The Japanese composer Noriko Hisada is a quite extraordinary voice of Japan, whose music is unjustly performed far too rarely. The “ensemble für neue musik zürich” has been promoted the music of this composer, who was still unknown in Europe at the time, for over 30 years and premiered her quintet “Prognostication” in Boswil in 1991 with Jürg Henneberger at the piano. EPhB now presents this work together with the seven-part ensemble piece “Led by the Yellow Bricks”, written 25 years later and inspired by Lyman Frank Baum’s children’s book “The Wizard of Oz”.

Programming William Walton’s and Edith Sitwell’s once provocative work with Graham Valentine as narrator is a pleasure for us in different ways! The English poet Edith Sitwell became an icon of lesbian-gay movement not only through her poems, but also through her eccentric lifestyle and her uncompromisingly non-conformist views, provoking many a scandal with her appearance already in the early 1920s. At the premiere of “Façade,” she spoke her surrealist verses invisibly behind a painted screen with a hole cut out for a giant megaphone.

In combination with the commissions to the two young composers Asia Ahmetjanova from Latvia and Charlotte Torres from France, both living in Switzerland, current artistic dynamite is guaranteed.

Our response to the global boycott of Russian artists in a pacifist frame of mind. These “other” voices from Russia must and should be heard, for they have significant things to say, whether older or younger.

The composer Galina Ustvolskaïa was once a favorite student of Dmitri Shostakovich and lived in seclusion in Siberia after the end of the Second World War until her death. Her works were hardly played until 1968. It was not until the 1990s that she achieved a certain degree of recognition abroad.

Alexander Khubeev uses multimedia means to set to music and illustrate the poem “Don’t leave the room” (1970) by the Russian poet Joseph Brodsky, who was expatriated from the Soviet Union in 1972. This poetic warning against the threat of the outside world takes on prophetic significance after the current “Corona” experiences.

The Russian composer Marina Khorkova lives and works in Berlin. In her work “collision” extreme registers, fragile and brutal sound gestures, static and unmediated eventfulness collide with each other in numerous contrasting sound fields. It was premiered by the ensemble “ascolta” in Stuttgart in 2015.

The youngest composer in this concert is Daniil Posazhennikov, a native of St. Petersburg who is currently studying musical theater direction in Zürich.

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.

With “Octandre” Edgar Varèse wrote an epoch-making work for a large chamber music ensemble and at the same time founded a new genre: Four woodwinds and three brass instruments are supplemented by a double bass to form an octet – with the complete omission of keyboard instruments, percussion and high strings. In our competition for young musicians “Phoenix Satellite” we have set the task of composing a new work in this instrumentation that in some way refers to “Octandre” and circles this work like a satellite. As a conclusion of this workshop with the Ensemble Phoenix Basel and Detlev Müller-Siemens (in October with Johannes Schöllhorn for the ill Detlev Müller-Siemens) as composition coach, the three prize winners will present their new “Satellite” compositions together with “Octandre” by Edgar Varèse.
The work “Monolith” by the German composer Thomas Bruttger was commissioned by the “Ensemble Aventure” (Freiburg i. Br.) in 1991.


Edgar Varèse: “Octandre”

“Octandre” was written for eight instruments (seven wind instruments and a double bass) and was composed in the same year as Igor Stravinsky’s Octet. Together with “Density 21,5”, it is the only work by Varèse that does without percussion. It is also the only one that is divided into consecutive movements. Nevertheless, it is typical of the style and technique of the composer, who consciously moved outside of tradition, was a fierce enemy of development and for whom timbre, the most important parameter of composition, was considered a structural element. “What is striking from the outset,” writes Arthur Hoérée, “is the unusual instrumentation on which the composition is based. The flute rises to C sharp 6, the oboe to G 5 and the bassoon to C 4, the trombone moves in the middle regions of the trumpet. The flutter tongue (rolling with the tongue, which produces a vibrating sound) is used regularly. Each of the movements of “Octandre” opens with an instrumental solo, which proves that the melodic line is nevertheless not unimportant. The first movement (Assez lent) begins and ends with an oboe solo, which is supported by the clarinet and double bass in the introduction. The second movement (Very lively and nervous) is introduced by a piccolo solo in a low register (!). It moves into the third movement (Grave) by sustaining a high note from the double bass, followed by an opening solo from the bassoon, which precedes a ‘lively and jubilant’ fugato passage with successive entries from the bassoon and clarinet – imitating the oboe.

(Myriam Chimènes)


Thomas Bruttger: «Monolith»

The title is to be understood not only in free association with some parts of my piece, but also in the sense of structural processing as “as if chiseled from a block”. The starting point of the composition is a static-repetitive “central sound” composed of three layers, which in the further course of the piece undergoes a multitude of prismatic refractions into smaller individual sounds up to the complete dissolution of the block-like-vertical events into successive-horizontal individual particles. The piece unfolds in eight large sections, which in their block-like nature have a habitus of immobility, and thus the musical form appears as a constant change of different aggregate states, similar to chemical fermentation processes, with varying degrees of density. On the other hand, there is a dynamic, process-like principle of linking, in such a way that from section to section the experiences of the previous parts of the form are taken up in order to develop them further, either continuously or discontinuously.
The piece learns from itself, so to speak, in order to constantly generate itself anew.

(Thomas Bruttger)


3 winners of the “Satellite” workshop 2023:

1st prize:

Asia Ahmetjanova: «Ich möchte aufhören zu singen»

The piece “Ich möchte aufhören zu singen” (I want to stop singing) with the full title “Ich möchte aufhören zu singen, damit mein Lied von den anderen übernommen wird” (I want to stop singing so that my song is taken over by the others) tells the story of an individual’s journey through life.
Christoph Bösch – piccolo flute – represents the main character, who goes through different phases of life and experiences his role anew at each stage. The priorities change through different encounters. The ability to imitate and adapt shapes decisions and the nature of activities. One’s own voice resembles many things, except oneself.
Is it inevitable to feel the need to become part of the whole?
What happens to the individual’s world when he or she radically takes on responsibility?
Decisive repetitions.
Sometimes the silent voice is the most authentic.
It goes on, everything starts all over again, but in a different key – we have slipped down a minor third.

(Asia Ahmetjanova)


2nd prize ex aequo:

Francesca Gaza: “ruhe zur lautesten stunde”

“ruhe zur lautesten stunde” (quietness at the loudest hour) was inspired by a scene I saw a few months ago in the Negev Desert. From an elevated vantage point, I looked down on calm, silence and great emptiness, but when I entered it, I found that it was full of colorful, buzzing insects and sounds that made the apparent emptiness and silence come alive loudly and explosively. These contrasts of loud silence and filled tranquillity significantly inspired the work. Color and coloration are the central elements that functioned as a satellite to Varèse’s “Octandre”.

(Francesca Gaza)


Tze Yeung Ho: «hortensia»

«Hortensia» works with metaphorically inverted motivic fragments loaned from Edgar Varèse’s «Octandre». The various fragments are pieced together in eight short sections marked by tempo changes across three movements. The eight short sections are derived from the «H-chapter» or the eighth section of Danish poet Inger Christensen’s «Alfabet». The eight selected words, taken from the Norwegian translation of the book, are as follows: “hage” (garden), “hymne” (hymn), “halvmåne” (half moon), “halvsilke” (half-silk), “helle” (stop, as in doorstop), “husly” (shelter), “hagl” (hail) and “hortensia” (hydrangea). The eight words served as inspiration to how the musical fragments were arranged and treated in the various tempo markings taken from «Octandre». This work is parasitic in nature. It is meant to be performed with Varèse’s original work interspersed within this composition’s three movements.

(Tze Yeung Ho)

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.

With great passion and dedication, EPhB  regularly devotes itself to the New Viennese School,

The three pioneers of this style have had a decisive influence on European New Music. With his students Alban Berg and Anton Webern, Arnold Schoenberg created music that on the one hand is deeply rooted in Romanticism, and on the other – to quote Stefan George, whose poems were often and willingly set to music by the three composers – this music breathes “air from another planet”. The “dodecaphony” invented by Schoenberg – the twelve-tone technique – has influenced generations of composers and was the initial spark for further style-forming tendencies such as serial music.

In this program, songs for high soprano with ensemble are heard, framed by original instrumental pieces and arrangements of larger orchestral works, in keeping with the tradition of the “Verein für musikalische Privataufführungen” (Society for Private Musical Performances) founded by Schönberg in 1918 – which was dissolved again as early as 1921.

The evening begins in the Middle Ages and then takes a big jump to the present day.

We are extremely happy to present Michael Hersch with his new composition for soprano and ensemble: “one step to the next, worlds ending”. We’ve collaborated 2021 in the music theater production “Poppaea”, and are pleased to continue with this new special program focus last season’s great experience. Our soprano soloist Ah Young Hong – splendid in the title role in “Poppaea” – will take on the solo part.

The concert program is framed by newly arranged works from the 14th century: by Guillaume de Machaut as well as by Jacob de Senleches and Jean Galiot. These belong to the style epoch of the “Ars subtilior”, which developed further from Machaut’s musical ideas. We perform them in an arrangement by Erik Oña. The Argentine composer, who died in 2019 had taught at the Electronic Studio of the FHNW in Basel since 2001.

The program is complemented by the compositions “After Serra” and “Aequilibria”.

American composer Jason Eckardt refers to the monumental sculptures of visual artist Richard Serra. One of Serra’s sculptures – “Intersection” – stands on the place in front of the “Theater Basel” since 1992.

Islandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir captivates in her music with soft, spherical sounds.

The concert closes as it began with the motet “Puis qu’en oubli” by Guillaume de Machaut in the arrangement by Michael Hersch.

Kicking off the new season with one of the most extraordinary voices in new music.

Liza Lim is a researcher, educator and composer. In her work, she focuses on intercultural collaboration. She explores themes such as beauty, the relationship between humans and nature, incorporating all of human history, and the transformative power of ritual. Born in Perth, Australia, to Chinese emigrants, she brings together influences of Chinese, Japanese, Korean culture and the sounds of Australia’s indigenous peoples with the aesthetics of contemporary Western music.

We give Liza’s music a stage in this portrait concert with two works that are particularly close to our hearts – an early piece and a more recent composition.


“Garden of earthly desire” (1988/89)

Work commissioned by ELISION and Handspan Theatre & with financial assistance from the Performing Arts Board oft he Australia Council.

The work is dedicated to Daryl Buckley

I began writing Garden of Earthly Desire with the idea of narrating simultaneously many different (musical) stories on many levels. My primary inspiration came from Italo Calvino’s Castle of Crossed Destinies in which sequences of fables arise from the interpretation of arrangement of tarot cards. The stories thrown up by this process intersect and illuminate each other with a multiformity of meanings that Calvino ‘reads’ from the cards, embedded as they are with memories, centuries-old of Western culture.

This kaleidoscopic patterning of meanings finds accord with my recent aesthetic preoccupations with fragmented, exploded structures that I term ‘debris’ forms. Central to this area of exploration lies a belief in a hypothetical ‘wholeness’ of an idea – the idea that is the underlying principle of the music – that presents itself, coalesced into a momentary flash of consciousness, in the precompositional stage. In the process of trying to realize this idea however, it becomes splintered and fragmented in a field of technical considerations – strategies, games, filters – that is, different readings of possible meanings of the idea. The piece of music therefore is not so much a completed «art-object» as the resultant ‘bloody traceries’ of layers of interpretation.

The work offers no ‘neat’ final solution but rather, seeks to present a complex flux of expression in time – a celebration of the multiplicity and richness of the life in and around us. Hence the appeal of the tarot – the characters of these archetypal figures find musical analogies in the work. There is the Juggler – the alchemical, mercurial figure engaging in a dialectic of extremes; The High Priestess – totem of initiation and the gathering of energizing forces; the Empress – fecund, pagan, teeming with life…

The work’s connection with the fifteenth century Flemish painter, Hieronymous Bosch and his tryptich Garden of Earthly Delights was arrived at when I had already completed a substantial part of the work. I saw remarkable correspondences between various aspects of the Bosch – its tripartite structure; the surrealistic richness of the moods explored in the panels; the detailed fantasy figures – and the charaoters of the different strands of my music that I had organised into a 3 x 3 x 3 cycle of sections.

Liza Lim


“Extinction Events and Dawn Chorus” (2017)

Work commissioned for Klangforum Wien by Wittener Tage für Neue Kammermusik & with the support of the APRA AMCOS Art Music Fund (Australia).


  1. Anthropogenic debris
  2. Retrograde inversion
  3. Autocorrect
  4. Transmission
  5. Dawn chorus

Every aesthetic trace, every footprint of an object, sparkles with absence. Sensual things are elegies to the disappearance of objects.
Timothy Morton, Realist Magic

The fairest order in the world is a heap of random sweepings


Vast conglomerations of plastic trash circulate in five gyres in the world’s ocean currents and are ground into toxic fragments that sediment on remote islands and within the fish we eat. Our every-day rubbish shelters hermit crabs even as acid waters dissolve their former shell habitations. Albatrosses scoop up meals of plastic packaging to feed their chicks that then choke and starve as they ingest this colourful non-food.

Like this plastic waste, all time and its traces are with us still, albeit in residual and pulverised states. I have made a music out of heterogeneous relics of the past – a coarse sampling of ‘extinction events’ ranging from the spectral echoes of a creaking 19th century in piano music ‘on an overgrown path’ (Janáček), to a faulty transcription of a recording of the last mating call ever heard of the now extinct Kauai O’o bird, to tracings of a star map that captured the Chinese southern night sky in the 9th century. These time-traces rub against each other in ever-degraded cycles. Fleeting repetitions are pulsations of disappearance and point to the uncertainties of human memory and its collapse in abject forgetting.

There is broken grandeur and there are attempts to sing.

There is the uncanny dawn chorus of the fish-life that populates an endangered Australian coral reef.

Time breathes out an improbable hope.

Liza Lim


How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea?
Shakespeare, Sonnet No. 65

Final concert of the composition competition “Phoenix Satellite 2020/2021”

For the fourth time, Ensemble Phoenix Basel held a biennial international composition workshop in the 2020/2021 season. In three preparatory modules – 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 a period of 18 months.

For the final fourth module – then as an integral part of the concert series of EPhB – 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, i.e. refer to it or contrast with it, as “satellites”. In 2019, the two satellites will revolve around one of the key works of the 20th century, “Vortex Temporum” by the French composer Gérard Grisey, who decisively influenced the musical style of “musique spectrale” (spectral music).

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

In this program we deliberately look for musical roots in Renaissance and early Baroque music and their transposition in today’s time. Italian composer Salvatore Sciarrino is one of todays composers, whose sound language has a very unique color, which is clearly based and involved with early music. Two of his works in which this focus is evident are heard in this program. One refers to Carlo Gesualdo, the other to Alessandro Stradella.

Our guitarist Maurizio Grandinetti also dealt with early music for decades. His approach, however, is more a translation of old music into our time; musical gestures and psychological emotional states, which are immanent in the music, are brought into our time in a new guise and unusually orchestrated, without touching the musical meaning – on the contrary.

The program is complemented by a commission to Basel based composer Lukas Langlotz, who also constantly deals with ancient and oldest music in a well-founded way in his compositional style. His new work will feature an “Arciorgano”, an organ built in Basel according to plans by the 16th-century Italian composer Nicola Vicentino, which allows 31 different pitches per octave.

About the arrangements:

Nikolaus Harnoncourt wrote in 1982: “The music of the past has become a foreign language through the progression of history, through its distance from the present and through its detachment from the context of its time. Individual aspects of a piece of music may be universally valid and timeless, but the message as such is bound to a particular time and can only be rediscovered if it is translated, as it were, into our present idiom.”

Nowadays there is a unique musical genre in which masterpieces of the past are reinterpreted by translating old masterpieces into a more or less contemporary language. With my arrangements, my intention is to look at the original music with my full expressiveness and intuition, going deep into the textual part. To this end, the vocal and textual parts have been left almost intact, but overlaid with a new instrumental framework.

The material of the arts has changed over the centuries, but their artistic content is recognized in our conscious perception of the present. Every time we evaluate art or listen to music, our current environment sets the standards for our artistic perception. It is up to us to decide how “original” the object must be in order to recognize it. As far as Renaissance restorations are concerned, we know that restorers at that time combined statues with the spirit of their own time, translating them into a new language that conveyed the energy typical of their era. The great art historian Cesare Brandi interpreted the Renaissance not as a revival of antiquity, but as a transfiguration of universal concepts, as part of a completely new creative process.

Today we find the music of the Renaissance and pre-baroque attractive mainly because of what the authors did not record in scores: the part reserved for improvisation and arrangement. Since the beginning of the 18th century, the habit was adopted that each composition corresponded to only one interpretation: the original one. Nothing was left to personal freedom. What would happen to occidental classical music if one tried to use a little Asian and African sensibilities, if one took into account “immaterial”, symbolic, ritual or religious values, instead of dealing with its historical authenticity?

After all, the performance of any piece of ancient music is a celebration of the absence of the original and its author. We have to decide whether to hide this absence or to fully acknowledge it.

Maurizio Grandinetti

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.

As an ensemble for New and Contemporary Music, it is our concern to give space to important currents of what is, from today’s point of view, “historical” New Music and to “listen” to their modernity. Certain pioneers of New Music are indispensable and obviously significant for the further course of music-historical developments, while others are ending points, third phenomena of a self-contained world without direct reference to the before and after. A particularly idiosyncratic representative of the third genre is Giacinto Scelsi, Count of d’Ayala Valva, whose music does not fit stringently into the picture of the currents of modernism; his music will probably always sound unique and unmistakable.

Gérard Grisey, in contrast to Scelsi, is the founder of one of the most important currents of new music; “spectralism” continues to influence generations of composers till today. Unlike the largely self-taught Scelsi, Grisey underwent a complete musical education at universities and was in direct contact with all the “grands” of the time such as Ligeti, Stockhausen and Xenakis. Grisey was intimately familiar with the music of Giacinto Scelsi, which he discovered for himself during his stay in Italy at the Villa Medici in 1972–74.

In this program we juxtapose these two composers with their duo works; Grisey’s complete duos for two solo instruments, Scelsi’s duos for two string instruments – intarsing each other in the program.

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.

In the 1960s, the Hungarian composer György Ligeti developed the technique of “micropolyphony,” which has left a distinctive mark on his work. In the 1980s he became acquainted with the music for pianola by Conlon Nancarrow as well as the “just intonation” developed by Harry Partch. At the same time, he discovered in the music of the African tribe of the Aka Pygmies a unique rhythm that fascinated and influenced him. The European music of the 16th century, with its complex polyphonic structure and mid-tone tuning, influenced his late work.

In his “Phoenix” cycle, his student Detlev Müller-Siemens adopted his teacher’s melodic and harmonic complexity in his own way. Describing his music, he speaks of “proliferating, meandering lines floating freely in space between always the same opening and closing notes – like flocks of birds – all of which have a melodic-harmonic ‘ground color’ in common. Overall, each of the three pieces moves in its own way between the extremes of a stony-compact sonority on the one hand, and a line-like, meandering melodicism on the other.”

According to the Covid-19 ordinance of the canton BS of 20th of November 2020, only a maximum of 15 people were allowed at public events.

All three Swiss composers on this program are connected with Basel. Pianist Christoph Delz lived in Riehen until his early death. “Siegel” with its unmistakably brittle instrumentation (winds and percussion) is a piano concerto in disguise, which he premiered himself. Jacques Wildberger, also from Riehen has taught at the Basel Music Academy. His “Zeitebenen” led to controversial reactions at its premiere at the “Darmstädter Ferienkurse”. In this virtuoso piece, four instrumental duos dialogue with each other in various combinations. It has been played far too rarely since then and is worth rediscovering. Cellist Alfred Knüsel, born in Lucerne, lives in Basel. As a composer, he is more of an outsider and cannot be assigned to any established style. Each work forms its own “cosmos”. His new composition is a further development of his trio “Intarsie”, which he wrote in 2017 in memory of our friend and drummer Daniel Buess, who died prematurely in 2016.

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

The compositional work by Greek composer Iannis Xenakis is an important pillar for the music of the 20th/21st century and has its permanent place in our programs. The duo “Oophaa” Xenakis dedicated to harpsichordist Elisabeth Chojnacka and percussionist Sylvio Gualda, who premiered the work in 1989. Xenakis wrote a harpsichord part that is playable for two human hands only by octaving individual notes. The work receives its posthumous premiere in this concert in a version for two specially retuned harpsichords what makes the original form possible to play.

The second part of the program is dedicated to three Swiss composers who are connected to Basel in different ways. Born in Nigeria, Hanspeter Kyburz taught composition at the Hochschule Basel from 2000 to 2002 and was director of the Electronic Studio Basel. Since then he has been living and teaching in Berlin. He became known for his algorithmic composition process, which he also used in his quintet “Danse aveugle”. Xenakis’ title “Plektó” (“lichen”) could also apply to this work: a blindly tumbling dance that soars to dizzying heights until it crashes, as it were, and ends in exhaustion. The American composer Gerald Bennett, who lives in Basel, studied in Basel with Klaus Huber and taught at the Basel Music Academy from 1967-1976. His works, however, are virtually unknown in Basel. The concert closes with a world premiere by the composer Heidi Baader-Nobs, who lives in Allschwil. She was born in Delémont and studied composition in Basel with Robert Suter and Jacques Wildberger.

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 compositional work of Heinz Holliger, who celebrated his 80th birthday on May 21, 2019, has been influenced since 1975 by the late work of Friedrich Hölderlin, who liked to refer to himself as “Scardanelli” during his last three decades, which he spent in Tübingen in a tower room of the household of the carpenter Ernst Zimmer. Since his early youth, the composer Holliger has been interested in poet personalities who tried to escape the social norm – be it through suicide (Alexander Xaver Gwerder, Paul Celan) or escape into so-called “mental derangement” (Friedrich Hölderlin, Nikolaus Lenau, Robert Schumann, Robert Walser, Louis Soutter) or depression (Clemens Brentano). Holliger’s “Eisblumen” is a paraphrase of the Bach chorale “Komm o Tod, Du Schlafes Bruder.” “Ad marginem” takes us to the (acoustic) limits to the point of complete inaudibility. “Puneigä” is a homage to the endangered Pumatter dialect, in which the poet Anna Maria Bacher writes her poems. Jacques Wildberge, composer from Riehen also used poems by Friedrich Hölderlin or Paul Celan in his works. In his late work “Elegie” is based on Hölderlin’s poem “Sunset”. In addition “Concertotilinkó” for flute and strings, a work by Sándor Veress’s, Holliger’s composition teacher,  will be performed.

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).

A primal delight in experimenting with voices unites the three composers of this program.

Milton Babbitt first studied mathematics and later on changed to music. He was the first to define “serial music” in the 1940s, contributed decisively to the development of “music theory” as an academic discipline, and is now considered one of the most important composers of the 20th century in the United States. Babbitt’s work “Arie da capo” ambiguously alludes to its patrons, the “Da Capo Chamber Players” of New York. In this composition, each of the five instruments gets its aria.

Paul Dolden is a joyful border crosser between musical categories. His virtuosic and intelligent handling of electronically multiplying layers lead to a connecting listening experience between the different musical genres.

Although as a comprehensive musician he can hardly be pinned down to one genre, John Zorn has always seen himself first and foremost as a composer. In 2003 he created “Chimeras” compositionally in the style of Schönberg’s “Pierrot lunaire”, a sensational work between classical ductus and chaotic outbursts.

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”.

Our strong interest in electronic music as an extension of the conventional instrumentarium brought us to the attention of the English composer Jonty Harrison. Since 1992 he has composed only a few works for ensemble with electronics in addition to his many acousmatic works – including “Force Fields”. Probably also due to the limitation to a few compositions, these are among the best that this genre has to offer.

Harrison’s work is flanked by two commissions to the composers Keitaro Takahashi and Andreas Eduardo Frank, who are currently still working in Basel and who have already made a name for themselves internationally during their studies, especially in the field of composed music with electronics – a “showcase” for electronics!

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.

“Clash” – a word entirely in the sense of our friend and drummer Daniel Buess, who died in 2016, to whom we dedicate this program. Clashing clashes of different materials, the collision of different worlds require alert listening and watching.

In the eponymous work by Jannik Giger – both composer and video artist — live and pre-recorded music that confronts jazzy sounds with chords from Morton Feldman’s second string quartet collide in an extremely virtuosic and playful manner with a video work that is not only reproduced but also actively influences the performers.

In commissioning André Meier to compose, we are countering Giger’s “Clash” with a work by another young Swiss composer whom we have followed closely for many years.

In a special way, the two composers Alfred Knüsel and Thomas Lauck have “fallen in with our friend Daniel”. However, there can be no question of contradictory clashing; the “clash” here is rather to be understood in the sense of the most intensive confrontation and a very special search for sound. Independently of each other, both composers wrote a work in his memory.

Pre-concert: Education project “AlltagSerialismus”:
All of our everyday life is characterized by a series of recurring elements. The mediation project “AlltagSerialismus” initiated by EPhB together with a school class of the secondary school Leonhard under the direction of Francesca De Felice and Sebastian Meyer tries to critically reflect this “everyday routine”. In the course of the project, four short tape pieces were created in small groups, which will now be presented in a pre-concert by EPhB. In these pieces, sounds/noises that the young people have recorded in their everyday lives are processed in a variety of ways, re-contextualized, analyzed and commented on. In this way, the young people are both sensitized to their everyday sound environment and encouraged to reflect more on their everyday life.

Jean Barraqué is one of the “great unknowns” of the French avant-garde, whohad a difficult time throughout his life alongside Pierre Boulez. This program places one of his most important late works next to two early works by Boulez and Karlheinz Stockhausen, who at the beginning of their compositional work were among the main representatives of “serialism,” a compositional technique that can be described as a consistent further development of the twelve-tone technique.
It is an exciting listening experience to hear a dodecaphonic work by Anton Webern, a representative of the “New Viennese School,” alongside strictly serial works in the same program.

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.

EPhB had a central role in the mediation project “Waterways” as part of the biennial festival “ZeitRäume Basel” 2017. The initial idea came from the architect Raul Mera, who had long been interested in the hidden water veins that run underneath Basel’s city center. He was especially interested in hidden canals, such as the one that carries the waters of Birsig river from the zoo to Basels “Mittlere Brücke”. Raul’s concern was to make these water veins tangible, palpable and audible for the population. The project was based on a now 35-year-old project by Herzog & de Meuron, which was never implemented: fountains and open channels on the market square. The renowned German composer Carola Bauckholt and her composition class at the Anton Bruckner Private University Linz were enlisted for the musical elaboration. She realized this idea together with the EPhB and with students of Basel high school classes.

The project travelled as a co-production to Wien Modern and took place around and in (!) the lake at Prater.

The first concert of the EPhB series in 2017 took place in co-production with the Museum Tinguely Basel in the context of the exhibition “Music Machines / Machine Music”. Since the 1940s, the American composer Conlon Nancarrow has written almost exclusively compositions for pianola or player piano, as the instrument is called in America. This instrument was invented at the turn of the century and has inspired composers such as Igor Stravinsky, Paul Hindemith, George Antheil and others to write works for it. Nancarrow has written over 50 “studies” that are not feasible for human hands and fingers. East German composer Wolfgang Heisig met Nancarrow in Paris in the 1990s and has since specialized in reconstructing Nancarrow’s rolls – as a composer, he writes solo works as well as ensemble works with phonola (a machine that is placed in front of a “normal” piano and moves the keys instead of a live pianist). With his strong affinity for unusual sound production, Basel composer Alex Buess contributes a new work for phonola, ensemble and live electronics.

Two important chamber works of the “New Viennese School” are presented and contrasted in the opening concert of the 2015/16 season: Arnold Schoenberg’s “Chamber Symphony” op. 9 (1906) and Alban Berg’s “Chamber Concerto” (1924/25). Schoenberg’s “Chamber Symphony” is by no means finished with the first version for 15 instruments, which he completed in 1906. For decades he struggled again and again to find the right instrumentation, the right “size” of this symphony, but he also reacted in part to the famously not only enthusiastic reception of the piece by Viennese concert audiences. This symphony in a single movement lends itself to arrangements; Anton Webern also dared to do so and created a version for five instruments (the same instrumentation as in Schoenberg’s “Pierrot Lunaire”), which will be heard in the concert in a version revised by Jürg Henneberger. In Schoenberg’s eyes, the “Chamber Symphony No. 1”, which also has the tonal subtitle in E major, represents a real turning point. He hoped that a “way out of the confusing problems in which we young composers were entangled by the harmonic, formal, orchestral and emotional innovations of Richard Wagner” would be shown. The problems with the first as well as the “Chamber Symphony No. 2”, begun immediately thereafter, with which Schoenberg got completely stuck, shows that this way out was not so effortless after all.

Albans Berg’s “Chamber Concerto” (1924/25) is somewhat too often reduced to its character as a dedication work for Schoenberg’s fiftieth birthday in 1924. He had “wanted to show his brilliance,” one then only needs to read of Berg to suspect a false, over-ambitious gesture in the work. And one would do injustice to the wonderful and full music, whose complexity is undeniably dense and deep – Adorno called it “a kind of insatiability”. Of almost twice the duration of Schoenberg’s “Chamber Symphony”, Berg’s work has the layout of a double concerto for piano and violin. The formal details with which Berg refers to his friendships with Webern and Schoenberg are numerous and can be read in any appropriate CD booklet. More essential, even for Berg himself, is the “hidden” program that results in a synthesis step of the three movements – “Friendship, Love, World” Berg had originally outlined – and the two solo instruments. In the arrangement by Alban Berg and Jürg Henneberger played here, part of the original 13 wind instruments is replaced by a second piano.

Unlike Berg’s “Chamber Concerto”, there is no solo instrument here. Webern’s “Concerto” is rather a dialogue between nine instruments, all of which have both solo and chamber tasks.