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Intoxicating Music at the »Greatest Hits« Festival

The »Greatest Hits« festival is devoted to the topic of intoxication in contemporary music. Our podcast explains what this sounds like.

Igor Stravinsky's »Le Sacre du printemps«, Arnold Schönberg's »Pierrot Lunaire«, Karlheinz Stockhausen's »Gesang der Jünglinge« or Luciano Berio's »Sinfonia« – these are all 20th century works whose far-reaching importance was in all probability clear to only a handful of people at the time of their first performance. Today, we cannot imagine the last century of music without these milestones – they have turned into »Greatest Hits«, as it were.

Which of today's hits will people be looking back on in 100 years' time? This is something that the »Greatest Hits« festival tries to unearth again this year at the Elbphilharmonie and at Kampnagel. In our latest Elbphilharmonie podcast we speak to Sven Hartberger, General Manager of Klangforum Wien, about the festival motto »intoxication«. Conductor Johannes Fischer also takes part in the discussion: he is conducting a portrait concert in honour of the composer Olga Neuwirth, whose innovative compositions have been creating a stir since the 1990s.

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Fascinating Cosmos of Timbres

Austrian native Olga Neuwirth is without a doubt one of the most innovative and exciting female composers of our time, and several different works by her will be performed at the »Greatest Hits« festival. In addition to her exciting score to the rediscovered silent film »The City Without Jews« on the first day of the festival, Ensemble Resonanz dedicates a complete portrait concert to Olga Neuwirth the next day in the Elbphilharmonie Recital Hall.

Johannes Fischer
Johannes Fischer © Boris Breuer

The ensemble has been able to win the services of percussionist Johannes Fischer as conductor. It didn't take them much persuading – Fischer, who has settled in Hamburg, has long dreamt of the chance to perform Olga Neuwirth's music. Her music has been his constant companion since he first heard her Percussion Concerto in Lucerne. He is particularly fascinated by the way the composer manages to reinvent herself in every piece, thus adding one new facet after another to her oeuvre.

In her brand-new work »Aello – ballet mécanomorphe«, which was given its first performance this year, Neuwirth has recourse to a Baroque-like style, but an amplified typewriter is also to be heard.

Olga Neuwirth: »Aello – ballet mécanomorphe«

Olga Neuwirth

Olga Neuwirth manages to reinvent herself time after time

Johannes Fischer

In a state of intoxication, one always concentrates on the strongest stimulus – the music!

Sven Hartberger

Getting Drunk with Style

Klangforum Wien, an ensemble of soloists focusing on contemporary music, has been approaching the motto of this year's festival, »intoxication«, in its own special way since 2001. While orthodox medicine defines intoxication as a state »in which, after consuming a mind-expanding substance, the person's perception and cognitive abilities are impaired«, the Klangforum concentrates on the positive aspects of this state. To this end, General Manager Sven Hartberger and his ensemble make use of a social technique from ancient Greece, the so-called »symposium«.

Klangforum Wien
Klangforum Wien © Lukas Beck

In Greek society, the symposium was a part of a banquet that took place after the meal, when drinking for pleasure was accompanied by music, dancing, recitals, and conversation. The Klangforum substitutes selected contemporary music for the convivial conversation, coupling it with a wine tasting to create a 21st century symposium in eight acts.

In addition to the feeling of intoxication brought on by drinking wine, the programme is designed to trace the typical progress of inebriation. Starting with Gustav Mahler's »Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde«, the listener wanders from slight changes in perception to orgiastic intoxication, followed by calm lucidity as the effects of the wine wear off. And according to Sven Hartberger, the concept comes off completely, as the limiting effects of intoxication cause the individual to concentrate on the strongest stimulus – the music itself! Thus the sensuous frenzy doesn't impair awareness, but instead intensifies the musical experience. Intoxicating, to be sure!

Author: Julian Conrad

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