Max Dax, former chief editor of Spex and Electronic Beats, was so kind to write a few words on our festival. We hope you enjoy to read them as much as we did:
A weekend in December, a stage in Berlin-Mitte and 14 musical performances oscillating between the poles of revitalized classical music, electroacoustic pop and folk form the coordinates of a music festival that is so thrilling, so coherent and so much more uptodate than the otherwise long-unquestioned mode of festivals that one can speak of a potentially groundbreaking musical event for Berlin.
André de Ridder – the Berlin-based conductor and founder of the trailblazing and internationally acclaimed stargaze ensemble – found himself wondering why in Germany, and especially in Berlin, there was not a curated festival in the spirit of All Tomorrow’s Parties (ATP): Rather than being a mere musical showcase, such a festival could seek moments of epiphany, illumination and enlightenment – requiring an arc that is larger, carefully curated and not clouded by compromise.
At first glance, it appears that very different artistic positions will collide at the Volksbühne on 11, 12 and 13 December. Of course, on closer inspection they turn out to be deliberately assembled puzzle pieces, which together form a great musical panorama. The special thing about stargaze Weekender is its ability to relate to today’s pop listening habits, while at the same time challenging them. It should be mentioned that the London indie label Transgressive Records recently signed stargaze under contract – but as what? As a band? As a classical contemporary ensemble? None of these terms can precisely describe it. Beyond here lies the unknown.
Founded two and a half years ago, the collective of curators and musicians is internationally well-connected in the pop and electronic worlds and performs in various formations. They are heralded from the Boiler Room (“renegade classical ensemble”) to the Barbican in London, to Amsterdam’s Muziekgebouw, where stargaze did not merely perform with Terry Riley, but indeed acted as a source of ideas and innovation. Now in the context of its Weekender, stargaze returns to Berlin, bringing together the loose ends and existing energy lines of the recent interventions in concert.
But let’s take it day by day.
Friday night (11 December) has spiritual music as the theme – thus addressing a basic need in our throughly rationalized time, which in all its technocratic strive for perfection still painfully feels the presence of an absence. Translated into the language of music, one might speak of a modern classical variant of saudade, the popular Portuguese style of music that so masterfully translates the loss and the intangibility of the absent into melodies and moods. stargaze has managed to put together a program that approaches the topic of spirituality in music in an almost Dadaist manner: A newly arranged Bach Cantata #150, “For you, Lord, is my longing” and a piece entiteled “Grateful Dead – What’s Become of the Baby” form the core of the opening night. Both will be performed by stargaze ensemble and Cantus Domus. “Death Speaks”, for soprano, violin, guitar and piano, was composed by the Pulitzer Prize winner David Lang. Lang took words from many Schubert songs and reassembled them in a new libretto, a collage about death. Like last year, the evening, and thus the three-day festival, will be opened by a string quartet from Bryce Dessner, which he wrote for the Kronos Quartet: “Tenebrae”. De Ridder: “Tenebrae is a three-day Catholic Mass before Easter beginning on Maundy Thursday. During the sermon,15 candles are extinguished, one after another, until it gets dark. This piece describes this Mass in retrospect, so it moves towards the light.” The overarching question of the first evening is: What are the sources when spirituality finds its voice anew as a subject in pop music (and pop culture)?
Saturday night (12 December), delves deep into the folk of Eastern Europe — and takes the audience into the world of Bela Bartók and György Ligety (as well as Jonny Greenwood). When Bartók’s “Three Village Scenes” is collaged, or rather infiltrated, by the indie folk band A Hawk And A Hacksaw, a circle is closed that has already been drawn at many stargaze events in recent years. According to de Ridder’s reading, Bartók is nothing more than the tonal and rhythmic language of folk in a different guise. A Hawk And A Hacksaw from New Mexico, in turn, have toured South-Eastern Europe and work much like Bartók: they go into the villages, play for the local folk and adjust themselves to suit them. With stargaze, and especially this Weekender, it’s always about the permeability of pop and classical music. György Ligety’s Cello Concerto for solo cello and a for the evening specifically assembled allstargaze Orchestra (feat. Solistenensemble Kaleidoscope) in turn refers to the evening’s international guest star, Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead. He has always stressed that Ligety and Bartók have been decisive influences of his compositions and film scores. To be performed on the Friday night is his suite “There Will Be Blood”, composed for the eponymous film by Paul Thomas Anderson. Indeed, the evening is also committed another narrative: the film score. Namely, the Cello Concerto by Ligety is familiar to us from pop culture as it underscored but the eight-minute break-in to the warehouse in Michael Mann’s film “Heat”. Without a word being spoken, during the scene we hear the entire first movement of Ligety’s work. This is reminiscent of Kubrick; cinema and folk as narrative lines amalgamating in an orchestral context.
The finale on Sunday (13 December) is devoted to potentially groundbreaking collaborations – the sensational Danish punk-noir band Iceage, whose sound swings dynamically between The Gun Club, the Bad Seeds and Joy Division, will perform in an unfamiliar dialogue with stargaze for the first time in Berlin. This clash of two worlds promises an intense, inspiring listening experience: the hypnotic-existentialist urgency of Elias Bender Rønnenfelt’s vocals with the artificial, instrumental contribution of stargaze. It is as if Alexander Kluge’s famous phrase about the value of “using the Subway Map of Brooklyn to find one’s way in the Harz Mountains” is transferred to the reality of the stargaze concert stage. The musicians of stargaze and Rønnenfelt first got to know each other this year at the Haldern Pop Festival. De Ridder: “stargaze is characterized by the fact that we cooperate with all kinds of musicians. So on this evening the band Villagers from Ireland will perform with stargaze, and together we will also play new arrangements of the American composer Nico Muhly.” David Longstreth from Dirty Projectors is another of the evening’s potentially groundbreaking collaboration partners, here with a piece entitled “Michael Jordan” for double string quartet. Longstreth thus takes his place along the likes of Felix Mendelssohn on the extremely short list of composers to have written pieces for this instrumentation. De Ridder: “He always names his pieces after athletes who are so charged in the pop context that something happens to the music, as if it becomes more accessible as a result.“
One thing is certain: The audience will be witness to a clear course of contrasts, surprises, risks, key experiences and challenges. The stargaze Weekender thus promises real and pure entertainment, evoking the origins of folk and pop, but also of classical music: Nothing is generic, nothing is commercial, which – see Jonny Greenwood (see also Bach) – doesn’t mean that it won’t work in a Cinemascope movie, or on the main stage of the Volksbühne, or as a harbinger of a new festival culture. With the stargaze Festival, we are surely talking about the most exciting, illuminating as well as entertaining music festival to be held this autumn/winter.