Playing with Imperfection: Imperfection in Music as a Fundamental Compositional and Performative Dimension
In the concluding public defence of his artistic doctoral research, Márcio Steuernagel examines in music and in critical reflection the question of what musical imperfection is, has been, and can be, and the positive aesthetic promises it holds. Offering a glimpse of his overall research but focusing on concrete examples of music-making and selected senses of musical imperfection, this presentation showcases some of the main findings and propositions emerging from Steuernagel’s four-year research. Rather than relying in concepts defined and limited a priori, Steuernagel embraces the multiplicity of musical imperfection as it is found in the praxis of music-making. This comprises the composition, the working process with performers, and the public performance of five new solo cycles and one ensemble piece. The documentation in audio and video of working sessions and concerts with the performers creates a corpus of referable data which grounds the research and the verbal discussion.
Though the artistic investigation forms the backbone of the inquiry, the research is not limited to these pieces, nor has the artistic creation as the final goal. Rather, the new compositions create the space in which the investigation happens, with a view to advancing comprehension of musical imperfection in a generalizable manner. Multiple scholarly approaches gravitate around this musical practice, enhancing critical reflexion. These include a thorough mapping of the imperfection/perfection dyad via dictionaries, thesauri and etymological sources, historically located philosophical discussions on the concept of aesthetic perfection, and reasoning based on common terms and fundamental notions. Grounding the discussion in the praxis of music-making allows the pursuit of imperfection as a relational and mobile term. As “imperfection” does not have a fixed meaning defined a priori, many of the meanings that it in fact assumes in common performance practice and musical creative practice can be explored with the flexibility that characterizes the term. The substantial advancement of understanding of many of the senses of musical imperfections affords the baselines for an imperfectionist creative practice, with consequences for the role of score and notation in the compositional activity, and advocates the demand for a deeply transformed performance practice.
The presentation features as an invited guest the cellist Stefanie Prenn, for whom Steuernagel composed the cello cycle always only once again, one of the five solo cycles of the research, which Prenn premièred in Vienna, February 2022. The cellist will perform selected pieces from the cycle, as well as fragments that not only illustrate the oral presentation, but create a second performative layer, allowing the audience not only to make sense of (i.e., “understand”), but to directly sense (i.e., “perceive”) many different senses of musical imperfection.
Internal Supervisors and External Advisors: Germán Toro-Pérez (ZHdK), Andreas Dorschel (KUG), José María Sánchez-Verdú (Robert Schumann Hochschule Düsseldorf / Real Conservatorio Superior de Música Madrid), Friederike Wißmann (Hochschule für Musik und Theater Rostock)
Márcio Steuernagel (1982) is a Brazilian conductor, composer and artistic researcher. He is main conductor of the Orquestra Filarmônica da Universidade Federal do Paraná, Conducting and Composing Professor at the Escola de Música e Belas Artes do Paraná/Universidade Estadual do Paraná, conductor of the Ensemble Móbile, and founding member of the Ensemble entreCompositores, with whom he directed the Music Today Biennale (2011 – 2017). He currently lives in Vienna, Austria, as a Doctoral Candidate at the Doctoral School for Artistic Research of the University of Music and Performing Arts Graz.
Steuernagel holds a Master in Music by the Federal University of Paraná (Curitiba, Brazil, 2008), and graduated in the State School of Music and Fine Arts with a double major in Conducting and Composition (Curitiba, Brazil, 2005) and in the Federal University of Paraná (Curitiba, Brazil, 2009) with a major in Music. Steuernagel studied conduction with Osvaldo Ferreira, Daisuke Soga, Fábio Mechetti and Alpaslan Ertüngealp; and composition with Mauricio Dottori, Stefano Gervasoni and, currently, Germán Toro-Pérez.
His compositions have been performed by groups such as the Platypus Ensemble (Vienna), Nova Camerata and Ensemble Móbile (Brazil), and orchestras such as Orquestra Sinfônica do Paraná, Camerata Antiqua de Curitiba, and Orquestra Filarmônica da Universidade Federal do Paraná, as well as soloists such as Eric Lamb, Kaoko Amano, Markus Sepperer, Stefanie Prenn, Marianna Oczowska, and many others.
He has conducted orchestras such as Orquestra Sinfônica do Paraná (where he was assistant conductor from 2011 to 2013), Orquestra Filarmônica de Minas Gerais, Orquestra Sinfônica do Teatro Nacional Claudio Santoro, Szolnok Symphony Orchestra, Opera de Baugé, Çukurova Devlet Senfoni Orkestrasi, and Orquestra de Câmara da Cidade de Curitiba. Ahead of orchestras as well as Brazilian and European ensembles (Platypus Ensemble, with whom he has collaborated continuously in 2019–2022), Steuernagel specializes in new music, and has directed many premières, including the Brazilian première of György Ligeti's Ramifications (2015), and the American première of Salvatore Sciarrino’s L’ideale lucente e le pagine rubate (2017).
Stefanie Prenn studied cello with Georg Baich, Tobias Kühne, Maarten Mostert, Dmitri Ferschtmann and Reinhard Latzko and graduated with distinction from the University of Music in Vienna in 2013. In addition, she completed numerous master classes (with Sandor Vegh, Natalia Gutman, Valter Despalj, Heidi Litschauer, Quirine Viersen, among others) and worked many times with the composer Georg Nussbaumer. Since the founding of the organisation for supradisciplinary art aiaia (see aiaia.at) in 2020, she has also worked in the combination of directing and dramaturgy. She has won prizes at national and international cello competitions (including the Mravinskij Competition in St. Petersburg, the Concertino Praga International Radio Competition) and has received numerous scholarships (including the Carl Michael Ziehrer Foundation, funding from the Austrian Federal Chancellery, the Lina and Thyll Dürr Foundation and the START scholarship). She has played with various chamber music formations (e.g. Ensemble xxj, Solistenensemble Kaleidoskop) and orchestras (e.g. Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra, Orchestra Mozart, Vienna Volksoper Orchestra, Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, Vienna State Opera Stage Orchestra, Bruckner Orchestra Linz). She is a member of the Ensemble Platypus. From 2016 - 2020 she is an assistant in Reinhard Latzko's class at the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna.