Imagine that a concert ends and the thrilled audience clapping their hands will be surprised by an encore they’ve never heard before – this is the Bamberg Symphony's new project to show that contemporary music can be fun! On our many tours, the orchestra often has the pleasure of giving encores to enthusiastic audiences: Bamberg Symphony has toured more than 60 countries and performed more than 6500 concerts worldwide. There are a number of enduring classics, which can be dug out of the musical briefcase: Slavonic or Hungarian Dances by Dvořák and Brahms, Johann Strauss’s Waltzes and many more. There are some symphonic works, however, that do not allow the addition of these often-performed encores.
The Bamberg Symphony is looking to revive the established practice of encores and accommodate it in the 21st century. We commissioned a number of internationally renowned composers to write encores for the orchestra: popular pieces that are on a par with the catchy tunes of Dvořák, Brahms and Strauss and prove that contemporary music can in fact be ‘entertainment music’ in the best sense of the term.
The reaction of the composers we asked was overwhelming: many artists identified with our idea and were excited to have the opportunity to write an encore for the orchestra. It can be quite daunting to express a musical idea in the rather short timeframe of an encore and at the same time promote new music to audiences who just heard a full evening concert programme. The piece needs to meet the two major requirements of an encore: brevity and popularity. I believe that a commission needs to challenge the composer to create something truly original and writing a good encore might well be the supreme discipline in classical music composition.
We are now a few months into the project and it has been a great success so far. The Swiss composer David Philip Hefti was tasked to write an encore to be performed after Strauss’s Alpine Symphony, which is not an easy act to follow. Hefti faced the challenge brilliantly: just like Strauss he used the strength of the full orchestra and referred to motives of the Alpine Symphony in his 5-minute long encore. Mauricio Sotelo composed an encore to follow Anton Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony. The piece was fittingly titled Bruckner Nachklang (‘Bruckner After-Sound’).
It is very enriching to see how the project contributes to establishing new links within classical music as well as extending the musical repertoire. In the coming season alone the orchestra will perform encores by Hans Abrahamsen, Simon Holt, David Lang and Poul Ruders. Many more composers will follow in the years to come, such as Chaya Czernowin, Georg Friedrich Haas, and Toshio Hosokawa just to name a few. Some of the encores that those composers have in store for us are humoristic comments on the preceding concert, while others are spectacular fireworks – but all of them enrich our repertoire and the audience’s concert experience immensely.
The audiences’ reactions to the encores have been extremely positive and show that contemporary music can be entertaining and that it can be enjoyed at the same level as the traditional repertoire. It demonstrates that nowadays there should not be a distinction between old and new music any longer but instead just between good and bad music, notwithstanding their date of origin.