Interview: »Transmitter between life and science«

[Translate to english:] Meike Senker und Kacper Dąbrowski

Composer Meike Senker and flutist Kacper Dąbrowski are part of the first cohort to complete their doctorates at the »European Doctoral College for Musical Interpretation and Artistic Research« (CDE-ICM)«. In this interview, they talk about what convinced them about the doctoral college, how they bring science and art together, and what advice they would give to other doctoral students.

Ms. Senker, Mr. Dąbrowski, for what reasons did you decide to do your doctorate at the CDE-ICM?

Meike Senker: I find it exciting that I can complete an artistic-scientific doctorate here. I take both fields very seriously and am happy to combine them profitably. In addition, a good degree was important to me: I teach at conservatories and would like to continue working in this field in the future. The PhD degree will help me in this. I knew the Freiburg University of Music beforehand, as I did my master's degree here at the New Music Institute with Johannes Schöllhorn.

What was the decisive factor for you, Mr. Dąbrowski?

Kacper Dąbrowski: I also completed my master's degree as a flutist at Freiburg University of Music. I was keen to do a PhD after that, and my teacher Mario Caroli pointed out to me the fantastic opportunity to do an international PhD at CDE-ICM with a globally recognized title. I am sure that we will build and create something here beyond our dissertations. Freiburg also convinced me: there is the university here and with Strasbourg and Basel two more centers for music in the immediate vicinity. It was clear to me: I have to stay here.

You have stayed in Freiburg, but you often commute to Strasbourg.

Kacper Dąbrowski: Yes, I work in both places: The supervisor for the scientific part of my work is the rector of Freiburg University of Music, Ludwig Holtmeier. The artistic part is supervised by Silvia Careddu, who teaches at the »Académie supérieure de musique de Strasbourg« and is first flutist at the »Orchestre National de France«. Thus I have contacts in both places. I find it exciting that the CDE-ICM is bilingual: My mother tongue is Polish, but I also speak French and learned German during my master's studies.

Your supervisors are both in Freiburg, Ms. Senker. How much contact do you have with the French doctoral students?

Meike Senker: That's right, my supervisors are Johannes Schöllhorn and Ludwig Holtmeier. During the Corona pandemic meetings were limited, but we already had one, which I found extremely exciting. The PhD students were able to give talks about their projects, followed by a discussion. Talking to others about my project gave me a lot of input – they often have a very different background than I do and have, for example, studied at a French university. Their perspective is a great enrichment to push ones own work further.

Could you briefly outline your PhD project?

Meike Senker: I am dealing with the multi-perspectival relationship between music and text in the work of the Italian composer Luciano Berio. I am dealing with the piece »A-Ronne« from 1975, which goes back to a collaboration between Berio and the poet Edoardo Sanguineti. Sanguineti wrote a text for that consists of short quotations – for example from the Gospel of John or texts from James Joyce. Berio has repeatedly processed this poem in different ways in his composition, for example as a jazz scat chant or as a baroque chorale. Important to my research on »A-Ronne« is Berio's notion of music as documentation of text: He says it serves on the one hand as an analytical tool for the text, and on the other hand the performers explore the text with their voices. Berio speaks of an exploratory-artistic attitude. I try to pursue this idea as a kind of composed documentation: Through analysis, but also by source research, the examination of Berio's texts and, of course, with my own compositional work, in order to update the compositional »field of research« opened up by Berio with today's means.

What are you engaged in, Mr. Dąbrowski?

Kacper Dąbrowski: I am very interested in the music of the German-Danish composer Friedrich Kuhlau and in his connections with the music of Ludwig van Beethoven. Unfortunately, there is no repertoire by Beethoven for flute, so we transcribe a lot. For doing so we can fall back on the literature of Kuhlau, who is often called the »Beethoven of the flute«. The core scientific question of my work is: Why is the music of those two so similar? And for what reasons did Kuhlau choose the flute and Beethoven did not? For the artistic part I will make a recording: I'm transcribing a violin sonata by Beethoven and taking an analytical and performance-practical approach.

What advice would you give to students pursuing an artistic-scientific doctorate?

Kacper Dąbrowski: You have to be passionate about your subject! This dissertation is for people who are already very knowledgeable about a topic and want to continue working on it. You also need a lot of curiosity and a a lot of exchange with other artists and scientists. We are a kind of transmitter, a link between life and science.

Meike Senker: You should ask yourself beforehand: What does it mean for my artistic work if I consider my art in a scientific context and my science as an artist? Both areas have to be brought together and for that you need great passion.

Interview: Ben Klaussner, December 2021

Further information on the European Doctoral College can be found on the website of CDE-ICM.

Foto: Ramon Manuel Schneeweiß