Tod Machover, April 2nd, 2015
I just got back to Boston after my latest visit to Lucerne to work on various projects for this summer’s Lucerne Festival. As always, Lucerne was a kind of oasis, this time more striking than most. My previous trip had been during the dark, mysterious, noisy, cold and damp days of Fasnacht; when I returned to Boston three days ago, winter was still here, snow still covered the ground on the fields of my 18th century farm, and the air has been bone-chilling. So how much more vivid seemed these past days (March 20-29) in Lucerne, when spring was in the air, the sky was vivid blue with light that seemed to illuminate buildings, hills and friendly faces, and when the spiritual, serious, supportive music of the Lucerne Easter Festival filled both church and concert hall. As always, I was delighted to arrive in Lucerne this time and sorry to leave.
And what an intensive, event-filled period it was! A large block of time during this visit was devoted to rehearsing and developing (at the wonderful Südpol) the music and technology for the Fensadense program that we will be presenting as part of the Young Performance series at the Festival, starting on September 12. It was very unusual to be able to work many hours each day with 10 amazing alumni musicians from the Lucerne Festival Academy, taking musical ideas that I brought with me and trying, shaping and discussing them together. We worked on a program which contains an extremely diverse collection of musical materials which I have assembled – from Bach to early electronic music (nothing later than 1964!) to The Beatles – and which culminates in my own Fensadense, an interactive extravaganza that uses the latest “hyperinstrument” technology from the MIT Media Lab, turning the 10 players into a kind of super-ensemble that is more than the sum of its parts. Three MIT associates of mine – Ben Bloomberg, Peter Torpey and Garrett Parrish – came to Lucerne for the whole period, to test a new generation of sophisticated sensors and measurements devices, including special stretchy bands worn on the arms and a very powerful measurement system contained in a single Apple iPad, one-per-musician (and mounted on specially adapted music stands). Very cool, I think, and the music for this program is starting to take shape… and also to really sizzle. The experience of give-and-take and experimentation with such a brilliant group of young musicians and technologists proved to be one of the most exciting musical experiences that I can remember. Can’t wait to finish the Fensadense music over these coming months, rehearse it at the Festival in August, and present it to all of you in September.
In addition to the Fensadense rehearsals, we accomplished so much else during these very busy days. With the management and creative team of the Lucerne Festival, we participated in a press conference for the summer festival where we were able to discuss Festival themes, programs and special projects. I continued to explore Lucerne and meet local musicians as part of the collection of material for the A Symphony for Lucerne project, most notably by getting a tour of the incredible Sedel – the former men’s prison near the Rotsee which is now a music rehearsal and performance venue – by the great avant-garde percussionist/drummer Fredy Studer, and by holding a public workshop at the Jazzkantine of the Musikhochschule. The Sedel visit was revelatory, both through hearing Fredy play multiple crazy rhythms with his left hand and both feet, while coaxing a collection of cymbals to resonate with complex electronic timbres by stirring and scraping with a variety of mallets and sticks, and also by hearing murmurs and shouts of many other bands seeping through the graffiti-coveted doors of the old prison cells. Magic!
And I was greatly impressed by the musicality and imagination of the four young improvising classical musicians who volunteered for the Jazzkantine session. From the unlikely ensemble of flute, violin, bassoon and piano (how classical, even romantic!), these creative players coaxed startling sounds of Lucerne’s lake, river and fountains, made rhythm from stomping feet, moving chairs, and plunking inside the piano, responded to a request from the audience to improvise a piece that reflected the fusion (or collision) of Wagner and Fasnacht (!), and who proposed an improvisation on “loneliness and isolation” when I asked them to show me some sounds of Lucerne that were crucial to them. All of this will enter my own imagination as I pull together the materials to represent Lucerne in our new symphony. Hearing such brilliance and unconventional creativity was inspiring and moving, regardless of the current project. These young players – along with the Festival Academy Alumni – truly make one optimistic about the future of music.
And further optimism was generated by another Symphony for Lucerne-related activity that we conducted during this same visit. Various young people throughout the city have been using our Hyperscore software for the past period to create original compositions that reflect their own impressions of Lucerne. These will be shared during the Summer Festival on a 40-Minute Concert and also as a part of the larger symphony. Talk about inspiration! I visited several times with a workshop of young people (ages 8-16) mentored brilliantly by composer Luigi Laveglia, and was mesmerized by the lovely, original and quirky compositions that are emerging by each young person, sculpted using the unusual lines-and-color interface of Hyperscore, music that will be transcribed into traditional notation for Lucerne Festival Academy musicians to perform. I also visited two very contrasting schools – the public Schulhaus Moosmatt with students from all over the world, and the private Four Forest where everyone learns in English – and again saw an explosion of creativity and enthusiasm, demonstrating that anyone can compose beautiful and personal music if properly encouraged and given the right tools.
Spending time with these young people, learning about them – and about Lucerne – through their pieces, and discussing with each how to push their vision even further….well, this experience is one of the things that truly makes the Symphony for Lucerne worthwhile for me, and – I am sure – for everyone who will be able to hear these amazing young creations/creators in September.
To cap off this wildly intensive visit, I presented a public workshop at the KKL to show people the process of creating A Symphony for Lucerne and to let people know the current state of the project. I explained that it has been simply overwhelming to receive so many sounds, ideas, compositions, and improvisations from the people of Lucerne, and from people of so many different ages and backgrounds. Combined with my own pretty extensive explorations of the city and region, I have an enormous wealth of material that I am now starting to weave into the final symphony. People can still submit material until the end of April, but I am already starting to decide how it all fits together, what aspects of Lucerne will be reflected, and what the emotional journey of the piece will be. What an exciting – but enormous – process! During this past stay in Lucerne, I started to pull together elements from the project (right in my hotel room at the Wilden Mann and put together a little “teaser” composition called A Little Lucerne to show what Lucerne is starting to sound like to me. From strings that recreate the sounds of Lucerne’s interconnected water systems, to percussion and brass that hint at cows and steamships and alpenhorns, to clarinets that riff off of yodel duets but spin original flowing melodies – well, the Symphony for Lucerne is starting to take shape.
Now I am back in Boston where it is still not-yet-spring, but I feel as if I am in Lucerne; my mind and heart are filled with the many sounds I have heard and the many friends I have made and the great musical experiments that the Lucerne Festival has allowed me to conduct. I am so excited about the creative period ahead when I – and we – will bring all of these creative projects to fruition. At the same time, I am already feeling slightly sad that these particular projects will indeed reach culmination in September… and I am already thinking about how I can continue contributing to the lovely city of Lucerne – truly now my “second home” – for a very long time to come.
Sending warm regards and magical sounds from still-chilly Boston,