Musicology and Research
During his career, Ernst Theis hasn’t only been involved in the interpretation of music. He has also worked intensively within the field of musicology while researching and preparing contemporary music, Music on the Air (RadioMusiken
), and works which were written in the first third of the 20th century.
Although contemporary aesthetics haven’t taken any specific precedence in his artistic productivity since his work with contemporary music in the 1990s, he continues to explore questions about the current state of art music and therefore keeps developing his wide critical view of the avant-garde music scene. To find definite answers to his many questions, Ernst Theis believes, would contradict the very essence of artistic creativity and would inhibit the development of music as an art. For him, performing contemporary works is an artistic duty. The framework and venues for such development are unimportant, let it be small rooms or large halls in Vienna, he leaves the mark of his personal venture within the progression of contemporary music. His repertoire within this area of music speaks for itself
and, as he already demonstrated back in 1996 when he conducted Stockhausen’s Mixturen as the Prize Winner of the Conducting Competition of the International Summer Courses for New Music in Darmstadt with its director, Peter Eötvös, he knows how to execute difficult modern compositions with skill.
Based on his exploration of new music, Ernst Theis went on to found the Austrian Chamber Symphony (Österreichische Kammersymphoniker) in 1990, with whom he performed countless concerts. The juxtaposition of the ensemble’s seemingly tame name and its avant-garde agenda exemplified that, for him, new music is never simply about sheer modernity, but instead about the developing an understanding of music and its stages of evolution up to the present. He was heard saying, “There are two kinds of musicians: good and bad. Many of the good ones aren’t interested in contemporary music and those are the ones who shouldn’t be invited to projects with new music.” Although this comment didn’t make him the absolute darling of the avant-garde, it demonstrates what kind of questions he is willing to ask himself. For him, a true musical gift exists only in symbiosis with a curiosity for the new, with self discipline, with tolerance and with a strong feel for the current direction of music that points toward the present.
For the project, Music on the Air (RadioMusiken), that Ernst Theis has implemented in Dresden since 2005, he also found those collaborators that he needed to fulfil his potential as an artist in this field. Two examples are Dr. Steffen Lieberwirth, then music director at the Central German Broadcasting’s (MDR) station Figaro, and Dr. Jens-Uwe Völmecke, who is on staff at the West and Central German Broadcasting companies. The two chose not to establish the project at one of their large radio stations, but instead turned to Dresden, where the head conductor Enst Theis, with his vast experience with music from this Era, had already prepared his orchestra and laid the foundations for such a project. Uwe Schneider, editor of the media at the State Operetta and personal assistant to the impresario, joined the team soon after and, together with Ernst Theis, creates the dramaturgical link between Dresden State Operetta and the Central German Broadcasting.
Ernst Theis’ path has often steered toward that which is often incompatible with typical art circles: scholarship. The comprehensive research that went into the project Music on the Air (Radio Musiken) and the countless styles of music that correspond with this time period between 1923 and 1933 lead him to start writing a dissertation on “Music for the Medium of Radio.” It is currently in the last third of completion. Despite the time pressures of being head conductor of a German theatre, Ernst Theis also taught at the university level from 2003 to 2009, thereafter dedicating all his time to his responsibilities in Dresden and to his dissertation.
His topics of research include: what really happened between the turn of the century and 1920? This controversial topic, perhaps more delicate than any other in cultural politics, brings an array of answers to light. Maybe Schoenberg was completely right, or completely wrong - a sacrilege, an opportunity, an injustice, a necessity ... Who knows? Ernst Theis doesn’t either. He tries to collect and organise his thoughts without bias, which constantly creates new important topics for his work. The topic that has become closest to his heart is neurobiology and the neurobiological effects of music on the human central nervous system. It isn’t necessarily the topic one would expect from a conductor, but it is an indispensible one for Ernst Theis.