Yair Klartag wins Siemens Composers' Prize 2021

Yair Klartag wins Siemens Composers' Prize 2021

Ricordilab-laureate Yair Klartag receives the Ernst von Siemens Music Foundation's 2021 Composers’ Prize. The Israeli composer is known for his dense and complex works whose polyphonic layering generates an emotional pull. His new work Rationale sees its world premiere in July 2021 by the Israel Contemporary Players in Tel Aviv, and is performed by Ensemble Modern as part of the prize winner’s concert in Munich and Frankfurt. At the anniversary edition of the Donaueschinger Musiktage, Klangforum Wien presents the world premiere of a new work for ensemble.

Rationale (2021)

for soprano and ensemble
S –
WP: 15.7.2021, Tel Aviv

Performances of Rationale

15.7.2021 (WP)
Einat Aronstein (soprano), Israel Contemporary Players, Zsolt Nagy (cond.), Tel Aviv

1.10.2021 (NP)
Einat Aronstein (soprano), Ensemble Modern, David Niemann (cond.), Munich

Einat Aronstein (soprano), Ensemble Modern, David Niemann (cond.), Frankfurt

Composer's note on Rationale

Rationale for Soprano and Ensemble tries to deal with the boundaries of the "rational" in music through texts by Maimonides from the 12th century about Rationality and its limitations. It deals with the human attempt to find patterns in the continuum of the "real", the failure in identifying such recurrences and the way we deal with the ungraspable complexity of reality. The text in the work contains the first 109 digits of the decimal approximation of square root of two as well as a quote from Maimonides' commentary on the Mishnah, in which Maimonides attempts to find a rational approximation to this irrational number (actually an approximation of √5000, which is 50√2 - the approximation is seventy and five sevens, which corresponds to a 99/70 approximation of the square root of two). In the end, Maimonides concludes that the inability to reach a good approximation is not a disadvantage but rather that this is the nature of arithmetic:

"But a square area that has right angles, will have the size of five thousand Ammas. One could not know the side of that area but rather only its approximation. This is since five thousand Ammas is a size that does not converge, but can be approximated as seventy and five sevens Ammas. [...] Because we will never come to the knowledge of the amount that does not converge, only to its approximation, and it is not a disadvantage in our opinion, because this is the nature of arithmetic."
Maimonides’ commentary on Mishnah Eruvin 2 5 (Approximate translation by the composer)

The relation between an irrational number in "nature" and its approximation is also realized musically, in the form of the difference between the tritone interval (frequency ratio of √2) and the 10/7 ratio between the tenth and the seventh partials in the overtones series.
Maimonides's acknowledgment of the limited capabilities of human reason, as well as acknowledging that it is not a disadvantage but a basic and even desirable feature of human nature, was the main inspiration for the musical structure. In the piece, even if patterns and structures can sometimes be identified, the "natural laws" of the musical world as a whole cannot be deciphered. The work ends with another quote of Maimonides from his book "Guide for the Perplexed" which exemplifies his modesty when attempting to rationally understand nature:

“Do not imagine that these most difficult problems can be thoroughly understood by any one of us. This is not the case. At times the truth shines so brilliantly that we perceive it as clear as day. Our nature and habit then draw a veil over our perception, and we return to a darkness almost as dense as before. We are like those who, though beholding frequent flashes of lightning, still find themselves in the thickest darkness of the night.” Guide for the Perplexed - Preface (translated by Friedlander, 1903)

—Yair Klartag

Photo: Jonas Opperskalski © EvS Musikstiftung