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About Sergiu Celibidache, the Romanian compositional school and the new music - with professor and composer Michael Hamel

Tuesday, 6 March 2012 , ora 9.32
The professor and German composer, Michael Hamel was invited between 29th February and 3rd March at the National University of Music Bucharest. A member of the faculty at the University of Music and Theatre Hamburg (Hochschule für Musik und Theater Hamburg), he succeeded Gyorgy Ligeti as professor for composition and he is very connected to the personality of Sergiu Celibidache; one of his symphonies being first played under the baton of the Romanian conductor. In Bucharest, Michael Hamel held recitals, conferences and workshops, and he dedicated some to Celibidache.

I wanted to know why composer Michael Hamel chose to talk about a musician who was a conductor and not a composer.

Celibidache was not only a conductor, but also a composer and a philosopher. That is why, I see him as one of the most important personalities that Romania has ever produced. Just like Enescu - although Celibidache did not conduct his music very much - he is one of the most known Romanians who lived in exile. Professor Buciu, who was chancellor of the National University of Music, invited me here fifteen years ago precisely to talk about Celibidache. I also had many Romanian students in Hamburg, so I now believe that the connection between University of Music and Theatre Hamburg, where I teach, and your University is very close; I knew students that are now teachers here, and I also know your two chancellors. What's more, Romania's National Day, 1st December, was celebrated with a concert in Hamburg. Anyway, I must remark on the fact that a lot of composers who are now renowned worldwide are actually female composers, more specifically, Romanian female composers. It is not something at all frequent in the other Eastern or Western European countries- that ladies should write music.

So you are familiar with Romanian contemporary music, professor Hamel?

Yes, with some of it. I know how the students were taught here before they became graduates from our institution and I have noticed that the development of this Romanian school was always constant. And, more importantly, it also matters the fact that there were structural augmentations of the building: for example, we are now talking in this classroom that has been recently renovated and which will become a multimedia workshop. I can make a comparison with Prague, Warsaw or Budapest and I can say that the standard is higher here.

But let's get back to Celibidache for a moment - this year is the centennial of his birth, as it is for John Cage. For me, they are very similar, although they are so different - but only at first glance. It's true, one conducted classical and romantic music and the other wrote indeterminate, free music - what happens at a certain moment in time is already music; but one said 'a sound is not yet music' while the other one said 'I open the window, hear the traffic - here is the music!'. But these two very different musicians quoted the same spiritual mentor - Japanese master Zen Suzuki.

The pieces that I chose for my performance in Bucharest have something in common with both Celibidache and John Cage: I am, just as they were, preoccupied with time, with the moment in which the music happens, when it is born in sound. Before and after that moment, there is nothing. Cage followed this concept by dedicating himself to indeterminate music and Celibidache - to the idea that in a certain moment we are both at the end and at the beginning of something.

When I play a prepared piano, what is heard is not a piano; it may sound like an orchestra of percussionists, like music from Africa or from Belize. Even I do not know what exactly is heard, I leave the piano to play it. So my recital is In memoriam John Cage - him being the inventor of the prepared piano - but it is also equally dedicated to Celibidache, who said that it is better to be like children, innocent when it comes to the expectations we have of music.

You are also a professor and a composer; what do you try to find in new music and what do you teach your students to find in it? How do you define the sensibility of this type of music?

What I want is for young male and female composers to convey their own world in their works, to make genuine music, without thinking if it will suit the teacher's demands or those of the new music market. Of course, you have to take these things into consideration, but it is more important to be yourself, the real you. And that is not at all easy!


Because 'anything goes', because today anything is possible, everything is already out there. You can hear a piece that you think is funny or frightening, and someone else will say that that is the only way to write music. In the new music we return to key, to clear rhythms - surprisingly enough! My purpose is to have no purpose. As a composer, I only watch how things develop and unfold by themselves.

If 'anything goes' and if today there is no longer a purpose, what is the truth in music, professor Hamel?

This is a subjective question waiting for a subjective answer, that is, from a person who says 'the truth is only the one I know and the one I enforce', and this is an oppressive regime, an anarchy in which everyone has their own truth. In my compositional school there is no true or false; I would like to state that truth is relative, but there exists the possibility of a common truth. For instance, if we both go to the theatre, where we see an actor standing on the stage and breathing, we could both exclaim: yes! What poetry! And you are totally different from me. But we both said 'yes'. This is the truth.

So, the truth in today's music would manifest itself only when we all felt the same thing.

We can all feel something different, but if we feel together that a piece is about to end or that it will develop in a certain way, then there is a connection between several individuals. To find a deeper truth - this remains yet another desire, the wish that my music, or another's, would lead to a more tranquil world, with less wars, either physical or psychological. Peace would be, in a sense, my goal. But, of course, this is only my personal view of things.'

Maria Monica Bojin
Translated by Florina Sămulescu and Diana Maftei
MTTLC, Bucharest University