Three works by Matthias Pintscher are featured on NOVA’s February 28, 2016 concert. This gifted composer was born in 1971 in Marl, North Rhine-Westphalia, and currently resides in New York and Paris. He has emerged with unusual speed to become recognized as one of the most successful composers of the generation. He works also as conductor with renowned interpreters and orchestras. In June 2012 he was appointed Music Director of the Ensemble InterContemporain beginning in the 2013-2014 season. Last September it was announced that the Mr. Pintscher will serve as Principal Conductor German of the Lucerne Festival Academy, working closely with Artistic Director and composer Wolfgang Rihm. As stated by Stefana Sabin, “Sustained, shimmering, iridescent notes, nuanced instrumentation, and an idiosyncratic penchant for high registers comprise what has become the characteristic and recognizable Pintscher sound… The essential element in Pintscher’s compositions is not melody but their play with color sounds…”
The following notes offer background information on each of the intriguing pieces performed on NOVA this February.
Janusgesicht, for Viola and Cello
The following note is by esteemed scholar of modern music Paul Griffiths (guest lecturer for Salt Lake City’s Messiaen Festival in April of 2007; Mr. Griffiths introduced NOVA’s performance of the Quartet for the End of Time.)
In the case of Janusgesicht, instrumentation accelerates the fusion – and confusion – of the participants, who travel as images of each other through a typically Pintscheresque landscape of fragile yet intensely present sonorities, very often harmonics, traversed at the slow tempo of breathing. The source tone this time is B on the treble staff, sounded in different ways on the two instruments: as a natural or artificial harmonic, pizzicato or arco, away from or on the bridge, trilled or not. Vacillations of sound, at a generally low dynamic level, with notes often rising from silence as far as ppp and then shading back again, create an effect of unreality. The note is there; it is, to begin with, almost all that can be heard, shining and vanishing like the dim beam of a distant lighthouse. But at the same time it seems like the trace of something gone, a mark of absence. So the piece continues, through further echoes, coalescences, and near misses, through unisons and places where one instrument picks out a harmonic of the other’s note, and it is as if the site of aural intentness is rising, to a prolonged intersection on the F-sharp a fifth above the original B, and rising again, to a point super-high for both these instruments, the C-sharp another octave and a fifth higher. Janus, the ancient Roman god of beginnings and transitions – “The matter of new beginnings (“Départ”) and of the imaginary journey from the familiar to the unknown concerns me fundamentally” – is commonly depicted facing outwards in two directions, but here it is as if the two instruments, the two visages, are looking towards one another – listening to one another, of course, as in any piece of chamber music, but also, in their listening as in their playing, feeling for the space that lies between them, across the mirror.
Beyond (a system of passing)
Continuity and further development characterize Matthias Pintscher’s compositions. Concepts found in his flute concerto Transir are expanded anew, informing his recent composition Beyond (a system of passing) for Flute Solo, which was composed for the Salzburg Festival. "The flute is any sound attached to the breathing ' - no instrument is articulated as close to the air stream itself, the instrument vibrating in direct contact with the human breath as an extension of the breath and body, carrying within itself the archaic and proposing a communicative bridge up to the present time... " The composition is based on a work of art by Anselm Kiefer " AEIOU " and was premiered in 2013 by Emanuel Pahud in Salzburg.
Kiefer’s work, titled “A.E.I.O.U.”, is a walk-in installation containing a large-format painting, a shelf of books made of lead, and a wall inscription. The house in Furtwänglerpark was built and furnished exactly to the artist’s stipulations. The shelf holds sixty lead volumes from which branches of Moroccan thornbushes seem to grow. These enter a dialogue with the painting opposite, “Awake in the Gypsy Camp.” The painting quotes a strophe from Ingeborg Bachmann’s poem “Das Spiel ist aus” (The Game is Over). It shows clay bricks set out to dry – an allusion to Sumerian cuneiform tablets – and is partially strung with NATO wire. The inscription translates: “Awake in the gypsy camp and awake in the desert tent, the sand runs out of our hair, your age and mine and the age of the world are not measured in years.” Gypsy camp and desert tent – words that evoke the nomadic character of our contemporary lives, between forms of existence and states of time, but also alluding to the fleetingness of time, something Kiefer finds especially relevant to the city of Salzburg.
To quote the artist: “I imagined the space as having fallen into a kind of Sleeping Beauty slumber. Each viewer can awaken the work back to life, like the knight in the fairy-tale kissed Sleeping Beauty awake.”
Kiefer’s contribution to the Salzburg Art Project is titled “A.E.I.O.U.” This vowel sequence was used by Emperor Frederick III as a reference to his secretly planned imperialistic claims. “Austriae Est Imperare Orbi Universo”. Originating in late-medieval emblematics, it has prompted over 300 interpretations to date. Viewers are challenged to contribute their own readings, and ideally to generate new meanings.
Matthias Pintscher’s solo viola work In Nomine was commissioned as a part of the vast project outlined below:
The In Nomine genre, characteristic of the late English Renaissance, took as its point of departure a section of the Benedictus from John Taverner's Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas. That section includes a complete statement of the chant cantus firmus for which the mass was named, and, for reasons that are not entirely clear, spawned an entire tradition of instrumental works in which composers tried to demonstrate their contrapuntal skills by devising new settings of the chant, or of Taverner's own setting, that would stand out from all the others. The subtitle "The Witten in Nomine Broken Consort Book" might lead the listener to expect a little-known collection of perhaps German offshoots from this tradition, but in fact the music is all contemporary. The impressively large collection of 42 pieces found in this collection grew from an initial group dedicated to one Harry Vogt, the director of a contemporary music festival in the city of Witten; the tradition, as mysteriously as the original one, has taken on a life of its own. It would be wrong to call the music varied. Composed between 1994 and 2002, it is far from representing the range of styles heard in Germany during that period. The examples of Webern and Wolfgang Rihm, who composed one of the pieces, loom large; most of the pieces are fragmentary, pointillistic, extreme in instrumental technique, unconnected with tonal centers, and absorbed in the intellectual preconditions of the post-World War II avant-garde, which by now is not avant anything. The settings range from less than a minute to about 11 minutes in length, and Freiburg's ensemble recherche does well at keeping a consistent thread going through music written for various forces. Several works are arrangements of In Nomine by Purcell, Byrd, and their contemporaries, but in most of the music the In Nomine references are fleeting and difficult to identify… Nevertheless, it provides a common reference point for an unusually large collection of German modernist music, and the production by the West German Radio of Cologne is top-notch. (James Manheim)