by M. Sparks
In my quest for great music, I stumbled upon seven beautiful duo sonatas by the Swedish composer Allan Pettersson. Along with this cycle of sonatas, Pettersson’s compositional output includes seventeen symphonies and many other wonderful works.
With a musical output such as this, Pettersson deserves much respect and recognition, but his music remains obscure to most of the world. However, in recent years, we are lucky to have his music resurface. Pettersson is garnering some well-deserved love and praise by phenomenal musicians and music lovers all over.
Begun in 2013 and continuing through the year 2019, the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra, with conductor Christian Lindberg and record company BIS, are leading “The Allan Pettersson Project,” through which they are working to preserve and promote his many phenomenal symphonies.
Even before all this, Cecilia and Martin Gelland, of Duo Gelland, rediscovered and mastered Pettersson’s seven duo sonatas, shedding light on his brilliance. Duo Gelland gave the premiere performance of the cycle in its entirety in the year 1999.
These beautifully skilled violinists are dedicated to bringing underrepresented and new works to their deserved light, and they do so with an integrity and passion that is unparalleled. Mr. and Mrs. Gelland are admirably committed to excellence in each aspect of their musical careers. They believe in and honor every part of the community that makes music possible: from each audience member, to each composer, and to each score - no person or note is too small for their loving and careful attention.
It has been my pleasure to communicate with them regarding Mr. Pettersson and his sonatas, along with the classical music world as a whole.
Why do you feel there were 48 years of delay regarding the first complete performance of Allan Pettersson’s cycle of Seven Sonatas for Two Violins?
C&M: Well, this is an extremely demanding work in a number of ways. To catch and hold the arch of it for one entire hour as you form the color and character of each tiny fragment, while being in an eruptive and intense dialogue with each other, allowing the violins to constantly dance into and out of each other's sound worlds, and technically doing things that are just barely possible is all a bit much for one incidental collaboration between two artists. Therefore, Allan Pettersson's cycle is asking for a permanent ensemble. Either you are one already, or you become one by preparing his work, I think.
There is a complete collection of studio recordings made between 1973 and 1978 by the Swedish Radio with Cecilia's former teacher, Josef Grünfarb and a former student of his, Karl-Ove Mannberg. Caprice Records bought this collection to be able to release the whole cycle. At the time, both violinists had separate careers. Josef Grünfarb was concertmaster in Stockholm, and Mannberg was concertmaster in Gothenburg. Finding time to work together was a real struggle for them. They did a marvellous job with the recording, although they never performed the entire cycle live.
Actually, there have been a couple of violin duo ensembles who held individual positions, but also performed together a great deal. For example, there was Endre Wolf who came to Sweden from Hungary in the mid-thirties and performed with his British wife, Jennifer Nuttall-Wolf. There are also the spouses and world soloists, Dina Schneidermann and Emil Kamilarov who came to Sweden from Bulgaria around 1980. Both of those duos premiered new duo works occasionally. In the Soviet Union, Leonid Kogan and Elizaveta Gilels performed together. In Belgium, André and Yaga Siwy collaborated together, and the composer, Jacqueline Fontyn dedicated her duo to this pair. In Bulgaria, Angel Stankow and Josif Radionow have been a duo for over 40 years.
So, as you can see, performers of violin duos are not scarce, but in regards to Pettersson’s cycle, either potential duos did not know about the work or they were not ready to tackle such an experimental challenge that had a bad prognosis for pleasing an audience. Critics of the performance of the first sonata at Fylkingen 1953 called it a “chamber of horrors” and “systematic ugliness.” Allan Pettersson got to hear different pairs of violinists perform a sonata or two out of his entire cycle, but he passed away twenty years before our first live performance of the whole work.
How did you come across the sonatas and the composer?
C: I have a vague memory of hearing Ida Haendel's first performance of Pettersson's violin concerto on television. I loved her passion, but I identified even more with Allan because I wanted to be a composer. Much later, Martin and I met Ida Haendel. She spoke fondly of Pettersson and his concerto.
Martin and I had the score of the sonatas from early on, with no particular plans to play them. We sent a totally different program suggestion to the Swedish label, BIS. The boss himself, Robert von Bahr, called us one day to inform us that the program did not fit into their programming plans. That's what I had expected, so I was ready to hang up, but he had an alternative plan and suggested that we do the Allan Pettersson sonatas! It shocked me. “There is a recording already,” I almost stuttered. “We can record better now,” he said, and that settled it.
How was your 1999 premiere received?
C&M: Karl-Ove Mannberg, who had recorded the duos with Josef Grünfarb two decades earlier, was there. He was so kind. Many composers came. They all were very inspired by the premiere, and, from that time on, the repertory for violin duo has been growing steadily. Allan Pettersson proved to them, and to us too, that violin duo is a serious constellation with unlimited potentials. It demands permanent ensembles as much as the string quartet repertory does.
The press was not there, but it is like that in Stockholm. The cycle, live or on our CD, got rave reviews in Berlin, Australia, America, Germany, France, Great Britain, and Spain. However, it took years for the press in Stockholm to publish a notice, and, even still, it was positive but tiny. We did not take that personally, but Pettersson probably would have.
What was the rehearsal process like?
C&M: Our daughter was born during our rehearsal period. We were working on the fourth sonata during her first weeks. She could not sleep unless one of us held her, so whoever held her had to sing his or her part. When she was two months old, we did the second sonata. The drive of the increasing energy of a certain passage always made her legs kick more and more, and she'd make gurgling sounds at the height of the phrase. This was her music even before she was born. When we had the whole cycle premiere, she was six months old. My parents were going to be with her, but my mother got sick that day. Martin was playing all the works for violin and piano by Pettersson after the duos, so the pianist, Lennart Wallin, looked after our daughter in the basement while we did the duo cycle and then I came running down the stairs when it was his turn to play. Our duo tour continued to Germany. I think she liked Pettersson.
Her presence, as well as her relationship to the music, enriched the references through which we experienced and interpreted Pettersson’s work. As you can see, the process of interpreting Pettersson was closely intertwined with the lives we lived at the time. The music was in our heads constantly, and we never really knew when we were not practicing.
What are your own sentiments toward the music?
M: I do love this music, and at the same time it is very taxing. Being in that frenzy for so long is totally exhausting. When the recording was done, so was I.
C: I know. You said another year of Pettersson’s sonatas would have caused a depression. For me, it was rather the opposite. It made me feel like I was standing on a rock in the sea during a storm. I felt acutely alive. I could do that every day. But, of course, there is a time to move on, and there is a time to come back. Actually, we performed the whole cycle in Germany five years later only three days before our son was born. That was a good time to do it. The critics talked about “body builders made of steel,” insinuating that the physical aspect of the work is strong. It is great. When Pettersson had his centennial in 2011, we played it a few more times, also in Germany on jet-lag just off the plane from America. The performance can very well take place at a crossroad where you feel both the strength of your power and your intense vulnerability. That is the right place for all of its voices to unfold themselves with existential fragile confusion and unflinching integrity.
Your work often incorporates early childhood education. Rather than teaching lessons on your specific instruments, you both make presentations about music in general. How do you feel you are shaping the next generation of musicians? How would you like to shape and influence the next generation?
C: We have occasionally taught violin, and love to share in expanding a young violinist's ability to communicate, while also finding solutions to technical and musical problems.
Martin's teachers were fine soloists, like Max Rostal, Ricardo Odnoposoff and others. His foothold in that tradition is strong and he is an excellent problem solver, but he just didn't want to sacrifice any time away from our violin duo.
I studied with the LaSalle Quartet for five years, and built a technical foundation with Kurt Sassmannshaus at the same time. I always knew that chamber music was the best fit for me. I enjoy teaching, but, to me, catering to competitions and auditions would feel too streamlined. I prefer to foster rebels.
In a way, that's what we do when we meet with children. We perform, and ask them to tell us about the music, what they hear, how it is to listen, etc.. It is fascinating how quick they are to incorporate their personal daily life experiences metaphorically to discuss the music in detail and as a whole. "What did you hear?" can not have a wrong answer. Each child possesses his or her own notion of what the music means. Talking about music is a way of talking about your life. Music can feel like forever in the moment of listening, but as the last sound disappears, the only key to recalling it is within yourself. Therefore, listening is about hearing the sounds, and it is also about hearing the footprints of those sounds in your soul. To hear who you are and who you are becoming takes integrity. Deepening the understanding of music calls for this inward process of awareness which also holds great artistic potential.
We often invite school classes to invent new music for us, in response to what they heard. They take turns instructing us. We show and ask until we understand what they mean. Sometimes, there is room for improvisation together using instruments or "sound making things." Martin and I learn a lot about the music we play from children and teens. Often, we bring brand new works and pieces we haven't yet performed to them. They inhabit the music with their images.
An artistic career without meeting them would be unthinkable. This source of artistic growth is something we like to share with young musicians and composers. We give a yearly course at Musikhochschule Leipzig. In this course, we go through a process together of incorporating contemporary music and improvisation which leads to interaction with kids in the classroom. There is a group of very interesting composers born in the 1980s who were former students of James Dillon, Composers Collective 113 and Six Families. This group has a strong drive and is dedicated to reaching out to all levels of society. The projects with them are exciting and moving. We are happy for these and other opportunities.
It seems to happen around us that more and more chamber musicians and composers want to reach out beyond the stage, because they also find artistic nourishment there. We hope to contribute to the created situations that are artistically catalyzing for both the artist and for those they meet. If a whole generation were to take part, just imagine the potential for change in society: a peacefully creative rebellion from underneath and within!
You have mastered performance of both historical and contemporary music. You have said that the study of one style influences the other. Can you speak more about this? As we see it, the two periods are sharply contrasting.
C&M: Unfortunately, we are not actually masters of historic performance practice. We own baroque bows, and we enjoy learning about everything they can do. Our old Italian violins are set up in the modern way, but we often play on gut strings. Additionally, we frequently perform works by Spohr and Molique. Studying and practicing from historic violin schools, reading historical biographies, poetry and philosophy, listening to old phonograms and Welte-Mignon recordings are things we do and find fascinating. However, really understanding all of these things is a lifelong research. We are more "inspired" than "informed."
We do this work, not in order to be able to play exactly like one may have played in historic times, but rather in order to be thrown, headfirst, out of the musical frames and systems we know and take for granted. It opens us up to exhilarating new sound worlds where we become incredibly busy with articulation, timbre, varied bow pressure within a bow stroke and many other things, especially when we cease to put a syrup of constant vibrato on everything. When a score like Spohr's tells us which tones to vibrate and which to not vibrate, we start to think and listen to our own vibrato in new ways. Spohr's explanation of vibrato is also very evocative. He writes sometimes to start the vibrato slower and then make it faster or opposite. These are actually instructions you may find in a contemporary score.
What we learn in the old music widens our means of differentiating expression and tone production. It also teaches us about form, breathing, listening, other frames of minds, and many other useful and meaningful things as we interpret new music.
In new music, the concepts of beauty and virtue also invite us to leave recent violinistic traditions, as we step out of our comfort zones. There is improvisation, and there is differentiation of vibrated and unvibrated tones. We learn a lot about timbre and articulation. This collected knowledge, and this way of searching for knowledge as well as further differentiation, seems to serve us when we approach historic music as well.
How would you describe the health of classical music today? At least in your genre - violin duo - it seems to be gaining strength and recognition, despite it being such a small niche.
C&M: Yes, there are a couple of newer, fine violin duo ensembles in Great Britain, for example, as well as in Germany. It would be exciting to take part in a violin duo festival sometime, where permanent international violin duos would come together and share in showing the constellation’s potentials and versatility!
Do you, either of you, pursue solo careers? How would you describe the delegation of your time? How much is for solo work, educational projects, performing, recording, etc.?
C&M: Well, we haven't had time, or taken the time, to pursue individual careers. We did those things before we became violin duo nerds, which was largely due to our discovery of Allan Pettersson. This idea of two absolute equals in continuous dialogue has so much to offer. There is no chance that we will ever get done, even, with the projects and compositions we care the most about. Unless perhaps we stay fit as long as Ida Haendel. But she is an exceptional phenomenon!!
We usually do between 100 and 200 performances a year. Many of them are for children, teens, and students. We do 12 - 20 premiere performances yearly, plus works new to us which are mostly duos or, sometimes, double concertos. We receive new works for violin duo and choir, or other interesting ensembles. Last year, we recorded for three different labels. This summer, we record one more album and more American duos in the fall, as well as a double concerto premiere in December.
What takes the most time is organization. We would be glad to hand the responsibility over to someone else, but we are learning to accept that it is part of the job. That is how it is for most ensembles. Often, we collaborate with composers even in regards to the organizational aspect. It is nice to help each other. Somehow, we hardly ever seem to perform exactly the same recital program twice. Each program is custom-made which adds to the organizational process, but, at least, we never get bored.
What are the benefits to traveling as lecturers/educators as opposed to just performing? What are the drawbacks?
C&M: We seldom do just one or the other. It is usually a combination. I am not sure there are any drawbacks. When we travel, we get to meet a small cross-section of the society; we visit with younger and older persons, students and professionals, poorer and richer, artists and amateurs. Done in this way, it feels as though we have really been there. We like to reach out and be put to use wherever we are. We believe that music, also highly complex art music, is exceedingly useful anywhere in society.
You received a special grant to go through libraries and archives in search of forgotten duos. Tell us about your top five favorite finds.
C&M: We already knew about the 18th century husband and wife violin duo, Maddalena Sirmen Lombardini and Lodovico Sirmen, possibly the world's first married violin duo. Maddalena’s sets of violin duos were in print, but his weren't. They were in some Italian library. It took a long time to track them down.
Lodovico’s duos are very different from hers. Some backwards person suggested he wrote the ones that were printed in the name of Maddalena, his wife, in addition to his own, as if she could not have done it herself. That is totally silly considering her exquisite education at the Ospedale in Venice and with Tartini. She wrote her own duos even before their marriage. Hers have a first violin part which is more advanced than the second violin. In her sonata forms, the development section where the "discussion" takes place is quite prominent.
His duos have equally difficult violin parts but his sonata forms have basically no development section - so equality with no discussions! They had a daughter together before they separated after two years of touring Europe. He went back to his lover in Italy, and she remained on tour as violinist, singer, and composer, etc. with her priest companion. After about 14 years, she asked Lodovico to join her in concerts together in St. Petersburg, so I guess they respected each other as artists.
Louis Spohr wrote wonderful duos. He briefly had a very advanced violin student named Bernhard Molique. He wrote very special, mature, animated, and unusual violin duos that we had never run into before. The original bowings are in the score, so you can understand a bit about how complexly and unexpectedly he worked with a finely differentiated tone production.
There is a set of Joseph Haydn duos that Martin found in a library in Berlin. Before the release of the edition for two violins, there were two other versions released, one for viola and violin and one for cello and violin. It can not be proven that the violin duo version is by Haydn's hand. For that, there would need to exist an original manuscript in his hand or a mention in a contemporary letter. This is not the case, but that the violin duo version is not by him can also not be proven. It was printed during his lifetime, and then never again. We play it from a copy of the copper prints Martin found. The notes sort of dance on the paper, and so does the music. It is somewhat adjusted for the two violin constellation so the parts are more equal than in the other versions. Fine music!!
There are also different sets of arrangements for two treble instruments of movements from the Magic Flute. Different people made them shortly after W A Mozart's death, and likely without the opera score. These transcriptions correspond to our days' private recordings of popular music put on YouTube. The only difference is that someone earned a bit of money from the transcriptions. That was a time when, according to musicologist and researcher Dr. Ulrich Mazurowicz, more string duos were printed than any other constellation. The majority of them were for violin duo. One more arrangement we saw, but sadly enough didn't catch in time, was a contemporary version of W. A. Mozart's viola, violin duo transcribed for two violins. The score was in a music antiquarium. It was very expensive, and someone else bought it before we were able to get the money together. We really wonder where it is now! No library seems to have a copy.
Who is your favorite underrepresented composer, besides perhaps Allan Pettersson? What about this composer is special to you?
C&M: It is hard to mention just one. Anyone interested in underrepresented works and composers can read about and listen to many great works like this on our site and on our vimeo page.
However, if I can mention two, I would say my favorite’s are Birgitte Alsted and Håkan Larsson.
Birgitte had her 75th birthday in June 2017. She wrote two works for us, and participated in a collaboration between us, herself, and a choreographer named Britta Hanssen. We created a kind of violin theatre with a poetic-surrealist text by the Albanian author, Kasem Trebeshina who said that art must not become an extension of political power. For those words, he spent 17 years in prison - more precisely in a psychiatric ward. Birgitte has immense integrity, and fascinating structural and timbre imagination. She is also a violinist. Her first piece for us was Zweigeigen, composed in the summer and fall of 2001. September 11th changed the course of her work. The first performance was in Berlin. We only had a fax machine version. It was so fresh it was almost like playing the news broadcast, and it helped us all feel and take in what had recently happened in America.
Håkan Larsson (1959 - 2012) was symphonic composer, Anders Eliasson's only student, and, later, his highly esteemed friend and colleague. They died within a year of each other, with Håkan preceding Anders. Anders was quite sick. He wanted to write something about Håkan, but the pain would not let him. We talked on the phone and he allowed me to quote: "Håkan Larsson wrote great music, but not everyone understands that. His music holds true mysticism, and most of us never get that far." Additionally, the conductor Manfred Honeck did one orchestral work by Håkan and then he commissioned a symphony which he premiered. Håkan wrote a duo for us which we recorded, as well as a work for choir and violin duo, which we premiered with the RIAS Kammerchor. He also wrote a piece for wind ensemble and violin duo, which we played with two different Swedish ensembles. There is a large scale double concerto, Angesicht in Angesicht, which he wrote in honour of the eightieth birthday of the filmmaker, Ingmar Bergman. We premiered this concerto in Berlin. It is a powerful work, profound, aching, pounding, and ingeniously crafted. The dialogue between the violins, and also with the orchestra, is entirely human and genuine. It tears you apart while building you up at the same time.
Technology plays a large part in music composition today. How has the integration of technology and music augmented the creative process? How has it diminished the creative process?
C&M: When we do crossover projects, we prefer to meet technology acoustically without microphones on our instruments. The sounds of our old Italians are so endlessly manipulable. It is our greatest joy to play around with the nuances of our acoustic instruments. That is why we don't like to put on microphones and let someone else do it. But we have tried. Generally, no mic and no loudspeaker can transmit the sounds of the violins' rich palettes without limiting it one way or another. When we record we are purists. We prefer to use as few mics as possible. We have noticed that even an excellent switchboard can somehow miscolor the sound, so we have eliminated that too.
Can you tell us more about your project, Traumwerk? How would you classify this exciting project since the visual arts are so closely intertwined with the aural experience?
C&M: Traumwerk is an experimental short film or music video. The filmmaker and producer is also a professional composer named Johan Ramström who teaches composition at the University of Stockholm. We have known each other since our children played together in the sandbox. He studied with Jan Sandström then, and did an impressive orchestral suite. We recorded two of his duos. He also has a profoundly ingenious, visual imagination and the skills to work with it. Each aspect is ingenious from the layers of detail, colors, and structures, to the flow and how the picture relates to the music. The movements, or couples of movements, of Traumwerk were composed in different cities in the world as if the composer were writing a sort of travel diary. Some movements are from London, Bruxelles, and Palermo. Movement nine is from Hiroshima, around the anniversary of the bombing.
We talked a lot about different ideas. We wanted it to feel as if the camera was part of the ensemble, the eye of a dancer reacting to the music or perhaps even coaxing it on. What you see is what you hear. Martin did the sound. The two Gefell microphones erected in Blumlein constellation are the only ones used. The film became more than an artistic experimental project by also turning into a kind of community project. It received the Annual German Record Critics' Award which was a big thing for Johan and for us, but we felt that it also was a big thing for showing that new and experimental inspiration doesn't depend on the rush of a big city as is generally assumed. Even Johan lived in the boondocks back then just like we did and the school kids who listened to the music and told us about it - some of them are in the film - the northern nature and the stillness, everything offered much more inspiration than we could have asked for.
How do you approach a new composition that you will perform? As the premiere performer of new pieces, would you say you have more freedom to complete the compositional process?
C&M: There is always freedom and responsibility whether your options occur within a limited space reminding one of life in a drop of water or within seemingly unlimited space, like the compounds of a galaxy. If we can't in every fraction of a moment think of at least five shades of things to choose from, then, perhaps we didn't do our job as interpreters.
Music is like sculpture, you can not see the whole thing from one angle. You must walk around it. There should preferably be many interpretations of every work. We attempt to find a different well of sounds and thoughts for each composition, trying to never get stuck in a routine and never choosing the easiest way out. When we take the same piece up again, we hope to see it anew. We work hard on tiny details of sound, character, articulation, etc. as we test and challenge different ideas and proportions within the structure of the piece in order to render the sense of wholeness. We feel that our job is also similar to that of actors. In order to speak the music, we must make it our own, within ourselves; finding our places, our different states of minds, emotions, tensions, timings, etc. from where the music speaks freely.
What type of role does the prospective audience play in your creative process? How do you consider them, if at all, whether you are performer or composer?
C&M: There is a wonderful drawn out duo by the Swedish composer, Rolf Martinsson which we have played in different settings. We noticed that when we performed it in a black box, we could give it even more time than when we were in a daylight setting with unfocused light. You could sense the different states of timing within those audiences. I may not notice if a press photographer is in front of my face, but I sense the audience very intensely. And sometimes I'm wrong. There, Martin is unerring.
Playing a lot for children and meeting their direct animated feedback is a wonderful way to develop musical communication and a sincere, trusting relationship with the audience. It makes you believe that everything matters and that nothing is too difficult, as long as you respect the concentration span of those in front of you. Generally, we feel that every audience deserves love and a challenge. There is a time and a place for every piece we have received so far. One only needs to find it or create it.
What makes a masterpiece?
C&M: A masterpiece is not only in the music, it is also in the time. The French royal composer Louis-Gabriel Guillemain's musical output between 1705-1770 was described by his contemporaries as being full of beauty. I agree, but what I like even more about it, and what I am not certain the contemporaries have appreciated as much, is the density of its chaos, how his music blurs structure. My liking it so much has probably to do with the fact that I live now, and I have quite different traumas and confusions that bother my being and seek structural representations to sort themselves out. Chaos and order are on a sliding scale. As interpreters, it is part of our identity how we, being different from other ensembles, proportion chaos and order on that sliding scale. There is always structure to be found in the most dense chaos. The opposite is also true. The most clear and simple structure can always invite an amount of disorder, incoherent detail, and complexity. For that reason, interpretation also plays an important role in what makes a masterpiece. When we get a score, we try to explore the potentials it lends itself to. A number of scores surprised us a lot by contributing to a much richer and more unnerving experience than we thought it could when we saw the score. There is something called “magic eye pictures.” You put them almost on your nose and see an undifferentiated and uninteresting lack of contour. Then you slowly move the image farther away, and, at a certain point, a three dimensional image appears, making intrinsic sense of the whole. Sometimes a piece is like that. When you find that place, it is magic.
It is inevitable. At some point, or at many points, you have heard recordings and live performances of a piece that you also will perform. How and/or what do you take from these past interpretations?
C&M: We are exceedingly interested in early recordings from the beginning of the 20th century. For the piano there are even older Welte-Mignon recordings. Timing, as a deeply personal expression, speaks in an unimaginable way from those recordings by great women and men. That is an enormous source of inspiration to us. Left and right hands on the piano forming sound and timbre through different degrees of unsynchronization is very fascinating. The composer, Max Reger was a renowned organist and pianist. On his Welte-Mignon recordings, the different lines are played with such distinct characters and autonomy that you can hear an accelerando taking place in one hand and a ritard in the other hand and still the two voices "come together." Something that also interests us quite a lot is the use versus non-use of vibrato. Listening to the very early recordings of voices and string instruments is unbelievably interesting.
But your question was about hearing works we will play. There are a number of fine recordings of Prokofiev and Ysaye and Bartok, so they are, so-to-speak, in good hands. If we had unlimited time, it would be fun to share them from our angle as well. However, our priority is to try to take responsibility for duos which haven't been recorded as much or at all. There are a few works which we did record anyway, because we feel that our interpretation adds particularly important different perspectives. Luigi Nono is such a work. There are a few more.
There have been many musical trends over time. Do you, as a performer, see any new trends coming about, or do you see anything falling out of style in the performance practice of today?
C&M: Interpreting even late 19th century music, with an interest in performance practice of the time, is a trend gaining strength, it seems. It is likely that that will continue and also affect how we interpret music from the first half of the 20th century. From this interest in earlier generation's performance practices and concepts of musical communication there comes a keener awareness of the existence of trends altogether which makes it easier to not mix up the craft of playing an instrument versus the interpretation of different repertoire. There is more to music making than being the best or the second or the third best violinist.
In chamber music, we see how large mixed and matched ensembles are becoming more common. They are perfect for something such as portrait concerts, where they can offer programs of different combinations of instruments formed within the larger group. If you are a violin duo, or even a string quartet, you may not be able to do a portrait recital of most composers. These larger ensembles also see a growing repertoire. It may partly have to do with the problems of getting commissions for large orchestras. It is handy to have a group available of about a dozen enthusiastic specialists on contemporary art music. The advantages are apparent. We hope that the interest in, and the support for, smaller permanent chamber ensembles will also build up allowing the continuous, persistent ensemble work and the ongoing human exchange to lead to deeply differentiated, personal interpretational artistry and expression.
Besides focusing on and mastering the unique duo repertoire, how do you avoid sounding generic?
C&M: Some years ago, when we were almost violently trying to expand the violin's palette of sound, beyond what violinistic means, that word, “violinistic,” almost became a swearword. We try to expand our ways of hearing and communicating with sounds every day, which is an exploratory research, a red thread we keep spinning on our own and together. That's our fun. It's the reason we always want to continue.
Do you think the issue of music and art, is a moral issue, or merely entertainment?
C&M: It is certainly a moral issue, but rather in the form of a necessary tool than as a good power making people good. In order to relate to an incredibly complex world, we need to be sensibilized to the richness and multilayered-ness of what we experience and perceive in order to see not merely in black and white.
A rich language is great. Two or three are even better. Having lived in four language zones and cultures, Martin and I know that not every aspect of what one says can be translated into another language. Different languages lend themselves to different ways of thinking and understanding. Music is, to us, yet another way of thinking. Some thoughts which are difficult to think in words are easy to think in music.
There are so many examples, but let's say counterpoint where two or more different voices are telling their individual stories exactly at the same time, as if you were both of them. They might have entirely different characters or differ just a little. They may relate to each other or take place in separate worlds. Counterpoint is central to life. Breathtaking lessons of counterpoint and contrapuntal life can be learned from Central African Pygmies, Aka and Baka. Hearing their whole group’s polyphonic yodeling improvisations where even the children join in makes us see our own society’s endeavours in a more humble light.
The kids we meet talk lengthily about the music we play for them. Very frequently, we come to places together where words take us no further. It's a good place to be, because it makes you creative when there is something you really want to express. It can also be a place where you begin to think in music. In order for morality to be moral, it needs to react to the world from a deep and complex understanding of how it functions, as well as out of a love for its extreme and fragile diversity and plasticity.
Music is an incredibly important tool for understanding and for loving structures reflecting life, and, at the same time, morals and ethics always need to be talked about, discussed, tried, and lived. We as musicians can do that too.
This is true, and quite a beautiful perspective on music and our role as musicians! Thank you so much for your many wonderful insights! I enjoyed talking with you both.
C&M: Thank you! We did as well.