A drama of salvation: Toshio Hosokawa’s opera ‘Matsukaze’

CR Hoffmann LaRoche, Emanuel Ammon

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.

Nina Rohlfs, 04/2015 | Translation: Celia Wynne Willson

Interview with Toshio Hosokawa: Ilka Seifert

6 – 9/4/2017
Brussels, Théâtre national

21 – 23/4/2017
Warsaw, Polish National Opera

Four & More

CR Alexander Banck-Petersen

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.

Nina Rohlfs, 02/2017

Creative freedom – welcoming Charlotte Bray

CR Dawkes

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.”

Sam Johnstone, 01/2017

A new home for Bochum

CR Ingo Otto - Lutz Leitmann

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:

Opening concert (ARTE Concert):
Season brochure:

The violin is my voice – Antje Weithaas

CR Giorgia Bertazzi

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!

Sam Johnstone, 11/2016

Happy Birthday, Hans Zender!

CR Lechner

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.

Playing with a following wind – Tabea Zimmermann

CR Marco Borggreve

"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.”

Nina Rohlfs, 09/2016 | Translation: Celia Wynne Willson

GrauSchumacher pay homage to Busoni’s ‘visionary spirit’ in 150th year

CR Dietmar Scholz

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.”

Sam Johnstone, 08/2016

Picking up the baton: a portrait of Pierre Bleuse

CR Romain Serrano

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."

Nina Rohlfs, 07/2016 | Translation: Celia Wynne Willson

That’s actually me – an interview with Händl Klaus and Georg Friedrich Haas

CR René Gebhardt

Following Bluthaus and Thomas, KOMA has completed the trilogy of operas that have been written by the composer Georg Friedrich Haas and the librettist Händl Klaus. In the run-up to the world premiere at the Schwetzinger SWR Festspiele in May 2016, the trilogy’s creators explained how they complement each other when implementing existential subject matter and what roles proximity and identification play in the writing process.

KW: Bluthaus, premiered here in Schwetzingen in 2011, was your first joint opera. How did you meet?

GFH: (laughs) Very traditionally through a marriage broker. Georges Delnon.

That’s an artistic director’s job – it was obviously a good idea of his to bring the two of you together to work on Bluthaus. I assume that at that point it wasn’t clear it would become a trilogy.

HK: I have to say that I already knew I was full of material for Georg. Enough to fill a lifetime and more.

If I am correct in thinking you, Mr. Haas, let the librettist work in peace and then set to on the material once he has finished.

GFH: I had a crucial experience with Jon Fosse who wrote a libretto for me based on his novel Melancholia. When I saw it I was deeply disappointed because the novel’s great complexity was missing. I seriously thought about tweaking it myself. It was only after the second or third performance that the scales fell from my eyes and I realised that Fosse had projected the four plot strands of his novel into one story for the opera. The outcome of this experience is that I trust librettists of a certain calibre, even if I’m not blown away initially. I do something that a proper avant-garde composer never does: I compose alongside the text. I really enjoy following the formal specifications of the libretto. Klaus’s libretti are so ingenious and complex that there’s really no need for me to lose any sleep – Händl Klaus has already done the work.      

Mr. Händl, do you have a certain kind of music in mind when you write a libretto?

HK: I follow a very strong inner music when I write. I hear the different instruments and have to put rhythms to them, fed of course by listening to Georg’s music. I move in Georg’s world. The only thing is that this inner music, this preliminary music that I conceive is a far cry from Georg’s creative genius. Luckily I always receive the score and piano reduction (unfortunately I can only get a rough idea as I am a poor reader of scores) because I’m always hungry to get a first glimpse. Then comes the piano dress rehearsal and that’s when the release begins. Up until now it was always staggering, the greatest happiness imaginable. Imagine sitting for so long on a libretto and suddenly this animal or swarm comes to life as if after a long pupation.    

Mr. Haas, do you sometimes also view the musical quality of texts as a constraint? It doesn’t leave much leeway.  

GFH: Quite the contrary, it is a challenge and a gift. It can be most clearly seen in Bluthaus. Here the ancient term inspiration most definitely applies. There are 14 speaking roles: those who are interested in buying the house. I went to the trouble of copying the libretto into an Excel spreadsheet with one column for each actor in order to uncover the form. And that’s when it became clear to me just how sophisticated and musical Händl Klaus’s work was – like how post-serialist composers imitate the gestures of reality through free invention. It would do damage if I were to force my own formal concepts through.    

Where did you get the idea to use actors in Bluthaus?

HK: At our first meeting we were already thinking about which registers to use. It was quickly apparent that the family, the people who are the most emotionally affected, as well as the parents’ ghosts should sing. And those outside the family should speak. This friction is indeed a wonderful achievement from my perspective as a listener of your composition.  

GFH: The combination of sung and spoken word is an old ambition of mine, also from the practical consideration that the sung word is never one hundred percent intelligible even with experienced singers. I am very happy that there are also actors involved in KOMA. To some extent they generate islands of understanding in a wide musical river. 

One suffering person is at the heart of each of the three operas – an abused woman, a dying man and a coma patient.

GFH: In Thomas the suffering person is actually the one that survives, the bereaved partner who has lost a lover. Nadja in Bluthaus is also suffering a terrible loss, that of her parents. The sense of basic trust between a child and its parents has been destroyed.

HK: In Thomas there’s a vigil by the body when the past life is evoked. Feelings of guilt come up for discussion. When Matthias comes back to life – at least for Thomas – Matthias is forced into a reasoning during which things are discussed that, as in KOMA and Bluthaus, involve the life lived. Man is shown as someone who also lives from the past and whose identity draws upon it.    

The resources in Thomas are heavily reduced: there are a maximum of four people on stage and the orchestra is really just a group of plucked instruments.

GFH: That may be the case for the number of people involved. But according to the score I used 1,900 different tone pitches in the work. I wouldn’t class that as a reduction in resources from a purely objective point of view. Thomas must surely be in the Guinness World Records for its use of microtonality. That isn’t the case for the singers who try to start singing in tempered tuning against the orchestra. A lot happens in this piece sound wise.  

HK: You even composed the detuning of the instruments in the score.

GFH: I also made sure that the purity of the chords dwindles during the course of the opera because the tuning doesn’t stay the same.

I wondered whether the fact that you ventured into such intimacy in Thomas had something to do with your experience with Bluthaus. It’s hard to imagine starting with a piece like that or am I wrong?

HK: Thomas was burning in my soul. I told Georg about this straight after the premiere of Bluthaus and then the theatre’s electricity cut out and we were standing in darkness. It was a sign. I would never have dared to write it without knowing his music because dying on stage per se is obscene. I think it is the most intimate process that we know. I need the music that speaks for those affected on stage, that takes the evil wind out of the sails, that actually renders voyeurism impossible in that it makes something audible with such tenderness that the audience understands immediately. All at once I, the listener, am one of those affected on stage. That has to do with the great amount of empathy that is unique to you.    

GFH: I wouldn’t interpret the term voyeurism as negatively as you because opera is an inherently voyeuristic genre. Just think of opera glasses. Every traditionally good opera attends to voyeurism. We observe how people make love, kill themselves, we watch them die. I think it is necessary to present on the stage the way people die these days. Dying during a duel was a very realistic prospect for a certain social class in the 19th century. For us, however, it’s much more realistic to lie in a hospital like Matthias. However it is, as you say this additional step into identification which overcomes the voyeurism. I write my operas with the heartfelt intention of identifying myself with one of the figures. When I was composing Bluthaus I was Nadja. I composed everything from Nadja’s perspective and I also look for a stage production that allows me to identify. The same goes for Thomas where you empathise with the painfully suffering lovers. Like when you watch Fidelio – you are Florestan at some point. The difficulty with KOMA was that this person only existed unrealistically. That’s why Michaela has to be in the audience, so that every last person realises: aha that’s actually me.       

My impression is that all of these works only tolerate minimal staging because the language and music are so strong and the subject deals with internal processes. Perhaps you as the librettist, however, have a special openness with the director just like you are also able to entrust your text to the composer.

HK: I think that the much-maligned “Regietheater” or director’s theatre achieves something that no conventional stage direction can, namely it can affect me in an unexpected way, by using a detour or a paradoxical method, and live up to the work in its fundamentality. That can occasionally mean supposedly destroying it. I am quite open to that. I believe that faithfulness to the original is a delusion anyway. It already makes a tremendous difference which singer or conductor takes on the role. 

GFH: I share your enthusiasm for Regietheater under one condition: that it focuses on works where the content and message is clear. Regietheater is necessary if a work has been created under very different social and theatrical requirements. But when I write a piece of music theatre today I want to be as clear as possible. That means I don’t approach the libretto at an ironic distance, and I achieve an infinite strength in that we are both pulling together. If a production tries to set a counterpoint against it, it is doomed to fail. Of course that doesn’t mean that one cannot adjust the score. But the work’s intention cannot be overridden. One of the most beautiful productions I had was Morgen und Abend. Graham Vick is an advocate of Regietheater but he was aware that everything moves in one direction in this work. It does not require stage direction as a critical instance but as the effort to set on stage the amalgamation of text and music as a dramatic experience, precisely because it is a contemporary work.     

Mr. Händl, you make films – your latest feature film, Tomcat, recently won the Teddy Award at the Berlin International Film Festival. You’re obviously very experienced when it comes to visual material. Are you not tempted to produce the operas yourself? 

HK: Only in one case: I would really like to direct Thomas. It is the most significant piece of work that I have ever done, head and shoulders above the rest.

In all three operas you touched upon taboo subjects. Incest, dying on stage and now, albeit implicitly, suicide. Do you consciously deal with these provocative topics? 

HK: Never. I find provocation completely uninteresting. I want to explore man in all his defencelessness, which I myself am. I now have clothes on my back and the good fortune to be in a beautiful city in one of the richest countries in the world. But one little displacement could be enough to end up on a psychiatric ward. I could have a stroke tomorrow. Not knowing wherefrom, what, how, why and where to: that’s what bothers me. I wouldn’t know what’s provocative about that.           

GFH: I have composed operas with my own libretti based on texts by Hölderlin, on Kafka and the Inquisition and Ovid, I wrote one opera with Jon Fosse about a mentally ill painter in the 19th century. And I was never asked why I chose those subjects. But as soon as we present a topic that affects us all, the motto is: for heaven’s sake, why are you letting someone die in hospital? Well that is exactly what we have to do in order to allow opera to survive!   

HK: One gets precariously close. There’s no getting away from it.

GFH: Something I personally see as one of my greatest successes was when a whole load of people started sobbing in the audience during the second or third performance of Thomas, they really wept. Just like a hundred years ago at La Bohème. I write quite possibly the most microtonal opera of all time with 1,900 verifiable tone pitches and the most subtle tonal system and I make people cry. Brilliant!    

Interview: Karsten Witt, 05/2016 | Translation: Celia Wynne Willson

Jonathan Stockhammer on Georg Friedrich Haas’s ‘KOMA’

CR Bärbl Hohmann

On 27 May Jonathan Stockhammer will conduct the world premiere of the final part of Georg Friedrich Haas's “Schwetzingen Trilogy”. His opera KOMA, created again in collaboration with the dramatist Händl Klaus, deals with borderline experiences of human existence, as do the previous parts of the trilogy Bluthaus and Thomas. “KOMA is about the experience of someone being held in a suspended state between life and death, and of the people around her”, the conductor explains.

“In this piece we have an unusual set of circumstances”, Jonathan Stockhammer continues. “For better or for worse, everybody who is involved in the performance, that is the audience, the singers, the orchestra, the technicians, are subject to the same coma-like feeling, expressed by an absolute lack of visual information – which means pure darkness.” Both technically and psychologically, this darkness, which is interrupted only occasionally by a gloaming and even less often by "normal" light, has diverse consequences says Stockhammer: “The orchestra cannot read the music, the stage manager cannot read the directions to move the stage. As I learned from my experience, perception changes tremendously, and there is no debating the fact that the musicians play incredibly differently. Even the audience is not used to sitting in pure black darkness. Everybody is involved in a different psychological process”.

Making use of this situation is not entirely new for Georg Friedrich Haas. His String Quartet No. 3 is performed in total darkness, as are passages from perhaps his best known piece, the orchestral work in vain. For Jonathan Stockhammer, the role of darkness gains yet another dimension in the dramatic context of opera. He describes it as a means to dissolve the proscenium, the invisible "fourth wall" between stage and auditorium. “In this piece we are not only looking at somebody who is in a coma from an outsider’s point of view. We start feeling insecure about the question of whether we ourselves are coming closer to the state of being in a coma, whether we begin to perceive things from this person’s point of view. The composer puts us in the situation of being amongst these people who are trying to communicate with the woman who is not dead, who is not gone but who is also not really there. We will sense all these attempts around us to communicate and we will feel intimately connected with this.”

For Jonathan Stockhammer, the subject of the opera became even more relatable when he had an unexpected experience following a meeting with Georg Friedrich Haas in New York. “I landed in Berlin, and needed to shake off both the cobwebs of sitting in an airplane and also the deep impact of reading the libretto for KOMA on the way back. I decided to go to my favourite outdoor swimming pool. As I was swimming I saw a teenager down at the bottom of the pool. I kept my eye on him for a few seconds, and I realised this was not OK. Together with another lady who witnessed this I dove down and picked him up.” In fact, the young man was unconscious and was immediately taken to hospital where he lay in a coma for a week. “To this day his family, he and I are in contact”, says Stockhammer. “This experience gave me a very strange uncanny connection to the piece.”

The conductor already had a close connection to Georg Friedrich Haas's music before he started working on KOMA. When he first conducted in vain in Schwetzingen in 2013 Jonathan Stockhammer not only gained experience in the effects of conducting in complete darkness in the concert hall. He was also able to immerse himself completely in the musical world of the composer who was present in Schwetzingen at the same time for the premiere of his opera Thomas. “Both Thomas and in vain also border territories between consciousness and sub-consciousness or unconsciousness, between light and darkness”, says Stockhammer. “Haas allows the musician and the listener to enter into an area of altered consciousness.”

Jonathan Stockhammer describes the change in the perception of space as the central effect of darkness. “Normally we localise the orchestra coming from ‘over there’ in the pit only because we see them, whereas a lot of the sound information in modern concert halls really comes from behind us. The people who heard in vain noticed that as soon as the light goes to zero, you feel that the orchestra is all around you – some instruments are behind you, some are above you, some are moving. This magical feeling contributes in an opera setting. This opera is a dramatic journey between life and death, between perception and non-perception. In the dark we are transported into the situation of being in the orchestra, on the stage, among the singers, among the actors, and perhaps if you will we are inside this woman.”

The rehearsals for KOMA are thus highly charged and psychologically challenging in new ways, as Jonathan Stockhammer describes:  “All performers are subject to the same uncertainty: You can’t control everything in the dark, neither me nor the stage manager or the director. How can we communicate? The only way is through the sound. And therefore the musical story is being executed in a different way every night. There cannot be one single leader because of the way the piece is written: there are different instruments and different voices involved at every juncture. This creates an entirely different web of feelings and of control – and lack of control.”

Despite these unusual difficulties, Jonathan Stockhammer describes the opera as not terribly difficult to produce. “Georg Friedrich Haas has distilled his language down to a few basic tastes with simple ingredients. The piece is divided into very understandable musical episodes or phases, which are clear by the form of the score.” Of particular importance is the piano, which is fundamentally retuned for the piece, making several pure chords possible that are not corrupted by tempered tuning. “Pianos don’t like that”, Stockhammer explains. “It takes a process of several months of tuning and retuning again until the piano is right.”

Compared to the piano, the orchestra musicians have a less difficult time getting used to the microtonal setting. “Musicians adjust the overtones anyway in an orchestra, even in classical music”, says Jonathan Stockhammer. “At some points, when it comes to the seventh for example, we have to push a little bit harder to get the musicians to play this way, but it is not alien to them. On top of that, this generation of musicians is amazingly hip, and most of them have had some experience thinking in these terms.” Challenged not so much by the structure of the music itself but by a special performance situation, the musicians have to memorise large portions of a non-solo piece. “This is a dare that many musicians consider to be at the limit of their ability. Taking away one of their main sources of security, their ability to read music, can be a source of a lot of tension.” His role as a conductor is to assure every performer that he or she is adequately in command of the situation, Jonathan Stockhammer explains. “They have to not only remember their own music, but complex landscapes which tell them when they need to play what. For example, one group might notice that a certain situation has evolved and it is very fast now, it is time for us to do our thing. It is a confluence of different things that happen in the dark. The job of the conductor is to prepare everybody in this universe to understand enough of the universe to make group decisions.

“It is an ideal that we have known for a long time”, Stockhammer concludes on the result of this interplay and the learning process that might stay with the orchestra even after the performances of the opera. “In general we would like people to listen more, we would like everybody even in a large collective to be more familiar with the entire piece and not just with their role in the piece. What Haas is achieving here is something we can apply to almost all of our music.”

Nina Rohlfs, 05/2016
Interview: Karsten Witt

Pluralism of Voices – an interview with Philippe Manoury

Gürzenich Orchestra CR Holger Talinski

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

Samir Odeh-Tamimi: Arab Apocalypse

CR Thomas Kujawinski

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."

Nina Rohlfs 03/2016 | Translation: Celia Wynne Willson

Single-handed – a portrait of Friedrich Cerha

CR Manu Theobald Ernst von Siemens Music Foundation

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

Friedrich Cerha talked about his eventful life in a video interview for the online magazine (in German).

Eliahu Inbal: in harmony with the score

CR ZChrapek

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!

Nina Rohlfs 01/2016 | Translation: Celia Wynne Willson

Eliahu Inbal – My Inspiration and my School

CR Philips (1970)

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.  

Nina Rohlfs 01/2016 | Translation: Celia Wynne Willson

Eliahu Inbal – two years younger than everyone else

CR Jerusalem Youth Orchestra 1950/51 (Eliahu Inbal front right)

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.   

Nina Rohlfs 01/2016 | Translation: Celia Wynne Willson

Jeremias Schwarzer on alif::split in the wall

CR Nobuyoshi Kawakami

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.

Interview: Ilka Seifert | Translation: Zoë Herlinger

18/03/2016 and 19/03/2016, 19:00 – 24:00
Berlin, Radialystem V

Further information and tickets

We must look at what has happened – Toshio Hosokawa on his new opera

Photo: Fukushima CR: Toshio Hosokawa

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.

KWMM 11/2015 | Translation: Celia Wynne Willson

Marc Soustrot with a new Honegger DVD

CR Nikolaj Lund

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.”

Arthur Honegger
Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher
Marion Cotillard, Xavier Gallais, Barcelona Symphony & Catalonia National Orchestra, Marc Soustrot
Alpha Productions, ALPHA 709