January's themed month explores the world of contemporary music through the eyes of some top performers in specialised ensembles. We continue our interviews series with Eva Böcker, cellist at the Ensemble Modern.

© Andreas Etter
© Andreas Etter
Why did you choose to specialise in contemporary music as opposed to mainstream classical?

It wasn't so much a decision to specialise in contemporary music, but rather a choice to join a group of musicians whom I very much enjoy playing with. 

I don't feel limited by our Ensemble's specialisation. The music of our time is so varied – more so, than that of any other period. Spectral, minimal, tonal, atonal, experimental, serial, etc as well as cross-overs of different musical styles. 

Generally my aim is to play as much good music as possible, music of any style or age. 

Is playing Contemporary music more challenging than playing classical music? For instance, do you need more time to master the technical aspects, do you find it more difficult to interpret?

I don't think one style of music is per se more challenging to interpret than another, but of course some works require more time for preparation than others. Quite often pieces that we play demand enormous virtuosity, a challenge which I am happy to accept!

Instrumentally we deal with the same challenges as with Beethoven or Tchaikovsky: intonation, rhythm, sound quality, phrasing, etc.

Additional unconventional instrumental techniques are tools to create a larger spectrum of sounds demanded by many of today's composers.

There are composers who invent their own notation, which can mean having to learn a whole new 'alphabet'.  To someone who has not played much contemporary music, this may seem like a big hurdle to overcome, but learning to read new signs is usually less time consuming than one would think.

Do you think your approach to contemporary music is similar to the way early music ensembles approach their music?

There seems to be a common consent that Baroque specialists and new music specialists have a similar approach. For string players this may be true when it comes to sound production; vibrato is used more sparingly than in romantic repertoire, it is one of many tools for expression. 

Apart from this, I think that the work of Baroque and new music players differs enormously.

Baroque musicians put much work into historic research. Their aim is to come as close as possible to a performance as it would have been heard when the music was first performed. In my Ensemble we are lucky to get all information first hand from the composers!

How involved are you within each project and to what extent can each member put forward ideas about what to play and with whom?

Every member who wishes to can get involved in the planning of a project. To know that you can contribute not only to the musical outcome of a concert, but also to the actual content of it, creates a boost of motivation!

Are audience responses to contemporary music changing? Does it differ in different countries?

Just like the music of different countries varies (still today we can often recognise English music as distinctly English, and French music as distinctly French!), audiences do have different tastes from one country to another which is sometimes noticeable from their reaction.

On the whole, classical music audiences seem to be becoming more conservative, but this luckily doesn't go for our audience, especially our 'home' audience in Frankfurt. I'm always touched and grateful for its willingness to make new discoveries with us!

Which is the most exciting new work you've performed? Could you please describe why?

I can't possibly choose one work only!

I loved a project we did in Frankfurt recently with two pieces that included audience participation. Both composers, Huang Ruo and Christian Mason came up with beautiful pieces and very efficient and charming solutions to tricky problems. The audience was able to cope with its task without ever being over - or under - challenged. The atmosphere in the concert was great, we were all in the same boat! I also loved the work we did on a piece called Karakuri by Ondrej Adámek, of which we have made a video. This piece is full of energy without being heavy or brutal, and some beautiful theatrical aspects are used in the solo voice part. It involves a large variety of special instrumental techniques, which all make absolute musical sense.

Two of my all time favourites are Lachenmann's Mouvement and Gérard Grisey's Vortex Temporum. Do I need to describe why? They are simply pillars of the music of the 20th century!