New York-based artist revels in life "After Yodel"

Sylvie Courvoisier in Brooklyn's Prospect Park

Swiss contemporary and avant-garde music is being showcased in New York as part of the "swisspeaks" festival in the city.

This content was published on March 25, 2003 - 11:11

swissinfo talked to Sylvie Courvoisier, an acclaimed Swiss composer living in New York, about what it is like to work in a much more competitive environment where arts funding, compared with Switzerland, is virtually nonexistent.

Strolling through Brooklyn's Prospect Park, my conversation with soft-spoken Courvoisier is often drowned out by passenger planes roaring overhead.

She says however that the sound of the jets is a welcome sign of a return to normalcy.

For days after the start of the Iraq war, the Brooklyn skies were filled with police helicopters.

"Every artist I know is against this war but we feel helpless," she says. "I wonder sometimes why I stay here."

In the next breath, she answers her own question. It is because of New York's vibrant musical community, one to which she feels she very much belongs.

Swiss natives

Courvoisier is performing at two swisspeaks events; "After Yodel: Downtown Improvised Music Festival" and "Swiss natives, New York residents" (see link).

In the former at the Tonic club - considered New York's premiere venue for experimental music - her name is not among the Swiss artists, but listed alongside the New York performers.

"The people here know that I am Swiss, but for them I'm a downtown pianist from New York," she says.

Born and raised in Lausanne, Courvoisier moved to New York about six years ago where she lives with her husband and musical collaborator, Mark Feldman.


She has often been commissioned to write pieces for concerts, radio, dance and theatre, and has performed at several major jazz and new music festivals across Europe.

Her compositions have been described by the Library of Congress in Washington as "...a strong and unmistakably personal mixture of expressionistic, minimalistic, polyphonic and modern jazz languages".

The commissions are a welcome source of income for Courvoisier who, since her move to New York, can no longer count on arts council funding.

No funding

"In New York there is no funding or very little," she says. "I have to tour and play in New York. You have to do as many concerts as you can, but you only get the receipts from the door.

"European musicians live a life of luxury in comparison," she adds.

According to Christian Marclay, the organiser of the After Yodel event, "New York has not been particularly welcoming to European avant garde musicians because of the scarcity of funding and the lack of adventurous spirits willing to champion new music".

That however, has not made New York less attractive for musicians like Courvoisier.

10,000 pianists

"There are about 10,000 pianists just in New York City alone so it's wonderful to be able to hear so many different styles of music," she says.

"A lot of people move to New York because of the art and the concentration of musicians and due to this concentration there is a lot of interaction - people are ready to try things.

"That is harder to do in Switzerland. It's possible but there are fewer musicians so you have to travel abroad, for example to France or Italy, if you want to find a specific style of music."

Despite her appearances at the swisspeaks events, Courvoisier does not want her music to be pigeonholed as Swiss influenced by modern American music.

She has become a New York resident and for her, the city is not first and foremost American but simply "a big town with a big community of musicians where there are a lot of concerts.

"That's the most positive aspect of living here."

swissinfo, Dale Bechtel in New York

Courvoisier swisspeaks

Sylvie Courvoisier was born in Lausanne in 1968.
She moved to New York in 1998.
She was the recipient of the Swiss "Prix des jeunes créateurs" award in 1996.

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Courvoisier swisspeaks

Sylvie Courvoisier is performing at two of the new music events in New York, which are part of the swisspeaks festival.

She is performing together with the Geneva musician Jacques Demierre on March 26 at the Tonic club as part of the "After Yodel: Downtown Improvised Music Festival".

Three days later, she will give a concert as part of the "Swiss natives, New York residents" series at the BAM café in Brooklyn, where she will take the stage along with her American husband and violinist, Mark Feldman.

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