Jürg Frey at hcmf

Jurg Frey2015An advocate of silence as sound

Jürg Frey allows musical notes to appear on his blank sheet in a playful way, ‘Not because I have something in my mind…but I like to draw dots and strings. And through this process, the impression of what this piece could be, starts to come into the foreground.’ From there he begins a dialogue with the music; it’s a mindful approach, apparent in his work. Part of the ’90s Wandelweiser group, Frey has been an advocate of silence as sound; the contrails of which are still present in his slow-moving pieces or long, solitary notes.

‘We feel the ‘handwriting’ of Graham McKenzie’

He is being truly celebrated at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (hcmf) this November with the UK premier of String Quartet No.3 played by Quatuor Bozzini and world premier of Accurate Placement with double bassist, Dominic Lash, amongst other work. This highly respected event is nearly 40 years old and as Frey describes it, ‘We feel the ‘handwriting’ of Graham McKenzie,’ the innovative festival director who added improvisation and electronica to the contemporary classical menu. This year even features an interdisciplinary piece with Graham Massey of 808 State and visual artists.


Mavericks striving for the boldest version of their music

Originally a clarinetist, Jürg was brought up in the ’50s with his dad playing violin in an amateur orchestra and sax in a jazz combo – a rarity then – as Frey says, ‘We played Mozart and Benny Goodman.’ As a composer he found his form and took inspiration from the ‘individualists’ that Switzerland is so good at producing. It’s also what drew me to Swiss artists: mavericks striving for the boldest version of their music, unrestrained by conventionality or the mainstream.

Their paint strokes affected the rhythm of his pulse

This is hard, hard work though, and risky. And for Jürg there are traps in his highly reduced music; how can it be so minimised yet still breathing? ‘The danger is that you have something that is death…10 minutes of music and 20 minutes of death material!’ It was the abstract painting of Agnes Martin that showed there was a way. ‘It is flat on the wall, but floats in space, and fills up the whole space,’ is Frey’s magical description of Martin’s artwork, and as he spoke of her and the still life painter, Giorgio Morandi, I sensed how they had changed him, and it is this changed person who composes. As if their paint strokes affected the rhythm of his pulse.

JurgFrey_CirclesandLandscapesListening to the new album, Circles and Landscapes (out on Another Timbre), it has the solo pianist Philip Thomas press the keys with such resonating deliberation I felt I was at the piano with him. There is not only vibrant life in this music, but maturity. Frey’s journey continues, he is not ‘there’ yet, but he is beyond the need to prove something, or make a point. His music just is.

Jürg Frey at hcmf
22 Nov: Quatuor Bozzini
24 Nov: Konus Quartett
27 Nov: Ensemble Grizzana
27 Nov: Philip Thomas

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