Heiner Goebbels: A House of Call

Heiner Goebbels: A House of Call

"Goebbels' most mature and complete masterpiece" (Süddeutsche Zeitung)

More than 25 years after Surrogate Cities, a full-length collection of material about big cities, their sounds, noises, and their mechanics, are now delighted about A House of Call – a new orchestral work by Heiner Goebbels in which he listens in on encounters with the most diverse voices and acoustic experiences. The musicians of Ensemble Modern, Heiner Goebbels’ artistic partners for many decades, musically respond to these faceless voices like a kind of choir, a secular responsory. After the terrific start at the opening of the Musikfest Berlin, the Ensemble Modern Orchestra and conductor Vimbayi Kaziboni go on a first tour to Cologne, Düsseldorf, Hamburg and Munich – may many stops follow!

Heiner Goebbels – A House of Call (2020)

my imaginary notebook
for large orchestra
Instrumentation: Heiner Goebbels & Diego Ramos Rodríguez - - timp.4perc - cimb.hp.acc.git(e-git).pf - samp -

Commissioned by Ensemble Modern, Berliner Festspiele / Musikfest Berlin, Kölner Philharmonie, beuys2021, Elbphilharmonie Hamburg, musica viva / Bayerischer Rundfunk, Wien Modern, and Casa da Música Porto.

A project within the framework of BTHVN 2020. Funded by the Minister of State for Culture and the Media.

WP: 30.08.2021, Berlin


30.08.2021 (WP)
Ensemble Modern OrchestraVimbayi Kaziboni (cond.), Musikfest Berlin

Ensemble Modern OrchestraVimbayi Kaziboni (cond.), Kölner Philharmonie

Ensemble Modern OrchestraVimbayi Kaziboni (cond.), beuys2021, Düsseldorf

Ensemble Modern OrchestraVimbayi Kaziboni (cond.), Elbphilharmonie, Hamburg

Ensemble Modern OrchestraVimbayi Kaziboni (cond.), musica viva, Munich

Ensemble Modern OrchestraVimbayi Kaziboni (cond.), Holland Festival, Amsterdam

Ensemble Modern OrchestraVimbayi Kaziboni (cond.), Festival FRATOPIA, Frankfurt am Main

Ensemble Modern OrchestraVimbayi Kaziboni (cond.), Wien Modern, Vienna

London Philharmonic OrchestraVimbayi Kaziboni (cond.), Royal Festival Hall, London

World premiere of A House of Call, Berlin 2021


“The piece is a sort of mega-symphony in 15 parts and ultimately nothing less than an aggregation of lateral thinking by this amazing anti-composer, who in his music-theatre pieces (Eisler Material) has always, including now, managed the balancing act between philosophy, rock, resistance, avant garde and public success... Acoustical objets trouvés have been elaborated in his imagination and grown into independent pieces which, while never maltreating their respectfully tended sources, are harmoniously assimilated into the 15-part suite A House of Call, Goebbels’s most mature and complete masterpiece.”
—Süddeutsche Zeitung, 31.08.2021

“The result is a topical masterpiece of almost unsurpassable sensuality, devastation, melancholy and ecstasy, diversity of voices and consternation, one that raises any number of questions. And that – reflecting our times – offers answers strained by contradictions.”
—nd, 02.09.2021

Musically, A House of Call surveys the entire range of Goebbels’s involvements to date. You hear his enthusiasm for larger jazz formations like Charlie Haden’s politically focussed Liberation Music Orchestra and Don Cherry’s world-music oriented New Eternal Rhythm Orchestra. You also hear his take on the compositional approaches of New Music, about which this artist with sampling, collage and montage still feels uneasy. In any event, there are too many trails to follow in a single hearing. A good thing, then, that this triumphant world premiere will have a future in Hamburg, Cologne, Munich and Vienna.
—Der Tagesspiegel, 01.09.2021

World premiere of A House of Call, Berlin 2021


Winrich Hopp, artistic director of the Musikfest Berlin and Munich’s musica viva concert series, spoke to Heiner Goebbels about A House of Call.

Winrich Hopp: Dear Heiner, when considering your artistic circle, two composer names keep recurring: the Dutchman Louis Andriessen and the Frenchman Luc Ferrari. It seems to me that you have special sympathy for them, next to John Cage and Helmut Lachenmann.

Heiner Goebbels: Yes, both of them had a different, more »relaxed« relationship with their listeners. I have known and esteemed Louis Andriessen’s work since the 1970s, and we are friends; I was friends with Luc Ferrari – sadly, he left us far too early ... I always perceived Ferrari’s music as an invitation in which the material was not strongly hierarchical. He didn’t try to convince people, overwhelm or shock them. Such a stance of authority towards the audience, which was quite commonly found even among composers of his generation, was alien to him.

WH: I find it interesting that you use the word »relaxed«. After all, there is enormous tension in Beethoven’s music. In Adorno’s Beethoven book, which remained a fragment and was published posthumously, but conceived as a »philosophy of music«, he divided music in general into an »intense type« and an »extensive type«. The »intense type« is driven forward by time, even if it is this type itself which drives time from within. The »extensive type«, on the other hand, has time and takes its time. Of course there are mixed forms. What does tension and relaxation mean to you? Does it affect art itself, or does it describe the artist’s attitude?

HG: »Relaxation« is really a polemic term, for when something is truly relaxed, it can be incredibly boring. What I mean, rather, is whether you meet the audience at eye level, or if as a listener, you have the impression that here is someone who thinks it necessary to enlighten or lecture me from on high. In Beethoven’s case, such an air of superiority did hinder my approach. I believe that I have been damaged by a definition of repertoire that was narrowed to the classical. In the small town in the Palatinate where I grew up, lucky coincidence would have it that the art deco town hall offered a rich and varied music programme, enabling me to experience the most important soloists, orchestras and conductors of this era. Even Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic came to the Palatinate; that was a big event, and perhaps it impressed me, but it failed to move me. What moved me were the slow movements in Bach’s violin concerti played by David Oistrach, or early, near-theatrical experiences when Celibidache seemed to dance through the air above the podium, when Mstislav Rostropovich made the audience wait for a quarter of an hour, or when the well-known Beethoven pianist Elly Ney played ›Guten Abend, gut’ Nacht‹ as an encore, asking the entire hall to sing along. Suddenly, we transcended the borders of what was a classical, academic concert.

WH: Did that motivate you to compose not just »pieces«, but actually the concert format itself?

HG: Yes, and to alter it. For example, there was an attempt in the 1980s to reconceive Heiner Müller’s ›Mann im Fahrstuhl‹ with jazz musicians as a staged concert – or to work with microphones and lighting in the first concerts with Ensemble Modern, and at least to employ other strategies questioning the stereotypes of the concert form. Only much later did I meet the more complex Beethoven, who has other sides – as Adorno pointed out: the Beethoven of the bagatelles or the fourth piano concerto, or the late sonatas.

Read complete interview

Rehearsals for A House of Call, Berlin 2021

Scores of A House of Call 

View scores of all parts

Photos: Astrid Ackermann
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