Interview: Tabea Zimmermann about Enno Poppe

Interview: Tabea Zimmermann about Enno Poppe

Enno Poppe explores glissando and pitch oscillation to an unprecedented level in his new viola concerto Filz. Violist Tabea Zimmermann gives insight to this music and why music-making and authoritarianism are incompatible. Performances with the Ensemble Resonanz can be heard at Wiener Konzerthaus (April 11, WP), Kölner Philharmonie (April 12) and Laeiszhalle Hamburg (April 15).

Many prestigious composers wrote works for you. As one can imagine, performing new pieces always means a considerably extra effort. Why do you do this to yourself?

“Extra effort” sounds funny to me! Because I am constantly rehearsing and working on new pieces. I enjoy cracking hard nuts for several reasons. For one thing, it helps me avoid falling into routine. Also there is nothing better than achieving in-depth insight and gaining more experience. I enjoy new music, and because of this I can always also look at well-known music from a new perspective.

Did you and Enno Poppe try out new techniques on your instrument?

We met last winter in Berlin, and we did try out some sounds together back then. Enno Poppe already had a clear idea of a dynamic sound that he was looking for. I remember that I was quite fascinated by how familiar this sound was to the Chinese instrument Erhu.

In an interview you said about Filz: “I had to learn to play the viola again”. Why?
Because I can’t think of any other work for viola that is so much focused on glissando. I have an absolute pitch – which is a blessing most of the time, but it also can be a curse –, and this certainly helps me to image the music that I see in the score in the correct pitch. Poppe has composed a process of tones that is constantly changing – and I had to work this out this from scratch, which I found very rewarding. Currently I am generally more interested in “the way from somewhere” than in “the way to somewhere”. So Poppe’s work came at the right time.

In what way does Filz refer to the tradition?
I do see Filz in the tradition of other “good” music! Poppe does not reinvent the wheel. He uses readable staves (luckily!), and he refers to well-known note values and pitches. Only the timbre with a solo viola, 18 solo strings and four clarinets, respectively bass clarinets, is extraordinary: there has never been anything like that and this is very exiting!

What do you associate in the music with the title Filz (felt)?

I don’t think I can answer this question properly before the rehearsal period with Ensemble Resonanz has begun. Currently everything is pure imagination (and hard work). But from my conversations with Enno Poppe I would think that felt as a material and the density of it can definitely be recognized in the music.

What would you like to change about the music scene?
I would like to contribute in making the old, patriarchal structures in society and in music superfluous! In terms of music this means: I don't enjoy working with conductors who see themselves as the center of everything.

Both musicians from ensembles like Ensemble Resonanz, Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, Ensemble Modern, and musicians from “normal” orchestras – they all enjoy participating in the musical process much more when there is less hierarchy, they all enjoy a music director that embraces participation and provides an artistic direction at the same time.

This is what older conductors like Claudio Abbado or Simon Rattle and artists from the younger generation such as François-Xavier Roth und Yannick Nézet-Séguin stand for. You feel that they regard themselves as a kind of catalyzer. They motivate musicians to achieve the highest levels through their knowledge, their ear and they sensitivity – and not through fear.

The conductor as a leader, as a boss of his musical staff – this is obsolete. Music-making and authoritarianism are incompatible! If I can make a difference in changing this situation once and for all by playing concerts and performing chamber music in an equal way, I would be very happy.

To which projects are you particularly looking forward to?
As I am fortunate enough to be able to decide myself which concerts to play and which not to play, I am actually looking forward to all dates in my calendar! Which is: Bartók with François-Xavier Roth in Helsinki (April), the world premiere and additional performances of Poppe’s Filz in Vienna, Cologne and Hamburg (April 11-15), concerts with the Arcanto Quartett, recitals with Javier Perianes. Additionally I am going to teach a master class again after a long time, this time within the framework of Schleswig-Holstein-Musikfestival.

Photo: Marco Borggreve