di Daniela Fantechi
[Klangforum Wien was in Florence for the first time with a world premiere of the piece Intorno al bianco, for clarinet and string quartet, by Beat Furrer. Daniela Fantechi interviewed him.]
Can you tell us something about the piece? Where is the title coming from?
Intorno al bianco was the title of a Villanella by Pietro Antonio Bianchi, an italian composer of the Renaissance who lived in Graz during the 16th century. I found it nice as a title, but the piece doesn’t have any connection with the Villanella, where the meaning is different, the Villanella starts like this: “Intorno al bianco del tuo petto scherzando”… in my piece it’s more about light, about changing light, and that’s why I found the title nice.
The clarinet at the beginning has just long notes and the quartet is moving; in the first 15 minutes there is a slow constant trasformation, the sound of the clarinet is like the spectrum of the clarinet’s changes, and the quartet is the spectrum of the clarinet.
It starts like floating and I always told the musicians: “Imagine it’s like a slow motion jump”, and then the time is always more and more fast, and it ends in a presto delirando, where the clarinet emerges, so in the last 10 minutes the clarinet is the leading voice. As the sound of the quartet is more and more punctual, the clarinet and the quartet start communicating in a pointillistic way. In the end, the last two minutes there is actually an unison, which is not heard as an unison, it is heard as if all the lines of the clarinet are followed by the string quartet. This gives a completely different space, it opens a total different space. All the harmonic material at the end is the same in line.
Can you tell us the story of Klangforum? How was it born and which is your experience with them in brief?
After my studies I felt the necessity to listen to some music which I couldn’t hear, which was not performed at all in Vienna at that time, Luigi Nono, for example, and also the american as Morton Feldman and Iannis Xenakis… and all this music which was not performed at all. We started with a series of concerts and after three years we saw the necessity to have a group, a constant group, instead of working with orchestral musicians, because it was impossible to organize rehearsals with orchestral musicians.
And we started in the Secession, which was connected to the visual arts and it had a completely different public. And there we had concerts matched with certain exhibitions, and we had a completely different public: so people who would not go to the Konzerthaus, and, I have to say, that in that time Vienna was quite conservative, in a bad way traditionalist. This was at the end of the 80s. After four years, Wien Modern was founded by Claudio Abbado, which was a big success and which helped us a lot. For ten years I was also doing the programmes, the artistic direction, then I saw that it was not possible to compose and to do this work, because it was too much, because they were playing concerts in Germany, in Europe, …it was too much. So, after ten years, I decided to leave this ensemble. We searched for another artistic director, who was Peter Oswald. It was important for me and also for Klangforum, because it was a way to open to different aestehics, to different conductors, like Peter Eötvös, Sylvain Cambreling, all of them have different view of contemporary music. And I think this is important for the ensemble, and for both of us. And now I come back to collaborate when they ask for it, and that’s nice. Of course at the beginning this idea to have a democratic structure was an idea and the realization was a hard way, step by step, because first of all, when I asked money at the city of Vienna, they said “we don’t need another ensemble, we already have this and that ensemble…” But there were another contemporary music which was not played in Vienna and we had to do that, and luckly there was a Minister of Culture who said “Yes, I will do that”, and that was fantastic, because otherwise we had every year to scratch at the door of burocracy. And that was the first step.
And of course Peter Oswald was very important for the ensemble, also because at that time he was the director in the Television Music Department – which does not exist any more -, and he was extremely active for the position of the ensemble in the European scene. I think it is very delicate because there is a certain energy of a growing ensemble and you need to get money for musicians: they have to live from that and you have to sustain this energy of growth. At the same time there was a growing public in Vienna, through the festivals, and somehow at one moment, in the middle 90s, it was chic, also for young people to go the Wien-modern concerts. All the political situation was different. We also had a difficult situation when the government changed to the black coalition. Now we are the only ensemble who was not cut… but of course nobody can’t see these efforts of the musicians. They are constantly travelling, they are playing more then 70 concerts, they have to practice and they don’t earn as orchestral musicians. Their level is extremely high: this is also the result of a certain culture of discussion in the group. They are different personalities, they have several opinions, and they keep working together, to come together. And you can feel that when you work with them, you feel this atmosphere, in the moment of the concert when they all come together to an homogeneous group. It is another quality: they are not just good musicians, but also a group and everybody feels responsible for the group as well, and this was not given at the beginning, and you couldn’t expect that.They started as freelance musicians without this kind of responsabilities: now they can decide “we work with this conductors”, they decide some of the programmes…of course not everybody is involved in the same way. Actually the dramaturgy of making programmes brings a lot of extra works. But they don’t want just to repeat the successful one. They take care also to discover new composers, they take the risk.
This is not your first time in Florence, can you tell us more about your previous experience here?
I was here in Florence for cultural reasons, for the hundreds museums… and at that time there was a huge activities in contemporary music, thousands of festivals. I had my first orchestral piece written during my studies and it was perfomed by the Vienna Symphonic. Abbado was rehearsing in the room besides, and one of the musician of the chamber orchestra said to him “you have to go there, they are rehearsing the piece of Beat Furrer, this is wonderful…” So he went there and he listened to the rehearsal and then he invited me with him, and he said “you have to send the piece to Gigi [Nono, n.d.r]” …and I said “Yes, it will be fantastic, I adore Gigi!”. So I sent the score to Nono and he wrote me a beatiful letter where he said “Come to Florence, I would like to know you”. And then it was so astonished for me to see how he read the score, how he taught to me… At that time he was working to Prometeo. Coming to Florence was important to know such a personality. And this was the first contact, then we met several time. In Milano, for example, at the first performance of Prometeo. Then, later on, I decided to leave Vienna, because I wanted to have a change, and then I went to Venice, for 2/3 years, but it was already over: Venice was already turistic… So I met Nono first in Florence, and then, always, when he came to Vienna, we met. It was important to me to know this personality, not only a fantastic composer, but also a personality which oblige you to face the world, with his integrity. Actually Abbado was the first reason to meet Nono.
What about your position as teacher? You can see many different people from different nations, how is the research in Composition going on?
I’m very optimistic, there is a powerful voice of today… but if I see the possibilities that they have… I mean: I was never afraid when I was young, I didn’t have to be afraid, I didn’t care about. I was not born in a rich family so I had to live always from my work, but I was never afraid, there were hundreds of possibilities, but today is much harder for young composers. Actually, I have to say, I don’t see the solution in the media. Going back to Nono he was always saying “Come diceva Marx”, but now there is no more the vocabulary of this political discourses, maybe this is a big problem. But I don’t think that young students are not aware of that, some of them yes, they are really naif, I always ask some questions to understand their position and sometimes I’m quite shocked… And if you see now, also the musicians of Klangforum are more and more involved in political discussions: “for whom are we playing? We have to change something… what can we change? …” There is a discussion, but it is the only things you can do…
After the 90s the situation has changed so much. I am an optimistic person, but there are reasons to be skeptic, in different ways. If you see the programmes of european Concert halls, they are getting narrow, they are more limited…because of these kind of politicians, of managers, more than managers. They are responsible. If they don’t do anything for contemporary art, and also for the art of the past, we will not undestand it any more. Always more and more you can see managers counting sold tickets, in Vienna StaatsOper, where there is no more contemporary theatre, it is a scandal! Nobody is asking “Is there art anymore?” Just asking “97% sold? ok…let’s continue!!” This is a danger and this is a political problem, of course.
Erwin Wurm & Klangforum Wien
September, 14th – Tepidarium del Roster (Firenze), FirenzeSuonaContemporanea
img: cover image © David Furrer; live photos © Zeno Cavallari
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