Interview with ISB Alumni and Musical Composers,
Paul Schmidt ('17) and Simon vander Plaetse ('16)
In the summer of 2017, the contemporary ballet piece “Besessen” was performed for the first time. The planning for the event began over a year before when two friends began talking about a project together where one choreographs and the other writes the music. During the next five months, two International School Basel Alumni, Simon ('16) and Paul ('17), came together to compose the music and on 30 June 2017, "Besessen" celebrated its official opening night.
When did you become interested in music?
Paul: Both of my parents are professional musicians, so music has always been part of my life. My curiosity peaked when I heard Beethoven’s Symphony #7 for the very first time.
Simon: I became interested in music from an early age. My parents and older siblings all played an instrument, so I grew up with the sound of them practicing, and soon I was playing an instrument myself.
What instruments do you play?
Paul: I play the cello and a little bit of piano.
Simon: Classical guitar. And a bit of piano.
When and how did you start to write music?
Paul: Composing music started off as a hobby. I always played around on the piano creating my very own scales and harmonies. I started to study composition formally when I turned 15.
Simon: This kind of just happened by itself, as I was playing the piano. I wrote my first half minute piece when I was 12 (it was terrible) and have been composing mostly for fun and for myself ever since.
How did you become involved with writing the music for “Besessen”?
Paul: The leader of the Fluxcrew, Arlette Dellers, and I met in a summer youth orchestra. We became friends and decided to work on a project together where I write the music and she choreographs.
Simon: I became involved in the project through Paul, who asked me if I wanted to join him in writing the music.
How did you compose the music for the ballet? What were the challenges?
Simon: Writing for this ballet wasn’t easy. Composing music for dancers was a new experience for both of us. We received the script or the story to the ballet around mid-November 2016, and the first thing we noticed was that the story was no story at all. It was just a compilation of various scenes. Due to this, we both struggled coming up with music, to a story which does not have a plot. After few hours of thinking and studying the Leitmotiv system, a musical technique popularised by Richard Wagner, we decided to base the entire ballet on one musical idea, or a musical cell. If every scene was based on this cell, we believed we could link the scenes together musically and create a story out of it. I believe we made around 15 different variations of this musical cell. Simon and I split the task, where he composed half of the music, and I composed the other half. This was a struggle as well as Simon and I have different musical processes, and we compose different styles of music. We were afraid that we may end up writing music which would be foreign to each other. Although, we both agreed to base our music on the musical cell, and throughout our process, we looked at each other’s work and gave good criticism to each other. We now have a better understanding of each other’s style in music, and every minute of composing with Simon was a joy.
How long did it take you to write the music for “Besessen”?
Paul: It took us about 5 months to finish. I still had to complete the IB, and Simon was busy practicing for upcoming concerts.
What are your next music projects?
Paul: Currently, I am not working on a project. However, I will soon conduct a string chamber group where we will play film scores written by Bernard Herrmann, Hans Zimmer, John Williams and so forth.
Simon: In March, I will be playing in a youth competition. Other than that I am mostly just preparing repertoire for class concerts. In April, I will be doing an Improv concert with some of the dancers from the Fluxcrew. Both the music and dancing will be (planned) improvisation.
What are you doing now and what are your plans for the next 3-5 years?
Paul: I am taking a gap year to focus on music. I am currently attending a pre-college in Zürich, studying film music. I plan to study in Zürich where they have an amazing program for composition.
Simon: I am now doing a Bachelor’s degree at the Musik-Akademie Basel. In the next three to five years I want to finish my bachelors, and continue with a masters degree either here or somewhere else.
What are your favorite pieces?
Paul: My favorite piece would definitely be the Sacrificial Dance of the Rite of Spring.
Simon: Definitely Pavane by Faure.
Thank you to Paul and Simon for sharing their story with the ISB community. We love to hear from our alumni. If you would like to share your alumni story, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.