy thanks to the disproportionate amount of music associated with Marian feasts to be found among the fragments, looking for the same kind of accuracy in performance practice seems for the trio to be an effort doomed to failure: "We have no precise descriptions regarding sound or singing techniques being used, and we don’t know to what extent women sang polyphonic music," says Anna Maria Friman. "However much we might wish it, we cannot in any way be historically authentic. Meanwhile we feel that the lack of historical information gives us the freedom to let our imagination flow as though we are creating contemporary music."
The members of the trio are aware of the fact that they re-contextualise the music in many ways when they present mediaeval sacred music in a modern concert setting. And all the more so by delivering it to the listener via CD – a recording for the ECM label was released in 2011. But however far from the context of a mediaeval church service their performance may be, according to the New York Times, the beauty and clarity of the three voices "might cause even a confirmed agnostic to contemplate a spark of divinity in these centuries-old manuscripts."
You can listen to extracts from A Worcester Ladymass here
A new Liszt – the GrauSchumacher Piano Duo on their latest CD
The GrauSchumacher Piano Duo is currently documenting one part of their varied repertoire with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester in a series of three CDs recorded with the contemporary music label NEOS Music. Wulf Weinmann, head of NEOS Music, talks to the GrauSchumacher Piano Duo and Stefan Heucke about their collaboration on the duo’s Concerti II CD, which was released in January 2014.
Wulf Weinmann: Stefan Heucke’s arrangement of Liszt’s Concerto pathétique for two pianos and orchestra is something really unique. How did the idea for this version come into being?
Andreas Grau: First of all, we wanted to close a gap in the repertoire. There isn’t really a large romantic concerto for us piano duos. Neither Schumann, Chopin, Liszt, Tchaikovsky nor Brahms have written for this combination. The two concertos by Mendelssohn are early works written by a 13 or 14 year-old child prodigy and are, for all their qualities, not comparable with his solo piano concerto or violin concerto. Bruch’s double concerto is not on the same level as his violin concerto. Things really only pick up again in the 20th century with Poulenc and Bartók. Secondly, we really value Stefan Heucke not only as a composer who has written many original works for us, which we frequently perform in our concerts, but also as a superb arranger for varied combinations of instruments of composers such as Schubert, Brahms, Mahler and Janacek. This arrangement of Liszt was therefore very important for us.
Götz Schumacher: A recreation of this kind is legitimised not least through the huge number of versions of the work produced by Liszt and his pupils. The starting point for the work is the “great concerto solo” from 1851 in which Liszt experiments with a one-movement form, which is actually made up of four movements – similar to the famous sonata in B minor. He later rearranged the “concerto solo” for two pianos and published it under the title Concerto pathétique with Breitkopf in Leipzig. Later versions include further arrangements for two pianos as well as for solo piano with orchestra by various pupils of Liszt e.g. Hans von Bülow, Eduard Reuss (corrected by Liszt), Richard Burmeister and Gábor Darvas.
Wulf Weinmann: Stefan Heucke, you have dedicated this transcription of Liszt’s for two pianos and orchestra to the GrauSchumacher Piano Duo with whom you have worked closely for many years. Is this transcription a revised version in the spirit of Liszt?
Stefan Heucke: That’s what it is. A revised version with the sound that is now possible from a modern orchestra. There are a few examples of some unusual sound combinations: piano and harp, piano and string tremolo and glissandi from the piano and timpani. There is also a monumental orchestral climax, which culminates in an extremely loud tam-tam beat.
Wulf Weinmann: But Liszt’s original piano part remains untouched?
Stefan Heucke: Yes, but I have composed a completely new orchestral part on top of this. Liszt could definitely have chosen the notes but he almost certainly would not have chosen this instrumentation. The orchestral resources are, at least partly, those of postmodernism. The process can be compared with Ravel’s instrumentation of Mussorgsky’s . It’s as if Liszt, Wagner, Strauss and Shostakovich all decided to compose a concerto together for two pianos and orchestra and Stefan Heucke contributed the cadenza. I added this approximately five minute-long cadenza for both soloists alone in my very own style at just the point where Hans von Bülow also added a cadenza in his arrangement.
CD Release │January 2014
neos 21302 [Coproduction with Deutschlandradio Kultur] available to order now
Master of the Krechts – The klezmer clarinettist David Krakauer
David Krakauer, a classically trained clarinettist with degrees from the Juilliard School of Music in New York, has devoted much of his adult life to the art of klezmer. Krakauer had his first encounter with klezmer music in 1980, when he heard the Eastern European Jewish klezmer master Dave Tarras play live. “Although he was already quite old and technically not so precise,” David recalled his playing, “he created a sound that sent a shiver down my spine. It was totally unforgettable!”
For centuries, klezmer music was the standard music of Ashkenazi Jews in Eastern Europe and was played at all weddings and celebrations. Klezmer music incorporates many ideas from Greek, Balkan, Eastern European and Roma folk music and it is dance music, made for dancing while holding hands or with a partner. Krakauer explains that it is the influence of cantorial synagogue music that sets klezmer music apart from other forms of folk music. “In particular the ornament called krechts, a sob or squeeze in Yiddish, is a sound that makes klezmer immediately recognisable. The is produced by playing little ghosted notes between the main notes. This gives the illusion of the emotional catch in the voice reminiscent of the plaintive supplication found in cantorial singing.” The klezmer style strives to replicate the human voice – the cries, laughs and wails of humanity.
Scores of Eastern European Jews immigrated to the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and they brought klezmer music with them. Klezmer music flourished in Jewish circles in the early 20th century, as did Yiddish theatre and the art of Jewish Cantor song. Klezmer music in the United States began to draw influence from American music, especially jazz. David Krakauer also played jazz as a teenager, and he cites his first great musical influence as Sidney Bechet, the great New Orleans jazz clarinettist. “Hearing his music lead me to a great love of jazz in general, and more specifically to a deep reverence for the tremendous individuality of artists such as Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and the great Duke Ellington. When I started to play klezmer, I was able to weave these influences, in conjunction with Avant-garde classical and jazz sounds, into ‘traditional’ klezmer to create my own personal style of improvising.”
The children of these turn-of-the-century immigrants, however, began to assimilate into American culture and by the 1960s, interest in klezmer music had largely died out. Then, in the 1970s, the first klezmer revival began in the United States, led by soloists such as Giora Feidman and bands such as The Klezmorim. These musicians attempted to accurately recreate klezmer music from the early 20th century from old recordings and surviving klezmer musicians in the United States.
While working in New York as a classical musician, Krakauer began experimenting with klezmer music as the second klezmer revival began in the 1980s. In the late 1980s, Krakauer joined The Klezmatics, with whom he toured around the world. Bands like the Klezmatics put their own personal stamp on the music of earlier generations. “When I played with the Klezmatics, it was not about re-performing old songs. We had amplifiers, we were loud and we had an attitude almost like a punk band,” Krakauer said in an interview with Radio Berlin-Brandenburg in 2011. Klezmer music gained many non-Jewish fans in both the United States and Europe. In his early days with the Klezmatics, the band travelled to Berlin. The experience was incredible. “Suddenly, we were at this Festival in Berlin. We played in front of thousands of young Berliners and they were all partying, and I thought, It’s different here.” In talking to people throughout Europe while on tour, Krakauer has found that people are moved to see the evolution of a European music that came from Eastern Europe to America and then returned to Europe, transformed by the American experience. Over the past two decades, klezmer has also become a statement of support for multiculturalism in Europe. “Jews before the Second World War were the multicultural Europeans. Playing Jewish klezmer music seems to be a pro-multicultural, pro-humanistic political act without ever being didactic or waving a flag,” says Krakauer.
Composers have recently also succumbed to klezmer’s appeal. David Krakauer is now a highly sought-after soloist and chamber musician and has demonstrated his wealth of experience in classical and klezmer music with pieces written especially for him such as Wlad Marhulet’s Concerto for Klezmer Clarinet and Orchestra, which he performed in June 2012 with the Orchestre National de Lyon, and Osvaldo Golijov’s . He recorded and toured with the Kronos Quartet and has performed the string orchestra version in Detroit, Berlin, Munich, Dresden, Ulster, and Madrid among other cities. He also tours with his bands Klezmer Madness!, which continues to broaden the horizons of klezmer music, and Abraham Inc., which fuses klezmer with funk and hip-hop.
The Big PictureCheckpoint Akoka – Reframing Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time
On 7 March 1974, the Arditti Quartet gave their very first concert at the Royal Academy of Music in London. Their debut, which included works by Luciano Berio, Toshiro Mayuzumi, Stanley Haynes and Witold Lutoslawski would already pave the way for programmes focusing on contemporary music in the years to come. Since then, the string quartet has characterised the musical history of its time like no other. During the four decades of its existence, the ensemble has performed over 7,400 works in more than 2,000 concerts, over 600 of which were world premieres of works that were often composed especially for the ensemble. The founder Irvine Arditti reflects on the first 40 years of the Arditti Quartet with Karsten Witt.
KW: When you founded the Arditti Quartet in 1974, were you already specialised in contemporary music, or did you envisage a traditional string quartet playing the whole repertoire?
IA: I was intrigued by contemporary music, listening to Boulez and Xenakis, when I was 11 and 12. I wanted to go and meet Stockhausen and hear concerts live. When I was 15, I went to Oxford to hear the French Radio Orchestra playing Xenakis’ orchestral pieces and Messiaen and I met both of them on that occasion. This was in 1968; my mother took me, she wouldn’t let me go on my own. My interest in contemporary music stems from these very early years. I wanted to form a quartet in London that played contemporary music rather than what everyone else was doing.
Were you aware that you were the first quartet doing this?
I just wanted a quartet in London which would play Ligeti, Lutoslawski and Takemitsu because there was no English string quartet that would want to do that. I had no visions of where the Arditti Quartet would be going.
Were you already thinking of new compositions?
Not at all. We were playing in universities in London and England. The first concert was of course at the Royal Academy of Music on 7 March 1974. But I never thought about composers writing for us. I knew Jonathan Harvey; we played in an improvisation group together and we actually performed the instrumental version of Stockhausen’s Hymnen in London – he played the keyboard and I played the viola. He was interested in the quartet and invited us to Southampton University. He was the first person who wanted to write a string quartet for us; this was in 1978 or 1979. So that was the beginning.
How did you find your partners for the quartet?
They were all initially students at the Royal Academy of Music.
To find people who would devote so much of their time to only playing contemporary music was something new…
… and something that is much easier today. In those days it was quite tricky and we had to really search people out, to see if they might be interested in spending long hours rehearsing with composers, all sorts of different styles.
Given the development to what you are today, do you have the impression the world was waiting for you or was it a struggle?
Neither. We started off with income from other things. It was a hobby that became a profession. It was our pure interest and the accumulation of what we were doing that stimulated us; we weren’t pushed into it by anyone. We met composers, they were enthusiastic about what we were doing and we therefore did it more and more. So it just happened, it gradually became professional and a full-time occupation.
Nowadays you are performing all over the world. Was it a London phenomenon at the beginning?
No, we were not an English phenomenon. We had some good reviews for a concert where we did Nono, Ferneyhough 2 and Carter 3; we had an amazing review from Paul Griffiths in the Times. People started noticing us. But abroad we were noticed more, particularly in Germany. We were playing extensively in most other countries before England realised that they had an interesting international group on their doorstep.
But how did you find your first concerts – did you call people up and offer your services, or did it go through composers?
No, Allied Artists were our agent.
They also worked for a number of composers at the time.
They introduced us to both Henze and Ligeti and they engaged us for our first professional concert in the Roundhouse. They had a series there. Outside of the academy this was our first professional concert in London.
I looked at the year 2012 and found that you gave 56 concerts with 45 premieres of new compositions. Obviously you are still driven by new work and curiosity and your relationships with composers. What is your own impression during these 40 years, what has changed?
Things have developed. We are now associated with many more composers. Some of them are no longer with us. The styles have become much more diverse. There was much less openness for people to do what they really wanted in 1974. People were more pigeonholed into being a member of a serial group or a follower of a Cage-tied philosophy, or writing more classical music influenced by Britten or Shostakovich. Full minimalism hadn’t come into being at that point. With each composer developing his own new style, different challenges have presented themselves to us. The contemporary world has changed a lot in 40 years, but we still have the richness of what was there at the beginning.
It seems that there is also more interest – there are larger audiences, there are more and more traditional festivals that also present contemporary music and even commission new works. The whole environment in which you are operating seems to have changed.
It has and it hasn’t. It’s become more extensive, but also a lot of societies have disappeared through lack of funding. I think one of the interesting things about the Arditti Quartet is that we have had a very diverse career. We’ve not only gone to new music festivals and series but also played in chamber music series like other more classical quartets.
Did this happen from the start, or was it a later phenomenon when some of the contemporary music, which you played, had become part of the repertoire?
It was a slightly later phenomenon, and it occurred with our first agents in Italy and Germany. But from the beginning we also played Bartok etc. That made us very different from the new music ensembles, which also started in the 70s. And it gave us a different audience. We never played only classical music though, I would always insist on playing at least one contemporary piece in the programme.
Has it ever been the case that a promoter wanted to commission a new work to a composer and you said no?
Yes. But if a promoter is really enthusiastic, I say: if you think that this person can do something good, then let’s go ahead.
Was it the same when you started? Did you take a position towards the quality of the compositions that you performed?
Obviously when you’re starting off, people ask you to do things and you do them. There was such a rich pallet of composers that had written pieces or were just about to write pieces for us, there were so many possibilities for amazing things. There were lots of composers whom I didn’t know so I took the advice from promoters. Some of them weren’t so marvellous, but you have to go through the process in order to find what’s good and you shouldn’t expect every piece to be a masterpiece. If I really didn’t like something I would say that from the beginning.
Did it ever happen that you only discovered the quality of a piece after a number of performances?
Sometimes, with more insight and actually listening to the piece – which is important, not just rehearsing it and playing it in concert – you realise that it can be more interesting than you thought when you were first working on it. So from that point of view, it’s good to give things a chance, even if they don’t look that stimulating to begin with. Also with young composers that we know are not so interesting, they need us to play their music well, so they can hear what they wrote. That service to students or young professional composers is very important. But of course, when you are presenting things to concert audiences that are paying money, you base your choice on some sort of qualitative decision.
You have performed Ligeti’s 2nd Quartet more than 250 times. Would you say your interpretation, your understanding of this piece has changed during this period?
Not dramatically, no. We worked on the piece with Ligeti and found out how he wanted it to go. We worked with him periodically over the years when we changed players in the quartet. And I explained to my new colleagues exactly what he wanted. I think it hasn’t changed. We try to keep up the image of those first times we worked with him. Of course, with each new group of Arditti Quartet members the interpretation changes slightly and has a different sort of depth or sonority. But the basic interpretation has remained the same.
I imagine that when you played Lachenmann for the first time, maybe you needed a few performances before you got into such a piece.
Yes, with Lachenmann it is entirely different, because you are not dealing with the traditional pallet of sounds. It took a bit longer with that music because of the different techniques and getting used to doing them. I was not happy with our first few performances of Lachenmann’s first quartet, Gran Torso. But he had the confidence to keep working with us and continually inspired us and it wasn’t so long before we became comfortable. Now it’s like a language that we can speak and understand every word of.
You mentioned the other players of the Arditti Quartet. Obviously, you are the continuous factor here – 40 years Arditti Quartet means 40 years of Irvine with other players.
Rohan de Saram stayed for 26 years. Levine Andrade, the first viola player, was there until 1990, he stayed for 16 years, that’s quite a long time. They were the two longest members.
From other quartets, we know that the change of one member can mean a crisis for the whole ensemble but in your case, there has been an enormous continuity, no matter who was performing. How did it work?
In the beginning it was very daunting when someone left. In those days it was more difficult to find a replacement. We looked everywhere and asked lots of people for their advice and if they knew people. We even went as far afield as to talk to Elliott Carter when we were looking for a second violin, before Graeme Jennings played with us. There was a group in San Francisco who played Elliott’s quartets and I remember him telling me about the second violin who he thought was very good. So I phoned him up to ask who this person was and if he could give me some contact information. Now there are quite a lot of players whom you can approach: people in orchestras interested in new music, there are a lot of ensembles or other contemporary string quartets.
It’s still daunting, of course, when someone leaves, but the quartet is not about the people in it, it’s about what it does. I define the quartet as having a very particular theme: playing contemporary music, working with composers, creating new pieces. Then there is the vast repertoire that has been written for us since those early days of Jonathan Harvey’s first quartet. Anyone that comes into the quartet knows that and has to follow that theme. It is clearly defined and reiterated daily by me, who has the experience of working with the composers, including ones that are no longer with us. I am that constant memory and reminder of what the quartet is, was and will continue to be. In a way it’s a bit easier for people coming in. They have their own individual personality and can do things the way they want to. But the rules are set.
On 2 March 2014, Mark Andre’s first opera will receive its world premiere at the Oper Stuttgart. The dramaturge Patrick Hahn conceived the project together with the composer and writes about their research trip to Israel.
There is no time for an extended welcome when we meet each other for the first time at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport: the composer Mark Andre, the sound engineer Joachim Haas from the SWR Experimentalstudio in Freiburg, our Isreali driver David and myself. It takes a while for our recording devices and microphones to be cleared by customs. At this time of day, the streets are traffic-jammed and we have to hurry to get to Jerusalem in time before heaving our bulky equipment through the winding alleys of the old city. At 7pm, the doors of the Church of the Resurrection will close until 4.30am. We will spend the night locked-up inside this cold place of pilgrimage, together with Franciscans, Armenians, Greek-Orthodox monks, our recording equipment turned on. That we may do so at all is due to the diplomatic skills of Georg Blochmann, the director of the Goethe Institute in Tel Aviv who managed to obtain an exception permit for us. As long as we don’t disturb the monks in their rituals, we can gauge the acoustics of the Church of the Resurrection and save the data on our hard drives – the raw material for an adventure that will only reach its conclusion in a few years' time. Welcome to a "metaphysical road trip".
Patrick Hahn: Mark, why did you want to come to the Holy Land in preparation for your opera project?
Mark Andre: I’m here to take acoustical photos, or echographies. I collect different sorts of material, that will be categorised, analysed and musically "unfolded". So, on the one hand this is about measuring, about parameterisation and getting an acoustic representation of the space and the acoustical situation within. On the other hand, there is my hope that these spaces and situations carry a certain significance which we can capture and "unfold". There is always something that is beyond the scope of computer-based sound analysis. This is where the subjective experience comes into play.
Since we first started talking about his opera project, Mark has always used the metaphor of the metaphysical road trip to describe what he had in mind. It is an image for the journey on which the composer embarks in the process of composing, as well as a hint of what listeners are to expect in a few years when they explore the piece in Stuttgart. But it also describes a method. The composer has left his desk in Berlin-Friedrichshain in order to lay the basis for his new work through an encounter with a new and unfamiliar place.
PH: How do you perceive a place like the Church of the Resurrection – through the ears or also through other senses?
MA: Certainly not through the ears alone. For me, this is about experiencing "intermediate spaces". There is an episode from the Gospel of John that can serve as a metaphor for this, a scene that is said to have happened exactly at the grave we visited. Mary recognises Jesus by his voice and tries to stop him but he says, "Don’t touch me!" And although she doesn’t, there is something going on between the two of them, the lack of contact opens up an intermediate space. From my perspective, this is a vertical space that has nothing to do with chronology, narration or a horizontal concept of time. As a compositional notion I find this very inspiring.
The sound of a plastic bag caught in a bush in the desert and worn down by sand, wind and sun. Spray raised by a storm on Lake Tiberias. Footsteps on stone, in water, on the beach. We spend days on the streets, always recording. Sometimes we follow the travel guide, sometimes we follow our intuition. By the time we get to Ben Gurion airport ten days later, we are exhausted. Joachim is declaring his equipment to customs when Israeli immigration officers pull Mark and me from the queue. They inquire about the reasons for our stay. Mark explains truthfully that we were doing research for his opera project: "We made recordings of the manifestations of the Holy Spirit. According to the bible these are water, wind and fire." We raise suspicion.
PH: Many 20th century composers felt encumbered by the picture frame stage – to them, the traditional architecture of opera houses didn’t seem to support new approaches. What do you think about it?
MA: I don’t believe that question is relevant any more. I try to examine the existing spaces and the machinery of the opera and transcend it. I look for meta-spaces. I don’t feel that I’m engaged in an aesthetic and historical reflection about the nature of music theatre. With my music, I aim for another kind of force, of temporal experience and presence. The aesthetic situation on stage is just another result of this continuous search for new spaces.
So far, Mark has often incorporated deliberately cryptic references to the bible in his works – fragments, single words, or even individual letters. Here, text serves as a code and trigger for a most fragile sort of music that draws all its power from its instability, its presence from its ephemeral qualities. In its canonical structures, this music seems to express something of the eternal order in nature, and by way of rigorous spectral analysis of sounds, it cuts through to the essence of listening. Finally, this music, through its finely nuanced sounds and multi-faceted timbres, seems to capture the multitude of relations that occur between the things in this world and those that lie beyond.
Johannes: One earwitness is worth more than ten eyewitnesses when it comes to recognising people who are devoted to wisdom.
Johannes Reuchlin has been on Mark Andre’s mind since the Oper Stuttgart commissioned the opera. He has since asked himself, "How would Reuchlin react to the world of today? What would it be like for him to travel to Israel?" Mark’s interest in Johannes Reuchlin was sparked when, in 2007, Sergio Morabito, now chief dramaturge of the Oper Stuttgart, drew on Mark’s chamber music to create a "scenic collage" about the life of the first German humanist, who was born in Pforzheim in 1455 and died in Stuttgart in 1522. It was Johann Wolfgang Goethe who later described the legal scholar and scribe as a "Wunderzeichen" (miraculous sign). What might indeed strike one as a miracle is that Reuchlin, despite many attacks, always stood by his belief that a command of Hebrew and the study of Jewish literature was essential for the development of one’s intellectual abilities. Reuchlin took a special interest in Kabbalah, the mystical tradition which seeks, by various techniques and teachings, to expose the hidden meaning of the Holy Scripture and, through that, to reveal as well as influence the divine order. His opposition towards the destruction of Jewish books by the Catholic Church was met with hostility and even resulted in a defeat in the papal court that severely damaged his career.
The black and white prints of the data that we collected in Israel, the encoded aura of the places and sounds we visited are now spread over the piano in Mark’s study in Berlin-Friedrichshain. In January 2013, the first choir rehearsal for took place. The passing on of Mark Andre’s compositional spaces is well underway.
2/3/2014, 19:00 (World Premiere) with further performances on 7, 16, 22 and 25/3/2014 Oper Stuttgart
Mount Sodom, in the Judean desert, is made up entirely of halite, or rock salt. It continues to rise up out of the earth, as it has been doing for hundreds of thousands of year. As the heat, water, ice and pressure of the Earth's atmosphere work to break down Mount Sodom's rocks, portions separate and break away. One of these pillars is said to be Lot's wife, the Biblical figure who defied God's orders not to look back at her home, the city of Sodom, as it went up in flames. Maya Beiser was driving through the Judean desert when she saw the rock formation said to be Lot's wife, eternally suffering her punishment, frozen as a pillar of salt.
Beiser says that it was at this moment that she became inspired to depict the story of Lot's wife. She wanted to make her the counterpart to the protagonist in the poem of the Belgian surrealist Henri Michaux, I Am Writing To You from a Far-Off Country, which tells the story of a woman living in a world on the brink of destruction. Eve Beglarian composed a piece for Beiser with the same name, and she wanted to incorporate the work into her latest project as well, a cello opera entitled that she was developing with theatre director Robert Woodruff.
"is a culmination, for me, of a lot of the work that I've done to try and bring music and visuals and text and projection together, and to make a coherent message," Beiser said recently in a telephone interview. "So it's an expansion of the concert experience where still the music is the strong force, but there are all these other elements as well. And really, is an expansion of this piece that I've done ."
is her most ambitious project to date. Joining her on the project are the theatre director Robert Woodruff, choreographer Brook Notary and screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson. Eve Beglarian, Michael Gordon, and Missy Mazzoli composed the music. The vocalist Helga Davis and a team of four dancers appear with Maya Beiser on stage.
Beiser and Woodruff spent a year in libraries, reading everything that Michaux ever wrote. In Beglarian's composition, "there is this whole universe that comes out of the cello," Maya says, and she wanted Robert Woodruff to help her make this into a complete theatrical event. "[The text] is enigmatic, so it felt to me like it was important to really give an interpretation of the text with the visuals and with the theatrical elements." After reading the texts, they set their goal on depicting a "community of women who are facing death, facing the end of the world, and how they react to this catastrophe."
While the first half of includes , as well as by Michael Gordon, the second half is inspired by the story of Lot's wife, for which Missy Mazzoli has composed the work .
Both stories, of the woman in Michaux's poem and of Lot's wife, are stories about women, but both were created by men. These characters are nameless women in a male-dominated world. Beiser's team, full of talented, creative, and successful women, is inspiring and reflects the strides women have made in recent history, while the themes dealt with here remind us of how much work is still left to be done.
I saw in [Michaux's text]...women all over the world who are facing catastrophe. It's not so much the apocalypse as I'm seeing people just facing really terrible situations in life and oppression...this text presents such an amazing opportunity to speak about all those things. The idea that I'm calling it [is] somewhat tongue-in-cheek, because you can say that those things don't happen here, they probably happen elsewhere - we think of it being somewhere else, but it's really here.”
Ultimately, however, Maya Beiser says what is so great about the piece is the music itself, and the journey that the cello takes throughout the performance. "[We] take the cello from being this pure, western classical icon acoustic instrument through this whole piece, [and] there is an evolution that happens, and in fact, at the end, I'm finding this electric cello in the sand. So I'm going to be playing different instruments throughout the piece. There are a lot of different sounds that will occur from the beautiful acoustic sound that we have come to associate with the cello, to really processed sound, to different ways that we can approach the cello today in the 21st century."
Although Beiser refers to as an opera, it has also been her goal to make a piece that was compact enough to take on tour. "Usually, when you do a production like that," she says, "you have weeks if not months in a particular space where you build it and you have everything at your disposal. So it was difficult to do something movable and tour-able and not so big that no one will ever be able to afford it.”
In November 2011, Beiser, the choreographer and the project's four dancers met for a workshop at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Center to work out the pieces choreography. In April 2012, the team took up residence at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) in New York City to develop . "[Erin Cassida Wilson] created the text for the story and she's really depicting a woman, a modern woman," says Beiser. "So there is this sense of ancient and modern that happens together in that piece. So it's kind of bringing it more to our lives now...I don't want to give away too much of the story. The impact is really there when you are experiencing it, when you hear it and see it and are immersed in the experience."
The world premiere of took place in Chapel Hill, North Carolina on 11 October 2012. A series of performances followed at BAM in New York City from 17 to 20 October.
Since then, Maya Beiser has developed two new programmes. Famous for her multimedia projects that bring together composers and video artists, the first is a solo project, , which focuses on videos by Bill Morrison. It received its world premiere at the 2013 Orphans Midwest Film Symposium at Indiana University. The world premiere of a version for cello, drums and bass guitar took place in March 2014 at the Yerba Buena Center, San Francisco. The second, , is a new work by Jaroslaw Kapuscinski for cello and Japanese Shō. It includes 3D projections from the OpenEndedGroup and had its world premiere on 7 December 2013 in Stanford University. Both projects are once again examples of Maya Beiser’s refusal to adhere to the boundaries of the traditional cello recital. On 24 February 2014, she performed David Lang’s in London’s Southbank Centre with the BBC Concert Orchestra under Keith Lockhart. The work, which was written especially for her, received its world premiere in 2010 with the Norrlands Operans Symfoniorkester in Umea.
"In my opinion, the UPO is one of the best in Russia, which means in Europe as well, as the level of the Russian musicians is very high. (…) One of the main qualities of this orchestra is its unbelievable temperament and ability to stand for each other. This is a very important quality and it greatly impresses me every time." – Vadim Repin
In comparison to the media hype around some Russian conductor colleagues, Dmitry Liss shies away from the limelight – at least offstage. German media such as Süddeutsche Zeitung, or only recently took note of the groundbreaking, excellent cultural work in faraway Yekaterinburg. Indeed, Europe heard little news from this region since Sverdlovsk was the birthplace of the defence and nuclear power industries in Soviet times, and was thus completely cut off from the outside world.
The success story of Dmitry Liss, the Artistic Director of the Ural Philharmonic Orchestra and Alexander Kolotursky, the Director of the Sverdlovsk State Philharmony, which also comprises a choir and a youth orchestra, began in the mid-nineties. Over 18 years, Liss and Kolotursky gradually elevated the UPO to an international level and the Philharmony became a landmark in the city. Today, the orchestra is considered one of the best in Russia. Remarkably, not a single orchestra musician was laid off in the process. Liss rather attempted to bring everyone on board and to change the overall attitude. "Everything has changed since then," says Liss in a conversation with the magazine Das Orchester. "Most of all, the self-confidence of the orchestra, its attitude. When I came, the musicians were very introverted, even frustrated. At the same time, the orchestra has existed for more than 70 years and is one of the oldest Russian ensembles. Even 18 years ago, it had an excellent reputation. But among Russian musicians! Abroad, it was unknown and it didn’t play a role in the city."
Just how professionally the Philharmony in Yekaterinburg works and how forward-thinking it is, is documented in the extensive pedagogical work and an association of friends with 24,000 members, but most significantly by the interconnectedness with even the smallest village in the Sverdlovsk region. Each concert which Dmitry Liss conducts at the Philharmony is broadcast via broadband internet connection to more than twenty cultural centres and libraries in the entire region.
As the only external orchestra with its own series at the Mariinsky Theatre, the UPO’s artistic standing is widely acknowledged in Russia. Beyond Russia, the distinguished and cosmopolitan chief conductor Dmitry Liss and his orchestra also enjoy an excellent reputation. He regularly leads the UPO at the Folles Journées (also in 2014 in Nantes with a focus on American music, concert.arte.tv ) and at the Salle Pleyel. Their first guest performance at the Beethovenfest Bonn in September 2013 generated enthusiastic applause and standing ovations. Dmitry Liss has recently worked with the Orchestre National de Paris, Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, Netherlands Radio Symphony Orchestra, Residentie Orkest, the Hungarian National Philharmonic and Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra, amongst others.
His commitment to lesser-known and modern Russian repertoire is an integral part of Dmitry Liss’ profile, for instance the oeuvre of Nikolai Miaskovsky, a student of Rimsky-Korsakov’s and companion of Prokofiev’s, whose symphonies he regularly includes in his programmes. In addition, Liss has recorded works by Avet Terteryan and Galina Ustvolskaya with the Ural Philharmoic Orchestra. His open and self-assured stance is met with great approval by soloists such as Boris Berezovsky, Vadim Repin and Denis Matsuev.
"The UPO is astonishingly flexible and can perform any program.(…) This Orchestra has its own style, its own taste and, I would say, its own musical texture as its strings are simply unique. It also demonstrates the highest level of ensemble teamwork when any movement of a soloist is caught by the orchestra and the conductor." – Denis Matsuev
Admittedly, there is quite an accumulation of engagements in Friedrich Cerha’s concert diary just short of his 88th birthday, but in this instance, this ought not to cause too many logistical problems at least: the two upcoming world premieres will take place approximately 150 km away from each other as the crow flies – less than one and a half hours by train. The Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra (hr-Sinfonieorchester) under Andrés Orozco-Estrada (for whom this concert will be his last as principle conductor of the orchestra) will give the world premiere of Tagebuch für Orchester on 6 February. The following day, Drei Orchesterstücke can be heard for the first time in the Kölner Philharmonie, performed by the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne under the direction of Jukka-Pekka Saraste.
Friedrich Cerha has shaped the music world in his native Austria as much through his compositions as through his work as conductor and co-founder of the ensemble "die reihe" since the late 1950s. It is for this reason that he has long been considered the doyen of New Music in Austria. In the meantime, he was well known abroad for his congenial completion of Alban Berg’s opera Lulu. However, international awareness of this great composer has been completely transformed over the last decade with an impressive array of late works. Orchestral works such as Instants (WDR Symphony Orchestra), Like a Tragicomedy (BBC Philharmonic Orchestra) and Kammermusik für Orchester (Radio Symphony Orchestra Vienna), solo works including Konzert für Schlagzeug und Orchester (Martin Grubinger, Mozarteum Orchestra Salzburg) and his opera Der Präsident, which received its world premiere in 2013 at the Gärtnerplatz Theatre in Munich with the Volksoper Wien, are proof of tremendous creative energy. Cerha’s international success was recognised in 2012 with the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize.
In this context, a younger generation of musicians has also discovered his earlier works for themselves. Fellow composers including Johannes Maria Staud have waxed lyrical about the orchestra cycle Spiegel: "What continues to baffle me today is how fresh and unworn, how visionary and exciting this music sounds even fifty years after it was created. The uncompromising and economical way in which it was composed and the innovativeness of its notation and orchestration go hand-in-hand with an unbelievable bounty of sweet and iridescent, coalescent and eruptive, bizarre and unforgettable moments." Elena Mendoza first got to know the piece after listening to the complete recordings on KAIROS. In her enthusiasm for this work, she regretted that she had not discovered it sooner; her development as a composer would surely have taken a different course.
Friedrich Cerha has often commented with his own mild irony on the fact that, at almost 90, he is still adding new works to his oeuvre year after year. On many occasions, audiences at world premieres of his works must have wondered whether they were hearing his last great work. Orchesterstücke offer yet another chance to do so as Cerha makes explicit reference to the circle of life. On the origin of the work, he explains, "in 2006 when I was 80; an age in which one feels compelled to reflect on things, how the world has changed during one’s lifetime, how the world has changed one as a person and how one sees the world differently during the course of one’s life. I was imagining three pieces for orchestra, which would be connected to these thoughts."
The point of departure was the Berceuse céleste, which was premiered by the RSO Stuttgart under Eliahu Inbal in 2008. He defines this first of the three orchestra pieces as "free from the oppressing pull of gravity; it has a somewhat childish naivety to it, a being in which all experiences are just beginning, which does not yet pass judgment, which does not think in terms of values." Between this lullaby and the piece entitled Tombeau, which deals with the transition to death, is a piece full of emotion, fractures, convulsions, which Cerha labelled "despite its length, slightly tongue-in-cheek, Intermezzo."
Those who get the opportunity to attend both world premieres will hear in Tagebuch a work that bears a family resemblance of sorts to Orchesterstücken that originated shortly after the latter was completed. Friedrich Cerha describes these short pieces as "transparent in setting and easily comprehended," in which he has developed several musical situations from Drei Orchesterstücken further. "The composition is called Tagebuch because almost every piece was written in one day," he said.
Both world premieres will be broadcast on the radio and Tagebuch can be watched via live-stream on Arte Live Web on 7 February.
The next world premiere can be heard in October when the SWR Symphony Orchestra will perform Cerha’s orchestral work Nacht.
One can say that the violinist Ilya Gringolts has had the career of a child prodigy and one would not be far off: after studying violin as a child in Saint Petersburg with Tatiana Liberova, the story goes that Itzhak Perlman was made aware of the young violinist after watching a video of him. Sometime later, Ilya Gringolts was to be a student of Perlman’s at the Juilliard School in New York. He also made a name for himself as the youngest winner in the history of the Premio Paganini International Violin Competition and is a regular performer in famous concert halls such as Wigmore Hall as a BBC New Generation Artist.
However, from a tender age Ilya Gringolts’ wunderkind image was perhaps more rough around the edges than is normally the case. He always liked to call the shots, as his impressive discography shows. Before signing a contract with Deutsche Grammophon at the age of 20, he had already recorded works by Berio, Ysaÿe and Paganini with BIS Records. His debut album with DG consisted of violin concertos by Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Itzhak Perlman. Ilya Gringolts has now come full circle from his very first album Paganini that he recorded in 1999 with a new recording of Paganini’s 24 caprices for solo violin released on Orchid Classics in November 2013.
One of the violinist’s specialties are his performances of baroque repertoire with a baroque violin and bow. He sometimes even changes from a modern to a historical instrument in the middle of a concert. He explains, in his undogmatic manner that, "it is simply easier to play baroque music on historical instruments because the music was written to be performed on them. The thin sound of a baroque violin, for example, goes much better with that of a cembalo and a flatter bridge allows more polyphonic freedom in Bach’s solo works. A lighter and more flexible baroque bow also makes fast ornaments easier to handle." Ilya Gringolts is increasingly playing more New Music, and with gusto. Recently, he has been much in demand for performances of concertos by Schönberg, Adams, Weinberg, Ligeti and Prokofiev, among others. The study of contemporary compositions is also a matter that is close to his heart.
The father of three who now lives in Zurich is never short of exciting repertoire and prestigious invitations: alongside regular appearances as a soloist with renowned orchestras, solo recitals and chamber music projects, he fulfilled another musical dream when he founded the Gringolts String Quartet in 2008. Highlights of the 2013/2014 season include concerts with the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, at the Salzburger Festspiele (with the Gringolts Quartet), in the Concertgebouw Amsterdam and in the Musikverein in Vienna to name but a few. There is one passion, however, that Ilya Gringolts feels he has missed out on, as he explained in an interview in 2011: "Since leaving music college, I have hardly played in any large symphony orchestras, which is something I always found highly enjoyable. Particularly when you are sitting somewhere at the back of the second violins, right in the middle of the orchestra, and you can enjoy this stereo effect – that’s fantastic." Fans of Ilya Gringolts’ will probably be happy that the second violins’ loss is their gain.
Without light, there would be no darkness, without darkness there would be no light. This dualism illustrates the pulse of life itself completely and has inspired a vast number of works throughout cultural history. The organist Bernard Foccroulle, who is also well-known around the world as a composer and director of the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, works with artists from a wide range of different fields. Together with the video artist Lynette Wallworth, he captures the roll of light and darkness in music and nature.
Light and Darkness, a work for organ composed by Sofia Gubaidulina, acts as an opening and thematic inspiration for the programme, which consists of a combination of baroque music (Buxtehude) and twentieth century music (Messiaen and Hosokawa, among others). These works lead the listener right into the centre of this contrast, which is deeply anchored in the theological thinking of the baroque era and has characterised organ literature over the centuries through numerous motifs and trends.
Lynette Wallworth on her inspiration for this project:
In conceiving my work for Darkness and Light, I am interested in the use of particular repetitions of geometric imagery in cave art that has been speculated as emerging out of trance. This is thought by some ethno-anthropologists to be the very origins of visual art itself. This intensity of darkness and the effects it can induce in the resulting imagery is what I will explore in Darkness and Light. This seems to blend beautifully with the program of pieces selected by Bernard to be presented in churches, cathedrals and concert halls, where the notion of transcendence was/is at the heart of the structure. I am interested in creating imagery to heighten the sense of the music and the ability to lose one's self in it, and to use the intensity of darkness and a reflection of entopic imagery to generate a new set of images for contemplation.
The conceptual pair Darkness and Light can also stand for the dichotomy of day and night, vitality and destruction, happiness and terror. In the context of Gubaidulina’s life and work, for example, light and darkness can be interpreted as hope and despair under a totalitarian regime.
Lynette Wallworth’s video art manages to easily build on these aspects and adds another facet: in her work which is closely connected with the cycles of nature, the Australian explores light as well as the influence that darkness has on human experience. Her contemporary visions, which accompany the music, merge with the sound experience and invite the audience to rediscover the interplay of contrasts as something worth treasuring. Thus, in Darkness and Light, Lynette Wallworth and Bernard Foccroulle warn against the destruction of nature, which determines the rhythm of every life.
17 March 2014: Cathédrale Saint Michel et Sainte Gudule , Brussels
11 April 2014: , London
22 April 2014: , Église Saint-Jean-de-Malte, Aix-en-Provence
29 September 2014: Philharmonie Luxemburg
Antje Weithaas is used to leading concerts from the concertmaster’s desk. Following two years as artist in residence with the Kammerakademie Potsdam, she has held the post of artistic director of the Camerata Bern, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2012, since 2009.
Leading an experienced ensemble with a long tradition is a welcome challenge, she explains. Although the repertoire of the Camerata, which consists of 14 core string players, may be predominantly new for the violinist who is highly sought-after worldwide as a soloist with large orchestras and chamber musicians, the style of working is not. "I take an awful lot from my chamber music experiences into my work with the Camerata," says Antje Weithaas, who enjoys great success with her Arcanto Quartet and partners such as Lars Vogt, Christian Tetzlaff and Silke Avenhaus. She adds that in a chamber music context, the personal responsibility and creativity of each individual is required. On the parallels between her different fields of work, she says, "Whatever the ensemble, my ideal of playing music together consists of listening to one another, evolving together and communicating with one another."
However, practice plays an important role before this musical experience can happen; something she recently described in The Strad classical music magazine as an exploration of the emotional content of each note in the overall structure. That may seem obvious, but the violinist, who also holds a professorship at the Hanns Eisler School of Music Berlin, stresses the importance of having a personal understanding of each work. Without this, an interpretational concept of "sound, phrasing, articulation and rhetoric" remains uninspired. Antje Weithaas summarises her role in a large chamber ensemble thus; "body language, a strong vision, suggestions from my side, personal responsibility from each individual."
Camerata Bern’s anniversary season was an exciting one: alongside a stimulating concert programme, a CD of Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata arranged for strings and his String Quartet No. 11 in F minor op. 95, arranged by Mahler was recorded. The addition of wind and further string instruments extended the repertoire possibilities, allowing the Camerata to push the boundaries of its repertoire, for instance by including Beethoven’s symphonies in its programme. "With our chamber music roots, we are able to achieve a stronger transparency than with a larger instrumentation. Many listeners reported that they were able to discern details in the score which they had previously missed," explains Antje Weithaas.
Another feature of the 50th anniversary season were the encores: 20 composers of contemporary music wrote short works especially for the ensemble, adding a very personal touch to mark Camerata Bern’s long tradition of high class music-making.
Voices in the Head – an interview with Samir Odeh-Tamimi
Contrary to what his name may suggest, Samir Odeh-Tamimi is a German composer through and through. Of Palestinian-Israeli nationality, it is in Germany where he studied musicology and composition and where for some 15 years now Ensemble Modern, musikFabrik, the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and the WDR choir, among others, have performed his works. "I have lived here for over 20 years now, but normally nobody thinks of asking me about what is German about my music", he says with a laugh. "I would prefer to speak of what is Western about my music, anyway. New Music is not strictly speaking a German but a Western movement, and it’s the same with the avant-garde in the visual arts."
"I absorbed Western culture and, by now, know much more about it than I do about the culture I come from. But the culture I come from still remains as a memory, everything that happened up to a certain age has been 'saved'. However, it’s just now that I am beginning to reconnect with the Arabic world in a very strong way."
But before we lose ourselves in a discussion about national categories, I ask him what all this means for his artistic work and his compositional style. "I think I can say that I have a musical language that is all my own. It all started with a Quran reciter from Egypt, Sheikh Abdul Basit. At first, his singing struck me as so very similar to the music of Scelsi, by the way, and I used to believe that Scelsi must have known him, from the years he spent in Cairo. This reciter moved my so deeply when I was a child that I imitated his way of singing. Later, when I came to Bremen, I analysed his voice with a computer in the electronic studio. It was amazing. Imagine writing something like that for clarinet! I realised very quickly that no Western musician would be able to imitate that, not in the slightest. All these ornaments, the vibratos, the glissandi – this musical practice is so different from what we have here.” And then I started working on the most miniscule nuances of Arabic music. This microtonal level and the microscopic durational dimension as well, were more interesting to me than an entire melody or mode. I composed large pieces of music from just these small nuances."
For Samir Odeh-Tamimi, it has always been the human voice that most inspired him. In his teenage years, he toured Israel as a keyboard player and percussionist with an ensemble that often enough was the first one to play the archaic traditional songs on modern instruments. "I only knew this music from women, mothers, grandmothers. We took it and made a sort of art music from it, by playing the music of the common folks in a more refined manner.
"But then again, only a part of what I do derives from these sources, just an idea, but the music exceeds all that. Of course, Western music has had a strong influence on me – I keep coming back to Scelsi and Iannis Xenakis. And Luigi Nono. I neglected his music for quite a while, but now it intrigues me. Beethoven, too. Back in Israel, he was the composer par excellence for me."
Another inspiration for Samir Odeh-Tamimi’s music that has grown stronger in recent years seems to be Sufism. "It’s the ritual that interests me," he says of this influence, which also has a biographical source. "The Muslim tradition doesn’t mean much to me nowadays. I’m not religious, but my ancestors were all Sufis. Not just as a confession but as a practice. That includes renunciation of all material possessions. My grandfather was the head of a group of Sufis and oversaw the ritual every night. He brought me with him three or four times because I was good at playing a very slow rhythm on the drum. That made a big impression on me. Very often, when I am composing, I see them dancing in front of me. I don’t usually reference them in my music, though. That has only happened in two of my works so far – in Into Istanbul, which I composed for Ensemble Modern, and in Rituale. The last three minutes, when the entire orchestra breaks loose and it is up to the percussionist to hold everything together – that comes from Sufism. Maybe also some small parts of my opera Leila and Madschnun.
"For me, composing is a ritual," he says about what may be the more important aspect of the spiritual practice of his ancestors. He would like this ritualistic character to come across in the performances of his works as well – with regard to both the musicians and the audience. "Scelsi did that. On one of his CDs, a piano suite, it says: if you are not in the right frame of mind, you shouldn’t listen to it. I think it’s wonderful that he demands that." A demand which may be hard to enforce, however, given a culture where conductors hop on the plane right after the performance, musicians answer requests from their smartphones during rehearsals and audiences rush through tightly packed festival programmes. But at least in the compositional process, Samir Odeh-Tamimi, seeks to retain a sense of ritual. "I scaled down my life and don’t want to conduct, be a professor, or run a festival," he explains.
This focus, being receptive to subtlety and intuition is important to him. "I’m with Wolfgang Rihm on this one, who said that music emerges from the moment rather than from technique, mathematical processes or algorithms. My music evolves in me while I am taking a walk, sitting here or looking at a painting by Van Gogh or Picasso.
"With me, it all comes very much from listening. I can stand somewhere and look at the horizon, and then there is a sound, I hear something. I hear music, an orchestra piece. I remember the first meetings with my teacher Younghi Pagh-Paan. I said, ‘I’m hearing an entire piece of music,’ and she replied: ‘Great! Let’s try and write it down.’
"I don’t do any of this intentionally, though." His composition Shira Shir, for instance, which is based on the Song of the Murdered Jewish People by the Polish writer Jizchak Katzenelson, started with a vocal part that floated around in his head. "But I couldn’t handle what I was hearing. It was not before I finished the orchestration that I could write the baritone part, in just three hours straight. I never believed that could happen. It was in my head for months. I always woke up with it."
"And then my piece for Donaueschingen… Over a period of three months, I didn’t sleep for more than two hours a night, just because these three women in my head kept on yelling day and night." When premiered in Donaueschingen, Gdadrója was a "giant yell" for him. "But the work is more than just that – it’s a piece of art, it is music, a dynamic and dramatic process." And he opposes what he considers the dominating conception of beauty in contemporary music. "Nowadays music aesthetics has become so different from what it used to be in the 1960s and 1970s. There are so many established composers who just want to make music that is beautiful, comfortable and not in any case too emotional or too close. I reject this concept of music which amounts to nothing more than sheer beauty. This is not to say that I make a stance against it or yell against it. Rather, I am intense. I demand that you listen to me.
"I always thought of art as a message, and not just as a …" "Massage?" "Yes, precisely. A work like Shattíla, for instance, is also a political statement. I don’t have a political agenda, though, but you could say that I am politically aware. I am very close to Luigi Nono in that regard."
And which topics will matter to him in the near future? "The Arab Spring – all the masses of people that take to the streets, they moved me musically in a very profound way. When I saw these protests, I really heard music.
"And I will certainly return to Western topics as well," he says to kindly save the thesis we started with. "As I did with Hinter der Mauer, a cantata based on a text by Christian Lehnert, which received its premiere by the RIAS Kammerchor and the ensemble musikFabrik to mark the 20th anniversary of German reunification."
Nina Rohlfs, 04/2012 | Translation: Christoph Dennerlein
On 30 September Michael Wendeberg conducts the Ensemble Modern at the Alte Oper as part of the Musikfest Frankfurt. The festival’s theme is “Fremd bin ich” (“I am a stranger”); as such, the concert explores the space between life and death as the ultimate experience of strangeness. On the programme are works by Schubert, Gérard Grisey and Mark Andre; the soloist will be Anna Palimina....
The ensemble mosaik will premiere a new work by Samir Odeh-Tamimi at the Berlin pyramidale festival on 29 September as part of a multi-media music theatre evening. Capricornus for soprano, speaker and ensemble is composed after poems by Etel Adnan on the relationship between nature and man....
Nocturnes in Japan
Claire Huangci will tour Japan with music by Beethoven and Scriabin as well as Chopin’s Préludes and Nocturnes – her recent recording of which was critically acclaimed – making appearances in Nagoya, Tokyo, Yokohama and Tako between 27 and 30 September....
Class of 1803
As an illustrious biographer of Beethoven as well as a conductor Jan Caeyers has created a stir. In Innsbruck on 26 September he will reconstruct a programme given by Beethoven’s academy on 5 April 1803 together with his orchestra Le Concert Olympique and the Arnold Schoenberg Chor. This concert is part of a tour that also encompasses the Beethovenfest Bonn, Antwerp and Amsterdam....
Kein Licht and Ring
Philippe Manoury is represented at this year’s Festival Musica with the French premieres of two major works: both his opera Kein Licht, recently premiered at the Ruhrtriennale, as well as Ring - the first part of his large-scale trilogy of spatial works for the Gürzenich Orchestra Cologne under François-Xavier Roth - will be performed in Strasbourg between 22 and 25 September....
The Royal Danish Orchestra will give the world premiere of Johannes Maria Staud’s new orchestral work Stromab on 22 September under conductor Alexander Vedernikov. Inspired by the short story The Willows by Algernon Blackwood, the work will then be given further national premieres by two other leading international orchestras this season....
Beethoven and beyond
The Bochum Symphony’s performance of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis at the closing concert of the Ruhrtriennale also provides the orchestra with the starting point for their Beethoven focus, which includes the composer’s piano concertos performed by Kit Armstrong over three concerts from the 21st September, accompanied by the Symphony No. 5....
Love and Power
From the 20th September, Marc Soustrot conducts Manon Lescaut in Stockholm. Premiered in 1893, Puccini’s opera about love and power was his first operatic success. In Stockholm it will be presented in a production by Knut Hendriksen....
Monumental in Montreal
As soloist in Mahler's "Symphony of a Thousand", Sarah Wegener will perform together with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra under Kent Nagano on 19 and 21 September. During her stint in Montreal she will also appear in a Lied recital with music by Wolf, Fauré and Brahms....
Faust on screen
Alejo Pérez’s debut with the Vienna Philharmonic at the 2016 Salzburg Festival, leading Reinhard von der Thannen’s new production of Charles Gounod’s Faust, was praised as “a great achievement” (Online Musik Magazin). Now, the acclaimed production, featuring Piotr Beczala in the title role of Goethe’s tragic hero, is available to relive on DVD....