The history of ascolta
The ensemble ascolta in Stuttgart originated in the former ensemble Varianti, belonging to the institution Musik der Jahrhunderte (Music of the Centuries), which performed contemporary chamber music in variable instrumentations of all sizes at most european new music festivals and for many recordings.
In 2002 the ensemble took the running of the ensemble into its own hands, restructured entirely and now presents itself as a group of seven instruments: trumpet, trombone, 2 percussion, piano, cello and guitar. The excited reactions of many composers who immediately promised to write for the ensemble confirmed our conviction that we can articulate new positions within the field of contemporary music.
The name ascolta was introduced in 2003.
The reformation of the ensemble was driven principally by the desire to make our own rules of work: to bypass the prevalent time constrictions in order to bring unusual calm, responsibility and care to the preparation of performances and also to the selection of repertoire, choice of instruments and performance techniques.
The ensemble members, who are variously active as soloists, teachers or composers, see it as their responsibility to be at the composers' disposal during the creation of the composition.
Each member has reponsibilities of artistic direction and ensemble management.
The lessons of the past have shown that the flowering of certain parts of the repertoire and so the development of musical history have been brought about by the active engagement of single persons or musical bodies. Conversely, a composer, looking for a certain sound, cannot find it if the available ensemble cannot produce or support it. Discussions with composers have revealed to us that ascolta can create a substantial repertoire with this "sound" which is in its best sense "contemporary".
Furthermore, it seems to be the desire of many composers not only just to write for this new formation but also, through working with particular ensemble members and using their vast experience and capabilities, to develop new ideas.
Besides the newly created repertoire for the seven ascolta instruments the ensemble also field smaller groups, for example the duos trumpet/trombone or piano/percussion.
Concert activities and repertoire
The SWR (south german radio) has several times enabled ascolta to suggest composers for commissions. Three such commissions were premiered at the Eclat festivals in 2004 and 2006.
ascolta's film project was initiated in 2004 in collaboration with the Stuttgart State Gallery with five new compositions by Gunter Lege, Cathy Milliken, Cornelius Schwehr, Martin Smolka and Caspar Johannes Walter to experimental silent films of the 1920s and 30s. In collaboration with ZDF/Arte and ZKM Karlsruhe a second group of compositions was recorded, broadcast several times on television and released on DVD. The film project has now grown to over 30 compositions with performances throughout Germany, in Salzburg and in Baku (Azerbaijan). In autumn 2011 the project grew further to include contemporary film with new music, in collaboration with the Stuttgart Art Academy and Music Highschool.
In 2006 ascolta was invited by the SWR to perform an "ars nova" concert of "Music for Marcel Duchamp" including a substantial group of Fluxus compositions. Further concerts with music by John Cage and Fluxus performances took place in 2012 and 2013. A short film of Fluxus actions can be found here.
Also in 2006 ascolta performed for the first time at the festivals in Witten, Lucerne and at the World Music Days in Stuttgart and two productions in collaboration with the Forum New Music Theatre of the Stuttgart State Opera. The same year ascolta began to perform the music of Frank Zappa and has enjoyed the support of the composer's widow Gail Zappa. New transcriptions by ensemble members Andrew Digby and Hubert Steiner of Zappa's music for synclavier were performed in Stuttgart, Berlin, Huddersfield, Dresden and Hannover and recorded by Deutschlandradio Kultur for CD to be released by the Zappa Family Trust in Los Angeles. A further live performance of more newly transcribed synclavier music combined with "machine music" by Conlon Nancarrow followed in September 2013 at Lucerne Festival.
In 2008 ascolta developed a project together with Chaya Czernowin and seven of her composition students from San Diego. The "Dialogue Experiment" took shape over two years of intense discussion and collaboration between all the composers and musicians and was performed in Donaueschingen, Vienna and Stuttgart.
The programme "Stage/Scene" traverses the border between traditional concert performance and theatratical actions, or "imaginary theatre". It comprises compositions by Francesco Filidei, Hans-Joachim Hespos, Elena Mendoza, Rolf Riehm, Jennifer Walshe and others. In 2013 ascolta premiered at the Ecalt festival in Stuttgart Simon Steen-Andersen's Staged Night which has been performed in numerous international festivals since then.
ascolta presents its own concert series in Stuttgart, supported by the Cultural Office of the City of Stuttgart, under the name "ascolta plays …". In the season 2013/14 ascolta celebrated its 10th anniversary, during the season 2015/16 the ensemble will present three large cooperation projects, among them a ballet for Erik Satie's 150th birthday together with the Unterwegstheater Heidelberg.