unbalanced instability

Dieter Ammann’s unbalanced instability for violin and chamber orchestra has been premiered at the Wittener Tage für neue Kammermusik (Witten Days for New Chamber Music), where other works by him are also on the program. We asked the Swiss composer three questions.

Mr. Ammann, the title of your new work for violin and chamber orchestra, unbalanced instability, allows numerous musical associations. What does it refer to?

Dieter Ammann: The title refers on the one hand to the manner of the compositional process, on the other hand to the resulting multi-layered construction of the formal progression. The work is marked by a high density in as far as there is nearly no formation of variants, let alone repetitions of syntactic sections. On the contrary, in nearly every moment the unique exposition of continually newly generated musical material predominates, which leads to an intense compression of various characteristics within a confined space. One of the (this time unusually numerous) working titles, “conversation comprimée,” refers to this phenomenon. I spent a lot of time attempting to track down an “intuitive logic,” a logic of subjectivity, of association, and of the inner ear that can newly create or discard its own rules at any point in time. The labyrinth-like, dramaturgical order of events resulting from this is moveable and active in every detail and therefore difficult to hear in advance.

Is there a compositional “theme” in this work?

My music combines a large variety of different textures. Put simply, this means that in the course of a piece everything can happen at any time, that vicissitude in all its forms, from flowing transitions to rupture, is the only invariable. The music finds itself in permanent communication, so to speak, first with the outside world, but simultaneously also inwardly in that it questions itself, sometimes even calls itself into question.
These are two “main themes” in my composing: on the one hand the finding/invention of individual forms of time organization by means of sound, but without dispensing with the ability to communicate on the part of the tonal result. In unbalanced instability there is, along with the genre-specific questions as an additional challenge, the use of different “tonal systems.” Chromaticism, microtonality (as a diminution of tempered chromaticism), freely treated spectral harmony, and central tonality, indeed even the solo instrument’s tuning in fifths should not simply coexist alongside each other, but rather, in spite of their divergences, enter into dialogue with one another to ultimately become a part of a musically nevertheless homogeneous work.

What is the relationship between solo and tutti?

The relationship is similarly ambiguous. Thus the violin begins by itself, but entirely without the bow and after a short time – conventional in terms of form – causes first resonances in the orchestra. However, the orchestra soon develops its own tonal spaces which can get so out of control that during actions by the solo instrument it is at times the optical aspect that comes to the fore and even leads to the solo voice falling silent. One is tempted to speak here of a “concert movement with solo violin.” Also in the further course of the piece the relationship of the individual and the collective remains unpredictable, yet always lives from the different kinds of mutual permeation and concise changes of perspective, which also include the formation of short-term alliances with individual instruments. The energetic forward drive of the movement should be bridled toward the end in a kind of solo cadenza. Thus a convention – instability, too, is not continuously effective, but rather itself “unbalanced.”

Questions: Marie Luise Maintz
(from [t]akte 1/2013)