An Interview with Daniel Agi of hand werk

hand werk (Cologne, Germany) is a contemporary music ensemble making its Singapore debut at the 2018 Sounding Now Festival of Contemporary Musical Practices. The following is a brief interview with founding member, Daniel Agi (flute).

I’m curious about the name hand werk. Why was this chosen as the name of the ensemble?

The name hand werk was inspired by Richard Sennett’s book The Craftsman (German: HANDWERK), in which he describes a tradition in which Handwerk (“craftsmanship”) focuses on the creation of a product with utmost care and diligence rather than on the selling potential and efficiency of production.

“Technique has a bad reputation. It can seem soulless. Those who come to have a high level of expertise see that this is not so. For them technique is closely connected with expression.” – Richard Sennett, The Craftsman

Your group focuses un-conducted chamber music. Why make that restriction?

Playing without a conductor makes the players listen more carefully and take more responsibility. We feel that we get deeper into the sound and that we feel the energy of a piece more when we play that way. Also there is more contact with the audience if there is no one standing between us and the first row turning his or her back to them. So it’s absolutely worth the larger amount of work we have to put into each piece.

hand werk’s instrumentation is a very (contemporary) classical one: what we call Pierrot plus percussion, referencing the early twentieth century work by Schoenberg called Pierrot Lunaire for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and piano. This has become a kind of standard instrumentation, a kind of twentieth century string quartet, so to speak. Yet, the ensemble also commonly does works that aren’t for this instrumentation. We will experience that often in the works you’ve selected for Sounding Now 2018. Would you share your thinking on extending the ensemble into places more common for percussion groups?

We just all enjoy playing these pieces. It is a pleasure to have virtuoso instrument playing and a performance piece next to each other in a concert. Maybe this is about a broader idea of being a musician. It adds more colours to our programs, too.

You’ll be doing a concert of all student works as part of the festival. Is that something hand werk frequently does? How does preparation and rehearsal for that differ from a concert with works by professional composers, or does it differ at all?

Yes, we do this regularly. We’ve worked with students in many different universities both in Germany and abroad. Mostly we combine playing their pieces with a workshop on how to use the different instruments and their techniques and how to notate them. Rehearsing these pieces is not so different from rehearsing pieces by graduates. However, there’s a higher chance that techniques don’t work well, that notation is not practical, that a part is a lot more difficult than it would need to be or ideas don’t come over clearly. So, it can be more work but it’s worth it. Young composers need these chances to get criticism on their music. This helps them to broaden their professional view on their music in order to get better and better.

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