Better Know Ensemble musikFabrik

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Over the past two decades Ensemble musikFabrik made a name for itself in the international contemporary classical scene. As they imply (Fabrik means factory), musikFabrik has churned out multi-genre work from composers across the globe, traveled internationally and defined the potential a self-run orchestra can have. Based in the state of Nordrhein Westfallen and the resident ensemble of West German Radio, Ensemble musikFabrik's CEO Thomas Oesterdiekhoff takes a moment here to discuss their origins and what makes them unique.

WJ: Ensemble musikFabrik was proposed to you, the musicians, in 1991 from a group of individuals who were not the founding musicians. How did this come about and did you envision becoming a long-lasting performing ensemble?

Oesterdiekhoff: The founders of the ensemble invited 20 musicians to a meeting to discuss and present the project. They asked us, the musicians, whether we were interested. Most of us were and agreed. What has developed since that time is that the musicians have become responsible for basically all artistic and organizational matters. A mutual mammoth undertaking by all the musicians reversed the original strict hierarchy in the ensemble direction that was implemented by an external board of directors. Since that time the ensemble is organized as a basic democracy with the musicians themselves taking the responsibility for making all-important decisions.

Ensemble musikFabrik was initially formed to function more as a small orchestra with fixed salaried members, than a modular assembly of freelance musicians. Is this how the group functions still? How many musicians make up the group?

The Ensemble is formed of 16 musicians. A specialty here is that we have two piano players. But we need a lot of guests to realize (for example) Hymnen, Klang or Sonntag aus Licht by Stockhausen or Pli Selon Pli by Boulez. Since the history of our formation. The musicians have been paid, from the beginning onwards, for the amount of work they do, and not by a monthly salary. In that respect it could not have been called a (small) orchestra. But in the early years another characteristic of orchestras was there: In traditional orchestra the musicians have very little self-responsibility. The artistic director has the responsibility, which is what we experienced at that time.

Probably most notable about Ensemble musikFabrik’s performance schedule is your relationship with WDR, or Nordrhein Westfahlen Radio. How has the Ensemble benefited from this relationship and how has the Ensemble changed since becoming a programming partner in 2003?

The Benefit was, and still is, that we were able to put up a concert series with the WDR: ‘musikFabrik in WDR’; this series had its world premier in 2003. The series is depending on the many world premieres, we could promote with it. This concert series enables us to broaden our artistic horizons, often in close collaboration with the composers we commission such as Wolfgang Rihm, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Brian Ferneyhough, Kaija Saariaho and Mauricio Kagel.

The group is performing in the Netherlands, the US and several different cities in Germany this season alone. Do you consider yourselves a touring ensemble by mission or simply by invitation?

We are playing in North and South America, Australia, Asia and Europe. Both, mission and invitation made us a kind of touring ensemble and we are more than grateful for the sponsors and partners we have. It is crucial for us, to learn about other cultures, situations, places, which enable us to transform our artistic intention. On the other hand we are a kind of cultural promoter of new music in NRW. This works in both directions, inside and outside we are transporting information.

The Ensemble has done exciting things developing staged performances in the past (like Stockhausen’s Sonntag aus Licht at Cologne Opera). Will you share about any upcoming commissions or performances for next season? Do you have any plans to perform any special projects in the US?

Right now we are in the process of building new instruments after the plans of Harry Partch and learning how to play them. This is a big project is coming up in 2013 and will be dedicated to the great founder and musician Harry Partch. Other events that we are looking forward to include the premiere of “Delusion of the Fury, directed by Heiner Goebbels. At the end of this year our Youth Ensemble, “Studio musikFabrik” will tour Asia and we are planning a tour in South America for the 2013-14 season.

On the 12th of May 2012 we are performing in Harvard. We will play premieres by Edgar Barroso (Mexico), Trevor Baca (USA), Sivan Cohen-Elias (Israel), Ian Power (USA), Timothy McCormack (USA) and Justin Hoke (USA) with the Conductor Yordan Kamdzhalov. On the 13th of May 2012 we will be in Troy, New York at the EMPAC (The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center). There you can listen to pieces from Cage, Vivier, Barrett and two of the pieces we performed in Harvard.


musikFabrik's performance of Sonntag Aus Licht by Karlheinz Stockhausen