Tonight and tomorrow night, I will have the privilege to assist to performances of “Seven Towers” – a new piece written by the Swiss composer Cécile Marti. Part 1 will be played on two evenings at the casino in Berne by the Berner Symphonieorchester. Part 6 has premiered in Geneva on September 17 performed by the Geneva Camerata. “Seven Towers” is an 80 minutes long concert cycle and the result of Cécile Marti’s composing research project at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. It started in September 2012 and is about to come to its end. I interviewed Cécile Marti about her work, about contemporary classical music and how to make it accessible to a broader public.
Cécile, where does the title “Seven Towers” come from?
It came to my mind shortly after I had started to write the first part of an orchestral cycle. I remembered the beauty of the “Museggtürme” in Lucerne. Nine towers of which seven are built according to different styles linked by a fortress wall. The structure of my work reflects the architecture of the “Museggtürme”: diversity within unity. “Seven Towers” consists of seven parts which can be performed either individually or as an ongoing one single movement piece.
Contemporary classical music is highly abstract. Do composers follow the path of painters and sculptors by moving away from the object as such?
This process has already started a hundred years ago! From a creative point of view, I think we do not have to repeat what preceding generations already have expressed. Creativity should mirror our time.
So what does contemporary classical music try to express? Two of your keywords are Klangfarben* (sound colors) and Klanggestalten (sound shapes).
I don’t want to generalize, but I believe that today’s art works reflect the tendency of society to move towards a distinctive direction of individualism. There’s a multiplicity of life styles reflected by a multiplicity of styles within art. The field of sound colors gives us many opportunities to experiment, discover and develop the language of music.
Contemporary classical music is performed parallel to new interpretations of Baroque music or works written in the 19th century. It’s audience has been limited. How do modern composers survive and where are we heading in the future?
We need supporters and donors. Many colleagues of mine work as conductors or music teachers to have the necessary freedom to compose. Contemporary classical music has been promoted for example by the Lucerne Festival Academy, founded by the composer and conductor Pierre Boulez. Innovation is everything, cross-overs are frequent. Recently I attended a new type of “exhibition” at the National Gallery in London: Several composers devoted a new piece to an existing painting belonging to the collection of the National Gallery. Each room showed one music-painting artwork. As far as I know, a stunning success!
You recently stayed in Finland and worked with the eminent Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho. What ideas did you bring back home?
The key aspect was a very tight interaction between musicians and composers. Both should work as a team and Kaija Saariaho and the cellist Anssi Karttunen transmitted this spirit to a younger generation.
Finally, what are your next steps when you have finished your research project at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama?
I have a few ideas in mind, but I don’t want to talk about them before time is mature. I’ll probably take up part-time teaching, but I trust my intuition and will come up with the right project at the right time.
© Charles Thibo