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August 21 , 2007

Heinz Reber 1952-2007

We’re sad to report that Heinz Reber has died, aged just 55.

The Swiss composer, born in Bern in 1952, was a thoroughly unconventional musical thinker who gently questioned everything - including the term “composer”. Although he had no formal musical training Heinz fell under the spell of Cage and Feldman while in his teens and, with the encouragement of Ensemble Neue Horizonte composer/conductor Urs Peter Schneider, soon began to write his own music. He first came into ECM’s orbit, however, as an improviser, finding unorthodox sonorities in an old pipe organ that he played in duo with cellist Thomas Demenga. Their album “Cellorganics” (1981) was the outcome of three years of concentrated experimentation, and very few concerts. When the pipe organ subsequently fell apart - “it crumbled under my fingers”, was the phrase Heinz used – he abandoned his career as a player but still invited improvisation into his works. His “Mnaomai, Mnomai” (1991) must rank as one of the least classifiable discs in the ECM catalogue, with echoes of Beckett and Lyotard and Beethoven, spoken texts in Chinese and Norwegian, multi-tracked cello from Demenga, and improvisers Rypdal and Christensen flying in and out of Manfred Eicher’s mix.

“MA: Two Songs” (1996) with singers Kimiko Hagiwara and Dohyung Kim and pianist Junko Kuribayashi, meanwhile, was an undemonstrative exploration of the space between things, casting a wide net of allusion and referencing subjects including the Second Vienna School of Schoenberg/Berg/Webern, the relationship of Asiatic singers to the Romantic song tradition, and the contemporary relevance of Sophocles’ ‘Antigone’.

Heinz Reber worked across almost all the arts, composing for cinema and theatre (including incidental music for Botho Strauß’s ‘Trilogie des Wiedersehens’), writing his own radio plays, adapting Brecht and Shakespeare, directing documentary films about mental illness, and working as an arts broadcaster for Radio DRS in Zurich.

From 1992 he lived in Vienna, where his opera ‘School of Athens, School of Nô’ was first staged. His last work, the music theatre piece ‘Walking In The Limits’ was premiered in Zürich in 2006.