Swiss Artist Talk presents: Nicole Johänntgen

The following interview was first published at the Swiss Consulate New York website in May 2016. I thank the Consulate General of Switzerland in New York for doing the interview and for permission to reproduce it here.

Swiss Artist Talk is a written interview series conducted by the Consulate General of Switzerland in New York featuring current Swiss artists-in-residence living in New York.

For the third interview of Swiss Artist Talk we are pleased to introduce Swiss jazz musician (alt-/ soprano saxophone) and composer Nicole Johänntgen! Johänntgen received a grant from the City of Zurich (Stadt Zürich Kultur) and is staying in a studio apartment located on the Lower East Side from March to September, 2016.

Nicole Johänntgen selfies

Nicole Johänntgen, born in 1981 in Quierschied/ Fischbach (Germany), moved to Zurich in 2005. Johänntgen studied Jazz Saxophon and Arrangements at Mannheim University of Music and Performing Arts. She produced nine CDs and performed all over the world. In 2015, she received the JTI Trier Jazz Award and a grant from City of Zurich. Since March 2016, Nicole Johänntgen has been living in New York.


What are you working on right now?
Nicole Johänntgen: I work right now on several subjects. I’m writing my first symphony in New York which is called: New York Symphony. In addition, I work on new songs for small bands. I’m recording mid-May in New Orleans a CD which I will name “Henry“. It’s a CD inspired by my father. His short name is Henry, too. And the 2nd CD I will record in New York is with subway musicians. I am very interested in the topic of martial arts in comparison with music. I’m even writing an article about that topic together with Professor William Lenihan of Washington University in Saint Louis Missouri (head of the jazz department). Additionally, I just visited a clown workshop to see what you can do without words. It was amazing! Also, I take lessons mainly in the subject of polyrhythm. This was the reason why I applied for the New York Atelier-Stipendium by the City of Zurich. In my music I missed the feeling of being secure in rhythms which you hear mostly by Indian musicians or totally advanced ones. When musicians don’t play a 4/4 beat or a 3/4 beat I always feel unsure. Through my lessons with the Indian tabla player Samir Chatterjee, I can gain knowledge about polyrhythm playing. And I gain confidence to improvise over it. It is all about trust, confidence, knowing the tools and breathing. All my work in New York is about gaining lots of new knowledge and making my art stronger in the way of just following it.

Can we see a picture of your current workspace?

Nicole Johänntgen’s workspace


What work of yours are you most proud of?
Nicole Johänntgen: Oh. I am proud of really starting my symphony. It was soooo long in my head. I just started in March and I don’t have time pressure so I take the days like they come and appear. But I am happy to have started it.

What inspires you the most?
Nicole Johänntgen: New York by itself. All these people I meet and see are inspiring me. Also birds – I‘ve figured out that I am very inspired by the voice of birds. Very interesting. Also, lots of incredible subway musicians are inspiring me. As soon as you enter the street you are caught in the wave of this city, moving step by step. It’s great!

How is New York influencing your work?
Nicole Johänntgen: All my new compositions are inspired by New York. Full subways, poor and rich people everywhere. There is no line in between. All these moments are in my compositions.

What is your favorite place in New York?
Nicole Johänntgen: Very inspiring was for me to stand on top of the Brooklyn Bridge in the middle of the night.

What are you hoping to gain from your stay here in New York that you can take with you back to Switzerland?
Nicole Johänntgen: My New York stay brought me space for music, for martial arts, for inspiring friendships, and time for myself – and I will take it back as my New York experience to Switzerland.

Where can people see more of your work?
Nicole Johänntgen: I have a website and there is a blog and you can read and see my work there.
Here is the link:
You can also follow my updates on social media, such as on Facebook.

Anything else you would like to add?
Nicole Johänntgen: In life, just go for it!

We’d like to give a special thanks to Nicole for taking the time to answer our questions. This is the third interview in a series of interviews with the artists in residence. Follow the hashtag #SwissArtNYC on twitter and Instagram for more Swiss art in NYC!

This interview was first published at the Swiss Consulate New York website in May 2016. I thank the Consulate General of Switzerland in New York for doing the interview and for permission to reproduce it here.