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Kessler, Thomas: Utopia (2009) 25'
for large orchestra with live-electronics


5 groups: I: asax-perc(1)-keyb( git)-db; II: 2(II=picc).2(=corA).2.1-; III: fl(=picc,afl).ob(=corA).cl(=bcl).bn(=dbn)-perc(1); IV: vln.vla.vlc.db-perc(1); V: hn.tpt.trbn.tuba-perc(1)-harp; every instrument with indiviual pc system, amplifier, dynamic pedal and microphone

Abbreviations (PDF)


This work is available from Boosey & Hawkes for the world.

World Premiere

Viehauktionshalle, Weimar
Staatskapelle Weimar / Heinz Holliger / Christian Schumann

Composer's Notes


In 1516 the English philosopher, politician, and humanist Thomas More published his book Utopia. In it, he reported about a journey to a better, ideal world on a distant island. The crisis-ridden England of his time was open for More’s social-critical ideas and hopes – as is generally known, times of crisis always bring an increase in the proclivity toward utopias, in the longing for that which does not (yet) exist: u-topia.

Meanwhile, we have experienced other crises and catastrophes. However, the call for new hypotheses, visions, and workshops for the future has remained; they are the positive correlates of our negative experiences.

Others may ask: How much future does a human being need? I ask: How much future does music need?

For over thirty years I have dedicated a large part of my work to the connection of traditional instruments with electronic apparatuses, synthesizers, and computers. Pieces, such as Piano Control, came into being in which the musician controls the electronic devices on his own. Following up on this, I would like to set out on a new journey to a better – live electronic – world. On my musical island there is a "utopian" symphony orchestra in which each musician also plays as an active-creative sound former on a live-electronic instrument.

In my kind of multiple live electronics, the orchestra is not mixed together by means of microphones in a central mixing console, alienated, and then sent out into the hall over large loudspeakers. Such a traditionally oriented live electronics is essentially a monstrous machine for the destruction of the individual musical energies that are found in a symphony orchestra. Here, only the overall sound is subjected to an efficient sound production, but not the differentiated quality of every individual musician.

Even if this ideology has brought forth some magnificent works, it involves the concept, which cannot be overlooked, that a sound director at the mixing console and computer should have everything in his hand and under his control here, even if he himself has never played as a musician in an orchestra. The argument, that a single mixing console with central live electronics is considerably more cost-effective in terms of production, is no longer valid today.

In Utopia, every individual traditional orchestral instrument is connected with an individual live-electronic setup (synthesizer, laptop, foot pedal, etc.) and thus forms an autonomous unit with its own loudspeaker. Just as the overall sound of a classical orchestra is not simply the sum of the individual instruments, an entirely new, never-before-heard overall sound will come into being in this multiple live-electronics. When fifty strings, mixed together by means of microphones, are sent into the hall by the mixing console through the modulation of a computer program, it is something completely different than when each of the fifty string players performs the same modulation independently at his desk, and the – nearly subversive – result shines forth as multiple live electronics from within the orchestra.

Press Quotes


"Required for the musical novelty of the Arts Festival is expansive architecture, Weimar’s Viehauktionshalle. A project of technologically extreme measure as well as presumption is proof that ideals and utopias do not always fail in the realization. Utopia is the name composer Thomas Kessler gave to an orchestral work that demands something entirely unaccustomed from the musicians of the Staatskapelle Weimar und conductor Heinz Holliger. Each of the seventy-one instrumentalists provides for his/her individual live-electronic amplification; in addition to the music, each has a laptop in front of him/her and a loudspeaker right at his/her place. Thus Utopia for orchestra and four instrumental groups distributed in the room, ingeniously controlled by computer, sounds like a large-scale symphony of multiple rhythmic tone impulses, color surfaces, and thundering thrusts of sound. It is good for breathless listening, and will move into Berlin’s Philharmonie for the MaerzMusik Festival: music of the future like the Csárdás macabre by Liszt that preceded it." (Wolfgang Schreiber, Süddeutsche Zeitung, 25 Aug2009)

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