ROVNER: Tell us about your development as a composer. Which composers influenced you the most in your development?
WENGLER: In my early years as a composer I was profoundly influenced by the music of Mahler - the broad symphonic thinking, the dramatic development and, foremostly, the orchestration. Once somebody "With whom did you study orchestration?", to which I answered "With Mahler." I was also influenced by the film music of the time of my youth: its broadly descriptive musical language, as well as its dramatic and orchestral possibilities. Of course, I was influenced by Beethoven. Then I was influenced by Schoenberg, first of all early Schoenberg, such pieces as "Pelleas and Melisande," but also his later pieces like the Variations for Orchestra, opus 31 and the Music to a Film Scene, opus 34. Among the later day composers, Karl Amadeus Hartmann and Hans Werner Henze were strongly influentional in shaping my own musical language, by their musical language. In the 1970's, Henze's music was not as well known as it is today. What appeals to me in music is its expression. For me music is not something that should be calculated in one's head or mathematically; it is something which should be stated directly, not constructed. Music in its essence is expression.
ROVNER: As I know, you have a reputation not only as a composer, but also an esteemed conductor. In which institutions and with which teachers did you study composition and conducting?
WENGLER: I have studied at the Bruxelles Conservatory, where my teachers were Jean-Marie Simonis, Jacques Leduc and Marcel Quinet. My mentors for conducting were Igor Markevitch as well as Sergiu Celibidache, the Romanian conductor, who in 1951 was the conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, after which Herbert von Karajan took over his position. For many years I have been the assistant of Hans Werner Henze at the Cologne Music Academy and during this time I have conducted orchestras in London, Paris, Cologne, Hannover and in Munich. Together with Henze we recorded film music with the Munich Philharmonic. But I also have written music for numerous Luxembourgish films, including many documentary films.
ROVNER: Could you describe your activities at the Luxembourg Society for Contemporary Music? When has it been established and what kind of activities does it engage itself in?
WENGLER: Six years ago, in 1994, I became head of the Luxembourg Society for Contemporary Music. During this time we have put on numerous concerts and published CD's of contemporary composers. The LGNM has been established in 1983 as a society, the aim of which was to promote the music of Luxembourgish composers, both in Luxembourg and in other countries, to make the Luxembourgish musical legacy better known in other countries. It was established by five composers, living in Luxembourg, myself included. Before that, there has not been any society of this kind in existence, and Luxembourgish composers had very few chances of having their music performed in their native country as well as in other countries, in which there was very little interest in Luxembourgish music. In the beginning the financial situation was modest. Our committee had to conduct our activities in a freelance form. Today we have an agreement with the Ministery of Culture, which guarantees financial support for our activities. The LGNM joined the ISCM in 1985, two years after it has been established.
Among our activities is an annual festival, which we have organized, called "Classiques du 20-ieme Siecle," which happens each year in the fall - in October or in November. Each year the festival is devoted to one well-known composer. The last few festivals were devoted to the music of, respectively, Alban Berg, Arnold Schoenberg, Bohuslav Martinu, Bela Bartok, Igor Stravinsky, Aaron Copland, Karl Amadeus Hartmann, Hans Werner Henze and Maurice Ohana. After this present World Music Days Festival will be over, we will start to prepare for the next festival of the "Classiques du 20-ieme Siecle," devoted to Allan Pettersson. There are also three festivals, devoted to a wider array of composers from Luxembourg and from other countries. There have been many concerts of contemporary orchestral music, organized by the LGNM, performed by the Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by me. We also have a music publishing house, the "Editions-LGNM" which publishes scores and CD's by Luxembourgish composers.
One of the latest achievements of our society, was the establishment of the Luxembourg Sinfonietta last year, in 1999. This is an ensemble of about ten to fifteen instruments, including some unusual ones, like the tuba, the accordion, the mandolin and the harpsichord. Before that, there were occasional small ensembles, who performed concerts organized by our society on an irregular basis, so the establishment of the Luxembourg Sinfonietta was another step in strengthening the mutual cooperation of Luxembourgish composers and the promotion of their art. The ensemble performs only premieres of new pieces. The Sinfonietta has had one CD published by the Editions-LGNM, titled as “Luxembourg Sinfonietta, World Premiere Recordings” (catalogue number 401), where I am the conductor. It features chamber music by eight different composers from various countries. We have had contacts with countries from all over the world, where we invited musicians from other countries to perform contemporary music in Luxembourg, and in turn were invited to other countries to perform there. One of our recent guests was Swiss composer, Jean-Luc Darbellay, who came over with his wife Elizabeth Darbellay, who plays the english horn, his son Olivier Darbellay, who plays the cello and the horn, and a French saxophonist Marc Sieffert. Together they played a very interesting program of contemporary Swiss music, foremostly the music of Jean-Luc Darbellay. We have had many contacts and exchanges of this type, for example with Israel and Portugal in 1995, when Luxembourg was the "Cultural Capital of Europe".
Finally, I could mention the Luxembourg Music Information Center, which is part of the International Association of Music Information Centers, and whose aim is to publish catologues of works by Luxembourgish composers, and to participate in a world-wide joint data bank for new music on internet.
ROVNER: Who are some of the other Luxembourgish composers, involved in the LGNM?
WENGLER: Most of the Luxembourgish composers, involved with the LGNM, have been performed during our Festival such as, René Hemmer, Luc Rollinger, Johny Fritz, Jeannot Heinen, Steve Kaspar, Camille Kerger, Claude Lenners, Georges Lentz, Marco Pütz, Marcel Reuter and Roland Wiltgen.
ROVNER: Tell us about the role of Luxembourg in the ISCM presently and in earlier years.
WENGLER: Up to very recent times, Luxembourg - the smallest ISCM Section - has not had enough of a voice at the ISCM and Luxembourgish composers have never been selected at the World Music Days Festivals. The first time that a work by a Luxembourgish composer was performed in the World Music Days festival was in 1996, when I suggested the Artistic Director of the World Music Days in Copenhagen to programme the String Quartet by René Hemmer. The second time it happened, was when my Violin Concerto has been jury-selected and performed at the World Music Days in Romania in 1999. This year, in the World Music Days 2000 at Luxembourg, it was my intention as artistic director to have represented ALL the ISCM sections in the festival.
It was quite a surprising event, when in 1997 it was decided to have the World Music Days Festival in 2000 arranged in Luxembourg. This is how it happened. Originally, it was planned that Israel was to conduct it in 2000. But in 1997, the Israeli government was making severe budget cuts in the arts, so the Israeli section was forced to turn down the project. The plan was to move all the subsequently planned festivals a year earlier, and to have, for instance the festival in Japan, which was scheduled in 2001, changed to 2000. However this plan did not work either, since the Japanese section declared that it needs four years of adequate preparation time to organize the festival, since they have already planned their budget and their activities in advance. The only thing left to do was to have one of the other countries take over the initiative for the year 2000. The General Secretary of the ISCM, made a joking remark to me "How about it if Luxembourg would volunteer to put up the festival?", to which I answered in all seriousness, "I will propose the idea to the Minister of Culture of Luxembourg, and see if she agrees." I did make a request to the Ministry of Culture and one day later, I was able to give the ISCM committee a favorable reply. So, this way it was decided to arrange the festival in 2000 in Luxembourg.
We started preparing for the festival virtually from zero. In the first few months after that, I came up with the first schedule for the events of the festival, and shortly after that, I came up with the budget. Soon, the organization of the festival was going on at an intense level. At first, it was tremendously hard for me to convince some of the most important ensembles and orchestras to agree to perform in the World Music Days Festival, since many of them had scheduled events many years prior to their actual occurrence, but with a considerable amount of effort, I succeeded in inviting them to the festival. Gradually, things began moving faster, and the preparation for the festival was going on more successfully. Now I could say that the festival has turned out to be a great success. This is true not only in regards to Luxembourg, for which this is the first truly grand-scale, international event of this type in the area of contemporary music, but also for Europe in general and for the World Music Days Festivals in particular. I am especially pleased to say that this festival was the first one in which the Ensemble Intercontemporain from France and the Ensemble Modern from Germany have performed - prior to that, they have never performed at the World Music Days Festivals.
It is very important, when you are presenting good music at a festival, to have good performers interpret it: this way they give the best possible presentation of the music, which otherwise would be minimalized by performers of lesser quality.
I am quite surprised that we have had such a good amount of audience come to the concerts of the festival. But I think this is the result of our work in terms of advertizing and public relations. The Minister of Culture came to five concerts of the festival and expressed her admiration at the large amount of audience, who came to these concerts. This showed the tremendous success that we had in organizing the festival.
ROVNER: What could you tell us about your own music? What aesthetic trend do you follow and what genres do you write in the most? At the World Music Days Festival, during the last few days, two compositions of yours have been performed - your Flute Concerto, performed by soloist Carlo Jans and the Swiss Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Klaus Arp, and your composition "Der Unbekannte Engel" (The Unknown Angel) for soprano and orchestra, with the soloist Ruth Maria Nicolay, soprano, and the Luxembourg Sinfonietta, conducted by you. The first piece had a very interesting combination of a very tense and dramatic type of music for orchestra, with a very light-weight, virtuosic and happy type of music for flute - these two opposite emotional moods coexisted very well in the piece. The second piece had a harmonious blend of tonal and atonal harmonies, the former resulting in almost a Mahlerian song approach, in the tradition of the Mahler songs for voice and orchestra, though not imitating directly, and blending very well with more contemporary type of musical thinking. Your percussion piece, "Batuque" was recently performed at the "Europe-Asia" Festival in Kazan, Tatarstan, Russia, which involved a dramatic sound of rather steady rhythmic pulsation with a very colorful conglomeration of the most various timbral effects of the instruments of the percussion category. Could you describe these works as well as other works of yours? What is your overall approach towards music and which genres do you write in?
WENGLER: The moods in the Flute Concerto were in no way meant to contradict each other, and the orchestral part of the work, though tense and dramatic, is in no way meant to be tragic. It essentially follows the requirements of the instruments involved. The flute by its nature cannot play heavy or dramatic type of music. Its very texture and sound suggest a light-weight type of music. In this work it is like a delicate woman, a dancer, who is making graceful movements of dance. She is supported and complemented by the orchestra, which represents a more sturdy, heavy-weight element, which could be said to be the male element. My work "Der Unbekannte Engel" attempts to follow the tradition of the German works for voices and orchestra, bringing new means of more contemporary expression into this tradition. My percussion piece, "Batuque," which has been recently performed at the "Europe-Asia" Festival in Kazan, uses for its name a Brazilian word, meaning a fixed rhythmic pattern or idea, which is repeated over and over again by Brazilian percussion players in the folk tradition. In my piece, the same rhythmic idea, which is sometimes slightly modified, is repeated on all the different instruments of the percussion group, producing the most varied conglomeration of textures and timbral combinations. The greatest amount of music that I have written has been in the genre of orchestra music. I have written a few chamber pieces, notably a String Trio and a piece for flute and harp, as well as "Batuque" for percussion ensemble. Nonetheless, I have mostly concentrated on orchestral music, including concerti for solo instruments and orchestra (oboe, violin, viola, cello) and pieces for voice and orchestra. Among my other compositions, my Second Symphony, a large-scale, dramatic work in one movement, was recorded on CD with the Luxembourg Symphony Orchestra.
My music generally follows a more or less traditional orchestral approach, without using any special extended techniques or avant-garde trends, and the harmonic language in my music, for the most part atonal, freely incorporates tonality into itself at will. I like to work with the orchestra, since it presents a very supple and broad instrument for the most varied forms of expression. For me, music is in its essence a form of expression. It does not explain itself, nor does it have a need to do so, but it in itself is an explanation. It is like a story, but without words or without concrete concepts or images. Most of my musical compositions are in one movement. My music has a strong narrative element to it; it is like a film by its recounting event, though it does not get into the danger of literal recounting of concrete extra-musical events. A number of music critics have compared my compositions to landscapes. I often have an imaginary landscape in my head, and it comes out as a landscapes in my music. A number of young students, who have heard some of my pieces, told me that when they listened to them, they came up with various stories, which resulted from the successive dramatic events and images of my music. In this sense, music must be like a story, but without the concrete events of a verbally recounted story. I like to utilize the varied colors of the orchestra in the most varied and dramatic way. Music in itself is movement and transition from one stage to the next. Drama and character are its inherent elements. Though in "absolute music" there are no real, exact stories, each piece does present itself as a story.
ROVNER: What are your plans for the future as far as continuing the activities of the Luxembourg Society for New Music and how will this World Music Days Festival will be successful in having an impact on future musical events in Luxembourg?
WENGLER: The World Music Days Festival, as had been said, has been a great success, and the first truly international mega-festival of this type in Luxembourg. It has succeeded in bringing a large amount of remarkable musicians from various countries and has proved that Luxembourg could be a very adequate place for conducting major international musical events and a worthy place of intersection for musicians from various countries and pertaining to various stylistic and aesthetical platforms. I hope that the World Music Days Festival will give us a better international situation than we have had in the past, that we will establish more contacts, more international concerts and more cultural exchange between countries.
I want to see Luxembourg not as just a small country in Europe, but as ONE of the European countries, a full-fledged, active member of the European musical community and a small center of music, including here contemporary music, with its own initiative and pulsation. I do not want it merely to reflect outside influences from other countries, but to exert its own influence on other countries, to make its own waves and to establish its own resonance in the musical spheres of Europe and the world. For this we need to be more active in producing concerts of good quality, of enhancing our activities in contemporary music, to encourage our composers to write qualified music of merit and to see to it that it gets performed not only in Luxembourg but in other countries. We also need to organize more international events, such as World Music Days, to bring over the best musicians from Europe and around the world to perform in our festivals and our venues. I think that the activities of the Luxembourg Society of Contemporary Music, from the time of its emergence, and especially the World Music Days Festival in 2000 in Luxembourg, have succeeded in greatly enhancing these wishes and aims of mine.