Readers may remember from articles I wrote previously about the current condition of composing that I am skeptical as to the dominating trends not only of the last decade but also about the last thirty years of the twentieth century. Several organisations offer cycles of what they call contemporary music; foremost are the cycles of the Complejo Teatral de Buenos Aires (generally in November), of the CETC (the Colón´s Center for Experimentation) and of Encuentros Internacionales de Música Contemporánea (generally in August). A few other groups, such as Música Oblicua, are also active in the field. Most of what I hear remains obstinately cryptic, unsmiling, dense, cerebral and monotonously boring. When I compare all that with the marvelous variety and real genius of so many great scores of the period 1900-1950, I can only conclude that there´s an enormous decline in creativity and freshness; exceptions only confirm the rule.
The 2010 season is the fourteenth cycle led by Martín Bauer at the Complejo Teatral. He remains completely consistent in his views, also shown in earlier years at the CETC (currently led by Willy Landín) and nowadays by the TACEC at the Teatro Argentino (La Plata). They don´t agree with mine and I certainly feel that if he were to give us a really ample panorama of composition in these last decades we wouldn´t come out so many times of his concerts baffled and even angry at such grotesque concoctions as he often inflicts on the hearers. On the other hand, he is skilled in production and practically always presents the works with a high proficiency: interpreters are generally first rate and what is programmed with much anticipation comes about at the proper time. But this year first the duel after Néstor Kirchner´s death and afterwards the Colón troubles forced the cancellation of the most attractive programme of the season: in it Alejo Pérez was going to premiere the fascinating Fourth Symphony by Charles Ives and "Jonchaies" by Xenakis.
As I do every year, I chose those things that had some interest for me and disregarded others. One concert attracted me but it clashed with another obligation and I couldn´t hear it: a homage to Schönberg (his First Chamber Symphony, a wonderful score); the other worthwhile inclusion was Ligeti´s Piano Concerto (1988). I didn´t enjoy "Aura", a strange experimental opera by José María Sánchez Verdú on a nouvelle by Carlos Fuentes. According to the composer it is "an authentic interplay of mirrors, of identities that interact in the past and in the present"; lyricism is very scant, distinguished singers (Virginia Correa Dupuy, Eugenia Fuente, the German Andreas Fischer) could do little with such material. Some interesting instrumentation can be salvaged (tuba, accordions), especially the invented auraphon: five tam-tams and gongs controlled from a sound table. Avantgardist Emilio García Wehbi conceived the cold, enigmatic staging. One unexpected sweetmeat made me react positively: fragments of the film "Alice in Wonderland" by Cecil Hepworth and Percy Stow (1903).
One of the two most important composers of the Italian avantgarde of the Sixties and Seventies was Luciano Berio, especially known for his Symphony written for the Swingle Singers. "A-Ronne" (1974) was appropriately sung by a vocal group called Nonsense, for it has a heavy injection of surrealistic humor in its exhaustive exploration of types of vocal emission, from noise to singing. More important, for it goes beyond mere experiment, is "Laborintus II" (1965), combining a narrator (Víctor Torres), three vocal soloists (Ana Santorelli, Selene Lara, Ana Moraitis), a choir of eight singer-actors and a 16-piece instrumental ensemble. It was created to celebrate the 700th anniversary of Dante´s birth and inspired by the homonymous poem by Edoardo Sanguinetti. I found a lot to admire in this complex web of sound very well interpreted with the leadership of Santiago Santero.
Gérard Grisey was the great standard bearer of the style called "spectral music" based on the sound spectre. "Le noir de l´étoile" ("The black of the star"), 1990, is visually fascinating: six percussionists spatially placed at various distances dialogue during about 45 minutes in a presumably cosmic experieence preceded by an 8-minute explanation on pulsars by, curiously enough, a poet (Jean-Pierre Luminet). The percussionists were excellent, three from Italy and three from Uruguay. Melodic instruments such as the xylophone are avoided, so we have pure rhythm, rather imaginative until one remembers Stravinsky´s "Rite of Spring".
Luigi Nono was homaged on the twentieth anniversary of his death. Strongly Marxist in many works, those chosen were purely musical and from a restricted time lapse (1976 to 1981). I found two of the works nihilistic and excessive: "Das atmende Klarsein" ("The breathing pure being") for amplified bass flute and tape; and "Fragmente-Stille, an Diotima" ("Quiet fragments, for Diotima"), an interminable 36´ meditation for string quartet. I rather liked "…sofferte onde serene…"("…suffered serene waves…") for piano and tape, much more animated and varied. First-rate players (Manuel Zurria, bass flute; Oscar Pizzo, piano; Diotima Quartet).
For the CETC Silvia Dabul offered a recital with two big scores: the severely serial "Piano piece in seven parts, recycling the bells", featuring also prepared piano, Tibetan earthen bowls and tape, by Michael Gielen. And the attractive "Mikrokosmos II" (1973, twelve fantasy-pieces after the Zodiac) by George Crumb (1929), 36´ of vital musical expressionism. Dabul played with utmost concentration and professionalism, communicating her enthusiasm for this music.