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C0 note (16,35 Hz) — vibrating on liquid surface

D0 note (18.35 Hz) — vibrating on liquid surface

C0 note (16,35 Hz) — vibrating on liquid surface

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Report on World New Music Days 2011 in Zagreb, Croatia

 

 

Report on World New Music Days 2011 in Zagreb, Croatia

by Jim Hiscott, President, ISCM Canadian Section

The Croatian Composers’ Society (Secretary-General Antun Tomislav Šaban), Artistic Director Berislav Šipuś, and Producer Mirna Ores, and their respective teams, working with Zagreb Biennale Head Producer Nina Čalopek, put on a stimulating and concentrated five-day Festival with many highlights. This World Music Days was short – 5 1/2 days – but very intense. There were 17 ISCM concerts in the larger Zagreb Biennale with about 90 works. The events happened in two main venues, a room in the Mimara Museum for smaller ensembles, and two halls at the Vatroslav Lisinski Concert Hall – the large Central Hall (KDVL) for orchestra concerts and the Small Hall (MDVL) for medium-sized events – larger ensembles and big bands, etc. There was a good deal of stylistic and instrumental variety overall, including some jazz bands and unusual groups such as tamburitza orchestra and tuba quartet.

The opening concert featured the biNg bang percussion ensemble. This was a highly skilled group, which spread its large membership in various configurations throughout the concert. The repertoire was very diverse, which made for a strong opening for the WNMDs. Norio Fukushi’s Couple focused on two percus- sionists – helped out by their colleagues at key points – going through a wide range of instruments and sounds, with the clever dramatic subtext of an amorous relationship. It was well con- ceived and well performed, with colour and lots of humour. An- other high point was ex nihilo by Portuguese composer Rui Penha, which featured four groups spread around the hall, and quiet, repetitive, meditative music verging on the tonal, with interesting use of the differences between marimba and vibraphone timbres. The massive sound of group tremolo on the four cymbals in Sergey Khismatov’s Cymbals Quartet was also very effective.

Next, one of the more unusual concerts, the Tamburitza Orchestra of Croatian Radio and Television, including all sizes of these traditional folk instruments of Croatia. The repertoire was quite diverse, from the straight-ahead folkloric to more adventur- ous use of the instruments’ particular colour in a more contempo- rary music context. In the latter category, Zlatko Pibernik’s Playful Fire with tape was quite interesting – even though it was strange to see an orchestra of tamburitzas sitting inactive as the tape part took a solo – as was Ivo Josipovic’s Drmes for Penderecki, in which Penderecki references mixed with more traditional Croatian mate- rial. The two ISCM pieces were Josip Magdic’s Prelude & Burlesque, Op. 221, with many subsections going back and forth between folkloric materials and more abstract sections, and perhaps the highlight of the concert, Hong Kong composer Gordon Dic-Lun Fung’s three-movement And the Strings Resound. Fung’s piece began with colouristic textures and an extended solo set against slow dramatic repeated notes from the three basses. In the sec- ond movement there was a reference to a traditional Cantonese melody, with pentatonic harmonies in the orchestra. The third movement featured the unexpected element of the members of the orchestra singing, in a stately and strangely compelling way, a Croatian folk song, against non-traditional accompaniment. This piece was very effective and brought a completely different aesthetic world to the concert.

Monday the 11th got underway musically with a sax quartet-to- octet concert. Many of the pieces shared effects such as key-pops, slap-tongue and slap-notes, etc. Works that stood out for me in- cluded Jean-Luc Darbellay’s Sequences, which had a wide and con- trasting variety of effects, a concise and effective ending and good control of overall shape; and Mexican composer Mario Stern’s octet As I Lay Dying, with a broad aesthetic palette including refer- ences to jazz and popular music, and strong melodic materials. And of course an octet of saxes is an amazing sound.

Then a concert of solo voice with electronics, in which the interplay of speaking and singing figured prominently. Nicoletta Andreuccetti’s L’altro canto featured a counterpoint of speaking/ singing, layers of meaning, altered consonants and other modi- fied vocal sounds, and moved towards a dramatic duet between live and recorded voice near the end, with a strong ending. Viviane Mataigne’s Le Rêve de Caliban also used alternations, here between spoken & sung texts and pentatonic & chromatic materials; it was concise and effective.

Tuesday April 12th opened with one of the more rarefied events of the week, the XL Tuba Quartet. There were in fact two XL tubas and two L tubas. The challenge for composers was to find variety in colour and texture for four voices in this low pitch range. Each composer used her/his own strategy. I enjoyed the use by Chi-Hin Lueng in Utmost Attack of a contrasting ‘raw’ sound to bring out higher partials and thus extend the effective range of the instru- ments. The highlight for me was Catacombs of Light by New York composer Julie Harting, who comes from a tuba-playing family and so has a special affinity for the instrument. She used the low register very effectively – both bass lines and well-voiced low chords – as well as the higher register to construct a wide pitch range. There was also good use of colour and harmonic progres- sion to give variety and impetus to her piece.

Then the Croatian Armed Forces Symphonic Wind Orchestra. I’m a fan of wind orchestras, and they’re not often written for in new music circles. In this concert Mladen Tarbuk’s energetic RE was followed by six ISCM pieces. B. J. Brooks’ Cadence Fantasy showed a confident command of the medium; it was a jazzy rollercoaster with a wide stylistic range embracing American Band music, Broadway and film music. Julia Gomelskaya’s The Riot was marked by interesting textures, contrasting colours, sudden shifts to smaller sub-groups and good use of trombone slides towards the end.

This was a full day of concerts, with the Plovdiv Philharmonic from Bulgaria taking the stage next. Tansy Davies’ Tilting had a complex cross-rhythmical focus with melodic fragments gradu- ally coming together – a feat sometimes difficult to achieve with a large slow-moving orchestra –, and it gave a breath of aesthetic fresh air to the week. Bent Sorenson’s Exit Music seemed to avoid large symphonic gestures, instead featuring a careful succession of sounds and textures. It made good use of lyrical melodic materi- als as well as orchestral colour.

The concert schedule on Wednesday April 13th began with the Camerata Garestin, an ensemble specialising in Baroque music, but here playing new works. I particularly enjoyed Hugi Gud- mundsson’s Händelusive, based on a theme from the Water Music. Over its four movements it explored various facets of Handel, always avoiding the obvious. There were long suspended chords, minimalist segments, long sensuous lines followed in the next movement by lively, energetic, rhythmic music, with complex con-trapuntal relationships between lines. Textures were sometimes reminiscent of baroque music, but always fresh. The scherzo- esque third movement introduced seconds in a parodic sense; then the last movement used legato lines with slow contrapuntal rhythms, speech-like harpsichord phrases, wind-pipe-like sonori- ties, and glassy, meditative chords. A highlight of the week.

The Song String Quartet concert combined electric guitar and string quartet in a varied and successful program. The bass-y amplified guitar sound was often hard to balance with acoustic strings, which had a fuller pitch spectrum. Most successful of the combined guitar/ string quartet pieces was Nicolo Colombo’s Four Darks in Red, especially in the segments with ‘raunchier’ electric guitar, which has more treble in the tone spectrum. There were also interesting textures, effective tuttis, and some nice contrasts, eg with col legno battuto strings against semi-acoustic but dis- torted guitar. Daniel Matej’s E (for e.g.) used the electric guitar in a variety of idiomatic ways – scrubbing (no amp), then, after the amp was turned on, feedback, distortion, ‘dirty’ sounds, ‘go nuts’ and punk segments, etc. Good variety and a convincing fusion between ‘rock’ and new art music. Also strong – and a highlight of the Festival – was Chiu-Yu Chou’s String Quartet No. 1, for string quartet only, an expressive piece which featured extensive use of glissandi and a variety of colours and successful textures in movement 1, duos in the second movement, good structural use in the third movement of obligati and solos, and a convincing conclusion. This piece later won the ISCM/IAMIC Young Composer Award for Chiu-Yu Chou. A different sort of world was created by Marcel Wierckx’s electric guitar/video piece Zin Tuig (Sense machine), in which two hands, one with only three fingers, intertwined and were multiplied in increasingly complex and interesting patterns and designs, against guitar solos dipping into 60s/70s raga rock.

Then the Croatian Radio and Television Big Band. The style was for the most part fairly straight-ahead big band jazz, on the funky side, with a strong rhythm section throughout. Music well-written for band and well-performed by the ensemble led by Sasa Nestorovic. I particularly enjoyed the crunchy chords in Steve Wiest’s Ice-Nine, very idiomatic but also innovative, and the flugel- horn solo and chromatic lines in Randy Bauer’s Wide-Eyed Wonder.

Thursday began with a youthful choral concert – the Zvjezdice Girls’ Choir led by Zdravko Sljivac. It was refreshing to hear the change of pace provided by this repertoire. John Frandsen’s The Divine Zoo; Spring; The Lamb featured syncopated rhythms very tell- ingly. Chan Ka Nin’s She Who Hears the Weeping World began with big piano chords against the delicate sound of the choir, and ended very movingly with the surprise entrance, from the back of the hall, of a solo violin, playing the final phrase.

The electronic concert which followed began with Japanese Garden by Doina Rotaru for bass flute/piccolo and pre-recorded sounds. It was visceral and effective and got the concert off to a good start. Fellow Romanian Nicolae Teodoreanu’s Abyss of Interference used body sounds in contrasting ways, along with big chords and suggestions of gamelan music for an evocative result. Angie Mullins’ Breach evoked a violation of home security with disturbing and tortured sounds of sobbing and screaming.

During this concert, there was an occurrence that might sug- gest tighter restrictions on photography during performances. In a pause in the middle of one of the electronic pieces, the photog- rapher stood up between the speakers and began taking photos of the audience with a fairly loud SLR-type digital camera, com- promising the experience of the piece. The sound of SLR cameras during quiet moments in performances was often distracting throughout the week; if photos must be taken during performances, perhaps a noiseless digital camera such as the Leica M8 might be mandated.

The Croatian Radio Orchestra performed later that evening at the KDVL Hall, and offered some strong pieces. Streams by Kata- rina Leyman described the life cycle through a series of well-varied and often brightly-coloured textures and rising lines, with a feeling of lightness and space, and then growing power, which was very effective. Stanko Horvath’s piano concerto Memorial was bold and riveting – a memorable piece and a strong and expressive perfor- mance by the soloist, Filip Fak, and the orchestra.

This was another full day of concerts – at 10 pm, the zeitkratzer ensemble presented longer works by Cage, Stockhausen, and an improvised piece by the group. A memorable performance was Burkhard Schlothauer’s arrangement of John Cage’s number piece Seven2, re-titled Nine. Around a half hour in length, it was a sublime experience – quiet, meditative, intense, and hypnotic.

The last day of the WNMDs began with a concert by the fa- mous Zagreb Soloists – known for decades around the world for their many excellent recordings. With conductor Zoran Juranic, they gave a very fine concert. Matthew Hindson’s Crime and Pun- ishment for bass solo and strings featured strong solo and string orchestra writing, contrasting textures and a jazz-based section. Sebastian Stier’s Strahlensatz made effective use of glissandi and other effects, as well as using subtle and varied string colours.

Later on in the day, the Zagreb Philharmonic was led by Krzysztof Penderecki. His horn concerto, played excellently by soloist Radovan Vlatkovic, seemed to reference a variety of 19th- and 20th- century styles, at times seemingly Wagnerian or John-Williamsian, with warm, lyrical passages. An inspired choice of encore by Vlatkovic was a solo from Messiaen’s Des Canyons aux Etoiles. Ivo Josepovich’s effective Epikurov vrt began with gentle, airy textures, then became harsher and darker, with solos in pairs set against dense textures.

The WNMDs Festival, the ISCM portion of the greater Zagreb Biennale, closed with an excellent concert by the Zeitfluss En- semble, with many strong pieces including Luc Brewaeys’ OBAN, which played with the harmonic series (a Scottish folk music allusion?), Katia Beaugeais’ commissioned piece (as winner of the 2010 ISCM/IAMIC Young Composer Award) Manifesto pour la paix, which had many good structural ideas and something of a rondo-esque form, and Benet Casablanca’s Dove of Peace. Homage to Picasso, with good lines and very effective writing for the solo clarinet / bass clarinet, played very well by Davorin Brozic. Daniel Moser’s Earlicker began with sax wails from Clemens Frühstück but eventually brought the week to a quiet end.

There were several installations placed strategically outside the concert halls throughout the week. I noted particularly Maria Panayotova’s In the Forest, outside the MDVL Hall. It was a peace- ful and colourful work, with projected forms of leaves and forests, beautifully videoed, processed and cut together, and with atmos- pheric music and sounds. It provided a space of calm and respite between concerts, in the natural beauty of a Pennsylvania forest. The General Assembly meetings all happened in a compact, well-set-up room at the hotel, with a sweeping view over the city. The agenda went very smoothly, thanks to the ever- efficient chairing of John Davis and the organisational work of the Execu- tive Committee, and the attentive Zagreb staff handling mikes, etc. Details of the meetings will be in the minutes, of course, but briefly: there were three presentations involving imminent Calls for Works – Belgium (6 cities), Košice/Bratislava/Vienna, and Wro- claw – a busy year for Sections coming up. Sofia Gubaidulina was elected an honorary member. There was an appeal for content and editorial work on the archives of the ISCM as we gradually approach the centenary of the organisation in 2023. Also, further clarification and emphasis on the new rules for Sections submit- ting works, which will hopefully lead gradually to a greater repre- sentation of composers from around the world at the World Music Days festivals. Also, concerning the responsibilities of Sections and Associates, there will in the next year or two be a more formal list of duties, including reporting procedures, annual deadlines, etc.

I have fond memories of two of the official receptions – the first at the presidential residence, hosted by Croatian President Ivo Josipovic, also a well-known composer and former head of the Croatian Composers’ Society; and the other in the beautiful Vojkovi - Orai - Rauch palace & former mayor’s residence, hosted by the current mayor of Zagreb.

Congratulations again to the Croatian Composers’ Society and thanks to the organizers and all those involved on the artistic, pro- duction and hospitality sides, for making us feel welcome in the beautiful city of Zagreb, and for giving us an enjoyable and varied World New Music Days.

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