Pelzel Michael


Pelzel Michael
Pelzel Michael
Mühlerain 15
CH-8712 Stäfa

Mobile: +41 (0)79 261 64 94

Michael Pelzel was born 1978 in Rapperswil, Switzerland. Upon completion of his the High-School Diploma in the City of Wattwil, Michael Pelzel began his professional training at the Music Universities of Lucerne, Basel, Stuttgart, Berlin and Karlsruhe.
There, he studied piano with Ivan Klánsky, amongst others, organ with Martin Sander, Ludger Lohmann and Guy Bovet and Composition with Dieter Ammann, Detlev Müller-Siemens, Georg-Friedrich Haas, Hanspeter Kyburz and Wolfgang Rihm. Additionally he studied Music Theory with Roland Moser and Balz Trümpy.
Currently, Michael Pelzel works as a freelance composer and performer and serves as a parish organist of the protestant church of Stäfa at the lakeside of Zurich. Currently, he also teaches sporadically music theory classes (for example at the Music Universities of Bern and Basel) as well as workshops in composition at the Universities of Johannesburg (University of the Witwatersrand) Stellenbosch and Pretoria (South Africa).
During his studies, Michael Pelzel visited numerous master classes for composition, working with well-known composers such as Tristan Murail, Beat Furrer, Michael Jarrell, Klaus Huber, Brian Ferneyhough, György Kurtàg and Helmut Lachenmann.
Additionally, he participated at the summer courses in Darmstadt 2004-2010, Acanthes in Metz and Royaumont near Paris.
As an organist, he was invited to play the organs of the Swiss Church, London and the instruments of the Cathedrals of San Francisco, Los Angeles, Sidney and Cape Town. He also performed at the Organ Festival of Magadino.
As a composer, he had the opportunity to collaborate with different Ensembles specialized in Contemporary Music such as Collegium Novum Zürich, Aequatuor-Ensemble, Zurich, ensemble VORTEX, Geneva, ensemble zora, Aarau, ENSEMBLE PHOENIX, Basle, ensemble alea III, Boston, ensemble recherche, Freiburg in Breisgau, ensemble mosaik, Berlin, klangforum wien, Linea Ensemble, Strasburg, quatuor diotima, Paris, Arditti Quartet, London, ensemble intercontemporain, Paris, the choir Team Chor, Jona, the choir SWR Vokalensemble, Stuttgart, the Symphonieorchester des Bayrischen Rundfunks and the Basler Symphonieorchester.
His compositions have been performed at numerous Festivals such as Ensemblia, Mönchengladbach, Mouvements, Sarrebruck, Musica Viva, Munich, Darmstädter Ferienkurse für Neue Musik, Donaueschinger Musiktage, Ultraschall, Berlin, IGNM-Basel, IGNM Bern, Wien Modern, Klangspuren, Schwaz, Archipel, Geneva, Tremplin, Paris, the Lucerne Festival, Tage für Neue Musik Zürich, Tel Aviv Museum, Tel Aviv, as well as Art on Main, Johannesburg.
His music has frequently been broadcasted on radio and television.
Michael Pelzel has been awarded many prizes, amongst them are:
2003 Prize of the competition Neue Musik mit historischen Instrumenten of Ensemblia Mönchengladbach, 2004 Förderpreis of Marianne und Curt Dienemann Foundation Lucerne, 2005 Prize of the competition Musica Viva, Munich, 2005 Prize of the competition of Stiftung Christoph Delz, Basle, 2006 Studienpreis der Kiefer-Hablitzel Stiftung, Berne, 2006 Werkjahr des Kulturdepartementes of the canton of Saint Gallen, 2007 Studienpreis der Kiefer-Hablitzel Stiftung, Berne, 2007 Prize of the competition Jurgenson Competition, Moscow, 2007 Prize of the competition Edison Denisov, Tomsk, 2009 Prize of the competition Music today, Seoul, 2009 Kulturpreis of the City of Rapperswil-Jona, 2010 Stipend of the pro helvetia-Kulturstiftung of Switzerland for a three-months-stay in South Africa for artistic projects, 2010 Prize of the competition Marguerite Staehelin Förderpreises, which contains a stay of two weeks at Casa Pantrovà, Carona TI. From 2009 to 2011, he is a participant of the Opera of the 21stcentury and Music-theatre Project of Deutsche Bank Stiftung, Frankfurt am Main; 2010, Stipend of the Nafög-foundation, Berlin; 2011, Busoni-Award, Berlin; 2012, Johann-Joseph-Fux-Award for Opera Composition, Graz; 2013/14 Portrait CD on the label WERGO.

Work list
…psalmodie volubile… (2003)
for flute
This piece was originally written for a concert in which various musical settings of psalms from different epochs were performed. I tried to play with various aspects of the psalmodies or to quasi-guide them ad absurdum. The idea of a "… psalmodie volubile …" is a pulverised "song" in a climactic hyper-agitated tempo. The central tones are significant and appear on several occasions as small relics of the tenor from the original piece. The pitch is missing completely at certain moments and the psalmodising is reduced to a nervous sprechgesang. The sound material is derived from a Gregorian cantus firmus in the sense that I stretched the intervals of the original melody to create another mode that I then used in this piece.
Duration: 7' 00"
Toccata fluida (2004)
for organ
Based on the working methods of the Italian masters Merulo, Frescobaldi and Rossi, I attempted in "Toccata fluida" to compose a piece for organ with the power to fathom the timbric and technical possibilities of the Kassel instrument. The ancient Italian toccata was wrought with an extremely sparse set of instruments consisting of the principal chorus and several flutes. My piece chiefly presents whole register groups (aliquots, principals, reeds...) separately. In contrast to the 16th century Italian toccata, I have interlaced the single and also shorter parts and telescoped them to create a kind of "Toccata fluida", a dissolved, melted form. This piece is characterised by a steady, motoric flow that partly passes into colourful opalescence.
Duration: 9' 00"
...par la brume flottante... (2004)
for enselble (fl, cl, vn, va, vc, db, perc)
An associative, non-musical inspiration for my piece can be found in various cloud formations and fog. A flexible polyphony of colours and forms is created by an abundance of overlapping and colourful shading, dissected by glistening light or coloured by magically iridescent sun beams. I'm particularly fascinated by the often ambiguous interchanging of foreground and background, and the amalgamation of layers of cloud in a continuous and highly flexible process.
The piece "...par la brume flottante..." consists of two parts. In the first part, the harmonic material, which is based on quints, is highlighted and coloured using various techniques. Additionally, I work with multiple layers (3-4 layers): a harmonic layer, a receptive-vibrating layer and a figurative layer, that confront each other to various degrees, or melt into each other, as is more often the case.
After the general pause, the very consonant quint harmonics, which were introduced in the first part, are slowly made impossible by microtonal colouring and multiphonics in the flute and clarinet, finally developing into a tritone characterised tonality with great emphasis on colour fusion.
Duration: 8' 00"
...danses oniriques... (2005)
for ensemble (fl, cl, perc, 2pf, vn, va, vc, db)
I have taken great interest in the themes, or better the world of the unreal for quite some time now - and most particularly the dream of one's own distance from reality, where characters and situations can often be experienced in completely new contexts. A complex event can appear to be reduced to an instant, or an actuality that takes place within a split-second in the real world can give the impression of continuing forever. What strikes me as particularly remarkable is that the change or intervention in a real situation is often minimal. The slight alteration of a "parameter" (e.g. the passing of time [time lapse or slow motion], irregular distortions of spatial dimensions, colour schemes or lighting) turn real situations into completely foreign, unreal and even fairytale-like phenomena / situations.
The idea of my composition "...Danses oniriques..." is to allow familiar musical and playing techniques to appear in another, perhaps unknown light by using various obscuration techniques.
There are two parts that return again and again in altered form and, in the second half of the piece, interpenetrate and melt together. The first movement type, with which the piece also begins, is conceived as a concert etude for two pianos with ensemble accompaniment, the compositional aspect was always to develop a writing for piano that took best advantage of the sound material's versatility (the second piano is tuned 1/6 tone deeper than the first). The pianos almost disappear into the background in the second part as the ensemble, the writing for which is intended to be on several characteristic musical levels, takes centre stage. This part is also characterised by various irregular pulses that imitate the "limping" of a slightly off-round wheel, as can be observed for example in the works of the Swiss artist Jean Tinguely.
Duration: 24' 30"
...méandre inondé... (2005)
for clarinet and orchestra
Regarding its formal construction, the piece "...méandre inondé..." for clarinet and orchestra, must be considered as a work for orchestra with a solo clarinet. The function of the orchestra is not reduced to accompaniment, but plays a central role by dominating essential parts of the composition without the soloist. The piece consists of three interlocking movements.
While creating the various musical layers of the composition, I was mainly interested in the question of how different their character has to be in order to be perceived as an autonomous structure. Some musical constellations, however, occur where the layers amalgamate into one single gesture. Something similar can be observed, metaphorically and associatively, in the very complex movements of cloud formations in the sky. A flexible polyphony of colours and forms is created by an abundance of overlapping and colourful shading, dissected by glistening light or coloured by magically iridescent sun beams. Foreground and background are permanently interchanging and melt into each other in an ever ongoing, highly flexible process.
Duration: 19' 00"
...figures perforées... (2006)
for flute, clarinet, violin, violoncello and piano
Prior to the work on "…figures perforées …", I worked extensively on a specific compositional technique by using two pianos tuned one-sixth of a tone apart from each other in the piece "…danses oniriques…". I prepared a little number of pitches with rubbers in both instruments in order to make them sound like bongos. The basic idea was not to have "prepared sounds" but to have a sort of "empty key click" in order to build one-voice microtonal scales by using both pianos in a quick and brilliant tempo (one piano plays a prepared note while the other plays a regular pitch and vice versa). By using this technique, the whole microtonal pool of both instruments could be handled in a quick and quite traditional pianistic way.
In the piece "…figures perforées …", I tried to "transpose" this technique, using a combination of woodwind instruments: flute and clarinet, where the flute has to be tuned one-quarter tone lower than the clarinet. Thus, the piece uses basically two microtonal melodic lines in a more or less parallel motion, where the flute always plays the quartertones and the clarinet the regular pitches. The instrumental lines must always "jump" from one to the other melodic line. This "job-sharing" results in a special coloristic aspect of the music.
At the beginning of the piece, the pianist creates resonance sounds with the lower strings of the instrument by playing heavy chords. The player thereby evokes "shadow-sounds" out of the piano and the little improvisational gestures function as little comments to the dark sounds in the reverb. Towards the end of this piano introduction, the string instruments take over the resonance function of the piano pedal. These two ideas: the piano solo and the woodwind-microtonal part appear in different moments and situations in order to be finally reunited at the end of the piece and followed by a calm and lucid coda.
Duration: 14' 30"
...sentiers tortueux... (2007)
for ensemble (fl, ob, cl, perc, 2pf, vn, va, vc, perc)
Before beginning the compositional work for this piece I stumbled across various images and sketches of projects by the architect Frank O. Gehry. What interested me most, apart from the overall sculptural quality of his building concept, was the illusion of synchrony between static and movement. Many of his buildings appear to want to "move" or even "flow". The clever bending and twisting of familiar forms seemingly circumvents the familiar "solid" aggregate state of a building. The subtle contrast between apparently organic "growths" and strict, clear conceptual design based on the laws of statics seems to be the reason for the curious and playful lightness of his work. "Familiar forms - twisted perspectives - two pianos tuned 1/6 tone apart".
In the first part of "...sentiers tortueux...." I worked with piano preparation and tuned one of the pianos 1/6 tone lower. The aim was not to attain a heterogenic sounding apparatus with the most varied of timbres in a Cage'schen sense, but rather to find another kind of timbric register on the piano. I worked exclusively with blind rivets of differing thickness. One or two rivets were jammed between the strings resulting in a gong-like sound. Using only one rivet for one set of three strings resulted in two different pitches, where one of the strings, which remained tuned normally, could also be tuned freely within a limited range much like a violin string - a feature I took advantage of in the conception of the harmony for this piece. In addition to the two pianos, the deepest two strings of each string instrument were also initially prepared using a self-made "wire paperclip". This resulted in nasal, gong-like sounds lacking keynotes, particularly when played pizzicato. These sound apparates made the first part into a quasi-small concert for "gong orchestra", where the above-mentioned piano and string sounds were used together with the percussion instruments to result in various sound mixtures that were only possible because of the preparation.
In the second part, the function of the piano preparation was, so to say, inverted in that it became a quasi-construction aid for another purpose. Most of the prepared tones were removed during a break in piano play before the second part. I wanted now to write a piano movement that quickly and easily gave me the various scales and intervals possible with the 1/6 tone instruments during virtuosic play. The aim was to design a movement that, through the "perforation" of a transitory pulse and a corresponding "perforation" by the other instruments, allowed an advantageous linear perambulation of the whole 24-tone reserve in any series of intervals. Ligeti exhibited something similar with blocked notes and pressed "mute keys" in the etude "Touches bloquées". For my piece, however, this highly effective technique would be inadequate due rapid changes in register and other deliberations.
As already mentioned, I have in this piece decided on a solution in the part-preparation of the instruments.
Duration: 22' 30"
...trio volubile... (2007)
for flute, violoncello and organ
Duration: 8' 00"
...trois bagatelles perforées... (2008)
for accordion
Duration: 10' 30"
...along 101... (2008)
for ensemble (
Roads connect - not only places geographically, but also epochs symbolically. The pulse of life runs along or upon roads - brutal violence, oppressive loneliness - or they open into unending expanses. Deals are done, dwellings are dwelt in, life is lived, words are spoken and food is eaten. Roads are or were always symbols of mobility, quality of life, tempo and freedom. The non-musical associative stimulus for my composition "...along 101..." was, however, based chiefly on one aspect. The often immensely long roads, prominent most particularly in US American cities, frequently connect various areas of urban life; the most variegated forms of city living and dwelling, different sociocultural contexts of human coexistence, hermetic subcultures and multicultural ethnic mixes are (seemingly) held together by one and the same road, bound by a never-changing signage or labelling.
The consistent pacing of a single road can potentially turn into a world trip.
What I was interested in from a compositional perspective was in how far it is possible within a consistent approach for deviation and the "foreign" and "unexpected" to be present without becoming a deliberate collage, but more a melting pot.
A sublimation of various impressions and moments without deviating from a certain overriding inner idea: In other words, how far can one lean out of the window without overbalancing, without falling out?
Duration: 12' 00"
Dreamland (2008)
for semi-professional choir and orchestra
Duration: 9' 30"
Brushing (2009)
for piano
Duration: 16' 00"
corrugated passacaille (2009)
for saxophone, violoncello and accordion
My composition "corrugated passacaille" for the Trio Ecco examines in many ways the traditional notion of the passacaglia. A rhythmical pattern, that in itself remains constant, is quasi-overgrown into an unrecognisable condition by various musical elements and objects, and later internally exploded by the interjection of additional meters such that the listener can no longer follow the rhythmical pattern. The initial rhythmical model is thus increasingly called into question, simultaneously eroded and overlaid / overfilled by overlapping musical levels. There also exists from the very beginning a clearly defined harmonic chord sequence that "harmonises" the rhythmical pattern. The cycle of the rhythmic is not equatable to that of the harmonic, which leads to both phases differing in length. The "passacaglia" pattern appears at half tempo in the middle part of the piece.
Duration: 14' 30"
Let's Brush (2009)
for 4 semi-professional pianists on one piano
The piano suite "Let's Brush" is composed for four young pianists between the ages of 12 and 15 who all play the same piano. Amongst other things, this piece uses brushes, mallets, thimbles, e-bows and bow hair. The brushes must be very soft in order to prevent damage to the piano. Piano builders assure me that no damage will ensue if the brushes are soft. It would be advantageous if pianist III were either a piano teacher or a very advanced player as this part is the most challenging. This piece was developed on a Steinway model B, but can be performed on other models of piano without any problem. The piano lid must be removed in order to play.
It is expected that the composition be first studied together with a teacher experienced in the interpretation of new music.
All pitch indications in this piece are approximate, that means the players do not need to play the notes exactly as written because they are altered anyway by the preparation and the brushing. All exact pitch indications are to be understood as regions, otherwise the piece would be unnecessarily difficult to play. Nevertheless, it seems sensible to symbolise the sound regions with conventional pitches.
Duration: 8' 00"
Chant fractal (2009)
for oboe and violin
In this composition, various parts differing in both material and character are set against each other. The single episodes are relatively short and are not the length of seperate movements, but function rather more like single areas of effect that alternate in short succession. Through the continually changing relation and combination of the these different parts, more and more formal links appear within the piece, creating a quasi rhetorical network of gestures and melodic elements. During the piece, the staticity of the alternating process is removed and the single effects fuse increasingly together.

Duration: 11' 00"
Blue and monochrome (2009)
for clarinet, saxophone and accordion
As the title already suggests, the piece "… blue and monochrome …" plays with many different facets of the same sound or instrumental timbre. Although the reeds of the accordion are not activated directly by the mouth, but by way of a mechanical process using the bellows, the sonority of the three instruments clarinet, saxophone and accordion is very similar where sound production is concerned. The compositional aim was, on the one hand, to fathom sound similarities with a high degree of mergence while still allowing the development of stark colour differences on the other.
The work consists - at least to begin with - of two clearly distinguishable parts. A quiet and improvisational part (that sounds at the very beginning of the piece) where the accordion is played as both solo instrument and is quasi accompanied by the two melodic instruments thus highlighting the accordion's timbric qualities and placing it in two different colour contexts - the aim being to create a pastel-coloured fragility of sound in the room. This quiet part is progressively interrupted by a second, more compact and hectic "presto volubile" part where the ensemble acts as a trio. Block-like "tutti" passages alternate with instrumental solos. As the piece develops further, the two main parts become less distinguishable and melt increasingly into a single musical character type.
Duration: 17' 00"
Slivers of Sound (2009)
for string quartet
The first movement has an irresolute, searching and restless character (which often changes rapidly and abruptly). Various melodies and ostinati appear quickly and are cut together like fractals or mosaics before they develop fully.
The second part is principally a stormy and virtuosic toccata that develops symmetrically outwards from the F4 axis. I have placed great emphasis on symmetrical chord structures throughout the piece. The single formal elements appear in ever more extreme and urgent manifestations during the course of this animated movement, and represent an attempt at portraying the excessive joy of Easter. Equally, single motivic forms are isolated throughout the movement resulting in a quasi-soloist character, where before these forms occupied only one of many functions in the tutti.
Duration: 5' 00"
...mélodie fractal... (2009)
for bass, trumpet, horn, trombone and organ
In this composition, various parts differing in both material and character are set against each other. The single episodes are relatively short and are not the length of seperate movements, but function rather more like single areas of affect that alternate in short succession. Through the continually changing relation and combination of the these different parts, more and more formal links appear within the piece, creating a quasi-rhetorical network of gestures and melodic elements. As the piece continues, the staticity of the alternating process is removed and the single affects fuse increasingly together.
Duration: 6' 00"
Piano Operation (2009)
for soprano, oboe, violoncello and piano
Texts: Ernst Jandl
Duration: 12' 00"
... vers le vent... (2010)
for string quartet
The string quartet "...vers le vent..." consists of two individual movements of which the second is the principal one.
In the first, short aphoristic phrases or short musical ideas are cut together after each other. The idea was to cut short episodes of completely different musical characters as short musical movements or film-cuts. Together they form a larger formal network over the course of time.
The second movement is very fast, lively and "volubile". Completely different from the first one where one single, stringently forward moving musical character is established within the piece. There are short melodic and rhythmic, clearly distinctive fragments in the foreground, contrasted by a slightly changing harmonic background. There is a slow middle section in the piece, which is contrasted by a sort of "reprise" of the first musical idea.
Duration: 16' 00"
Gruis (2010)
3 short pieces
for trumpet and horn
Duration: 7' 00"
Haikus (2010)
for soprano, flute, violoncello, piano and percussion
Duration: 9' 00"
...trois études-bagatelles... (2010)
for organ
The composition "… études bagatelles…" was created in close collaboration with the organist and first interpreter of the work, Elisabeth Zawadke, from Lucerne. The large organ in Lucerne's Jesuitenkirche was for us both an object of experimentation and a sound generator, being particularly capable of sound manipulation through modulation by only half pulled stops in the pp to mf range. Because the stops are only half pulled in certain parts, the pipes are not supplied with sufficient air, which leads to a completely different sound character and a change of pitch. Additionally, an irregular pitch vibrato is created with the help of an assistant inside the organ using a variable vibrato technique consisting of movements of the hand just above the pipe openings. Pure tracker action sounds, thimble rattling noises and pure tracker action glissandi are used in addition to the "normal" pitch. As well as the above mentioned techniques of sound manipulation, I also used in the piece "…études bagatelles…" a sound filtering technique, previously developed especially for organ. On the one hand side, a few pipes of a register were completely removed for the duration of the piece and used as quasi "holes" in continuous semiquaver runs, and on the other hand side, also in continuous semiquaver runs, certain notes were blocked by bourdon notes in the pedal, which was fixed to a certain manual. Basically, there are two different principles employed to achieve a similar acoustic result, using two completely different techniques. The special thing about these techniques is that they offer huge potential in organ maipulation in the sense of a quasi electronic set-up, creating a dazzling, brilliant and unusual, yet exotic and sensual sound quality.
Duration: 18' 00"
...étude-bagatelle... no. 4 (2011)
for organ and 4 assistants
Duration: 12' 00"