© John Popham. All rights reserved.


It has been three months since I arrived in Austria to begin my Fulbright research project on the performance practice of Klangforum Wien. Based at the Universität für Musik und darstellende Kunst Graz (KUG for fans of brevity), I spend my days observing rehearsals with Klangforum, taking lessons with their cellists - Benedikt Leitner and Andreas Lindenbaum, sitting in on composition courses, and participating in ensemble rehearsals with the talented students of the Performance Practice in Contemporary Music program. I have also had the opportunity to do quite a bit of performing, presenting works by Reiko Füting, Alex Mincek, and Scott Wollschleger for a concert at the Steiermarkhof and collaborating with Annie Gosfield on a concert for the Open Musik series here in Graz. For those of you German speakers, here is our review from the Kronen Zeitung: Screen Shot 2014-01-02 at 4.33.47 PM Screen Shot 2014-01-02 at 4.31.28 PM The highlight of my first three months in Graz came two weeks ago, when my LONGLEASH colleagues arrived for our first ever concert in Europe - a recital at the beautiful Ira Malaniuk Saal at the Kunstuniversität Graz. The program consisted of works that we have performed frequently over the past months: Reiko Füting's re-fraction: shadows/ palimpsest 2, Georg Friedrich Haas' Ins Licht, Beat Furrer's Retour an Dich, and Klaus Lang's Die Fenster des Universums. It was an especially unique experience to perform the works of Lang, Haas, and Furrer in Graz, as they are all on faculty at the Kunstuniversität and have had such an enormous impact on the musical pulse of the city. Having immersed myself in the music and ideas of these composers over the past three months, it was incredibly satisfying to apply my new insights to our interpretation of their works. Prior to the concert, we had a fascinating meeting with Klaus Lang to work on his trio, Die Fenster des Universums. For those not familiar with the piece, the work consists of 16 "windows" of sound with alternating segments of silence. You can listen to our recording here. The challenges of this piece, from a performer's perspective, are physical - how to minimize one's gestures before and after the musical "windows". With too much motion, the feeling of suspension is interrupted, and the piece becomes labored. On the other hand, there exists the danger of creating an abundance of tension by holding oneself awkwardly still during the silence. In our meeting, we experimented with different choreographic schemes to find gestures that allowed us to move from one window to the next in the most organic, relaxed manner possible. By finding a balance between stillness and anticipation, the mood of the piece changed drastically. No longer did it feel anxiously suspenseful. Instead, the piece began to feel downright serene, as if we had found comfort in the concept's expansiveness. The impact that our meeting with Klaus had on the subsequent performance of his piece was enormous, and it reinforced the importance of my time here in Austria.  The truth is that musical notation can only get you so far in understanding a piece. You can learn the notes, the rhythm, the dynamics, and even develop a fairly sophisticated interpretation of the piece. But the opportunity to sit with a composer in his hometown, and discuss, in great detail, the ideas and considerations of his compositions... Well, there simply is no substitute for that experience.