Bereits zum dritten Mal findet im Rahmen der LUCERNE FESTIVAL ACADEMY das «Composer Project» statt. Von fünfzig Kandidaten aus der ganzen Welt hat Pierre Boulez im vergangenen Jahr zwei junge Komponisten ausgewählt und ihnen einen Kompositionsauftrag für grosses Orchester erteilt. Der Franzose Benjamin Attahir (* 1989) und der Brite Christian Mason (* 1984) arbeiten seit Sommer 2011 an ihren neuen Partituren. In dieser Ausgabe des «Composer Project» können sie sich von Beginn an nicht nur mit Pierre Boulez beraten, sondern es stehen ihnen überdies mit Gergely Madaras aus Ungarn und Daniel Cohen aus Israel zwei junge Dirigenten zur Seite, mit denen sie ihre Werke bereits während des Kompositionsprozesses intensiv diskutieren können.
Beim Sommer-Festival 2012 realisieren die Teams – Attahir/Cohen und Mason/Madaras – in zwei Probesessions mit dem LUCERNE FESTIVAL ACADEMY Orchestra die erste Version der Kompositionen und werden aus diesem «Praxistest» die nötigen Schlüsse ziehen, um eventuelle Veränderungen oder Anpassungen vornehmen zu können. Die zweite dieser Sessions am Samstag, dem 1. September 2012, 12.00 Uhr, ist als Forum öffentlich zugänglich. Hier kann das Publikum mitverfolgen, wie sich der Austausch zwischen allen Beteiligten gestaltet: Ist der Komponist zufrieden mit seinem Werk? Können Dirigent und Orchester seine Vorgaben umsetzen? Und was sagt Pierre Boulez zu den neuen Partituren?
In den beiden nachfolgenden Textkästen finden Sie Auszüge aus Gesprächen und Chats zwischen den Komponisten und ihren Dirigenten, die Aufschlüsse über die Erwartungen an das Projekt, die Vorgehensweise beider Teams und die unterschiedlichen Persönlichkeiten geben.
Daniel: So – I must admit – you introduced me to Marin Marais. I didn’t know about him before. Is that a terrible “faux pas”? Will I be exiled from the musical community?
Benjamin: Don’t worry, Dan! J In France Marin Marais is quite well-known today. But that’s the fruit of years and years of research. He’s a pretty new revelation for the general public. A lot of his recognition came from the film Tous les Matins du Monde, which was based on his life story and figured his music. But outside of France he is still almost unknown.
Daniel: Did he always interest you or was it the film that first inspired you to dig deeper?
Benjamin: I was quite young when the movie came out (I was 13 years old). Then I listened to lots of recordings of his music played by Jérome Hantai, then Jordi Savall. It was a revelation for me. It was completely new music for me – very intimate, very expressive.
Daniel: You know – I couldn’t help to notice that the piece of Marin Marais that you based S”awti’l Zaman” on appears in a very “saucy” scene in the movie…
Benjamin: Hmm… I don’t remember the scene… Is it the one that takes place in the cabin?
Daniel: I think you should watch it again J You know – the thing that struck and impressed me immediately about the music of the film was how loud the background noises of the viol were. I mean the wood of the bow, the soft scratching of the fingers on the fingerboard, the hiss of the bow on the strings were almost a part of the music. I found it gave the music a lot of charm.
Benjamin: Yes, I agree with you. In fact, this noisy, impure sound interested me very much. You know, the romantic way is to produce a very strong, pure, beautiful tone. But in the baroque way of interpretation we have a sound that is impure, a bit rough around the edges – actually it is just like the etymology of the term “baroque,” which means “an imperfect pearl.”
Daniel: And did you try to “translate” this noise to the orchestra in your composition?
Benjamin: In my piece, I always make a confrontation between “dirty” sound and “clear” sound. I tried to make some impurity in the sound to echo the character of the viol. For example – when you play sul ponticello and or with harmonics or make a very airy sound on a clarinet you get a tone that in not the romantic sound but something that is much more fragile.
Daniel: Funny you should say “fragile”’ – on first inspection your orchestration seems huge: are you hoping to keep some feeling of intimacy after all?
Benjamin: In the piece there is a confrontation between the very powerful elements and the fragile, quasi-inaudible elements. I like opposition in music.
Daniel: Also – the music of Marin Marais demands a great deal of freedom (ornaments, rubati, etc., etc.). Are you aiming to give a sensation of improvisation?
Benjamin: Well, the tutti sections are very strict and have a very clear structure. But the solos, duets, and trios are very improvisational in character.
Daniel: Yes – “in character”! But in fact they very accurately written down.
Benjamin: Exactly – All the ornaments are written down, and also the “rubato” is rhythmically notated.
Daniel: In our meeting with Boulez in Baden Baden, he was initially surprised at your decision to “adopt” music of another composer as the basis for your work. Why do you think that was?
Benjamin: Hmm… I think we are very different in this respect. For me the past is a great field of inspiration.
Daniel: Well – I imagine the past in as inspiration for Boulez as well but – I think he was surprised that you chose an actual piece of music rather then a style or an idea…
Benjamin: Yes, but when he saw the piece he wasn’t against it. I don’t want to make tonal music, I will do that very badly… I want to live within my time, but one can divert classical language to do other things – to produce other sonorous objects. You can take some elements from the past and do something contemporary and quite personal with them. Gérard Pesson does that, Berio did that…
Daniel: Yes, I see what you mean – but – it’s quite different. I mean – you are not making a personalized version of the original – you are taking the original piece apart to its most basic level and using it almost like building blocks. I mean – would anyone even be able to recognize Marin Marais’s original in it? And would you want them to?
Benjamin: Yes, I think they would be able to recognize some of it, but in very few moments. You have to be prepared to hear it if you want to recognize it.
Daniel: A bit like an archeological excavation?
Benjamin: I want it like that. But gestures are also important, even if they are not recognizable.
Daniel: In an ideal world – would you like your listener to know about Marin Marais and to know his original piece?
Benjamin: NO, not at all! But if the piece is well done I would hope to excite curiosity about him for the audience.
Daniel: When we met for the first time in Baden Baden and you showed me some initial sketches, I asked you if you already knew how the finished work will be formed and you said: “I know the main curve of the piece, the form of it: it will stat with something quite unrecognizable and end with something unrecognizable. But in the middle we will have something almost like a quotation of the original Marin Marais piece.” Now that you have finished the first full draft – how much of this prophecy has been fulfilled?
Benjamin: The main trajectory of the piece has not changed but it has been enriched by new ideas.
These new ways of treating the material created a form that is more complex, not so easily recognizable. It seems difficult to apply music to a preconceived form. For me, the macroform and microform are both generated by the material itself.
Daniel: Like every natural system – the elements affect the form, which in turn affects the elements…
What about the title of the piece? What does it mean?
Benjamin: “Sawti’l Zaman” is Arabic for “Voice from the Past.”
Daniel: Why are your titles in Arabic?
Benjamin: Because my music is influenced by Arabic music.
Daniel: In what way?
Benjamin: Ornaments, quarter tones, very melodic. In fact, most of these elements are in common with baroque music…
Daniel: Remind me about your background – you are half Lebanese?
Benjamin: 1/4 Lebanese, 1/4 French, 1/2 Moroccan.
Daniel: HAHA! – I am 1/4 Hungarian, 1/4 Polish and 1/2 Iraqi… – what a mix we have between us!
Benjamin: Yes!!! Quite a mix!!
Daniel: Did you ever spend time in Morocco or Lebanon?
Benjamin: Not in Morocco but Lebanon yes.
Benjamin: When I was a child.
Daniel: Do you remember much?
Benjamin: Yes, indeed!
Daniel: What age were you?
Benjamin: 5 and 8. And I love Egyptian, Syrian, and Iranian music.
Daniel: Did you study the music of Syria and Egypt? I mean, I know you are also a violinist – have you ever played the Arabic violin?
Benjamin: No, I never studied but I listen to it a lot. I use some Arabic scales but the rest is a very free interpretation. – I’m such an orientalist composerJ!
Daniel: Haha – Edward Said would have been proud!
Benjamin: Yes… but I have some Arabic blood. At any rate I’m more Arabic than Debussy was
Daniel: I like that!
So tell me – this project we are doing – is it very different from your regular commissions?
Benjamin: Oh – it couldn’t be more different! It’s an extraordinary opportunity, because when we have a commission we can never test our ideas first and only then realize them. It is the great gift that the Lucerne Festival Academy Composer Project offers to a young composer. It’s like a laboratory!
Daniel: Well – there is little chance of that in the “real world,” ha? I know that from my ensemble back home. With all the will in the world to support the composer and create the best opportunity for the piece – time is money and money is something we never have… and to be able to do all of this under the guidance of Boulez is astonishing, no?
Benjamin: Absolutely – it’s a very great opportunity to be in contact with such a personality – we can learn a lot from every word he says.
Daniel: So what do you make of it so far? How is it to work with Boulez as a composing mentor? Is he intimidating or supportive? – Or both?
Benjamin: When someone tells you that you will meet Pierre Boulez and show him your work, it’s pretty intimidating. But when you discuss with him, he quickly puts you at ease by his kindness and his very open mind. He encourages a lot and understands what preoccupies the very young composer. What about you? You had a chance to work with him before – how are you finding it?
Daniel: Amazing. I thought he would be very intimidating but he is very warm, very kind, and extraordinarily generous with his time and knowledge. He is, nevertheless, brutally honest – but that is what one wants in a teacher! The thing that I love most about learning with him is that even in extremely complex works he is all about the music. It doesn’t matter how difficult a piece is – he always expects and demands that you make music. I know it sounds obvious but it seldom is.
Benjamin: I find it is extraordinary to see the link he has with many generations of artists. It’s pretty impressive and poignant. Like when he speaks of a certain “Igor” as we would speak about an old friend…
Daniel: And of course he is used to doing both of our jobs! It will be very interesting to see how he divides his attention between the process of composition and interpretation. I mean – he will be teaching both of us at the same time and criticizing both the conception and the interpretation of the music as one organic unity. As a composer-conductor I guess he is used to it, but for me that is a completely new experience.
Benjamin: I think that this connection is very important.
Daniel: Especially now that we are moving away from the composer-conductor model, it is even more important for this to be a collaborative process, as we really need each other’s feedback and very rarely get the chance to hear it.
Benjamin: For me talking to you was very helpful in the creative process of this work. What about you – do you think being close to the conception of a piece is an advantage to the conductor?
Daniel: Well – it is certainly very exciting! But it is complex and takes some getting used to… I think it is very important to understand the ideas of the composer, as that makes you more aware of what the important elements in the music are and what needs to be brought out from the score. The danger is that you are coming to the score with preconceptions. For example – it is very helpful to know that you want the feeling of improvisation in some passages – BUT – I still need to hear what the music actually sounds like and not be seduced by knowing your ideas in theory.
Benjamin: Yes. That’s right. The sound is important, not the theory.
Daniel: Also, you start to love the score like a child – and it is always more difficult to discipline your own child. J
Well – hopefully hopefully the realization of strictly notated music in performance will make the music sound natural and spontaneous…
Daniel: I think you are right – strictness and spontaneity are not so far apart on stage as they are in real life.
Benjamin: When I wrote this score I always was thinking about your conducting. The coda is a very technical part and I wanted to make it very interesting for you.
Daniel: A good athletic workout, you meanJ!?
Benjamin: I think a conductor’s physical language is very important; it creates a huge difference in the sound.
Daniel: Yes, I agree. In fact, one of the things that Boulez always talks about when he is teaching conducting is that a conductor must always make music with his gestures even when the meter is very complex. It is the same if you conduct Beethoven or new music.
Benjamin: In this respect the conductor is an instant composer…
Daniel: “Instant composer” – I like that!!!
Benjamin: In the final section you will compose the music with the different elements that I provided you. You have the chance to manage the blocks of sonority – a bit like when you’re composing with “Pro Tools,” the music sequencer.
Daniel: Well, in that case your work is nearly finished and mine has just started!!
Benjamin: That’s why my piece is dedicated both to Pierre Boulez and to you.
Daniel: Yes, I must confess it made me blush to read your dedication! I look forward to your “instant composer” challenge! I think that the most difficult thing for me will be to achieve clarity of texture and a good balance between the many little elements that are spread out among the different instruments. I expect that balance and precision will be 99% of the work.
Benjamin: Yes, I would think so. It is like a mosaic.
Daniel: A cross between a mosaic and a puzzle…
Benjamin: Hahahaha )))) – A memory puzzle!
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