Buenos Aires has heard music of Gérard Grisey in earlier seasons, but the complete audition of his "Espaces acoustiques" at the Colón Contemporáneo series is an important event that allows our musical milieu a chance to evaluate his work.
The astonishing fact is that Grisey died in 1998, only 52, and that this creation was a work in progress from 1974 to 1985. So this music is at the start 4l-years-old, and at the end, 30. Not the last cry of the avantgarde... But spectral music is supposed to be just that! But in fact it arrived in BA very late in the game.
Which brings me to the conclusion that little both truly new and lasting has happened during the last half century and that no composer of really first rank has left his mark as such people as Bartók, Schönberg and Stravinsky in the older generation and Ligeti, Messiaen or Lutoslawski in the following certainly did. And as the same (with different names, of course) could be written about art or literature, I can only conclude that this cibernetic world of nowadays is one where artistic creation has steadily declined.
As I have written before, "contemporary" is a moot word, for if you are thirty you haven´t lived in Grisey´s time; and of course as we are thinking about what matters in a composer -obviously his production- anyone between roughly 1966 and 1998 was his contemporary; and after his death, we are still that as concerns the real kernel, his scores.
And here comes the rub: quite contrary to what we see, e.g., at the Mozarteum, Nuova Harmonia or the Buenos Aires Philharmonic, the audience in these Colón Contemporáneo concerts is young and some were kids when Grisey´s life stopped. They seem to be those that liked his music the most.
After these rather grim reflexions, let´s get down to business. What is "spectral music"? Grisey said: "music made with sounds, not with notes". From the hand programme: "using the tools of laboratories of electronic music, the composer studied the materials of texture, harmony and form condensed on each milisecond of an individual sound. The application of such parameters to instrumental music gave rise to what was called spectral music."
Grisey wrote: "The cycle ´Acoustic spaces´ consists of six instrumental pieces that may be interpreted in order, so that each one extends the acoustic space of the previous one: from the Prologue for solo viola until the Epilogue for four horn soloists and big orchestra. The unity is obtained by formal similitudes and by two acoustic phenomenons: harmonic spectre and periodicity." Curiously he started with "Periods" (1974) for 7 instruments and only later added "Partials" for 18 instruments (1975) and "Prologue" (1976, for solo viola).
Grisey: "I analyzed the sound spectre of the low E of the trombone. I took its basic components (fundamental note and its harmonics) and the 7 instruments played them. The language of ´Acoustic spaces´ can be defined with some decisions: to compose with the differences that separate sounds; to control the evolution of sound and its speed; the creation of new tonic colors permits the apparition of new structures of form and duration".
The three pieces I mentioned above were heard in the First Part; after the interval we heard "Modulations" (1977, for 33 instruments); "Transitories", 1981, for orchestra); and "Epilogue" (1985, four horns and orchestra).
The whole thing lasted 82 minutes in this performance; Garth Knox, well-known here, was the excellent violist; Tito Ceccherini, a first-rank specialist, got what seemed to me very good performances out of an Ensemble of 15 players (including a rarity, the contrabass clarinet) and the Orquesta Estable of the Colón. I don´t understand the import of two Franch horn players (Philippe Bord and Joël Lasry) for their parts could have been taken by local artists (the other two were Argentine-born or -resident: Margarete Mengel and Pablo Nalli: why not all four from the Estable?).
My reaction: interesting but not convincing. Some details: extreme density at times, big silences, little variety, pianissimi after paroxysms, harsh textures, turbulent ensembles, excessive alternation between two notes, lows opposed to highs, unison horns, and at the end, big drum fortissimo. A strange repeated joke: the player makes the gesture of striking the cymbals but he doesn´t. Something I didn´t understand: why a viola interlude between "Transitories" and "Epilogue"? (and to which piece it belongs?).
Brief reference to a rewarding concert: music of Luis Mucillo and his disciples at the Casa Fernández Blanco, small venue (70) with warm acoustics. Mucillo is an introvert, sensitive composer of enormous culture; his music mixes tonal and atonal and always searches for beauty and purity. "A true lover´s knot" (in English) is an evocation of Barbara Allen, admirably played by the composer. His "4 Miniaturas de Arnaldo Calveyra", sumptuously sung by Adriana Mastrángelo with Mucillo accompanying, were perceptive and refined.
His pupils showed good qualities: Ezequiel Castro in three of his "5 poems by Edgar Poe"; three of "Eight Preludes" for piano by Sebastián Boeris (played by Mucillo) with valid ideas; two works by Federico López: "Two poems by Chesterton" and a rather complex piece for six voices, flutes and harp, "Ven, Luz de Luz"; and fragments of "Diario de abril" by Alex Nante, enigmatic and intriguing, finely played by pianist Victoria Gianera.