I’m in Germany for the Donaueschinger Musiktage. I wrote a bit about the how and why of my visit in a previous post, but now it’s time to get into the details that will be most useful to you. The festival runs from October 17-19 (tomorrow through Sunday), and it will be broadcast online. You can also browse the whole schedule and click on programs, composers and pieces for more details.

The Saturday afternoon event is called Ensembliade, and features the Ensemble Modern, Ensemble Intercontemporain, and Klangforum Wien. Each group is playing four pieces. Two of those pieces are played by only that group, and two are played by one of the other ensembles. So there will be three “double premieres”–by Aureliano Cattaneo, Arnulf Herrmann, and Bernhard Gander. Has that happened before? Regardless, it’s a great idea, and it will be very revealing about the nature and approach of each of these groups.

The Dialogue Experiment looks quite promising. The event will foreground the interactions between seven composers–Chaya Czernowin and her former students Rick Burkhardt, Peter Edwards, Michelle Lou, Chris Mercer, Ming Tsao and Rob Wannamaker–and the ensemble ascolta as they have prepared pieces for this event. How they will do that remains to be seen, but you can read more about it at the Schott site. I’m interested in Czernowin’s, Mercer’s, and Wannamaker’s work already (those three approaches alone are incredibly diverse), and very curious to know more about the others.

The Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg will be playing works by Emmanuel Nunes, Brice Pauset, and Ben Johnston. Johnston has briefly described his Quintet for Groups in a Paris Transatlantic interview, which also includes interesting material on his work with Harry Partch and John Cage, and how he came upon a workable compositional approach. Here is his description of the setup for the piece we’ll hear on Sunday:

The Quintet for Groups dates from the mid-60’s. It uses very complicated tuning, involving as many as 83 different pitches. The orchestration includes two retuned pianos, two retuned harps, a huge percussion section, and a modest-sized orchestra.

I’ve never had a chance to hear Johnston’s work live before, and I’m really looking forward to it. And if I’m not misunderstanding the program notes, he will also be in attendance.

Pauset speaks of “the impossible” as the central question of Die Tänzerin (Symphonie V), and of the “thought experiment” involving the motions of a dancer and a distant planet that impact what happens on stage. I don’t understand it yet, but it sounds fascinating. You can try reading about it in his program notes too. I’m quite fond of this quote, also from a Paris Transatlantic interview:

Not content with kidnapping you at gunpoint, we also intend to send you back through time to live in the century of your choice. Choose.
I think, of course, the fourteenth century. The Ars Subtilior. In the medieval epoch, there was no music as such–it was a part of a larger discipline including mathematics, philosophy, astronomy.. If you look around this room, we have mathematics–there are three computers (one of which doesn’t work), and there is a philosophical dimension to this work.. (Pause.) Yes, I would go back to the fourteenth century. When music didn’t exist.

Be sure to check the radio program listings, since not all events are broadcast live, and tune in to SWR2’s Webradio by clicking on the “Webradio hören” button on the left sidebar of that or any other SWR2 page.

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