Mark Andre

Revolt in the silence: An interview with Mark Andre

The composer Mark Andre talks about disappearing music, spatial sound and his evening-long work »rwh 1-4«.

»Someone once wrote about Mark Andre’s music that it was impossible to imagine a more intense silence. That’s true!« says the conductor Ingo Metzmacher who has performed several works by Mark Andre in the past. As part of the »Internationales Musikfest Hamburg«, he and the Ensemble Modern will now bring Andre’s evening-length work »rwh 1-4« to the stage of the Elbphilharmonie in May 2022. The German-French composer’s silence is intense, not least because it is never empty. Sometimes it seems like a revolt, like a microscopic tumult.


Ingo Metzmacher about Mark Andre


Andre always seems to question very thoroughly anything that is not silence, before granting it entry into his unmistakable microcosm of sound. The silence rearing up with the help of 200 singers across six choirs is intense in »rwh 1-4«, while the surround sound making itself known is equally powerful: »The special thing about this music is that it is conceived spatially,« says Metzmacher. »The sound comes from all sides, the audience sits right in the midst of it.«

»An evening-long programme at the Elbphilharmonie is something unique for me, and holds great significance!««

Mark Andre


What is special about this music is not only its form, but also its creation. In this interview, Mark Andre talks about faith and music, as well as about technical investigations into sound in spatial terms. Spatial sound? Yes, you see: »Every room has its own sonic signature,« he says. This is a composer who enables his audience to experience new sonic interspaces – an uncompromising artist who is as dedicated to meticulous sound investigations as he is to his strong faith.

Ensemble Modern / Ingo Metzmacher

27 May 2022: The new music professionals in the Ensemble Modern and audience favourite Ingo Metzmacher present Mark Andre’s »rwh 1-4« in the Elbphilharmonie Grand Hall.

Interview with Mark Andre

The Ensemble Modern will soon be performing your work »rwh 1-4« at the Elbphilharmonie. Why this title for the work?

»ruach« (»rwh«) is an Aramaic word that conjures up a very wide field of words: it is about breath, air, fragrance and wind, but also about spirit – and, ever since Martin Luther’s translation, about the Holy Spirit too. This word field is feminine, meaning that, unlike us, the Holy Spirit is also regarded as feminine. In its many meanings, the title brings about a beautiful interface between the very earthly and existential, such as breath, on the one hand, and the supernatural, spiritual, on the other.

Couldn’t something similar be said about music? Is it, on the one hand, a purely physical sound event. But it extends far beyond that in its meaning and points to the divine?

Yes, most definitely. The idea or the hope that the Holy Spirit can be at work through music is very central for me. In »rwh 1-4«, for example, I also refer to a passage in the Gospel of John, which says: »The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.« You don’t know if something is even taking place while it is happening. It is something very fragile, quiet and delicate, but also incredibly intense.

Mark Andre
Mark Andre © Martin Sigmund

You echographed one or more rooms for »rwh 1-4«, as you have done for other works. What exactly does this involve?

It’s about investigating the acoustic signature of the space. Every room has its own acoustic signature, it is an instrument. You transmit a sound and measure the resonances. Like a cello or a double bass, a room has an underlying tone. All the tones that are sung are derived from it.

You echographed several halls for »rwh 1-4«, including St. Catherine’s Church in Hamburg and the Kuppelsaal in Hanover, a concert hall. Does it make a difference if the space is consecrated or not?

There are two categories of spaces here: sacred spaces and those like the Kuppelsaal or the Elbphilharmonie. On the one hand, I am investigating the sound body of the spaces using digital means. As far as the sacred spaces are concerned, it extends beyond this acoustic investigation too. It is about the possible, other traces there; traces that arise from people having prayed there over centuries.

St. Katharinen in Hamburg
St. Katharinen in Hamburg © Wikimedia Commons

»rwh 1-4« consists of four parts. How are they connected and how are they distinguishable from each other in terms of content?

I had set out from the very beginning to compose a cycle: The first part is an instrumental piece with electronics – with an installation in the space. The second is performed frontally by two vocal ensembles. The third, shortest piece is purely instrumental. And then the fourth is the total, with the five vocal ensembles and the instrumental ensembles.

What role does the human voice play in your work?

It is a very complex sonic phenomenon that opens up great compositional spaces for me. I make use of a very wide spectrum ranging between singing and whispering.

And between speech and sound? In »rwh 1-4« you only find the two vowels »A« and »O« in the choral parts...

Yes, this refers to the Revelation of John (Chapter 22, Verse 13) where Jesus of Nazareth says: »I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.« That also seems to me to be very much part of the word field, the A and the O.

Mark Andre Mark Andre © Astrid Ackermann

»An inhalation and exhalation of music.«

The concept of disappearing comes up time and again in the context of your music; silence also plays an important role for you. What is the significance of this disappearing for you?

The theologian Margareta Gruber once said: »Resurrection happens in disappearance.« This applies in both directions: Jesus, who rises again, disappears from the earthly – and conversely, this resurrection only comes about because he disappears from the earthly. The one who disappeared is resurrected, but the resurrected one has also disappeared. Disappearance and resurrection, resurrection and disappearance. I find that very fascinating and an important idea for music too: here, as well, there are various tonal parameters that allow this moment of disappearance to come about again and again – an inhalation and exhalation of music.

Disappearance is already inscribed in the fact that it is not a loud work. Why is it that »rwh 1-4« still needs 200 performers to produce this quiet music? Isn’t that a paradox?

The sheer mass here is nothing pompous; this is not intended to be a mega event. It forms a body of sound that is presented in the process of disappearing or vanishing.

Interview: Tom R. Schulz
Translation: Robert William Smales

Supplemented by individual excerpts from an interview with Stephan Buchberger (Ensemble Modern / Magazine No. 55)

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