Hans Huyssen’s professional activities range from composer, performing cellist and conductor to musicologist and university lecturer. He began his professional career as a Baroque cellist in the late 1980s, touring and performing extensively with various Austrian and German period instrument ensembles, following his studies with the well known cellist Heidi Litschauer and Early Music pioneer Nikolaus Harnoncourt at the Mozarteum in Salzburg.
Huyssen subsequently extended Harnoncourt’s historically informed understanding of Early Music to a contextualized reading of both contemporary and specific indigenous African idioms. As composer, this extension led him to a fruitful conceptualization of new music as a form of continuously evolving ‘period music' of our own time. Contrary to avant-garde dictates of dismissing all traditional links and treating music as fully autonomous art, he would instead deliberately seek to connect music to related and pertinent contexts. As musicologist, the extension has allowed him to appreciate skilful renditions of indigenous music on traditional African instruments as local instances of historically informed performance practice. This conception further enabled him to engage even with seemingly exotic forms of expression, by applying established methodologies of unlocking Early Music, thereby facilitating constructive intercultural dialogues and collaborations between equals, regardless of cultural and social differences.
In this vein he initiated the production of the highly acclaimed CD / CD-R Fynbos Calling and directed an African adaptation of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas for Cape Town Opera at the 2002 Spier Arts Festival. The collaboration with the veteran Pondo singer Madosini resulted in the creation of The Songs of Madosini, a chamber music work showcasing Madosini’s art, which has been performed frequently in South Africa and toured Europe on three occasions. Working with the Venda Thikundwi kha Sialala group led to the composition of Ciacona & Tshikona, integrating a Western symphony orchestra into the ritualistic performance of a traditional Tshikona dance.
His African opera MASQUE, based on an original libretto by Ilija Trojanow and hosted by Cape Town Opera in 2005, was the most enterprising endeavour of this sort, assembling a large cast of singers and instrumentalists from the realms of indigenous and contemporary music with both African and European roots into a large-scale stage production. Huyssen’s extensive work in the intercultural sphere in response to the challenges and opportunities given by South Africa’s rich cultural diversity, has been acknowledged widely and has qualified him as a rated researcher of the National Research Foundation.
Pressed by a dense commissioning schedule, Huyssen focussed mainly on his compositional work for a number of years. This has led to a portfolio of over 50 internationally performed works to date and has garnered him the Helgard Steyn Award, South Africa’s most prestigious composition prize, in 2010. However, following his conducting debut with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen in 2001 he has also been in steady demand as a conductor. Since his return to South Africa he has worked with all the country’s major orchestras, as well as the South African National Youth Orchestra as well as the Free State Youth Orchestra and the Odeion Sinfonietta. Apart from invitations to lead performances of his own works he also gets invited as specialist for interpretations of African or Early Music.
His repertoire reveals a clear preference for works from the Baroque era, which he has studied and performed extensively, both as cellist and musical director. His interpretations as conductor have been appraised for their musical vigour and their explicit emphasis on communicative and stylistically nuanced qualities. Accordingly, his interpretive approach is strongly determined by historical performance principles, not as a way of re-enacting the past, but applied as a means of translating historical codes of expression into meaningful contemporary ones. From this approach the combination of early and new music follows naturally, as do the related activities of performing and composing.
Huyssen is a passionate educator, with a special enthusiasm for music history. From 2005 – 2013 he was a senior lecturer at the University of the Free State. Since 2014 he is affiliated to the South African College of Music at the University of Cape Town. His activities in the field of Early Music had him involved in numerous initiatives to promote a deeper understanding of the implications and the importance of informed performances. This work has lead to the establishment of the Cape Consort in 2011, a Cape Town based professional vocal ensemble, which has locally pioneered performances of Renaissance and Baroque music to great acclaim.
Though living in South Africa, Huyssen has nevertheless continuously been working in Europe as well, most notably as artistic director of the Munich based period instrument ensemble così facciamo. This group regularly performs at German, Austrian and Swiss theatres, presenting an individually developed brand of historically informed, yet modernly staged Baroque opera productions.