Wittgenstein & Twombly
(2017) 20' / concerto for saxophone and orchestra written for Marcus Weiss. The premiere performance took place on January 28th, 2018 in Basel, Switzerland with Marcus Weiss, saxophone, and the Basel Sinfonietta, under the direction of Baldur Brönnimann. Manuel Nawri conducted the German premiere with the SWR Symphonie Orchester and Marcus Weiss in Stuttgart, Germany on February 4th, 2018, in Stuttgart, Germany. Commissioned by the Musik-Akademie Basel and SWR Sinfonieorchester.
live recording of the premiere performance
I must’ve been about 15 years old when I checked out two LPs from the library and heard them back to back: one The Shape of Jazz to Come (1959) with the saxophonist Ornette Coleman, and the other with Pierre Boulez conducting his own Le Marteau sans Maître (1955). At the time, with my limited musical horizon, both recordings sounded to me pretty much the same. It might be difficult to find someone who considers Coleman a composer of the same stature as Boulez, but I think it is fair to say that their two very different approaches to music could be seen as equally valuable. In addition, Coleman and his Free Jazz could be viewed as the irrational (Twombly)in the pair, while Boulez the rational (Wittgenstein). This dichotomy, the rational complimentary to the foolish, is one that I appreciate daily in my own music-making, whether it be performing or composing. This pairing of irrational and rational is also what makes teaching so interesting and challenging at the same time: the student needs to respect the text but at the same be expressive in a personal and hardly explicable way.
The initiative for this concerto came from Stephan Schmidt, director of the Musikakademie Basel, to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the institution. The work was written for Marcus Weiss, an exceptional musician who is equally agile in classical, jazz, and contemporary music. He is also a polyglot orator and thinker, both of which manifest themselves in his playing. Although the titles Sartre & Pollock or Descartes & Kandinsky sound nice, I chose Wittgenstein & Twombly; firstly because Ludwig Wittgenstein is Marcus Weiss' favorite philosopher, and secondly because I have had a continuous fascination with the works of the painter Cy Twombly for many years now. But also because, the juxtaposition of Wittgenstein’s relatively clear-cut logic to Twombly’s irrational, mythologically based graffiti-like paintings presented me with a wealth of inspiration for this composition.
What would the name patrons say to this piece? Perhaps Twombly would find the palimpsest in part one sympathetic, it is a new layer of information on top of the „erased“ cyclic and harmonic form of the second part. Wittgenstein might comment that the piece actually should be called Twombly & Wittgenstein since the second part, with its repetitions of a miniature piece de concours persiflage, reverberates the structure of logical thought.