In Search of Enduring Time

The composer Miroslav Srnka

Miroslav Srnka
(Photo: Vojtech Havlik)

To open the Biennale, Kirill Petrenko conducts the world premiere of Miroslav Srnka’s Superorganisms. The work was inspired by networked intelligence, which is found both in swarms of bees and in our digital world. We introduce the composer.

The composer Miroslav Srnka prefers to travel in two ways. First, on foot: his ideas develop while he is walking. During a walk – at the speed of movement that our body is naturally best geared to – thinking literally becomes a pleasant stroll for him. He prefers to walk where there is water, along a riverbank, where movement and boundaries come together, at the edge of everything: this far and no further.

Secondly, in a car: he likes to drive for hours, finds it reassuring to know that he is tied to this place for a certain period of time and yet is making rapid progress; a time during which one can become immersed in something: listen to a work with concentration, whether music or literature, absorb new ideas, expand repertoire.

Uraufführung von »Superorganism«

Thursday,

09 Feb 2023,
20:00

Main Auditorium

Series: G – Concerts with the Berliner Philharmoniker

Thu 09 Feb 2023, 20:00
Main Auditorium

Biennale of the Berliner Philharmoniker

Berliner Philharmoniker

Kirill Petrenko conductor

Works by György Ligeti, Miroslav Srnka and Claude Debussy

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Friday,

10 Feb 2023,
20:00

Main Auditorium

Series: F – Concerts with the Berliner Philharmoniker

Fri 10 Feb 2023, 20:00
Main Auditorium

Biennale of the Berliner Philharmoniker

Berliner Philharmoniker

Kirill Petrenko conductor

Works by György Ligeti, Miroslav Srnka and Claude Debussy

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Saturday,

11 Feb 2023,
19:00

Main Auditorium

Series: H – Concerts with the Berliner Philharmoniker

Sat 11 Feb 2023, 19:00
Main Auditorium

Biennale of the Berliner Philharmoniker

Berliner Philharmoniker

Kirill Petrenko conductor

Works by György Ligeti, Miroslav Srnka and Claude Debussy

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Music between two poles: nature and science

Both are part of his personality. Nature on the one hand, science and technology on the other are like two poles of his exploration of the world. Contrasts are appealing to him; he finds contradictions fascinating. Although he pursues his concerns single-mindedly, he cheerfully discovers alternative paths. He is as curious about neurobiological research findings as the useful functions of his notebook and is interested in planets and peppermint.

He uses everything the current state of the art offers in his work. For his opera South Pole, about Amundsen and Scott’s race to the South Pole, he painstakingly worked out the staging with duration, characters, time of day, weather, emotions, gestures and musical temperature with the help of elaborate diagrams. There are dozens of such preparatory steps, precisely planned yet colourful and wild – and always imaginative to look at.

Miroslav Srnka is now in his mid-40s. That is always amazing, even for companions who have known him for a long time, since not only does his slender, almost delicate build suggest youth, the look in his alert eyes also seems to be that of a student rather than an established member of his profession who has been teaching budding musicians the skills of the trade for several years: he was appointed professor of composition at the University of Music and Dance in Cologne in 2019.

Always a learner, to this day

In fact, he has always been a learner, to this day. Born and raised in Prague, he completed his studies in musicology and composition (with Milan Slavický) in his native city. He studied abroad several times, lived in Berlin and did a traineeship at the Paris Conservatory.

He worked at a music publishing house as an editor and publishing director until composing no longer left time for that. As he says, writing music is not a free choice for him but a necessity, and when he realized that he couldn’t bear the thought of not composing, he decided to put everything else aside. (Perhaps with the exception of his two children, who have finished school in the meantime.)

His study of the great Czech composers left its mark on him, and the question of where an artist feels rooted raises itself even more the smaller, more narrowly circumscribed one’s native country is. “When I went to Paris to study, colleagues there often said my music sounded somehow Bohemian. When I returned to Prague, my friends thought my works had a French quality.

Nevertheless, music is my home, part of my spiritual mother’s milk. I grew up almost exclusively with Czech repertoire, without knowing that there was anything else at all, not to mention contemporary music. That definitely influenced certain patterns in my musical thinking – particularly the music of Antonín Dvořák and Leoš Janáček. By no means do I try to write ‘Czech’ music. If anything, I personally consider myself a European.”

From Bohemian sounds to modern music theatre

His career is developing steadily, although with detours, on established avenues and down overgrown paths. His music is performed at leading new music festivals and in major concert series, at the New Chamber Music Days in Witten and musica viva in Munich.

Srnka is also at home with music theatre. He composed the chamber opera Wall for Berlin’s Staatsoper and Make No Noise on commission from the Bavarian State Opera. The latter work was the catalyst for the most important commission Miroslav Srnka has received thus far, the culmination of his previous compositional research on sound, voice and structure – and a work of exciting music theatre, a great narrative adventure: the opera South Pole, about Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott’s race to the South Pole.

The world premiere at the Bavarian State Opera in January 2016 – conducted by general music director Kirill Petrenko and directed by Hans Neuenfels – became a sensation and the three years of work on it a challenge and an endurance test.

Now Kirill Petrenko is conducting the world premiere of another work by Miroslav Srnka, this time with the Berliner Philharmoniker. The title Superorganisms refers to forms of life in which organisms of the same kind collaborate synergetically and self-organized – typical examples are ant colonies and swarms of bees. In our day the term “superorganism” has gained new relevance, since human beings obviously also change: away from the independent Homo sapiens towards the interconnected element of a larger group.

An example of superorganisms in human culture that has been in existence for a long time is the symphony orchestra – and that is where Miroslav Srnka’s new work begins. With various settings, the four movements examine how crowds grow and coalitions form, where the opportunities and risks lie in the “clash of the individual and the collective” (Srnka). And we learn that through community the individual does not become weaker but stronger, and the world as a whole more diverse.

Malte Krasting

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