domingo, diciembre 16, 2012

Strange sounds from Kagel and Sciarrino

            The concerts of contemporary music organized by Martín Bauer for the Teatro San Martín have sometimes two characteristics: a) the events leave their "mother house", the Casacuberta (San Martín), for other venues; b) they can have a strong histrionic element that may dwarf the musical interest. Such was the case in two concerts this season.

            "Zwei-Mann-Orchester" by Mauricio Kagel (1931-2008) appeared in the hand programme as "Dos hombres orquesta" ("Two men-orchestras"), but I believe it can be construed both in this way or as "two orchestras played by two men"; the difference may be subtle but it exists. As readers probably known, Kagel was an Argentine musician that spent most of his life in Germany and became very widely known for his experiments in theatrical music. He does have valuable "music as music" but he liked to be a "provocateur". When he came to BA some years ago after a long exile we had both sides of him.  

            "Zwei-Mann-Orchester" had a long elaboration between 1971 and 1973. Kagel wrote an introduction for the Donaueschinger Musiktage 1973, where it was premiered. "The idea of a soloist-acrobat who...handles an inconceivable quantity of instruments seemed to me both fascinating and revealing. It stimulated my permanent desire to transgress norms and ridiculize them. The work depended on adapting the details of the machine to the corporeal mass of the two interpreters" (so, the piece is very much "ad hominem").  The machine was drawn by Ursula Burghardt, the composer´s wife, who thus gave Kagel a construction model.  And it was built by Klaus Schaefer with the aim of providing the audience a similar view from both sides. Kagel used a special type of analytical notation which fixes separately "the basic melodic, rhythmic and harmonic structures, but lets the player chose freely among them" (so every performance is different, aleatoric). "The artist becomes a polyfacetic automat,...a man who represents musical actions in an assembly line"; in certain bits a synthesizer helps. Each man plays about a hundred instruments of all kinds, even some very extravagant ones. And he doesn´t "travel"; he stays put in a chair and gets to far-off instruments with levers and hooks.

            Wilhelm Bruck and Theodor Ross premiered the piece, and almost two decades later, in 1992, they did it in Kassel. In 2011 a third version was built in a joint effort of the Paul Sacher Foundation, the Basel Academy of Music and the Tinguely Museum. This time Bruck was accompanied by Matthias Würsch. The Goethe-Institut of Buenos Aires decided to bring this version to BA. And what was dubbed last year the Colón Contemporáneo (basically a collaboration with the Bauer cycle)  was the purveyor of the venue, the so-called Sala del Bicentenario, which turned out to be the Sala Benavente of yore in the third cellar of the Colón, traditionally the great hall of stage design, unfortunately converted into an all-purpose rehearsal room in recent years, and now open for a performance for the first time. It worked very well as such and proved to have good acoustics.

            As the two men multiplied themselves, I heard indeterminate sounds, clashes, percussions, short melodies, a bicycle wheel, a Singer sowing machine, an aulos, a saw, string and wind instruments, et al. For 66' it went on , and then it was over. Well, I had fun, far from the prevailing aridity in these concerts, but of course I wouldn´t think of hearing this music in a CD; 80% of the experience was visual, a tour de force from the two guys who put their best effort (but I´ve certainly heard better violin or guitar playing elsewhere). But the machine in itself was a memorable contraption.

            I´m not a friend of Salvatore Sciarrino´s music, much promoted by Bauer. His morose speculation with the limits of audibility generally bores me. However, his "Studi per l´intonazione del mare" were described as written for a hundred saxophones, a hundred flutes, four flute soloists, four saxophone soloists, one voice and percussion, an  array vastly impressive that could be interesting enough in terms of pure timbre. So I went. And I was also lured by the possibility of getting to know the Usina del Arte, the transformed factory inaugurated this year as a multipurpose auditorium. Placed as it is in front of the freeway at the very margin of La Boca, it seems an unlikely venue. The building is very handsome from the outside and has been completely renovated in a modern way inside. And the City Government has made an effort with adequate signs to orient the driver; however, the parking places aren´t enough and you don´t get cabs easily. The acoustics of the main hall seemed pretty good. They lack a proper ticket organisation and we had an unacceptable delay of 40 minutes for a work that lasted...40 minutes.

            The numbers were hardly what Sciarrino wanted: 27 saxophones and 58 flutes. But the sound was convincing enough for my ears. As a purely timbric experience it was interesting, with stereophonic effects, for the soloists were up front but the massed flutes were up on the  right and the saxophones on the left. The substance seemed to me very thin, but the piece offered visual attraction and sound novelty. The artists were quite good, especially the Lost Cloud Quartet (saxes from Italy) and the singer Virginia Majorel, all led by Santiago Santoro with two assistants.

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