In September 2015, the cultural life of Ticino, the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, experienced a groundbreaking shift.
With the inauguration of its first real centre for performing arts and exhibitions, the Lugano LAC: Lugano Arte e Cultura. This was something truly epochal because, despite the fact that during the 20th century the cultural activities of Switzerland south of the Alps had considerably developed (starting from a very provincial base and focussed on the exclusive development of tourism), none of the Ticinese cities had ever had the foresight to equip themselves with a modern and adequate structure for exhibitions, shows or concerts. With the LAC, a gap was filled - sometimes even embarrassingly so - and with it came a new cycle of possibilities and hope.
To understand what has changed from a musical perspective in Lugano over the past three years, we have turned to Nadir Vassena who (besides being a composer, a professor at the Ticino Conservatory, a winner of the Swiss Music Award and was for seven years artistic co-director of the Tage für neue Musik in Zurich) is among the promoters of some of the most interesting and innovative musical ideas of the LAC.
Definitions don’t really work
However, enthusiasm and innovation can sometimes pose preliminary problems, above all when trying to better define a type of music often referred to "cultured", "new", "contemporary" or "academic". How to clarify matters, at least in the terminology?
Nadir Vassena : Basically, definitions don’t really work in the artistic field, even if sometimes they are necessary for communicative convenience. We can use temporal parameters - contemporary is the music we do today - or stylistic ones, but even making an intersection between these two doesn’t really lead to satisfactory definitions”. Hence, the new music on offer at the LAC eschews categories because its "mission is precisely that of constantly redefining what music is, the listening process, the relationship with the audience, the writing and the new technology. I therefore came up with a new "conceptual category": music that is never satisfied.
In fact - under the LuganoMusica umbrella, which also includes a classical repertoire season – "music that is never satisifed" at the LAC is an intersection between tradition and innovation. On one hand, there are the Oggimusica concerts (the first association to offer contemporary music in Ticino, founded in 1977) and on the other, there’s the EAR series (Electro Acoustic Room).
N.V.: EAR was born two years ago with the aim of highlighting electro-acoustic music, from acusmatic productions to live electronics in a live concert context. With a new attitude that maintains that the loudspeakers of real musical instruments are ‘played’ as if they were instruments themselves in the concert venue. Even if you reproduce finished set pieces, the diffusion at the time of the concert is always an interpretation in itself, as is the interpretation of a Beethoven sonata.
Seek out, put forward, question and react
Whereas Oggimusica has for years been running the gauntlet of ever-evolving contemporaneity, as well as challenging questions of taste, media and ideology.
N.V.: In Ticino in 1977, there was practically no alternative music on offer, not even in the record shops. Today, the musical landscape has been turned on its head because every type of music is now available online. The spirit of the association, however, has remained the same: to seek out, put forward, question and react to musical experiences that are not satisfied with what the market usually offers.
A postmodernist cultural mission? Perhaps yes, but without the rigidity of the preachers.