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Medea Ballet by Stephan Marc Schneider: World Premiere on 5 November 2005 in Greifswald

On 5 November 2005 a new ballet by Stephan Marc Schneider will receive its premiere at the Vorpommersches Theatre in Greifswald. With Medea he has not only chosen a classical subject, but also one that has often been treated in the area of music theatre. Schneider himself has the following to say:

The full-length piece, in 18 scenes, thematically follows the ancient saga. However, there is no moral evaluation or judgement of the person Medea in my music. It was important to me to reflect the area of tension between external actions, the societal aspect of the characters and their innermost feelings.

Sikorski Publishers interviewed the composer:

1. Three years ago you worked with Ralf Drnen for the first time, with your highly successful music to the ballet Bernarda Albas House. Now, Medea is your second collaboration. Can you compare the working methods and approaches used in the two projects, then and now?

Schneider: Well, yes, we had a more or less supplied libretto with Bernarda Albas House. I remember one afternoon when we discussed how we wanted to create the ballet. Bernarda was very unequivocal in its statement and intention. Ralf had a definite conception of the mood and atmosphere of the piece; with Medea this couldnt happen in exactly the same way, of course; the sources extend from the ancient sagas to Euripides, Seneca, Jahnn, Grillparzer, Christa Wolf, Anouilh up to the film by Pasolini. That is a broad area, and many different interpretations and approaches, even contradictory ones, are possible. Not only that: Medea takes place in two different places, Colchis and Corinth. There is therefore no one dominant atmosphere, but many different shades and nuances. Therefore, the piece can be more freely interpreted, for me as composer, and I also think this is true for Ralf as choreographer.

2. Over what period of time did the complete compositional process extend?

Schneider: When we had the premiere of Bernarda Albas House, Ralf whispered in my ear that hed like to do Medea that was in 2003, and since then weve both had the idea in mind. When I write large pieces, I always write preliminary studies, usually chamber music with voice. I then use these as raw material for the larger work. So, from 2004 onwards, I worked for 1 years, and nine months very intensively on this piece exclusively. The score is, after all, 300 pages long and the whole ballet lasts over ninety minutes.

3. You prepared the libretto to Medea from different sources, writing it anew. Does this kind of breaking away from a single, already existing literary model help or hinder the compositional process?

Schneider: Each of my works written so far has had its own difficulties in the compositional process; that is completely independent of this question. Personally, I like to work with texts and singing. Thats why I usually write the preliminary studies for voice, as already mentioned. The difficulty for me with Medea, as with all my more extensive works, is that the compositional process lasts so long, over one year, without feedback, without applause. That is really awful. One longs for first reactions. And then it is always a great relief and satisfaction to have the work in front of you, bound. I personally have an extra Din A4 version of my piece prepared so that I can always carry the score around with me, at least during the first few weeks. The whole compositional process is strongly reminiscent of pregnancy and birth.

4. This work was commissioned by this theatre and it is being premiered here. How would you characterise your music?

Schneider: It is difficult to characterise ones own music, of course; it attempts to deal with the subject, and hopefully leaves enough space for the dance to develop on stage.

5. To what extent is your music in this Medea structured, and made comprehensible for the listener to experience?

Schneider: The first part of the ballet takes place in Colchis, Medeas homeland, an archaic society, full of ecstasy, fire and rituals. The second part shows the journey and arrival of Jason and Medea in Corinth, a sedate, decadent society. In both parts, Medea and her relationship to Jason are reflected in the context of the respective society. I try to inquire into these tensions and actions, and to enable the listener to experience these feelings through my music.

That is why there are also parallel sections, musically speaking, in both parts of the work; the love scenes, as well as Medeas inner world, stem from the same musical material. Certain intervals and instruments are also assigned to particular gestures and persons. The octave, with its vibration ratio of 1:2, is a central interval. The female voice sounds an octave higher than the male voice; this is therefore an image for the male-female paradigm and its area of tension.

Especially when it is played in unison in the orchestra, fortissimo, the octave can develop an archaic power, an incredible dynamic. When played successively, as a glissando (all the notes within the octave are then sounded), an almost tortuous tension can be built up. Both of these examples just mentioned can be heard in my music. Yes, and lots more; the listener should listen and see for himself and go to a performance free of any previous intellectual conditioning.

6. What was it about the Medea material that particularly stimulated you?

Schneider: There is no moral evaluation or judgement of the person Medea in my music, as there is in the many other artistic adaptations in film, opera, theatre and literature. It was important to me to inquire into the area of tension between external actions, the societal aspects of the characters and their innermost feelings. The unconditional hunger for power and love mark the two main characters, and it is this hunger that leads them to catastrophe.

Of course I was happy about the collaboration with Ralf Drnen and can hardly wait to see and hear the rehearsals with the dancers and orchestra. The dance gives my music an additional level: the corporeal element.

7. What are your next projects?

First I want to catch my breath; then there are already a few things on the horizon. These are a tuba solo which will be entitled ppp, then definitely a clarinet concerto for 2007. After Medea, Bernarda Albas House and the operas Exploding Comets and Limestone Quarry, I long to work in the theatre again, maybe next time as director. I have definitely been infected.