Georg Friedrich Haas

Composer-in-Residence 2023/2024

There is probably no prejudice about contemporary music more persistent than that compositional innovation does not go hand in hand with beauty of sound and emotional intensity. Yet the work of Georg Friedrich Haas, the Staatskapelle’s composer-in-residence for the 2023/2024 jubilee season, consistently proves the opposite: this is music that touches and beguiles the listener, not despite but precisely because of its unusual sounds and processes.

Born in Graz in 1953, the composer first made a name for himself in the 1990s with his systematic exploration of microtones, i.e. intervals smaller than a semitone, which therefore cannot be reproduced on the piano. But neither then nor today can Haas’s work be reduced to the catchword of microtonality. Not only do many of his pieces dispense entirely with microtonal elements; for him, perfect, quarter-tone or sixth-tone intervals are never an end in themselves, not some impertinent compositional exercise, but rather a means of expression. Thus, for example, the iridescent overtone chords that gradually emerge from the swirling chromatic sonic planes in the one-hour ensemble work »in vain« exude a suggestive, almost utopian power. The listener is immediately captivated – a state that is intensified by the composer’s instruction that parts of the work be played in absolute darkness.

The depth of expression and sensuality that his music draws from the interior life of sounds have made Georg Friedrich Haas one of the most important composers of our time. His oeuvre, which features several commissions from leading orchestras, encompasses eight stage works, numerous orchestral and ensemble pieces and no fewer than eleven string quartets, along with many other works. He has enjoyed great successes such as with his opera »Morgen und Abend«, based on a libretto by Jan Fosse, or the 2010 work »limited approximations« for six pianos (tuned to twelfth-tone intervals) and orchestra. Georg Friedrich Haas has received several awards for his pioneering compositions, including the Austrian State Prize for Music and the Salzburg Music Prize. Since 2013 he has held a professorship in composition at New York’s Columbia University. His autobiography »Durch vergiftete Zeiten« was published in 2022.

Georg Friedrich Haas will contribute two world premieres to the Staatskapelle’s jubilee season: a new work for bass clarinet, cello and percussion to be performed at the 2nd Chamber Music Evening; and a new orchestral work at the 9th Symphony Concert, conducted by Susanna Mälkki, here making her Staatskapelle debut. Mälkii has previously conducted the world premiere of Haas’s »concerto grosso« No. 1 for four alphorns and orchestra. And the Staatskapelle will present »in vain«, one of the most acclaimed classical works of the 21st century, at a non-subscription concert in the Festspielhaus Hellerau.