Is there a “Swissness” in terms of composing? Instead of an answer to this question, we confront the audience with three new works by Swiss composers from three generations, flanked by a work by our friend Erik Oña, who died much too early.

The youngest – Sebastian Meyer – is, like his teacher Erik Oña, in constant search of the best sound with reduced material, be it in terms of choice of instruments or compositional means.

Trumpet player, composer and improviser André Meier – also a former composition student of Erik Oña – deals in his compositional work mainly with algorithmic or machine processes, sonifications, modular and open forms.

The pianist and composer Jean-Jacques Dünki is also active as a musicologist, dealing with both historical performance practice (fortepiano and clavichord) and the composers of the New Viennese School and contemporary music. As a composer he is largely self-taught. He is writing a “Concertino” for cello and ensemble for the French cellist Pierre Strauch and us.

Trabant 2018/19 followed in its outer, organizational form the pattern of the 2016 modified, second Satellite edition, as it had proven itself in every respect. In addition to the 8 candidates, this time we awarded a “wild card” to the (very) young and talented composer Joey Tan, who had come to our attention during our trip to Singapore last fall. Joey participated as a full member of the group, but externally funded and thus not a burden on the adjacent budget.

In an initial module in November 2018, there was room for instrument-specific issues ranging from small instrumentation to balance issues in full instrumentation. Our core members involved were able to pass on their experience and know-how and information about relevant literature directly to the composers present together as a “class”, which fell on very fertile ground.

In a second module – scheduled for January 2019 – the composers arrived partly with sketches, partly with fully developed compositions in their luggage, which were tried out and tested by larger registers and subsequently by the full ensemble. Feedback from Detlev Müller-Siemens, who was present from this point on, from Jürg Henneberger and from members of the ensemble led to a deeper, more intensive examination of the compositional sketches. Erik Oña had to withdraw completely from the project due to his serious illness, and we were able to replace him with Detlev Müller-Siemens, with whom we had already successfully collaborated in the same capacity in the 2016/17 edition.

For the third module (June 2019), all composers provided a finished piece in score and part material (digital and on paper), which 8 of the 9 composers also complied with (Korean’s Ji Hyon Yoon stayed away from the last module for family reasons). In an almost too dense rehearsal phase, the full ensemble rehearsed the eight partly extensive compositions, again with the constant presence of all composers and Detlev Müller-Siemens. On Saturday, June 8, 2019, all compositions were premiered in a deliberately internal concert and recorded simultaneously.

From the candidates, two will be selected as prize-winners for the concert planned for January 2020 in connection with Witlod Lutosławski’s “Chain I”.


In 2020/21, the EPhB conducted its three-part Satellite Workshop for the fourth time, which was successfully held for the first time in 2014/15.

In an international call for compositions, 8 young composers were sought. The collaboration was divided into three modules with workshop character. For a fourth module, two of the participants were selected, who received a regular commission from Ensemble Phoenix Basel within the following season for a work that refers to or comments on a programmed central work of a “modern classic”. In 2021, the work in question is Gérard Grisey’s “Vortex Temporum”.



In September 1971, prisoners at Attica Prison in upstate New York revolted against prison conditions and took several prison guards hostage. On the governor’s orders, the National Guard subsequently stormed the prison, killing 32 people. Among them was Sam Melville, a bomber who had written a letter to his brother in spring 1971 that was published in a magazine. Back after a long trip to Italy, the American composer and pianist Frederic Rzewski read the letter in the magazine and was moved by the poetic quality and the description of time experience. This was the cause for him to write  “Coming Together,” a piece for variable ensemble and speaker; a composition that has become a prime example of music as resistance; consistently constructed and with a precisely calculated final climax.

The Palestinian composer Samir Odeh-Tamimi has developed his own musical language. Drawn from Western European avant-garde and Arabic musical practice, it radiates a special power. His enthusiasm for European classical music and the aesthetics of New Music led him to Germany at the age of 22. There he also found his way back to the musical culture of his country of origin. Since 2016, Samir Odeh-Tamimi has been a member of the Akademie der Künste in Berlin.

Like our third guest Mathias Spahlinger, he however already since 1996. The German composer creates  works extremely consistent and uncompromising, versatile, conceptual and with great care between aesthetic autonomy and political awareness. In 2014 he was awarded the Grand Art Prize of the Academy of Arts  (Grosser Kunstpreis der Akademie der Künste), thus receiving the highest honor for his life’s work.

English composer and multi-instrumentalist Tim Hodgkinson has become known primarily as an experimental rock and improvisation musician. Among other things, he founded the politically and musically radical group “HENRY COW” together with Fred Frith in 1968. He has also written compositions for classical formations. In 2003 the Ensemble Phoenix Basel played his quartet “Repulsion”, which was released as a live recording on our portrait CD (“United Phoenix Records”, 2004). His new work “under the void”, which he wrote for us, will finally have its world premiere after seven years.

After his studies Colombian composer Leonardo Idrobo stayed in Basel. We’ve followed his work closely and have premiered one of his early works in 2011. We look forward and are curious for his new work.

Christophe Schiess from Biel contributes a newly composed piece for us after a creative break due to family reasons. Since he had studied with Georg Friedrich Haas in Basel, you can find his name more often in our programs. Christoph Schiess is now himself teaching in Basel.

The three world premieres are complemented by an ensemble piece by Chinese composer Wang Lu. «Backstory» has an open, intuitive form. Seemingly loose yet tightly wound blocks of sound rub up against buoyant grooves.

Composer Michael Jarrell’s music-theatrical work “Cassandre” is a melodrama for actress, ensemble and electronics based on the story “Cassandra” by Christa Wolf, a contemporary version of the Greek drama. The Swiss-French actress Marthe Keller inspired Jarrell to write this composition, which was premiered in French at the Théâtre du Châtelet Paris in 1994, directed by Peter Konwitschny. The German version was written for Anne Bennent and premiered at the Lucerne Festival in 1996, directed by Christoph Marthaler.


In Michael Jarrell’s oeuvre, “Cassandre” represents the culmination and synthesis of a first and extremely fruitful creative period, even though the choice of the work’s text was “dictated” to him by Christa Wolf, both musically and expressively. The figure of the Trojan priestess, reinterpreted by the German author, is torn between images of the past and impending catastrophe. Neither Wolf nor Jarrell himself want to draw us into the middle of the Trojan War: Cassandra speaks only of her memory about the events. At the beginning of the play, the worst has already happened. The pinnacle of lament – and revolt – lies not so much in a utopia of change or an attempt at a breakthrough, but rather in a kind of twilight. In a tiny space that borders on nothingness, as well as in the lightning-like certainty that precedes death, time condenses, closes, and loops back: in the intensity of feeling, the past becomes the present. The various moments of the drama do not present themselves in a causal chain that follows a realistic principle, but follow one another without transition, draw on one another and sound into one another, in a stream of consciousness that reveals the essential. The inner monologue is an attempt of clarification and an admission of failure at the same time, a combination of clear insight and melancholy. The whole work is, according to the composer, a “long coda”.

Philippe Albéra

The Ensemble Phoenix Basel has made it a cherished ritual to include the monumental late work by the American composer Morton Feldman “For Philip Guston” in its program every ten years. “Gare du Nord” opened with this work.

Philip Guston was a painter from the movement of “abstract expressionism”, which condensed on New York in the 1950s and 1960s – as a circle of artists, literary figures and musicians. Feldman – as well a member of this circle – once credited the painter friend with opening his eyes to sound as a direct, malleable medium, thus freeing him as a composer in the first place. Especially in the 1980s, Feldman made it a habit to write large dedication pieces for various artists, including “For Philip Guston,” written in 1984 for flute, piano and percussion. The source material of the commemorative piece, which lasts a good four and a half hours, is the sequence of notes in the name of John Cage, who introduced Feldman to Philip Guston in 1950. Guston commissioned Morton Feldman to speak the “Kaddish” prayer at his grave – after the two of them had not spoken to each other for the last eight years of Guston’s life. Feldman later stated that his own aesthetic fanaticism had been the cause of this break – and that he wanted the piece to follow the turn Guston had taken: to “stop asking questions.”

André Fatton

Morton Feldman, son of a Ukrainian immigrant family, was born in New York on January 12, 1926. In 1941 he began his studies with Wallingford Riegger and Stefan Wolpe. In 1949 Feldman met John Cage, which turned out to be one of the most inspiring encounters of his musical career. The result was an important artistic association in New York clearly critical concerning  the American music of 1950s. Other friends and exponents of the New York artistic scene of the time were composers Earle Brown and Christian Wolff, painters Mark Rothko, Philip Guston, Franz Kline, Jackson Pollock and Robert Rauschenberg, and pianist David Tudor. The painters influenced Feldman to find his own sound world, a sound world that was more immediate and physical than ever before. From this followed his experiments with graphic notation. However, since this kind of notation led too close to improvisation for Feldman’s taste, he was not satisfied with results. Therefore, he distanced himself from graphic notation again in the second half of the 1950s. In 1973 Feldman was appointed “Edgar Varèse professor” by the “University of New York” at Buffalo, a position he kept until the end of his life. In June 1987 Morton Feldman married the composer Barbara Monk. On September 3rd in 1987, he died at his home in Buffalo at the age of 61.

“For Philip Guston”

In the early 1980s, the late period of his compositional work, Feldman continued to engage in the process of “fusing materials.” His musical language is characterized by rhythmic “patterns” or melodic gestures that change slightly within recurring cycles. These melodic gestures or chords are often enclosed by silence (pauses in musical notation). Such moments of silence are part of the whole pattern or cycle. Feldman created large blocks of consciousness – an awareness of the moment, a memory of structures or of the state of being different or otherness, and consequently a “narrative style.” Feldman achieves a consistent style by setting certain parameters for all later pieces: for example, the tempo is usually quarters equal to 63 – 66 per minute, and the dynamics range from ppp to ppppp. The consistency extends into the graphic realm: each line of his scores is divided into 9 measures of equal length, regardless of the changing meter. From this period on he usually wrote chamber music works with a playing time of 45 to 60 minutes, even four- to five-hour pieces, such as “String Quartet II” (1983) or “For Philip Guston” (1984). He wrote a total of 9 works longer than 70 minutes.

Morton Feldman’s special polymetrics are another challenge for performers . He even applies this technique in orchestral works and in his opera “Neither” (1977). This method of composition is even more complicated by Feldman’s preference, beginning in the late 1970s – influenced by Anatolian carpet patterns – for a grid notation in which all measures are graphically the same length – regardless of the temporal duration of the measures. This results in a “non-simultaneity” of the notation, similar to that already found in the “Durations” pieces (1960/61), in which only the first sound begins simultaneously, but thereafter each instrument plays its own tempo. Feldman took the polymetric principle to the extreme in the trio “For Philip Guston”. The difficulty lies in the fact that the three instruments play for up to 9 bars with individual time changes, but afterwards they have to land in a coordinated way, because the polymetric passages of the 3 instruments always have in total exactly the same length.

In my new edition of the piece, I have tried to develop a notation that on the one hand facilitates the interplay of the instruments, and on the other hand leaves the polymetrics as Feldman composed them. In other words: each instrumentalist plays his part independently of the two other players, but can follow where the other two instruments are at any given moment. This means: three different playing scores have to be played: each with the corresponding meter of the three instruments.

Jürg Henneberger

The influence of the literary work by Irish poet James Joyce (1842-1941) on 20th century composers is eminent. Samuel Barber, John Cage (“Roaratorio”), Luigi Dallapiccola, Luciano Berio, Pierre Boulez (“3rd Piano Sonata”), Bernd Alois Zimmermann (“Antiphons”) and many others have been inspired by this forward-looking poet. Luciano Berio set three texts from his early poetry collection “Chamber Music” to music. Probably the most frequently used text is the final monologue of Molly Bloom from “Ulysses”. This is also the base for the works “Skin” and “O, Yes & I” by English composer Rebecca Saunders. The world premiere will be a new work by the German composer Matthias Heep. His composition refers to Joyce’s last novel “Finnegans Wake”.

Sebastian Gottschick has stepped in at short notice for the conductor Jürg Henneberger, who has fallen ill.

The work of American composer Morton Feldman has been a matter of the heart during the last 22 years for us. His works are characterized by an extraordinary stylistic diversity, ranging from graphic scores to extremely complex, polyrhythmic compositions. An example of this is his trio “Bass Clarinet and Percussion”: the percussion duo and the bass clarinet follow two metrically independent and independent paths, which nevertheless cross again at the end of each score page. Feldman at home in the artistic circles of New York and had friendly contact with the most important painters and poets of his time. The septet “For Frank O’Hara” is a tribute to the poet who died in an accident in 1966. Samuel Beckett wrote the libretto for Morton Feldman’s only opera, “Neither”. The new setting of the Beckett radio play “Words and Music” and the compositional homage “For Samuel Beckett” were both written in 1987, the year of Feldman’s death.

Lithuanian composer Arturas Bumšteinas writes a loose sequence of 40 short compositions for EPhB based on the legendary “Vexations” by Erik Satie, which, according to a cryptically formulated playing instruction, which are to be repeated 840 times. The compositions take Satie’s material as their starting point and virtually “de-compose” the work. The source serves as a “quarry” or “source of inspiration” for miniatures in a wide variety of instrumental combinations.


Instead of sending another online stream out, we produce an LP with the new pieces of this program.

The Mexican composer Javier Torres Maldonado studied in Milan with Franco Donatoni and Ivan Fedele. His music is based on the overtone spectrum of a sound and is extremely complex due to the superimposition of various melodic and rhythmic layers. Maldonado compares his musical language with the pictorial language of Piranesi and M. C. Escher, which through its imagined perspective creates an illusory world that not only allows an individual point of view, but virtually challenges it. The ear is meant to focus on different spatial and temporal planes like a rotating lens.

At the center of the program is a double concerto for two guitars and ensemble, which Maldonado wrote for the guitarist Pablo Márquez, who teaches in Basel, and the guitarist of the “Ensemble Phoenix Basel” Maurizio Grandinetti. His work “Oltre” is a tribute to his teacher Donatoni.

The program is complemented by two new works by Basel-based composer Balz Trümpy.

Mario Davidovsky is one of the great figures of American New Music – but has hardly been played in Europe. As a pioneer of electronic music, he was already working at the “Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center” in 1960. His work includes by far not only electronic music. His most famous works, the “Synchronisms”, a series of over a dozen works written over a period of more than 40 years, have influenced generations of composers. In combining “classical” instruments with pre-produced electronic sounds, Davidovsky, unlike many other composers of this genre, is not interested in special “sound effects” in any way, but rather seeks a fusion of instrumental sound with electronics, resulting in both continuity and intrinsic musical expression. The earliest “Synchronisms” date from a time when today’s sound technology was still in its infancy, but they are nevertheless masterpieces without equal; the long time span in which the “Synchronisms” were created also documents the technical progress in this field over the time. In addition to a large number of awards for his work, Mario Davidovsky received the Pulitzer Prize in 1971 explicitly for his work “Synchronisms No. 6”.

Since the concerts had to be cancelled due to the pandemic, the EPhB decided to do a combined audio and video production. Bandcamp

In the season 2018/19 EPhB organized for the third time a biennial international composition workshop. In three preparatory modules (supported by the Swiss Arts Council “Pro Helvetia”) young composers get the opportunity to experiment with us as a professional ensemble of specialists over a period of 18 months at the beginning of their career. For the final fourth module – as an integral part of the concert series of EPhB – two selected graduates of the preparatory phase are commissioned to compose a new composition as a musical “commentary” on a central work of the 20th or 21st century. The new composition are to “orbit” this work as “satellites”, i.e. refer to or contrast with it. In 2020, the three satellites will revolve around Chain 1 by the Polish composer Witold Lutosławski, one of the key works of the 20th century that is far too little known in Central Europe.

In this third “Phoenix Satellite” competition, 1st prize goes to Hovik Sardaryan, 2nd prize ex aequo to Tobias Krebs and Victor Alexandru Coltea.

The central work of this Polish-Swiss program in co-production with “Culturescapes 2019 – Poland” is the concerto “Con Clavi III” by Ryszard Gabryś for harpsichord, double bass and ensemble, created for this occasion. This world premiere will be framed by two works by Polish composers Bolesław Szabelski and Paweł Szymański. We create a Swiss reference with a quintet for piano with winds and strings by the Polish-Swiss composer Constantin Regamey, whose unjustly almost forgotten music opens the program. The musical realization of a graphic composition by the Polish-Israeli composer, musicologist, graphic artist and painter Roman Haubenstock-Ramati closes the evening.

In this concert, we explore the question what role melody still plays in contemporary music. György Ligeti already posed this provocative question in 1971 with his title of the orchestral work Melodies.

Christophe Schiess, composer from Biel, was a composition student of Georg Friedrich Haas. We have maintained an intensive artistic exchange with him since 2008. The work “empreintes de temps” was premiered by EPhB at the “Schlusskonzerte Komposition” of Music Academy Basel in 2010.

Georg Friedrich Haas taught at the Music Academy Basel from 2005 to 2013. He has set musically important accents not only there, but for the whole music city of Basel (worth mentioning here In Vain 2003 at the Theater Basel, … damit … die Geister der Menschen erhellt und ihr Verstand erleuchtet werden … 2010 on the occasion of the “Dies Academicus” in the Basel Cathedral, both with the EPhB).

This concert is a tribute  Rudolf Kelterborn. He was director of the Basel Music Academy from 1983 to 1994. His composition class included the two younger Basel composers in this program. We have enjoyed a creative collaboration with all three composers for many years. In the new composition “Encore” Kelterborn sets texts by Georg Rudolf Weckerlin, Georg Trakl, Erika Burkart and Johann Wolfgang Goethe as well as Japanese haikus to music. The cycle is dedicated to “Jürg Henneberger – in gratitude”.

The compositional work of the Greek composer Iannis Xenakis is an important pillar for the music of the 20th century and has its fixed place in our programs. It is also a source of inspiration for the Swiss composer and cellist Martin Jaggi. His  composition “Har” is the first part of a cycle of five works about the oldest advanced civilizations of this earth.

Who associates the USA of our time with exuberant creativity, real artistic freedom, unlimited space for experimentation?

We dedicate this program with the three greats Elliott Sharp, Eric Chasalow and John Zorn to exactly this America!

All three composers belong to the middle generation of New York’s experimental avant-garde scene. Improviser and bandleader John Zorn wrote several “game pieces” in the eighties, a kind of musical card games that are a kind of “guided” improvisations. The most famous of these is probably Cobra, which is not fixed in terms of both instrumentation and duration.

Guitarist and composer Elliott Sharp is difficult to classify stylistically, as his music moves between the genres of rock, jazz and new music, making it stand for itself and be distinctive.

Eric Chasalow – also a joyful border crosser between the genres – studied composition with Mario Davidovsky and teaches at Brandeis University in Boston. He is artistic director of the festival for electroacoustic music BEAMS.


In 2016/17 EPhB conducted for the second time a biennial international composition workshop. In three preparatory modules – these supported by the Swiss Arts Council “Pro Helvetia” – young composers at the beginning of their career get the opportunity to experiment with us as a professional specialist ensemble over the period of 18 months.

For the final fourth module – then as an integral part of our series – two selected graduates of the preparatory phase are commissioned to compose a new work as a musical “commentary” on a central work of the 20th or 21st century. The new works are to “orbit” this composition as “satellites”, i.e. they are to refer to it or contrast with it. In 2017, the two satellites will revolve around the “Chamber Concerto,” one of the major works of Hungarian composer György Ligeti.

Originally from Iran, Elnaz Seyedi studied composition in Bremen with Younghi Pagh-Paan, in Basel with Caspar Johannes Walter, and at the Folkwang University of the Arts Essen with Günter Steinke. With her work “Detaillierter Blick”, she illuminates and reflects on various mood states of Ligeti’s masterpiece without quoting it directly.

The composer and saxophonist Kevin Juillerat, who comes from French-speaking Switzerland, studied saxophone in Lausanne with Pierre-Stéphane Meugé and in Basel with Marcus Weiss. At the same time he studied in Geneva with Michael Jarrell and Luis Naon and in Basel with Georg Friedrich Haas composition. His new work TOMBEAU makes concrete use of individual “building blocks” from Ligeti’s chamber concerto, placing them in a new context and developing them further until, shortly before the end, they culminate in a short literal quotation that breaks off abruptly and leads to an open ending.