Hier, heute for violoncello, orchestra and CD (2005)

Text: Jean-Marc Bouju
Work commissioned by the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra
WP: 09.11.2005, Lucerne (Switzerland) | Thomas Demenga (violoncello), Jonathan Nott (conductor), Lucerne Symphony Orchestra

Orchestra instrumentation
Violoncello solo; 3 (2. also alto flute, 3. also piccolo.)/2 English horns/3 (2 also e-flat clarinet, 3. also bass clarinet.)/2 contrabassoons – 4/3/4/1 – players (3 players) – piano/harp. – strings (12/10/8/6/4 [2 with 5 strings])

Programme Note

“It was very different from what I’d been used to.

But when you’re embedded, you’re just like a soldier. You have no transportation of your own, no way to go anywhere independently. And if the troops aren’t doing anything or going anywhere, then you’re not either. We were stuck in the desert when Baghdad was falling.

When we were camped in the desert, I heard that the brigade had received some prisoners who were going to be flown to another camp for interrogation. There were about 30 prisoners, plus a small boy.

The soldiers took the prisoners from a truck inside a ring of razor wire, and, following orders, put hoods and handcuffs on the prisoners, including the boy’s father. The child was terrified and started to scream.

One of the American soldiers then cut off the man’s plastic handcuffs, so he could embrace and calm his son. I could hear the man, who was frightened himself, murmuring to his son in Arabic.

The Army could’t tell me the prisoners’ name, and I don’t know what happened to them because I had to leave with my ride. I tried to find out, but with troops scattered and on the move in the desert, and communication limited, I could not.”

This text, which is comprised of quotations from interviews with the American photographer Jean-Marc Bouju, accompanied me during the time that I was composing “Hier, heute”. It created a room for thought from which I could not escape. It was not as though I had written the piece in order to make use of the text material, but I could not and also did not want to let it go. Thus in the course of the months in which I was composing “Hier, heute”, it became an integral part of the work. For this reason, I decided to integrate the text in the form of a pre-recorded CD towards the end of the piece. It is, for me, a text which encompasses an enormous amount in a few sentences. It actually captures our entire contemporary world, as seen through the eye and camera of a sensitive and empathic human being. He takes a stance and shows the (albeit minimal) possibilities of the individual within the machinery of war. At the same time, however, he does not ignore the absolutely catastrophic dimension of this war and of our times.

I have been told that the piece is a futile attack against an insoluble situation. This is probably right, and it is most likely true of the majority of my compositions (and thus also of my life and of the majority of other lives). The structure is shaped through the juxtaposition of resigned, exhausted states with ‘movements of attack’. There are not many connections which could disperse the impact of the collision between them. I have observed that the piece contains a tonal structure within itself (in the sense of subcutaneous, running ‘organ points’), and that it wants to pick up the listener and carry him along with the tonal elements. Besides this, I wanted to explore and fathom the rhythmic-motor possibilities of the orchestral apparatus. It is precisely these aspects which are very limited in big orchestras, and one has to restrict oneself to simple structures. My personal challenge was to shape these in such a way that they were at the same time interesting.

I can only pass this challenge on to the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra, for whose 200th anniversary the work was written, and also, of course, to Thomas Demenga and Jonathan Nott. Demenga, the cello soloist, will embody the role of the individual who loses his own voice in the process and even becomes the cynical motor of the catastrophic; Nott will have so much to do that he will have no time to waste any thoughts on his role anyway.

Thomas Larcher, quoted from: www.schott-musik.de