Commissioned by the Philharmonic Orchestra South Westphalia / State Orchestra North Rhine-Westphalia
With support from the Art Foundation North Rhine-Westphalia
It is necessary to adapt the percussion dynamics to the overall sound. The percussion must not be too loud and should never be in the foreground. The big drum, bass drum and tom-toms should be muffled for the effect of hard and dry thuds. It may be necessary to play dead strokes for the acoustics.
Zerstören II should be played with commitment and passion, in other words, with the greatest possible intensity. In parts, the orchestra becomes a monstrous body of sound, undergoing a massive (almost brutal) collective process of externalisation which nevertheless is made up of multiple layers. The intensity of the piece requires energy and tension from every single musician, even if at times the individual seems to be insignificant within the group. The dense passages have to be played with extreme rhythmic precision by every player.
In the denser sections, the dynamics called for by the instructions are largely ‘subjective’ since several musical layers are heard at the same time and there are no consistent (objective) overall tutti dynamics. Some important leading parts are highlighted in the score. The sound intended is generally denaturalised, noisy, ‘sick’ and fragile …
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Zerstören I is an ensemble piece, premiered in May 2006 at the Witten Days of New Music. The composer wrote the following notes about the work:
The current situation, as reflected in the news, suggests that a new form of irrationality is on the advance, that global politics is increasingly dominated by archaic ‘passions’ and brutal violence. It seems that the values and standards that have been gradually established in the so-called West in the process of enlightenment and secularisation, are becoming less and less important, and, moreover, cannot necessarily be exported. This is not really surprising, since existential metaphysical questions have been gradually suppressed in the process of enlightenment and left to religion. From that ‘corner’ they now seem to be catching up with us again, monstrously distorted and enlarged; this development is frightening, in particular for women.
In any case, the images going around the globe haunt me, and I feel that they are doing something to me – that they are changing me. That something is happening inside me. This is what Zerstören I is about. (…) Then it occurred to me that, the longer I was occupied with Zerstören, there was an ‘inner film’ building up more and more densely, which at one point became a kind of framework for the compositional process itself. This ‘inner film’ has no action and consists more or less of recurring short documentary-style snapshots which fade in and out, overlap with other shots, briefly reappear in other places, in different perspectives and speed, disappear again etc. There are always several shots visible at the same time as the screen is subdivided into several sections. The individual shots are visible as shadowy outlines only, as though the lens was scratched when the shots were taken.
It was the construction of this ‘inner film’ that guided me through the process of composition, along with the ‘climate’ and the ‘ground colour’ present from the beginning. (…)
Unlike its predecessor, Zerstören II is a work for the orchestra, with one important difference. I have moved away from external influences to focus more on ‘inner’ musical processes, although the ‘climate’ of the external origins can still be felt. That was why I decided to call the work Zerstören II. I am deeply concerned with the external reality as it is presented to us, and it is always resonant in my work. I believe I can call it a critical impulse for my work.
The title, Zerstören II, is extremely complex and suggests various associations to things which are apparently in the air: to destroying (Zerstören) as an attitude, as a way of expressing oneself (terrorism) or of enforcing one’s aims (an approach which is being met with increasing acceptance, as in the Iraq policy, the recent Lebanon war, etc.), but also to the way we experience these things (the destruction within ourselves, or the inner changes we undergo when we take these processes seriously …). Destroying can also be understood as an outburst of rage, perhaps even as catharsis. It is important for me that this whole range of options resonates in the term, and it would be ideal if it reverberated in the music itself, beyond words or external, non-musical ‘programmes’.
I have various methods of finding sounds. Mostly, there is a sort of rhythmic dramaturgy at the beginning, a physical rhythmic sensation and energy that includes sounds, if at first rather blurred. The really taxing process now is to give these multi-layered and sometimes complicated sounds a precise shape by writing them down. Sometimes I experiment with sounds I hear, or record noises etc. and work with them in my computer to find out what sort of sounds I could have in mind and which sounds really concern me.
It is only during the work itself that the structure of a piece unfolds. At first there is only an idea, which takes a more and more concrete form during the process of composition. Zerstören II is characterised by extremes. Very dense, loud, collective passages are juxtaposed with singularised, almost solipsistic ones. How these extremes and their usage are dealt with works out gradually, following the inner logic of the sounds.
Incidentally, I don’t believe we need extremes at all (just as we don’t need computer games or designer drugs). Yet, like it or not, we live in a world full of extremes, and we’ve got to find an approach to deal with this. This approach may change during the course of our lives; it seems to me that my own response to extremes is ‘extreme’, too, and I feel I have to make a stand. Sometimes I dream of writing a piece which has the opposite effect, withdrawing from everything, entirely unimpressed, gently following its own way.
Iris ter Schiphorst (2007)
(Translation: Andreas Goebel)
This programme note may be reproduced free of charge in concert programmes with a credit to the composer
An impressive premiere
Siegen. (Loh) Hans-Heinrich Grosse-Brockhoff, State Secretary at the Ministry of Culture, put it in a nutshell when he paid his compliments: one for “this Brahms” that had concluded the 50th anniversary concert of the South Westphalian Philharmonic Orchestra and one for the courage to venture a premiere at this festive concert in the Gläser Hall.
It was made possible by the support of the Art Foundation North-Rhine Westphalia. Iris ter Schiphorst, born in 1956, had entitled her commission “Zerstören II”.
The characteristic style of this work is surely unsettling – if it is also destructing is a question that must remain open. The answer certainly depends on the circumstances under which the music is heard. During the final rehearsal in the morning, the sampled electronic sounds were much more in the background. As a result, completely different associations came to mind… There was a strong impression of new life evolving while in pain – ‘embryonic’ sounds diverging in various directions, thus representing inner turmoil. In the intense concert atmosphere, the music sounded more aggressive, if hardly destructive. The aesthetic form held the diverging elements together, so much so that even an almost peaceful ending seemed possible – less as a reminiscence of what had been before than as an agreement with what was to come at the end of the process. According to the conductor, Russell N Harris, the biggest challenge for the musicians was to produce the tonal features indicated by the composer – to generate sounds they had never before produced on their instruments. The composer herself was quite impressed by the musicians’ commitment and readiness to try new things… The festive audience cheered the performance with loud applause. (…) The concert had opened with the ‘Roi Lear’ overture, a work in which the terrible fate of this disturbing Shakespeare character was not told in a simple programmatic way either. After the break, the concert was superbly continued with Brahms’ symphony No. 1. There were, however, listeners who found it difficult to return to Brahms after ter Schiphorst.
(Westfälische Rundschau, 25 February 2007)
“... The BBC Symphony Orchestra then reassembled for a performance of Zerstören II (2006) by Iris ter Schiphorst (born 1956) – best known, perhaps, for collaborative work with Helmut Ohring, but here demonstrating a formidable idiom in her own right. The title, translating as 'Destroy', is as unequivocal as the music in conveying abstract images of violence and dislocation, with Schiphorst ensuring that the frequent recourse to extremes – whether textural, timbral or dynamic – is underpinned by a sense of onward (not necessarily goal-directed) movement and given definition by the subliminal tonal follow-through. The outcome is a work whose inner complexity does not preclude that visceral immediacy which both demands and holds one's attention, not least in a performance as responsive as this. It also marked the welcome return of André de Ridder, whose expertise in this music is undoubted. A pity, though, that the BBC seems currently not to be giving its Maida Vale concerts the publicity they deserve: indeed, the only 'difficult' aspect about this concert was finding out whether it was happening at all!” (New German Music Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse)