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The ISCM World Music Days 1998 in Manchester - Ljubomir M. Denev

 

 

The ISCM World Music Days 1998 in Manchester

by Ljubomir M. Denev

The 75th edition of the ISCM World Music Days took place from 17th to 25th of April these year in Manchester - a city of old traditions, rich and diverse with cultural life, known not just for its textile industry - a Musical society was founded here in 1770, giving rise to the first Concert Hall in 1777. The British ISCM section started the preparation of the festival under the motto: "to increase the understanding of contemporary music and create an atmosphere of debate and creative exchange amongst and between music professionals and the audience".

The festival programme - a real musical marathon - was rich, replete and diverse as in a magical music box one could find his favorite things from orchestral music to sound installations, from jazz to chamber or electroacustic music, from dance theatre to Indonesian Gamelanensemble or Bulgarian folk wedding llchalgall. Obviously the intention of the organizers was to fling the concert hall's doors wide open for more natural social functioning of the contemporary music, which for many long years, "entrenching" itself in its elitarity, lost somewhat of its power of attraction.

In this direction were the numerous discussions before and after a concert, presentations of new works during open rehearsals, creation of special programmes for amateurs and educa- tional projects (as Sir Peter Maxwell Davies says -ÿlet them get their hands dirty in music).

The British have not forgotten that the arts have been born to amuse too, so for the beginning of the second day they formed infront the Cathedral on Albert square an "orchestra' of previously auditioned automobiles and this odd "hornconcerto" by Stephen Montague, commissioned by New Music 1998, made a good announcement for the festival, calling on the Manchester townsmen to cast a glance towards the big blue posters on the city walls.

An important part of the programme was composed by the international jury -ÿfour days in a room with no windows, six people and 600 scores, tapes, CDs and videos, with the noble intention to discover the individual voice, the original composition, deserving the brand JS. The result of this exhausting labour was 51 works by composers from 23 countries. Under these conditions, it is clear, some misunderstandings may be expected, but I am not going to focus on them, as well as on the fact, that 15 of the "selected" pieces were british -ÿit is natural for the hosts to lay stress on their own music. Fortunately a chance was given to the performers too (soloists, ensembles, conductors) to complete their programmes and sometimes it was there to find excellent hits.

75 years of ISCM were celebrated with the performance of works by composers, already known as "classics" of XXth century -ÿthe music of Ravel and Boulez, Walton and Britten, Strawinski and de Falla, Copland and Gershwin, Webern and Berg came as a balming wash out for the ears as well as a bridge over the time, connecting us with those, who pointed out the renovating roads.

The answers to the many global questions, connected with the musicmaking today can be found in the womb of the most talented works and there was a good number of them, but I will give priority to the prevailing powerful women's presence, as a garland to musical emancipation at the end of XXth century. In "Profils d'outremer" SueYa Wang (b.1965) creates an atmosphere of various densities, playing on the visible and invisible -ÿfrom light to shadow; through the poetry of rays traversing the clouds and delicate musical stroke the Taiwanian composer builds up her own music world. Another composer from the East -ÿthe Japanese Karen Tanaka (b. '61) in her "Echo Canyon", creates almost new overtoneseries, as if dispersing the spectrum of the sound, thus giving rise to a harmony so unusual and pleasant, that makes the listener to expect impatiently every coming note! To complete the list with fair names we should go on with Suzanne Giraud ('58) whose piece for solo violin Envoutements I, played by Irvine Arditti (and dedicated to him) rediscovers the possibilities of the instrument with regard to pitch, speed, intensity, mode of attack and vibrato -ÿall this demands an exeptional virtuosity from the performer. The Australian Mary Finsterer (b.'62), with achievements in the field of theatre and filmmusic in three minutes only with "Nextware Fanfare" succeeds to show her highclass, and the Korean Shinuh Lee (b.'69) was a real surprise with the scope of her musical thinking (Psalm 20) and her mighty, virile orchestral sound.

Special respects were paid to the Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho (b.'52), who demonstrated a CDROM, first of the kind, dedicated to her creative work -
a computerproduct to the value of over $150 000, two-years' labour of 13-member team. Her composition for soprano, female voices and orchestra "Chateau de llamell on texts from ancient Hindu and Egyptian sources recieved its British premiere with Halle Orchestra under Kent Nagano. Music of controlled dynamic range, emotional restraint and contemplation, but deeply introspective, intelligent and of intellectual charm.

The audience nowadays is ready to accept everything, scandals are impossible, musical mess of all kind may be applauded (at least out of politeness), particularly when in the hands of good performers (which occurs quite frequently), but still, what makes success is not the extreme vanguard, nor the conventional, but mainly works in the stream of moderate experimentality and acceptable innovation, in which meaning of the musical idea, clearness of the means of expression and comprehensible message can be found.

An example of the latter is the young Londoner Julian Anderson (b.'67) and his Khorovod, in which the tradition from the Strawinski's russian period can be read, only in a definitely new and original manner, full of energy, vitality, timbre and rhythmic fantasy, with anabating melodic charge.

Constructed by the laws of the success, but not that enthralling was Sir Harrison Birtwistle's work "Pulse Shadows" (based on poems by Paul Celan). It was performed by Arditti string quartet, Nash Ensemble and the marvellous soprano Claron McFadden in the operatheatre surrounding with lightings and simple settings. A 90-minutes' composition, counting mostly on the presence of the wellknown quartet and their temperamental comment between the poems, while the stretched accompaniment was set to NashEnsemble an organic relation between the main elements was scarcely perceptible and the entire impression could be definited as a "sophisticated monotony".

Another program, performed by Arditti string quartet (in the City Art Gallery) included Luciano Berio's Glossell. As the author himself says, the work is a mysterious, nonexisting quartet No4, which he compilated from sketches, gathered together in such a way as to avoid the impression of a homogenous development or of continuous variation. For the listener, although, it was a real Berio. And a real Brian Ferneyhough was his String trio voluminous, with incredible virtuosity and verve.

The Bible is still an inexhaustible source of inspitation for many creators the young Korean composer Uzong Choe (b.'68) presented his "Das Lied der Unfruchtbaren" for flute and strings based on text in Chapter 54 of the Old Testament Book of Isaiah -ÿunlavishing, but dynamic music, attractive with its expression, emotion and colour. In a completely different sphere dwells "Time out" by the Swiss-born(b. '54) Beat Furrer: repetition-change; movement-hesitation-return again; searching for a different continuation ... His sound-pictures of slowly changing surfaces resemble beautiful embryos, let without development inside their own surrounding -ÿmusic of the enigmatic and the half-expressed.

Some authors like Louis Andriessen from Holland (b. '39) are in search of the exoticism in the poetry, as well as in the sonority of the East -ÿin Tao (The Way) -ÿthe second part of a Trilogy (on text, written by Lao Tzu) the composer, without making an attempt to imitate the so called "music from the Far East", is anyway influenced by it (the traditional japanese koto was included as a soloinstrument). It is worth mentioning also the participation of Zygmunt Krauze (b. '38) from Poland with his Piano Quintet in which some Balkansuggestions show through and Mladen Tarbuk (b.'62) from Croatia though his Zildjian Concerto for percussions and wind orchestra bears some commercial burden on account of the jazz-borrowings.

The electroacoustic musicevents went in a parallel festivalprogramme "Jukebox", representing selected by the jury pieces together with compositions, awarded at other festivals and competitions. I had the chance to hear only three of them by composers, who are among the respected ones for the moment in this field and who work using techni cal devices of best quality in modernequipped studios: Nuit cendre by Gilles Gobeil (b.'54) from Canada a free adaptation of Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne, Jeux Imaginaires by Ake Parmerud (b.'53) from Sweden, inspired by a game of chess (Karpov v. Kasparov, 22nd round, World championship, 1992) and Figuras Flamencas by Mario Verandi (b. '60) from Argentina which included samples from Spanish flamenco music and spoken texts from Lorca's Blood Wedding. Without making a general conclusion about the tendencies and achievements in this sphere, I could share my personal feeling that there is a certain weariness from technology and that the more innovations it offers, the poorer the musical ideas become.

The performers at the World Music Days were of a world level in deed about the artistry of Arditti string quartet, already mentioned there is still a lot to say; their abilities seem unlimited, the passion they devote to the contemporary music in recording and concert-activity is remarcable, a good number of new works have been created especially for them...

The French ensemble Ictus accomplished a real feat in the "Rosas Dance Company" -ÿshow, with the live performance of scores by Cage, Reich, Xenakis, Lindberg and others. Anne Teresa De Keermaeker puts the music in the centre of her dancetheater as a component, equivalent with the dramaturgy of the choreography, cinema, spoken text and acting. All these elements are not in survience the one to the other, but work for the building of a complex and stunning performance.

Another chamber ensemble, impressive with its thoroughness and enviable culture of rendering, formed by very young virtuosoplayers was ''Psaphall'' (Great Britain), whose participation in the Festival was a real musical event.

The pianist Joanna MacGregor, whose repertoire covers a wide range of the pianoliterature represented a bouquet of works by Bird, Ades, Dowland, Birtwistle, Nancarrow, Strawinski, Gerswin, Warren, Ballamy and Copland in a pianorecital and also had a soloparticipation with the jazzgroup "Human Chain". The leader Django Bates demonstrated his versatile talent as a keyboardist, trumpeter, singer and composer, combining popelements with refined modern jazz-improvisations and complex precomposed structures -ÿall this made in a skilful and original manner.

The symphony concerts were of an expected high level, thanks to the presence of orchestras like BBC Philharmonic Orchestra (under sir Peter Maxwell Davies and Martin Brabbins) and Halle Orchestra (under Kent Nagano) -ÿthe latter made an unforgettable realization, nearly touching the spirit of the Romanticism, of Berg's Violin Concerto (soloist Christian Tetz1aff), together with the queer vibrating of the orchestra-groups in Berio's "Ekphrasis". It is a well known fact that there are in Great Britain disciplined professional musicians of a highest class; the surprise came with the level of the students, who, undertaking a great part of the festival programme, showed an incredible thoroughness, selfless and energy. All these young people on the stage as well as in the audience gave the spirit of youth and the very sensation of contemporaneousness to the Festival. At the end we should pay attention to the development of a "reverse" process, wich makes its way and wich promisses to assume serious proportions -ÿthe formation of special programmes for and with the participation of amateurs, apparently with the presumption of overcoming the distance between professionals and the general public, attracting more people to the concert hall and more resources. There were compositions, especially commissioned by New Music for amateurensembles, but maybe it is not here the right place to speak about this kind of a flirt, about the compromise to which a certain author is doomed, taking in consideration the abilities of an ensemble, formed of enthusiasts, brought together by chance, nor about the problems, arising in case of eventual distribution of a talented work, deserving an "export". However, many questions arisee like the danger of damaging our hearing, or the sacredness of this divine act, called art... Admitting the positive side of this bilateral process -ÿthe awaking of a bigger interest in the contemporary music, the effort to break off it's alienation etc., let us rely on the hope, that this positive side will prevail in the future.

P.S. This article does not consider the events on Friday 17th April, Thursday 23rd, Friday 24th and Saturday 25th, which the author did not have the opportunity to attend.

Ljubomir M. DENEV

May '98, SOFIA

 

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