Magazine – Contemporary Music

Contemporary Music 2011: innovative dramaturgies for a new public

Karlheinz Stockhausen’s ‚Sonntag aus Licht‘ (‚Sunday from Light‘), performed by Ensemble musikFabrik at Kölner Staatenhaus, 2011; photo: © Klaus Rudolph / Ensemble musikFabrik
Karlheinz Stockhausen’s ‚Sonntag aus Licht‘ (‚Sunday from Light‘), performed by Ensemble musikFabrik at Kölner Staatenhaus, 2011; photo: © K. Rudolph

New Music reached out to the public in 2011 – and was surprisingly well received. Margarete Zander reviews the latest developments.

“What is New Music?” was the question posed in late 2011 during an event held at Volkswagen’s Automobil Forum Unter den Linden in Berlin. Musicians from the Kammerensemble Neue Musik Berlin presented compositions from the past 50 years that reflect the relationship between “music and noise”, including works by Helmut Lachenmann, John Cage, Simon Steen-Andersen, Luigi Nono and Heinz Weber.

The performers projected the music into the ambient space like walk-through sculptures. And the music raised questions that were taken up in a casual talk: What is or might be fascinating about these works? Which means of expression do they employ? In what contexts are they embedded? The three concerts in the series were entitled “Music and Noise”, “Music and Poetry” and “Music and Rhythm”.

The trend goes to show that the ensembles that play a lot of Contemporary Music are drawing on creative ideas to reach out to a wider audience, to people interested in the arts in general.
The Kammerensemble Neue Musik Berlin, for instance, played venues last year that are inviting but don’t necessarily stand for music, such as the foyer of TV broadcaster ZDF’s Berlin studio, the foyer of the Wissenschaftsforum (“Science Forum”) at the Gendarmenmarkt in Berlin, the Dock 11 dance centre and the Kapelle der Versöhnung (“Chapel of Reconciliation” on the former no-man’s land between the east and west sides of the Berlin Wall).

Cheek by jowl

In the glass hall designed by Mies van der Rohe at Berlin’s Neue Nationalgalerie, the Ensemble Modern’s instruments gave off an aura rather like art objects at the Ultraschall Festival in January 2011.
Contemporary Music had found its way into the hub of the nation's capital. The ensemble celebrated their 30th anniversary in 2011, and their programmes last year read like a musical almanac of 20th- and 21st-century composers. Whether they were playing Frank Zappa or Helmut Lachenmann, pulses became movements, spotlights became laser beams, microcosms galaxies.

Now as ever, the ensemble is organized along democratic lines; clarinettist Roland Diry manages its affairs as a primus inter pares. And the introductions to the concerts in the “happy new ears” series provided an exemplary platform for creative interchange between musicians, composers and audiences – and tapped into a new listenership.

In Frankfurt and Darmstadt, a new festival kicked off in 2011: the cresc. Biennale für Neue Musik, started up jointly by the Ensemble Modern, the Hessian radio station's symphony orchestra, the International Music Institute Darmstadt and the Hochschule für Darstellende Kunst und Musik Frankfurt.
The concerts thrilled the audience especially when, seated in-between the musicians, they were right up close to the action and could even follow the music on the musicians’ scores.

A stroll-through mélange of concert and music theatre

Another ensemble, Ensemble musikFabrik, celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2011 and built up an exclusive top-flight profile with public appeal to boot. The musicians staged the world premiere of Stockhausen’s last work of the seven-day cycle Licht (“Light”) at the Staatenhaus, a facility on the trade fair grounds in Cologne. They created an incredibly dense walk-through fantasy universe, so to speak, in the ambient space around the concertgoers. The audience sat in deckchairs or watched through 3D glasses, as though orbiting in a space probe through new musical spheres.

Thomas Oesterdiekhoff, the manager of this ensemble, which is likewise democratically organized, manages to come up with just the right challenges for his musicians.
In the spring of 2011, Ensemble musikFabrik had performed a very delicate poetic piece at the MaerzMusik festival in Berlin, using an open-ended performance concept by Rebecca Saunders at the re-opened Café Moskau in the Karl-Marx-Allee. This one-time flagship culture club from the days of East Germany has a conspicuously glassy ambiance, and in our day, all those see-through windows serve less as a means of surveillance. The listeners there were gently lured into acoustically following one musician or another, lingering here and there, then setting off in search of their own sonar perspectives as they ambled and eavesdropped all over the brightly-lit three-storey building.

Donaueschinger Musiktage still the cream of New Music festivals

Another highlight of the year was the appearance of Ensemble musikFabrik at the Donaueschinger Musiktage, which fêted its 90th anniversary last year. Like a trade fair, this legendary festival reflects the latest trends and developments in the industry, and nearly all the concerts there – by and large world premieres – are now simulcast on SWR radio.
The musikFabrik was invited to perform at the festival as the first “ensemble in residence”. Here again, a piece by Rebecca Saunders ranked among the standouts in opening up new perspectives: Stasis is a spatial collage for 16 soloists. In one of the marvellous new multipurpose rooms at Donaueschingen, Stravinsky Hall, whose 390 sq m floor space and gallery can hold roughly 400 spectators, Rebecca Saunders set up several “islands” for the instrumentalists. The musicians played in groups communicating with one another across the gaps between them, and it seemed as though the sounds themselves sought out new groupings again and again as they progressed.

A “Venetian” acoustic multiverse in the concert hall

Suchlike stereophonic ideas transform many a New Music concert into an event. The ideas are not concocted by musicians or even organizers, but are immanent in the music, part and parcel of the composer’s train of musical thought.

The performances of Luigi Nono’s Prometeo, for instance, were sold out very early on. This pivotal work by the Italian composer was performed twice last year, thanks to the combined efforts of Winrich Hopp, director of Berlin’s Musikfest, and Markus Hinterhäuser, artistic director of the Salzburg Festival.

Nono’s Tragödie des Hörens (“Tragedy of Listening”) moves acoustically through space like a boat-ride down the canals of Venice. The ear is continually struck by new images and scenes playing themselves out in the streets as we pass by. Hence Nono’s idea of having spectators and musicians seated as if on moving islands in the concert hall.
By dint of electronic equipment and the musicians’ sonar imagination, the productions at Salzburg’s Kollegienkirche (Collegiate Church) and with the Konzerthausorchester at the Berlin Philharmonic became subtly mysterious and one-of-a-kind listening experiences. Soloists from the Ensemble Modern played in both performances, which were directed by André Richard.

Medea’s scream

Composer Aribert Reimann has never withdrawn into a niche for New Music specialists. So it was that in 2010 his opera Medea triumphed with the opera-going public in Vienna and Frankfurt; its concrete, sensuously bewitching sounds create a magic aura. In May 2011, Aribert Reimann was awarded the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize.
The 75-year-old maverick (born 1936 in Berlin) with the international profile has always appealed to a wide public with his melody-driven style. And to great performing artists. In his acceptance speech, Aribert Reimann thanked the great baritone Dietrich Fischer–Dieskau, whom he had accompanied on the piano for many years, and that gratitude was for all those he had made music with as well. It was Fischer–Dieskau, among other things, who had encouraged him to write his successful opera Lear.

Impetus from foreign cultures

The political struggles of the Arab Spring were writ large in all the media in 2011. In December, at the Klangwerktage in Hamburg, Christiane Leiste addressed the question of New Music in Iran, a topic that “even drew people who normally don’t care two figs about contemporary music”, wrote Ute Schalz-Laurenze in the neue musikzeitschrift.

Besides the discussion, which pointed up Cage and Nono’s influence in the Arab world, the performances of Iranian composer Nader Mashayekhi’s Earthly Revelation were a festival highlight. Two cultures came together in antiphonal singing of Sepideh Vahidi and Marlis Petersen, backed up by the Ensemble Resonanz. It is not mutual compromise involving the sacrifice of one’s own culture, explained Nader Mashayekhi, but mutual coexistence that constitutes the ideal form of successful togetherness between people of very different origins.

Can subsidies help to promote New Music?

The Netzwerk Neue Musik (New Music Network) funded by the German Federal Cultural Foundation was launched with great enthusiasm in 2008. But 2011 was the last year of funding for a total of 15 programmes nationwide whose object was to give New Music a firmer footing in German society. The programmes succeeded in setting the scene in motion and promoting the creative potential that organizers can draw on with New Music concerts.
owever, not all the projects proved sustainable in the long run: only seven of them managed to improve their position with the new subsidies. Nor did the programmes succeed as hoped in really boosting the image and importance of the New Music genre in German society. On the other hand, Sir Simon Rattle once again showed what stars of the concert scene can achieve in this domain without extra millions in funding.

New Music becomes a crowd-pleasing encore

Starting this 2011/2012 season, Simon Rattle is now personally inviting the audience to linger after Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra concerts for his newly-established late night New Music concerts at the Berlin Philharmonic.
The first such after-hours encore starred Magdalena Kožená, with songs by Berio and music by Dallapiccola and de Falla. He invited the Neue Vocalsolisten from Stuttgart for the second late night concert, beguiling the crowd with Ligeti’s Aventures and Nouvelles Aventures. More than 1200 concertgoers turned out to celebrate 20th-century music there.
Sir Simon knows how to turn the unknown, into a crowd-pleasing encore. All of a sudden, New Music – hitherto avoided by most of the established public – is becoming an invaluable asset, a welcome addition to the live music scene.

Dr. Margarete Zander
writes freelance on the arts for radio programmes like “NDR Kultur” as well as for various magazines. She also lectures at the Hamburg University of Music and Theatre and curates the Ultraschall New Music Festival for the arts programme on Berlin/Brandenburg Radio.

Translated by Eric Rosencrantz
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion

Any questions about this article? Please write to us!
online-redaktion@goethe.de
February 2012
Related links

Dossier: Electronic Music in Germany and the Czech Republic

Klub Fleda © Fleda
Current trends and the most important developments over the past few years

Touring with Goethe

Podcast on Goethe-Institut concerts around the world