The art of listening

You are looking at a performance from our archive

Austrian composer Olga Neuwirth’s new work Le Encantadas has been called a pure listening experience. Likewise, Simon McBurney’s The Encounter is a performance which uses sound to capture the imagination. But what constitutes a listening experience? How does a concert or music theatre performance trigger the imagination and create a physical experience? Artists and academics discuss these questions and Olga Neuwirth explains her working methods on this evening at the Festival centre.


  • Michel Khalifa in conversation with Olga Neuwirth

  • Jutta Toelle (Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics, department of music): Listening to the Listener

  • Maarten Beirens (University of Amsterdam): Happy New Ears: a brief history of listening and contemporary music

  • Round Table with Olga Neuwirth, Henkjan Honing, Jutta Toelle, Maarten Beirens and Julia Kursell, moderated by Michel Khalifa


In her home country, the Austrian composer Olga Neuwirth (1968) is seen as the enfant terrible of the avant-garde. From 1985 until 1993 she studied in San Francisco (composition, film and fine art), at the Hochschule für Musik in Vienna and at the Paris IRCAM institute for electronic music. Neuwirth's music is characterised by a fascination for sound, which she developed listening to the spectral music of her teacher Tristan Murail and the late works by Luigi Nono.

In her musical universe, avant-garde music is frequently interspersed with elements from popular music and radio-play-like recordings. She also tends to include references to film, literature and architecture. Neuwirth had her international breakthrough in 1991 at the Wiener Festwochen, where she presented a series of mini operas based on texts by Nobel Prize for Literature winner Elfriede Jelinek. Together with Jelinek she also developed Lost Highway (2003), a total theatre experience with recorded video imagery, based on David Lynch's eponymous 1997 film. In 2011, Neuwirth and Jelinek teamed up again for American Lulu, an adaptation of Alban Berg's opera Lulu with a distinctly jazzy score written by Neuwirth. As well as works for music theatre, Neuwirth also likes writing chamber music and solo pieces, invariably combining their live performance with video or sound, as evidenced in her work Torsion (2003) for bassoon and tape. Neuwirth has won several music awards. In 2010 she was the first woman to receive the Grand Austrian State Prize. 

Jutta Toelle (Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics) researches various sociological, historical, anthropological and aesthetic questions in the field of music. For years, she has been interested in exploring the interstices between music and economics and between music, globalization and the colonial encounter. Currently, her research project on Music and Mission in Early Modern Latin America asks why human beings ascribe such powers to musics and how we communicate through music and sounds. Concert research, her other present scientific focus, corresponds with these fundamental questions of music-making and listening, combining them with empirical approaches. 

Henkjan Honing (1959) is professor in Music Cognition at both the Faculty of Humanities and the Faculty of Science of the University of Amsterdam (UvA). He conducts his research under the auspices of the Institute for Logic, Language and Computation (ILLC) and the University of Amsterdam's Brain and Cognition (ABC) Center. Henkjan Honing is known as a passionate researcher in this new interdisciplinary field that gives us fundamental insights in the cognitive mechanisms underlying musicality. He authored over 150 international publications in the area of music cognition and music technology.

Julia Kursell is professor and chair of the Institute of Musicology at the University of Amsterdam. She studied musicology, Slavic philology and comparative literature in Munich, Moscow and Los Angeles, and completed her doctoral studies at Munich University with a thesis on music in the early Russian Avant-Garde. Her research interests include 20th and 21st-century composition, the history of musicology and the relation between music and science. Currently, she is working on a book project on tacit knowledge in musicology. 

Michel Khalifa (1965) studied musicology at Utrecht University. He contributed music reviews to the daily newspaper Het Parool from 2004 to 2008 and still writes on a regular basis for the magazines Preludium and Odeon. He has given pre-concert talks and music appreciation courses for the major orchestras, festivals and concert halls in the Netherlands. From 2010 to 2012, he was editor-in-chief of Bravo!, the anniversary book of the Concertgebouw and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. At the Conservatorium van Amsterdam, Michel Khalifa lectures about music history, aesthetics and the notation of twentieth-century music. Since 2012, he coordinates the history faculty of the classical department.




Olga Neuwirth
Michel Khalifa
Jutta Toelle
Maarten Beirens
Henkjan Honing
Julia Kursell
Michel Khalifa
co organised by
University of Amsterdam

This performance was made possible with support by