It’s difficult to visualize what it was like in the past. History books contain the facts but their presentation lacks emotion. I prefer the way movies and books embellish the truth to expose the essence of something. Until recently, I never thought that music could do something similar. But then I listened to Astoria By Jochen Tiberius Koch.
If you were strictly a writer of prose I think your work would exist somewhere between fiction and non-fiction. But you’re a musician, so I wonder if you feel a sense of responsibility for the “truthfulness” of your compositions?
Astoria tells the story of a place, an abandoned building across the street from the main train station in Leipzig, Germany. Its Victorian facade, built at the turn of the 20th century, is spotted with graffiti and broken windows. On its roof, large letters still read “Hotel Astoria”. Like a memoir, the album’s 12 tracks are organized in chronological order. They start with the building construction in 1912 and end with its present abandonment. Spoken-word and vocals narrate the story, piano, strings, and electronics construct the characters of the hotel.
What piqued your interest in the Hotel Astoria?
War is a fulcrum that splits Astoria in two.
The story that Astoria tells begins in the 21 years of peace after World War I. Remember, H.G. Wells called WWI “The War that Will End War.” Of course, that was wrong and listening to the first half of Astoria feels like peering into an old photograph of peacetime prosperity. Jochen Tiberius Koch renders the grandeur of Hotel Astoria with a contemporary sound, all the while destiny inches closer and closer, track after track.
The seventh composition, “33/45” marks a turning point for the album. 1933 representing the year Adolf Hitler was appointed to power and 1945 the end of WWII. It begins with the terrifying sound of an air raid, sirens, church bells, and a piano with the cadence of exploding missiles. Leipzig, Germany and the Hotel Astoria were severely damaged. The composition ends with a poem hauntingly performed by Astrid Hoeschel-Bellmann. Translation below:
smoke rises from ruins
lifeless life between ruins
the world collapses in fire
the mother grieves for her child
a child for his father
as surreal as in theater
the world tries to stand up
nobody needs the fascist spirit
The pivot toward modernity was the result of Violence.
Astoria’s second act captures the heart of the album’s thesis by expressing postwar disillusionment and the reactionary ambition of reconstruction, also known as Modernism. The usual history of Modernism goes something like this. After the war, artists and intellectuals sought to remake culture for the better. New forms of music, literature, art, and architecture were created to explicitly reject past ideologies. However, Astoria’s narrative takes an unusual departure.
Astoria posits that during the pivot toward modernism prewar culture and the artifacts produced by it were often disregarded as symbols of another less progressive time. The compositions that follow Astoria’s seventh track tell the story of modernism as abandonment. As illustrated by “Lost Place,” relics of prewar culture like the Hotel Astoria never really had a place in the modern world. However, that story isn’t complete.
What does the 2020 redevelopment of the Hotel Astoria’s mean to you?
Like architecture, music exists long after it's inception.
Art is inert but it often becomes a container for the metaphors we live by. It keeps living long after it’s inception, acquiring new meaning generation after generation. Today the Hotel Astoria represents something different than it once did, redevelopment. For better or worse, the Hotel Astoria is still empty but architects have crafted new floor plans and developers have acquired financing for construction. By the end of the year, she may see new faces visit her interiors and new staff wait upon her guests.
Astoria is emblematic of Contemporary Classical. Like the Hotel, it too is undergoing a form of redevelopment. The best versions of it take the abandoned pieces of Classical music history and create novelty from them. Jochen Tiberius Koch’s music shows us that the strength of Contemporary Classical is its ability to conjure newness built upon the foundation of the past.
ALL MUSIC BY JOCHEN TIBERIUS KOCH
THE SCHMALKALDEN PHILHARMONY CONDUCTED BY KNUT MASUR
RECORDED BY YUSSUF FRITZL AND JOCHEN T KOCH
AT FROGMORE STEWDIO COPENHAGEN – AUTUMN AND WINTER 2018; SPRING 2019
RECORDING ENGINEER DAVID MASSELTOFF
MASTERED BY RALF ZUCKOWSKI
WORDS ON 1 BY JOCHEN T KOCH; SPOKEN BY RAINER C. HERZMANN
WORDS ON 3 BY JOCHEN T KOCH; SPOKEN BY MANFRED KROOG
LYRICS ON 4 BY MINNA; SUNG BY MINNA
LYRICS ON 5 BY JOCHEN T KOCH; SUNG BY MINNA
LYRICS ON 7 BY MINNA; SUNG BY MINNA
WORDS ON 7 BY JOCHEN T KOCH; SPOKEN BY ASTRID HOESCHEL-BELLMANN
WORDS ON 9 BY GUNNAR SKROCKI; SPOKEN BY GUNNAR SKROCKI
LYRICS ON 12 BY FRAEULLEIN LAURA; SUNG BY FRAEULLEIN LAURA
COVERPAINTING AND DRAWINGS BY MARTIN SCHINDLER
ARTWORK BY SEAN GONORRHEA
A&R: Akira Kosemura
Creative Direction: Shin Kikuchi
Sales Promotion: Tokuhei Matsuo, Romain Meril and Matthieu Burel
Production Management: SCHOLE INC.