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ISCM World Music Days, Stockholm 1994 A Report - Raymond Deane



ISCM World Music Days, Stockholm 1994 A Report

Raymond Deane

Mexico 1993, Sweden 1994 - could a greater possible contrast between venues be imagined? From the heat, colour and chaos of Central America to the cold, sobriety and order of Scandinavia: if only ISCM festivals could always alternate so dramatically! And yet, for one who had never previously been in either geographical region, what most strikes me in retrospect is the warmth of hospitality extended by both nations, the sense that a common purpose and a shared love of music-making transcended the cllches Or supposed national character.

On the eve of the Stockholm World Music Days occurred the tragic sinking of the Estonia, lending an unintentionally macabre flavour to the opening concert in the Vasa Museum, dominated by the hulk of a ship that had sunk on its maiden voyage 4 centuries earlier. It was characteristic of the Swedes that they resisted the temptation to cancel or re-locate this event, choosing instead to preface it with a moving and dignified speech by Arne Melln. s, somehow transforming the whole festival into an act of positive commemoration.

Indeed it was a pattern of these World Music Days that adversity was never allowed to derail the organisers' plans; when virtuoso violinist Irvine Arditti injured his hand, he was replaced at impossibly short notice by Isabelle Magnenat in Luca Francesconi's Riti neurali and, most spectacularly, by youthful Mieko Kanno in the ubiquitous Brian Ferneyhough's typically scarifying Terrain.

The most attractive innovation of "Stockholm 1994" was perhaps, with hindsight, its greatest miscalculation. I refer to the inclusion alongside more recent works of ISCM classics by such as Busoni, Ruggles, Janacek, Varese and Stravinsky. These works invariably stood out like beacons, often starkly emphasising the shadowy nature of their immediate surroundings. Particularly unfortunate was the juxtaposition of Stravinsky's Symphonies of Wind Instruments with a piece by the Norwegian Asbjorn Schaathun that quoted extensively from it; while the former was clearly the work of an individualist forging his own path, the latter seemed the product of a conflux of fashionable schools, a context-induced impression that is doubtless unfair to the composer (and due homage must be paid to the stupendous soloist, bass clarinettist Terje Lerstad, who had also excelled in Mexico).

On the whole, however, I came away with the impression that today's ISCM selection procedures are geared against individuals with unclassifiable voices, perhaps because juries tend to be dominated by figures who are themselves influential and powerful composition-teachers eager to propagate the schools they represent, and sometimes even the work of their own pupils. It would be tragic if the ISCM turned away from the fructifying power of individual eccentricity;in our days of intensified commodification there is no-one more subversive than the genuine individual.

On a more positive note, this festival was something of a triumph for female composers. Romanian Doina Rotaru's Spyralis II had a florid intensity that overcame its occasional nods in the direction of "avant- garde" clich. ; Malaysian Valerie Ross's Quartet No.II was a stunning perpetuum mobile that ignited one of those late-night concerts that were generally such heavy going; Israeli Betty Olivero's Tenuot was richly evocative. Indeed the final orchestral concert that featured the latter was one of the highlights of the festival; Markus Stenz conducted the splendid Royal Stockholm Philharmonic in a curiously constituted programme, consigning Frenchman Philippe Hurel's essay in "new complexity" M. moire vive to the first part, and in part II following Olivero's piece with attractive works by Usko Meril. inen (Finland) and Joji Yuasa (Japan). Was this lopsided format designed to convey its own message?

At the other end of the scale, Julia Whybrow excelled in Rolf Riehm's Weeds in Ophelia's Hair for solo recorder. This piece was a particularly pleasant surprise in view of Bernd Leukert's programme note in which Riehm was ominously described as "a modern dialectic reasoner"; this listener had reached for his gun, but was quickly disarmed by Ms Whybrow.

In general, it must be said that the long, pretentious and utterly humourless programme notes in the otherwise excellent festival booklet often did a grave disservice to the works to which they referred.

Finally, let me again praise our Swedish hosts for a perfectly organised event, for the newspaper reviews in English translation that were made available the day after their appearance, for the relaxed sightseeing tours (the boat trip to Drottningholm is a particularly beautiful memory), and for the general sense of effortlessness that belied the enormous work they obviously put into making us feel as much at home in the dark North as in sunny Mexico.