The Basel Sinfonietta tribute to the Swiss composer Dieter Ammann

On the occasion of his 60th birthday, the Basel Sinfonietta paid tribute to the Swiss composer Dieter Ammann with an evening concert on 26 May 2022. The programme entitled “60 Years in the Groove” showcased a total of four works by Dieter Ammann under the direction of Principal Conductor Baldur Brönnimann and featuring soloist Simone Zgraggen (violin) performing unbalanced instability for violin and chamber orchestra (2013) as well as the orchestral triptych Core – Turn – Boost (2000–10). The Basel Sinfonietta presents this triptych for the first time as a complete recording.

Dieter Ammann’s working method is characterised by the meticulous notation of his compositions, which oscillate between the densest differentiation and raw vitality. He captures fundamentals and elemental forces in a conceptual yet also sensually perceptible form.

unbalanced instability, his concerto for violin and chamber orchestra, was premiered in Witten on 28 April 2013 by Carolin Widmann and the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne under Emilio Pomàrico. The multilayered work foregoes the repetition of syntactical passages, and seeks that which is unpredictable and changeable. The work’s relationship between solo and tutti is also highly ambivalent: at times the orchestra’s sound mass overpowers the solo violin, leaving it ossified in inaudibility, while at other times other solo instruments surge into the foreground. Unlike a conventional violin concerto, there is no harmonic whole here that stabilises the relationship between collective and individual. There is instead a multiplicity of perspectives that interpenetrate each other. The composer himself is tempted to refer to it as a concerto movement with solo violin.

Ammann completed the triptych, which consists of three independent, self-contained orchestral works, over a period of ten years. One of his working methods is to move forward slowly, to allow the works sufficient time in his compositional workshop to reach maturity and to unfold their full potential.

Core was written in 2001/02 as a commissioned work for the Lucerne Festival. The premiere took place on 16 August 2002 in Lucerne by the Basel Sinfonietta under the baton of Peter Rundel. Ammann draws on an external musical source for the first corner movement of his triptych: recordings by the improvisation trio Koch-Schütz-Studer. Here he poses the question of how to integrate objet trouvés, i.e. found objects, into the contained form of a nine-minute orchestral piece. The very fact that the elements used were the result of improvisation rather than compositional processes demanded that they be structurally reshaped into becoming organic components of the composer’s own musical language. In this way, the trajectory leads via the objet trouvé to the question of what moulds a work into a unity that reaches beyond the confines of the material used.

Turn was also composed for the Lucerne Festival. Pierre Boulez, who recognised in Ammann’s music the paradox of an “artistic reflected spontaneity at the highest level”, conducted the premiere by the Lucerne Festival Contemporary Orchestra on 25 August 2010. The composition lies at the centre of the orchestral triptych and, in terms of the overall dramaturgy, serves an almost “Adagio” function. The piece, however, also undergoes a distinct turning point in its development. “I created a formal design that exposes an intentional overloading of the orchestral movement in order to create a musical aura, which is then subjected to a fundamental change or even entirely fractured. At the same time, I attached a strong significance on the vertical”, says Ammann. The radical shift emerges as an unfolding within the form that ensures a moment of transcendence, a radical act of transformation.

Boost was commissioned by Jonathan Nott together with the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra and premiered on 9 January 2002. Without attaching too much programmatic significance on the title, the push, the force that emanates from this final corner piece is clearly palpable. Even Ammann states: “The work could have a different title”, hence rejecting a programmatic approach that limits the freedom of interpretation. Nevertheless: it unleashes its irrepressible energy above all through the traversal of opposing spheres. What emerges is a dramaturgy of tension and release, of an interplay between consistency and disparity, of movement and stasis.

Album Dieter Ammann

Dieter Ammann

Photo: René Mosele


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