The Ensemble Phoenix Basel was founded in 1998 by Swiss conductor and pianist Jürg Henneberger, flutist Christoph Bösch and percussionist Daniel Buess. Right from the start, this highly versatile orchestra for contemporary music had a significant impact on the cultural scene of its home city. Today, it is one of the most important groups of its kind in Switzerland and has also gained an international reputation.
The number of musicians onstage can range from two to almost thirty, making the ensemble ideally suited for performing the works of contemporary composers. This might be fairly common practice in companies these days, but what gives the Ensemble Phoenix Basel its unique edge is how it incorporates, and is driven by, the impulses and preferences of its individual members.
The Ensemble Phoenix has had close ties to the cultural centre Gare du Nord ever since its opening. The centre, located in Basel’s German railway station Badischer Bahnhof in the north of the city, not only serves as a venue for the ensemble’s annual concert series, but is also where the group works and rehearses as orchestra-in-residence.
One could certainly describe the Ensemble Phoenix as a „railway station orchestra“ of sorts, but very importantly, it is also a touring company: constantly on the move, exploring new horizons, and coming back with even more projects and new contacts.
This quest for new experiences is characterized by both constancy and curiosity. It allows the group to keep expanding the scope of its activities, from the aforementioned concert series at Gare du Nord to small tours in Switzerland or appearances at international festivals. As Ensemble Phoenix Basel could celebrate its 15-year anniversary on December 12th 2013, its musicians are in full stride: for a decade and a half, they have been cultivating and promoting a form of diversity without which Basel as a music city would be lacking essential impulses in the contemporary field.
Even a cursory glance at the group’s schedule reveals an extraordinary range of concert activity. For example, during the last couple of years alone, the ensemble not only performed at numerous events all over Europe (such as the Venice Biennale 2010, or the Bludenz Contemporary Music Days), but also in the U.S. (2011 BEAMS Electronic Music Marathon, Boston), Mexico (Festival del Centro Historico), Argentina (Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires), and China. As part of the Culturescapes Festival, the group visited Turkey and the Baltic countries.
A series of CDs documenting the different stages of the group’s development is available, while a concert/portrait CD highlighting the ensemble’s live qualities has been released by Musiques Suisses (Grammont). Moreover, the group has founded its own label, United Phoenix Records, that will compile and regularly release new concert recordings online, along with older treasures from the audio and video archives. United Phoenix Records will also be open to solo and group projects of various Phoenix members. The label aims at establishing a network of „performers, composers and artists“.
Swiss Radio DRS 2 has often been on location at concert evenings of the Ensemble Phoenix Basel, which is why these events are now among the most frequently recorded and broadcast contemporary music productions in the country.
Ensemble Phoenix Basel received on September 13th 2003 during the „European Culture Award“ ceremonies in Lucerne the „Ensemble Award «Thies Knauf» New Music“, in 2003 the „European Culture Prize“ of the Foundation Pro Europe and both in 2004 and 2006 the Prizes of the Ernst von Siemens Music Foundation.
In March 2014, Ensemble Phoenix Basel was nominated among 14 other Swiss music creators from any music branch for the first „Swiss Music Award“ of the BAK. The first „Swiss Grand Prix Music“ will be presented on September 19th 2014 by Federal Councillor Alain Berset at the festival „Label Suisse“ in Lausanne.