New Voice: Bernhard Philipp Eder

Bernhard P. Eder
Bernhard P. Eder

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Bernhard Philipp Eder, born in 1984 and raised in Vienna, Austria, has devoted his life to the arts of music from a very early age, when he began taking piano lessons and visiting classical concerts.  At the age of 15, while studying at the Konservatorium Wien University and the Musikgymnasium Wien Neustiftgasse (Neustiftgasse Music High School Vienna), he made the decision to become a composer and conductor.  After High School graduation, he spent his obligatory military service time as a pianist and arranger at the Military Music Department Vienna.

From 2005 till 2013, Eder studied composition with Martin Lichtfuss, Reinhard Karger, and Michael Jarrell at the University of Music and Performing Arts, Vienna – also studying orchestration with Ertugrul Sevsay – and graduated there as a Magister artium (Master of Arts) in January 2013.  In 2006 he won the 1st prize at the “Salieri Today” international composing competition.  Since 2009 he has also studied orchestral conducting at the Music University Vienna with Uros Lajovic & Simeon Pironkoff.

Eder attended conducting masterclasses with Bertrand de Billy, Fabio Luisi, Johannes Wildner and Naoki Sugiyama. He has conducted such orchestras as the Sinfonietta dell’ Arte (Vienna), Klaspärlimäng Sinfonietta (Estonia).  As a conductor Bernhard Eder sets a special focus on performing contemporary music, also in conducting and/or supervising film music recording sessions.   Eder also organised & conducted his own orchestral and vocal ensemble for the recording of his first feature film score “Nostromo“ (an Austrian independent production, premiered in May 2014).

He regularly participated in the Hollywood Music Workshop in Lower Austria from 2009-2013, under the instruction of renowned film scoring professionals Bruce Broughton, Blake Neely and Conrad Pope.  Additionally he has conducted several of the workshops recording sessions with the ensemble there in 2012 & 2013. Eder participated at the “Out at S.E.A.” chamber opera composing workshop with Peter Eötvös in Budapest, Hungary in April 2013.

In June 2014 he was invited and participated as guest composer at the ensemble mise-en new music festival in New York City, USA.  Eder also works as a freelance arranger and orchestrator for such prominent arts organisations as Hollywood in Vienna, Prague Philharmonics, Max Steiner Orchestra Vienna, GK-Filmorchestra Vienna and exil arte.


What is your earliest musical memory that, in looking back, has proved to be significant regarding your career as a composer?

Well, this is a tough one.  Music has always had a very important role in my family, be it singing or playing together, especially listening to music.  I can remember watching Karajan or Bernstein on TV as a very young child and then mimicking their conducting movements while standing up on a chair.  I listened a lot to music, my parents took me to concerts and opera performances and so on.  I also took early piano lessons, but to be honest, I was very lazy then. I already started to improvise and play/recreate pieces I’ve heard by ear on the piano.  

Back then I wasn’t very good at reading notes, as I learned everything so fast just by listening to it because of my good memory and my perfect pitch.  In ground school I always sang 2nd voices and fitting harmony notes or accompaniments to all the songs we did automatically, so that of course too was a sign.  My teacher back then noticed that and suggested to my parents that I should attend the Music High School in Vienna when done with ground school. (So she also played an important role in how it came all together.  Around the age of 10 I finally had the luck of getting a piano teacher who was able to bring me back the fun and joy of making music and when I came to the Music High school in Vienna, it all got even better. I improved technically both on the instrument and in music theory, optimized my skills and so on. 

But really significant and important would be that when I was in ground school, I already imagined music in my head that I clearly haven’t heard somewhere before. Of course a lot of it was derivative from the music I back then knew (Mozart, Beethoven etc.), but it already showed to me that there was more in music for me than I was originally aware of. 

My final decision to go for a musicians career as a composer and later a conductor came around my middle teenage years, as I met so many inspiring and talented young colleagues in my time at the Music High School and also got inspired by many concerts and new teachers I encountered. One fellow colleague of mine already composed since the age of 6, and that also was one of the biggest motivators for me to try composing myself and develop my skills in that.   

I started to compose autodidactic at first, I only had the basic music theoretical background I got from the music lessons at my school.  One teacher there in particular supported me a lot in my first steps of composing and became my mentor, and I’m still very grateful for that as he also taught and supported me at my first steps in conducting.  Around 16 I additionally started to learn organ and that also of course influenced my way as a composer, as improvising is very much demanded in this field. Sadly when I got into my 3rd year in composing at the University, there was no more time for it and I – with greatest regrets – have to give up on it. 

Over all these years before I started to study at the University and got introduced to completely different aesthetics, styles. There were and sometimes still are many eyeopeners for me, no matter if I liked the music I heard or not. Even from the things I do not like or at least don’t get much excitement from, I try to take everything with me so I can examine why or why not something appealed to me.

Even when I do not agree with certain viewpoints of some composers, I still try to learn as much as I can from them and confront myself with it to become a better musician. 

That way I also can have more ground on my critic on certain things in today’s music. 

I still have lots of musical ideas, soundscapes, noises and so on floating through my head. Be it after I heard a new piece or when I have something that inspires my creativity. 

And basically it all goes back to this realization I had as a child…

Are there composers who have been influential or relevant regarding your own work?  Has this changed over time?

The biggest influence of composers whose music I heard in the movies was especially Jerry Goldsmith. He also had a very big influence on me in my motivation to become a composer.

Other composers also were Theodor Berger, Maurice Ravel, Alban Berg, Salvatore Sciarrino, Alfred Schnittke, Olivier Messiaen, Toru Takemitsu, Henri Dutilleux and very much Witold Lutoslawski.  And actually all of them still are, though maybe not in each aesthetic direction, but in each of their individual musical language that I admire and I still can learn something each time I take a look at their music. 

As I try to create and improve my own distinctive musical language, I base it on all the things I know and which I find interesting and coming from a tradition, without either being “old-fashioned” or “totally avant garde that it’s actually not playable anymore”.  I want to challenge the performers and the audience, but still also want to build a connection to each and every one of them. 

I like the interaction and exchange with the musicians who play my music, to optimize their parts or learn what I could improve here and there.  The favorite music I listen to of course changes from time to time, depending on my mood etc., but I can get as much epiphanies out of a Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Mahler, Debussy, Schreker or Ravel as well as a Ligeti, Cerha, Grisey or Berio. 

As long as I can manage to create a music that seems “timeless” (so when you listen to it, you would say it’s a “typical Eder” but not a “typical 2000-period”-piece), I’ve reached a goal.

Would you mind speaking a little concerning your working process, i.e., do you have a regular schedule for writing; do you use a computer for composing (either for creating pre-composition materials or notation), if so, do you find that it inhibits your process?  What other technology, if any, do you use?

I use Sibelius (currently version 7) for all my pieces, be it concert works, arrangements or film music, but I do my compositional sketches on paper and at the piano.   

There I mostly write down my concepts, materials that I may want to use and work with and also revise certain parts that I want to expand on the printed working score.  For practical reasons (instant corrections, sending PDF’s to colleagues/musicians for feedback etc.) I usually then compose the whole in piece while writing the score in Sibelius, though that sometimes has its own problems I have to solve; most times regarding certain contemporary, avant garde notations and advanced playing techniques.

It even gets worse when I want to write aleatoric structures, as all those notation programs are not optimized for this. 

But over the years I of course have become better with lots of it, though I have to admit that I sometimes have the feeling that while doing it all on the computer and also making the mistake of using the playback feature (when using lots of different playing techniques you don’t have a sample of, it’s mostly just to see if certain pitches here and there at least are correct), I get limited by the program I use because I’m also already working on the score layout. 

I’m a perfectionist, I want everything to be legibly so when at rehearsal the musicians at least do not face the problem of what intention I actually have for them at a certain section.  Also I can print out the result anytime and revise it, mark things I don’t like or want to change and can do that immediately on the computer without having to erase the whole thing on the paper. 

I prefer writing everything I want down in scores, every little detail etc., as I intent to write for musicians and not for machines (and in case it has to be conducted, have every important information easily available for the conductor). 

Although sometimes, especially when dealing with film music, I’ll have to work with sequencers and sampling programs, I’ll usually write everything down first and then let it be done in a sequencer etc. for mockups and so on, as I (see above) prefer to write for real musicians and use their advantages in a full potential.  For mockups, experimenting etc. I use Cubase. 

I sadly do not have a regular writing schedule, as I am both busy with still studying conducting and the lack of commissions or performance dates lately. I prefer to write a new piece with a goal in mind, be it a certain concert or something else. I have to get enough motivation to fight myself through another series of self-doubt, self-criticism and fighting with notational problems (speaking of which: Never turn a notational problem into a musical problem!). 

Also sometimes I get stuck and won’t know exactly where I want to go with a certain piece, as I want to try out new things I haven’t down before with each new composition.  So everything has a flip side, but actually I’m happy when I have to work on a new composition. I just hope I can get to do it more often now.  When I have a real project to work on, the workflow most times comes from itself, depending on what the exact assignment is and when the deadline is due.

Please describe a recent work and provide a link to an audio clip.

I have composed “conundrum” between October, 2009 and April, 2010.  I have tried out many new (at least for myself) elements of composition in this piece.

The idea behind it was the attempt to create as much rich timbres etc. as possible out of a limited tone and register space and sound space (as there also is the lack of other things as no deep tones/chords/sounds; also the ensemble builds a a homophone instrument combination with the same timbre relationship).

The violins are put up symmetrically in a semicircle, in order to create a kind of “Real Life Dolby Surround sound” feeling of the melodic lines, sounds developments etc. by the different instruments in all possible directions and combinations (e.g., on the left – on the right, outside – inside, etc.).  Besides, the 4th violin forms a kind of centre from which everything passes around the ball and from which as good as everything is initiated. It was important for me, while writing the piece, to pay attention that the degree of technical difficulty is almost equal to the play within all 7 violins.


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