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IN THIS ISSUE ..., 3
An Interview with George Walker, Duffie, 5
“All of the Above” Pehrson, 15
IN BRIEF & RECENT RELEASES
COMPOSER INDEX, 26
BULLETIN BOARD, 27
Dresdener Tage des Zeitgenössisches Musik
October 1 - October 9
by Anton Rovner
In early October Dresden, the capital of Saxony, the site of many famous historical events, once again became the site of the 17th international contemporary musical festival, the Dresdener Tage des Zeitgenössisches Musik. The festival started in 1987 and since then has become a well-known spot for performance of the most varied types of contemporary music and the meeting place for numerous composers from Germany and around the world. Its artistic director, the famous composer Udo Zimmermann, and its two managing directors Andreas Lorenz and Marc Ernesti once again were able to organize a noteworthy event for new music fans from around the world. Whereas the theme of last year's festival was exotic music, hence the numerous programs of Indian, Tibetan, Mongolian and various other folk music, this year's topic was the interconnection of music and theater, which was why there were numerous theatrical and mixed media works involving the stage and the interconnection between the audible and the visual.
The festival began on October 1 in the afternoon with a production of an opera for children, which was titled in a straight-ahead manner "Musiktheater für Kinder (in a Prologue, six scenes and an Epilogue)," the music of which was written by Alexander Keuk. The scenery involved a very imaginative modernistic setting with geometric shapes projected from the ceiling, featuring squares, circles and rectangular cage-bars, as well as projections of shadows of black-and-white square forms onto the floor. The plot was an extravagant science-fiction story, based on Jules Verne, about Doctor Ox, living in an imaginary city with electricity (in Verne's time, a great novelty). The music was highly effective, endowed with a brilliant, colorful orchestration and successfully combining an avant-garde musical medium with more traditional musical features, the later providing a greater sense of accessibility, appropriate for an audience of children.
The evening of the same day featured a set of films, accompanied with contemporary music. The most noteworthy of them was the famous early Soviet film "Aelita," produced by Yakov Protozanov in 1924, featuring a story of an engineer living in Moscow, combining his "real" life with his imaginary life, in the latter he undertakes a trip to Mars, where he meets the Princess Aelita, who is in love with him. The film was accompanied by live music accompaniment by Polish composer Krzysztof Knittel and the Polish contemporary music group "Pociag Towarowy," featuring Knittel along with Piotr Bikont, Marek Choloniewski and Wodzimierz Kiniorski. The music featured a successful blend of electronics with live instruments, such as saxophone, double-bass and percussion, successfully combining elements of avant-garde music and jazz. Though the film and the music respectively had a somewhat autonomous relationship to each other, both were extremely adequate artistically, and at times blended very successfully together, the music brilliantly providing additional psychological tension during dramatic movements of the film. A number of shorter films by contemporary German filmmakers followed, in all of them the music being an inherent part of the film, which produced a lesser impact than "Aelita" and its accompanying music, since the music was of more generic film-accompanying type, alternating between rather traditional romantic effects and abstract, avant-garde effects, while the films, a couple of them being cartoons, provided a wry sense of humor, occasionally bordering on somewhat grotesque effects.
A performance by the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company from Israel followed the next day, titled "Screensaver," based on the story "Der Ort, an dem wir Recht haben" ("The place to which we have a right"). It featured choreography by Rami Be'er and music from a wide selection of sources, generally produced on synthesizer, ranging from pop, musical theater and rock effects to Neo-Romantic orchestral sonorities, with even a few quotations from Bach. The story was about a young man and woman who were in love with each other in difficult times of war. The choreography featured modern dance with a rather geometrically shaped scenery and plenty of "geometric" choreography movements, ranging from straight-ahead gymnastic movements to more romantically-inclined ballet pas-de-deux movements. The music clearly had a subservient role of accompanying the ballet, without any real independent artistic function, so its stylistic eclecticism was perfectly appropriate in this context.
The notable older-generation composer from Dresden, Eckehard Meyer was given special prominence at a concert on October 3 at Dresden's notable historic venue, the Dreikönigskirche. In this concert fragments of his opera "Das Treffen in Telgte" (The Meeting in Telgte) were presented in the form of a "literary-musical collage" by mezzo-soprano Annekatherin Laabs, tenor Oliver Ringelhahn and the composer himself at the piano, who performed selections of the music in piano reduction, along recitations by Peter Bause of large fragments of the opera's libretto (from the sections of music, which were absent in this performance). The subject of the opera dealt with a romantic story of German poets during the Westphalian Treaty of 1647, ending the Thirty Years War. The music, written in an atonal, moderately avant-garde idiom with occasional incursions into tonality (including some quotations from Protestant chorales and German lieder) featured highly qualitative blend of emotional expressivity with rational discursiveness, sounding perfectly adequate in its piano-vocal version, and not losing in the least by the absence of orchestral color, though it was left to the listeners to imagine that this highly impressive music in its original orchestral form was endowed by an appropriate imaginative and colorful orchestral timbre. This particular rendition of combined reciting of the text and performance of selected vocal parts presented a perfectly satisfactory artistic statement, not having an appearance of a reduced version, but instead presented a rather imaginative and boldly innovative artistic statement of its own a version, in all likelihood, of equal artistic merit to the full-scale orchestral performance.
Two days of the festival, October 4 ad 5, featured a long marathon of four concerts each day at the famous Festspielhaus Hellerau, an experimental artistic hall, built in the 1920's for innovative artistic events of the time, which, presently, forms the main venue for the concert events of the Dresdner Zentrum für Zeitgenössische Musik. The main conception of the compositions in this marathon followed the central topic of this year's festival, i.e. theatrical genre in music. There were four major contemporary music ensembles: "Accroche Note" from France, "SurPlus" Ensemble from Germany, "Apartment House" from Great Britain and "MW2" from Poland, playing a large assortment of extravagant, experimental compositions by composers from many different countries. Though the compositions were presented at top speed one after the other, the hall being dark, and there were numerous last-minute deviations from the program printed in the festival's catalogue, all of which made it extremely difficult to follow the program and track particular specific compositions in the program, the impact produced by many of the compositions and their performances, most of them of extremely high quality, was tremendous, and helped install many of these compositions into one's memory.
The first day, the concerts featured a wide assortment of impressive compositions. One composer, performed numerous times in many of the marathon's concerts, was Daniel Ott, who had a number of short, intricately textured yet somewhat cerebral instrumental miniatures, all of them titled "Fragmente für Hellerau" (Fragments for Hellerau) for singer, flute, cello, piano alternating with harpsichord and percussion, all performed by the Surplus Ensemble, obviously written for the occasion. They formed very adequate "thematic refrains" for the concerts. A very favorable impression was created by Berlin composer Dieter Schnebel's "Anschläge-Ausschläge" for flute, cello and harpsichord, an austere, solemn piece, utilizing the colorful effects of the instruments with discretion. Very impressive was also a piece by Ukrainian composer from Odessa, Karmella Tsepkolenko, titled "Over the Horizon" for soprano, double-bass piano (alternating with harpsichord) and percussion, a meditative piece inspired by German poetry, albeit with a prominent theatrical element to it, the latter effect greatly enhanced by the colorful orchestration. It was performed by the French "Accroche Note" ensemble. The French ensemble also performed a number of other impressive pieces, most notably John Cage's "Fontana Mix 2 Aria" for voice, clarinet and double-bass, where the singer and the two instrumentalists excelled in their masterful theatrical qualities. The most extravagant ensemble of the four was the Polish "MW2" ensemble, which performed a number of compositions, where the theatrical element was carried out to the fullest effect, with a great sense of humor, frequently bordering on the bizarre. The last piece on that day's program was Polish composer Adam Kaczynski's "The Garden of History," featuring musicians from all four ensembles, most of them from the "MW2". In addition to a highly innovative, sonoristic musical language, the composition featured brilliant theatrical effects, including actors walking on stage in historical costumes and the sopranos singing in high registers in a comical manner. The highlight of the composition and of the entire concert was when three horses with entered on stage one by one with riders on them (presumably, from the ensemble) dressed in historical costumes, after which, after walking along the entire stage in a spectacular manner, they left the stage one by one.
Next day's concert likewise featured four concerts with the four ensembles. Valerio Sannicandro's "Epistolae" for actor, bass-flute, percussion and video successfully combined a sense of expressivity with a refined taste for instrumental colors. "Belfast Breakfast songs" by the famous German composer Gerhard Stäbler, an extravagant composition for solo mezzo-soprano, combining elements of "high" and "low" art, was performed in a very outstanding manner by the singer from the British "Apartment House". "Todesfuge" (Death Fugue) for two sopranos, two double-basses and percussion by composer from Azerbaijan, Elmir Mirzoev, written after a poem by Paul Celan, combined a serious, philosophical mood with very colorful instrumental and vocal effects, which were greatly enhanced in the performance by the "MW2" ensemble. French composer Jean-Francois Charles' composition "Magma" for contrabass-clarinet and electronics, combined a tasteful approach to novel sounds for electronics and a somewhat unusual instrument with a high sense of theatrical drama. Very impressive was German composer Gerald Eckert's "Des Säglichen Zeit" (based on Rilke's Duineser Elegies) for flute, cello, percussion and dancer, a sparse, delicate piece, somewhat similar to Feldman's music. British composer Christopher Fox's "Komposition (mit Schwarz, rot and gelb)" ("Composition with black, red and yellow") for cello, piano, vibraphone and accordion, performed by musicians from the "Surplus" and "Apartment House" was a loud, fast and rhythmically regular piece, with a mechanical element, similar to Ligeti's late pieces, becoming soft and sparsely textured at the very end. It combined a vibrant instrumental ensemble (most instrumentalists also played on other instruments, such as gong and a few extravagant instruments) with rich textures and a visual element of neon effects, coming out of a construction brought on stage for the performance.
Another extravagantly comical theatrical piece, performed by "MW2" was Polish composer Kazimierz Pyzik's "Ex Libris K.P" for "composer participation", flute, soprano, piano and percussion, was a very humorous, colorful piece, combining rich instrumental sonorical sounds, pertaining to the Polish avant-garde school with the performers (and composers) walking on stage in historical costumes, talking, singing and acting in a bizarre manner pretending to be different historical characters at times, such as St. Genevieve or a Roman emperor. The middle-aged soprano sang in an extremely comical manner with a high, squeaky voice. One of the performers, exemplifying a historical character, came offstage and pointed to one of the audience members, saying to him in English an absurd phrase "I have killed fifty thousand people. You will be the fifty first". A highlighted moment happened when one of the male performers pointed to another performer, a lady dressed as a princess, saying "The princess likes to take a bath in human blood every day," after which the lady undressed on stage up to her underwear and sat in a bathtub, which was filled with reddish liquid, resembling blood, where she sat during the rest of the performance. The composition was, overall, a very intriguing one, the instrumental effects matching the theatrical ones in an appropriate manner, the wild sense of humor bringing great zest and vigor to the audience, by this time overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of pieces on the program.
A completely different type of piece was "Twilight/Dämmerung" for cello, trombone, clarinet (alternating with bass-clarinet), soprano, live electronics and lighting, by British composer James Clarke (a well-known representative of the British "New Complexity" movement), performed in a wonderful manner by the "Apartment House" ensemble. A very solemn, austere, ascetical composition, it was very well-built in form and possessed an adequate sense of instrumental color and dramaturgical discretion. The music was quite self-contained, the theatrical elements, not being really needed in themselves, were limited to the stage being entirely empty with a solitary moving light gliding around it, changing colors, while the instrumentalists were seated on a balcony above the stage, which provided a special acoustical effect in addition to the theatrical element. The live-electronics greatly enhanced the textural palette of the composition and provided for additional acoustical effects in the hall. The minimal theatric effects were a conscious statement on the part of the composer, who was following Luigi Nono's concept of "teatro d'asciolto" or Samuel Becket's "non-action theater," demonstrated in his play "Breath". The piece was one of the most impressive ones in the two-day marathon.
The last piece on the program, possibly the least satisfactory composition, was "XXX Live Nude Girls" by Jennifer Walshe, a "psychodrama" for cello, trombone, clarinet, accordion, two voices, four assistants and video, which was performed by the "Apartment House". It also featured a theater of Barbie dolls, with a doll house on stage, the assistants moving the dolls around with their hands to denote stage action, which was in turn magnified onto a video screen to insure proper exposure to the audience's vision. The assistants hands were visible on the screen and their handling of the dolls' movements was quite clumsy, which resulted in not very satisfactory theatrical performance. The music was a curious example of a deconstructivist aesthetic, the instrumental parts not really blending in together with each other, but very much falling apart. This presented a distinct artistic statement of its own, albeit not a very coherent one, for the most part resembling background music to the stage action. There seemed to be very little connection between the experimental music performed and the extremely unpalatable subject plot, contained in the libretto, dealing with sexual relationships of adolescents, containing distasteful, obscene language and an overall neurotic adolescent mind-frame, and in the highly unsavory lewd actions, demonstrated by the movements of the dolls on stage. This fitted very poorly with the otherwise highly qualified program of the two-day marathon.
For three days after this theater-music marathon, on October 6, 7 and 8, a conference was held, devoted to the topic of "The Concepts of Theatrical Genres in Music in the New Millenium," which featured a host of interesting presentations by many noteworthy composers, musicologists and music critics from Germany and other countries. Especially impressive were the presentations by German composers Udo Zimmermann and Gerhard Stäbler, who talked about the artistic conceptions of their compositions, as well as of Ukrainian composer Alla Zagaykevych, who talked about the conception of her composition "flüchten, atmen, schweigen," which was to be performed as part of the festival's program.
The famous composer from Dresden, Udo Zimmermann contributed to the festival with a stage performance of his opera "Weisse Rose," presented on October 6 in the basement of Dresden's famous Frauenkirche cathedral (presently being rebuilt at its original site, after being destroyed during World War II, the reconstruction process of which is nearly finished). It was performed by Musica-Viva-Ensemble Dresden, conducted by Jürgen Wirrmann, the vocal parts by soprano Sylvia Weiss and baritone Frank Schiller and the subject matter dealt with a romantic love story of two participants of the resistance to the Nazi regime, the setting taking place in 1943. The music was of a more traditional, Romantic type, with almost entirely diatonic harmonies, occasionally resorting to more harsh-sounding dissonant, though tonal-centered, chromaticisms, featuring a number of folk-song sounding melodies, greatly enhancing the lyrical, epic quality of the work. The orchestration was highly imaginatively expressive, greatly emphasizing the various contrasts of changing moods in the various numbers of the opera, ranging from soothingly expressive to harshly dramatic and pungent orchestral effects. Despite the absence of the stage effects, the performance of the opera was extremely moving and produced an extremely saturating artistic impact.
The next day, October 7, featured an extremely contrasting theatrical presentation at the Festspielhaus Hellerau: a performance by a theatrical-musical installation by Japanese composer Tetsuo Furudate "The Auditory Sense of Mr. Roderick Usher," obviously based on Poe's short story "The Fall of the House of Usher". The music, realized entirely by means of electronics. The hall was transformed into a complete theatrical stage, with the audience members, clearly, meant to be participants. All the chairs were taken out of the hall, so it was transformed into a giant gymnasium, with the audience members free to stand, walk around or enter and leave the hall at will. We were given earmuffs and warned that the music would get exceedingly loud during the performance. The composer himself sat in the middle of the hall and read aloud fragments from Poe's short story, assuming the role of the actor playing Roderick Usher, while another assistant monitored the electronic system, likewise in the middle of the room. The music started, for the most part resembling background noises reverberated through amplifiers with sparse refined gradations of timbre and loudness. At odd intervals the composer-actor, read the text, which was difficult to follow due to the accompanying music. Gradually the music became louder and louder, so finally the ear-muffs turned out to be handy by this time the composer stopped reading the text. Finally it turned out to be so loud that a number of people including the writer of this report left the hall to "listen" to the music outside, the earmuffs proving to be not sufficient protection for the ears. It was at this stage that the function of the hall with the installation going all acquired the additional resemblance to a sauna, where one could enter and leave the interior hall in conjunction with their ability to bear the heat. This grandiose feast for the ears was meant to be a depiction of the gradual rise of the inner anguish and horror going on in Mr. Usher's soul, though the overdose of effects, creating the risk of health hazard to the audience was a bit aesthetically redundant, to say the least.
A much more adequate performance was given the following day, October 8, featuring a multi-media performance, featuring the music of the noteworthy young Ukrainian composer Alla Zagaykevich and the video projection of Oles Sanin, technically carried out by Sergiy Mikhalchuk. It was titled "flüchten, atmen, schweigen: Projekt für audio-visuelle Installation" ("Fleeing, Breathing, Silence: a Project for Audio-Visual Installation") and the music featured three live instrumentalists actress and singer Natalka Polovynka, Sergiy Okhrimtschuk on the violin and Petro Tovstukha on the Piano along with live electronics, the latter including the sounds of the three acoustic instruments modified electronically in real time. The conception of the work dealt with processes of space and time in modern reality, and the video featured scenes of the streets of Dresden people walking, cars running, the buildings standing created a few days prior to the performance and modified in such a way as to make the video into a modernistic art work and not just a documentary. The music featured extremely refined, delicate textural blends of exquisite instrumental writing and the most sophisticated type of electronic writing, the high quality of which was partially a result of the composer's studies at IRCAM in Paris. Altogether the performance produced an extremely uplifting artistic impact, being one of the finest in the festival.
Three shorter multi-media projects were presented the following day, October 9, also at Hellerau, featuring music, video and dance. The first multi-media project was titled "Resta-Crudele Bleib(t) Grausam, a Madrigal for two voices," (translation: "I remain cruel") featuring music by Mario Sollazzo, choreography by Anne Judds, costumes by Karin Engeli and video projection by Heidi Odermatt, the overall conception of the performance being that of the composer and choreographer. It was a very intriguing composition with dancers, reciter and music, which combined modernist trends with both stylizations of and allusions to Renaissance music, hence the title "Madrigal". The reciter and singers also provided a narrative-like element to the project, to which the dancers' choreography complemented perfectly in a very expressive manner. The overall conception and the extremely organic combination of the different art forms contributed to a very well-expressed and articulated artistic statement.
"World not world" was a scenic piece of chamber music by Jaeyon Kim for singer, electric guitar, violin, cello, harpsichord and two singers. It featured rather abstract-sounding modernist music of a decisively chamber quality in its very intimate approach to the sparse instrumentation, to which such eclectic sounds like the electric guitar and harpsichord brought an additional bit of zest and pungency.
"Augenklang, gleichsam ein Gespräch" ("Ringing of Eyes, resembling a Conversation") presented music by Karoline Schulz, paintings by Jochen Deutsch and video projection by Peter Herzog and Norbert Hupbach. In this case, the video projection, featuring abstract modernist paintings with vivid, motley colors and designs, was just about equal to if not exceeding the music, which was another well-built chamber composition, which combined expressive and cerebral qualities along with a very innovative and experimental approach to texture and sound. All three multi-media projects were very adequate in their artistic conceptions and their harmonious combination of music with other art forms, providing for some highly qualified music and creating a very pleasant and favorable impression.
The final day of the festival presented a theatrical performance by the famous Theater on the Taganka from Moscow, directed by the celebrated Yuri Lubimov, featuring a performance of Goethe's "Faust" in Russian, accompanied by music by the famous Russian minimalist composer Vladimir Martynov. The paradoxical aspect of this performance was that the most famous, classic piece of German literature was presented in Germany in the Russian language (with the original German text presented in subtitles over the stage). The theatrical performance had a generic feature of contemporary Russian theater performances in being rather extrovertively dynamic in its stage action and presented as a humorous comedy rather than a Romantic philosophical story with an exceeding amount of humorous action on stage, meant to entertain an average, not very educated audience, not always fit for a classic piece of literature. Both parts of the play were presented together without the intermission and certain cuts and omissions were made, sometimes of rather important scenes, including the entire final scene of Part II in paradise with the exception of Gretchen's joyous exclamation about the return of her beloved. The inclusion of the rather lightweight music, coming in rather often in the performance, including large fragments of the text set to music, essentially transformed the performance into a piece of Broadway musical theater. The music was carried out by means of electronics and MIDI, on top of which the actors sang their respective parts, and presented Martynov's usual Post-Modernist aesthetic, for the most part presenting quasi-stylizations of past tonal styles, at times achieving quite a high level of artistic achievement, capturing many emotional moments of the play: this was especially noteworthy in a number of Gretchen's lyrical songs, very much in the lied tradition of Schubert, which captured the substance of her character in the play perfectly. This was the final performance of the 17th festival "Dresdener Tage des Zeitgenössisches Musik," which, once again, achieved wonderful results in bringing together many notable musicians from various countries to present a noteworthy musical event, featuring a great amount of outstanding musical compositions and theatrical performances and to present a bridge for different styles and trends of music and other types of performing arts.