The Contrechamps ensemble, beacon of Swiss contemporary music based in Geneva, has just announced the appointment of its new artistic director, Serge Vuille, who will take up his post in April. An excellent piece of news and the perfect excuse for meeting the passionate, versatile musician and curator.
From the Morges conservatory to Royal College London
At first, there was the shock of hearing as a little boy "these young Yvorne drummers passing loudly through the streets on New Year’s Eve". Soon after came the discovery of the drums and the xylophone at Morges Conservatory. He then went to La Chaux-de-Fonds to follow his teacher Maxime Favroz and continue his professional studies. He formed the We Spoke: music company, a contemporary music collective guided by audacity and eclecticism. For the past last nine years, Serge Vuille has lived in London under the musical guidance of pianist friend Antoine Françoise, who encouraged him to audition at the Royal College of Music.
Hackuarium (We Spoke, 2016)
Today, it is the same Antoine Françoise ("eternal gratitude") who is the ensemble’s pianist and who informed Serge that Contrechamps was looking for a new artistic director. This means that meetings, great opportunities and collaborations are very much at the center of his musical career. "Things often happen one after the other, without a lot of decision-making ..."
He has spent years twisting and turning his diary like a Rubik's Cube, back and forth between London, Switzerland, Germany. He’s woven links across a valuable network that has seen him play, among others, with the London Sinfonietta, the Ictus Ensemble, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the Martin Creed Band. Plus, he’s also taken over a series of monthly concerts Kammer Klang at Café Oto (the hotbed of London’s contemporary music scene) and has brought We Spoke from the Academy of Darmstadt to the Bourg in Lausanne, all the time emancipating himself from the sometimes rigid straitjacket of contemporary and experimental music.
In England, he is "amazed by the level of musicianship" and has been strongly inspired by the emulation that exists there. "All the great Brit Pop artists have had an influence not just on their direct music scene, but also on others. Stockhausen influenced Radiohead and now Steve Reich’s compositions are inspired by Radiohead. I like this fluidity. No-one is bothered by it in the UK, it’s really liberating! Anything is possible as long as you play well».
Written music is particularly close to his heart and he wants to bring it closer to experimentation of all kinds: « I like the great density that we find here, this research that’s refined and beautiful to study, it’s exciting to share it as much as possible. It’s often a question of access, of packaging ; communication and the environment also play an important role in the transmission. To put forward these types of music in more eclectic places means you can modify their reception. While remaining serious in one’s work, I think it’s essential to try and break down some barriers, decompartmentalize in general».
A question of appetite
As a programmer, he strives to create events that he himself would like to attend, paying particular attention to the programme schedule: "In fact, it's a bit like composing a menu, it's a matter of appetite. If you serve bruschetta as a starter, then a nice fondue followed by a steak with morels, it doesn’t really go, even though each dish is delicious. If you replace certain things with a dessert, or a schnapps, it’s immediately more digestible ». But what does the fondue represent then? « Oh, let's say a piece by a Swiss composer, 25 minutes long and very dense! What I mean is that there’s a tendency to programme compositions that are quite similar, whereas I’d have a tendency to mix things up, to diversify sounds and pleasure».
Create curiosity rather than distance
Mediation is a key issue for him. To open up to a wider audience, create contacts, a sense of belonging, to allow audience and musicians to meet: « To create curiosity rather than distance, to advance together in understanding the music. We have to open up because people like to discover new things! » But is the contemporary music audience, sometimes considered to be rather narrow-minded, ready to follow the lead? « This will be one of the main issues with Contrechamps. It's a huge opportunity for me to work with a 40-year-old ensemble graced with extraordinary talent and a loyal following. It’s necessary to honour this heritage, look after their audience and also try to nurture a new one ».
Opening things up, digging in new directions, daring to explore different avenues, whilst always respecting artistic integrity of the work and people. But the question is, how far can written contemporary music be taken? "Up to infinity! John Cage pushes this to the extreme by writing unplayable tracks. Today there are plenty of examples of music pushing in this direction, like a genre called "Black midi" where a computer plays millions of notes per second. Certain things can’t be played or completely heard, but they can be thought up. What is interesting in my opinion is how it’s the instrumentalist who finds the solutions. In the classical world, there is a will to put the note before the music, but I think it’s necessary to reverse this process. The search for perfection is important of course, but the live concert is also another issue: a moment of exchange and sharing. We can try out new things and even suggest ideas still in their infancy, but we must have the courage to reveal our intentions, to be honest with the situation».
Serge Vuille questions himself a lot on contemporary music and does not lack ideas, which he calls "sketches of solutions". As of April, aged just 34, his appointment as artistic director of the Contrechamps ensemble begins. He will settle in Geneva and devote himself entirely to this new role. "There are still unexplored avenues, there’s a lot to do, including creating an international dimension». We look forward to it all !
Concert Best of - 40 years of Contrechamps, 06/13/2017