Cultural Partnership with hr2-kultur

Ensemble Modern in Conversation with Angelika Bierbaum

Since the launch of the Ensemble Modern’s subscription series at Frankfurt’s Alte Oper in 1985, Hessian Radio (hr) has recorded and broadcast these concerts, acting as an important multiplier for Ensemble Modern in the international context. Many CD productions, including Kurt Weill’s ›Berlin im Licht‹ and ›Die Dreigroschenoper‹, Wolfgang Rihm’s ›Jagden & Formen‹ and Helmut Lachenmann’s ›Mouvement‹ as well as the series of Ensemble Modern portrait CDs were realised with the help of the radio station hr2; not least of all, some of these recordings were responsible for Ensemble Modern’s eight ECHO Awards. Numerous shows and event announcements on hr2-kultur publicise Ensemble Modern’s activities and concerts. The »media partnership« was developed into a »cultural partnership« in 2009. Next to Ensemble Modern, hr2-kultur maintains cultural partnerships with 17 other selected institutions in Hesse in order to create more creative synergies in the realisation of cultural activities and ideas. To us, this almost 30-year-old friendship between Ensemble Modern (EM) and hr2-kultur is an occasion to interview hr2 Programme Director Angelika Bierbaum (AB) about the cultural partnership, but also about the role of New Music on the radio in general.

EM: The partnership between hr2-kultur and Ensemble Modern is very important to us. How does hr2 view the cultural partner Ensemble Modern?

AB: We consider Ensemble Modern an important cultural institution; otherwise it would not be our cultural partner. We have clear criteria: cultural partners must validate the concept of culture, providing the culture that plays a large role in our programme. This means classical music, jazz, New Music, and of course literature, theatre and visual art. They also must perform or curate the cultural programmes themselves. Of course, that is why Ensemble Modern was among the very first choices, as an ensemble that is a creative artist. By the way, Ensemble Modern is the only ensemble among our cultural partners. And since it is based in Frankfurt, approaching Ensemble Modern was the obvious choice to us.

EM: In hr2-kultur’s perspective, where does New Music fit in?

AB: We are certainly not a highly specialised New Music station like SWR2. However, to me New Music is part of the canon and firmly anchored to certain broadcasting slots. It is important to us to offer the hr2 listener contemporary music every week and to convey it well, for a concert hall situation and a radio situation are not entirely the same. There is a wonderful quotation by Stockhausen, who said that a live performance is like a sculpture that one can observe and approach from all angles; broadcasting this on the radio, however, is like a photograph of the sculpture. This quotation points to something which is truly a handicap of radio as a medium. Experiencing New Music in the concert hall conveys much more than what is perceived aurally. There are many performances of contemporary music which are a real pleasure to watch, for example regarding the interaction between the musicians; this is a listening aid. The radio omits this, and therefore a New Music programmer needs to be highly aware of the educational task of compensating these deficits of a radio broadcast vis-à-vis a concert hall situation, by creating access, treating the material more liberally, working with excerpts, providing introductions ...

EM: In your opinion, in which direction is this educational work heading?

AB: There is no patent remedy. Anyone presenting a show featuring New Music must create access routes; that has to be accomplished imaginatively. That, however, is not a plea for making the programme extremely didactic. Once I tuned in to our station and knew that there was New Music coming up, but I didn’t feel like it. It was a composer’s portrait about Hans Ulrich Engelmann. And when that show started, it was so well-made, so intriguing, it fascinated me so much that I listened until the end. That is what radio has to be like.

EM: How do you design the different sectors of the overall programme? Are special forms or special artists chosen, for example?

AB: Of course I trust the editor responsible for this subject matter. With his expertise for contemporary music, he can assess what is happening, what the tendencies are, where there are interesting younger composers who are ear-catching; he would also register what is being discussed at festivals. I want him to have his ear on the pulse of our times and sound judgment; I also want our audience to experience these themes. And as the »cultural radio for Hesse«, we are interested in the following: what is happening locally, here in Hesse? And if there is an ensemble here like Ensemble Modern, its activities are really interesting – especially because of its international reputation. There are also things I notice by accident. I am quite familiar with New Music through my upbringing; I have a strong relationship with it, especially with contemporary musical theatre. New artistic productions always offer friction; it is always a bit more strenuous and more difficult, but doesn’t merely reproduce something familiar. I always try to comfort people who find this difficult by pointing out that one has to get used to listening to this kind of music, that one shouldn’t pressure oneself, feeling one must understand something. The reception of art is not a factual process, not something that must be understood; on the contrary, there is a large area for interpretation between the cultural product and the recipient.

EM: So when it comes to music, you have an affinity to New Music. What about other areas?

AB: Of course I have an affinity to many things that we broadcast. Literature occupies a very important position in our programme. But I am not a literary expert: I studied musicology, art history and philosophy, not German literature. However, I am curious about the entire breadth of cultural life, and I follow it intensively.

EM: How does the decision process work regarding the selection of issues and the amount of time dedicated to them?

AB: Of course first of all there is a clear delineation regarding the responsibility of the stations, and our assignment is culture. Personally, I am responsible for the overall design of the programme. However, the programme itself is created by colleagues on the team. In my role as programme director, I often try to assume the listener’s perspective. Of course it is difficult to speak of the listener, since we have very heterogeneous listeners, ranging from the »hardcore« classical music fans to people who have no use for classical music, but love literary culture. The audience for New Music often has much in common with people interested in audio plays; jazz lovers are a completely different group again. Then, however, there are also people interested in culture, who are quite tolerant and open to many things.

EM: And how does one react to the listener’s wishes? How does one even find out about them?

AB: Cultural radio broadcasting has a potential of about two percent per day; that is the quantitative side of things. On the qualitative side, we try to gain an overview by using the results of media studies. The field of media studies works with a so-called media user typology. There are ten different types of media users, two of which are interesting for us: the »modern culture-oriented user« and the »culture-oriented traditional user«. These media user typologies offer extensive characteristics and examine which role the medium plays for the various types. The modern cultureoriented user is quite radio-friendly, spends a lot of time on cultural activities and has a very broad range of interests, would go to a symphony orchestra concert just as easily as to a Paolo Conte concert, goes to the cinema, reads a lot, is very open, makes music herself. The culture-oriented traditional user is very different: this is the older, highly educated middleclass type, who has a strong affinity towards high culture, but is not very tolerant. Then there is another interesting media user type whom we do not address explicitly: the »goaloriented trendsetter«. These are younger people who might become the modern culture-oriented types of tomorrow. Through this study, we found out that these young people are open to many topics, but that the way in which a topic is presented is decisive. They want to have everything brought to the point. These leads help us.

EM: And how do you use this information?

AB: At the moment we are busy formulating fundamentally new structures for the editorial office and working methods. We want a good internal discussion between lots of smart people.

EM: Surely, the competence of your group must be refreshed regularly by new ideas ...

AB: Absolutely! These new teams working on the daily programme consist of a mixture of »old hands« and younger colleagues who approach things with a fresh attitude. A simple example: among »traditional« media, I can reach for a book, a CD, an audio book, perhaps a DVD. That is totally different for the younger generation:there are apps, fascinating websites, and very interesting blogs where cultural topics are discussed. There are highly creative things happening, and they put people in touch with culture, but via different media. We want to integrate this into our programme to a higher degree.

EM: What, in your opinion, is the future of radio culture?

AB: It is impossible to make long-term prognoses. I believe that life is dynamic, and the same goes for the situation of the media. It depends how the media sector as a whole develops. Cultural radio has a longer half-life; its contents have a lasting value. The question is: how do we make these accessible for continued individual use?Even if we are a minority station with the smallest number of listeners, we lead the field when it comes to podcast use. We are deeply unhappy that legal reasons prevent us from publishing podcasts with music. Even in the case of our daily major talk show ›Doppelkopf‹, we have to cut the music before publishing the podcast, which is very bitter to us because music is part of the concept: our studio guests bring three to four favourite musical pieces with them. We would like to make far more available, since the modern listener is quite demanding and wants to determine herself when she listens to a show. Not only is the media landscape changing, but situations, habits and output devices are as well. I just want us to remain in step with our times.

EM: Have you ever appeared on ›Doppelkopf‹? If you did, which four pieces would you request?

AB: That would be really difficult. It might be part of Heiner Goebbels’ ›Eislermaterial‹, or ›Sky and Sand‹ by Paul Kalkbrenner, the final movement of Schubert’s Piano Sonata in C-Minor D.958, or something by Cristóbal de Morales performed by the Hilliard Ensemble and Jan Garbarek.

EM: What would be your advice for Ensemble Modern for the future?

AB: Contribute to the discussion about New Music; seek out dialogue with the audience. Consider making contact with genres which might not be purely New Music, but also fascinating. Where might there be overlap with more popular musical styles, but not in a platitudinous way – instead, where is the action? Or branch out into the radio-play scene. I would keep my ears wide open; I think that there is great openness among the audience for such projects.

EM: Thank you very much!