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Andreas Zurbriggen, Composer in Residence 2019

Earlier this year, the Festival Musikdorf Ernen appointed Andreas Zurbriggen its Composer in Residence 2019. The première of his “Zweisamkeiten”—a work for 4-handed piano commissioned by the festival—is slated for performance on August 3 as part of the chamber concert (Kammerkonzert) series.

While composer Andreas Zurbriggen grew up in Saas-Fee, he counts Ernen his second home. That, because he was well-versed in the piano, trumpet and cello he played in his youth, he visited concerts here enthusiastically even as a teenager. Later, after studies in musicology and composition, and the launch of a promising career as a composer, he was awarded a grant that gave him the time and means to take up residence here in the village. Much like Edvard Grieg and Gustav Mahler before him, he was able to live in what he cited fondly as his own little “Kompositionshaus,” the house a friend had recently vacated. “I meant to stay here a few weeks, and ended up staying a year and a half,” he said, smiling broadly.

No question that that stay did his composing good. Zurbriggen’s catalogue of works—impressive for a man just 33 years—already includes notable pieces for orchestra, chamber music configurations, and solo performance for piano and pan flute. Early this year, the Festival Musikdorf Ernen appointed him Composer in Residence for the 2019 season, nicely timed inasmuch as just months before the launch of his tenure here, he took another illustrious award: the canton of Wallis’s cultural grant for a six-month residency in Berlin.

Even speaking informally as he did with me, the breadth of Zurbriggen’s cultural insights and commitment to the arts is immediately apparent. Having attended high school in Brig, he completed composition studies with Daniel Glaus at the Hochschule der Künste Bern, but supplemented his course of study with additional work in literature, history, and art history. At the time of our interview, he was writing a term paper in medieval art and architecture for a course at the University of Zurich. Indeed, his interests bridge disciplines—philosophy, music history, media, the performing arts—and spur his own creativity. He also writes with regularity in various music periodicals and newspapers. Indeed, much more than an “all-rounder,” he might better be called something of a Renaissance man.

A good number of youtube clips that bear his signature feature compositions marked by delicate, ethereal qualities; quite often a dreamy palpitation characterizes his work. When we spoke, the select pages of the score he shared with me of his soon-to-be-premiered “Zweisamkeiten” looked almost like a meditation: a steady, single configuration might modestly shift, then move gradually into a new harmony without any big bang, almost in an organic process. Given his broad base of academic accomplishment, it follows that Zurbriggen’s own musical genre reflects the merits of composers before him. But unquestionably, it also bears hallmarks of unique integration into a modern context. And while he readily acknowledges the proponents of “new music” and their accomplishments, both in Europe and abroad, his work differs from others’ inasmuch as he avoids using set schematic patterns and calculated mathematical formulae to drive his score. Instead, Zurbriggen contends that he works on composition intuitively, continually asking himself for his genre’s own logic, always asking himself in that process of composing where the music itself “wants to go next.”

Having learned those three different instruments as a child—piano, trumpet and cello—Zurbriggen is well positioned to understand the machinations of the orchestra, and as such, well suited to composition in that genre. But his “inner ear,” as it calls it, clearly puts new demands on him and is applied to various other configurations. The beauty of simplicity (“die Schönheit der Schlichheit”) is, however, always a foremost concern.

Further, he draws on the wealth of poetry he reads and widely enjoys, one which far exceeds just the German literature to which he was first exposed. The composer calls on Erza Pound, on Lawrence Ferlinghetti, or on W.B Yeats, for example, just as readily as on work by Ingeborg Bachmann, Arthur Rimbaud or Rolf Hermann. The latter’s poem, “North of Alexandria,” is marked by a spontaneity that Zurbriggen carries into his own version: a tightly constructed, short choral work for five voices. In a different genre, his “Zweisamkeiten” is a work for 4-handed piano which was commissioned by the Festival Musikdorf Ernen, and also the name chosen as the title for the 2019 summer season’s concert offer. Pianists Alasdair Beatson and Paolo Giacometti will premier the work here in the Ernen church on August 3 as part of the third chamber music concert in the “Kammermusik Plus” series. That’s a concert we really oughtn’t miss.

Sarah Batschelet, July 10, 2019

Musikdorf Ernen’s 2019 Composer in Residence Andreas Zurbriggen previously held the position of composer in residence at the 24th Davos Festival - young artists in concert. His works have been performed at various festival venues, including Forum Wallis, Davos Festival, Musikfestival Bern, Shanghai International New Music Week, and have been interpreted by various ensembles such as Ensemble Phoenix Basel, Voice-Recorder Duo Ums ´n Jip, Mondrian Ensemble Basel, Ensemble Laboratorium, Haute École de Musique Lausanne Site de Sion Orchestra, Oberwalliser Vokalensemble, Russische Kammerphilharmonie St. Gallen, and the Russian Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra. Petersburg and the South Korean vocal quintet Cool~a Cappella.

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