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WHAT ARE WE DOING? - Coriun Aharonian

 

 

WHAT ARE WE DOING?

A Report on the 1995 ISCM World Music Days in Essen by
Coriun Aharonian (Uruguay Section)

Could we begin asking what and why?

It is not necessary to go over the history of the ISCM since its creation, to state firmly that an ISCM festival, every one of its World Music Days, must be, at the same time,

the possibility for a regular observation of creative trends in art music throughout the world;

a wager to quality, both in composition and in performance;

an opportunity for composers to meet, to compare their experiences and to exchange them;

a risky approach to necessarily renewed points of view, to discussions about which can be considered, at every moment, the establishment, to serious innovations in language, to openings of the eurocentric standards.

A first problem is that we are dealing with Western European categories, and that the point of departure is, inevitably, Western European music history. Music is itself, as separate shelf, a European concept. And the duality of art music as a parallel language to popular music, with their different codes, is also a European concept. Even the evolutionist career is fundamentally a Western European illness.

So, when we are organising a festival of contemporary art music, or just making contemporary art music, we are taking these unavoidable characteristics as a point of departure. It is not an accident that the more colonised a country has been, the deeper are its roots in the field of an art music of its own, and that the oldest colonised countries have more possibilities of having found their own paths within the present-day creation of art music.

When people in charge of organising an ISCM event feel themselves free to make a capricious programme-planning which reflects their own and personal obsessions, something is wrong in their attitude, and, fundamentally, in their real relation with the spirit from which the ISCM was born.

An ISCM festival cannot be a matter of show-business. If something must be sacrificed, it is the predominance of purposes or goals of massive response. There is nothing negative in becoming elitist. Strictly speaking, every cultural activity is elitist, because it belongs to a more or less closed circle of people initiated in its language and its codes. Some elites can be or can become larger or smaller, but this cannot be a metre to measure their social importance. Even in popular music, a mega-show in a stadium is not at all more important than a normal recital in a small hall.

These considerations were evidently not clear to the organisers of the World Music Days in Essen in june-july 1995. They had many misunderstandings in their mind:

the supposition that the quantity of performers and of audience has something to do with quality;

the total lack of respect to the persons involved in the previous international selection of pieces to be performed - the composers, the community to which they belong, and also the members of the specially summoned jury;

the necessity of keeping the World Music Days as a meeting-point for creativity and for true internationalism (or, at least, true anti-eurocentrism);

the transformation of an event, that could be attacked in any case as a meeting of friends interested in what happens everywhere in the world, into a meeting of colleagues involved in some particular Western European trends and belonging to some particular options in their private life.

The poster of the festival was itself a gay manifesto. This could be courageous and positive, but not in the ambitus of the ISCM, an institution that has always tried to respect the right to gender of every composer but has never decided to become an international gay guild. (So, nobody has the right to use it for this purpose.)

The several times re-written rules of procedure of the ISCM World Music Days had been trampled on, in several ways. The international jury never received the complete list of compositions entered for selection (a list that, even more, did not exist when the jury arrived to do its work), the declaration in this sense of the jury was never officially published (and it does not appear in the booklet of the festival) in spite of the fact that their names were invoked and used as a validation of the whole programme, and a great part of the compositions chosen was not included in the concerts. In addition, a joke was established, to put in the concerts a piece of the same composer which was not the one chosen by the jury (and the jury had been selecting particular compositions, not just names of composers), or even to present under the same name a different composition (which was not precisely that one seen and judged by the jury).

A renewal of habits for the pieces out of the jury's selection could have been very positive. But the possible good intentions - for instance, some homages to great, recognised names, or the possibility of giving a kind of world compositional landscape - were hidden by lots of junk. The Hollywoodish nouveau-riche concept of mega-show imposed on the whole event brought as a consequence the neglect of quality and even of seriousness: the symbolic solo trumpet of "The unanswered question" by Ives was substituted by a spatial dialogue between four individuals that, in this way, were nothing but alone in the immensity of time and space; the baritone in the Lieder by Mahler was moving around the audience, curiously singing at its back; the Lohengrin prelude was a shifting music, with a na9 ve and para-fascist explosion of strong white light (at the precise moment when the obvious tics of class C movies were asking for such an "innovation"); Beethoven's Leonora overture number 3 was not luckier, presented with a blooming of who knows what, and trumpets doubled in a Gerard Hoffnung's way.

As the Ruhr area was a survivor of a glorious industrial big development related with coal and iron, many concerts were suffered in dirty and non-musical spaces, very interesting for other purposes but not because of their acoustics and their elementary comfort for listening new music. For people from the actual Third World it looks extremely ridiculous in a First World rich and powerful country, to expressly exclude or replace good listening places just for fun, or for aesthetic fancy, or for cheap snobbism.

A fundamental point must be reminded here: nobody has the right to use the International Society for Contemporary Music as a screen for personal projects that are not suitable or adequate for its purposes. Nobody is obliged either to fill in the requisites of the old international organisation if he or she feels that they are not suitable or adequate to his or her own interests. But once the permission has been asked to the ISCM for the building up of one or another World Music Days, it is obvious that both sides are obliged to accomplish the written rules and - especially - the spirit of those rules. This is a very central point, because after the Essen deviation, others can feel themselves free to do whatever they want, in spite of all what has been agreed - and this seems to be already the situation in Copenhagen...

Gerhard St. bler seemed to be the responsible head for all the lacks of respect to others in Essen. But he was not alone, of course. The delegates of the different ISCM member countries had no opportunity to recognise any other visible head. Perhaps St. bler was assuming the role of scapegoat, covering up his group of collaborators. In any case, he refused, with an angry look on his face, all critics in the General Assembly of the ISCM, and left the place in a temper. He did not understand that, to do whatever he wanted to do, he did not need either the ISCM or the mere name of the ISCM. He could have done everything alone, or together with his friends. Something must be cleared up once and for all: he did not have the right to make use of either the name or the prestige of the ISCM to obtain support and finances. It is clear that all these difficulties were not an unavoidable conditioning of the host country: very few years before, in 1987, Germany (at that time, the Federal Republic, without yet the annexation of the GDR) had shown (with the visible head of Klaus Hinrich Stahmer, together with Solf Schaefer, Karsten Witt and Andreas M"lich-Zebhauser) its capacity of organising an extraordinary and memorable festival (also in several cities), with an enormous audience, but with practically no concessions. Like Austria in 1982, for instance, with the visible head of the late Wilhelm Zobl. No one of these names was using the ISCM fa! ade to promote himself, but practically all of them became automatically recognised (in their own country and abroad) because their job was very well done.

In Essen, disregarding any common sense, orchestra concerts were considered the first rate activities, according to the layout of the programme book. Chamber music was considered second rate, and electroacoustic music third or eleventh rate, relegated to impossible difficulties of distance and/or time. There is no serious possibility of sustaining such an absurd presentation of facts. If the traps for massification have as a purpose an educational goal, this was cancelled by the way compositions were visually presented in that book and the complementary printed matter (is Webern's opus 11 less important than his opus 31?, is Var`.se's "D. serts" more important than his "Octandre"?). In addition, the major part of the orchestra concerts were tricky, full of "old" (and "very old") compositions included with the apparent intention to attract multitudes (what for?).

Let us now point out some of the many remarkable aspects of the Essen World Music days 1995. I personally would like to stress some very important moments: the challenging presence of Var`.se, even if not very well played, the inclusion of Luigi Nono's very impressive "Caminantes... Ayacucho", Mariano Etkin's quasi ritual "Taltal", Ramon Pagayon Santos' astonishing "S'Geypo", Javier Alvarez' electroacoustic "Mambo & la Braque", the fresh "Solentiname" by Alfredo del M¢naco (composed more than two decades ago...), the very interesting Jo Kondo erroneously programmed together with Morton Feldman, the excellent midnight concert of the Arditti Quartet, with Celso Garrido-Lecca, Tan Dun, John Cage and Iannis Xenakis, and the extraordinary concert conducted by Zolt n Pesk¢, with the first "Diario polacco" by Nono, two very imaginative and not well-known (Josquin's and especially Gabrieli's) orchestrations/recreations by Bruno Maderna, and three strong and moving compositions by Gy"rgy Kurt g.

The costs were estimated in a couple of million dollars.

'Ideals + Realism' by Nathan Mishori (December 1995)

After enjoying no less than 8 ISCM festivals, including number 67 - 'The Ruhr Gebiet 1995', I expect at least 8 general ideals to be realised in the future festivals!

1) The host country's committee that decides to organize the yearly ISCM festival should first of all make sure that the international jury's complete choice of representative international compositions are performed.

In 'The Ruhr Gebiet 1995', only 3 out of 10 internationally symphonic works chosen were performed. The fact that these three works - Chaya Czernowin's 'Amber', Jo Kondo's 'A Shape of Time', Peter Eotvos' 'Psychokosmos' - were good enough as music, and that the public enjoyed their expression and style, proves that the Essen Committee was wrong not to use the other works chosen. Instead of the other 7 symphonic works, 6 chamber music works by these composers were performed, and 1 composer was thrown out! Out of 5 electronic works, only 3 were done! The 2 'recommended performances' were thrown out! Out of 16 chamber music works only 6 were performed. 3 were changed and 7 thrown out! From 8 works for chamber orchestra, 5 were performed, 3 were thrown out!

This was quite a shame. But the fact that this festival presented in 8 symphonic concerts: 32 composers of 45 works, in 17 chamber concerts: 78 composers of 81 works, and in 6 electronic concerts: 31 composers of 31 works, doubled the numbers from the former festival and left a very impressive feeling! Another impressive point was that from each of the first 8 decades of our century 3 to 7 good works were performed (23 composers, 26 works), 34 works from the 1980's, and from the present decade (1990-1995) no less than 85 works were done (8 from 1995!). Another positive point was that, although not all the international guests liked all the 'Mini-Minimalistic' works that were recommended by the international jury, the Essen committee's choice put a big accent on this style (extremely too typical was K. Shim's work for flute and string quartet), and a beat on other styles!

2) The host country's committee is also expected to realise an excellent and well-rounded 'national music portrait' that includes at least the contemporary younger generation and the generations immediately preceding them. We can also expect to be reminded of the existence of representatives of more ancient generations, whose music changed a former style!

This year the portrait was good enough. Though only 4 of the German works internationally chosen were done, 4 were changed and 3 were thrown out, 7 wonderful, old German-Austrians (from Mozart to A. Berg) were added, and 14 contemporary composers including the famous M. Kagel and H.W. Henze, but missing important ones like K. Stockhausen, H. Lachenman, W. Rihm. Still, works like 'Diastasis' (W. Zimmermann), 'Resonanzen' (Th. Lauck) with the excellent cellist Kaya Han (+computer!), 'Wiegen Lied Brentano' (A.C. Bornhoft) with Essen's good 'Cappela Artis Novae' (+electronic sounds), and some other works, were good avant-garde representatives. As not all the composers received detailed coverage in the program book, maybe there were even more Germans. Unforgettable hosts like the wonderful 'Arditti Quartet', the excellent violinist Mieko Kanno, the B.B.C. orchestra, and several others, added a lot of honour and glory to their hosts!

3) Because the entire international jury's choice is almost never entirely perfect - from 41 works chosen this year, representing 47 ISCM members, only 18 countries! - and 'open-mindedness' is an important point of view, the national committee should perfect its internationalism by getting more representative works from all the ISCM members that were not included. Real perfection will be achieved when all of the ISCM membersl as well as 'poorer', non-member countries are included! Almost parallel to the subject of international composers should also be that of international performers, whose rules must be - a) works from their country, b) works from the host country and c) works from other countries.

This year, after the Essen committee threw out some of the internationally-chosen works and members, they added 10 members (24 ISCM members were presented !) and 5 non-member countries - Vietnam, Cuba, Russia, Peru, Equador - quite good! But I still missed Holland, Denmark, Spain, more South American and Asian countries, and especially African and Arabic countries.

4) The program book must be in both the national language and an international one (English) to insure that all the information (including the reasons behind the choices of both committees!) will reach and influence the entire world! Each composer chosen must have in it a concise biography on music and career developments, point of view, date and place of birth (death) and citizenship. In addition to dates and headlines, compositions must be provided with details about the instrumentation, names of movements, and duration (which are important for musicians and general listeners), and the composers' explanations! Performers of all kinds must also be provided with biographies. In complicated programs that use more than one performer for the same instrument, the different performers' names should accompany other details about the work. Pages of scores, composers' and performers' pictures, and even some paintings 'parallel' to the music styles, should also be included in it! This year the program book which was, apart from six nice opening 'preludes', completely in German, and was visually nice and also meaningful in its concerts' titles, was quite far from perfect in all the above-mentioned ideals and caused many problems for non-Germans!

5) For all the musicians, there should be exhibitions of a) the scores from all the programs, b) other scores by the composers chosen, c) a well-rounded national music exhibition, d) international exhibitions of scores on chosen subjects. e) All these types should include also books, quarterlies, electronic tapes, CD's, videos, etc. f) Symposiums on the festival's chosen subjects and meetings with the composers chosen, would also be good for the musicians and the audiences!

Most of a,b,c,d,e, and f did not exist this year, but an excellent lecture in Herne, which took place before an excellent concert of performers + computers, was real proof of the importance of such combinations!

6) To help public understanding of the new music styles, operas, ballets, films, theaters, marionette theaters and the new multi-media, should also be used. To attract new audiences, some street and park concerts should also be produced, as well as concerts in all types of museums. Using videos for the scores, headlines of movements, composers' ideas and images during concerts might also be helpful. Full concerts of improvisations and even just as parts of normal concerts might also attract new audiences!

Since I have heard many contemporary operas in German opera houses like Berlin, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Munich and Cologne, and also enjoyed ballets with modern music in them and in Pina Bausch's Wuppertal Dance Theatre, I was astonished that none of them were invited to this festival! But at least from an unconventional point of view, it was unbelievable how many unaccustomed concert styles and places, frequent occurences of long durations, rich lighting effects and 'dramatic' use of changing spaces and accoustics there were in many of the concerts. Ideal examples of this were the 2 'Babylon Soundscapes' (very exemplary were T. Hosokawas' 'Super Flumina Babilonis' and L. Nono's 'Caminantes...Ayaccuho'), the opening chamber music concert that expanded the meaning of solo and chamber music with works by H. Nakamura, A. Wolman, V. Globokar, etc., the concert by the Bochum Orchestra, the concert in the Gasometer, the Open Air Electronic Night concert, the Saalbau concerts which included G. Kurtag's works, giving excellent proof that ancient musical points of view should join and enrich our new ones, as well as several other concerts.

7) Another 'ideal' expectation that I believe can develop new music in any country, is to ask all the national ensembles for new music to participate in the festival. And because there is proof that young students naturally understand the music of their own generation (the Cologne Hochschule was a good example in the 1987 ISCM festival), they should be asked to perform music by their friends and teachers!

Though I am sure that there are many more modern German soloists, ensembles and orchestras than the ca. 29 that participated in this festival, the fact that there were more of them than the ca. 26 performers of 14 other countries, that except for Norway's Cikada, none(?) played national music, left a positive impression!

8) To broaden the internationalism from another important perspective, I suggest helping in any possible way all members of musical organisations in all countries - all types of musicians and musicologists, including good students - to come to the ISCM festivals!

N.B. 1

The unpleasant cuts during the opening concert, which happened because the conductor of the Essen Philharmonic fell ill, became a 'prophecy' that some new technical problems would arise! It was unbelievable that the Viennese KlangForum's instruments and the parts to the scores did not arrive in time for their concert. But they still played very well with new instruments!

The train timetable caused problems in being on time for the attractive 'Matines Electroniques' in a good hall in the Folkwang Hochschule - in which the excellent, resourceful 'overture' was 'Unknown Journey' by Joshuha K.B. Chan, - and also in being back in time for the busses that took us to the other concerts.

The fact that the bus drivers did not study enough the best ways to the different concert places, and that the timetable of the busses, which did not really need a long time to bring us to the afternoon concerts, increased the problems at lunchtime like taking a short, necessary rest before the long, positive Music Day.

Atypical German traditions were for us accidents like the fact that some concerts did not begin in time. In some concerts the order of the works was changed, and some were not performed. One (or more) concerts was cancelled, and 'Epitaphs' by Albanian T. Simaku was performed on tape instead of by young musicians from a school and institute (Folkwang Hochschule) that presented a serious and a promising, futuristic part in the festival!

Good and in almost complete contrast to the former technical details, were the technically great successes with extremely complicated and unusual use of spaces, lights, acoustics in the six (out of eight) very long symphonic concerts, and also in quite a few of the chamber concerts, which were performed, generally, on a high level. These concerts attracted quite a lot of adult and young listeners - 12,000(?), and proved to them the existence of excellent 20th century music, and also that the great older composers (Monteverdi, Perotinus, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Wagner, Mahler, etc.) are 'avant-gardists' like H. Cowell, Ch. Ives, E. Varese, Luigi Nono, etc.

N.B. 2

One of the main aims of those who gave money to the festival was to develop the 'Ruhrgebiet' into a European cultural center. This first stage of development seemed quite earnest and successful. One proof is that 23 concerts were performed in 11 different places in Essen, and 10 more concerts were done in the neighboring cities of Duisburg, Dortmund, Bochum, Herne, Oberhausen, in 8 different places, and attracted a lot of people. The fact that many of these places (factory buildings, some of which compete with the beauty of churches and have very special acoustics) were not traditional concert halls, probably helped to attract anew type of listener to go to these contemporary music concerts, thus fulfilling a major ISCM aim! Another very good basis and proof of the serious existence of contemporary and future German music was the fact that in the 'Ruhrgebiet' there are already very good institutions - the Essen Philharmonic, the Bochum Symphony Orchestra, the dedicated Electronic + Computer Center, and also wonderful neighbors like the Cologne Radio Orchestra, Choir, and more. Other German musical guests - 'Internationales Musikinstitut Darmstadt', Ensemble Recherch Freiburg, etc. were a reminder that Germany is a major world contemporary music center!

Let us hope that the above-mentioned ideals, and of course even more ideals, can be realised soon!!!

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