Real utopias


What are the characteristics of Swiss contemporary music ensembles? We have embarked on a survey – albeit one that is by necessity a work in progress.

Johannes Knapp - 2019-06-25
Real utopias - Ambassador of an innovative Swiss music scene: the Nouvel Ensemble Contemporain   ©Pablo Fernandez
Ambassador of an innovative Swiss music scene: the Nouvel Ensemble Contemporain ©Pablo Fernandez

Whether in the metropolitan areas or in the provinces: there are many places in Switzerland that have their own professional ensemble for contemporary music. Our dossier here is dedicated to these audacious creative communities comprising between 3 and 30 individuals. When we speak of “ensembles”, we thus mean less a specific musical line-up than a particular spirit, a working mentality, an approach to art – and even a philosophy of life.

In our overview article, we investigate the raison d’être of several well-known Swiss ensembles that have dedicated themselves to the music of our time. We outline their artistic profile, and let the protagonists themselves speak. Some practise forms of musical collaboration not dissimilar from those of a classical symphony orchestra, while others are collectives advancing into undreamt-of regions, leaving far behind them all classical notions of what constitutes a practising musician.

Despite all their diversity, the ensembles portrayed here are united most of all in their delight in thinking beyond the real, and in continually refining their sense of what is possible (sometimes even venturing into the realm of the impossible). In this manner, they are able to open up new horizons that lie beyond the mere process of reproduction that we find in established cultural practices.

Before our readers continue perusing this dossier, we wish to point out that the present writer originally intended to offer an exhaustive survey – but the Swiss ensemble scene is so varied, versatile and vast that any such notion soon had to be abandoned. New groups are shooting up like mushrooms, especially in the big cities. So it seemed more appropriate to embark on a process of mapping out their artistic territory instead. We plan to expand this dossier at a later date with individual portraits, interviews, background reports and much more. Be prepared for surprises!


Our author, Johannes Knapp, has just been appointed the artistic director of the Collegium Novum Zürich. He was originally intended to have editorial responsibility for this whole dossier, and to coordinate its articles. However, in order to remain faithful to our journalistic principles, we swiftly reached the mutual conclusion that this dossier now has to be assigned to someone else. We should like to thank Johannes Knapp for working with us.