As I commented recently, La Plata´s Teatro Argentino is now run by Martín Bauer, known for the Colón Contemporáneo cycle and for two decades the November Cycle of contemporary music centered on the Teatro San Martín. Now he has followed his bent for current trends presenting Louis Andriessen´s "De Materie", a scenic concert, not an opera; an Argentine première.
Louis Andriessen was born in 1939 and is the son of distinguished Dutch composer Hendrik Andriessen. The Dutch school of composition has been important during almost the whole of last century, but very little of its vast output has been known in Argentina. Those of us who believe in the power of records cherish the Donemus collection, in which the recordings were accompanied by the scores.
Louis Andriessen has delved in many styles and from a minimalist base has added many other conceptions of sound, a trend that in good hands can lead to interesting results, such as Tippett´s profane oratorio "A child of our time", but also to unpalatable jumbles such as Bernstein´s Mass. Well, for me "De Materie" is half-and-half.
The composer has had singular accolades in recent years, such as festivals dedicated to his music at London´s Southbank and Barbican, or New York´s Lincoln Center. But Philip Glass has also been much promoted and a lot of what he does isn´t good. However, mixtures of all kinds are the rage also in popular music during the last three decades and "purity" is looked upon as passé. However, some of us deplore it, and I´m not even elaborating about the lack of true theatre or of great easel painting.
In the case of "De Materie", I´m surprised that there exists a recording of just the music by Reinbert De Leeuw, for a lot of it means very little by itself. It is long, about 110 minutes, and there are parts of it so basic that you can doze for three minutes and wake up and you would be hearing the same boring chords.
But why is it called "De Materie" ("Matter")? Well, this 1988 work is a series of episodes with scenic but not argumental continuity. As the hand programme says, Andriessen incorporates noisism (yes, noise as a style), impressionist orchestral textures, influences of Bach and Stravinsky, traditional Dutch song and rock (here I differ, I heard jazz but not rock).
"Built in four different parts, for soprano, tenor, two speakers, eight voices and atypical orchestra, it reflects on the connexions between matter and spirit". Tall order, indeed. As the action progresses, we will have as materials "the 1581 Dutch declaration of Independence, a 1690 book on naval construction, a 1651 philosophical and scientific essay, the religious and erotic vision of a XIIIth Century nun, a manifest on the History of Art, a private note on Piet Mondrian and the diary of Marie Curie" (mixed with fragments of her Nobel Prize speech).
There are elevated intellectual aims in this choice of materials; their yuxtaposition sometimes worked but also could seem quite incongruous. This is the second production of the work, and I can´t compare Heiner Goebbels´ views with those of his predecessor. I haven´t seen a score and don´t know which visuals are indicated by the author and which are not. But I surmise that many things are Goebbels´ aesthetic views. Those that saw in March his strange "Stifters´ Dinge" at the Colón know that he likes to relate wildly divergent things, and as this seems to be Andriessen´s own credo, I suppose the composer probably agrees with Goebbels´ inventions.
We have choreography, projections, a strange filming that looks like old mute cinema in very poor condition but with modern cars...; and aggressive lighting directed to the spectator whose effect is to make unintelligible the supertitles.
I disliked most of Part I because it is based on wretchedly repetitive fortissimo chords, but one element was worth hearing: the brilliant tenor Robin Trichter (a Mozartian) singing perched on high the texts of Gorlaeus (1591-1612, strangely short life) about the atomic structure of matter. Part II was enjoyable: after a long string introduction, the nun sings Hadewych´s Seventh Vision, an ample vocal line that gets very high and has emotional intensity. It was beautifully sung by Oriana Favaro. With low candlelight it had the proper climate, and especially it veered from the stated idea.
Part III mixes Mondrian with mathematician Schoenmaekers´ thoughts about "the pure straight line", and as the music gets jazzy with the admirable Spanish Sigma Project ensemble of four saxophones, we have a choeography by Edgardo Mercado for six Teatro Argentino dancers. The music and the dancing were quite pleasant but I fail to see the relationship with Mondrian.
Part IV: as in Part I, the excellent Nonsense Vocal Ensemble of Soloists (eight-strong) gave their contribution, this time more rewarding musically, with sonnets by Dutch poet Willem Kloos. But the Madame Curie final episode is hardly helped by the aforementioned film, as dim in its looks as in its meaning, so the ending is anticlimactic, even with the good actress Analía Couceyro.
Specialised conductor Peter Rundel (debut) led a 62-piece orchestra that included two synthesizers, two electric guitars and an electric bass, metal boxes, three marimbas, three pianos and a celesta. Minou Maguna and Andrés Denegri collaborated with Goebbels in the projections.
Something different, with a couple of high points.
For Buenos Aires Herald