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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Superconductor Interview: Matthias Pintscher

We sit down with the composer to discuss the NY PHIL BIENNIAL.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Composer Matthias Pintscher.
Photo by Jean Radel © 2011

The Austrian composer-conductor Matthias Pintscher is one of the most important voices in the contemporary music scene. And thanks to his close association with the New York Philharmonic and his working relationship with music director Alan Gilbert, he has been a driving force behind the NY PHIL BIENNIAL, the 11-day new music event that has swept through Manhattan this month in a tidal wave of sonic innovation.

"There's a lot of prejudice against so-called American contemporary music," he says in a telephone interview, hours before conducting the first of two CONTACT! concerts in the courtyard of the Museum of Modern Art. "There are really fine new individual voices emerging here currently."

He revealed that the sprawling BIENNIAL, the orchestra's first was the result of him and Alan Gilbert thinking big. "I think that Alan understood that this is a great chance to make a choice of the music of today; to do a snapshot on the map nowadays. I seemed to be one of the advoates for building a bridge between the old and the new continent."

Part of that bridge-building could be heard in last week's CONTACT! concert which featured nine new pieces from American and European composers, originally commissioned by the Salzburg Festival. (A review appears here on Superconductor. Despite the late 10pm start, this challenging program kept the audience riveted with unfamiliar sounds for two and a half hours.

Changing topics, he talks about Reflections on Narcissus which premiered at the BIENNIAL on Friday, June 6. "This is not a new work, but one that has been played many times. In fact it goes back to an early piece which I wrote when I was twenty or twenty-one. My teacher, Hans Werner Henze was working on a couple of pieces in imaginary theater without words. So I wrote Narciso. (Like this new work, Mr. Pintscher's earlier piece was inspired by the Narcissus legend.)

"I thought this piece was badly done. I was twenty. I had no idea what to do."

The new work stemmed from a commission for a new concerto for cello and orchestra by the soloist Truls Mork. "It's a moving story," he says. It inspires a lot of formal aspects--the use of antiphony, impact and reaction, trying to analyuze how we get a different reaction or consequence for the same impact. It's not a conventional concerto, it's a concerto for orchestra where the cello takes a prominent role."

"Here's another layier of perspective. There's this character of Echo the nymph. She is the one who can't speak herself. She can only absorb and reflect what someone else says: the mute that tries to speak but doesnt have their own vocabulary. In some of the moments we hear Narcissus jumping around or resting or staring into the water. The cello represents Narcissus at that point but not always--it is not that easy!"

At the Philharmonic, the solo cello will be Alisa Weilerstein, with Mr. Pintscher himself conducting. "What I do as a composer-conductor--I conduct so many contemprary scores I have the tools of comprehending how this is put together and what needs to be communicated. Then we have to let go and find the music inside the score and bring that out. Its helpful to know what puts the score togethewr and then you have to make it fly."

"It is irellevant if the work is new or old," he says. "What do you need to provide? Nothing. People have a rich background of experiences. It helps to know something about music, to enhance your experience but that's not (as important as) the intimacy of the sensations."

He adds: "It makes me mad--that music is still the weakest of the art forms. Classical music has never been encouraged in this country, and it's a huge loss of the politicians to not  introduce it as an element of life quality."

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