Robert Phillips

Electroacoustic and Chamber Music Composer

Ensemble SurPlus performs O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden on December 8th at the E-Werk Freiburg

Full SurPlus

Rehearsing with Ensemble SurPlus at the E-Werk Freiburg

December, 1, 2012

I am greatly looking forward to the 20th anniversary concert of Ensemble SurPlus on Saturday, December 8th, at the E-Werk Freiburg. They asked me to compose what they referred to as a ‘conceptual’ piece for them, which would involve all 13 players on stage and could be performed without a conductor. Having worked with SurPlus extensively in the past, I knew this project would be a great opportunity to work closely with a large cast of some of the world’s best musicians to workshop and experiment with new musical ideas, extremely flexible frameworks for interpretation, diverse interpretation strategies, and to forego the ordinary start-to-finish through-composing that is my usual method of operation. The piece is titled O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden, and is a collection of performance guidelines to work through five J.S. Bach chorales, with each player being given separate indications to interpret, alter, augment, distort, and otherwise navigate through their specific SATB voice-leading designation of the J.S. Bach chorales.

The concert will be one exclusively of world premieres, with all of the pieces having been written for and commissioned by Ensemble SurPlus. Also on the program will be Yonsei (2010), by Dieter Mack, and Hommage à Daniel Libeskind Vol.II (2010/11), by Claus-Steffen Mahnkopf – two German composers I have been following closely for a while now. I’m really looking forward to being around so many excellent musicians, composers, and musical thinkers.

An excerpt from the program note:

“In O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden, written for and dedicated to Ensemble SurPlus on their 20th anniversary, the players are given performance directions and interpretation strategies to work through five J.S. Bach chorales. Each player navigates through one of the four individual Soprano, Alto, Tenor, or Bass contrapuntal lines of the chorales, and each of their lines have been augmented, distorted, expanded, and given indications to extend expressivity through a wide variety of performance techniques – all while the players read from the same four-voice SATB Bach chorale.

“To further intensify and complicate matters, there is no conductor, and each player is given a flexible, uncoordinated tempo to work through, only occasionally taking cues from the pianist or violinist. In this way, the antiquated Baroque rhythmic grid of the Bach chorales has been rendered fluid and unpredictable, with each contrapuntal voice rising and falling as waves of interpretive virility and spontaneity flow through each of them; transforming them into liquid, as if cast over water.”


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