End of April. Joëlle Nager has just handed in the score of her commissioned work for the Murten Classics Festival and she is off to Budapest. Born in Basel in 2000, she conducts the Budapest Art Orchestra for recordings of her music; then in June she works at Air Studios in London. Both activities are part of the final year of the Masters programme at Berklee College Of Music; she has already completed her training as a film composer and conductor at the University of West London. And Joëlle Nager already has her own orders. Her subliminal soundtrack to the short film “EGO” (2022), which was twice awarded “Best Score” (FilmCon Awards and Monthly Indie Shorts), shows how subtly she composes.
Special instrument constellation
Joëlle Nager was very happy about the commission from Murten Classics, because this festival is great and the composition will be premiered in the anniversary program of 100 years of SUISA. “I was particularly pleased to be able to write concert music because my training is primarily in film music.” She had already enjoyed working for orchestras with wind instruments, for pure string orchestras and also other instrument constellations. “New to me, and therefore a nice challenge, is the combination of piano, harp, percussion and a string orchestra,” explains Joëlle Nager, who calls the piano her primary instrument although she had also learned classical singing.
The piano has a special meaning for Joëlle Nager. “I started making music on the piano. And one day I played more than just the notes on the paper, so in a way I started composing” (laughs). She still uses the piano as a tool, “but more and more, I imagine the different voices of a composition in my head and then string the individual parts together.” Joëlle Nager also explains that she doesn’t have any kind of favourite music or composer. Due also to the demands of film music, she draws inspiration from everywhere. “In each time period, I see different possibilities, different perspectives, even with music from jazz, pop and rock. This is especially important in film music, where you want to go with the film and its story.”
About the biggest story
It is not the case that Joëlle Nager either first develops a concept for a new composition or starts right away with musical ideas. “It’s always a simultaneous process. I also get inspiration from the environment, what’s going on around me, these little stories. And the music is already playing in your head.” But first, she said, she was aware of the instrumentation. “Which instruments can I use, what can they do, what is idiomatic for them?” In the case of this composition for the Murten Classics festival, she said, she was guided by the fact that mainly string instruments were available, but also percussion. This had led to a certain melodic and rhythmic influence.
With the title “Between Life And Death”, Joëlle Nager refers to the festival theme “Stories – Histoires”, because for her, life was the greatest story that one had as a human being. “But this story is made up of many different subchapters, phases that you go through during your life. So my piece is very diverse and shows very different characteristics.” Fittingly, Joëlle Nager has given her composition the subtitle “A Constant Struggle Between Reality, Dreams And Hope”. “Within your life, after all, you always have certain hopes, desires that you try to fulfil within this story. However, reality always gets in the way, but it can also help. And so you always find yourself in this struggle between what you want, what’s real, and what’s unreal. And: There’s a very thin line between life and death.” The composition will also sound according to the theme: “The music is brisk and changes quickly between different moods.”
The “Young Composer” Joëlle Nager was assisted by the “Senior Composer” Daniel Schnyder as her mentor during the composition process. Joëlle Nager shared initial ideas with him as early as October 2022. Then, over winter break, she created a first version of the score and sent it to him. “Via video call, we then talked about it, went through page by page, looked at what could be improved. He gave me suggestions that were very exciting for me.”
In the meantime, Joëlle Nager rewrote some parts of the composition and sent Daniel Schnyder the second version of the score. This will in turn be discussed in a video call, which Joëlle Nager is already looking forward to,because “it’s a great collaboration that I also enjoy.” After the completion of the score, the question of how the orchestra is going to play it. “Of course, I have a basic idea of how the composition should sound. We can certainly discuss the finer points during the rehearsals, and perhaps even experiment with some of them. I’m basically very open and like to be inspired by the orchestra as well.”
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: www.murtenclassics.ch