„Meet the composers and the scientists“

Marianna Liik and Josep Planells are two emerging composers of the young generation. In 2017, Liik graduated from her Master’s studies in composition at the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre. Her special interest is the sonic world that combines the acoustic and electronic means of expression. Planells was born in Valencia and studied composition in Berlin at the Hochschule für Musik “Hanns Eisler”. He is also a conductor and reads for his PhD at Cambridge University.

In 2019, the LUCERNE FESTIVAL ACADEMY will premier their new orchestra pieces – Liik and Planells have been selected for the 3rd edition of the Roche Young Commissions. This program is a unique collaboration between Roche, LUCERNE FESTIVAL and the LUCERNE FESTIVAL ACADEMY. Artistic Director Wolfgang Rihm will consult with the young composers at various stages of their work.

Roche embraces the interaction by scientists with the composers and their music. Therefore, the two composers met with two Roche scientists – and it turned out that they share some of their core beliefs about art and science.

Classical music and science: Terra incognita?

Antonio Ricci and Sonoko Kanai both work in the Roche Innovation Center Basel. Ricci works in Small Molecule Research for the Roche Pharma Research & Early Development. He started at Roche at the age of 15 and spent his “last 20 years enjoying working in science” he says. He is working in Medicinal Chemistry, leading a laboratory currently focusing on the discovery of small molecules for the treatment of lung cancer. Sonoko Kanai is the Associate Director of the External Innovation Group, where she collaborates with external companies and universities to develop innovative technologies for the future.

Ricci has not had any experience with classical or contemporary music whereas Kanai has been playing piano for over 30 years. “For me, it takes a lot of practice to get one part of music right. It’s a similar journey with scientific research. It takes a decade of training to be a professional scientist and a lifetime quest to find answers with lots of learnings along the way”, she says. Have the composers had any touch points with science prior to Roche Young Commissions? Planells remembers the visit to Roche’s headquarters in Basel as an incredibly stimulating experience. “I feel that, if I had become a scientist, I would love to be a theoretical physicist or an astrophysicist.”

It turns out that the four of them share similar sets of values, both personally and at work: what guides and inspires them is their sheer curiosity. Kanai feels inspired by getting to know new worlds, meeting people from different places and “sharing a piece of lifetime together.” Ricci’s main sources of inspiration are “curiosity, interest, being a passionate drug hunter – and the aim to discover a new medicine for patients.”

Planells states: “I’m a curious person always trying to learn new things and explore new territories.” He adds: “Also I still strongly believe that a radical doubt is just as necessary as a strong decision-making capacity.” Liik, too, names honesty and straightforwardness as her core values. “And the ability to see things form another person’s perspective.” In addition, she names two of her favorite Estonian proverbs: “Morning is wiser than evening. Steady row, far you’ll go.”

“Creating a piece is like discovering a new world”

Roche Young Commissions is also an invitation to think about the relationship of art and science: Which opportunities can be derived from an exchange between the two disciplines? What can one learn from another? Planells explains: “On the one hand, scientific and technical advances have an impact on our conception of art, and, in parallel, art spurs new paradigms for scientific research. For this reason, it is of fundamental importance that we share our achievements and failures to increasingly rethink our field as a whole.”

The parallels Ricci sees are process-orientated: “Have a new idea that might succeed or fail, bring this idea on paper and transfer it into something real, like a new piece of music or into a new molecule.” Liik agrees: “Creating a new piece is like discovering a new world. A result of long explorations, new (compositional) techniques and artistic results have to be found. Something similar might be the case in science – looking and finding suitable solutions/answers for set tasks». For Kanai, science is an art of nature: «logics can be expressed in mathematics, and art can be expressed in another form. Both are beautiful when it’s completed and presented well».

Besides the Roche Young Commission, the two young composers both have a full calendar: Planells is composing a chamber opera for the Deutsche Oper Berlin and is completing a PhD at the University of Cambridge on the relationships between the rhythm of speech and music. “Additionally, I will make my debut conducting the Ensemble Modern in Frankfurt in November 2018 which is a personal highlight for me.” Liik was recently staying in Morelia, Mexico, where she worked at CMMAS (Centro Mexicano para la Música y las Artes Sonoras): “I was offered a great opportunity to work on a new piece for choir and electronics for the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and generate ideas for this piece.”

How did the two of them become composers? In both their biographies, some of the main impulses came from their parents: “The journey started with free improvisation. My father was interested in improvisation and I was his student, we improvised together – I played the violin and he played the flute. This has lead me to composing music. After writing my first piece (that was an electroacoustic piece) I felt that I want to explore composing in depth”, Liik says. When Planells was six, he was “apparently playing football in the park too often for my parents’ liking. So they made me study the clarinet, and then some years later the piano. At the age of thirteen – when my great-grandmother died – I had the first impulse to write music down. I managed to write a 6-minute piece for piano. When I showed it to my teachers, they encouraged me to continue composing.”

Main Sponsor: Roche

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