Wolfgang Rihm

»Whatever we do is always »›here and now‹.«

The famous composer Wolfgang Rihm talks about his music and his work with Ensemble Modern.

»With Ensemble Modern you know your music will get the best possible performance,« Wolfgang Rihm is pleased to say. And he should know: he has been working together with this international line-up of contemporary music professionals for decades. The ensemble is devoting an exciting concert portrait to Rihm to mark his 70th birthday.

The interview with Wolfang Rihm focuses on the works in the evening's programme, on his fruitful cooperation with Ensemble Modern and on his wishes for upcoming young composers.

© Ensemble Modern Magazin

An article from the Ensemble Modern Magazin No. 56 (2/22)

Interview

Wolfgang Rihm, you have been working with Ensemble Modern for over forty years. Are there any moments that stick in your memory?

It's hard to separate all the different impressions. But one specific constant applies to Ensemble Modern: the certainty that your music will get the best possible performance.


Ensemble Modern is performing the two works »Abschiedsstücke. Gedichte von Wolf Wondratschek« and »Concerto ›Séraphin‹«...

Looking back, these two compositions seem very different from one another. I'm looking forward to finding out if that is really the case.


The »Abschiedsstücke« (Farewell Pieces) were given their first performance in 1993 by Ensemble Modern under the baton of George Benjamin in Badenweiler. How did the cooperation with Wolf Wondratschek come about at the time?

Like me, Wolf Wondratschek grew up in Karlsruhe, but we didn't meet until much later. He gave me his »Mexikanische Sonette«, and I set some of them to music for a full orchestra as the »Lowry-Lieder«. That was back in 1987/88. Five years later I wrote the »Abschiedsstücke«, which have a completely different mood. Exactly what is the difference? Hard to say. Maybe more like a concerto, closer to the idiom of the Séraphin pieces?

Wolfgang Rihm
Wolfgang Rihm © Gustavo Alabiso

Many of your erstwhile students are now established and well-known composers. What is it that still prompts you to take an interest in future generations?

Perhaps I want to find out what makes them tick? I don't know for sure. I don't see myself as a born teacher, and I always have to get over a certain reluctance to put myself in my students' shoes, but I do think that this could help them develop the courage to be more individual and strong-willed. Certainly moreso than if I were to offer a system that was logical and carefully thought-out.


How do you see today's generation of young  composers? Are there particular musical tendencies and directions? Do they have things in common?

I sometimes think I perceive a deep wish to make an individual statement. Hardly any of today's young composers want to write something trendy – but that is precisely what is so difficult: being individual without a lot of work. There is no clear recipe for that. Nothing has changed in one respect: rebellion and coolness are not easy to achieve, and especially not at the same time. But what am I saying here? Whatever we do is always »here and now«.

Many of your erstwhile students are now established and well-known composers. What is it that still prompts you to take an interest in future generations?

Perhaps I want to find out what makes them tick? I don't know for sure. I don't see myself as a born teacher, and I always have to get over a certain reluctance to put myself in my students' shoes, but I do think that this could help them develop the courage to be more individual and strong-willed. Certainly moreso than if I were to offer a system that was logical and carefully thought-out.

Wolfgang Rihm
Wolfgang Rihm © picture alliance / dpa / Uli Deck

 

How do you see today's generation of young  composers? Are there particular musical tendencies and directions? Do they have things in common?

I sometimes think I perceive a deep wish to make an individual statement. Hardly any of today's young composers want to write something trendy – but that is precisely what is so difficult: being individual without a lot of work. There is no clear recipe for that. Nothing has changed in one respect: rebellion and coolness are not easy to achieve, and especially not at the same time. But what am I saying here? Whatever we do is always »here and now«.


Interview: Ensemble Modern
Translation: Clive Williams

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