MaerzMusik – Festival Festival of Contemporary Music 2013

Drums and new music from the Arabic Mediterranean region

The 12th edition of MaerzMusik − Festival for Contemporary Music under the aegis of the Berliner Festspiele focused on two central themes: first, it took up some exciting, thematically linked threads that were united under the headings Percussion, Minidrama – Monodrama – Melodrama and Break & Change: Turkey – Levant – Maghreb. Second, its other central focus was the drum: it is impossible to imagine new music of the 20th and 21st centuries without its perpetual modernisation under the influence of charismatic musicians.

The festival opened with a one-hour vibrating pole of sound: “Timber” by Michael Gordon is a piece for six percussionists each playing on a piece of wood cut to different lengths. Robyn Schulkowsky and Joey Baron performed as a drumming duo with premieres by Christian Wolff and improvisations. Speak Percussion from Melbourne played for the first time in Germany with compositions by young Australian composers. The Ensemble Resonanz from Hamburg performed works by Beat Furrer, Isabel Mundry, Enno Poppe and Wolfgang Mitterer, in which stringed instruments were contrasted with or used as percussion. Christian Dierstein carried out percussive “Minidramas” as in the one by Lucia Ronchetti. Robyn Schulkowsky performed live as a soloist on a variety of drum instruments for the grand-scale composition “Air” by Helmut Lachenmann with the Konzerthausorchester Berlin, conducted by Arturo Tamayo.

To explore new music from Muslim countries in the Mediterranean region – one that is in the midst of a dramatic transition marked by conflict and whose culture, art and music is too little-known and admired in Europe ¬– was a particular aspiration of MaerzMusik 2013. Composers and musicians from Turkey, the Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Palestine, Sudan and Morocco showcased a refreshing range of individual artistic paths. Hezarfen, the leading Istanbul Ensemble for new music, played chamber music by young Turkish composers, and the Berliner Ensembles Adapter and unitedberlin, complemented by musicians on traditional instruments, presented works by composers from various countries in the region. In the Sonic Arts lounges during the evening programme, musicians like Mahmoud Refat, Tarek Atoui, Hassan Khan and the “A” Trio with Mazen Kerbaj, Sharif Sehnaoui and Raed Yassin could be seen and heard; these artists occupy a significant position in a trans-disciplinary cross culture between local references and international modern music.

Particularly crowd-pulling events were: the premiere of Chico Mello’s “Pills or Serenades”, the portrait-cum-concert with Gene Coleman, the presentation of the monumental video oratorio “The Cave” by Steve Reich and Beryl Korot together with the Ensemble Modern in the Haus der Berliner Festspiele and the musical road movie “Hasretim” by Marc Sinan with the Dresdner Sinfonikern and the Hezarfen Ensemble from Istanbul.

The main venue and “home base” of the festival was the Haus der Berliner Festspiele. This was the place where visitors could see the sound installation “Polis” by Oliver Schneller with soundscapes of the great metropoles of Istanbul – Cairo – Jerusalem – Beirut. In the Upper Foyer, the installation “Mercurial Touch” was on display with drawings (“Son-Icons”) by Charlotte Hug. Other festival venues in Berlin included the Konzerthaus Berlin, Kammermusiksaal der Philharmonie, Radialsystem V, Berghain and the former silent-film theatre “Delphi” in Weißensee. The programme included eleven world premieres and eleven German premieres; of those, seven were commissioned by the Berliner Festspiele/ MaerzMusik. Works by nearly 60 international artists were featured, including compositions, improvisations and installations. These were performed by: the Konzerthausorchester, 12 ensembles – ranging from a percussion ensemble to an experimental formation – and 25 soloists. Two very well attended and celebrated events by the project Querklang explored the subject of how to convey music with teenage students.

MaerzMusik was more than just a meeting place for experts in the field: the 9,000 visitors to 32 sold-out or well-attended events proved that new music attracts a broad audience.

MaerzMusik 2014 will take place next year from 14 to 23 March 2014.

Matthias Osterwold
Artistic Director MaerzMusik