André de Ridder leads Berlin’s Stargaze ensemble in a boundary-busting weekend at the Volksbühne.
A native Berliner and internationally renowned orchestra conductor who’s equally versed in Sonic Youth and Stravinsky, De Ridder has become the go-to guy for rock and pop musicians looking to get classical. His contemporary music group Stargaze recently signed to Transgressive Records, put out an album with Greg Saunier of Deerhoof and recorded the score to Alejandro Iñarritu’s The Revenant, writ ten by The National guitarist Bryce Dessner. Their second “weekender” (Dec 11-13, see box) combines the works of Bach and Bartok with those of Dessner, Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood, Mica Levi of Micachu and the Shapes and many more.
How big is Stargaze these days?
I’m not necessarily a fan of symphony orchestras going into a techno club.
It’s really just about eight people, then we have six or seven more regular players. I’m being vague here, because the idea is that we tailor the setup of the group to each project. If you decide you’re an ensemble of two violins, a bassoon and a piccolo, then you’re kind of limited. We want collaborations. Musicians come to us, they say, we want to write for this and that, and we say, “Yup, you can do that” rather than “You have to write for bassoon and piccolo.” And in this coming festival you’ll see us in these different guises: smaller group, string quartet, orchestra, band.
Nearly all the artists in this year’s festival have done film scores – is that a good ‘entry point’ for classical music?
It’s a good way of getting into quite different music. This may have been the case with Jonny Greenwood, who’s a great admirer of works by Penderecki, Ligeti and Bartok. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that all that music has been used by Stanley Kubrick in his films – Ligeti in 2001, Penderecki and Bartok in The Shining. Jonny’s written music that’s quite influenced by the spectral and microtonal aspects of those scores. Sometimes people don’t realise what complex classical music they’ve heard already and found quite cool.
Do your collaborators need a minimum level of classical training?
We’ve worked with the whole range, people who can read, compose and arrange music themselves, like Greg Saunier, to people who can’t write a note of music but actually have very good ears and know exactly what they want – someone like [Hüsker Dü’s] Grant Hart, for example. Sometimes it’s even an advantage if somebody’s imagination isn’t limited to what you can write down. There were projects where we’ve done all the arrangements, then others like Julia Holter, where we sent drafts back and forth, fine-tuned them. The other end of the spectrum is Owen Pallett, who’s such a master arranger that there’s nothing to add.
What about working with fixed compositions like Greenwood’s There Will Be Blood score? Any room for interpretation?
There’s always subtleties, but I conducted the CD recording of the There Will Be Blood suite, so I think my approach might be quite similar. We decided to do it because those pieces haven’t been played in Germany. That’s rather surprising, isn’t it? They’d need to be programmed and performed by a classical orchestra, and those organisations move so much slower in Germany. And if they have some sort of Berührungsängste (fear of contact) with pop music, if it has this suspicion of ‘crossover’ appeal, they might not get round to it.
There have been attempts to bring orchestral music to younger audiences in Berlin – classical concerts at Berghain, for example…
Yeah, but if you look at it precisely, what happens there is that either the high-culture institutions go there to be cool, thinking they might find younger audiences, or there’s a big record company behind it, promoting their artists. I wouldn’t want to not have that, but now we also need an independent artistic organisation that’s able to put on their own productions in that direction. And I’m not neces sarily a fan of symphony orchestras going into a techno club. It’d be much more interesting to get audiences from clubs to the concert halls. I think they’d love the physicality of the acoustic sound in there – you don’t need amplification because the halls are built to amplify naturally.
Finally, what’s The Grateful Dead doing on your programme?
There’s an interesting connection to do with Bryce Dessner and The National. They’re doing a series of tributes to The Grateful Dead, and they approached Stargaze to do a cover. We did a bit of research into it and found this amazing piece, “What’s become of the baby?”, from Aoxomoxoa. They used a lyricist who wrote this really spacedout synaesthetic poetry which is very sensual and also quite spiritual, and that links up with the other ideas on the first night of the festival – like the Bach. That was the craziest idea, going that far back. Is it still relevant today? I really don’t know. We’ve set ourselves a challenge there.
Stargaze, Dec 11-13, 20:00 | Volksbühne, am Rosa-Luxemburg- Platz, Mitte, U-Bhf Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz