Meet our Guests Ernst Surberg

Ernst Surberg
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Ernst Surberg is founding member of ensemble mosaik. In April 2017 they performed on Open Stage at Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan, New Delhi. ensemble mosaik was founded in 1997 by young instrumentalists and composers in Berlin and has developed, as an especially multifaceted and adventurous experimental formation, into one of Germany’s most renowned ensembles for contemporary music.

My first impression of India…
…plunging into a fog, literally, because of the smog, and proverbially, because of the haze in your nose that’s composed of all the individual unidentifiable smells, the fog of the hustle bustle, the vocal fog of a foreign language, the fog of uncertainty about the number of languages whose sounds I can’t differentiate. And the heat, the air’s heaviness, it’s materiality, doubting you can breathe it and at the same time the clarity about the inescapably of having to breathe it, something I share with the millions of people in Delhi.
Things in Delhi that remind me of my hometown Berlin…
I can’t think of anything off-the-cuff in Delhi that reminds me of my (chosen) hometown, Berlin, except that you wouldn’t necessarily describe Berlin and Delhi as beautiful at first.
One thing I’ve noticed in India (that’s not so typical in Germany)…
One thing that I noticed in India (that’s rather uncommon in Germany) is openly separating people by faith, social status, background, tourists vs. locals. These groups exist in Germany, but it seems to me that there’s more permeability amongst them there. Something that stood out for me was studying the personal ads the Hindustan Times, which you see all over the place and that sells its complete front and back covers as ads about every other day, another thing that seems unthinkable to me for a serious daily newspaper. I don’t have it in front of me now, but it’s very telling that they aren’t only sorted by MF, FM, FF, MM, but also by ethnicity (“Punjabi”), religion, college graduate – that’s as far as I can remember, but I know I was agape. And sometimes it would also say “no caste prejudice,” because that’s something worth mentioning. When it comes to marriage, the prejudice stick out like bones on an X-ray.
Women always look like they belong to someone.
What’s remarkable in daily public life is the respect for animals, the life within them, which is what they have in common with humans. As someone who grew up in Germany, this inherit respect seems distant to me, which is all the more reason why the beauty of this behavior is so striking to me. In Germany, performance, purpose and rationale come before being, everything is seen through the lens of “what for?”

An enduring memory of India…
The streets of Delhi, and above all the country roads, are a mill of bones and the tuk-tuk drivers approach this in a sublime way, namely, by accepting death. Like everyone does, but I have the impression that they, the tuk-tuk drivers, know it. At present the image of a driver of about 55, who at a crossing takes his hands off the handlebars to relax and rests them on the side-view mirrors; the patient pose of the crucified.

The extreme attentiveness of looks, of eyes on me. I always felt myself recognized as being present in a room of people even before me being aware of them, or even of the room. The quickness of all those calm eyes already on me, being taken in, overtaken. And while my  interest in them is gaining they already seem to get bored of me. I feel slow. But maybe this is also a change of order of perception. First the room, then the people in it or opposite. I tend to cling to things rather than people? 

Ernst Surberg, born 1966 in Münster, is founding member of ensemble mosaik. He studied piano at the University of Arts and the Academy of Music Hanns Eisler in Berlin. A master course for contemporary piano music with Jeffrey Burns, triggered Surberg’s intense examination of contemporary music.