A conversation with Cathy Milliken & Lucia Duchoňová
Looking at each other on the same level

Partitur „Ode an die Freude“
Partitur „Ode an die Freude“ | Photo (Detail): Goethe-Institut/Andreas Loucaides

On Sunday morning, 24 November 2019, Cathy Milliken, Lucia Duchoňová and the Amalgamation choir met at the Goethe-Institut Nicosia to work on the "Ode for All". In an interview with Elli Michael, Cathy Milliken and Lucia Duchoňová explain how the idea for this cross-border project was born and what we can look forward to. 

The project is called “Ode For All” and is inspired by Schiller’s poem “Ode to Joy”. What was your inspiration in creating this project?

Cathy Milliken: There was a call from the Goethe-Institut Istanbul and I actually took part in a workshop to brainstorm ideas to celebrate the Beethoven year. I have always loved choirs and I have always loved the voice. And I work a lot doing creative collaborations with people, sort of composing together with others – that’s actually part of my compositional process often. So in this proposal I put the two together: working with choirs and working creatively. Very often, choir work is all about learning pieces of other composers – in our western tradition, at least, there is not a lot of improvisation. But in this project I was looking at the diaspora of choirs, with an interest in different traditions. So my flash idea was: imagining all of these choirs singing their own songs according to joy, but also according to “all people will become brothers and sisters” – an idea of joy and peace. 

What were the criteria for choosing the choirs that would participate in this project? 

Cathy Milliken: We chose a different sort of diaspora of choirs; on one hand some of them bring traditional music, but on the other hand some have more of a western classical tradition. We really wanted to bring different traditions together. So we actually chose the choirs according to that: how can we bring different traditions in South-East Europe together that could be very interesting voice-wise too.

What exactly does each phase of the project entail?

Cathy Milliken: First we meet with each choir singly in each particular city and we create new words that have to do with joy but also with unity. We also create music to these words. So far we have gotten very different views about joy and how we feel joy, what joy means for us, what we are going through to feel joy, when do we feel joy and also what does it mean to be together – because of course a choir is a very unified group. In a later stage there will be the second workshop, where we are all going to meet together.

Cathy Milliken und Lucia Duchoňová bei der Chorprobe
Cathy Milliken und Lucia Duchoňová bei der Chorprobe | Photo (Detail): Goethe-Institut/Andreas Loucaides

What are your expectations from the meeting in Istanbul, when all choirs will come together?

Lucia Duchoňová: I think it will be a big joy! When we put the choirs together we have to learn all the songs that each choir has created, all in different languages. Each choir has created their words in their local language. The music is actually much richer when sung in different languages. Cathy will also compose another piece that we will all sing together. And each choir is expected to perform a piece on their own too, in order to introduce themselves. The performance will take place at the Radialsystem in Berlin in 2020.

In which way was Beethoven's work and ideas an inspiration for your project?

Cathy Milliken: The Schiller poem was written in the 1780s and Beethoven then composed [the 9th Symphony] in 1884 reflecting about the whole idea of freeing the [lower] classes from the tyranny of the ruling classes and thinking in the spirit of the French Revolution – equality, fraternity and liberty. In that sense, Beethoven was an innovator who really wanted to have democracy and equality of speech and he took that whole idea on board. That is why our workshops are also very democratic and equal. There is that whole sense of liberty of ideas – of everybody discussing in a sort of collaborative idea and event. Besides, I will certainly be treating the musical idea of Beethoven's “Ode to Joy” to provide a chorus piece that will go through the whole concert evening. In each workshop we do sing “Ode to Joy”, we look at the Schiller poem and the structure of the poetry as well as at the idea of the revolution towards equality. Having introduced that very broad spirit of the work, I think that all of those layers then fit in to everyone’s compositions. Thus the result is a layered reference to Beethoven.

Do you really believe that through music we can convey this message of unity and of becoming brothers and sisters?

Lucia Duchoňová: I believe it. As musicians we need to use music to send this message to the world. I also work with an international choir, with people of different nationalities but also different religions. And it’s very interesting to see that after one week these people sing all together but also sit after the rehearsals or concerts and discuss how they can do things better. Because they want to be together and to destroy these borders that are mostly in our heads. It would be very nice if we could see this also in our project, when we all meet together in Istanbul. We will make the workshops, but the women will not stay only as single groups but they will mix and discuss with each other.

Cathy Milliken: We must not give up the hope that a meeting through music can provide some platform where we can all meet looking at each other on the same level – not one above the other, but absolutely in equality, liberty and fraternity. And so we do expect that the issues of nationality will not matter. The people in each choir seem to have nothing to do with national lines or national issues. It has much more to do with issues of being a woman, or a mother or a scientist, an engineer, a sociologist or whatever. I believe it is a very forward thinking project in the same attitude and sphere that Beethoven thought.

Cathy Milliken
Cathy Milliken | Photo (Detail): Goethe-Institut/Andreas Loucaides
Cathy Milliken (project lead) completed her music degree in Australia majoring in performance (piano and oboe) and continued her studies in Europe under Heinz Holliger and Maurice Bourgue as well as completing her studies in the Dalcroze Method of teaching music. As a founding member of the renowned group for contemporary music, Ensemble Modern Germany, she has worked with leading composers and conductors of this century including Pierre Boulez, Peter Eötvös, Frank Zappa, György Ligeti and Karlheinz Stockhausen. She was director of the Education Program of the Berliner Philharmoniker from 2005 to 2012. She has composed for theatre, opera, radio, film as well as created sound installations and commissioned compositions for, among others, the Berliner Staatsoper, Staatstheater Darmstadt, Southbank Centre London, the ZKM Karlsruhe (Centre for Art and Media) as well as by several broadcasting stations. Cathy Milliken is internationally recognized as a leading creative director and composer. She performs regularly with voice and oboe and is a member of Ensemble Extrakte, a Berlin based group noted for its diverse musical cultural practice. Positions held now include being part of the creative team for the Munich Biennale for Music Theatre as well as honorary member of advisory boards for the German Music Council and the Goethe-Institut. She lives in Berlin as a freelance performer, composer, creative director and educational program consultant.

Lucia Duchoňová
Lucia Duchoňová | Photo (Detail): Goethe-Institut/Andreas Loucaides
Lucia Duchoňová is a vocal coach and accomplished mezzo-soprano with international performing experience. Her discography comprises Händel's Judas Maccabäus (DHM), Canciones & Conciertos (2012, Hänssler Classic), Melancholy (2014, Capriccio / Deutschlandradio Kultur) and Alexander's Feast (Hänssler Classic). Her first solo record "Canto a Sevilla" (Hänssler Classic) was nominated for a Grammy Award 2010 for Best Classical Vocal Solo. In addition to various international commitments as a concert and oratorial singer, Lucia Duchoňová gives master classes to young singers. She develops musical and pedagogical concepts, e.g. for the Lübeck International Choral Academy and for the Canto em Trancoso Academy in Brasil. Furthermore, she is an organizer of the international A Capella Festival ZOOM+ in Trnava, Slovakia.

Amalgamation Choir
Amalgamation Choir | Photo (Detail): Goethe-Institut/Elli Michael
The Amalgamation choir is an all-women group that was created by Vasiliki Anastasiou in 2014. Their repertoire revolves around polyphonic adaptations of traditional Mediterranean music through a modern approach and original songs. Important recent performances for the group include Arrée Voce festival in France, Rialto Jazz and World Music showcase in Cyprus.  The conductor has been awarded with the Cyprus Youth Organization Culture Award for the year 2016 for her work with the choir.