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New concert hall has composer in residence

January 9, 2017 by norman lebrecht

30 comments.


Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie, which opens with great fanfare this week, has named Matthias Pintscher as its Resident Composer.

The title has become completely meaningless. Does it mean Pintscher gets a free apartment in the building? Or that anyone can walk up to him in the lobby and demand ‘give us  tune.’

So what’s the point of having a ‘resident composer’? To allow the bureaucrats who paid for the hall to tick a box marked ‘contemporary culture’.

That’s all.


Comments (30)

  1. Musiker says:

    It’s a quite usual thing for a big orchestra in Germany to have an artist and sometimes a composer in residence.

    Normally the chosen person will hold this title one season only.
    For a composer it would mean to write several pieces especially for this orchestra (and in this case the new hall) which are performed during this season.

  2. Alexander Hall says:

    Norman, it’s not next weekend. The official inauguration takes place in two days time, on Wednesday the 11th with the opening night’s concert being repeated the following evening.

  3. John Borstlap says:

    It is a perfect choice. What the architecture ‘says’, is confirmed by P’s Klangkunst:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6BU8KLb64-4

  4. António Jorge Pacheco says:

    Everybody in the music industry knows what it mean to have a “composer-in-residence”.
    Anticipating Norman’s joke, we have featured at Casa da Música in 2012 Pascal Dusapin as composer in residence with a photo with him in bed in one of our dressing rooms. This year we are proud to have Harrison Birtwistle as composer in residence but Harry prefers to stay in hotel next to our concert hall.

  5. Hans van der Zanden says:

    As usual (most often), the composer in residence will compose – or more often construct somehow – a piece of what he calls ‘music’, the musicians have to rehearse and play it (often hate it), worse, the audience has to listen to it (hate it even more except for this 0.1% who seem to love these constructions whoever they are) and there will be a polite applause, and then – finally at last – comes the music they came for (and paid for)…, and the composition or construction will in most cases never be heard of again – just vanish in an archive already stacked with tens of thousands….such waste of money….and then wondering about declining attendance.

    1. John Borstlap says:

      This applies only to sound art, not to music.

      1. Wolfgang Amadeus Museart says:

        Don’t forget: playing today’s music automatically creates good press. Journalists will always write (be it good music or bad noise): Wow! Contemporary music!! How wonderful!!! And so this residence-idea is simply part of a marketing plan. And they “need” press in order to legitimate their investments. Audiences and musicians are not calculated in the marketing campaign.

        1. John Borstlap says:

          The times that a positive new music review is justified, are hard to distinguish from the positive reviews born from anxiety to appear in the new edition of Nicolas Slonimsky’s “Lexicon of Musical Invectie”.

          http://books.wwnorton.com/books/Lexicon-of-Musical-Invective/

  6. António Jorge Pacheco says:

    I am glad to invite you to come to Casa da Música in Porto and you’ll see how wrong you are. Harrison Birtwistle’s opening concert on the 20th is already sold out. In 2015 our composer in residence was Helmut Lachenmann and all concerts were sold out with a happy crowd. So, who complains about declining attendence?

    1. John Borstlap says:

      That must have been sonic audiences, not music audiences. Birtwistle celebrated The End of All Things (except his own Things), and with Lachenmann there is nothing to laugh about, except his T-shirt:

      http://subterraneanreview.blogspot.nl/2015/11/be-liberated.html

      1. Jaybuyer says:

        JB, is Lachenmann’s Major Seventh in any way connected to the Neapolitan Sixth mentioned in a previous post? (An enquiring mind)

        1. John Borstlap says:

          Probably not, since the Neapolitan sixth sounds quite harmonious, suggesting harmonic narrative which, in L’s view, should not be possible because it is supposed to be dead – used as part of music before Stunde Null. But the major seventh opens-up the possibility of an entire panorama of nihilism, offering consolation to listeners who have accepted the Death of Music.

    2. Hans van der Zanden says:

      what else was on the program?

  7. Max Grimm says:

    Norman, it took you nearly a year to notice that the Elbphilharmonie has a composer-in-residence (Pintscher’s appointment being announced in April last year) and all you can come up with is this churlish post?
    Interestingly, it appears as though the title of ‘resident composer’ never bothered you in the past, when you reported for example on Covent Garden appointing Na’ama Zisser, the Baltimore Symphony appointing Anna Clyne and the New York Philharmonic naming Esa-Pekka Salonen as composer-in-residence.

    1. Hans van der Zanden says:

      and John Adams is composer in residence in Berlin – can’t wait till the season ends – and so on.

      But Max, what I don’t understand is what makes this post rude and boorish, or as you put is ‘churlish’?

      1. Max Grimm says:

        Either shortcomings of the English language or shortcomings of a non-native speaker trying to use it (I’m quite certain it’s the latter).
        The word I had in mind was (auf Deutsch) ‘griesgrämig’.

        1. Hans van der Zanden says:

          Also with ‘griesgrämig’ I still don’t understand what your complaint is about.

          I agree with Norbert that the title ‘composer in residence’ has become completely meaningless – unfortunately this applies also for most of the sonic structures we are forced to listen to….

          1. Hermann Martens says:

            Who is Norbert ?

          2. Max Grimm says:

            Norman or Norbert?
            In any case, I am also of the opinion that such a title is meaningless and I try to avoid said “sonic structures” wherever and whenever possible.
            What I don’t understand is why Norman didn’t seem to find the title to be meaningless when he enthusiastically reported on other composers receiving it, such as the Finnish, British and Israeli composers listed above. Now, all of a sudden, it’s no longer an “award” or an “honor” to him but meaningless bureaucratic tosh?

          3. John Borstlap says:

            it seems that Nolan is right in relation to the Elbphiharmonie, which is an over-the-top sterile structure meant to scream a futuristic, not a musical statement. The meaning of sonic and architectural structures derived from modernist ideology is located in the outward appearance: the message of the building is triumphant utopianism, and of the sonic works related to its style, the sounds they make, promising the rich environmental experiences as found on Mars.

  8. Melisande says:

    “Without tradition, art is a flock of sheep without a shepherd. Without innovation, it is a corpse.” – Winston Churchill

    So this goes for all composers being a resident at home or elsewhere.

    The opening concert of the Elpphilharmonie will be televized on Arte TV, coming Wednesday January 11.

    1. John Borstlap says:

      Churchill has seen something real in culture. Continuous innovation of tradition is at the heart of musical culture; therefore Mozart is as innovative as Haydn, and Brahms is as Wagner. Pintscher’s work is something outside musical tradition, and therefore he is not a composer but a Klangkünstler. So, he seems to be a perfect symbol for the Elb. It seems to me that hearing a Mozart symphony in the Elb would be an alienating experience, like a Greek sculpture in the cold store of a saucage factory.

      1. Hans van der Zanden says:

        When they want to be really innovative in Hamburg, why did they not please the audience with an artist resembling the architecture, and asked – for example – Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan to be ‘composer in residence’…..I assume he might….just imagine….

  9. Melisande says:

    Type-error: Elbphilharmonie, situated along the river Elbe!

  10. António Jorge Pacheco says:

    The acoustics in the new Elbphilharmonie is stunning, for any kind of orchestral or chamber music. I’m most happy to be there tomorrow for the opening of this fantastic concert hall. Why are you so full of hate for contemporary music guys? Problems at home??? Beethoven got the same kind of negative reactions in his time.

    1. John Borstlap says:

      If the acoustics are good, that is great, and a redeeming feature so that audiences can listen with their eyes closed.

      Critique on modernist architecture and sound art should not simply be interpreted as ‘hatred’, but as the expression of a simple observation that modernism is based upon a fundamental break with ‘the past’. It is not difficult to spot the inhumanity of what has been built (in more than one sense) upon this break, and the irony is that the majority of music which will be heard in the Elb will stem from that condemned past. The ‘old’ classical repertoire is not ‘old’ but has timeless qualities which make it contemporary for ever. Buildings like the Elb however, are definitely of their own time and will age quickly, and it will be very expensive to replace / demolish them when their life span is over – which for most modernist buildings is ca. 50 year. ‘Oldfashioned’ buildings however, can be restored and adapted infinitely, as history demonstrates, and without such exaggerated expenses, because their formal structure is, in its nature, adaptable.

      1. John Borstlap says:

        PS

        The Beethoven analogy is one of the cardboard clichées which made-up the repertoire of self-justifications of postwar modernism….. The reality is, that strikingly new idioms like Beethoven’s were quickly accepted by a majority of listeners, the same goes for Chopin, Wagner, Strauss, Mahler (maybe in his case somewhat less so, but he was performed often and accepted and respected), Debussy, Stravinsky, etc. etc. In Beethoven’s case, the quick general acceptance of his music was all the more remarkable as he was supported all his life by the aristocracy in spite of his work emanating much of the spirit of the French revolution, which was a threatening perspective of the status quo in Austria and especially for the aristocracy who supported classical music and its composers. Although there were also people rejecting B’s music, he was very popular and considered a very important cultural asset of Vienna and the Habsburg empire, so much so that when he got an offer from the King of Westphalia (Napoleon’s brother, of all people) there was a public petition / appeal to make him stay in Vienna, quickly materializing in a pension paid for by three prominent aristocrats (among which the brother of the emperor), on the condition that B would stay in the capital.

        So, this story of ‘negative reactions’, which had been heard indeed, has been greatly exaggerated to justify postwar modernism with the idea that critique were an indication of artistic quality…. myth-making, in short, for strategic purposes.

        1. John Borstlap says:

          PS2:
          There seem to be serious problems with the Elb’s acustics, being too clear and dry, one also hears the sounds one would rather not like to hear, and a large part of the auditorium hears things quite unbalanced:

          https://www.welt.de/kultur/article161102119/Liebe-Hamburger-Weltklasse-geht-leider-anders.html

          An orchestra is designed to play at one end of a space, not in the middle of it: strings in front, then the woodwind, and brass and percussion at the back. The different layers of sound are then mixed in the hall itself: an orchestra plays forwards into the auditorium. Also, the sonorities of the instruments carry deep into space but not the additional little production sounds, it is like the difference between vowels and consonants in speech. It is the intention that the audience hears the mixed result of the sonorities, not the clips and clacks and scratching and shuffling of feet and breathing.

          And then, why do algorhythms look so ugly? (The hall was algorhythmically-designed.)

  11. António Jorge Pacheco says:

    Well, unlike others who seem to have an oppinion, I actually was at the opening concert of Elbphilharmonie and my ears tell me something very different: it sounds really great, clear and warm, not dry at all. And you should know that for concert halls that seat more that 1.000 it works much better to place the orchestra in the middle. Should you place the orchestra “at one end of a space” in halls that seat 2.000 people the last rows would be too far from the sound source. Obvious no? Very good examples of this set up are the Berlin Phil, the new Paris Phil (stunning acoustics!) or Cologne Phil, just to give a few examples.

    1. Paul Davis says:

      I was there too, and unfortunately i found it dry and too clear, with almost no “melting” possibilities or warmth. Admittedly it wasn’t cramped or compacted like the ghastly Borebican Hell or dead like the RFH, but i was not bowled over. It probably didn’t help to have been in the Concertgebouw a few days before, (orchestra at one end of a space!)…. the comparison was cruel. But of course on the nite, it was impossible to voice even the slightest shadow of doubt that it was now the Best in the World!

      However i did much enjoy the stunning experience of the views and aspects of the building, which admittedly may become dated sooner than later.


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