The Austrian Cultural Forum New York hosts more than 200 free events per year, including exhibitions, concerts, lectures, panel discussions, dance and performance. The architectural landmark building also houses a state-of-the-art library with over 10,000 books.
A Conversation with Clarinetist Matthias Schorn
born to be schorn
A Conversation with Matthias Schorn, principal clarinetist of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Christopher Zimmerman: Your program at the ACFNY is from your 2013 recording born to be schorn-music for clarinet solo: an incredible project of eleven compositions written specifically for you by eleven very different musical minds. How did this project come about? How did you arrive at such an eclectic and diverse group of composers? Do you think that your project reflects a more globalized, open situation for music today?
Matthias Schorn: I carried with me the idea of producing a cd with only contemporary music for clarinet solo for a very long time. I began to ask different famous Austrian and international composers, like: Cerha, Dünser, Sulzer, Tzanou, if they would be interested in writing a special piece and give their input into this “born to be schorn” project. I was very happy because all of them were very interested, and it was a special honor for me that the great Friedrich Cerha—for me the greatest Austrian composer alive—wrote a piece for me. After I played it the first time, he told me that the work on this piece for clarinet solo was so much fun for him, so he decided to go on working and composing two other pieces for woodwind solo, one for the oboe and one for the bassoon. So I am a little proud of being responsible for 3 new works by Cerha. On the other hand, I did not want to ask only composers, I just asked creative people, friends of mine, Jazz musicians, etc. In the end, the resulting recording is composed of very, very different pieces, different styles, and different music. At the same time, every piece is completely honest and came about very naturally for the composers. It is a very special project because I have relationships with all of these composers, and they wrote their pieces especially for me, so, perhaps, this also had an influence on the resulting works. The composers and I met during the period of composing and tried to really make a “born to be schorn” piece! A kind of work in progress! I think, and I hope, that this project reflects a more globalized and open-minded situation for new compositions nowadays. The composers and I, we made this project TOGETHER, and we ‘gave birth’ to this new music TOGETHER. This music you can hear on the cd “born to be schorn”.
CZ: What was your process in working with the various composers in developing the project and their respective pieces? Or perhaps, a better question is: how different and adaptable did your approach(s) have to be in working with each composer?
Matthias Schorn: As I mentioned before, the composers and I met during the compositional process, and we tried to find what is good for me and my instrument. We would always be changing something, tinkering; we tried to create new effects. We just tried to find out what is possible, what is worth exploring and working on. Of course, not every composer works the same way. In some cases, I got a completely finished sheet of music from the composer, and there was almost nothing to change. In some cases, we met very often and undertook a work in progress together to find solutions, etc. Some of the composers joined the recording session and helped to shape my playing which was a very, very nice experience for me. I also tried to perform and practice the piece in front of the composers before the recording.
For example, Friedrich Cerha invited me to come to his house, and he, his wife, and I worked together on the performance. When he heard the recording the first time, he wrote me that he likes it very much but that he would be very happy if I were to come again to his house and to continue working on it. I love this kind of thinking: a piece is never ready and perfect; there is always something to discover and to improve! We should approach all music, whether it is contemporary music or a piece from the tradition, with this thinking. Music is just music, and we should try to invent every piece anew, and anew, and anew. In every performance, we should try to find something new! The same goes for Mozart and Beethoven as well as Cerha and Sulzer!
CZ: In your text for the CD liner notes-‘Born To Be Schorn-A personal Affair’, you emphasize the personal nature of this project. You write: ‘I wonder—what better way of experiencing music history “in the making” than by premiering a piece composed for oneself?’ Can you elaborate on this idea? What is different about performing a work written specifically for you? And, what is different in performing a recent work as opposed to one already in the repertoire?
Matthias Schorn: For me, premiering a new piece of music is one of the greatest experiences because I am really ‘writing’ musical history in that moment! The project “born to be schorn” is also a very personal and intimate project because all of the composers are more or less friends of mine. I share enormous mutual faith with these composers. Of course, you cannot expect to sell millions of CDs of contemporary music for clarinet solo, so the impulse for producing this CD was not a commercial one. I financed the complete project privately, and I invested not only a lot of money but also a lot of energy and time. But what I get back is the feeling of creating something new, of premiering new pieces all over the world, as well as a small feeling of writing musical history. When people listen to “born to be schorn”, they are often surprised by the pieces written by the ‘unofficial’ composers like Riihimäki or Breinschmid or Eröd who are making music in other genres. Performing these pieces that come from the heart, I feel a sense of heightened honesty and responsibility in a very direct way, but I also feel very naked!
CZ: The last sentence of your liner note text reads: ’Moreover, I am happy that you, the listener, are also taking part in such historical proximity? Can you explore this notion of historical proximity and its significance? What are the challenges in bringing new music to life?
Matthias Schorn: The challenges in bringing new music to life are that young, unknown composers often have no possibilities to have their music performed. There are a lot of very gifted, talented, young composers with great new ideas, but we (the musicians and the audience as well as the concert managers) have to be open-minded towards their work. We have to look for new music; we have to find new ways of playing concerts, new ways of bringing contemporary music to the people. And then, what is very important is that we have to really work on the new pieces; we have to try to play them with all the power we have, and we should try to play new music in as convincing a way as possible! It is only if our playing is fully committed, with every fiber of our bodies, will we convince audiences and, in turn, create new enthusiasm for contemporary music!
CZ: Your concert is being presented within the context of the ACFNY’s Vienna Complex festival organized in conjunction with Carnegie Hall’s festival Vienna: City of Dreams, in which you will be performing concerts with your band: The Vienna Philharmonic. The Vienna Complex program focuses on Vienna today. Considering your work with the Philharmonic as well as this incredible Austrian musical tradition, with Vienna as its heart, can you reflect on what you see as the musical culture in Vienna today? We certainly know Austrian Classical, Romantic, and early 20th century music, but what is happening today?
Matthias Schorn: There is this great European and Austrian Tradition and Culture. I love this, and I am very thankful for this. I am also very happy to live in Vienna, where much of this tradition is still alive! The same goes for my orchestra, the Vienna Philharmonic, in which the great traditions are alive, and they are worthy to be alive! That’s the core for me: as Gustav Mahler said: “Tradition is not the worship of the ashes, it is the preservation of the fire.” We should understand tradition like this! There is a lot of tradition that is worth preserving.
We should think about our tradition, to know it intimately and thoroughly, which will then allow us to explore new things, to experiment, to develop the tradition. Tradition is the foundation from which the new emerges. This is my point of view concerning tradition! We have the possibility to live our tradition and to develop and invent new traditions at the same time! I am very optimistic because I believe that there is a great new scene in Europe and in Vienna, which is trying to approach tradition in this manner—with open-minded respect! If people are open-minded, new things are able to be invented. Nikolaus Harnoncourt once said: ‘play every note like you would invent it right now, at that moment. Like a jazz improvisation!’ I like this kind of thinking and this kind of music-making—with old music, with new music, and with tradition!
For more information about Matthias Schorn visit: http://matthias-schorn.at/
For information about Matthias Schorn’s recital program at the ACFNY visit: http://www.acfny.org/event/matthias-schorn-solo-clarinet/
For information about all of Matthias Schorn’s recordings, visit: