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"Le Cru et le Cuit" - Reinhard Oehlschlägel



"Le Cru et le Cuit"

The World New Music Days of the International Society for Contemporary Music in Copenhagen

by Reinhard Oehlschlägel

For a short time the Danish capital, Copenhagen, really seemed somewhat like the metropolis for new music. An eight-day, international - even intercontinental - festival of new music, a conference of organizors of new music in Europe on the theme of "East meets West", a meeting of leading music producers from European radio stations, a conference on new music theater, and a seminar on the theme of "New Music and Institutions" took place there almost simultaneously. Atypically, these different events were not even sponsored by one and the same organisor.

The fact that such interrelated projects with different origins were able to meet during the same time in Copenhagen was the result of the commemorative project for that year, "Copenhagen 96 - Cultural Capital of Europe". That apparently explains everything, but does not actually explain very much. Because up til now, none of the European cultural capitals, which alternate every year, has proven capable of providing for so many different things from different branches, culminating in expensive projects such as the World New Music Days of the International Society for Contemporary Music, the ISCM. On the contrary, it has often seemed that organizors of expensive, representative projects are all too willing to exclude projects such as the World New Music Days, which take place in a different country every year and are neither inexpensive nor easy to organize. Within the ISCM, it has not been forgotten that the World New Music Days were supposed to take place in France during the two-hundred-year celebration of the French Revolution in 1989 but had to be cancelled at the last minute, due to withdrawal of financial support from the French ministry of culture.

Of course, even the Danes cannot create miracles, unless one could call it a kind of miracle that such a large festival of new music, with contributions from over thirty countries on five continents, could be planned and budgeted with comparatively little expense. Perhaps it was the change in the Danish Section of the ISCM - the former one had quite simply lived beyond its means and gone bankrupt - that was primarily responsible for it: the World New Music Days 1996 in Copenhagen - compared to the World New Music Days 1995 in Essen - set the example for a progressive direction in the changing history of ISCM festivals since 1923.

In fact it did not differ so very much from the event in Essen, except by being essentially more pragmatic and at the same time showing more fairness toward the fifty organizations that are members of the ISCM. Like it, this festival moved daily to and from very different new and historical performance halls in the Danish capital. It opened with the last performance of an impressively staged, three-act "Lulu" - produced by the Danish radio station in the royal stables of Christiansburg Castle, which had been reconstructed for the occasion - in which Travis Preston's choreography showed individuality and increasing force, with Constance Haumann, Anja Silja, Monte Jaffe and Theo Adam in the roles of Lulu, Geschwitz, Dr. Sch"n and Schigolch. As charming as this performance hall actually is, it does nonetheless have some of the general shortcomings shown by many large halls that have not been conceived for music and music theater.

The old Royal Stock Exchange next to the castle, the Castle Theater, Copenhagen's Municipal Museum, the Round Tower, Den Anden Opera, the Church of the Holy Ghost in the old city, and the lecture hall at the National Museum are all more suitable for chamber music and ensembles. Both of the orchestra concerts with the Tivoli Symphony Orchestra and the Danisch National Radio Symphony Players were in the Tivoli Concert Hall, a hall which had originally been planned for variety shows. In addition there were several comparatively new spaces: the Tycho Brahe Planetarium for the electroacoustic music, the brand new Arken Museum in Ish"j, and the Albertslund Music Theater in front of the city gates, also built just a few years ago.

As interesting and full of variety as it was to become acquainted with so many different performance halls in one city, it is impossible to overlook the fact that up to the present, Copenhagen - as compared to Oslo, Stockholm and Helsinki - has never had a concert hall for demanding orchestral music and never even had a genuine chamber music hall. It is said that there have been costly plans for both over the years. However, their completion has been postponed for financial reasons until the time after 1996, the year as cultural capital.

The emphasis of the Copenhagen World New Music Days on music theater compositions and interactive computer music, both of which are relatively open in form and content, was already apparent from their first invitation. Along with Alban Berg's opera "Lulu", composed before 1935, the festival programmed the dress rehearsal of Per Nrgard's "Nuit des Hommes", text by Guillaume Apollinaire, for one female and one male voice, string quartet, percussion and live electronics, such as computerized video projections, and a performance of "Den Sidste Virtuos" - the last virtuoso - for five performers by the young Danish composer, Lars Klit. With his fifth work for theater, Nrgard, internationally recognized as the most well-known living Danish composer, has written a highly dramatic, neo-expressionist chamber opera to poems by Apollinaire, which - partly beginning during World War I - portray a human existence based on violence. The video plane sometimes showed theatrical perspectives and sometimes, in giant letters, the Danish translation of the original French texts used in performance. The Copenhagen production of "Holland House" with Sibylle Ehlert and Mark Janicello was an exceptionally striking climax in the festival.

The chamber opera, "The Last Virtuoso", based on a libretto by Sanne Bjerg, is a highly-dramatic family play about an aging violin maker, who dreams about a great virtuoso, the perfect violin player, but denies his own son any chance of living and working. It has the feeling of a late Ibsen or Strindberg drama. The production by "Den Anden Opera" with Kasper Holten as director and Jrgen Ole Brch, Edith Guilllaume, Jesper Buhl, Jan Lund and Hanne Andersen as soloists, as well as an instrumental ensemble directed by Svend Aaquist Johansen confirmed the impression of high professional standards already experienced with Nrgard's piece.

An equally compelling as well as professional impression was made by the only non-Danish music theater piece in the festival, Carola Bauckholt's "In gewohnter Umgebung II" for clarinet, cello and piano and a series of actors - members of the Carl Nielsen Music Academy Odenses having studied their roles with the Cologne composer - a study of simultaneous procedures that would not normally occur at the same time, related to Mauricio Kagel's and Gy"rgy Ligeti's aesthetic of the absurd. Its great success was partly due to the performers from the conservatory in Odense, who identified convincingly with the idea behind the piece and the parts involved.

In comparison to the music theater series, the orchestra concerts included many composers from the ISCM member countries. Along with Witold Lutoslawski's Fourth Symphony and the somewhat long-winded "Interview avec D" for speaker and orchestra by and with Mauricio Kagel, there was a three-movement, amazingly naive, old-fashioned oboe concerto by the Finnish composer, Jouni Kaipainen. Although announced as "dramatic", this "Orchestral Portrait of the Chinese Cultural Revolution" was a rather mechanical combination of Chinese instrumental sounds with aspects of the Western symphony by Bright Sheng, a Chinese composer who lives in the US. Jos. Luis Campana, an Argentinian living in Paris, originally wrote his colorful, narrative orchestra piece for dance theater. And there was a kind of bagatelle for orchestra by the Cologne composer, Caspar Johannes Walter, one of the three "Durchscheinenden Etden" by Walter that were recommended for performance by the International Jury of the ISCM. Compared to the somewhat overpowering atmosphere of Kaipainen's music and Lutoslawski's Fourth Symphony, Walter's minatures were heard as almost Webernesque by composers, performers and other participants from the various ends of the earth, surprising many of them - the best thing that could happen to a relatively unknown composer in an international setting.

One of the most prominent pieces in the festival was the so-called "Concerto grosso" for string quartet and orchestral groups by Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen, born 1932 in Denmark. In spite of its instrumentation, it was neither a Concerto grosso nor a narrative piece, as it was announced to be, since the Tutti-Ripieni between the solo actions were missing, as was any sign of baroque inflection. One of the leading Skandinavian composers, Gudmundsen-Holmgreen, without any kind of romanticizing attitude, has abandoned developmental, variational or structural, serial writing. He inserts sections of the sounds resulting from procedures for cooperation between performers from the German string quartet, Mandelring-Quartett, and individual orchestral colors, arranging them paratactically next to one another. Sometimes even traditional harmonic sequences are used, however they do not produce a prostasis and apodosis in the traditional sense. Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen - known to older ISCM visitors since the 1970 festival in Basel - is still a great unknown in neighboring Germany, a discovery worth making at last.

Of course, it is impossible even to mention all of the interesting pieces offered during the profusion of fourteen concerts. The electroacoustic music was mainly from Northern countries and remained within the limitations of traumatic to nightmarish, flowing sound images with and without equally blurred projections of images. By comparison, the many ensemble, chamber music and solo pieces gave very different, mostly predictible, but also occasionally surprising impressions about composing in distant countries and about various more or less successful individual performances in Copenhagen. There was a jungle piece for percussion instruments by the Venezualian composer, Emilio Mendoza, which was performed by a percussion ensemble specially organized for the World New Music Days that sounded like an instructive, cultivated jungle. There was an "Akrostichon", a play on German words by Unsuk Chin, a talented Korean who has written more complex, European-sounding instrumental music before this. Alongside many outstanding performances of well-known signatures, a colorful and form-conscious string quartet by Victor Varela, a Venezualian studying in Stockholm, was premiered by the Icelandic Bernadel Quartet, one of the festival's discoveries in performance.

There was an unusual vocalise composition by Michel Pisaro, a US-American, with long rests in between quite short sound events in which the singers are supposed to be reciting words from a Shakespearian sonnet and still be able to reenter according to cues from a half-concealed and otherwise unidentified conductor. And there was variative, repetitive music for ensemble by a Belgian, André Laporte, a "Litanie con Epitaffio" on the death of the great Belgian serialist and minimalist, Karel Goeyvaerts. And finally there was a concert with the motto "Clash", which included two noisily composed and apparently somewhat raggedly performed works by Martin Smolka from Prague and Ross Campbell from Scotland. In between them, "Mundo Perdido" by the Viennese composer, Gerd Khr, was played by the Copenhagen Athelas Ensemble and conducted by Giardano Bellincampi. This was definitely not an advantageous place on the program, due to its being quite a vulnerable, sound-oriented piece with delicate shading.

Apparently rather late in being invited, the "Nieuw Ensemble" from Amsterdam was finally engaged to play a program of repertoire pieces from various sources; their interpretation was on a very high level. The festival ended late at night in an open-air concert at Copenhagen's city hall square, where tape music by European and US-Amercan composers seemed to be streaming from the gutters. Then a last chamber music concert was held in which the Brazilian composer, Jorge Antunes, presented a piece that was a type of commentary on Claude L. vi-Strauss' work on cultural ethnology about "The Raw and the Cooked", which was a type of theater piece for one percussionist operating with tinder and matches. The last piece in the last concert was reserved for the artistic director of the festival, the flutist Lars Graugaard, who played a programmatic, virtuoso piece, "Manic Psychosis" by Japanese composer, Motoharu Kawashima, which signalized as concretely as possible, that he intends to concentrate on playing his instrument again after the festival.

So it was relatively easy to forget that the Copenhagen World New Music Days were carried out according to a new ritual. They still depend on compositions being sent in from as many countries as possible through national and individual submissions, but these are no longer intended exclusively for one large festival, instead they represent a pool of scores for performance anywhere in the world.

In the program notes, absentee ISCM president, Michael Finnissy, describes the edition of the jury's outcome as a major extension of the work til now. In the context of this recent innovation, a new proposal to do away with the jury and let the program be selected, more or less proportionally, by a number of ISCM member organizations who initiated it, thereby exploiting the vulnerability of a transitional period, seemed even weirder. To this strong minority on the lookout for a majority, the coming elections for president and vice-president of the ISCM seemed like a good opportunity for undermining the ISCM rules.

Because of this, the election procedure, involving almost forty member countries, was somewhat drawn-out, but it did finally result in an absolute majority for Swedish composer, Arne Melln. s and for Hungarian composer, Zolt n Jeney, two practicing musicians who stand more for artistic values than for proportional dramaturgy, both of whom had cleverly avoided getting too involved in either side of the previous discussion.

(Translation by Deborah Richards)