Board of Patrons for Ensemble Modern

A Conversation with Prof. Dr. Christina Weiss

At the initiative of the former Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and Media, Prof. Dr. Christina Weiss, the neuroscientist Prof. Dr. Wolf Singer, and the poet, translator and Joyce expert Prof. Dr. Klaus Reichert, the Ensemble Modern Patronatsgesellschaft e.V. – Ensemble Modern Board of Patrons was found-ed on October 2, 2015. Thus, in addition to the Association of Friends of Ensemble Modern e.V., Ensemble Modern now has another source of idealistic and financial support. Dietmar Wiesner (DW) of Ensemble Modern spoke to Prof. Dr. Christina Weiss (CW) about the idea behind this founding and the hopes and visions of the Board of Patrons.

DW: How did the idea of a Board of Patrons come about?

CW: I had the idea of founding a Board of Patrons, able to support the work of Ensemble Modern both ideal-istically and financially, when I was vice chairman of the Deutsche Ensemble Akademie e.V. and noticed how tight the financial situation of Ensemble Modern is. The state’s involvement is relatively low and has re-mained at the same level for years; many foundations have reduced their contributions or have withdrawn entirely. This has brought Ensemble Modern to a point where it requires help. Therefore, I began to think how a private initiative might be able to help. Financial help is one aspect, but my idea was also bringing together people who are willing to become active on behalf of New Music and contemporary arts: as a club of people who are curious about new experiences and know that that is exactly what contemporary music and art offer; a club of people who demand that cultural policy create and honour space for contemporary arts, which should not be crowded out by easily communicable cultural events, and that politics should not rely too heavily on the idea that the arts, and especially music, are decorative but irrelevant to our lives. Art is defined by the fact that it also challenges us.

DW: Especially since contemporary music has some catching up to do in the public perception, compared to contemporary visual arts.

CW: Indeed, it is hardest for contemporary music because when it comes to music our listening habits are one hundred years behind. Today, most concertgoers still feel that even Schoenberg is extremely new and difficult, and they fear supposed dissonance.

DW: When it comes to music, people seem to have a strong wish for recognition, and that of course is achieved through constant repetition. This interferes with the idea of trying out new things.

CW: Constant repetition, of course, is what makes especially classical or ancient music consumable. One knows what to expect, and has heard everything several times before. People don’t want to be disturbed in their pleasant consumption of music by new sounds and the unheard-of. However, I must say that people who are not curious about novel sounds miss an infinite amount: the enrichment, the power, the energy contained in a new work cannot unfold if one leans back, just wanting to enjoy. Still, you must have experi-enced yourself how wonderful this activity of listening for new elements is, and you have to practice it in your own life. Only then can you realise how enriching it is. It is also the foundation for subjective thinking and the courage to find one’s own point of view. Once independent thought has been challenged into exist-ence, thinking for yourself makes you independent and courageous.

DW: As performers, we also need this active process of examination and discourse!

CW: Naturally, this also applies to the experience of listening to contemporary concerts, for example with Ensemble Modern. The accomplishment and curiosity of the musicians are transferred powerfully to the listeners during the live process.

DW: You have managed to assemble great personalities from all walks of life for the founding of the Board of Patrons. Your co-chairmen are Prof. Dr. Wolf Singer and Prof. Dr. Klaus Reichert. Hans and Gertrud Zenderand their foundation are involved in a major way.

CW: To me, it seemed very good fortune indeed to meet with such a resonance – much stronger than I had expected. Of course it is motivated in large part by profound admiration for the work of Ensemble Modern, which has continuously been discovering novelty for more than 30 years, thereby enabling its audience to have new experiences all the time, never stagnating. This fact is truly admired by many.

DW: What are your hopes and visions for the Board of Patrons?

CW: What can such a Board of Patrons, a charitable organisation, actually accomplish? The members con-tribute at least 1,000 Euros per year – all of which goes directly to support the artistic work of Ensemble Modern. Of course there is a long road to travel until we reach a sum which can really make a difference. That is the financial aspect. The other aspect is that we need to raise our voice. Many social associations are geared towards providing social events for their members. Here, however, I am trying to bring together people who are interested in the content and the principle of staying alert, of not stagnating, of new discov-eries. People who are willing to raise their voice to demand that politics must also mean cultural politics that are open to novelty. If artists, with their direct appeal to our imagination and with their visions, do not prepare society for the future, then society will grind to a standstill.

DW: Can you describe briefly the offers for Patrons?

CW: What can the members of Ensemble Modern give back to us, apart from their wonderful concerts? We do not want to be a social club with regular events, but once a year we do want to offer a concert followed by a discussion with the musicians. Another wonderful offer is that the members can receive an exclusive CD once a year, featuring something that cannot be bought: a world premiere or the presentation of a piece with commentary. That remains up to the musicians. I also find the possibility delightful of inviting the En-semble Modern musicians to concerts at one’s home or workplace – in exchange for a concert fee, of course. And naturally, the names of the Patrons will also appear in selected publications and programme books.

DW: We are very grateful for the wonderful cooperation and support you have provided for the Ensemble for so many years, and we are happy that these efforts have now led to the Board of Patrons.

CW: I too am glad! My interest in New Music was awakened when I first heard György Ligeti´s ›Atmosphères‹ at the age of 17. It was like a world being revealed. That was my music! For ten years after that, I only listened to 20th-century music in concerts. And I was enthusiastic about training my ears to be flexible by listening to contemporary composers. After that, I was also able to perceive classical music in a completely different way.

DW: Thank you for this conversation – we look forward to our exchanges with you and the future members of the Board of Patrons.