The journey has just begun

During this year's Suntory Hall Summer Festival (21-28, August 2022) in Tokyo, the Klangforum Wien will perform a series of concerts, two at Main Hall and two at Blue Rose Hall. Music critic Walter Weidringer looks at the ensemble's artistic career, as well as its residency at the festival in Japan.

“Being a member of Klangforum Wien does not simply mean having a job as a musician. It’s more like embodying an attitude. Only people who are a good fit can take place at this round table of the knights of Neue Musik.” Peter Paul Kainrath’s words may have a touch of humour, but they are chosen with care. Born in 1964 in Bolzano ,South Tyrol, Kanrath is a trained concert pianist and theatre scholar, as well as an experienced music manager with an international network. Since 2020 he has been Artistic Director of the Klangforum Wien – a job that has little to do with the conventional administration. Klangforum Wien means: 22 musicians (with two current vacancies) from 11 countries, who take charge of their own artistic destiny and play the works they’re passionate about. The two vacant posts (flute and double bass) have been advertised with an application process in which the chosen finalists play in the ensemble for six or eight months – a trial period for both sides, which was not possible during the worst phase of the pandemic, but is essential.

The top criteria for membership are "uncompromisingness and absolute passion for the cause of music."

- Peter Paul Kainrath

One paradox of the Klangforum Wien is that in its 37 years of existence it has remained an ensemble of youthful vigour not least thanks to its low turnover of personnel, which means that many founding members are still active and that new arrivals are ideally there for the long haul. For Kainrath, the top criteria for membership are ‘uncompromisingness and absolute passion for the cause of music’ – and in a time when rehearsals and concerts were impossible, such traits didn’t fade away but, quite the contrary, intensified yet further. While other ensembles complained about not being able to make music together, before perhaps trying out some half-baked online streaming projects, the Klangforum members preferred to withdraw individually into a kind of virtuoso retreat. aking challenging solo works by Georges Aperghis, Toshio Hosokawa, Olga Neuwirth, Rebecca Saunders and Salvatore Sciarrino, ‘all of them gave themselves one more special diamond polish’: 36 pieces, five and a half hours of music, documented in the five-CD box set Solo’ (Kairos). ‘The ensemble is now drawing renewed artistic benefits from this’, says Kainrath.

It’s back to normal now, although for the Klangforum normal means business as unusual. The ensemble’s central base is its own concert cycle in the Wiener Konzerthaus; its second home is the city of Graz, where it holds a collective professorship of Performance Practice in Contemporary Music – a unique arrangement.

In addition, the Klangforum enjoys an essential collaboration with the Festival Wien Modern and the Erste Bank Composition Award. Last summer Pablo Heras-Casado conducted the Klangforum and Cantando Admont in Luigi Dallapiccola’s Canti di prigionia, then, in the very same concert, Jordi Savall conducted his own ensembles with Monteverdi and, for the concluding Da pacem compositions that spanned the centuries, Heras-Casado joined in the singing of Girolamo Parabosco and Arvo Pärt: an encore of empathetic symbolism that will remain unforgettable for all present, in a rare collaboration between specialists in the music of past and present. Kainrath is convinced: ‘Transgressing historical and stylistic boundaries will become much more important, even for contemporary music’. It’s in this light that a current project with Thomas Hampson should be seen: Gustav Mahler and Charles Ives meet young American composers. And a series of ‘meta-operas’. These are semi-theatrical pasticcios made out of works from the last 100 years of musical drama, organised around a particular set of themes. Developed by the ensemble itself, the project will begin in November 2022 with ‘Amopera’ in the town of Erl, Tyrol, in collaboration with Jan Lauwers and the Needcompany.

For Kainrath, however, the future means longer and deeper cooperations, with the exception of some other regular fixtures, such as the festivals in Donaueschingen, Witten and Cologne, and the IRCAM’s ManiFeste in Paris. In May, for example, a three-year residence began at the Prague Spring Festival: with two concerts and reading sessions with young Czech composers, the Klangforum is given the chance to enter into a much closer dialogue with the local scene. Similar cooperations, independent of the ensemble’s regular concert work, have been developed with the NYKY Ensemble of the Sibelius Academy Helsinki and are planned with the Beijing Conservatory.

The Klangforum Wien at the Suntory Hall Summer Festival 2022

Kainrath sees the residence at the Suntory Hall in the same context: ‘If you want to present yourself as a musician, as an ensemble, and to grow as a result, you have to travel. You can travel responsibly, or at least more responsibly. Otherwise there would only be isolated national music life. It’s fair to be critical about flying to the other side of the planet for a concert. But the residence at the Suntory Hall works in a different way: it’s not just that we can present various aspects of ourselves but also that we collaborate intensively with Japanese musicians.” Kainrath takes artistic sustainability seriously; he wants to make deeper contacts, initiate longer-term developments, build something in partnership: ‘Who if not us? In Prague someone just asked us if we’re missionaries. No: we’re seekers, discoverers!

And the audience at the Suntory Hall from 22 to 26 August 2022 will also have plenty to discover: what the Vienna Philharmonic represents for the Classical and Romantic repertoire, the Klangforum represents for contemporary music – and the conductor Emilio Pomàrico is a long-term, close partner of the ensemble.

Beat Furrer conducts Klangforum Wien in the Blue Rose (Small Hall) Suntory Hall Summer Festival 2005

The starting point is an evening entitled ‘Pioneers toward the Future’. ohannes Maria Staud is one of the essential Austrian composers of the middle generation. His Listen, Revolution (We’re buddies, see -) is inspired by Langston Hughes and his fight against discrimination and structural racism in 1930s America. Born in Croatia in 1980, Mirela Ivicevié surprises audiences with her imaginitive works using collage and sampling techniques. She is joined by her peer Eiko Tsukamoto (born 1986). Their work is complemented by the valuable combination of Toru Takemitsu’s Tree Line and Wer, wenn ich schriee, hörte mich … by Georg Friedrich Haas, whose microtonal composition practice has caused a sensation worldwide. The following day sees the ‘Family Tree of Klangforum’, when what you could call the ensemble’s inner circle, its honorary composer-members, has their say: in addition to Haas and the aforementioned greats Aperghis, Neuwirth, Saunders and Sciarrino, these are Friedrich Cerha, Bernhard Lang, Enno Poppe and the Klangforum founder Beat Furrer.

The third evening is titled ‘Das neue Wien’ (‘The New Vienna’) and sheds light on historical modernism and the roots of the Schoenberg school, sometimes in the form of new arrangements. The finale is dominated by the music of lannis Xenakis to mark his hundredth anniversary. In Persephassa, the audience are surrounded by percussionists, enabling them to experience the concert hall in a new way, and Kraanerg, an explosive classic of the 20th century, gives musical form to that to which the title gestures: it’s formed of the Greek words for ‘complete’ and ‘energy’.

Xenakis and Takemitsu in the foyer of Suntory Hall 1986 / Suntory Hall International Program for Music Composition No. 2

From this perspective, Kraanerg is, as it were, an echo of the Klangforum artistic project itself. ‘What Beat Furrer had in mind in 1985 was by no means some merely “Viennese” ensemble’, recalls Kainrath, ‘after all, until 1989 the Klangforum was called “Société de ‘Art Acoustique”. Furrer wanted an ensemble freed of territorial dependencies that placed itself radically at the services of the new. There had simply been nothing like that in Vienna before. Peter Oswald then bigged it up shamelessly as Artistic Director, by means of what you could call constant overload. Sven Hartberger consolidated to the maximum. The special enthusiasm that resonates back to the Klangforum Wien wherever a direct comparison with other contemporary music ensembles is possible confirms our excellence. And this is also nourished by structures of direct democracy. ‘The border between management and ensemble isn’t a clear-cut one’, explains Kainrath, ‘it’s always about mediating and communicating.’ Three musicians make up the dramaturgy department and design the concert programmes; Kainrath takes their suggestions as a basis for negotiations with event organisers. He sees himself as an ‘ideas generator’, he says, who no longer intervenes in the details of what the musicians develop in their working groups, or perhaps he’s even a ‘butler’ of the Klangforum. He wants to enable forms that can be refilled, to anticipate and shape the musical life of the future. Naturally he’s also preoccupied with questions of financial viability and value creation – but always with new artistic challenges also in mind. ‘Pieces that we premiered, like Haas’s in vain, Sciarrino’s Quaderno di strada, and Furrer’s Fama, have entered both musical history and our ensemble DNA. But we don’t want to limit ourselves to playing these works better than everyone else; we do that anyway, but we also want to use commissions for large- ensemble compositions to grow yet further by pitting ourselves against previously unknown challenges.’

37 years: The journey has only just begun.

Walter Weidringer

* Walter Weidringer lives and works in Vienna as a musicologist, freelance journalist, critic (Die Presse) and radio broadcaster (Ö1).

(June 15, 2022)

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