martes, enero 06, 2009

The hard ways of modern music

The music of the twentieth century has undergone innumerable changes of style. After World War II creative richness began to suffer from an increasing anomie, as if the dialectic of the history of music had come to a dead end, and such false alternatives as conceptualism, minimalism and extreme Dadaism took over. What has happened so far in the twenty-first century certainly gives the future little hope.

I will refer now to the Cycle of Contemporary Music presented by the Teatro San Martín in diverse venues, a total of 14 sessions, some of them staged. As has happened since its inception twelve years ago, the programmer Martín Bauer stresses the avant-garde and experimentation, so that it isn´t a balanced view of what is being or has been written. This year though there was a homage to Stravinsky with his 1917 "The Soldier´s Tale". I will only comment on those sessions I attended, the others either collided with other events which I felt were more important or quite simply I decided they were too far out.

The initial concert was played in memory of the recent death of the influential German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen by the German Ensemble Recherche (debut) at what seems to me an ideal place, the Sala Casacuberta of the San Martín, a warm hemicycle of fine acoustics. It was an all-German programme which included works by Stockhausen, Helmut Lachenmann and Mauricio Kagel (who also died last year and was born in Argentina). In the Fifties Stockhausen innovated with indetermination (aleatoric music) and electronic music (now called electroacoustic). Later on he leaned toward mysticism of a kind in his immense project "Licht" ("Light"). Between 1952 and 1984 he wrote 14 "Klavierstücke" ("Pieces for keyboard") where he explored a vast gamut of sonorities. The curiously denominated "Nº4 Klavierstück X" (does it mean that we heard the fourth section of a bigger work?) lasts all of 27 minutes, dates from 1954-5, revised in 1961, and is an exhaustive and exhausting sampler of clusters and resonances, brilliantly played in this concert by Klaus Steffes-Holländer.

I found Stockhausen´s "7.Stunde aus Klang: Balance" ("7th hour from Sound: Equilibrium") much more concise (13 minutes) and convincing, with a fine ear for timbric combinations (flute: Martin Fahlenbock; Jaime González, English horn; Shizuyo Oka, clarinet). Helmut Lachenmann´s "Fluid Trio" seemed rather too hermetic; clarinet, viola (Barbara Maurer) and percussion (Christian Dierstein). Kagel´s "MM51" was added to the programme; playfully Dada, it features metronome and laughing. Fine execution all around.

I missed deliberately both concerts by Joan La Barbara (Feldman, Subotnick); I was sorry to miss Messiaen´s "La Nativité du Seigneur" by organist Theo Brandmüller; I couldn´t hear the two concerts by the French ensemble L´instant donné, featuring specially Gérard Pesson, Sciarrino and Castiglioni.

The premiere of Iannis Xenakis´ "Oresteïa" (1967-87-92) proved to be a major event. An adaptation of Aeschylus´ trilogy on the Atreidaes, this opera for baritone, mixed choir and chamber ensemble uses appropriately stark sonorities particularly interesting in the choral and percussion writing. The baritone not only sings in his normal voice the Presence of Agamemnon and the Presence of Apollo but also, in anguished and sustained falsetto, the prophecies of Cassandra, the Voice of Pallas Athene and two coryphaei. Florian Just coped well with his arduous task. The Grupo Vocal de Difusión led by Mariano Moruja gave expression and accuracy to the choral fragments. Alejo Pérez was the excellent conductor of 13 first-rate players. The down side was Carlos Trunsky´s production, wrongly tilted to extravagant and confusing choreography instead of powerful miming, but three of the dancers were admirable: Leandro Tolosa (Orestes), Victoria Hidalgo (Electra) and Laura Cuchetti (Clitemnestra). Edgardo Trabalón was weak as the Presence of Aegisthus. I didn´t enjoy Marta Albertinazzi´s concepts as stage and costume designer.

Garth Knox is a marvellous violist, fully committed to the avant-garde. The First Part of his concert gave us two unconvincing works, although Giorg Friedrich Hass´ "Solo" had the interest of letting us hear the sound of the viola d´amore; the other was Feldman´s "The viola in my life", where Knox was accompanied by pianist Lucas Urdampilleta. A good deal more attractive was the English composer George Benjamin´s "Viola-viola" for viol and viola d´amore, with fine textural combinations; Knox was complemented very well by Mariano Malamud, who played the viol.

But the main point of the concert were the three scores by Gérard Grisey (1946-98), principal exponent of "spectral music". After a "Prologue" for solo viola, there was a chamber piece called "Periods" (seven players) and finally a truly rich and varied score, "Partials", with no less than 17 players well led by Santiago Santero.

A change of venue: an homage to Marcel Duchamp at Fundación Proa (La Boca), but as a composer! He seems to have been the first to discover chance as a possibility, long before aleatoric music became trendy. I was interested by the first two pieces ("Erratum musical" for three voices, and "La Mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires même", where Czech flutist Petr Kotik showed himself a virtuoso) and bored by "Sculpture musicale". Apart from the well-known "Density 21.5" for solo flute by Varèse, the rest was a total loss: John Cage ("Five" and "Fontana mix") and Steve Reich ("Pendulum music").

I have no space here for the concluding "Soldier´s tale", I will write about it soon.

For Buenos Aires Herald

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