Classical: Jazz, avant-garde, whatever

The annual Badenweiler Festival celebrates the diversity of musicians on the ECM label.

THE DRIVE from Basle to the picturesque Black Forest town of Badenweiler takes in some majestic scenery, though if you arrive at lunchtime, the barrier drops and your car stays put. Sorry, but the local folk insist on a car-free lunch-break.

Of course, you can always make your entrance on foot, walk past pristine chemists and quaint patisseries, past the Roman baths and town church to one of the many cosy hotels that German pensioners love to visit. It is a deeply conservative, conventionally religious environment that harbours at least one unexpected secret: a prestigious avant-garde musical life. Pierre Boulez has been to Badenweiler; so have Luciano Berio and Gyorgy Kurtg.

Every year the Hotel Romerbad hosts a run of important concerts, but the star act springs to life in early summer when Manfred Eicher, the team from his ECM record label and a whole roster of his artists launch a three-day festival of mostly contemporary music.

Year after year the same people return, but Eicher's community of listeners continues to grow. "The intensity of their listening is incredible," he tells me, and he is not exaggerating. I watched their faces - many of them old enough to have witnessed a pre-war avant-garde - as Jon Christensen teased his drum-kit to life like a slow tide draining across pebbles. That was on Friday at 5.30pm (such a sensible time for a concert), when pianist Ketil Bjornstad structured chords with the kind of space-sensitive intuition that informs most of Eicher's recorded productions. Bjornstad provided a warm bed of harmony, while cellist David Darling bowed a mellow melody line and electric-guitarist Terje Rypdal set to work with a disorientating blend of musical poetry and improvised chaos.

Nothing that we heard could have been safely categorised either as "jazz" or "concert music", and yet the audience hung on to every note, happy to go wherever Bjornstad and his men took them.

Bjornstad paid tribute to Eicher by naming him the "fifth" member of the quartet. What exactly did he mean? "The role of the producer is, first and foremost, to be a listener," as Eicher put it to me after the concert. "The way I listen is the way I record. Listening should never be neutral; it should be personal. This `first' listener should also be someone with a sense of perspective, someone who gets involved with a piece, talks about its architecture, its dynamic spectrum and the frame in which the music is going to happen. If musicians welcome me in this sense, then it's the kind of respect that touches me deeply," he says.

An active response to sound is also crucial. "As Glenn Gould said, the role of a producer is as much to do with `sounds' as with artistic partnership. Every artist needs - in the solitude of his own decision-making - a reflector, and I see myself as someone who responds in a musical context. I do not see myself as being involved in any aspect of so-called marketing of the music, which is something that comes afterwards."

Still, he was visibly delighted when his British distributor (New Note) awarded him a golden disc for 100,000 British sales of Jan Garbarek's Officium album.

He dislikes what he calls the "cliche" of an ECM "sound", and would rather talk in terms of the label's individual approach to programming. Eicher was a self-effacing presence at the concerts, smiling quizzically from an end seat and signalling his thanks to the players as they walked off for an interval drink.

Saturday's programme was a celebration of violists in duet, with George Benjamin's busy Viola-Viola as its prompting idea. The girlish but intense Kim Kashkashian partnered Garth Know, formerly the Arditti Quartet's violist, in a programme that shared the rigours of Scelsi, Kurtg, Berio and Radulescu among two, with Isang Yun's long-drawn Contemplation testing the audience's powers of concentration, and Bartk (a sequence of earthy duos) the winning card.

The trumpeter Markus Stockhausen (son of Karlheinz) called the tune for the third and last concert, with Arild Andersen, a spectacular bass player, keeping things candidly conversational. David Darling marked his unscheduled return for a testing - and teasing - bass/cello duet. At one point Jon Christensen made music by tapping on his drinking glass before swallowing its contents.

That guy can magic more expression from a drum-kit - with or without sticks, on skin or on metal - than most string players can manage with a bow. He'd sit there, aiming his brush before deciding when or where to strike. And when he did, his timing was always spot-on.

Eicher's artists are usually outreaching and unpredictable, but Sunday's final act - indeed, the last act of the festival - was, in some respects, the most surprising of all. Gianni Coscia donned his accordion while Gianluigi Trovesi employed three varieties of clarinet for a programme that ranged from Kletzmer-style dance-music to John Lewis's Django and a whole string of bittersweet morceaux. For the first piece, Coscia sat alone on stage while Trovesi soulfully played his way downstairs from the first tier, and a similar end sequence brought us full circle. It was street-band stuff, mostly jolly, but tinged with disquieting sadness. I doubt that the region has heard anything like it in years.

While most stamped and cheered, one listener grumbled "Not ECM's usual style". Actually, it was typical. Many pieces ended on a musical question, which is where the grandeur of Badenweiler comes in, with its endless potential for reflection and solitary wandering.

"The influence of the surroundings, and of nature in particular, is there - whether you're aware of it or not," says Eicher. "And although I don't believe that music `belongs' in any fixed location, having an audience in such close proximity - and enjoying such a dedicated following - allows us to create a very special way of experiencing music."

And if you don't fancy travelling to Badenweiler, the first British ECM Festival will kick into gear in Brighton this November.

Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week