Funk and Wagnalls Dictionary: "contemporary: living or existing at the same time". Short and to the point, but it leaves some questions dangling. If I apply it to a composer, it stands to reason that I should be old enough to be able to appreciate his music. Well, I am 74; Béla Bartók died in 1945 and I was almost seven, barely able to understand his pieces "For children". But Stravinsky died in 1972, so he was my contemporary. And as I grew older, such newer composers as Berio or Ligeti were too. But if a music lover was born in 1970, Stravinsky wasn´t contemporary. Some composers are established classics though their music is still not in the public domain (70 years after his death); Richard Strauss died in 1949 and by that time I knew very little of his music, but in 1951 I triumphantly bought a marvelous record with "Don Juan " and "Till Eulenspiegel´s Merry Pranks" conducted by Clemens Krauss. And as a precocious DJ I put it on during lunch in a Mar del Plata hotel. For me it was a great classic; for my parents he was a contemporary.
Another angle: "contemporary" means according to the "Zeitgeist" ("spirit of the times")? If so, during the Thirties Stravinsky, Ravel or Schönberg responded to this idea but not Rachmaninov nor Strauss. Is it right for some programmers to eliminate tonal music written in the Sixties or Eighties? I feel it isn´t and that the accent on experimentation and avantgarde is only a part of the story. One has to be "progressive" up to a point, but any veteran knows that some glorified trends fell by the wayside through the decades, and that very little experimental music has remained on the repertoire. I stand on what I believe is the best position: a full acceptance of time-proven masterpieces in various styles and from all tendencies, and a cautious willingness to hear the trendy with a touch of skepticism.
It is in this direction that I want to comment on some recent events. I deeply admire the collective quality of the Arditti Quartet, several times our guest, and certainly welcome their presence at the Colón for the first time, inaugurating the five-event "Colón Contemporáneo" non-subscription series. Since its inception in 1974 the first violin has always been Irvine Arditti; the current group is renovated, with Ralf Ehlers (second violin), Lucas Fels (viola) and Ashot Sarkissjan (cello). After an incredible 38 years at his redoubtably difficult post, Arditti remains fully in charge. Although sometimes they play earlier repertoire, the Quartet is fully committed to the music of our time. They have commissioned and premiered dozens and dozens of scores, and their collective accuracy and conviction allows us to hear very difficult music with considerable faith in having experienced it under the best circumstances. Now, whether you like it or not is another thing.
The considerable audience that night (the theatre wasn´t full, but it´s quite a feat to interest so many people to such a tough musical menu) was very different from that of most Colón concerts: much younger and more Bohemian, probably a fan of the November series at the Teatro San Martín; and they were fascinated. Of course,when an enormous prestige has been well won, even a mainstream public reacts positively, and I remember that this happened with the Ensemble Intercontemporain under Pierre Boulez a good many years ago: "I didn´t understand the music but it seemed wonderfully played" was a typical comment.
Even in 1927 Bartók was an uncompromising composer, and his Fourth Quartet is a milestone of the genre that demands utmost concentration. Gyorgy Ligeti´s Second Quartet (1968) is of course much more "modern", but it has a heavy debt with Bartók´s, even in its unconventional five-movement structure. Beginning the Second Part, the Arditti played (a first time for them) as a homage to the recently deceased Gerardo Gandini, his only piece for quartet: "Two versions" (1981) are brief, melancholy, tonal, subtle, mainly pianissimo. In complete contrast; Helmut Lachenmann´s Quartet Nº 3, "Grido", brings us into the XXIst Century. The 22-minute score is dedicated to the then-members (2001) of the Arditti; first names: G for Graeme, R for Rohan, I for Irvine, D for Dov and an added O. But "Shout" becomes the piece, quite violent and complex: as the programme notes have it, "fissures, ruptures, questionings and enigmas". The encores: a fragment from Ferneyhough´s Fifth Quartet, and "Fetzen" ("Bits") by Wolfgang Rihm.
A brief account of Doug Varone and Dancers, a BAM Dance Motion USA presentation at the Sal Coronado in two free presentations. The Herald published recently an interview of Varone by Pablo Toledo. The company is well-established; it was founded in 1986 by choreographer-director Varone. It´s an accomplished chamber group; eight dancers came to BA, all of them athletic and in full command of modern dance style. The three choreographies were by Varone.
I preferred the first, "Lux" (2006), on Philip Glass´"The Light" in his usual minimalist repetitive stance; although I dislike this sort of music, its fast dynamic rhythm gave Varone a background for swift, very American groupings, danced with fine precision. The 12-minute "Home" (1988) was more mime than dancing: a marriage falls apart and two chairs are constantly used to express their misunderstandings. Well done by Lawrence Cassella and Erin Owen. Franky I can´t agree with the choice of music for the third piece: in "Carrugi" (2012) we hear 33 minutes taken from Mozart´s early oratorio "La Betulia Liberata" (the story of Judith and Holofernes) and although there was some good dancing I could establish no connection between the movements and what was being told.
For Buenos Aires Herald