Presse-Echo
 
Zuger Anerkennungspreis 2005 "Ein Faible für unmögliche Besetzungen" von Doris Stalder, Neue Zuger Zeitung, 02.02.2005
Musiker Carl Rütti erhält Zuger Anerkennungspreis, Neue Zuger Zeitung, 25.01.2005
«Motet for 40 Voices» von Zuger Komponisten Carl Rütti, sda Schweizer Depechen Agentur Juli 1997
The new wave of choral music - A Living Keyboard, Choir & Organ, July/August 1997, UK
Dancing Before the Ark — An Interview with Carl Rütti, Crisis, Mai 1999, USA
 
 
Neue Zuger Zeitung, 02.02.2005
Zuger Anerkennungspreis 2005 "Ein Faible für unmögliche Besetzungen" von Doris Stalder
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Zeitlich gesehen könnte Carl Rütti sich schon längst ganz aufs Komponieren verlegen. Seine Musik ist so begehrt, dass er viele Anfragen gar nicht berücksichtigen kann.

«Beim Komponieren ist es wie mit einer Pflanze. Sie wächst und ist dann da», sagt Carl Rütti schlicht. Er muss es wissen. 119 Werke, bestehend aus 376 Teilen umfasst sein Œuvre bis heute. Oder anders ausgedrückt: 34 Stunden Musik. Das würde schon beeindrucken, wenn das Komponieren seine Haupttätigkeit wäre. Doch die ist seit 1972 der Unterricht am Konservatorium Zürich. Eine Arbeit, die er immer noch als sehr interessant empfindet. Und dann ist Carl Rütti ja auch noch als Organist in Oberägeri tätig und tritt regelmässig als Interpret in Konzerten auf. Ihm behagt dieses Pendeln zwischen den verschiedenen Tätigkeiten, die sich ja auch gegenseitig bereichern. Und schliesslich bedeutet Komponieren heutzutage zwar Erfüllung und Ansehen; leben lässt sich davon aber kaum.

Rütti, der Engländer
Dennoch stapeln sich die Anfragen auf dem Pult des Musikers. Er hat sich in all den Jahren einen guten Ruf «erschrieben». Man kennt und schätzt seine Arbeit. Vielleicht auch deshalb, weil seine Musik keine abstrakten Gebilde sind, sondern die Menschen wirklich erreicht, ohne sich dabei anzubiedern oder ins Banale abzurutschen. Man spürt einfach die Echtheit. Sein guter Ruf beschränkt sich keineswegs nur auf die Schweiz. Seit seinen Studienjahren hat Carl Rütti eine starke Verbindung nach England, dessen Chortradition so prägend für ihn war. Die Wertschätzung ist gegenseitig. Ein gutes Beispiel dafür ist das Weihnachtskonzert der Universität Cambridge, welches mittlerweile Kultstatus erreicht hat. Carl Rüttis Lied «I wonder as I wander» wurde nicht nur dreimal ins Programm des King’s College Choir aufgenommen, sondern von BBC auch dreimal im Konzertzusammenschnitt ausgestrahlt. Eine grosse Ehre für jeden Musiker. Dass er bei anderer Gelegenheit gar als englischer Komponist aufgeführt wurde, löst bei Carl Rütti ein Schmunzeln aus.

Spartenübergreifend
Die Beachtung, die seine Werke finden, freut den Musiker natürlich sehr. Obwohl er keine seiner Kompositionen oder Musiksparten der anderen vorzieht. Es sei immer das, woran er gerade arbeite, das er mag, sagt er. Meist sind das mehrere Aufträge parallel. So etwas hat durchaus Vorteile. Manchmal kommt es sogar vor, dass eine musikalische Idee, die ihm beim einen Stück gekommen ist, perfekt bei einem anderen passt. Bedenkt man, dass Carl Rüttis stilistische Bandbreite von Chorwerken über
liturgische Musik und Kammermusik bis hin zu Stücken für Brassband reicht, erscheint dieser Aspekt besonders spannend.
Gerade hat Carl Rütti die Arbeit zu Ehren des Urner Malers Danioth abgeliefert. Das Stück, mit dem er sich jetzt vorwiegend beschäftigt, ist selbst für den gestandenen Komponisten ein ziemlicher Brocken. Es ist ein Auftragswerk der Ingenbohler Schwestern zur 150-Jahr-Feier der Ordensgründung durch Maria Theresia Scherer. Eine Art Chronik und das Leben von Mutter Theresia. Aber es spielt noch viel mehr hinein, inhaltlich und formal. Es ist ein spartenübergreifendes Projekt mit Theater, Chor, Orchester, Ballett und Pantomime. Nicht nur den Text, sondern ein eigentliches Drehbuch geschrieben hat die 86-jährige Ordensfrau Silja Walter. Mit ihr arbeitet Carl Rütti immer wieder gerne zusammen. Frühere gemeinsame Projekte sind etwa der Zyklus «Verena die Quelle» und der «Solothurner Kreuzweg», zusammen mit der Zuger Malerin Maria Hafner. «Ich verstehe ihre Sprache sehr gut. Durch sie höre ich die Musik», erklärt er.
Dennoch: Zweieinhalb Stunden zu vertonen, ist kein leichtes Unterfangen. Von der ursprünglichen Form mit Sinfonieorchester und Opernsängern hat Carl Rütti auf die Besetzung mit Streichquintett, Holzbläserquartett, Blechbläserquartett, Troubadourgruppe und zwei Chöre gewechselt. Gerade die Troubadoure würden sehr gut in die Zeit Franz von Assisis passen, sagt Carl Rütti.

Der Komponist als Archäologe
Trotz der Fülle an unterschiedlichen Kompositionen fällt doch der beachtliche Anteil an geistlicher Musik auf. Braucht es dazu ein besonders tiefes Verständnis, den eigenen festen Glauben? «Sobald es ums Schöpferisch-Kreative geht, hat es mit Glauben zu tun», ist Carl Rütti überzeugt. Überzeugt muss er auch von der Idee sein, bevor er einen Auftrag annimmt. Dabei sind es nicht nur die grossen Inszenierungen, die ihn faszinieren. Gerade für kleinere Besetzungen, bei denen jedes Instrument
Verantwortung trägt, hat er eine besondere Vorliebe. «Aus unmöglichen Besetzungen etwas machen, das ist das Spannende», sagt er. Nicht unmöglich, aber doch sehr besonders war die Arbeit für ein Glasharfentrio. Die Musiker wollten, dass er für sie das für die Glasharfe sinnige Gedicht «Ich lebe mein Leben in wachsenden Ringen» vertont. Er habe sich wie ein Archäologe gefühlt, der Fragmente findet, erinnert sich Carl Rütti. Ein schönes Beispiel auch für die feinfühlige Arbeitsweise des
Komponisten, welche die Wertschätzung der Musiker ihm gegenüber erklärt.

Die Übergabe des Anerkennungspreises 2005 findet am Samstag, 5. November, in Zug statt.

Neue Zuger Zeitung, 25.1.2005
Musiker Carl Rütti erhält Zuger Anerkennungspreis
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ZUG - Der Musiker Carl Rütti erhält den mit 12'000 Franken dotierten Zuger Anerkennungspreis 2005. Damit wird laut Communiqué vom Dienstag sein herausragendes und vielbeachtetes musikalisches Schaffen gewürdigt. Übergeben wird der Preis am 5. November 2005.
Carl Rütti wurde 1949 in Freiburg geboren. Aufgewachsen ist er in Zug. Er studierte u.a. am Konservatorium Zürich und am Royal College of Music in London. Rütti ist als Komponist, Pianist und Organist tätig. Zudem unterrichtet er Klavier am Konservatorium Zürich.
Mit dem Anerkennungspreis ehrt der Zuger Regierungsrat eine der "wenigen herausragenden Musikerpersönlichkeiten" des Kantons Zug. Rütti habe nicht nur im Stillen vielbeachtete musikalische Kunstwerke geschaffen, sondern sich als ausübender Musiker auch um das musikalische Leben im Kanton verdient gemacht.
sda.
sda Schweizer Depechen Agentur (London/Cambridge, 7. Juli 1997)
«Motet for 40 Voices» von Zuger Komponisten Carl Rütti
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Stürmischer Beifall für den Zuger (Chor-)Komponisten in England: Der in Freiburg geborene Zuger Komponist, Carl Rütti, feierte am vergangenen Wochenende im Rahmen des Norwich Musikfestivals für Zeitgenössische Musik, die Welturaufführung seines neuesten Werkes, «Motet for 40 Voices».
Das ungewöhnlich pulsierende vielstimmige a capella Chorwerk, das von den bekannten Cambridge Voices in der Kathedrale Ely bei Cambridge und in der Schweizer Kirche in London uraufgeführt wurde, riss das britische Publikum zu «Standing Ovations» hin.
Dies nicht von ungfähr. Rüttis Oeuvre ist nicht nur eine rhythmisch durchkomponierte polyphonische Orgie, sondern knüpft direkt an die englische Chortradition an. Zu seinem neuesten Werk liess sich der 48jährige Schweizer von einer Komposition von Thomas Tallis, einem englischen Grossmeister der religiösen Vokalkomposition des 16. Jahrhunderts, von «Spem in alium - Motet in 40 parts», inspirieren.

Lustvoll swingende Improvisation
Ganz im Stile Tallis, operiert auch Rütti mit 40 Stimmen a capella für acht Chöre mit je fünf Stimmen, die, jeweils im Oktogon um das Publikum aufgestellt, mit ihrem Gesang den Raum zum Vibrieren brachten. Einer der Gründe für das überwältigende Erlebnis lag gewiss auch bei dem Briten Ian Moore, dem Dirigenten von Cambridge Voices und seinen Sängerinnen und Sängern.
Die Briten sangen das anspruchsvolle Werk des Schweizers mit grosser Hingabe und Begeisterung - so lebendig, dass man glaubte, einer lustvollen swingenden Improvisation beizuwohnen. Carl Rütti, der auch am Konservatorium in Zürich unterrichtet, ist in Britannien längst kein Unbekannter. Seit Jahren wird er nach England eingeladen und seine Werke wurden und werden regelmässig von der BBC ausgestrahlt und aufgenommen.
Rüttis Musik sei ganz einfach herzergreifend, sagte der engagierte Dirigent Moore. Es entstehe jeweils ein unmittelbarer Kontakt zwischen Komponist, Chor und Publikum. Moore hatte zur Popularisierung von Rüttis Werken in den 80er Jahren eigens einen Chor, die Cambridge Voices, gegründet. Finanziell unterstützt wurden die Veranstaltungen von der Pro Helvetia und von der privaten Kulturstiftung, Swiss Cultural Fund, der Schweizer Botschaft in London.

Beck Laxton (Choir & Organ, July/August 1997, UK)
The new wave of choral music - A Living Keyboard
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Carl Rütti's name is just on the verge of becoming familiar: the occasional radio broadcast, an increasing number of recordings, and a widening circle of fervent admirers are evidence of the growing popularity of his music. This Swiss composer, in his late 40s, unassuming in appearance, diffident by nature, writes choral music that's sensuous and exuberant by turns, combining dazzling rhythms and soaring melodies with distinctively lush harmonies. But his earliest pieces were written for the piano, and back in the 70s he was considering a career as a concert pianist when he graduated from the Zürich Conservatoire and paid his first visit to England...

'In London, I found out what real music is. England is different to every other country because of its singing. The straight tone, completely pure, and a special sound: the fifths are not the fifths you're used to - they're pure fifths, perfect fifths. Then the high standard, every voice equal to the others in the choir. In Switzerland, if you have a good voice you don't sing in a choir.

'A piano's just a piano - it's not the voice. Just a tone that dies away, and always a bit out of tune, even if the instrument's in a marvellous state. It's never a choir'.

Inspired by the singers at Brompton Oratory, where he spent most of his Sundays, Carl started writing vocal music, setting seven Rilke poems. The choir was sufficiently impressed to make a recording of the pieces, produced by Anthony Sargent - who then became producer of the BBC Singers, and recorded them again. One of the BBC Singers, Stephen Jackson, became Director of the BBC Symphony Chorus, and soon this choir was performing Rütti's music too. A radio broadcast led to the commissioning of a Magnificat and a Missa brevis for unaccompanied voices; it also caught the attention of Ian Moore, the conductor of an amateur choir called Cambridge Voices. After a search of several years, it wasn't until Moore was playing the accordion in an isolated Austrian monastery that he finally tracked the composer down. A fruitful partnership developed, as Carl learned more about what he could actually ask singers to do.

'When I wrote the Rilke motets. I just took the choir as an instrument, a living keyboard of human voices; I didn't care whether it was possible to sing the music or not. Now it's very important for me that I know the people I'm going to write for'. says the composer. For Cambridge Voices he wrote a stunning 13-part 0 Magnum Mysterium, developing from eerie hush to explosive Alleluyas over its five-minute length, and then seven Songs Of Love for choir accompanied by cello, richly sensual settings of the Song Of Solomon. The choir's recording of these - alongside Carl's new 'Gloria' for the Missa brevis, a dazzling display of rhythmic fireworks which had always delighted concert audiences, and an exquisite early four-part setting of the Lord's Prayer - was on sale just weeks before the BBC Symphony Chorus released their version of the 0 Magnum and a new piece written for them, Alpha Et Omega, plus the expanded Missa brevis, for which everyone had suggested extra movements until the composer had to rename it. He called it Missa Angelorum, a play on the Latin pun between 'English' and 'angels', saying that the angels in heaven must sound like English choirs.

Word of this wonderful new music was spreading, and Carl's next project for Cambridge Voices followed the trend of ever-increasing forces: it was a full-blooded oratorio, Verena, die Quelle (Verena, the Source), based on the life of a fourth-century saint. Looking for the maximum of instrumental timbres from the minimum of players, Carl added to violin, cello, harp, and harpsichord a clarinettist who could also play the hammer dulcimer, and then drafted in Ian Moore's busking partner Michael Copley to perform on flute, alto flute, bass flute, ocarinas, crumhorn, recorders, and rauschpfeife. The result, performed throughout Switzerland and then released on a double CD, is a stunning mixture of aural textures. The sonorous harmonies and rhythmic vitality stem partly from the composer's love of jazz - he names Louis Armstrong, Cannonball Adderley and Miles Davis as influences, and still plays piano in a jazz trio. In fact, he had no formal training in classical composition at all...

'I once went to a composer in Switzerland and showed him one of my eraliest pieces, for piano, and he said, "Oh, how nice these days to be able to write such naïve music!" So I decided not to take composition lessons.

'Inspiration is something you don't get through education - you can't learn it. And if you don't have it, music is nothing. I was afraid that I'd lose all the joy of composing if I was educated in it. I don't search for a personal language; I just look for what is the suitable voice or musical expression for the text, or the emotion I want to present'.

In his native country his contemporaries have not been encouraging: I get the feeling that they have to think, if they have other ideas about music, that this is sentimental music. But I don't care! It's too short, life, to write in other styles than the one you like'.

Carl is straightforward and unpretentious about his work.

This idea of the artist as a genius is so silly; it was the Romantic composers who made Beethoven a genius. Then a new generation came, Honegger and Stravinsky, who wanted to prove that they were workers, not geniuses. So now we can work with emotions again without being connected with the romantic heritage. Ours is a time when everything can be connected together, whether things belong or not. Ten or 20 years ago, if you'd written tonal music everyone would have said you're crazy - you're out of date. But today it's accepted. I'm very, very grateful to Tavener and Pärt!'

If his tunefulness is old-fashioned, his technology is bang up to date: Carl has discovered Finale scoring software just at the right moment for his next project, the most ambitious yet. Inspired by Tallis's Spem In Alium, he has started (coincidentally, just at the same time as Giles Swayne) to compose a motet for 40 voices. Veni Creator Spiritus uses the same disposition of voices and spatial placement as the Tallis piece - eight choirs arranged around the listener, each choir 'with five voices: soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, and bass - but it's based on Gregorian chant, and developed on a far grander scale than Spem; its première will be in the glorious acoustic of Ely Cathedral's Lady Chapel.

And after a 40-part motet, what can he possibly do next?

'I don't know what the future will bring', Carl shrugs. 'Never mind! I've got good groups to perform my music. I'm very happy with this'.

Beck Laxton

Robert R. Reilly (Chrisis, Mai 1999, USA)
Dancing Before the Ark —
An Interview with Carl Rütti
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Robert Reilly recently spoke with Swiss composer Carl Rütti on the occasion of his 50th birthday. Born in 1949, Rütti grew up in Zug, Switzerland. He has been widely recognized for his compositions in England, whose great choral tradition inspired him at an early age. Reilly was able to explore the deep faith and religiosity that informs Rütti’s compositions.

Reilly: Your musical education was instrumental, was it not? You studied piano?

Rütti: Yes. My instruments were piano and organ.

Did you ever seek to study composition formally?

Yes, I did. But when I showed my music to the music professor, he said that it was silly to compose in a tonal way in this day and age. So there was no need to go to a composition professor.

Why did he say it was silly to compose in a tonal way?

He felt that, after Schoenberg, you could not compose tonal music anymore. But I felt in a tonal way, so I did not think it necessary to study composition theory. I simply studied counterpoint and harmony.

I think one of the most frightening things Schoenberg ever said was that he "was cured of the delusion that the artist’s aim is to create beauty." What has always surprised me is how many people followed him in that perverse conviction.

Maybe they were sure that this was the right way. I was never sure that this was the right way. I think beauty is important everywhere.

What do you think about contemporary music?

I think that, after Schoenberg’s twelve-tone music, one had to go on and on. You couldn’t go back anymore. That’s why every composer went a bit further. And then, John Cage called the following event the premier of his newest work: He let a concert piano drop down from a helicopter and smash on the ground. With the destruction of instruments and Cage’s noncomposition, in which a pianist sits at the piano for four and a half minutes without playing, you can’t go any further. After these events, we were free. That released all the composers of our time. So, there’s no more need to go on any further, because the final stage had been reached.

So, what do you feel free to do?

Simply to write the way I want to write.

And what is the way you want to write?

The way I feel. When I start a work, I don’t know the way I’m going to write it, but I have a certain vision of the sound and of the structure, and then I try it at the piano.

You told me that when you showed a Swiss composer your music, he said it was charmingly naive. Has that kind of condescension continued, or are you finally getting some respect?

In Switzerland, it has continued for quite a long time. But in England, I’ve had another experience. In the Gramophone, for instance, I’ve gotten a marvelous review.

You are a prophet unappreciated in your own land, but they love you in England?

Yes, that’s it, though I’m very much appreciated for my writing for amateur choirs here.

How were you drawn to liturgical music?

I was in high school in Engelberg in a Benedictine monastery school and there I got a certain sense of liturgy. I’m Catholic, you know. I was singing Gregorian chant in the monastery school as a soprano and, later, as a baritone. We sang almost everything in our Mass. We could sing with organ or a cappella. So I was very used to liturgy.

How were you drawn to composition?

I don’t know exactly. I think it really began when I was in England. Before, it was just improvisation. I played in a jazz group. So, I improvised a lot. And then in England, I heard this extraordinarily high standard of choral singing. The voices are like keys. You can play on them like you can play on a piano. And that’s why I started to compose for choir first.

Do you consider yourself primarily a liturgical composer or a religious composer?

I would say a religious composer.

In other words, the same sort of religious vision infuses all of your work?

Yes, you can say that.

You seem unafraid to address the deepest mysteries of Christianity in your music. And that must take great faith.

Yes. If I take a commission for a new work, it’s always a very strong act of faith, because I have no ability to compose. I just have the hope that I’ve got the inspiration for it. And probably that’s why there’s a certain sense of faith in every work.

Could you say anything more about the role of faith in your music?

If you would ask me whether I think God exists or not, I would say it’s exactly the same as if you asked me whether I think the sun exists or not. It’s so obvious that God has to exist. I see this through my work. When I think that, for about 25 years, I have had one commission after the other, but usually they are grouped for certain instruments or themes, though the commissions come from completely different people. For example, I was recently asked by three different people to write for brass. One is a psalm for brass band and choir, one is a competition piece, and one is a piece for a farmer who sings a very archaic Alpine psalm over his cows and land every evening to bless them for the night. And so, there they are grouped together. I think the real commissioner of my music is God. So I’m always sure that when He asks me to write a piece, He will give me the ideas. And it has worked for all 25 years now.

That sense of inspiration is powerfully conveyed in your work. You make the transcendent perceptible. And it’s profoundly moving in that very strange combination of something that is so traditional, yet completely fresh. I think it is your unique inspiration and gift to achieve that. What’s also curious is the way you have achieved this. I’ve written quite a bit about Pärt, Tavener and Gorecki, as well as a number of other tonal composers who are your contemporaries. What’s interesting about Tavener is that he has gone to the Orthodox style of music; Pärt, that he has returned to Medieval organum and Renaissance styles; and you, yourself, seem steeped in chant and Renaissance polyphony. But at the same time, there would be no mistaking your music as anything other than modern because of the rhythms you use. Tell me about how that evolved in your work, how you became so deeply engaged in the Renaissance style, yet used within it this extraordinarily lively sense of rhythm?

Maybe the Renaissance style was from my exposure to choral singing in England. When I first heard an English choir, they had this way of singing, especially in Renaissance music. They had to sing a lot of lines and in quite close harmonies. Every voice had to be very pure and without vibrato. And this fascinated me. The work which inspired me most was Scarlatti’s Stabat Mater for ten parts. I heard it performed by the BBC Symphony Chorus. For me this was the beginning of writing motets for ten-part voices. In regard to rhythmical music, I was once at a concert in 1975 in Fribourg when Stars of Faith, a gospel group, gave a concert. I was very taken with this music.

Now that you have mentioned gospel music, let me say I’ve read several reviews of your work in the Gramophone and in magazines here in the United States. None of them mentioned the first thing I wanted to ask you about your style, and that is: Have you been influenced by Black spirituals?

Yes, certainly. I remember back in high school I once had this gramophone record of Black liturgy. I think it was American. When the minister gave his sermon, he got more and more excited, and the people in church answered back. Then a piano came in. And the minister was singing the prayers and all the community was answering in a very rhythmical way. This intrigued me.

I’m glad to hear you say that because I hear the same kind of uninhibited impulsiveness of Black spirituals in your music. And I was wondering, since you are a Swiss composer, whether I was hallucinating, or whether the influence was really there.

Yes, of course. As a young boy, I was always interested in the Black music of the United States. And I’ve tried to improvise at the piano in this way.

You certainly have integrated it into Renaissance polyphony in a most exciting way. It’s not something one would expect to hear, and it comes with such a rush of excitement. I would say more than that, because what you achieve in your music is a sense of the sacred, particularly in manifestations of innocence, purity, and freshness.

In the Bible, there is this story about King David when he was carrying the sacred ark to the temple. He danced in front of the ark in such a way that his wife was shocked by it when she saw it. I think this is a very deep meaning of liturgy.

What do you mean by that?

I mean that liturgical music, like the "Gloria," has to be very exciting and very rhythmical. That is proved in the Bible by King David dancing in front of the ark. He lost all sense of himself.

The first time I heard the "Ite Missa Est" of your Missa Angelorum, and more than just the first time, the hair actually rose on the back of my head. It was extraordinary, thrilling. There, the transcendent is perceptible. But that is the last part of the Mass you wrote. The Missa Angelorum is interesting in that you didn’t write it all at once.

Yes, it was my very first commission in Switzerland for boys and male choir. I was asked to write an easy Mass for amateurs. I wrote several parts, but it was too difficult for them. Then, when the BBC Symphony Chorus asked for more music, I gave it to them. I rewrote it in another style especially for the BBC Symphony Chorus. They asked for a "Gloria" to be added. Finally, at the suggestion of Ian Moore of the Cambridge Voices, I added the "Ite Missa Est." I found the "Ite Missa Est" took on the same spirit as the "Gloria."

I have never heard an "Ite Missa Est" such as the one you have written. What was your inspiration for it?

It was just a thank-you. That’s the language I sought in the whole "Ite Missa Est."

It’s like a thank-you from all of Creation.

Yes.

And it starts rather dolefully. It starts in the lower registers and then builds into the higher registers, and then all of sudden all of creation is breaking out in this uninhibited way. The thanks cannot be restrained. It is simply thrilling.

It has to be.

I was listening again last night to your "Nunc Dimittis," and I couldn’t keep a dry eye. I was profoundly moved. That piece is such a gem. You really have captured something very special.

In the "Nunc Dimittis," you realize this moment when this old man, Simeon, comes into the temple and sees all his visions are now fulfilled. And he sees this light that he predicted. The English choral sound represents this light. I think the BBC Symphony Chorus recorded it very well.

The tenor singing Simeon in that piece, Christopher Hobkirk, did a magnificent job.

If you only realized that he’s the youngest of all of them! You would expect an old man to be singing this. But I think it works out.

The voice fits and expresses it so movingly because the soul is always young.

That’s right. The soul is always young.

Let’s talk more specifically about your other works. I know that the Missa Angelorum has been recorded so beautifully by the BBC Symphony Chorus on the ASV label, but you have also written a Stabat Mater. Was that your tribute to Scarlatti?

In a certain way, yes. But there is a another reason I wrote this Stabat Mater. At a party in London, a lady came to me and told me about her friend’s tragedy. This woman’s friend had a son who was 17 years old. He fell ill for two weeks and then died. He had been a marvelous cellist. So this girlfriend of hers asked me to write a Stabat Mater commemorating this boy, called Adam. I wrote it for solo cello, because he was a cellist, and for mezzo soprano, because his mother was a mezzo soprano soloist singer, and for choirs and string quartet. There is no commercial recording of this yet.

I’m also intrigued by your composition on the Song of Songs, which you have turned into the Songs of Love, a beautiful anniversary gift for your wife. That’s the first time I paid attention to the character of your instrumental writing, because I thought the cello was used so beautifully throughout that piece. The whole composition is glorious.

Thank you very much. My wife played the cello for some years and we did a lot of music together. That’s why I chose the cello for this. I think the cello is a marvelous instrument to express feeling. That is why it worked so well to make the cello the main instrument in the Stabat Mater.

In your oratorio, Verana die Quelle (Verena, the Source), I can hear your very interesting handling of instruments in a chamber ensemble. You write in a very exotic and evocative way. It makes me want to hear your orchestral pieces.

There are not very many, though I have written an orchestral piece based on the life of St. Francis.

For your oratorio, how did you happen to come on the subject of Verena, a fourth-century saint from Egypt? Was it the connection that she came to Switzerland?

Verena is a special work because, first, it was just a cycle of paintings by a painter called Maria Hafner. She was very much attracted by Verena and she tried to put all her thoughts about Verena in her paintings.

Had you heard of Verena before that?

I did, of course, because every second girl in Switzerland is called Verena. It’s a very common name. And there are lots of small chapels called Verena. Where I grew up and often went for a walk, there’s a Verena Chapel. So I knew Verena, but I didn’t know her life was so very exciting. Then, after these paintings, the painter went to a poet and asked her to write poems about the paintings. After all that, they came to me and asked me to write the music, based on the text connected to the paintings. So I was the last of all three of them.

Your most recent recording is the Veni Creator Spiritus. This is an extraordinarily ambitious work for 40 voices in eight choirs. Can you tell us about it?

I was asked by an English choir that always sings Thomas Tallis’s Spem In Alium to write a new work to go with the Tallis. I took this risk because, when I was a boy, I thought that to sing 40 parts was simply impossible. But I found out that it really is possible. So I took the chance to write exactly in the same configuration as Tallis: 8 choirs of 5 singers, and for the same group—always three men, two women, times eight. As they were positioned in an octagon, I also had a chance to let their sound turn around me from one place to the other, or to stand in one choir and go through different kinds of sound impressions so that, as a listener, you get the feeling of water playing over you.

The recording is beautiful. But I envy you the chance of hearing this live, so that the spatial aspect could have its impact. It must be quite extraordinary.

It really is. And especially the ending, when the whole church around you is singing in different rhythms. And then immediately, all the baritones come in with the plain chant, "veni creator spiritus," in long notes. This is very fascinating to listen to.

It must have a physical impact.

It really has. It was performed twice, once in Ely and once in London.

And well received?

Very well, yes.

The people who are reading this interview are probably not acquainted with your work, though I have mentioned your Missa Angelorum several times in Crisis. Of the five recordings that are available here in the United States, which one would you tell someone coming to your music for the first time to listen to first.

What would you suggest?

That’s not fair. I’m afraid I would simply tell them to take it in the order that I discovered your music, which would be, first, the Missa Angelorum on the ASV CD, with the "Magnum Mysterium" and the "Nunc Dimittis." Verena is so exotic I might tell them to come to that later, maybe after the Songs of Love. The last thing I heard was the Veni Creator Spiritus, which is just magnificent. Now that you’ve made me answer my own question, what do you think of the answer?

I think that’s a very good answer.

Robert R. Reilly is the music critic of Crisis.

 
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