Portrait: Johannes Maria Staud

Johannes Maria Staud draws from incredibly rich sources to weave mystery and query into his compositions.  It is a form of musing which often draws from a concrete source of inspiration in order to provide a new constitution, in an abstract form of an auditory revelation.  This process, which has dipped itself into synaesthetic approaches, or deeply intellectual arguments has been converted into compositions of conventional notation, such as large orchestral pieces, solo instrumental works or less conventional smaller chamber and vocal works.  Staud has an impressive list of commissions and performances by internationally leading orchestras and conductors, upcoming premieres include the Ensemble Modern Orchestra with Pierre Boulez and the Neue Vocalsolistin Stuttgart with Ensemble Intercontemporain and he has recently been appointed the capell compositeur for the 2010/2011 season at the Staatskapelle Dresden, under the baton of Fabo Luisi.

The threads from Staud’s compositions send the inquisitive listener on a journey, through fascinating topics, often expressed in a fluent articulate description by Staud himself, allowing a very strong picture to emerge.  There are only a few artists in every generation who find their voice so early that their career evolves with the world’s best interpreters, bringing a ravishing quality to an emerging oeuvre.  Staud has a consistent articulated clarity which runs from the conception of his compositions through to its meticulous outcome, his hand-written scores a testament to this.  His artistic musing is drawn from philosophy to politics, sculpture, film, visual art and his numerous commissions from festivals show a keen eagerness to engage with this varied artistic output.

Segue. Music for Violoncello and Orchestra premiered with the Vienna Philharmonic, Heinrich Schiff and Daniel Barenboim at the Salzburg Festival in 2006, took an intriguing starting point from a Mozart fragment, in the realm of the 250th anniversary of Mozart celebrations, showing that not only can Staud compose a seriously damn good “Mozart”, but that his artistic imagination poured creatively around/through and within this curious context.  He ensures that the audience remain active in their listening, through his desire to challenge what is viable art in today’s contemporary music scene.

Further intriguing examples of Staud’s compositions include Apeiron. Music for Large Orchestra, which premiered with the Berlin Philharmonic and Sir Simon Rattle(2005).  Inspired by the Greek philosopher, Anaximander, Apeiron explores the infinite, the unlimited and Peras (2004/5), the other side of the same coin, is written for solo piano.  Marino Formenti, who has recently recorded Peras describes the work as a cosmos of different possibilities.  On Comparative Meteorology (2009) premiered with the Cleveland Orchestra under Franz Welser-Möst, is one of three works inspired by the Polish-Jewish writer and graphic artist, Bruno Schulz.  Berenice, Staud’s first full-scale opera(2003), based on Edgar Allen Poe’s short horror story from 1835 (libretto: Durs Gruenbein) which shocked many readers with its violence at its release, even contains pop music elements.

Staud was born in Innsbruck and studied in Vienna at the University of Music and Dramatic Arts, with Michael Jarrell (composition), Dieter Kaufmann (electroacoustic composition), Ivan Eröd (harmony and counterpoint) and with Hanspeter Kyburz at the ‘Hanns Eisler-Hochschule fuer Musik’ in Berlin.

A final example comes from Staud’s synaesthetic tendency where he wanted to compose a piece  which could be described as follows:  “Medium garnet colour with ruby hints.  Rich, quite pronounced, spicy aroma with a chocolate character, floral impressions (violets), red fruit and prunes.  Soft, smooth taste, full bodied with hints of leather and tar.  Firm, dry and somewhat earthy finish.” Lagrein, (2008) for violin, clarinet, violoncello and piano is the result.  Go taste for yourself!

As a very public career from such a young age has emerged, one can undoubtedly look forward to see what lies behind Staud’s next inspiration.  So far he has defied the composer’s life where the long lost score hidden in a drawer was only found years later.  Staud shows almost effortlessly how it can done.

“But to stay alive, to create a tradition for tomorrow, it also needs above all else – and this, unfortunately, is too often forgotten – artists creating and discovering here and now. And whoever denies the new its right to exist, whoever is content simply to consume over and over again nothing but the same old favourites mildly spiced up (for example the 459th Traviata with star-studded cast) can be compared with the gourmand who every day eats his fill of his favourite dish – and yet one day perishes from malnutrition.” Johannes Maria Staud