Without Resentment – The International Summer Courses for New Music in Darmstadt, 2012
Strictly speaking, Darmstadt is not a festival. Every two years it offers “International Summer Courses for New Music” and the focus lies on teaching, communicating and discussion. Participants exchange ideas, listen to music and argue gloriously. About 300 students registered for the 2012 Summer Courses, above all composers and interpreters, but also aspiring musicologists. Students shape the image of the festival, not only its outer aspect but also its content. Not only established ensembles such as the Arditti String Quartet and the Ensemble Recherche perform here, but also young colleagues from around the world. This year, for example, guests included the Curious Chamber Players from Stockholm, DissonArt from Thessalonica, Besides from Ghent, Quasars from Bratislava and Dal Niente from Chicago, which further enhanced the international character of the International Summer Courses.
Splatter movies and free improvisation
The concert program is also divided between established and lesser-known composers. Although from time to time the audience can hear works by Brian Ferneyhough or Georges Aperghis, so that the performers can prove their mastery, the repertoire lives essentially from pieces by young composers, which often reflect the aesthetic preferences of the musicians. The Belgian Nadar Ensemble dared a crossover between New Music and splatter movies with music by Alexander Schubert and Johannes Kreidler in a concert shot through with scary horror film scenes. Or free improvisers, who otherwise categorically refuse to perform composed music, worked together with a composer and, like the Berlin Splitter Orchestra and Mathias Spahlinger, put the possibilities of such a cooperation to the test. The audience, in turn, which consists mainly of course participants, greeted such experiments with great enthusiasm.
The new and the established
As in past years, important for the profile of the Summer Courses were the invited lecturers, whose ideas already set aesthetic directions. Brian Ferneyhough (69) is the most important composer of the New Complexity, a complicated, precisely differentiated and highly complex music. Georges Aperghis (66) and Manos Tsangaris (56), on the other hand, gave courses on music theater; Mathias Spahlinger (65) is an exponent of critical, dialectical composition; Jorge Sánchez-Chiong (43) is not only a composer but also a turntablist; and Jennifer Walshe (38) is also a singer and performer. The mosaic of Darmstadt lecturers presented a very many-sided image of New Music.
In addition to the official program, of major importance is what the many students have put together over the fourteen Darmstadt Festivals. Since the beginning of the Summer Courses, the younger generation has added its voice and often taken up its own position beyond the establishment. This was as true of the circle round Pierre Boulez, Luigi Nono and Karlheinz Stockhausen in the 1950s as of the composers of the New Simplicity round Wolfgang Rihm in the 1970s. In the twenty-first century too the thirty-something generation has also played a prominent role. The virtuosic, playful and always critical approach to new media and technologies, the integration of the everyday audio world into their music, and the rejection of the grand and sublime in art – that is what is really contemporary, which found its manifestation at Darmstadt in works by composers such as Johannes Kreidler, Martin Schüttler, Stefan Prins and Malin Bång
Previously, the young generation met in conspiratorial circles at unofficial concerts. In 2012 the Summer Courses provided an Open Space, rooms equipped with the rudimentary technical requirements in which anyone can present his work, often with remarkable interim results. When, for instance, a young Berlin composer took up the subject of embarrassment and produced situations in which one feels ashamed of oneself or feels ashamed for someone else, the audience encountered a new, not yet completely thought-out approach that provides food for thought.
Meeting of generations
The Concert and Conversation, at which works by Brian Ferneyhough, Wolfgang Rihm and Mathias Spahlinger were played, gave the impression of being consistent with the program. Young composers interrogated the old masters, with respect, yet provocatively, “Why don’t you take risks any longer? Why do you compose the same way you did thirty years ago?” Or: “Aren’t these all clichés that we already know from film music?” The questioned composers entered into the discussion, answered shrewdly and with charm. There was no resentment; rather the honest effort to explain their own positions without excluding dissenters. This has not always been the case at Darmstadt. We need think only of Hans Werner Henze, whom some composers and course participants properly bullied here in the 1950s, or of John Cage, whom the directors of the Summer Courses strictly refused to invite in the 1960s and 70s. Against this background, the 2012 Summer Courses distinguished themselves by their capacity to deal so openly and constructively with conflicts.
is a music journalist based in Berlin. In 2010 and 2012 he was a lecturer at the Darmstadt International Summer Courses.
Translation: Jonathan Uhlaner
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
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