domingo, diciembre 04, 2011

True and fake avantgarde

For fifteen years Martín Bauer has been leading the Cycles of Contemporary Music of the Teatro San Martín. During part of that time he has also been at the helm (in that case in collaboration with Diana Theocharidis) of the Colón´s CETC. And when Marcelo Lombardero took the post of Artistic Director of the Teatro Argentino he created the TACEC naming Bauer as its head. So Bauer´s taste has had vast influence in the formation of a generation. Alas -and I stress that I tread dangerous and controversial ground- I feel that his choices have very often been wrongly oriented and I do hope that someone with ampler and more central ideas should take over these tasks. For his exaggerated concentration on certain pet composers such as Cage, Feldman and Sciarrino and on experiments of doubtful value have given a distorted and clique-ridden image of contemporary music.
Also, “contemporary” isn´t the right tag of what these concerts should be; I would propose for them (and for the CETC and TACEC) variants of titles such as “XX-XXI music”. For the object should be to give an authentic panorama of music of both centuries in every style. That´s what Gandini used to do, and I find his orientation the right one.
In what is surely an absurd decision, Pedro Pablo García Caffi, the Colón´s Director, is basing a new venture called “Colón contemporáneo” in a mere redundancy of Bauer´s Cycles. It would be a good thing if it brought -independently of the San Martín- new music worth knowing. But now I´ve said all this, I will have to eat my words concerning one very special concert dedicated to Edgar Varèse, true avantgarde indeed and a signal service to the information of music lovers, as the start of Bauer´s cycle and parting shot (this year, the only one) of the Colón Contemporáneo. I am happy to say that I find this project a fantastic success, a case where both Bauer and García Caffi are completely right.
For Varèse, as has been belatedly recognised, is the purest avantgarde of the Twenties and Thirties. His music was either ignored or savagely attacked, but he did have such a champion as Leopold Stokowski, and with good reason, for he was the pioneer of a new concept: without quite abandoning the traditional parameters of rhythm, melody and harmony, his stress was on pure sound, a precursor of what the Polish School would do after World War II. His ideas on texture are still amazing and new eighty years later; moreover, they are exciting and convincing.
The concert was wrongly billed as the integral Varèse; he wrote very little, for the general rejection forced him into a silence of many decades, but several pieces weren´t in this programme. A First Part of chamber music was followed by two big orchestral pieces: “Arcana” (1925-7) and “Amériques” (1922); I have never before heard them in concert and they may be premieres. The First Part started with the 4-minute “Hyperprism” and then “Ionisation”, well-known here, not quite the first score for percussion but certainly the first important one. Then, “Octandre” (1923) and “Intégrales” (1923-5) are splendid and intricate examples of chamber music (also known here). The two great orchestral pieces were overwhelming in their novelty and richness, especially “Arcana”.
This “tour de force” wouldn´t have been possible without the presence of Alejo Pérez, probably the only local conductor capable of solving the immense problems present in these pieces. He got admirable performances out of the Uruguayan Ensemble Perceum (percussion), fifteen Argentine chamber players and the Buenos Aires Philharmonic, all playing with fierce concentration. I was happy that a big audience gave them all a resounding success.
But afterwards, with rare exceptions, the Cycle fell (as it has in former years) into arid nihilism. I skipped many of the concerts simply because I knew what to expect and didn´t feel like exposing myself to a masochism session. Just for the record, I mention the visit of German creator Peter Ablinger, six composers played by the Ensemble Lucilin (Luxemburg), an experimental opera by Carola Bauckholt (“A keen ear”), percussion pieces by James Tenney with Alexandre Babel, again percussion (including Cage, Gubaidulina and Xenakis) by the famous Robin Schulkowsky, the Prometheus Quartet in Fedele, Reich and Ghedini, and with Carolin Widmann the Schönberg “Transfigured Night”(I count five players but this is a sextet) –Widmann also played violin solo scores-, Lionel Marchetti in “Electroacoustic improvisation around Varèse”, “Homage to Christian Wolff” (USA composer of the Cage school) and Satie´s “Vexations” (a 2-minute piece written in 1893 played 840 times according to the wish of this proto-Dada composer).
I was sorry to miss two concerts, one with valid Argentine composers (Tauriello, Gandini, Lambertini, Kröpfl, Viera), the other a chamber opera by Marcelo Toledo, “La selva interior”, on the writer Horacio Quiroga´s dying last minutes. I will leave Salvatore Sciarrino´s chamber opera “Luci mie traditrici” for a further article, and close this one with a reference to a debilitating experience, symbol of what I call “fake avantgarde”: the “Piano and String Quartet” by Morton Feldman. Its exact description: 80 minutes made up of slow piano arpeggios answered exasperatingly by slow string chords. Perfect boredom in music for me, “a masterpiece” for at least one colleague…The players seemed expert (pianist Emanuele Torquati and the Prometheus Quartet).

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