Enno Poppe © Harald Hoffmann
© Harald Hoffmann

Enno Poppe — The already Established and the New Ensembles

Large ensembles of the kind that were established in Europe since the end of the 1960s are indispensable and necessary. New ensembles are founded in order to invent something new – not to replace things that already exist.

Young composers are in need of young musicians. The collaboration with musicians who belong to their parents’ generation is important, instructive and good. Nonetheless, in working with their contemporaries, composers can gain some different, deeper experiences. Musicians who are themselves in search of something new are much more likely to become part of an exploratory process. Composing is more than the application of things that we have learned or that have been shown to us.

For instance: in a piece of which 50% were definitely impossible to play, the musicians of Klangforum Wien partly performed the most beautiful sounding things, without alerting the composer to what they were actually doing. That was most efficient given the fact that they had to perform in concert; but not as part of a process in which musician and composer develop something together.

Today, new ensembles consider themselves to be bands. This has an influence, amongst other things, on their appearance, repertoire, light, sound, the conception of their concerts and the planning of their tours. It is obvious that many of these new ensembles are extremely specialised and only perform a very limited repertoire which, however, they master to a "T".

Established ensembles have the advantage of being "allrounders", who can also perform Debussy and Schönberg.

These established ensembles, however, have the disadvantage, owing to their habitus, the formats and the venues of their concerts, or the form in which they are organised, of being part of "high culture"; they are "philharmonic". This is exactly the reason for the prevalent lack of acceptance of New Music today: the problem is not that these ensembles produce a cacophony, but their educated, middle-class ambience. Even if this may be necessary for Mozart and Schönberg – the ambience is no "allrounder". The Mozart Hall at the Wiener Konzerthaus always sounds terrible, once a loudspeaker is involved.

For young composers, making music without electronics is unthinkable. For a musician who performs new music, interest in, but also knowledge of, the technical possibilities is absolutely essential. It is not possible to delegate this aspect. A keyboard-player, who instructs the sound engineer: "You are responsible for my dynamics, I don’t care", acts irresponsibly. The microphone is part of the instrumentarium, for which the players are themselves responsible..

The question for an ensemble that specialises in contemporary music is not: Why do we have to use amplification or work with electronics, but: How can we make use of these means as a matter of course, without losing our specific character?

Of course – many new works don’t need the virtuosity and subtlety that established ensembles have to offer. I regard this fact as a conscious disregard of an established standard. Many composers want to oppose what is already established. On the other hand, an ensemble is not forced by necessity to perform just anything.
—Enno Poppe, 2018

Enno Poppe is a composer and conductor. Since 1998 he manages the ensemble mosaik.

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