Musica Nova Helsinki is a festival of contemporary music. It takes place in Helsinki between February 1st and 12th. Matti Nives talks with the new artistic director André De Ridder in this One Quart magazine interview. Ridder and Nives end up knee deep in the question “what is art?”
Every other winter, Musica Nova Helsinki offers a vast selection of contemporary music. The range of performances varies from contemporary classical music via electronic musics to other kinds of experimental soundscapes. Between the 1st and 12th of February, the biennale spreads across town under the heading “Open Spaces” with acts such as Matthew Herbert, Tyondai Braxton, Lukas Ligeti, Defunensemble & Islaja and Osuma Ensemble set to appear. The 2017 edition of the event also marks the debut of its new Artistic Director, the German conductor André De Ridder. We pinned the man down for a set of questions at the eve of Musica Nova.
Could you introduce Musica Nova Helsinki for those who don’t know the festival. How did you come to start your collaboration with the festival?
Musica Nova Helsinki is Finland’s leading international contemporary classical music festival. It takes place every two years at the beginning of February and all of Helsinki’s main classical orchestras, ensembles and the opera unite to take part in it. I was approached by Topi Lehtipuu, the new director of Helsinki Festival, under whose auspices Musica Nova is organised. He proposed me to the committee of organizers and the proposal seemed to be appreciated.
The festival is drawing close. What kind of expectations do you have?
I’m just very curious to see how the Helsinki audiences are going to respond, and what kinds of audiences we’ll have, in size and character. I’ll expect to see their curiosity also, as there are some artists the audience doesn’t know. I’m sure, and I hope that it will be seen as a good thing. But perhaps you should ask again in two weeks… I hope there will be some immediate reactions so that we can have a dialogue with the people attending. Maybe it would be important to create a space also where we could all meet at the end of a festival night to chat and wind down together after all the performances.
Musica Nova Helsinki is Finland’s leading international contemporary classical music festival. It takes place every two years at the beginning of February and all of Helsinki’s main classical orchestras, ensembles and the opera unite to take part in it.
You confirmed an appearance by Matthew Herbert at the last minute. His performance concept seems unorthodox to say the least, what’s the idea behind that particular show?
Well “sound” in itself is a very important element of this festival (this may sound banal). I’m referring to thinking about sound as a source of composition, rather than notes – like a melody – harmony or rhythm. So Matthew’s new “album” is in fact a book, imagining and talking about sounds. This is actually a very important part of creating new music, imagining future music! Herbert is a modern philosopher of music with a lot of conceptual thinking going on, that can become quite political. It is important to connect music to our daily lives and the world we live in as the contemporary music scene can be such an abstract, remote space.
Can you tell me something about the venue selection for the festival and how did you choose those places for the music?
I went round Helsinki a little bit, and though the venue selection is still quite conventional, some spaces caught my imagination very vividly, and I immediately knew what music I would like to hear in them. Especially so with Kiasma, Temppeliaukio Church and G Livelab. So the program almost curated itself. Or the spaces did.
What does the word ”art” mean to you?
Wow man… We jump right to the deep end! Art for me is everything that transcends the material. It’s a spiritual practice and experience. It transcends all the stuff that separates things, or people from each other and humans from the earth and the spheres.
It’s what makes humans humans. It’s the capacity of imagination.
Art is what stimulates the senses outside of the basic needs of humans (a lot of science, for example, is only a continuation of those basic needs). Science fiction, on the other hand, is the combination of the two. A lot of scientific progress has come from the capacity of imagination, though. You need to practice art in order for any kind of progress, emotional or evolutionary.
Now you could, of course, argue that art is a basic human need. Maybe art is the concept of ”infinity” that is so hard to grasp. Art is trying to describe it. Art is something that can live in you and spin forth inevitably and uncontrollably.
What about the concept of ”newness” in art?
It’s always a question of perception. Something old can become new just because of the socio-political developments. Anything can get a new meaning in society. Originality and integrity are more interesting concepts and don’t always have to be based on ”new” things. Art is a living practice. It’s about the accountability and credibility of the thought that counts. Old artworks are in two categories: one we admire and one that moves us today and still changes our thoughts. Synthesis and conversation can make an old thing into a new work of art.
Could you name a recent art experience that inspired you?
I was recently inspired by capturing an image, a moment through my own camera lens out of a triptych-like window into the Thyrennian Sea in Sicily. The architecture of the house, the window and its placement – they were both artistic achievements alone. Then the light and the camera and the moment and my eye happened to ”collaborate” in capturing something that transcended the sum of its parts. I’m not saying I am a photographer, or an artist but I see myself as a collaborator, or a facilitator. I have to be a conductor, too.
You need to practice art in order for any kind of progress, emotional or evolutionary.
How much does context influence experiencing art in your opinion?
Hugely. Be it a curated context or one that happens by accident or coincidence and personal circumstances. There are so many different categories of context that play a role. Although, music may be the most ”independent” art form when it comes to context. Music envelops you out of the blue, unexpectedly and, obviously, invisibly.
How do you wish Musica Nova Helsinki would influence its visitors?
I hope that people will feel that music created today has a place and a role beyond merely entertaining. Music can be ”stimulating” as well as an entertaining experience. Going to contemporary music concerts can be a social experience, too. A concert can have a sense of sharing a listening experience, in the way that is maybe associated more with gigs in other music genres such as pop, club music or jazz.
How do you see your role in shaping the festival?
My role is one of a conférencier. The job is diplomacy, patience, research and filtering my own ideas and personality through the character of a place, its audiences and musicians (Helsinki). I also need to discover the place and new spaces for presenting contemporary music. I guess I’ve come from so many different places, artistically speaking, so much has opened up and is opening up for me that I try and reflect on that a little bit. I would like to broaden the horizon and scope of what ”contemporary music” means and throw in a few ”stumbling blocks”.
Speaking of contextualisation, we are looking at programming some classics from composers like Ligeti, Stockhausen and Xenakis. Their music is seminal and still kind of a measuring pole. These composers are so fiercely independent and original that they challenge the younger generation and generate a dialogue. I have also listened to many Finnish people around the festival, what they expect from Musica nova Helsinki and how they see it.
I guess I’ve come from so many different places, artistically speaking, so much has opened up and is opening up for me that I try and reflect on that a little bit. I would like to broaden the horizon and scope of what ”contemporary music” means and throw in a few ”stumbling blocks”.