Olga Neuwirth, Martin Smolka, 18.30
The Prague Spring has devised a new format dedicated to contemporary music. Over a period of two days, the DOX Centre for Contemporary Art in Holešovice will come alive with the latest from the contemporary international and domestic scene, and this primarily thanks to the contribution from one of the most high-ranking ensembles specialising in contemporary music, Klangforum Wien, who will assume the role of Ensemble-in-Residence for the next three festival editions.
“We have succeeded in securing extremely productive collaboration for this venture, namely by involving Klangforum in the early stages of the project. We are thus able to utilise their experience and contacts acquired over the decades they have been active as a leading ensemble on the international contemporary music scene,” says the festival’s Programme Director Josef Třeštík. Klangforum Wien will appear at two evening concerts and, via public workshops and master classes, they will hand down their expertise to the young generation of composers and instrumentalists.
Each year Prague Offspring will have a Composer-in-Residence, whose work will be featured on the festival’s concert programmes. In 2021 Prague will host Austrian composer Olga Neuwirth, one of the world’s most sought-after artists. “Olga Neuwirth has been the subject of wide discussion over the past year, particularly in connection with the premiere of her opera Orlando at the Vienna State Opera, although she has been one of the most fascinating and most important composers for several decades now,” Třeštík states. “We are delighted that she has agreed to take part in our festival.”
Prague Offspring will also host the premieres of works by renowned composers that have been commissioned by the festival – this year it’s the turn of Martin Smolka. The most promising talents will be given an opportunity as well – Jakub Rataj, Lucie Vítková, Adrián Demoč, Konstantin Heuer and Ian Mikyska. And that’s certainly not all. Festival audiences can look forward to encounters with musicians and artists, a panel discussion featuring major names on the European contemporary music scene, a performative installation by composer Matouš Hejl and director Aleš Čermák, and a lecture and performance by architect of the DOX+ building complex Petr Hájek, who conceived the concert hall itself as a musical instrument. And we’ll wind things up with a closing party, at which composer Kontantin Heuer will act as DJ.
“Prague Offspring is a new tradition for the Prague Spring festival – crunchy, a bit mischievous, young, open, experimental,” is how the new format is defined by Miroslav Srnka, composer and member of the Prague Spring’s Artistic Board. “Prague is reinforcing its name on the European map of cutting-edge music. The capital’s entire DOX complex will come alive with sound for an entire weekend, when fans of the latest from the music scene will appreciate that being in Prague is starting to pay off.”
The first concert programmed for the new Prague Offspring format will begin – naturally – with the music of Composer-in-Residence Olga Neuwirth. “Klangforum Wien will perform two of her works,” says Programme Director Josef Třeštík. “In addition to her composition for piano and CD incidendo/fluido the programme also includes her masterpiece for trumpet and ensemble …miramondo multiplo…” Neuwirth wrote the piece for Swedish trumpeter Håkan Hardenberger, the Vienna Philharmonic and Pierre Boulez, who performed it in its original orchestral version at the Salzburg Festival in 2006. Festival visitors will also hear music by Italian composer Clara Iannotta, whose piece a stir among the stars, a making way constitutes a new addition to the Austrian ensemble’s repertoire. “One of the highlights of the evening will undoubtedly be the world premiere of Angel Steps, written by Martin Smolka as a commission for the Prague Spring,” Třeštík tells us. “The title can be considered on various levels, it has various evocative indicators,” Smolka himself comments on the premiere. “Behind Mníšek you’ll find Malá Svatá Hora (Little Holy Mountain) and, from there, the road used to form a kind of natural flight of steps to the village of Voznice – fifty metres along the flat, then fifty metres down the hill, and so on, about five times in all. And this road was known as Angel Steps. The title also conveys something tangible, and you can hear the whirring and wailing of a Škoda MB loaded down with stuff. Childhood, parents, the Sixties and Seventies with all their whackiness. And, amid that atheistic wretchedness, were the Angel Steps of Little Holy Mountain.”
Born in Graz, Austria, Olga Neuwirth (1968) has been a central figure on the international contemporary music scene since the beginning of the 1990s, when two of her mini-operas were staged at the Wiener Festwochen. She studied at the Academy of Music in Vienna and the San Francisco Conservatory, and then privately with Adriana Hölszky, Tristan Murail and Luigi Nono. One of Olga Neuwirth’s key collaborators is Austrian Nobel Prize-winning playwright and novelist Elfriede Jelinek, with whom she created two radio plays and three operas. Her music is performed and presented by some of the world’s most distinguished orchestras and festivals. In 1998, when she was aged 30, the Salzburg Festival dedicated two concerts to her music, and in 2002 she was appointed Composer-in-Residence of the Lucerne Festival. For Pierre Boulez and the London Symphony Orchestra she wrote the piece Clinamen/Nodus, and for the Vienna Philharmonic the composition Masaot/Clocks without Hands, which was performed in Cologne, in Vienna and at New York’s Carnegie Hall under conductor Valery Gergiev. Neuwirth has had a lifelong interest in film, literature, architecture and fine art, all of which have had a fundamental influence on her work. In addition to classical music compositions she has also produced several multimedia installations and short films, and she has written a series of articles and a book. In 2017, in association with IRCAM, she crafted a 3D sound installation to mark the fortieth anniversary of the Pompidou Centre in Paris. The Vienna State Opera’s production of her opera Orlando, based on the novel by Virginia Woolf, was one of the major talking points on the music scene in 2019.
The twelve-minute composition incidendo/fluido for prepared piano and CD was written in 2000 for Marino Formenti. Here, the body of the piano does not serve merely as a resonating case for the strings, but it is also resonated by a CD player placed inside the instrument. The soundtrack is a recording of the ondes Martenot, an early electronic instrument used, for example, by Arthur Honegger and Olivier Messiaen. Thus, in the work, the piano becomes an almost magical space, in which the distinctions between what the performer is playing and the sounds coming from the recording are melded together.
The trumpet plays a key role in many of Olga Neuwirth’s compositions. She regards the instrument as a bridge between cultural worlds, from Haydn to Miles Davis. “Through my connection to jazz – Miles Davis was my role model – and to put it somewhat superficially, through this combination of air and metal, the sound of the trumpet provided me with the possibility of sounding utterly rough and forceful on the one hand, and utterly melancholic and distanced on the other,” states Neuwirth. She studied the instrument herself in her young days, however, after a car accident that caused severe injury to her jaw, she had to put it aside. She dedicated one of her most important works to her “lost friend”, as she describes the trumpet, a concerto for trumpet and orchestra entitled …miramondo multiplo… The piece, whose title might be translated as “viewing the world from different perspectives”, originated in 2006. A joint commission from the Salzburg Festival, Radio France and the Stockholm Concert Hall Foundation, it was written for the Swedish trumpeter Håkan Hardenberger, the Vienna Philharmonic and Pierre Boulez, who premiered the work in Salzburg to huge critical acclaim. A year later Neuwirth revised the piece for solo trumpet and chamber ensemble, and it is this version which will be performed by members of Klangforum Wien.
Clara Iannotta (1983) is regarded as one of the most distinctive Italian artists on the current scene. Her works are commissioned and performed by the finest ensembles and orchestras specialising in contemporary music, such as Quatuor Diotima, Ensemble Intercontemporain, JACK, the Munich Chamber Orchestra and the WDR Symphony Orchestra. Born in Rome, she studied in Milan, at the Paris Conservatoire, IRCAM and Harvard University, and her teachers have included Alessandro Solbiati, Frédéric Durieux, and Chaya Czernowin. She currently lives in Berlin and she is also Artistic Director of the international contemporary music festival Die Bludenzer Tage zeitgemäßer Musik. In 2020 the prestigious label Wergo released a CD featuring her oeuvre for string quartet. The acoustically opulent composition for large ensemble a stir among the stars, a making way was commissioned by Klangforum Wien. The premiere was to have been held in Vienna’s Konzerthaus in the spring of 2020, however, due to the coronavirus pandemic, it took place in September of that year, hosted by the Klangspuren Schwaz festival in Innsbruck.
Martin Smolka (1959) is one of the Czech Republic’s most noteworthy contemporary composers and he is also one of the most established artists on the international scene.
He studied at Prague’s Academy of Music and also privately with Marek Kopelent. He co-headed the Prague-based Agon ensemble in the years 1985–1998. His works have been performed in a number of countries in Europe, in the United States and in Japan. He has been teaching composition at the Janáček Academy of Music in Brno since 2003. In his instrumental oeuvre Smolka mimicked the sounds of both urban and natural surroundings and, in the process, these sound reminiscences co-defined the expression of his music, often nostalgic or bizarre, sometimes both together. His imitation of real sounds led him to micro-intervals, which he then used in various ways, for instance, to achieve the deformation of tonal triads and melodies. He has written several articles about his composition methods, such as “How I work with micro-intervals” or “Chewed pencil”. Over the past ten years he has focused more on vocal, chiefly sacred, music. His compositions are commissioned and presented by foremost ensembles – Ensemble Musikfabrik, ensemble recherche, the Arditti Quartet, leading German radio orchestras like the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Hessen Radio, SWR and WDR Symphony Orchestras, and the vocal ensembles Bavarian Radio Chorus or Neue Vocalsolisten Stuttgart. His most important works include Music Sweet Music (1985), Rent a Ricercar (1993), Oh, My Admired C Minor (2002), Solitudo (2003), Psalmus 114 (2009), Blue Bells or Bell Blues (2011), Annunciation (2014) and Wooden Clouds (2018). With director and librettist Jiří Adámek he created the opera The Lists of Infinity (original version: Sezname, otevři se! / Open, List! , 2014/2016) and the stage piece Vor dem Gesetz (Before the Law), based on the story of the same name by Franz Kafka. He is best known to the general public as the composer behind the ice-hockey opera Nagano. He wrote the orchestral work Nostalgia (2004) as a Prague Spring commission, and the festival also programmed his compositions Rain, a Window, Roofs, Chimneys, Pigeons and So On… and Railway Bridges, Too, Études for the Bambini and Slow Fox.
Klangforum Wien was established by composer and conductor Beat Furrer in 1985, since which time the ensemble has fundamentally influenced the contemporary music scene. It works closely with some of the world’s most distinguished composers and, through its commissions, it supports the genesis of a series of new works. Over the last thirty-five years or more, Klangforum Wien has become one of the most respected world ensembles specialising in contemporary music and has expanded into an important institution incorporating a variety of activities, from its own magnanimous projects and its involvement in what are often full-length multimedia works, to various educational ventures. The ensemble’s recording catalogue contains more than seventy CDs, and they have premiered over five hundred new compositions, including works that are now considered iconic, such as in vain by Georg Friedrich Haas or the opera Lost Highway by Olga Neuwirth. Klangforum Wien is regularly invited to principal international festivals and concert venues in Europe, the United States and Japan, they have won numerous awards, and they collaborate with first-rate conductors. Today Klangforum Wien comprises 24 musicians from ten different countries. Highlights of their current season include performances at Wiener Festwochen, Acht Brücken and ManiFeste in Paris. The ensemble appeared at the Prague Spring in 2018, when they presented works by Enno Poppe and Bernhard Lang and also gave the world premiere of a new composition by Luboš Mrkvička commissioned by the festival.
Bas Wiegers has been Principal Guest Conductor of Klangforum Wien since 2018. After studying in Amsterdam and Freiburg he began a successful career as a violinist specialising in early music.
In 2009 he was awarded a conducting scholarship from the Kersjes Foundation and he began to devote himself entirely to conducting, working as an assistant to Mariss Jansons and Susanna Mälkki at the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam. In the Netherlands he works with such orchestras as Residentie Orkest, the Netherlands Philharmonic and the Rotterdam Philharmonic. He has conducted the finest contemporary music ensembles and orchestras, such as Ensemble Modern, Ensemble Musikfabrik, the Asko|Schönberg ensemble, Neue Vocalsolisten Stuttgart and the WDR Symphony Orchestra. He also appears regularly on the programmes of important festivals – Wien Modern, Holland Festival, November Music, the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, London’s Almeida Festival, the Aldeburgh Festival and Acht Brücken. As an opera conductor he has headed productions of Così fan tutte, Britten’s Noye’s Fludde, the opera An Ocean of Rain by Yannis Kyriakides, and Poulenc’s operas Les mamelles de Tirésias and La voix humaine. Bas Wiegers is highly regarded by some of the world’s major composers, and is approached for collaboration by the likes of Louis Andriessen, George Benjamin, Pierluigi Billone, Helmut Lachenmann, Rebecca Saunders and Georg Friedrich Haas. In 2019 he conducted the premiere of the revised version of Haas’s successful opera Koma at Stadttheater Klagenfurt. “After the premiere, Haas could only kneel down to thank conductor Bas Wiegers for such a remarkable performance,” Der Standard’s Michael Cerha wrote at the time.