“Alfred Zimmerlin is interested in the heterogeneity of musical phenomena, in temporal layers within the present, in ‘cultural memory’. His music is the result of an ongoing confrontation with musics from a very wide range of times, places and realms.” This is how the Swiss composer Alfred Zimmerlin, in a self-portrait, outlines his personal aesthetic. Born in Zurich in 1955, early in his career he became well-known far beyond the borders of Switzerland for his improvisations on the cello and guitar. More recently he has earned a reputation as a voluminous and deeply reflective composer. His more than 70 works reveal a subtle sense of timbre, profound craftsmanship and great aesthetic open-mindedness. This CD, with three major new pieces of chamber music, is the first to present his art to an international audience.
Some time around 2000 Manfred Eicher heard a broadcast of Zimmerlin's Concerto for Piano and Strings on Swiss Radio. He was immediately struck by it and decided to issue a chamber music album played by three Swiss ensembles, each of which had commissioned a work from Zimmerlin and rehearsed it with him. For a while Zimmerlin had avoided the string quartet genre altogether: as a trained musician and performing cellist he was keenly aware of the danger of falling back onto familiar sounds and performance techniques - and thereby shackling his creative imagination. But having made a start in 2001-2, two further quartets followed in relatively quick succession.
Yet the heart of this album is not the Third String Quartet but the extended scena Euridice singt (“Eurydice sings”), premièred at the Lucerne Festival in 2005. The commission came from Ensemble Æquatuor, with its distinctive combination of soprano, oboe, cello and piano, and it left the subject-matter completely open, offering leeway for a wide range of solutions. At the onset of the new millennium Zimmerlin began to take a stronger interest in theatrical and narrative art. Before deciding on a subject he explored the role models in a piece of instrumental theatre, drawing on the personalities of the four musicians.
A year-long visit to Cairo at the invitation of Pro Helvetia brought him into contact with the Swiss writer Raphael Urweider (b. 1974), a leading lyric poet of the younger generation and also an active jazz musician and rap artist. Their collaboration ultimately gave rise to the idea of a piece on the Orpheus legend, this time viewed from a fresh “emancipated” perspective. It is not Orpheus that sings but his bride Eurydice, and rather than staying mutely behind in Hades she becomes an eloquent catalyst for her husband's artistic evolution, while Orpheus, basking in artistic amour propre, is feted by rapping groupies.
One of the main features of Zimmerlin's music is the way it integrates sometimes extremely heterogeneous resources in flexible forms: “The ear rises above systems and constructs”, he recently explained in an interview. “I never use only one system for a piece. Instead I take many tools in hand, 30 or 40 of them, sometimes using a different one for each layer. The confluence of the heterogeneous can't be constructed; you have to spread your net and keep the music inside it.” Zimmerlin is interested in heterogeneity not only because of his own complex musical background - his experience in free jazz and the entire European improvisational scene no less than the inspiration he received from Helmut Lachenmann and Brian Ferneyhough at Darmstadt. Even more crucial is his special awareness of the past: “We live at the top of a time column. Many lives have been here before me, and thanks to them I am where I am. Composing with this thought in mind is important to me - to sense lives that were already here.”
Information on the ensembles at: