Sven Hartberger, the director of Klangforum Wien, Austria's foremost contemporary ensemble, on the ACFNY's anniversary series.
Klangforum Wien has been accompanying the ACFNY since its opening in 2002, and has given several performances at the "Needle" over the past ten years. As the most important Austrian ensemble for New Music, they were also featured in the Forum's anniversary program, which offered substantial insight into the status of contemporary music. Daniel Ender spoke with Klangforum's director, Sven Hartberger, about the special atmosphere in the Big Apple and the ensemble's enthusiastic forays across geographical borders and towards new stylistic frontiers.
The assortment of concerts, with which the ACFNY celebrated its ten-year anniversary musically, was extremely well-selected. Ten concerts between February and October, 2012, with U.S. and Austrian ensembles, and with contemporary music as the central focus. Prominent premieres and debut performances as well as essential works of musical modernism – by composers such as Roman Haubenstock-Ramati, György Kurtág, and Salvatore Sciarrino – got their turn as much as two Austrian composers who were forced to flee their country from the Nazis, and found new things to do and, at times, new joy in America: Erich (Eric) Zeisl and Erich Wolfgang Korngold. A total of six world premieres were commissioned for the anniversary series: Kurt Schwertsik wrote a new piece for the aron quartett, Bernhard Lang for the Argento Chamber Ensemble, Clemens Gadenstätter for the JACK Quartet, Manuela Kerer for the Hugo Wolf Quartet, Thomas Larcher for cellist Nicolas Altstaedt and Nicolas Dautricourt, and Agata Zubel for Klangforum Wien.
While Talea Ensemble and the International Contemporary Ensemble devoted their efforts wholly to contemporary Austrian music, Klangforum Wien built bridges from Austria into the world in its programming with compositions by Zubel, Haubenstock-Ramati, Kurtág, Sciarrino, and others. A move which befits the most important Austrian ensemble for New Music, whose musicians are deeply rooted in the Wiener Moderne and have, among other things, continued to give outstanding performances of music by the Viennese School, including works by Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern, and Alban Berg. Apart from considering, as they might be expected to do, current musical trends, Klangforum is keeping a sharp eye on the international scene. And although the ensemble always includes current Austrian approaches to music in its concerts abroad and thus helps shape the perception of Austria as a "country of music" in a considerable way, it also tends to turn inward for reflection. An argument for this can be found, for instance, in the ensemble's current season program in Vienna, where it is posing the question of globalization in New Music and that of the particularities of individual countries. The man at the helm of Klangforum has a personal relationship with New York and the ACFNY. His name is Sven Hartberger; he was born in Vienna in 1958 and studied law and philosophy. He was the director of the Wiener Operntheater until 1999 and has served as the director of Klangforum ever since.
Ender: Let's assume you were in New York and had an entire day to yourself. Where would you go?
Hartberger: To the Austrian Cultural Forum at 52nd Street, because they often show exhibitions that are among the best and politically – and aesthetically – most interesting in the city. To Central Park to catch some fresh air, to the Loeb Boathouse for lunch, to MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) and, at night, to Le Poisson Rouge, which offers the most refreshing musical mix in town.
Ender: How would you personally describe the sound of the city?
Hartberger: It varies, depending on the place, time, and weather – but, in all, surprisingly calm and laid-back.
Ender: Klangforum Wien has given concerts for both the ACFNY's opening and its ten-year anniversary. How did you experience the beginning of this institution, and what has changed in between?
Hartberger: Only someone who has had the opportunity to accompany and follow the ACFNY's work on a continual basis could give a serious answer to that question. Unfortunately, I did not have that privilege. However, what I can tell you is what seems to me – surprisingly enough – to have remained the same over the years: the relevance and reputation that the cultural life of the city affords the ACFNY on 52nd Street. It did not really surprise me at the opening. "The Needle" was a new architectural landmark, and its novelty in and of itself was attractive enough to have the public and the media take notice. In the years to follow, I realized during my repeated visits that the initial curiosity was no flash in the pan. The ACFNY is a known force, a real player in the city. This is remarkable and attests to the great achievements of the people who have worked there over the years. All the more so if you know how limited the financial means are with which they make miracles happen – something they succeed at time and again.
Ender: How would you describe the atmosphere at the ACFNY; what do you personally appreciate about it?
Hartberger: Bustling. A constant coming and going, a place that is cosmopolitan, open-minded, and ready to communicate. I particularly appreciate the diversity of its activities – this ability to provide a space for such an enormous range of artistic talent. The ACFNY is not a Jack of three trades, but a Jack of fifty trades!
Ender: How do you choose the concert programs of the Klangforum Wien? Do you accentuate different things in New York than you would in European performances?
Hartberger: In our programs we wish to show Austria as a cosmopolitan country that is ready to learn and to exchange ideas, where people live who are interested in others and who are ready to accept and to learn new things, but who also have something to give in return. This is no different in New York than anywhere else. And the ACFNY is a good place for loosely subject-oriented programs. Though Austrian Cultural Fora are financed by Austrian taxpayers, the programs that are presented are not limited to showing Austrian art by Austrian artists.
Ender: Klangforum is based in Vienna, but aims to be international with its repertoire and its concert activities. What role do New York and the United States play in contemporary music?
Hartberger: New York and the United States play an incredibly important role in contemporary music. Just think of Minimal Music and Bang on a Can. However, the aesthetic, sonic, and musical interests of Klangforum Wien lie elsewhere and are very much shaped by Europe. I believe that American music culture hardly needs Klangforum Wien to help it spread throughout the world. Also, audiences in New York are, for obvious reasons, not interested in how the ensemble might interpret American music, but are, of course, interested in current European trends, which are by no means overrepresented in the Big Apple – a city that is surprisingly conservative, by the way. (Daniel Ender)