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Platz Robert HP

Born in Baden-Baden in 1951, Robert HP Platz studied music theory, piano, and conducting in Freiburg im Breisgau with Wolfgang Fortner, musicology with Elmar Budde, and for some time, parapsychology with Hans Bender. He then moved to Cologne to study with Karlheinz Stockhausen and completed training in conducting with Francis Travis in 1977 in Freiburg. He lives and works in Cologne.

Since 1989, Platz’s compositions have formed parts of a diary-like collection that consists of associative leaps in which individual works stand for themselves but are closely connected structurally and can be to some extent played simultaneously. For this “polyphony of forms,” performers are spread around the room in such a way as to allow the individual works to polyphonically percolate and overarch one another.

Robert HP Platz has received commissions from SWR, WDR, Saarländischer Rundfunk, the Sinfonieorchester Aachen, Staatstheater Cottbus, Klangforum Wien, the E-MEX-Ensemble, the Adritti Quartet, Ensemble Alternance, and many others as well as festivals including the Donaueschingen Festival, ECLAT, Wien Modern, the Beethovenfest Bonn, and ACHT BRÜCKEN.

In 1978 and 1979 he received a scholarship from Südwestfunk’s Heinrich-Strobel-Stiftung and lived for a long time afterwards in the USA and Paris, where he worked at IRCAM. Platz lived at the Künstlerhof Schreyahn in 1989-1990 and was composer in residence at Villa Serbelloni in 1990 on invitation from the Rockerfeller Foundation. Two years later he had a long and formative stay in Japan.

From 1980-2001 Platz directed the Ensemble Köln, commissioning compositions from many renowned colleagues. Platz has worked with a number of ensembles and orchestras as a guest conductor, including Ensemble Modern, Klangforum Wien, Ensemble Musikfabrik, the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, the orchestras of SWR, SR, and NDR, Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg, the Bamberg Symphony, and Bayerische Staatsoper, as well as at international festivals in Salzburg, Helsinki, Donaueschingen, and Strasbourg. Platz’s conducting has been documented on numerous CDs. His portrait CD on Mauro Lanza with the Ensemble Alternance received an award from the Académie Charles Cros, and his first Hosokawa CD on NEOS received a Clef d’Or as the “CD of the Year 2009.”

Lecturing and teaching has brought Platz to many European countries, as well as the USA, Mexico, Israel, Indonesia, South Korea, and Japan; he has also been a lecturer at the Darmstadt Summer Course on a number of occasions. Between 2000 and 2007, Platz was artistic director of the Schreyahner Herbst festival. Pfau Verlag published the volumes “TOP: Skizzentagebuch” and “…weil die Welt und wir mit ihr so sind“ (Texte zur Musik 1972–2014). In 2013 Bärenreiter Verlag published “Technik des Violinspiels” (with Irvine Arditti). Another publication about Robert HP Platz is in the works for 2021 (Pfau Verlag, ed. Gordon Kampe). Since 2016, piano maker Steingraeber has been building the first ever MIDI grand with permanently-installed transducers according to the composer’s specifications.

Platz has been a member of the Bureau du Directeur of the Henri Pousseur Electronic Studios, Liège, since 2005, and has been Professor of Composition and Ensemble Direction for New Music at the Musikhochschule Würzburg since 2018.

Platz is currently working on the ensemble cycle 6 Welten: Container, due to be premiered at the Kölner Philharmonie in 2022, as well as on the (chamber) musical theatre piece Anderswo, and a work for solo violin and chamber orchestra.

(Current as of January 2021)

Robert HP Platz

A portrait by Max Nyffeler

The idea of a work that develops processually was already present in germinal form in the early works of Robert HP Platz. In the course of an output that now stretches over a quarter-century, this idea has gradually taken shape, finally coming to the fore in the composition Grenzgänge Steine for soprano, 2 pianos and orchestra (1989-93). What is involved here is neither “work in progress”, in the sense of an innately incomplete single work, nor simple cycles of pieces. The conception is different, and unmistakable. Today, Robert HP Platz regards all his work as a continually unfolding overall architecture, within which individual works are loosely grouped into work-complexes. The linking factors between them are motives, instrumentation, or an organisation of tonal centres and structural types that extends from one work to another. But this is not done in a quasi-serial way, through the advance planning of all structural data. Instead of strategic calculation, Platz‘s work involves a more intuitive grasp of organic growth, where the laws of development arise from the process itself. Development does not proceed in a goal-directed way, but forms a continual musical flow, whose various windings and branchings feel their way towards an unknown destination.

Within such constellations, individual works may overlap or interlock, permitting partly simultaneous performances; alternatively, they form conglomerates or transitional formations, loosely grouped around a centre of gravity. The basic notion is that of an enormous meta-composition, in a constant state of becoming; to that extent, its significance would be conceptual, rather than aiming at literal realisation – or at least, not as a totality. As far as the overall process – the succession and interpenetration of individual works – is concerned, Robert HP Platz talks in terms of “form polyphony”. An excerpt was heard at the Donaueschingen Music Days in 1996: a single performance comprised the following works, partly interlocked: Andere Räume (tape and percussion), Turm and Weiter (orchestra), nerv II (violin, piano & winds) and Echo II (violin, piano, winds & percussion). Whereas the overall architecture tends to follow intuitive rules, the details of each individual work are thoroughly worked out – a legacy of the serial thinking with which Platz has had a deep engagement. But here too, spontaneous artistic decisions take precedence over abstract definitions.

The background to this novel attempt to synthesize macro- and micro-structure is the striving towards an “integral” artwork which may be understood as the sum of all previous artistic experience, depicting the world, as it appears to the composing subject, as fully as possible. The first attempt to master these problematics was the exuberant major project Schwelle (1973-78), which occupies an exemplary place at the beginning of Platz’s evolution as a composer. However, only Parts I and III were realised (Munich 1979, Cologne 1981); a complete performance of all six parts fell foul of organisational practicalities. This experience subsequently persuaded the composer not to impose ‘integrality’ though a single work, but to seek it in constellations of works – and ultimately, in a life’s work.

To date, Robert Platz has composed in all genres, often incorporating music on tape: music theatre, orchestral works, ensemble works, chamber music and solo pieces. Yet his list of works also includes music for children – witty, and never banal. His artistic interests cover a broad spectrum. Next to composing, the most important activity for him is conducting. This began with direction of the “Ensemble Köln” which he founded in 1979; nowadays, it increasingly involves guest appearances with international orchestras and ensembles. Friendship with visual artists and authors, an affinity with French culture that goes back to his infancy, and a fascination with Japanese culture have provided further inspirations for his multi-facetted musical world.