— Good evening, Marcus! I welcome you together with the Stravinsky.online team. We are very glad that you have agreed to participate in the Dialogues and answer our questions. In your several interviews, you say that it is important for you when a performer searches for his music and creates his own performing profile. How did the process of creating a repertoire happen to you? Where did you start?
— These are two very different fields, when I started I didn’t know that I needed to find my profile. So the idea of the profile is very much connected, of course, to every musician today in general, because more and more to be a musician is not just to be a teacher or an orchestra musician, but at least in our country, around here, our countries in western Europe, it is really a patchwork thing. Most people do teach, do play chamber music, do maybe play solistically, do maybe some orchestra or not so, that's a big part, so there's a lot of profile questions — what do you want to do.
And the very specific profile issue for me is when I speak to saxophonists, to so-called “classic” saxophonists, I'm teaching professionals as classical saxophonists since 30 years now and I tell them every time, all the time, the beginning of the year and again and again: “Please, be aware you're not on a fixed path, you can learn the saxophone, you can learn the “classic” saxophone somehow, but there is nothing that waits for you after that, there is no orchestra job, there is maybe a teaching job, but the music world doesn't wait for you and ask you, calls you to play this and that, but you have to bring your music!”.
So that's very specific, maybe it's also for many other musicians, but especially for saxophonists, because there is no real classical saxophone, the classical saxophone. The saxophone exists since 1840, so it's a quite old instrument, but the repertoire goes on about 120 years or 130 years, and we never found into the orchestra as a fix instrument. So there are some pieces around, we have a Debussy Rhapsody, we have a Schmitt Ballad, we have some orchestral things by many also russian composers, but there is not much, so we have to find our own profile.
So that brings me now back to the question about repertoire. You really address a saxophonist! So repertoire is not given. For a pianist it's quite clear, he has a huge mountain in front and has to choose, can choose to go this or that direction concerning repertoire. I think an instrument, the history of an instrument, especially the history of the repertoire, so that's why there is no classic saxophone in terms of a real developed classic saxophone, because there is no repertoire, there is no real repertoire that we have.
My first things with my teacher 40 years ago I had fights more or less, because, of course, I had to learn this kind of french conservatoire repertoire with all the etudes and all these sonatas for saxophone and piano and the concertos and so forth, but these are all pieces or even composers that nobody knows anymore, they are not real composers, but they are neo-romantic, neo-classic conservatoire composers. And in the saxophone world these are still considered like the important composers, even if they are never played, except in the little saxophone bubble. So since a couple of years, since maybe my generation, maybe 1980, the classical saxophone was part, at least in France and in other European countries, was kind of a serious instrument. There was a school established since after the war. We could play soft and loud and know how to phrase a piece and how to play an impressionist piece or a romantic piece or even a baroque piece. Then we could start in the 80s. I remember very well I was 20 start to build repertoire so most of my colleagues at that time, not most, but some, few, started to be interested in contemporary music, because there were only two possibilities to be a classical player besides the normal repertoire: either you play transcriptions or you go into creation and do contemporary music. And I actually did both, I kind of skipped the original repertoire. I would reduce it to 20 pieces, I think there are 20 pieces besides the Bolero and some other orchestra solos that can be considered as the saxophone repertoire. But I started to play Brahms sonatas and Schumann pieces, which were already written in the time of the saxophone and, I think, which can very well be adapted. You just have to learn that style to get into that music, of course. I also started especially in the soprano saxophone to play baroque music, because even Marcio Bolli, a quite known oboe player, who is a good friend [of mine], he told me he is a big fan of the soprano saxophone, he also plays the soprano saxophone, we did duos together like french baroque duos and other. Because he says the soprano saxophone somehow for him is closer to the baroque oboe in sound and also in that it comes from the reed, than the modern oboe, which I didn't even think of. But the soprano saxophone is a well speaking instrument, you have to learn to focus the sound to bring it down, to make it not a war machine, so that was a field that I did start to go into transcriptions, because that was really music that the Bach pieces I still play after 40 years and we all know the Bach we can play again and again and again and we always discover something, but we always get something from playing that music, whereas when I play these conservator pieces, the only thing I have to do — I have to try to make it sound better, than it is.
So then the other field is the contemporary music that I more or less started maybe 30 years ago, I have my career based on that and also both ensembles, I do solo playing of course, I always love to play as a soloist with orchestra, and I have done some nice first performances also, for example by Georg Friedrich Haas. He has baritone saxophone concerto that I will play again, and many other pieces. Now, for example, in January next year, in Cologne I will play a first performance of a new saxophone concerto that Eötvös Péter wrote for me, that we will play a couple of times. So this is one, of course, kind of a bourgeois nice soloist career. Solo career you can do as a violinist, as a singer, as a pianist, already the other instruments are already less, there are some flutists and some clarinetists, some cellists, of course, but saxophone is more an exotic thing once in a while. I like to play with an orchestra, but that's a very luxury thing. But the chamber music side — that was what I was always interested. I started to play with my teacher Iwan Roth in his quartet, when I was 20. We did a lot of classical saxophone music, but also new music of that time. And since 30 years I'm with my quartet in Paris XASAX, but especially with the trio Accanto, I'm part of this new music scene in Europe. And it's quite old, 30 year old trio and we are still alive, we just had some very nice concerts in Donaueschingen, which was, I don't know, [you] probably know the festival in Germany, which is like a little bit the mother of new music festivals. This year it was a hundredth year Donaueschingen and we did three first performances. One beautiful new piece by Rebeccs Saunders, one big piece, also very nice, very special piece by Eivind Buene — a norwegian player, a composer, who wrote a piece called “Personal Best”, where he interviewed us and he asked us to choose our preferred recordings we made and then he kind of constructed a piece around our stories, around our story. So it's a piece, a trio of 30 minutes long with a CD with, a record played three times, with electronics and otherwise saxophone/piano/percussion, a lot of improvisation also, with speech, where the piece is edited, it's printed, but the only trio that can play it is my trio, because it's our story, so it doesn't make any sense, it actually didn't make sense for the editor to print it, but they did it. And then a third piece by Lisa Illean, an australian composer writing micro tonal electronic music sitting in London. She couldn't come to the first performance, but that was a beautiful concert, that I am very happy and, you know, it's maybe not proud, but I am just happy we could do that, because it's a special and beautiful place, it's a very important kind of gathering, and at the same time we had a big piece of contemporary music in the style of instrumental music of the 90s and 2000s of just the past, and two pieces of our times, where of course, all the things that go beyond normal instrumental playing is also important, where conceptual things, text, electronics and so on are important.
So for me, coming back to the question of the repertoire, was always clear. I have to find good transcriptions and find, hopefully, concerts where I can play it once in a while, because who wants to hear Brahms sonata for clarinet with a saxophone? Even if you play it very well in a good festival, it will always be naturally programmed with the clarinet, but the fun to play it or the pleasure to play it I cannot leave it out.
I just got an email, I will give a master-class in Helsinki in three weeks and I forgot the program, but I made a program already a year ago, and now I've got it back, and I'm so happy, because I thought of programming Pavel Haas Suite — I don't know if you know Pavel Haas, he was a student of Janacek and he wrote a wonderful piece, quite political, quite emphatic piece for oboe and piano and of course it's much better with soprano saxophone [and] piano — so I'm constantly looking for possibilities in that direction.
And then on the other side, of course, there may be I remember your questions about repertoire in general. The trio's pianist for the first 20 years was Yukiko Sugawara — a japanese pianist, she was the wife of Helmut Lachenmann — and so we were a little bit the trio of Helmut's class. We played many-many pieces of Lachenman's class and I was somehow raised in that opening of instrumental playing and that extreme development of.. not only of effects, but really of reflection about the action of playing, about the sound, about the whole thing of being an instrumentalist — what is an instrument? — and actually also from Helmut I learned, that the history of the instrument, the hearing history of the instrument, he says: “When I have to write a piece for clarinet I must rewrite somehow the Mozart concerto”. It's impossible, because the Mozart concerto is in our ears when we hear the clarinet. And there I thought, maybe I'm smart, maybe not, but I thought the classical saxophone, if you play it in tune and well and without vibrato, for example, nobody knows that you play the saxophone. It's a sound between clarinet, oboe, flute and string instruments or whatever you want. And this quality of non having a hearing history — I use it for the transcriptions, so I get a lot from that, from being in that kind of pot, you know. I felt a little bit like Obelix — I don't know if you know Obelix from “Asterix and Obelix”, but he did fall into that magic drink and so he was strong all his life. I'm not strong, but I did adapt many ideas from that. So it's not about sound against noise or anything, but it's just an incredible opening of listening and of playing. And that has come not to an end , but the new generation, a generation that has to go beyond Lachenmann, beyond Ferneyhough, beyond Gérard Grisey. They cannot just become.. just write more complicated than Ferneyhough, more strange sounds than Lachenmann, but they have to find another paradigm somehow. And that's what happened, I think, in the western, like in Darmstadt, in Donaueschingen, also even in France, where it's more conservative. It happens now, that much more of this new paradigm is, I don't know if you know Jennifer Walshe, her term of the new discipline, I think, is the most important thing. But it's not only that, it could also be conceptualism like Johannes Kreidler or any other kind of opening music and composition to everything, more or less. To plus electronics, plus theater, especially the whole performance thing is also put in question. Then, of course, the whole gender history that is working now that's not the content, but it's kind of at the same time, it happens at the same time.
And I remember I'm teaching in Darmstadt at the summer course since, I don't know exactly, since 2000 or so and I remember in 2008 there really I felt this change incredibly, where we, instrumentalists, we were kind of important. Of course the composers are the most important, but the instrumentalists had some weight also as artists to choose, to say about good and bad and so forth. And at that time there was an incredible divide and people would say: “Yeah, instrumental music that's nice, we like it, but that's good, that can be developed, but it is somehow like old technologies, you know, the violin is from the 16th century or whenever you want to start with the violin, 16th, 17th century, that's a technology of that time, why should we today — having computer, having internet and so forth - write for a stick, for a wooden box with some strings on it, that are incredibly expensive and we don't even hear it in a big hall!”. I can really understand that, but first of all I had to reflect, to defend the good old world of instrumental playing, because it's not just about saxophone, but it's about a couple of hundred years of a certain development of this. And this is all, of course, in the playing, even in the playing of the Lachenman piece, the playing of a Bach toccata and the playing of a Schumann or a Brahms Sonata is also in there, if you do that, you don't just start with the Lachenman. But at the same time I also felt - yeah, I'm not of the gender of the internet generation, i'm a generation, when there was IRCAM, Freiburg studio, Cologne, Florence and some little studios and you had to go there to make electronic music. But in the 90s, from 1990 or 95, every, every poor composer had MAX/MSP at home and he needs just a sound card and two boxes to create the sounds and the crazy stuff of the big electronic studio. So that's just this example and the same with videos — you have many cameras you can make films you can learn to cut itself, it's a complete new material that comes into the game and the good old composer, that starts to write counterpoint and then maybe a little bit more abstract and then invents new music, I mean, that's a story. Of course it never worked like this! I mean, people writing new music — they are sometimes incredibly gifted, they can write fugues, but also sometimes they have never even had to write fugues, because they were not interested in that, that's old crap, it's not for us. So this path of being the kapellmeister and writing at the piano and thinking about counterpoint, I think that's a story not from yesterday, but from even before and before yesterday.
Which, of course, brings many questions. I think there is a lot of really bad quality of pieces, that only work with video and, you know, it's kind of fun, but it's light, it doesn't say a lot, it's “do it yourself” and I'm not appealed by that, I like to be touched somehow. Either it must be super smart — I must be touched by the intelligence and the lightness of something — or it's like listening to some, I don't know, to a Bach cantata, something that strikes me. And these pieces — they have a little sports character to me often, where I feel, I mean I'm 60 so I can say “okay, that's.. I have to leave that for the young” . But at the same time I told you the two pieces we made with electronics and with a little bit of acting, last week in Donaueschingen I did like it, because they were really well made, it was.. they took a lot of time to choose it, the technical realization was very good, so I have hope, that there will be repertoire in the future, that is with new means, that is open, that is crazy, but is also with instruments and with instrumental playing.
So maybe a last point to that I am also since 10 years at the Hochschule in Basel we have this master of contemporary music for performers, that I invented together with Michael Svoboda and Jurg Henneberger. Mike is a trombone player and composer, and Jurg is a conductor. It's a two-year master for, a second master actually, for people that already have their cello master and then they come and they specialize. And of course in the beginning we tried to realize the things we did already with our experience and we always wanted to do. And now it's very funny — the students there are two years, so it's about 16 students, not more, but they are very active and they make the choices, many choices of repertoire and they very naturally want to play new music, but new music from today. So from the classic composers we have these lists, these long lists of chamber music, we just asked them, then we have a list of about, from last year, 250 pieces of chamber music, what they want to play. So that's really great, because you see there are some Lacheman, Grisey, maybe even Kurtág, Stockhausen, but not much more than that from the great composers of the past 1950. It's really like a very few of these, sometimes Cage, of course, comes up again, it's conceptual music, but the rest is music from the last 20 years, not more so. So, I mean, it will go on and as long as good performers and players, that with their heart they are instrumentalists, are there, there will be hopefully music with care about the instrumental part as well.
Domenico Scarlatti : Sonate en la mineur (allegro) K. 532 (Quatuor Xasax)
Квартет Xasax: М. Вайс (сопрано-саксофон), П.-С. Меже (альт-саксофон), Ж.-М. Гури (тенор-саксофон), Серж Бертокки (баритон-саксофон) исполняют Сонату ля минор Д. Скарлатти в переложении С. Шаррино.
— This is very interesting, indeed, because in Russia, I think, situation is slightly different. There are different students. There are students that are interested in contemporary music and they choose pieces of the 50s or 60s - Berio, Stockhausen, Cage. I'm the manager of some student projects and what I see is that often these programs are built around a variability of pieces, so that different techniques could be shown. And I as a manager often lack a concept, a conceptual part, an idea, that would bind everything together. It is interesting to have a patchwork of pieces, you know, to see different things and styles, but also at a concert, at a performance, you want to see a message from each performer. Not just saying that “well, we could compose like this, like this and like that” , but coming back to the conceptual side of the program. How do you work with your students?
— Yeah, I mean, two different things. We also have people that play Berio and all these musics, but I speak of our specialized masters. They have already done their Berio and then they sometimes discover “ah, there are some pieces of Donatoni!”, they go grab and they go into that. That is not over, of course, but the general interest is performance, is performing. So I think there are many-many-many composers of the 20th century — even before the War — of contemporary, let's say, modern composers, that didn't just play late romantic music, that should be performed and and taken into account.
I would say, you know, there are many different styles of programming. In classical concerts you put the Sonata in C major and the Sonata in a minor, that's already “wow, what a concept!”. Or Haydn and Mozart, I think at least it's interesting. I know that there are - especially in the 19th century, beginning 19th century, you probably know being an organizer — the programs in many places - Paris, Vienna, probably Saint Petersburg, Moscow — they were long, they were like two hours, three hours programs with orchestra and solo, and choir, and this, and that, so that was like a circus a little bit, it was not the absolute music idea of “we are in church and today god is…”, I'm not very religious, but there are always topics in church. And I think since there is absolutely music, since the beginning of the 19th century and the string quartets and this Beethovenian idea of this uplifting through music making, there is another kind of programming, where things are really set together, like where a concert is like a sonata or whatever, this kind of thing.
And I think these two ways of programming or curating programs are still very much fashionable. I know that, for example, in England it's more about contrast, don't go there and make a deep program, that educates the people, that brings them to meditate. No, surprise them, so make a difference, a contrast, a piece by them and then a piece, so that's more this kind of thing, it's more about entertainment. And, of course, I am more on the, let's say, German, I'm Swiss, but it's more or less between German and French culture. For me music is definitely something that takes the place of religion somehow, like the whole ritualist side, the whole personal hygiene even, I have with the instrument and with the music, with the scores, with the text. It's like for somebody that reads the Bible and goes to church, I really feel it like that. But of course there is also a fun side to it, maybe even in church there is a fun side, I don't know.
But with the students we try, of course, to be conceptual with the programs, like either you have topics, they can be very kind of not superficial, I think, you know the topics of singers, a program about love and a program about death and the program about evening and the program about night, I think that's kind of boring. That doesn't bring a lot. You can hope that things kind of go together, because it's the same topic. But it's not really intelligent, it's a superficial kind of idea.
But sometimes... For example, next week I conduct a program with our class, that I do prepare now, which is also kind of superficial, because I thought “so many pieces with instruments and with electronics, and transducers, and this, and that, then you have to buy this, and that, and have the special piano, and rent this kind of special beamer or so”. I know, I just wanted them to play their instrument to do good old chamber music, where we can rent a room or have a room, everybody comes on time with the instrument, we unpack the instrument and we start to play. I'm really looking forward to do that, because we had so many complex things in the past. And the topic is for me - french music, so I chose french music of the last 25 years. So post Boulez, even post Grisey, so that's the topic, and I'm doing many things, so I didn't really invest a lot of time in finding the pieces that fit, but as they are all from the same region and they are all from the same time, there are really overlapping things and I'm curious to feel the relationships of the pieces by Tristan Murail, Raphaël Cendo, Frederick Pottar, by Phillippe Leroux, and Jan Roban. What is the name of that school, the saturation school, the kind of Cendo and Roban, they are a little bit from that crazy, like rock’n’roll-Lachenmann-free-jazz, try to bring these extreme sounds, extreme density, saturated sound. One piece is like that, the other is already from a next step of composing. Yeah, that is a topic for me, that is a very practical one.
And of course at the Hochschule I don't have to sell the program. We do eight programs like this a year, besides many other chamber music activities and guests and so. But I'm quite happy with that program! We have a minimalist program, so certain stylistic things or different ideas of curation. But it's always an organized program, it's not just the mix of the day. Which is, of course, sometimes necessary, because there's no time, so you have to kind of bring a program on stage and then... But usually the contrast program, if it's just a mix, there would just be some good pieces and some less good pieces, but with the other types of program you can construct a certain energy or you can bring it somewhere.
With the trio Accanto our curator's idea is the trio itself, because of course we try to make the pieces match, but we only have the pieces we have, that means uh we started 30 years ago, we have about 120 pieces in these 29 years, that we have played, we have first performed, but we only play about 20 of them or 15 maybe, 15 plus the new pieces. So every five years this piece will drop out and some new pieces will come, but they will also drop out, so now we are old, I don't know, how long we will go on, but if we would go on and on and on, it would work like this — some pieces just stay and most of the others they kind of fall out.
The luxury of having a piano repertoire, where you can really find connections between, I don't know, Janacek and some baroque things. We don't have that. So we have to be with the saxophone, with the new music, I mean, curating story…
I can maybe tell you one example — I did a little festival, I organized with the Hochschule, we have in September now, this september, a festival called “Zeiträume” in Basel, it's a big festival, but it's small. People don't come from very far, it's music and architecture.
ZeitRäume Basel: Festivalteaser 2021
Тизер фестиваля ZeitRäume
And I organized, because we really have great students, great players, they're surprising, they are like new music people… I mean, we as students, we were little kids compared to them 30 years ago or 40 years ago. So I thought “yeah, they are fantastic players, I want them, I want to show them, I give them a showcase”. So we had this old industrial building of Basel, of a chemical plant in Basel, with many rooms, big rooms, small rooms, a gathering room, like industrial, you can imagine. Very nice, a little bit used, but there are galleries, there are ateliers in there and there is a tennis court actually in there, so many places. I thought of a program that started at six and went until midnight. It was about different formats, so it's a kind of a symposium idea, that the audience comes and in the middle there will be food and then there will be drinks, there will be talk, there will be, you know, “after every concert get together and have a beer or have a glass of wine”. So the first concert was a classic new music concert. An ensemble of the school did play two pieces - one “Drei Stücke” by Mark Andre, very beautiful, very well composed, like post Lachenmann type of incredibly refined music. And then we gave a commission for a septet with electric guitar, wings and strings, to Yu Kuwabara, who is a japanese composer, she wrote a very nice piece for us.
Mark Andre - Drei Stucke fur ensemble - Ensemble Recherche
Марк Андре. «Drei Stucke». Исполняет Ensemble Recherche
So there were these two pieces and all the public was there, 120 people. Then came four solo performances. I don't go into detail, but it was not just solo, it was one was improvisation with installation, the other was cello with electronics and an object, the other was a saxophone playing on a timpani, so you did not hear a saxophone and not the timpani, but strange kind of electronic music, and the fourth was electric guitar, that was a piece by Pierluigi Billone, an electric guitar solo piece.
And the audience went in a circle, they went to all the four, everybody played four times and the audience were in small groups, they went from solo to solo.
Then there were two conceptual pieces. One was by Jessie Marino and our students themselves, they did two pieces half an hour; and the other was by — who's actually a student of Johannes Kreidler, he has the coolest name, his name is Dakota Wayne. So that composer Dakota Wayne, he made quite a crazy program with four instrumentalists, but they didn't play the instrument, they were more or less naked with some special, it was not about nudity, but they were naked. There was dirt and there was meat, and the composer then started to cut himself and it was kind of a little bit on the edge, but that was the third format, that was conceptual music. My idea was I want them to play, but I want also to kind of instruct the audience of all the newer forms of contemporary music.
And then the last part was in a club, because in that industrial thing there is also a huge rock club with quite a big stage and with lots of amplifiers of very bad quality actually… And there they did play a piece by Enno Poppe and a piece by Bernand Lang, an instrumental ensemble. And funnily the piece for Bernand Lang was that he wrote for my trio, it's called “Songbook” with a voice and trio Accanto, beautiful piece. And the other piece was “Fleisch” - “Meat” by Enno Poppe, that he wrote for ensemble Nikel, who is the ensemble, funnily, of our students. The saxophonist — Patrick Stadler — he was my student and my assistant, Brian Archinal, the percussionist, was the student of Christian. So there was this connection of the old trio Accanto thing and the young new music band repertoire. So that was curation about formats, let's say, so the format, of course, I tried to program good pieces and good performances of it, but.. Yeah, it was very nice, it went well! But in the mind it's always nicer, it's always more fluid, than there is this moment of waiting and then they go, everybody goes there and so “Oh, god…”. It should be natural, everything should just work like this, but you know. I think we did it well and it went quite well.
Also talking about curation, of course, is talking about the festival “Rümlingen”, that I am also curating since 30 years, there it really was 31 this year! It was very big, very big! And Rümlingen is, maybe for a curator, especially to see the whole history of Rümlingen, is probably one of the most interesting projects, because we are not a festival that just invites musicians to play a concert and then next and then next. But the first 10 years, like 30 years ago, we started with very little money and we had very strong concepts. We had like 10 musicians and everybody would play in four concerts, because we had one solo concert and then one ensemble concert, and then chamber music, and then something on the street, and something in the forest, and something in the church. And there were still topics, because we had to… We still had our heroes like Luigi Nono, Morton Feldman, John Cage, we still did a lot of that repertoire plus new music.
And then, since about 20 years, the most part the festival is very curated, so it's always a topic, it's always a very strong topic, and usually another format. Sometimes it's everything in the woods, sometimes it's one walk through Switzerland over the mountains during a week, this year it was in Appenzell about Robert Walser — a swiss writer, maybe best swiss writer. In four different towns we had music theater new pieces and then two times a long walk. And one was very well, so that was a walk with art or with music stations on the way. It's a two hour walk through really up and down, plus the music, so it's three and a half hours, and it was just too much, it was a too difficult walk. The first one was nice on saturday, because the weather was good, and then on sunday the weather was very bad, and some people were close to.. they wouldn't die, but it was just heavy-heavy a three to four hour walk through a quite rough, but beautiful landscape with art, then that didn't take place as planned, so that was a little bit problematic.
Next year we will have a very small version again, back at home in Rümlingen, in our little town, with three trios in three different churches. Quite crazy trios. So one is a japanese improvisation electronic trio, the other trio is Jennifer Walshe with two americans and the german artist, and the third trio I don't know where they are now, we will meet tomorrow actually.
So this festival is quite rich. We did more or less everything you can imagine that is possible in the countryside, in a small village, and in nature. We are not in a town, it would have been different, of course, if we would be in Basel, which is our town here, but we are in this little village of, I don't know, 800 people, in kind of hilly landscape. We did a lot with farmers, together with farmers, pieces on trees, pieces… and yeah, whatever. And that will go on. And as now these days we have this festival in Basel, the “Zeiträume”. Every two years, when there is “Zeiträume”, Rümlingen, our other festival, our festival, goes away. So we go away to Switzerland, but it's of course an incredible work, because you have to connect with the place, you have to see all the players there. Next year we will be back here and then in two years we will be in the Ticino in Switzerland, in the south of Switzerland, on the Monte Verita. I don't know, if you know about the Monte Verita, I'm sure you have that in Russia too, there is in Germany. In the beginning of the 20th century there were artists colonies. Think of Chekhov, I don't know the play, but the play where the young guy is doing an incredible theater outside and the old aristocracy thinks “yeah, okay, you are young, you think you can do the revolution, but you will see later…”. Then, of course, the play that's another story, but that time is a little bit… The beginning of the century, I think, was very-very interesting, many codes were broken. 12-tone music started. All kinds of dance movements. I think, the nudists, they were there too. So it's a very interesting place and there's a kind of a hundred, a centenary thing, that we connect to. Yeah, so these are a little bit what I can say from what I do about curating.
I talk a lot to my students, especially saxophone students, about curating, because they really need to do that and I tell them: “Listen, if you don't [do it], don't think you will play in Paris in two years, because you might not play in Paris, but try to create something in your hometown, go to a.. maybe, you know a shop, maybe you know a baker or a butcher or a garage, try to set up three concerts every year, invite people from the village, make something happening!”. And then, of course, curating a program would be to choose a topic or to choose a little bit more, but to create unity. I think that for me that is really something that we should start from. Because then you can invite people, of course you do it without money or more or less, or maybe you are good and you can get some money from the village. But if a musician is smart enough and has a little bit of ability to communicate, he or she can make something from more or less nothing, just have to believe so and to endure! Of course it takes energy— you have to lead, nobody will probably help you, but I think it's more interesting, than just to do your competition and, of course, you might get a good job or you might get a career, but the competition alone takes so much energy, so much life from you, and it's not sure, if it will bring you what you have wished from it. So it's probably better to develop.
Like pianists, I tell them: “Don't dream of your Beethoven and Chopin concerts, because there is one from 10 000, who really does it and all the others they might be good pianists, but why don't you play with a singer, why don't you play chamber music, why don't you, whatever , do whatever?”. But this dream, this incredible thing, that I think with pianists is a little bit, maybe not dramatic, but a little bit sad, with many of them, that they invest into that, they get to a certain point, and then nothing happens, and then they are frustrated, and they could have done many other things before. Yeah, but that's another story.
— Were you ever interested in jazz? So if you're speaking about saxophonists, we usually think about jazz music and probably it is quite funny, that the trio Accanto has a jazz composition, jazz musicians. But you came up with a totally, completely different repertoire, but would you consider any project with jazz or maybe you have already?
— That's, of course, the question as a saxophonist, that must come, but it's absolutely different to be a jazz saxophonist or a classical saxophonist. It's from the beginning: it's the same instrument, it looks the same, but the rest is not the same, it's not the same mouthpiece, it's not the same musical idea, it's not the same sound concept, so these are two different things. But of course, the history of jazz saxophone is much more interesting, than the history of classic, of art saxophone. If you want, I absolutely agree with that. And I'm a great jazz fan, I know it all, it's a little bit a historic thing. Of course there's still jazz, but I was born in 1960, that was maybe the high point, 61. John Coltrane was still alive, I think, four years... Miles Davis was the best around, and all the others, they were still all there! And I got a lot of, when I was even in the end.. in the 70s end, 70s-80s, I saw them all still there! And of course, we can talk about jazz in the history of jazz, but the 4-4, the standard jazz, is historic like baroque music. It's over, this doesn't exist anymore. It has been invented in the 30s-40s-50s and then it went on a little bit and you can still do it, I do it sometimes. But the jazz as a an incredible revolution, especially Coltrane, the free jazz and all the other different ethno developments, and afro jazz, and so forth of the 60s, 70s, 80s.. It goes on, I'm sure there is great jazz out there. But since there are jazz schools, since maybe the 70s, somehow jazz has become an academic field. Since then it's a little bit dead. I think the great jazz, the real life jazz, being entertainment for white people and urban american black music, you know, it was always politically.. there were like always different sides, there was kind of, of course, the strong “not serving the white” kind of jazz. Was very strong the black power movement in the 60s-70s, and there were many-many great players out there. So about jazz I have very strict ideas or let's say I hope it will ever go on, because jazz is a mentality, jazz is something there, and the songs, the standards of jazz , which are actually songs from musicals, written mostly by jewish immigrants from Europe in the 30s and 40s . For me they're like Schubert. Cole Porter is great, it's great music, great melody, but this is connected. I've never analyzed it, its forms are quite simple, but it's connected to the history, to having it heard in many places.
I was in Chicago, I did study in Chicago, I was a lot in New York and when I was 25. Now in the last couple of years I was not there, but it's a little bit part of me, and I know it, and it's connected to all the rest. And I think this will go on. For europeans already jazz is a little bit more, let's say, a snob thing or, let's say, it's art, it's, you know, in the 70s, when you went to a jazz bar, I still remember that, you saw these guys with the beards and the beer - “yeah, jazz!”. And then more and more it was the music of the architects and the journalists, and the psychologists, and I think today jazz I don't actually know, whose music it is. Jazz is still there.
We had a great festival in Montreux on lake Geneva, which was one of the really big jazz festivals in Europe. And already in the 80s it was not jazz anymore they played, but it was funk and soul and pop and rock and… singing Deep Purple - Smoke on the Water. You know the story of that song? It's the casino burning in Montreux, I didn't even know that, but this rock song, the rock song of all rock songs, has been played at the jazz festival, imagine! It's complete… And I saw a film lately about.. I think it was about Miles or about other trumpet player, whatever who, was shocked. And there was a guy - it was about Miles! - a young musician was interviewed and he said: “Yes, you know, jazz... jazz is over, jazz is now rap, what was in jazz is now in rap” and I thought: “What?!”. If you analyze this as a musicologist, you don't get to that point , but if you're a sociologist or a historian, then you know, that, I think, in the mid 70s, in the states, in the ghettos, they completely ended all the arts programs. No more painting, no more writing, no more music for the poor people, for the poor kids in the streets. So no more instruments. So no more jazz. The only instrument they had was a record player, so they played the record and that's where rap then came from. And the whole energy, of course, of the black culture, of the rhythmic, and the language, and the swing, and groove thing, went into that. So jazz is a historic, beautiful music, I love it.
Our trio is a jazz formation, that's absolutely true, we have no jazz piece, and I don't think we will, because I do play jazz, but I'm not a professional in jazz. I can play, I can sound like a real jazz musician, I have the material, I did it for a long time, but then, when it comes to really doing it, there are so many good players out there, I wouldn't dare to do that publicly. Just a little bit, maybe. Our pianist is not at all and the percussionist a little bit - he's more into afro and rhythms and all kinds.
But we have one composer, It was a little bit also my idea or in discussion, Brice Pauset - a french composer. He will write a piece, where Dexter Gordon is kind of the topic. So Dexter Gordon he is, besides John Coltrane, kind of my hero, it's like Schubert, Bach and Mozart then there is Coltrane, Dexter Gordon or some of these people that I really adore, and I think they invented something, they brought generosity. In contemporary music it starts from jazz, but in the end you don't even hear the source.
But I think we should not go into jazz, because piano jazz also is really for very old people, for very old white men, I have the impression, you know. A pianist, a bassist and the percussionist, then of course the saxophone is already a little bit dangerous instrument there, but I think it would more go into that direction, if we’d start that.
— And the last question, because there's little time left. What music interests you as a listener? What concert would you go to? Or will you definitely go to listen to some new music or just any music?
— No, definitely not any music! I'm not such a fan of folk music, folk music as a concert music. I would listen to folk music in the village, when there is a marriage and they play folk music. My wife is Polish, so we were with friends in the marriages in the village, in the countryside, and it was fantastic! But it's not concert music, so that side for me is unexisting.
The classic music, big symphonic 19th century music is not my thing. The whole “Kling, klang, klong” and the brass, and the percussion and so - I don't like it. Up to Brahms big symphony music and Mahler, of course. And then the whole pretentiousness of the bourgeois audience and the opera house takes me away from going there. But not because I don't like the music, but I don't want to see the dresses, and the young boys that usually have no clothes, and then they have a tie and… just makes me feel sick. But I love that music, of course. But the whole setting, this whole bourgeois kind of setting…
So I would prefer old music, where also sometimes it's a little bit snobbish. Whatever, Bach always works. If it's well played, it's just what I need once in a while, so I listen to. Lately I did start listening to early cantatas and I'm just blown away.
I go to a lot of contemporary music concerts, and I don't always like it. Of course I don't go there also or only because I want to hear the music, but because I know the people, I know the composer. But the change of stage between two pieces is very tiring. I try, in my own curating to be as fluid as possible.
But what would be the concert I would love to go to here?.. It can be a noise concert, it can be a Machaut Mass, it can be a maqam concert (I love arabic music, lute music). I don't go to rock concerts, but maybe I would like it, but then it must be really, really hard and loud. Otherwise, yeah, I would say - before 1850. Yeah, that's about it.
— Great! Thank you so much for this discussion, for having found the time. I'm really grateful for this opportunity and I'd like to thank you on behalf of the Stravinsky.online team. This discussion has been very interesting, just the opportunity to come together and speak about music. And thank you also for being available to postpone the meeting slightly. And I wish you all the best in your endeavors, thank you!
— Thank you very much, thank you very much! And I hope to see you wherever someday! All the best!