Musikverein Perspectives: Peter Zumthor

Peter Zumthor is one of the world’s most influential architects. As a passionate musician, he is at the centre of the Musikverein Perspektiven. 15 to 22 November 2023.

© Brigitte Lacombe

An afternoon in the Swiss Alps. We meet Peter Zumthor in his studio and home. It is a cloudy day; it is cold; the mountains, the air, and the clarity and openness of his living and working spaces clarify the view, the conversations and thoughts. We have an appointment with Peter Zumthor, not to talk about his architectural work, but about his listening: about his passion for music, which he has repeatedly described as “the greatest of the arts”, about sounds from his childhood, about pieces, composers who have impressed him. We talk about Bach, about dialogues between voice and solo instruments. He is interested in intensity; he talks about colour and embers, later Beethoven string quartets, Shostakovich’s archaic, rough, unpolished tone of a violin solo. We talk about Schubert, who is particularly close to him, about the combination with Bach and Kurtág. And again and again about the human voice: about singing, Gregorian chant, polyphonic chants from the Renaissance, which touched him as a child, in church interiors, among his early experiences of architecture and at the same time shaped his fascination for the voice and sound.

The fact that listening sometimes creates an atmosphere, a mood at the first notes of a piece, this lightning-fast, immediate, emotional communication of music is a phenomenon that he repeatedly approaches with architectural design. “I love music and am happy when I hear new things that inspire me to try new things in my work,” he once said in a previous interview. It is becoming increasingly clear that he is keenly interested in getting to the bottom of a question that drives him in conversations with composers: How do you create something new? And so we come from Bach, Schubert and Beethoven to classics of the 20th century, such as Schoenberg, Nono, Sciarrino and Xenakis, to fast-living composers whose works he appreciates, such as Rebecca Saunders, Isabel Mundry and Olga Neuwirth.

We talk about possible world premieres that might interest him and about spaces for concerts in and around Vienna. He is critical but, simultaneously, increasingly enthusiastic about immersing himself in a great musical adventure in Vienna in the year of his 80th birthday. In this conversation, further developed in the following months – as a kind of recovery from the work on his large museum buildings in Los Angeles and Basel – the plan for a week of “Musikverein Perspektiven” at the Wien Modern festival emerges: jointly developed concerts and discussions by Peter Zumthor with composers in the halls of the Musikverein, but also in atmospherically vital places such as the cloister of Klosterneuburg Abbey and the reactor in the former Etablissement Gschwandner. We look forward to inviting you to a week of personal encounters with legendary Pritzker Prize winner and passionate musician Peter Zumthor in November 2023.

Text by Stephan Pauly and Bernhard Günther.

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Logo of the Vienna Musikverein.