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50 Pianists play on Hailun Pianos

Mahler Academy Orchestra 50 Pianists play on Hailun Pianos Georg Friedrich Haas

In this new composition, commissioned by the Ferruccio Busoni – Gustav Mahler Foundation and funded by the Ernst von Siemens Musikstiftung, Georg Friedrich Haas sets out to explore a microtonal space for 50 pianists on as many wall pianos and an equally large ensemble. The world premiere in Bolzano will be performed by pianists from numerous conservatories and universities, coordinated by the C. Monteverdi Conservatory Bolzano, together with the Mahler Academy Orchestra. The Busoni-Mahler Foundation is honored to announce that the composer will attend the premier, following which the new work will be performed by acclaimed Klangforum Wien in various concert halls all over Europe.

The Concert Installation Visionary, ambitious projects often start with an idea that could easily be dismissed as a dream: No less than 50 pianos of identical construction are set at the center of a microtonal composition, complemented by an equally large ensemble. To achieve the desired acoustic effect, each piano is tuned exactly 2 cents apart – which corresponds to the difference between the tempered fifth and the beatless fifth. Consequently, the distance between the piano with the highest pitch and the lowest is precisely 1 semitone minus 2 cents. Furthermore, the octaves must be “stretched” identically on all instruments; an effect that can only be achieved by using pianos that are completely identical in construction. The dynamic bandwidth of the composition ranges from massive, monolithic agglomerations of sound to delicate, subtle formations. The space of the large hall of the Bolzano Exhibition Center is being delineated by the 50 pianos, serving as fixed coordinates. In between, the ensemble move to various positions throughout the piece, with new constellations constantly emerging, while the audience gets to experience this concert installation from the inside. Microtonality How do we listen to music? As a rule, we climb up and down ladders with our ear – with all the steps at the same distance, up and down, left and right. This has become too narrow for the composer Georg Friedrich Haas. He wants to fly and lets his ear slide through a large space that is criss-crossed by waves instead of steps. The result of this approach is a new kind of weightless listening, freed from the ballast of static constructions. Georg Friedrich Haas himself actually rejects the concept of microtonality, for him, the notion is “actually wrong”. After all everything that does not correspond to the 12 pitches that are traditionally being notated in western music, qualifies as “microtonal” – every orchestra sounds microtonal and therefore beautiful. “When I work microtonally as a composer, I do no more and no less than to organize what happens anyway, only in a new way”, Haas says. Obviously, a crucial feature of this work is the set of instruments that are being employed in the execution of 11,000 Saiten – a large number of pianos. The piano, unlike string instruments or the human voice, is much less suited to exploring sound ranges outside of the twelve-tone intonation. It seems almost fateful that the namesake of the Bolzano piano competition, Ferruccio Busoni, is considered one of the early expanders of the western tonal system, since it was he who had a third-tone harmonium built in the early 20th century.

Busoni Mahler Foundation owes the fact that this ambitious project sees its world premier in Bolzano mainly thanks to Chinese piano manufacturer Hailun, who is sending 50 pianos to Europe where they will be used for the executions of the piece by Klangforum Wien, following the world premier in Bolzano. Additionally the participants and performers of Gustav Mahler Academy will be coached and instructed in contemporary performance practice by the highly specialized members of the renowned ensemble for contemporary music. The world premiere of 11.000 Saiten will take place in the large hall of the Bolzano Exhibition Center. Georg Friedrich Haas Georg Friedrich Haas (born 1953 in Graz, Austria) has been associated with Ricordi Berlin since autumn 2016. He has taught at the University of the Arts in Graz (lastly as associate professor) and at the Music Academy in Basel. In 2013 he was appointed professor of music at Columbia University in New York and since then has taught composition there. Haas feels both rooted in the European tradition and strongly influenced by the aesthetic freedom of American composers like Charles Ives, Harry Partch, John Cage and James Tenney. He also has repeatedly made referece to the musical mysticism of the composers Giacinto Scelsi and Ivan Wyschnegradsky. In a survey published in the January 2017 issue of the Italian music periodical Classic Voice, 100 named experts were asked to choose “the most beautiful music composed since 2000”. By a wide margin, they awarded first place to Haas. His wide-ranging output, including numerous works for large orchestra, for chamber orchestra, instrumental concertos, eight operas, ten string quartets, a variety of other chamber music and vocal works etc., is constantly finding new audiences worldwide – and not only at special new music events; his compositions are also reaching a traditionally schooled public. Haas has devoted his work to the utopian ideal (not 100% attainable) of creating a new music that is both expressive and mellifluous – not despite but because of the fact that it is new. (Ricordi/ Foto Harald Hoffmann)


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