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“I form big cluster chords with string instruments”
Pascal Bachmann, born in 2006, is currently receiving his academic and musical education at Eton College in the United Kingdom.
Photo: Andrin Bachmann
Text by guest author Markus Ganz
On 27 August 2023, the Murten Classics Festival presents four commissioned works by a new generation of young Swiss composers to celebrate 100 years of SUISA. One of them is Pascal Bachmann.

Pascal Bachmann is the youngest composer to be selected by Murten Classics for a commissioned work. Born in London in 2006, Swiss composer Bachmann already won one of the prestigious music scholarships from Eton College (UK) in 2020, where he is currently receiving his academic and musical training. “I’ve been writing music for quite a long time,” explains Pascal Bachmann, “but so far it’s been more imitative, not really original.” He hasn’t really developed his own style yet, he says. “But I want to become a ‘real’ composer and I’m very open, experimenting with who and what I am influenced by.” He counts works by Olivier Messiaen and Witold Lutosławski among his influences in particular, because he likes to compose aleatoric music. The piece “As a False Dawn”, written for Murten Classics, also has an aleatoric character. What exactly is played is subject to a certain freedom of the conductor and the musicians.

Challenge regarding the instrumentation

Pascal Bachmann plays piano, organ, violin and viola, but has so far mainly composed works for piano, organ and harpsichord. Accordingly, it must be a great challenge for him to compose for a string orchestra at once in this commissioned work, which is also expanded by piano, harp and two percussion instruments. Pascal Bachmann agrees to this – especially since he intends to use the strings in a specific way. “I assign a separate part to each of them, so I can use as many compositional parts as necessary.” The intention behind it: “With it, I can create big cluster chords. I tend to use the harp, piano and drums for effects.” Thus, one cannot expect classical chamber music in this work. However, Pascal Bachmann also explains that at the beginning of the composition process he was inspired by the “Concerto grosso No. 1” by Ernest Bloch, which was also performed on the evening of the première, even if this is not very clear in the piece.

Feedback to many ideas

Pascal Bachmann began sending compositional ideas to his mentor Daniel Schnyder as early as October 2022. “He gave me feedback on each of those. He advises me on the balance of the instruments, for example, because I don’t know what else you can hear next to a drum kit; that is where I lack the experience. He also helps me with what a score needs to look like so the musicians understand what exactly they need to play.” Self-critically, he admits that he even often changed his ideas or started over, which must have been a bit difficult for Daniel Schnyder.

At the time of the interview in spring 2023, he had created a structure for his piece and had the material for parts of it ready; he also knew how these parts should sound. “But I find it quite difficult to create a whole work where these sounds are connected so that it ends up being a coherent piece.” That’s another reason he doesn’t like to use the computer for the sound. “I don’t think the sounds available are good enough most of the time. That is why I rather work on the piano or in my head, if possible.” And he could not send the orchestra a computer-generated template of how the piece should sound, because that is difficult with aleatoric music.

Freedoms of interpretation

Already in his energetic work “Étude-Grotesque” (for harpsichord, 2022), Pascal Bachmann had shown with annotations and instructions in the score that he does not want to create works that are fixed down to the last detail, but rather provides for certain freedoms of interpretation. For example, performers are encouraged to experiment with the tuning of the harpsichord to improve the quality of certain timbres. Or: The meter would have to remain absolutely constant throughout, but small accelerandi and ritardandi were permitted, even though they have to be kept very gradual.

Pascal Bachmann suspects that attending improvisation classes inspired him “just a little bit” to make such annotations and instructions. “Improvisation comes more into its own when I play the organ in church. But there I interpret a different kind of music than I compose, more conservative, pieces by J. S. Bach, for example.” His compositions are not about improvisation, he says. “I also provide clear musical notes in my piece for Murten Classics, write the usual annotations and instructions common in classical music to go with it – though probably more than usual.”

Jubilee concert celebrating 100 years of SUISA at the Murten Classics Festival 2023

Last year, Murten Classics commissioned four young Swiss talents, Pascal Bachmann (*2006), Joëlle Nager (*2000), Théo Rossier (*2002) and Arseniy Shkaptsov (*1993) to each write a composition of a maximum of eight minutes for string orchestra, piano, harp and two percussion instruments on the festival theme “Stories – Histoires”. The four “Young Composers” were selected by conductor Christoph-Mathias Mueller, who is also artistic director of Murten Classics, and “Senior Composer” Daniel Schnyder. The latter accompanies the “Young Composers” during the composition process as a mentor. Born in Zurich in 1961 and living in New York City since 1992, the saxophonist and flutist is considered one of the most versatile composers of his generation.

A public dress rehearsal with talks will be held on Saturday, 26 August, at 2pm in the German Church of Murten under the title “Talking from the Workshop”. A ticket to the concert on Sunday, 27 August, entitles to this public rehearsal in the presence of the composer and the composers. The concert with the world premieres begins on Sunday at 8 pm in the idyllic castle courtyard. Arcangelo Corelli’s “Concerto grosso op. 6, no. 4” and Ernest Bloch’s “Concerto grosso no. 1” will provide the framework for the works of the young composers. The programme will be interpreted by the Hilaris Chamber Orchestra, which is extended by Isabel Goller (harp), Kiril Zvegintsov (piano), Jens Ruland (percussion) and João Carlos Pacheco (percussion); Christoph-Mathias Mueller will be the conductor.

Tickets are available from 1 June, more info:

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