“Some people say I am a Neoclassical composer, for others I am a poet. I think I am both. The two principal aspects of my compositional work are the clarity of the elements I use and my systematical approach. […] I also try to write joyful music, as Mozart did in his Divertimenti and in numerous Finales of his Symphonies, because sadness, rigour and complexity are not the only distinguishing traits of a genius”. [Julien-François Zbinden]
Julien-François Zbinden began playing the piano at the age of seven under the guidance of Ernest Decosterd. Between 1934 and 1938 he attended the Ecole Normale of Lausanne and became a teacher there. He studied the piano with Gertrude S. Keller-Ching and Marie Panthès for two years. At the same time he was taught violin and singing by Charles Mayor and Henri Gerber. In 1938 he began his career as an orchestra pianist, and was passionate about jazz and everything new. His friendship with Pierre Dudan was particularly important as it resulted in his participation in the Ensemble Octojazzy. He was a self-taught student of harmony, musical form and composition, and he followed René Gerber’s courses of orchestration and counterpoint. In 1947 he was employed by Radio-Lausanne as an accompanist and musical director, and he cooperated with Jack Rollan in the preparation of the programme “Hello Broadcast Live”. From 1956 he was in charge of the musical section and in 1965 he was appointed vice-director of the musical programmes at Radio Suisse Romande (RSR). From 1973 to 1979 he was the President of the Association of the Swiss Musicians, and from 1978 to 1991 he was the President of SUISA (Swiss Copyright Society). In his capacity as a musician and sound engineer, he met musicians such as Igor Stravinsky, Arthur Honegger, Maurice Ravel, Sir Yehudi Menuhin, Martha Argerich, Alfred Cortot, Jacques Ibert, Darius Milhaud, Francis Poulenc, John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Armin Jordan and others.
Throughout his lifetime, Julien-François Zbinden was a prolific composer. His oeuvre includes 112 works in all musical genres (operas, oratorios, symphonies, concertos, works for the radio, stage music, film music and choral works), many of which received international awards. About twenty of his works have been recorded on disc. Out of the Swiss composers, his works are among the most performed worldwide. The style of Julien-François Zbinden can be defined as Neoclassical, though it is influenced by jazz music and by the works of Maurice Ravel, Igor Stravinsky and Arthur Honegger.
In 2005 he wrote “Eternity”, a work for female choir and organ on lyrics by Edmond Kaiser. Julien-François Zbinden received many prizes and awards, among which the Henryk Wieniawski Composition Prize in Warsaw (1956). In 1978 he was nominated an Official of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Government, while in 1993 he received the Gold Medal of the City of Lausanne.
He is a honorary member of the Association of the Friends of Maurice Ravel. He currently lives in Lausanne. His hundredth birthday was celebrated on November 11th, 2017, with a programme on Switzerland3 TV Radio and a tribute concert which he attended in the Lausanne Cathedral.
Blüthner-Variationen op. 111. The work is dedicated to a more than hundred-years-old grand piano, a Blüthner (model 190, No. 89293) built in 1910 in Leipzig, Germany. It is the piano of the composer, who is in turn a centenarian; it is his lifetime companion, and the dedicatee of the last piece he wrote for this instrument. The piece has a strongly jazz-like character, and the theme upon which the eigth variations will be grounded is clearly inspired by jazz music. The sequence of variations open up a landscape of colours and virtuoso gestures among which the composer moves freely, giving voice to one of his oldest fellows.
Hommage à J. S. Bach op. 44. As happens in the best examples in the tradition of homages to Bach, the work begins with the notes found in the Bach family name. A mysterious and dark theme is generated thus, opening itself up slowly until it explodes with chords which are never trivial. The allegro, divided into two very virtuosic sections, leads us to the last Lento: “con bravura”. In the composer’s own words, it leads us back to the opening theme which closes the work.
Divertissement op. 10. In spite of its short duration (fourteen minutes only), this Divertimento comprises various contrasting sections. The opening theme is proposed by the piano, and it is followed by a romantic Adagio which sees the double-bass’ first statements and the beginning of its singing. The imitation of the strings’ pizzicato by the piano marks the beginning of an allegro giocoso, which is accompanied by the double-bass in an equally carefree fashion. A slow passage, which borrows the Allegro’s themes follows, and is succeeded in turn by a Romanza, whose theme is first introduced by the solo double-bass and is later taken by the piano. The double-bass plays virtuoso variations which underpin sweetness while the piano’s theme continues. The original Allegro is introduced once more by the piano, and, after a short fugue, it closes in fortissimo. Immediately after, a cadenza of the double-bass showcases its technical possibilities, and the piece closes with an almost melancholic, sweet and short coda.
Solissimo III op. 103. The first part of Solissimo III for solo clarinet (Lento) is written in the form of a passacaglia. A twelve-bar bass, played in the instrument’s chalumeau register, is repeated thrice, with increasingly complex ornamentation up to a fortissimo ending. A short and quiet transition flows into the second part (Andantino), in the form of a lyrical, sweetly expressive tune, on a barcarola rhythm. The third section, Allegro, is in marked opposition to what preceded it. It is grounded on a playful theme which encompasses the instrument’s entire range before evolving into a short cadenza which recalls the Andantino’s motif. The piece closes on a short coda which cites the Allegro’s theme and tempo.
Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra op. 87. This clarinet concerto is structured into three movements, each paying homage to somebody. “Hommage à l’interprète” is based on a theme employing ascending and descending scales in the first section (Allegro moderato). This is the only movement in which two traditional cadenzas are found, for the performer’s fun (hence the title of this “homage”). “Hommage à Ella Fitzgerald” is written in the spirit of blues music. It begins and ends on the notes E and F, the initials of “Lady Swing”, as this extraordinary singer was nicknamed. She died in 1996 while this concerto was being composed. The piece’s warm character highlights its origins in the world of blues. “Hommage à Benny Goodman” also makes use, occasionally, of the famous jazz clarinetist’s initials, Bb and G. This quick movement is basically rhythmical, and the composer employs formulas taken from jazz music. He frequently uses five-beat-bars, especially during the short Moderato within the central section of this movement.
Our performances are a homage to one of the most long-lived and prolific composers of the last century. The music of Julien-François Zbinden is full of energy, but at the same time it always has a hint of sweetness, melancholy, and frequently of playfulness and malice. The delicacy of some passages caresses the listeners as a fresh sea breeze, while immediately afterwards a storm overwhelms them and brings them far away, eventually leading them back at the starting point. His music is full of this kind of contrasts, such as the alternation of moments of stasis with frantically quick rhythms. The performer is led into a journey made of powerful sound feelings; moreover, Zbinden’s style – at times reflective, at times almost aggressive – encourages the utmost versatility in the performer. It is not by chance that the entire range of the instruments is explored, with a preference for the high pitches, both sweetly and in a rhythmic and marcato style.
Album Notes by Giuseppe, Erminia, Lucrezia
Translation by Chiara Bertoglio
Erminia Nigro graduated in 2011 at “G. da Venosa” Conservatoire in Potenza in Clarinet performance and in 2015 she achieved her Masters with highest honours under the tutelage of Vito Liuzzi. Erminia is a regular student of annual advancede cours of Calogero Palermo at Scatola Sonora in Rome since 2010. She is regularly invited during competitions and auditions of national and international orchestras and she regularly performs both as soloists and in chamber music ensembles. Since 2013 Erminia collaborates with “Ensemble ‘05” during the Chamber Music Festival “Ritratti” in Monopoli (BA); in 2015 she has collaborated with the Italian Young Orchestra (Orchestra Giovanile Italiana) as E-flat Clarinet under the baton of Sir Jeffrey Tate. In February 2016 Erminia participated to the Radio 3 program “la Stanza della Musica” as 1st Clarinet of the Sestetto dell’Orchestra Internazionale d’Italia. Since 2013 she is member of Orchestra Internazionale d’Italia as 2nd Clarinet, performing during many editions of the prestigious Festival della Valle d'Itria which takes place in Martina Franca (TA), conducted by Fabio Luisi, OmerMeirWellber, Matteo Beltrami, MinChung, Sesto Quatrini, Karina Canellakis; in April 2017 the Orchestra had also tournée in Japan. Since 2017 Erminia is member of the Pomeriggi Musicali di Milano Orchestra as 2nd clarinet and E-Flat clarinet. With Giuseppe d’Amico, in 2016 she had the opportunity to give recitals in Mexico City at the Italian Culture Institute , in 2017 in Lima, Peru, in the cathedral. In the same period, she has been invited to give a clarinet masterclass at the National Conservatoire in Lima. Erminia founded a contemporary ensemble together with the double bassist Giuseppe D'Amico, with whom they have been frequently dedicatees of compositions by composers such as Daniele Corsi, Jean - Christophe Rosaz and other more raising ones.
Giuseppe D'Amico got his double bass degree in 2007 at “G. da Venosa” Conservatoire in Potenza, followed by a Masters from “E. Duni” Conservatoire in Matera where he graduated in 2012 with highest honours. He continued his studies at Chigiana Academy in Siena with M° Franco Petracchi, achieving a “diploma di merito” for three times, also he attended Walter Stauffer Academy in Cremona (2011-2017). As orchestral player in 2006-2007 he became part of the Italian Young Orchestra (Orchestra Giovanile Italiana) conducted by Gabriele Ferro, performing in Berlin during the Young Classic Festival and a live concert for the national radio, also in Finland, Lituania and Estonia, Teatro alla Scala in Milan, Teatro Massimo in Palermo, Taormina (Sicily) with a recording for Radio 3, Auditorium della Conciliazione in Rome, Teatro di Udine, Reggio Emilia and Bologna. During these same years he studied with M° Alberto Bocini at Fiesole Music Academy where he had the opportunity to attend masterclasses with M° Eugine Levinson (1st double bass of New York Philharmonic). In 2011 he attended the Mahler Academy where he had the chance to play for outstanding musicians as Ilya Gruber, Carmelo Andriani, Christophe Coin and Ermanno Calzolari. Since 2010 he collaborates with the actor Ulderico Pesce, performing live for the event Materadio broadcasted on Radio 3. In 2012 he performed with Matera Conservatoire the première of the composition “La sinfonia eucaristica” written by Armando Pierucci in Jerusalem in the Garden of Gethsemane; more re-run have been performed in Geneva's ONU Hall, Milan's Cathedral and in Matera. Also, he regularly performs with the Chigiana Academy best students with several double bassists from all over the world. Since 2015 he collaborates with the Sanremo Orchestra Sinfonica as 1st and 2nd double bass, in 2017 he started collaborating with Petruzzelli Theatre in Bari. In 2016 he had the opportunity to give recitals in Mexico City at the Italian Culture Institute, in 2017 in Lima, Peru, in the cathedral. In the same period, he has been invited to give a double bass masterclass at the National Conservatoire in Lima.
Lucrezia Merolla graduated in 2005 in Piano at the Conservatory “E. R. Duni ” in Matera, in 2014 in Music Education at the Conservatory “C. Gesualdo da Venosa” in Potenza and in 2016 in Chamber music at the “Fiesole Music” School under the guidance of Maestro Bruno Canino. She took part in several piano and chamber music competitions, where she won numerous first prizes and scholarships. She achieved flattering critical acclaims and she has been reviewed by the press. She recorded two CDs, with other competition winners at the Musical Associations "D. Sarro" in Trani and “I. Strawinsky "in Bari. In 2009 she performed “Gli Insonnii”, an unpublished piano work by the Apulian composer Niccolò Van Westerhout, at Bari University. She took partin numerous events dedicated to poetry and Spanish music of the 20th century-within "Puglia Artistic Season 2012-2013"- with the participation of renowned intellectuals and university lecturers. She has been invited in numerous musical festival such as: Viva Verdi Multikulti 2018 in Matera, Piano CityMilan (II, II and IV edition), Piano City Naples (II edition), Piano Solo Lab in Martina Franca (TA), Notes in flight to Malpensa organized by Fazioli Pianoforti, Musica è Vida (2013/2014 edition) in Gravina (BA). In 2018 she made her debut with the Aura Sonum Philharmonic Orchestra performing Beethoven piano concert Op. 37 No. 3.
Julien-François Zbinden (b Rolle, canton of Vaud, 11 Nov 1917). Swiss composer and pianist. During and after his training as a primary school teacher (diploma 1938), Zbinden studied the piano with Emile Doosterd (1930–35), Gertude S. Keller-Ching and Marie Panthès (1940–45). He began his professional career as an orchestral and jazz pianist (1938–47), and then joined the Lausanne studio of Radio Suisse Romande (RSR) as a pianist and sound engineer. In 1956 he became director of the music department of RSR, and was the chief assistant for music broadcasting there from 1965 to 1982. He was also president of the Swiss Composers' Union (1973–9), and of the Swiss composers' copyright association SUISA (1987–91).
As a composer he was initially self-taught, but in 1942 began three years of study with R. Gerber in Neuenburg (counterpoint and orchestration), culminating in the composition of his Suite brève en ut op.1, the harmony of which shows Ravel's influence. In Zbinden's subsequent compositions the influence of Stravinsky's neo-classical works is stronger, and jazz rhythms also leave their mark. Jazz sonatine for piano and Jazzific 59–16 for jazz band and string orchestra are explicitly concerned with the jazz tradition, but its influence is also perceptible in other works. His interest in the harmonic dimension, increasingly obvious from his Second Symphony onwards, has led him to retain a tonal idiom in his work; certain polytonal passages are related to the music of Honegger, whose humanistic ideas he shares and to which he refers in several works (the Second Symphony's slow movement and Hommage à Arthur Honegger op.68). His music only occasionally employs more modern techniques, such as an aleatory formal structure (Pianostinato) and – with satirical intent – 12-note technique (the fourth of the Proverbes en forme d'études). Awards he has won for his work as a composer include the Prix Henryk Wieniawski, Warsaw (1956), the Grand Prix de la Communauté Radiophonique des Programmes de Langue Française, Montreal (1963), and the Médaille d'Or of the city of Lausanne (1993).