In just a week three symphonic concerts provided a wealth of interesting new music. In what will surely be one of the outstanding nights of the year, "Colón Contemporáneo" offered what the Spanish call a monographic concert, meaning dedicated to one creator. Yannis Xenakis lived between 1922 and 2001. Architect (disciple of Le Corbusier), mathematician and composer. Although he studied with prominent French composers of the so-called Group of Six (Honegger and Milhaud), it was the innovative influence of another teacher, Messiaen, that really marked him. Messiaen´s innovations in rhythm, color and harmony showed him the way, but he added something original: the application of mathematical systems to music. Samples: what he called stochastic music (based on the theory of probabilities); games theory; groups theory.
Pre-World War II, in the Twenties the great pioneer was Edgar Varèse, who discovered the value of pure sound as parameter. After WWII, two composers in very different ways exploited the possibilities of juggling with sounds as main factor, relegating harmony, melody and rhythm: textures and colors prevailed in the music of Krzysztof Penderecki and Xenakis.
There was a time when Xenakis was booed in Buenos Aires: "Achorripsis" under the expert Hermann Scherchen (1958) and in the Seventies, Maurice Le Roux conducting "Pithoprakta" (Greek titles, as so often in Xenakis´ life, born in Romania but of Greek ascendance, though he lived most of his life in Paris). Now he is no longer booed: this time an enthusiastic audience filled 2/3 of the Colón! And I agree: he is a tough composer but a true original. By the way, for some months he was a professor of the Instituto Di Tella.
The concert started with "Mists" for piano solo (1980), played by Ermis Theodorakis, who has recorded the whole of this composer´s music for that instrument. He uses "arborescences" (polyphonic and polyrhythmic groups of melodies) and "clouds of sound", a pointillistic use of notes. Then, "Eonta" ("Beings",1963), where ambulatory trombones and trumpets collide with the piano in exciting ways. From then on the musics were conducted by the Spaniard Arturo Tamayo, who has recorded the whole of Xenakis´ orchestral music.
"Empreintes" ("Imprints", 1975) is based on unisons, "glissandi" and pulses, in fascinating explorations of sound densities. "Metastasis" (1954) was an early manifestation of his unusual creativity, a musical world determined by laws of statistics and probabilistic equations. Nevertheless, his music sounds visceral, not intellectual. Finally, "Aïs" ("Hades", 1980, for amplified baritone, percussion and orchestra) is a theatrical piece with fragments on death by Homer and Sappho. The voice is used in three registers: shrieky falsetto, natural baritone and low bass. Imitations of cracking bones and bird-song and clusters of sound make an eerie mix.
The executions were of a very high level, with a Buenos Aires Philharmonic of utmost concentration and the united talents of Tamayo, Theodorakis, Christian Frette (percussion) and Just; I would only question that the lowest register of the singer was somewhat murky and lacked impact, but this was a great occasion.
I was also very impressed by a concert of the National Symphony conducted by Luis Gorelik at the Auditorio de Belgrano. There was only one blemish: due to lack of agreement between the Government and the printers there was no hand programme with notes, just a one-page flyer with the barest incomplete information. My friendship with Carlos Singer, author of the excellent notes of which he gave me a copy, allowed me to have an advantage over the public that was shortchanged, for this was a concert that needed orientation.
The whole programme was made up of local premieres and was surely the best of the NS season. "Clepsydra" (a water clock) is a 10-minute score by Mexican Mario Lavista, a major figure in that country. Says the author: "the river and the music are images of the rhythm of time, a narration of time. Both are clepsydras who transform disorder into order". The 1991 score holds interest throughout.
With John Tavener´s "The Whale" we finally hear an important work from this interesting British composer. This dramatic cantata based on Jonah and the whale was premiered in January 1968 during the presentation concert of the London Sinfonietta. Says the author: "although ´The Whale´ is in the category of serious music and embraces an ample spectre of musical styles, it is influenced by the Beatles, the spirit of the times and certain pop elements". Eight sections with names like "The ingestion", "In the belly" and "Expulsion". It includes pre-recorded electronics, an aleatoric fragment where the choir does things as "burping, whistling, neighing", etc. It starts with a reading on "aquatic mammals of the cetacean order", here "argentinized" with reference to Península Valdés and read by Néstor Zadoff. The version was strong, with the Coro Nacional de Jóvenes conducted by Zadoff, mezzosoprano Mariana Rewerski and baritone Leonardo Estévez.
Then, a highly lyrical and attractive Concerto for flute by Luis Mucillo, our most refined composer, who uses the normal flute plus the piccolo and the low flute in G. With quotes of Medieval pieces, the music flowed with beauty and charm, expressed admirably by Patricia Da Dalt. Finally, the short Symphony Nº 1, "Polyphonic", by Arvo Pärt, is a tight pre-minimalist score by the famed Estonian composer. The language is serialist and powerfully built on Baroque forms. Gorelik and the NS were admirable in the entire programme.
For Buenos Aires Herald