Michael Pelzel

The Swiss composer and organist Michael Pelzel presents his new violin concerto Carnatic Pandora – a work commissioned by the ACHT BRÜCKEN-Festival Cologne and the Basel Sinfonietta, supported by the Ernst von Siemens Musikstiftung, Schweizer Kulturstiftung Pro Helvetia and Fondation SUISA.

We are looking forward to our renewed collaboration with Michael Pelzel at the guest performance on 5 May at the Kölner Philharmonie and on 7 May at the 5. Abo-Konzert at the Stadtcasino Basel.

Michael Pelzel is one of the most exciting Swiss composers of the present day. His compositions are performed all over the world. In recent years, the Swiss composer Michael Pelzel has made several trips to India. On the occasion of these study visits he has intensively studied the classical Carnatic music of South India. This eccentric, richly ornamented music has left a lasting impression on the composer – and inspired his new violin concerto Carnatic Pandora.
In addition to his work as a freelance composer, he is the organist of the Reformed parish of Stäfa on Lake Zurich.

To get to know him better, we asked him a few questions.


Was there a musical "revival experience" in your life? If so, what was it?

There wasn't really a very specific individual experience, except that I was extremely impressed by the instrument church organ on the occasion of an Easter celebration, the organist played the Toccata from the V. organ symphony by Charles-Marie Widor and after that I absolutely wanted to learn the organ. I was often emotionally very taken away by musical experiences because I sang in several choirs and that is probably where the fire for music was kindled....

Are there pieces that have particularly influenced you?

I am a big fan of the music of Max Reger and Oliver Messiaën. These two composers have had a very lasting influence on me, as has the French composer Gérard Grisey.

On several trips to India you have studied non-European musical traditions and playing techniques such as the classical Carnatic music of South India. How do these experiences influence your violin concerto Carnatic Pandora?

In 2016, 2017 and 2018, I had the opportunity to live and work in India, including Varanasi, Chennai, Calcutta and Bombay, and to attend music lessons in the field of Carnatic (South Indian) music. Here I was particularly fascinated by the elasticity and over-embellishment of the melodic design of the music, especially when listening to the playing of the veena and violin.
Also influenced by Indian music is the preference for recumbent sounds and drones, which are mainly played by the tanbura or by a kind of mini-accordion.

What fascinates you about travelling (outside of music)?

Personally, I am always fascinated by encounters with people from completely different cultures, such as the Tierra del Fuego Indians or musicians in South India or Africa. This exchange in conversation about different cultures and traditions has always been very enriching for me. In the end, you learn that we are all human beings with our own needs and desires across cultural boundaries.

How can contemporary music help to stimulate the exchange of different cultures?

That is a very difficult question, whether it is possible at all. Two years ago, I travelled to Namibia and was able to establish contacts with several choirs in the country. I would like to delve deeper into their music, culture and tradition and also compose music for these choirs. In this way, they might also be able to learn something about my or our European culture. In my opinion, such projects also create a very enriching cultural exchange by trying to understand each other's musical language.

Michael Pelzel

Photo: Manu Theobald


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