Michael Haefliger
Photo: Marco Borggreve/Lucerne Festival

Winrich Hopp
Photo: Manu Theobald

Michael Roßnagl
Photo: Manu Theobald



Revitalising modern orchestral music

The Ernst von Siemens Music Foundation’s räsonanz initiative

Max Nyffeler in conversation with Michael Roßnagl, Michael Haefliger and Winrich Hopp.


The Ernst von Siemens Music Foundation’s „räsonanz“ initiative will give new stimulus to contemporary orchestral music. Max Nyffeler spoke about the background and aims of the project with three of those who are directly involved: Michael Roßnagl, Secretary of the Board of the Ernst von Siemens Music Foundation, Winrich Hopp, artistic director  of musica viva Munich, and Michael Haefliger, director of the Lucerne Festival.


NYFFELER: Mr Roßnagl, the Ernst von Siemens Music Foundation’s räsonanz concert series is a new way of promoting contemporary music. What is the idea behind it?

ROßNAGL: Currently we support contemporary music projects and award our annual music prize, as well as the prizes for young composers. We are very happy with the way things are going. räsonanz is about taking the initiative ourselves. This idea is, by the way, very much in accordance with something our trustee Pierre Boulez once said: “Do something yourselves, too!” Our initiative is directed at contemporary oarchestral music and we are focussing, for the moment, on two places: Munich, with its important musica viva concert series; and Lucerne with a festival that is showing the way for the integration of modern music into ‘normal’ concert programmes. The fact that the Foundation has its management in Munich and its headquarters in Switzerland was also a factor in choosing the locations.

NYFFELER: So it wasn’t the organisers who took the initiative, it was the Foundation?

ROßNAGL: That’s right .

NYFFELER: What do you think about this initiative, Mr Haefliger?

HAEFLIGER: It’s beyond our wildest dreams. For a festival like ours, which has clear ambitions in the area of contemporary music, it’s a wonderful stroke of luck. A partner comes along and asks “what would you like to do and what do you need to do it? We’ll help!” It’s not just about financing a commission for a new composition, it’s about creating the right conditions for today’s music. An open space is being created. This is fantastic, particularly at a moment when many things in the Arts are being called into question.

HOPP: I agree with this appraisal. The initiative sets an example in the world of international orchestral music. It says: look, we are doing something for contemporary music ‒ specifically for music from the second half of the 20th century up until the present.

NYFFELER: How does this model actually work?

ROßNAGL: The organisers plan a project, and we guarantee that it can take place by taking on the  deficiency guarantee up to a certain amount.

NYFFELER: As a rule, you support projects for up to three years. It seems to be different in this case.

ROßNAGL: Yes. It is our own initiative, so we can offer longer term perspectives.

NYFFELER: How are the programmes decided on, und what is the Foundation’s role?

HAEFLIGER: All three partners work together closely.

ROßNAGL: Of course the members of the Board are invited to take part in the discussions. We are all in close contact, and we can sense a strong feeling of common purpose.

HOPP: It’s important to note that it is an initiative of the Foundation. The concerts are Foundation concerts, and we, the organisers in in Lucerne und Munich, develop the artistic concept in cooperation with the Board of Trustees.

NYFFELER: So tell me about the details! What will the programmes be like?

HOPP: The first concert will take place on 27th February – without Lucerne, for the moment – in the context of a musica viva concert weekend. The programme consists of works by George Benjamin, Pierre Boulez, György Ligeti und Georg Friedrich Haas. George Benjamin will conduct the Southwest German Radio Symphony Orchestra. The programme is representative of the orchestra’s artistic achievements during the seventy years of its existence. The cooperation with the Lucerne Festival will take effect from 2017. This will take various forms. We can engage an orchestra together for concerts in Lucerne and Munich, either on consecutive days, or, if the dates don’t suit, with some time in between. Or we can invite two orchestras with two different programmes, and so on. We are very flexible in this regard.

NYFFELER: The concerts in Lucerne: will they take place in summer, and are they part of the Festival Academy or are they integrated into the normal programme?

HAEFLIGER: As far as the date is concerned, we are very open, it could even be at Easter. And where exactly these concerts fit into the context of the whole programme will vary from case to case. It depends on the constellation.

NYFFELER: The musica viva concert series is associated with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. Will there be any change here?

HOPP: No. It was always part of musica viva’s tradition to invite guest orchestras and ensembles ‒ from Ensemble Modern to Ensemble Intercontemporain and the German Radio Symphony orchestras, to the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the Berliner Philharmonic in the 60s and 70s. A musica viva season usually consists of ten events. Five of these make up the heart of the series: these are the concerts with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. The Foundation’s initiative allows us the take international guest orchestras into consideration.

NYFFELER: Does that mean that in the future one musica viva concert will be performed by a guest orchestra?

HOPP: Yes, but to be quite clear, this is not an additional concert! The Foundation’s initiative does not replace anything, it adds and enriches.

NYFFELER: That opens up an international perspective, of course. Which partners do you envisage?

HOPP: Initially, we activated our existing contacts. And now we have the pleasant task of wining over some of the best orchestras in the world with their soloists and conductors to work together with us on this project.

NYFFELER: Interesting prospects indeed for Lucerne and Munich!

HOPP: Yes, but the orchestras will perform not only in Munich and Lucerne. Ideally, they would go on tour with the programme. So räsonanz is a wonderful opportunity for orchestras, too. We encourage them to devote themselves to the music of the 20th and 21st century. We are sending a clear message.

NYFFELER: So you are creating an international network consisting of sponsors, organisers and orchestras. We could say this is a new form of cooperation.

HAEFLIGER: Absolutely.

HOPP: I find Mr Roßnagl’s initial comments on Pierre Boulez helpful towards an understanding of this initiative. He always insisted on bringing New Music into large institutions, which he did with his work as a conductor. So I feel that Pierre Boulez is, in a way, behind the räsonanz initiative, even though it is not his initiative.

ROßNAGL: Strengthening the social status of modern music was very important to him, and if you look at today’s world, this seems to me to be becoming increasingly important.

HAEFLIGER: Boulez was an absolutely dominant figure in Lucerne during the last thirteen years (as he was in other places before this time, too). He would simply say: That’s how it has to be, that’s what we have to do. He was a man with a strong will who could get his ideas off the ground without discussion and debate, because they were necessary and convincing. That’s something that is missing today. An initiative like räsonanz might help to fill this vacuum. Once again, it is not so much about a set of rules, as about generously creating spaces and opportunities.

NYFFELER: A kind of patronage...

ROßNAGL: ... based on a foundation’s statutes that originally gave no directions as far as content was concerned, but that were gradually interpreted by the trustees in the spirit of contemporary music.

HOPP: Sitting here at this table now, we are an interesting constellation. Three entirely different institutions coming together. The  Foundation as sponsor and und initiator, then the Lucerne Festival as an established festival with a strong commitment to modern music and thirdly, musica viva, a concert series founded specifically for modern and avant-garde music. What we have in common is an interest in the large orchestra as a representative form. And musica viva has one immeasurable advantage: a world-famous orchestra with an outstanding reputation forms its artistic backbone, making our concert series well-suited to this constellation.

NYFFELER: Many people are speaking about the threat of cuts to funding of the Arts these days, in particular contemporary music, which has no strong lobby. Could räsonanz be perceived by the public as a signal against attempted funding cuts?

ROßNAGL: It’s hard to say. Music is always being composed, but in the end it’s up to the will of a society whether it is performed and thus heard. What’s important is that the musical achievements  of our complex society must not be allowed to suddenly disappear. We must work towards ensuring that this complexity is carried on and that we don’t end up dumbing down. I can’t imagine finding solutions to complex social problems in a world with simplified cultural and educational policies. What does this music mean? What does it give us? These are decisive questions, and to find answers, the ties between music and society must be maintained. This is the task of the mediators, organisers and pedagogues. We have to provide the opportunity for the thoughts developed by creative spirits to be perceived and lived out in reality.

NYFFELER: This endeavour is noticeable at the Lucerne Festival, where a broader audience is introduced to contemporary music.

HAEFLIGER: We go to a lot of trouble here. But in general I regret to say that I notice a tendency to rear-guard action these days. This begins with the organisers, who change their focus. We spend a lot of time talking about this in our team, and when I say ‘we must believe firmly in the direction we are going in and continue on’, I feel like I am almost a veteran of New Music. We need new strength and faith. If you don’t water a plant, it will wither and die, and when concert organisers stop offering something, then there will be no audience for it. It’s as simple as that. We as advocates of classical music face great challenges, especially in terms of communication, and when the atmosphere changes, we have to adapt.


HAEFLIGER: The things I believe in have to be communicated differently if they are to be perceived by today’s audiences. You have to use social media and ask yourself: how can I exploit that on the radio, as a stream, how can I communicate it in advance?  In short: how can I create a positive result? If you don’t manage that, you will fail sooner or later, in particular in contemporary music, which has always been a challenge. It’s easy to lose one’s way.

NYFFELER: Could you say a bit more about the ‘rear-guard action’ you mentioned?

HAEFLIGER: The extreme case would be that modern music is no longer performed at all. At first Schoenberg or Stravinsky are still performed, but then one looks back to Debussy and Ravel, and finally one wonders whether one should perform Beethoven or Brahms. And that is when the whole thing collapses.

ROßNAGL: At the Lucerne Festival I heard someone say “I can’t listen to Brahms all the time, I’m glad that there’s contemporary music here.“ That gives us hope. We have to do everything we can, creatively and financially, to maintain the complexity I have mentioned. It’s the only way we can deal with the challenges of reality.

HOPP: As far as orchestral music is concerned, the räsonanz initiative has come at just the right time. We have a generational change, and the young musicians who have entered the ranks in recent years did not personally experience Messiaen and Xenakis. This means that in their eyes post-war modern music is no longer conveyed by the personality of the composer and the aesthetic debates of that time. They are unburdened by such controversies and open for all currents of the recent past and the present. New Music is slowly becoming an accepted part of the repertoire, not only within the orchestra, but also in the public. We at musica viva are at the fore here, and the concert world will, without doubt, follow in our footsteps. räsonanz is the perfect way of giving this process of repertoire expansion a kick start.


Translation: Andrew Williams


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