Composer in Residence 2024

Enno Poppe
Alexander Moore

Published: 02/11/2023

Mr. Poppe, what were the most significant turning points and moments on your journey to where you are today?

Certainly, it is important that I come from a musical family. There were many scores at home, and I grew up with Westdeutscher Rundfunk, which broadcast a lot of New Music. I was always very curious. Fortunately, I have kept that curiosity. Secondly, I think I often learned more from my fellow students than from my teachers. My encounters with colleagues, the many discussions we had which often continued over several days – I took a lot from that. The study programme was also more open than it ever could be today. We could study for as long as we felt was necessary. And thirdly, I would mention my move to Berlin in 1990, one year after the fall of the Wall The city was a completely crazy place full of things one had never seen before.

You have mentioned before that you conscious- ly leaned towards New Music early on and didn't have much interest in the historical repertoire. Where do you draw the line? At what point does it become historical music?

It can certainly be defined differently. I know that I was convinced by my first encounter with a piece by Stockhausen on the radio. I thought, «This is how music should sound.» When you're a teenager, there isn't the contrast between old and New Music, but rather between pop music and music that isn't pop. I never had to justify why I didn't compose like Mozart, but I did have to explain why I didn't compose jazz standards. In that context, it was even easier to say that I was involved with Stockhausen rather than Brahms. In other art forms, it works that way too. No one studies Rembrandt for years before turning to contemporary art; they begin straight away with contemporary art.

What is the biggest misconception about New Music that you would like to clarify?

That New Music is «too intellectual» or lacks sensuality. I don't like the term «too intellectual» because I don't want to denigrate the mind as something lacking in sensuality. New Music is always about the sensual, about new experiences that enrich our lives.

What does the orchestra mean to you? How does it compare to other ways of making music?

For the longest time, I avoided orchestras because I found them problematic. But that has changed because orchestras themselves have changed. There are many fantastic musicians who have been exposed to New Music during their education and are really excited about it. I want to work with people who genuinely like what they play. In that sense, an orchestra becomes a valuable cultural asset because I can do more with 100 musicians than with just three instruments.

May I remind you of something you said more than 20 years ago: «Spontaneity is suspect to me.» Has your opinion of that stayed the same?

At the time I meant that statement to be rather provocative. When I have an idea, I don't just let it out and consider it finished. I want to examine ideas and see what I still think about them – a week, a month, or a year later. This is something entirely different, and that's what I wanted to convey: there's a need for ideas, but there's also a need to work with them. When I‘m being spontaneous, I might not fully recognise the potential of an idea.

How do you come up with the short, often monosyllabic titles for your works?

I'm interested in the sound and the physical quality of the music. That's why there are few metaphysical references in my titles. I don't have a rule for titles, but I don't like explaining them either. The associations with the music are central, and the title is just an offering. In short, it takes me 15 minutes to come up with the title, but half a year to write the piece.

What are you looking forward to in Grafenegg 2024? How are you preparing?

I look forward to the whole package: the unique atmosphere, the park with its old trees, and the concerts in the open air. I'm looking forward to being here the entire time.

What advice would you give to the composers you'll be working with at Ink Still Wet?

I would like to encourage them to experiment and do something crazy. They don't have to strive to produce a great masterpiece; everyone is given creative freedom. It's perfectly fine to realise that they want to discover something new and create something different.

    Portrait of Enno Poppe
    At home in Grafenegg Festival Weekend 3 Festival Zeitgeist

    Tonkunstler Orchestra · Sarah Maria Sun · Enno Poppe


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