“What’s best in music is not to be found in the notes”, Gustav Mahler once observed. Because, namely, it’s the interpretation that brings the work to life. At the same time, Paul Hindemith spoke of the “unavoidable tragedy of the music interpreter” who “completely disappears behind what is being presented”.
# In the music of the 20th Century, the significance of interpretation in the musical creative process has, at times, been carelessly underplayed. If one disregards the cult of the interpreter that is fueled mainly by the music industry, the work itself as the actual object of musical discourse has been drastically revaluated.
# What applies to the history of classical music can also be observed in other genres. In the area of pop culture, the category of performativity was primarily promulgated to be able to speak about differences in musical performance, categories, which should conform to a concept of interpretation capable of dialogue. The cover version and the remix, on the other hand, describe phenomena of transmission without the autonomy of the interpreter as an entity of comparison and reference being more closely observed.
# faithful! proposes to examine the concept of interpretation anew and rehabilitate interpretation as a category of speaking about music. In so doing, situations will be created in which the differences of musical practices come openly to the fore. The central focus is the interpretation comparison, in which different ensembles and soloists perform the same work. This has as much to do with the idea of objectivity and fidelity to the work as to the idea of a school with nationally colored sound characteristics and a teacher-student relationship that often extends back to the 19th Century. In direct comparison, it becomes clear that diverging ideals of interpretation have taken hold in different countries. Musicians can confirm that in France, clarity and timbre play a larger role than, for example, in German-speaking lands where one likes to ascribe a stronger orientation to tonal structure. With the interpretation comparison, faithful! draws on impulses given by the Dresdner Days of Contemporary Music (2005) and the Donaueschingen Music Festival (2008 & 2010).
Other situations in which the concept of musical interpretation will become tangible include a Karaoke Matinee with works of contemporary music; the intuitive interpretation of a work not connected to a score by the US American ensemble sfSound; the reinterpretation of works of the Second Viennese School by the Vegetable Orchestra; re-workings of songs by Nick Drake or Nirvana by the Without Additives No Stars Big Band; transcriptions of pieces for prepared piano by John Cage on the midi keyboard by Kerry Yong; a comparative examination of different DJ cultures; and the open form of the musical graphics by Earle Brown Cornelius Cardew.
# At the same time, precarious aspects of the musical performance will be reflected upon, including the predicament of having to perform a work that one dislikes. The panel discussions will be dedicated to questions of musical critique – with the “Quartet of Critics” of the Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik (German Record Critics Prize) –, the marketing of interpreters and the relationship of tension between the musical idea of the composer and the capabilities of the musician, which often has its origin in the “false appearance of legitimate future music” (Siegried Mauser).
# Among the interpreters are, on the one hand, ensembles and musicians who have dedicated themselves to the new and to experimentation in the most varied musical genres and, on the other hand, interpreters who carry on the tradition and prefer to carefully renew it. Renowned soloists, orchestra musicians and adventurous experimenters face one another to illustrate the possible facets of musical interpretation.
# Works were first and foremost included in the repertory that reflect the role of the interpreter compositionally, such as Heinz Holliger’s Cardiophonie, in which the soloist performs to his own heartbeat as tempo giver and inevitably fails because of his own excitement. Commissions were awarded to young composers who have dealt with the role of the interpreter and who expose the personality of the musician as well as the relationship to his instrument. An additional category are favorite pieces in which the musician has the possibility of expressing himself completely, including Mathias Spahlinger’s Adieu m’amour, Salvatore Sciarrino’s Tre notturni brillanti and James Tenney’s In a Large, Open Space. Finally, faithful! focuses on a series of composers whose works have been largely ignored by history, including the Schoenberg student Nikos Skalkottas from Greece, who Schoenberg counted among his most talented students, but who passed away in 1949 at the age of 45, and Józef Koffler, the first twelve-tone composer of Poland, who was murdered by German troops in 1944.
# A further focus is the question of the connection between interpretation and technology which not only can be understood on the basis of the history of instrument construction, but also that new media both inspires and sometimes even compels artists toward new strategies of interpretation. Included here are mechanical reproductions of works of classical music such as realized during the last years by Cory Arcangel, Scrambled Hackz or Alexei Shulgin as well as reenactments of videos and concerts as practiced on the Internet by countless fans and listeners and which in the meantime has advanced to become its own category of video clip.
# The festival title faithful! refers incidentally to an album by the American guitarist and producer Todd Rundgren, who in 1976, performed songs by the Beach Boys, the Beatles, Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix, among others, and endeavored to come as close to the original as possible.