A Swiss Export Other Than Chocolate

United StatesUnited States “Zurich Meets New York”: Collegium Novum Zurich, David Rubinstein Atrium at Lincoln Center, New York City. 16.5.2014 (DS)

DADA Image
DADA Image

Jörg Schneider, trumpet
Jonathan Stockhammer, Conductor


Carola Bauckholt: Ghosts before Breakfast (2008), Film by Hans Richter (1928)
Iris ter Schiphorst: The Fall of the House of Usher (2014) US Premiere, Film (1928)
Erik Satie: Entr’acte cinématique (1924), arr. by Andrew Digby (2007), Film by René Clair (1924)
Hanns Eisler: Fourteen Ways of Describing the Rain (1941), Film: Rain by Joris Ivens (1929)
Hanns Eisler: Chamber Symphony, Op. 69 (1940), Film: White Flood (1940)


As clocks, tea cups, a bulls eye and bowler hats floated across the black-and-white screen of Hans Richter’s 1928 DADA film experiment, Collegium Novum Zurich was making its debut performance just below the scrim with a charmingly creative percussion section and the lulls of a vibrating electric guitar. Performing the perfectly synched work by Carola Baukholt, Ghosts before Breakfast, this well-established Swiss contemporary music ensemble opened the week-long festival “Zurich Meets New York” at the Lincoln Center David Rubinstein Atrium with several new and “old” (i.e., 20th century) works set to five short entrancing experimental films.

Music and film were beautifully matched, covering a range of visual ephemera, from the Nosferatu-like creepiness of The Fall of the House of Usher (1928) to the fragmented modernist ingenuity of Rain (1929). The whole production could have just turned into yet another ‘90s style “live-music-set-to-film” event if not for the freshness that Collegium, led by Jonathan Stockhammer, brought to the event and to New York itself.

Sure, in the last decade, New York’s new music scene has burst forth with many acclaimed groups, leaving it hard to imagine room for anything more or different. But as with food, fashion, cars, or hairstyles, each culture adds its own flair to the experience at hand. The Swiss, famous for their chocolate, don’t usually export the real thing (check the back label – we often get what’s made in France or Germany), so you have to go there to taste the real flavorful bliss of a genuine Swiss Lindt bar, preferably while sunning oneself on the edge of Zurich’s shining blue lake. In much the same way, a European group that plays modern or contemporary music brings an entirely different characteristic approach to the sound.

Collegium Novum Zurich evoked its European flavor with a sense of calm, a musical wisdom, and ease in blending traditional and experimental techniques. An aura of ensemble that evokes the solid confidence that a premiere, like Iris ter Schiphorst’s The Fall of the House of Usher, has as much right to be heard as a Bach Partita. Collegium approached each work with a carefree display of ebullience and no artificial fanfare, but rather with an inherent understanding of how to express the music. It all came so easily to the ears. And they stayed in extraordinary time with the films, but then again, the Swiss never arrive late.

Daniele Sahr

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