Georg Baselitz & Tarek Atoui
14 to 17 November 2022
From 14 to 17 November 2022, Georg Baselitz, one of the leading painters, graphic artists and sculptors of our time, will be a guest at “Musikverein Perspectives”. He was born in 1938 in Deutschbaselitz, Saxony. Since 1969 he became known worldwide with pictures whose motifs are upside down. Among other things, he took part in documenta 5 in Kassel in 1972. Important retrospectives have taken place at the Guggenheim Museum in New York in 1995, at the Royal Academy of Arts in London in 2007 and at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in 1996 and 2011, and at the Fondation Beyeler in Basel and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C. in 2018. Recently, the Centre Pompidou in Paris dedicated a retrospective to him. Among many other honors, he received the Praemium Imperiale in Tokyo in 2004, and in 2019 he was elected to the Académie des beaux-arts of the Institut de France. In 2005 he was awarded the Austrian Decoration of Honour for Science and Art, and in 2015 he became an Austrian citizen. His work is present in the most important international collections and museums.
In his private life, Georg Baselitz is an enthusiastic listener of music. And he is very decided on what kind of music interests him, yes: what kind of music he is passionate about. It’s contemporary music. When you talk to Georg Baselitz about contemporary pieces, about new music, his eyes light up. You would probably rarely find him in a concert with traditional music, but – and he deliberately chooses such concerts – in concerts with new music. He knows what he wants to hear, what music makes him curious, and he glows when he talks about new music. Why? Because it’s from today. Contemporaneity. Comes from the present. Baselitz does not understand how one can be enthusiastic about contemporary art, but not at the same time about contemporary music.
From his point of view, both can – and should – be subversive, both contemporary art and contemporary music; in any case, not adapted, but against the current, new, strong, of today and individual. That’s what fascinates Georg Baselitz about new music. And: the soft tones in the new music. Fragile sounds. Small casts, nuances and silence.
All this, namely Georg Baselitz as a passionate listener of contemporary music, is what the Musikverein Perspectives want to reflect in November. In conversation with Georg Baselitz, the programmes of the Musikverein Perspectives were created, which are realised in co-operation between the Musikverein, the Wien Modern Festival and the Albertina: contemporary music on four evenings, which was selected together with Georg Baselitz. Georg Baselitz will talk to various interlocutors about music – and of course about his work, which will also be on display during these days. And you will also be able to hear Baselitz as a librettist. New works will be premiered, based on a text by Georg Baselitz, which he also recorded himself.
Georg Baselitz can be heard twice on this first evening: as a speaker for the recording of his own text, which the composer Olga Neuwirth has used as an element of her new work, and in a conversation about music, about the works of the four days, about his personal passion for contemporary music and about the interfaces between visual art and music. The last piece of the evening, the Third String Quartet by Georg Friedrich Haas, is played in complete darkness. Vision is switched off in favor of hearing. At the end of the evening there is: contemporary music, and no other senses.
The second evening of the Musikverein Perspectives is dedicated to the dialogue between music and visual arts. For example, in the first piece of the evening by Morton Feldman, which he dedicated to the painter Franz Kline. Here, a programmatic trail is laid through the four evenings: to the encounter of the arts, visual arts and music. In this way, the painter also becomes a librettist, so to speak: a text by Georg Baselitz became the starting point for a new work by the composer Elisabeth Harnik. In addition, there will be a work by Beat Furrer, whose music will also accompany us through the days with Georg Baselitz: delicate, quiet, fragile.
Georg Baselitz is not only a visual artist, in painting and sculpture, but he also writes; and Arnold Schönberg is not only a composer, but also a painter. Schoenberg’s self-portraits and drawings will be the subject of conversation with Georg Baselitz – after we have heard Schönberg’s Second String Quartet, a modern classic. This is combined with string quartets by Beat Furrer and Rebecca Saunders. The composer, who was awarded the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize in 2019, explores the undiscovered sound possibilities of the instruments in her pieces. In “Unbreathed” she deals with sound phenomena such as breathing and with the absence of sound, with silence. For Saunders, too, the exploration of other art forms plays an important role. “Unbreathed” places her in the context of literature and the visual arts by quoting texts by writers such as Samuel Beckett and Haruki Murakami, as well as artist Ed Atkins, in the score. The Quatuor Diotima from Paris, which is one of the leading quartet ensembles, premiered “Unbreathed” in 2017.
The last day is dedicated to the work of Georg Baselitz. The Albertina is one of the museums in the world that houses a large, important collection of his works. The whole day is dedicated to seeing the paintings of Georg Baselitz, which are exhibited in a separate room in the Albertina. Parallel to seeing the pictures, we listen to the music for hours. A work by the composer Morton Feldman, who in many of his pieces referred to painting and painters, such as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Willem De Kooning and Philip Guston. The four-hour work dedicated to him will be played live in the exhibition hall as a loop: repeated many times, without intermission, over 13 hours, from morning to night. In other words, a bridge between music and painting, in an installation concert situation in which one can linger to see the pictures in the presence of the music and to hear the music in the presence of the pictures. You can come and go whenever you want and stay as long as you want.
“The great thing about art? Everyone can participate in it.”
With the Lebanese artist Tarek Atoui, Musikverein Perspectives is sending a strong signal of further aesthetic and social opening before the start of the 2022/23 season. At the invitation of the Wiener Festwochen and in co-operation with the Musikverein Wien, Atoui is producing a new series of his extraordinary instruments that fascinatingly expand the spectrum of playing. In doing so, he draws inspiration from old instruments from the collections of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde.
Mr. Atoui, what would you tell someone who knows neither you nor your work about yourself and what you do?
I would say that my interest in music was sparked at the age of eighteen by electronic, new, experimental music and noise music. I studied electroacoustic music in France and continued to develop. What I do today is something between visual art and music. I am an artist, composer and musician in equal measure. I work – apart from any genre – with sound. I invent musical instruments and new ways of perceiving music and sound.
Is it true that before dedicating yourself to music, you studied economics and mathematics?
Yes. I received a visa for France only on the condition that I study economics or mathematics there. That’s why I studied these two subjects and electroacoustic music. I’ve worked hard – and I’m happy about it. I benefited enormously from mathematics because it made it much easier for me to understand music. And over time, I also saw myself as a musician, even though I never learned to play an instrument.
Speaking of instruments: The Wiener Festwochen, in co-operation with the Musikverein Wien, has invited you to develop new instruments. Has the creative process already begun?
Yes, I was in Vienna in the fall and had the opportunity to visit the collections of the Musikverein several times. Honestly, I had no idea how big they were before. All I knew was that they include very old and important orchestral instruments of Western music. But I didn’t expect that there would be a lot of letters, pictures, recordings and other objects that tell us a lot about classical music and the personal lives of famous composers. In general, I was surprised by the abundance of exhibits. And I became humbled, especially when I took a closer look at the instruments.
I don’t have any training in classical music. As I said, I’ve never played an instrument. That’s why I felt a bit like an ignoramus. After talking to the director of the Musikverein’s collection, library and archive, it was clear to me that I needed to know much more about classical music history and orchestral music in order to better understand the enormous value of these instruments. It takes intensive, long-term study to be able to immerse oneself in this world.
With all due respect, did the instruments inspire you?
Yes, in two ways. Firstly, it was fascinating to see how the sounds are produced in the instruments, what details and mechanisms are important. Some instruments are precisely tailored to the needs and ideas of individual composers, but also to different pieces of music. Every single instrument was very special. That gave me the idea to make something less special as a counterweight. I invited my long-time collaborators Uriel Barthélémi and Vincent Martial to work with me on this new collection. We ask ourselves: what tools could appeal to a much wider audience than just professionals? What acoustic and mechanical principles can we build on to develop an instrument that is easy to produce and easy to multiply? And this brings me to something that inspires me almost more than the exhibits: namely, the human skills and resources that have made it possible to build up such an instrument collection over all these centuries – and to be able to preserve it.
When you talk about “human skills”, who do you think of?
The instrument makers and all those who repair, preserve and care for these pieces. At the Musikverein, they know exactly who the world’s experts are, because they are constantly working with them. And the house put me in touch with some of them. For someone like me, who builds new instruments myself, this is incredibly valuable. I am now in close contact with these people. I haven’t had these opportunities in any of my projects.
Do you already have a clear idea of the instruments you are going to build?
From the very beginning, I had the vision of building instruments whose sound source is the wind and the air. Now we are in the phase where we are researching and discussing it with experts.
The concert series will take place at various locations in Vienna – what will they be?
For the opening concert, the Festival was able to win the Musikverein as a co-operation partner – this will now take place in the beautiful ambience of the Glass Hall. The follow-up concerts as part of the festival programme will then move on to various locations in Vienna, e.g. a techno club or the Ruprechtskirche. From the very beginning, the idea of the project was to reach as diverse an audience as possible. I think this openness to co-operation is a very nice gesture on the part of the Musikverein and shows the direction in which the journey with Stephan Pauly is now heading. I really appreciate him and his vision of the task of an institution like the Musikverein today. Despite all the sense of tradition, the house shows itself in a contemporary light.
You have already worked with many cultural institutions and organizers. What conditions do you have to meet before you decide on a project?
The most important thing for me is that those who invite me to work with them are really passionate about it. If they believe in what we’re up to, are excited about it, and are willing to learn, that’s fantastic. It’s the same here in Vienna. Christophe Slagmuylder, the Artistic Director of the Wiener Festwochen, and Stephan Pauly, the Artistic Director of the Musikverein, both have intuition and a broad knowledge of the most diverse types of art, that impresses me.
Is there such a thing as the perfect concert hall for you?
No, there isn’t. I have freed myself from this thought. There is no need to look for the perfect acoustics and tonal conditions. What matters is the connection between the audience, the space, the artists, the instruments and the sound. We articulate these components in every single moment. That’s exactly what the project is all about. We start in the Glass Hall under perfect acoustic conditions, but then we perform in a club where the audience stands and circulates constantly. And when we play in different locations, people will sit close to us and perceive the sound in very different ways. All of this is incredibly exciting and a way to discover our relationships with others and the world.
Do you play different pieces every time?
Yes, no two concerts will be the same: different composers, different musicians, only the instruments will remain the same. By the way, we also plan to organize various workshops where those who are interested can learn what these instruments are all about. People are also allowed to play them under our guidance.
Does that mean that your instruments can also be played by amateurs?
Both professional musicians and amateurs. I also work with people who are hard of hearing and deaf. One of the instruments that will be used in Vienna is an advanced version of my instrument “Organ Within”. I invented it for deaf people.
How did that come about?
In the course of a project in New York, in which the aim was to develop instruments for both hearing and non-hearing people. These instruments, for example, use sound as vibration, and these vibrations are physically perceptible.
Their audience is very diverse. Did that come about over time or has diversity always been part of your concepts?
At first it happened somehow, but at a certain point in time I consciously planned and sought out these multi-layered encounters. I was curious to see how different people receive sounds and music, for example deaf people or children. Experiencing this was very stimulating for me and made me even more open. That’s the great thing about art: everyone can participate in it, no matter what background, no matter what skills he or she has. The important thing is to be curious and willing to absorb and learn new things. That’s why I think it’s a shame when we narrow ourselves down or think in conventional categories. Artists, musicians, filmmakers, composers, performers, spectators, we all share the same space.
This interview was conducted by Judith Hecht.
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