miércoles, diciembre 16, 2009

The hard roads of contemporary music

About a year ago I wrote a review about the annual Cycle of Contemporary Music organized by Martín Bauer for the Complejo Teatral de Buenos Aires. I wasn´t sanguine about the results then, for I felt there is a deep creational crisis; a year is a short time in the History of Music and nothing has happened to change my views. But I intimated at the time that the lack of meaningful dialectical direction has been going on for a long time and that it is part of a deeper historical crisis. The fact that one of the most interesting parts of the recent November event was an homage to Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas, who died in 1940, speaks pretty loud about the anomie that has come over so-called "classical" music in recent decades. Bauer´s fixation with nihilistic composers like John Cage, Morton Feldman and Salvatore Sciarrino, however, gives a bleaker and less inclusive panorama than what would be fair, and I feel the time has come to a change of helm, showing an ampler view of creation nowadays; personal taste shouldn´t prevail .

There was a vast plan of 15 concerts, of which I have reviewed some weeks ago the very useful first session in which Alejo Pérez revived the Berio Symphony. I chose gingerly among the fourteen other offerings, frankly discarding things with which I deeply disagree (the minimalism of Steve Reich, the soporific meditations of Feldman). I will only comment on those I heard.

I have always liked the iconoclastic, fresh approach of Revueltas, who provided a unique blend of Mexican folk and pop roots with a personal, innovative language, a bit like Ives. Rather astoundingly, a Berlin outfit gave memorable versions of a long programme: KNM Kammerensemble Neue Musik Berlin. Introduced by its director Roland Kluttig, the Berlinese, plus seven local players, a mezzosoprano (Virginia Correa Dupuy) and a reciter (Lautaro Vilo), gave us such splendid pieces as the "Homenaje a Federico García Lorca", "Siete canciones", "Ocho por radio", "Tres sonetos" or "Toccata sin fuga".

It was a very good idea to give us the premiere of George Antheil´s "Ballet mécanique", a 1924 piece attempting to be a musical counterpart of Fernand Léger´s machinist paintings. The composer of course hasn´t the fantastic rhythmic variety of Stravinsky, but the experiment is still interesting: 2 pianos, 3 xylophones, 1 tam tam, 4 big drums, recorded pianolas and effects make quite a ruckus. A good local ensemble under Santiago Santero gave us the 31-minute score. I also enjoyed Henry Cowell´s "Three Irish Legends" (1912/22), one of the earliest uses of clusters, well-played by pianist Oscar Pizzo (Italian). I was bored by two Cage works for violin and by Martín Bauer´s "Maiakovski" (premiere), a name-dropping sermon about his artistic creed. Both concerts commented so far were at the Sala Casacuberta of the Teatro San Martín, to my mind ideal for this purpose.

There was a Dadaist feeling about the "Serata futurista italiana" ("Futurist Italian night") called "Uccidiamo il chiaro di luna" ("Let´s kill moonlight"), at the sparsely attended Teatro de la Ribera. Intended as a commemoration of the centenary of Marinetti´s Futurist Manifest, it stressed the light, variety side. I like very much such painters as Russolo, Boccioni, Severini, Balla and Carrà, who gave us such dynamic images of the new world of machines. But Futurism produced quality only in painting, Marinetti´s ideas were often merely extravagant and musically his movement was insignificant. Curiously enough the art of cinema, ideal for the expression of motion and machines, was little used. MCE Parco della Musica Contemporanea Ensemble presented a 17-piece show, some by the above-mentioned, but most by contemporary artists: films, songs, poems, satiric sketches; all in Italian. Entertaining enough, sometimes funny, quite unpretentious…and unimportant. An excellent pianist (Oscar Pizzo), an uninhibited singer (Silvia Schiavoni), a rotund trombonist (Giancarlo Schiaffini) and a percussionist (Antonio Caggiano), worked well as a team.

The Prometeo Quartet is first-rate (Guido Rovighi and Aldo Campagnari, violins; Carmelo Giallombardo, viola; Francesco Dillon, cello): they play with full command of current techniques and great accomplishment; they certainly believe in what they do. But the music they played at the Fundación Proa was with one exception arid and even ugly: I liked Kurtág´s varied and inventive "Momenti musicali", but Cage (Quartet in four parts) bored me again, Giacinto Scelsi´s exhausting microvariations in his Third Quartet were no more than a skillful experiment, and Salvatore Sciarrino´s Eighth Quartet gave me no desire to know the other seven.

It was Sciarrino´s "Lohengrin" the 41-minute "opera" that closed the cycle at the Casacuberta; it had been locally premiered some years ago at the CETC (the Colón´s Center for Experimentation). I felt it is pure bluff, its title an insult to Wagner, the poor "singer" limited to unconnected noises and the orchestra to blips with no meaning. There are worthwhile contemporary operas, but this is a disaster. I imagine the ample chamber ensemble under Hans-Peter Achberger, singer Lía Ferenese and three supporting voices did a professional job, but how unrewarding!

On the other hand, what marvelous music there is in two great Schönberg scores: "Pierrot Lunaire" and "Transfigured night". They were played admirably by members of the Camerata Bariloche for the Colón´s CETC at the Teatro del Globo, and I was only sorry that Vera Cirkovic did poorly the "Sprechstimme" ("spoken melody") required by "Pierrot…".

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