Ensemble Modern

Enno Poppe, conductor
Herrmann | Poppe

Bodies in motion, from nought to one hundred. Anyone listening to Arnulf Herrmann’s “Hard Boiled Variations – 15 ½ Cycles” will experience rapid acceleration accompanied by an intentional loss of control. Enno Poppe’s “Körper” is similarly eventful: conducted by the composer, the Ensemble Modern pays homage to the big band sound by exploring a broad range of playing cultures: from the traditional big band to the Balkan banda to free jazz.

Music making men hanging on strings in a tree.

Brave brass band from Emir Kusturica’s film “Black Cat, White Cat”

© IMAGO / United Archives

Acceleration and losing control are key aspects of Arnulf Herrmann’s “Hard Boiled Variations – 15 ½ Cycles”. This is summed up in an epigram prefacing the score from the American management consultant Tom Peters, which, quoting the racing driver Mario Andretti, states: “If things seem under control, you're just not going fast enough.” And, indeed, as a result of Herrmann’s “hardnosed” changes, this is a work in whose cycle of 15 ½ variations the duration of the running time is reduced from five minutes to three seconds and ultimately to a single chord: in other words, the shortest variation is over 100 times faster than the original theme. In the end, this process of continuous acceleration gives way to its opposite: “Movement freezes into an image, experience curdles into observation and time literally becomes space” (Herrmann). The Ensemble Modern has programmed this 40-minute work directed by the composer and conductor Enno Poppe, who also presents his own energetic big band piece “Körper”: “The big band is a set of instruments that suggests golden ages and corduroy trousers. But not only does it possess immense sonic potential, this has barely been exhausted because what we understand as big band music has been so narrowly defined.” Poppe also wrote “Körper” as a homage to the excellent Ensemble Modern, one of the most successful German new music groups, which has been touring internationally since 1980.

Concert Programme

Arnulf Herrmann (*1968)
Hard Boiled Variations – 15 ½ Cycles
for ensemble and dancers (2021)

Enno Poppe (*1969)
for large ensemble (2021)


Rafaële Giovanola choreography
Leonardo Rodrigues assistant choreographer
Fa-Hsuan Chen costumes
Boris Kahnert, Jan Wiesbrock lighting design

Ensemble Modern
Enno Poppe conductor

Jürgen Martin live electronics
Felix Dreher sound direction

A Berliner Festspiele / Musikfest Berlin event. Funded by the Gesellschaft zur Verwertung von Leistungsschutzrechten (GVL)