S&H ISCM World Music Days reports:
Luxembourg 2000 - the Capital of the European
Contemporary Music Community.
Interview with Artistic Director Marcel Wengler, followed by some additional reports from the"World Music Days" Festival. (AR)
ROVNER: Could you describe your activities at the Luxembourg Society for Contemporary Music?
WENGLER: The LGNM was established in 1983 as a society, the aim of which was to promote the music of Luxembourgish composers, both in Luxembourg itself and to make the Luxembourgish musical legacy better known in other countries. It was established by five composers living in Luxembourg, myself included. Before that, there had not been any society of this kind in existence, and Luxembourgish composers had very few chances of having their music performed in their native country, as well as in other countries in which there was very little interest in Luxembourgish music. The LGNM joined the ISCM in 1985, two years after it had been established. In the beginning the financial situation was modest. Our committee had to conduct our activities in a freelance form. Today we have an agreement with the Ministery of Culture, which guarantees financial support for our activities.
Since 1994, I have been head of the LGNM and we have put on numerous concerts and published CD's of contemporary composers. Among our activities is an annual festival, "Classiques du 20-ieme Siecle," in the fall - in October or November. Each year the festival is devoted to one well-known composer. The last few festivals were devoted to the music of, respectively, Alban Berg, Arnold Schoenberg, Bohuslav Martinu, B9la BartCk, Igor Stravinsky, Aaron Copland, Karl Amadeus Hartmann, Hans Werner Henze and Maurice Ohana. The next "Classiques du 20-ié me Siecle" will be devoted to Allan Pettersson. There have been many concerts of contemporary orchestral music, organized by the LGNM, performed by the Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by me. We also have the "Editions-LGNM" which publishes scores and CD's.
One of the latest achievements of our society, was the establishment of the Luxembourg Sinfonietta in 1999. This is an ensemble of about ten to fifteen instruments, including some unusual ones, like the tuba, the accordion, the mandolin and the harpsichord, another step in strengthening the mutual cooperation of Luxembourgish composers and the promotion of their art. The ensemble performs only premieres of new pieces. The Sinfonietta's CD published by the Editions-LGNM 401, [review]features chamber music by eight different composers from various countries. We have had contacts and exchanges with countries from all over the world. One of our recent guests was Swiss composer, Jean-Luc Darbellay, who came over with his family and together they played a very interesting program of contemporary Swiss music, foremostly the music of Jean-Luc Darbellay. We have had many similar exchanges, for example with Israel and Portugal in 1995, when Luxembourg was the "Cultural Capital of Europe".
Finally, I could mention the Luxembourg Music Information Center, which is part of the International Association of Music Information Centers, and whose aim is to publish catologues of works by Luxembourgish composers, and to participate in a world-wide joint data bank for new music on internet.
R: Tell us about the role of Luxembourg in the ISCM.
W: Up to very recent times, Luxembourg - the smallest ISCM Section - has not had enough of a voice at the ISCM and Luxembourgish composers have never been selected at the World Music Days Festivals. The first time that a work by a Luxembourgish composer was performed in the World Music Days festival was in 1996, the String Quartet by René Hemmer. The second time was my Violin Concerto, performed in Romania in 1999. This year, in the World Music Days 2000 at Luxembourg, it was my intention as artistic director to have represented ALL the ISCM sections in the festival.
It was quite a surprise when in 1997 it was decided to have the World Music Days Festival 2000 in Luxembourg. Originally, it was planned for Israel, but the Israeli government was making severe budget cuts in the arts, so the Israeli section was forced to turn down the project. The plan then was to move the festival in Japan, scheduled for 2001, changed to 2000. However the Japanese section declared that it needs four years of adequate preparation time to organize the festival, and they had already planned their budget and their activities in advance. The only thing left was for one of the other countries take over the initiative. The General Secretary of the ISCM, made a joking remark to me "How about it if Luxembourg would volunteer to put up the festival?", to which I answered in all seriousness, "I will propose the idea to the Minister of Culture of Luxembourg, and see if she agrees." One day later, I was able to give the ISCM committee a favorable reply, so it was decided to arrange the festival in 2000 in Luxembourg.
We started preparing for the festival virtually from zero. In the first few months after that, I came up with the first schedule for the events of the festival, and shortly after that, I came up with the budget. Soon, the organization of the festival was going on at an intense level. At first, it was tremendously hard for me to convince some of the most important ensembles and orchestras to agree to perform in the World Music Days Festival, since many of them had scheduled events many years prior to their actual occurrence, but with a considerable amount of effort, I succeeded in inviting them to the festival. It is very important, when you are presenting good music at a festival, to have good performers to present it. This festival was the first time in which the Ensemble Intercontemporain from France and the Ensemble Modern from Germany have performed at the World Music Days Festivals.
Now I can say that the festival has turned out to be a great success. This is true not only in regards to Luxembourg, for which this is the first truly grand-scale, international event of this type in the area of contemporary music, but also for Europe in general and for the World Music Days Festivals in particular. I am especially pleased that such a good amount of audience come to the concerts of the festival, as the result of our work in advertizing and public relations. The Minister of Culture came to five of the concerts festival and expressed her admiration at the large audiences who came.
R: What are your plans for the future? Will this World Music Days Festival be successful in having an impact on future musical events in Luxembourg?
W: The Festival has proved that Luxembourg could be a very adequate place for conducting major international musical events and is a worthy place of intersection for musicians from various countries and pertaining to various stylistic and aesthetical platforms. I hope that hosting the World Music Days Festival will give us a better international situation than we have had in the past, that we will establish more contacts, more international concerts and more cultural exchange between countries.
I want to see Luxembourg not as just a small country in Europe, but as ONE of the European countries, a full-fledged, active member of the European musical community and a small center of music, including here contemporary music, with its own initiative and pulsation. I want it to exert its own influence on other countries, to make its own waves and to establish its own resonance in the musical spheres of Europe and the world. For this we need to be more active and to organize more international events to bring over the best musicians from Europe and around the world. The Luxembourg Society of Contemporary Music, from the time of its emergence, and especially the World Music Days Festival in 2000 in Luxembourg, have succeeded in greatly enhancing these wishes and aims.
R: What could you tell us about your own music? What is your overall approach towards music and which genres do you write in?
W: I have mostly concentrated on orchestral music, including concerti for solo instruments and orchestra (oboe, violin, viola, cello) and pieces for voice and orchestra. But I also have written music for numerous Luxembourgish films, including many documentary films. My Second Symphony, a large-scale, dramatic work in one movement, was recorded on CD with the Luxembourg Symphony Orchestra (LGNM Anthologie de Musique Luxembourgeoise Vol.2 & LGNM 541).
My music generally follows a more or less traditional orchestral approach, without using any special extended techniques or avant-garde trends, and the harmonic language in my music, for the most part atonal, freely incorporates tonality into itself at will. I like to work with the orchestra, since it presents a very supple and broad instrument for the most varied forms of expression. For me, music is in its essence a form of expression. It does not explain itself, nor does it have a need to do so, but it in itself is an explanation. It is like a story, but without words or without concrete concepts or images. Most of my musical compositions are in one movement. My music has a strong narrative element to it; it is like a film by its recounting event, though it does not get into the danger of literal recounting of concrete extra-musical events. I often have an imaginary landscape in my head. I like to utilize the varied colors of the orchestra in the most varied and dramatic way. Music in itself is movement and transition from one stage to the next. Drama and character are its inherent elements. Though in "absolute music" there are no real, exact stories, each piece does present itself as a story.
R: Tell us about your development as a composer. Which composers influenced you most?
W: In my early years as a composer I was profoundly influenced by the music of Mahler - the broad symphonic thinking, the dramatic development and, foremostly, the orchestration. Once somebody asked "With whom did you study orchestration?", to which I answered "With Mahler." I was also influenced by the film music of the time of my youth: its broadly descriptive musical language, as well as its dramatic and orchestral possibilities. Of course, I was influenced by Beethoven. Then Schoenberg, first of all early Schoenberg, such pieces as "Pelleas and Melisande," but also his later pieces like the Variations for Orchestra, opus 31 and the Music to a Film Scene, opus 34. Among the later day composers, Karl Amadeus Hartmann and Hans Werner Henze were strongly influentional in shaping my own musical language, by theirs. In the 1970's, Henze's music was not as well known as today. For me music is not something that should be calculated in one's head or mathematically; it is something which should be stated directly, not constructed. Music in its essence is expression.
R: I know you not only as a composer, but also an esteemed conductor. With whom did you study conducting?
W: My mentors for conducting were Igor Markevitch and Sergiu Celibidache, the Romanian conductor, who in 1951 was the conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, after which Herbert von Karajan took over his position. For many years I have been the assistant of Hans Werner Henze at the Cologne Music Academy and during this time I have conducted orchestras in London, Paris, Cologne, Hannover and in Munich. Together with Henze we recorded film music with the Munich Philharmonic.
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Review by Anton Rovner of events not covered previously by PGW in S&H October, ISCM World Music Days
The World Music Days Festival comprised 29 concerts in various venues in Luxembourg city and picturesque towns and villages, one of them over the border in Metz, France and another in Saarbrü cken, Germany.
The festival began in the Casino Luxembourg (the modern art museum) with a demonstration of sound-sculptures by composers-sculptors. Sound Objects Orchestra by Christoph Schlä ger, started to sound out at a given moment, producing a real effect of an orchestra, since the individual sculptures-instruments produced their respective individual sounds at prescribed times, the overall form and structure conscientiously thought out by the composer. Bambuso Sonoro by Hans van Koolwijk from Holland was a huge, wooden instrument with an assortment of pipes and levers, similar to those of an organ, producing another logically coherent "symphony", some of the sounds quite comical. Interactive Raum-Klang Installation by Urs Rickenbacher from Switzerland, was a sculpture of very thin pieces of metal, shaped in a big object, resembling a gate, a door and a short passage, forming triangles and rectangles, which produced an assortment of different sounds and textural sonorities, all of which were produced by reverberations caused by visitors or "audience members" walking inside. The sounds ceased as soon as everyone walked away from the sculpture. As a result, in this case the audience members were the co-authors of a "symphony".
In Esch-sur-Alzette, the Tanztheater Basel performed along with the musicians from the Electronic Music Studio of the Basel Hochschule at 11 p.m. - a time when most of us were ready to go to sleep after a full day. Three dancers dressed in black, danced graceful, abstract figures separately, then together. The three electronic compositions were presented without any pause; nevertheless changes of style were apparent.
In Metz, about two hours from Luxembourg city, The Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Fabrice Bollon included WU-YU by Chinese-born, Australian-based composer Julian Yu, the title of which referred to Chinese rain-making ceremonies, a very impressive and effective composition with an expanded and exotic textural palette, the imaginative use of percussion suggesting Chinese folk music. Duodramen for soprano, baritone and orchestra by the Mauricio Kagel produced a most favourable effect. It was a dramatic work, with a strong Romantic trend, its orchestration elaborate and expressive, with a wide range of diverse orchestral effects, such as glissandi and double-bass pizzicati. The soprano and baritone sang short, successive lines, suggesting an opera scene, interrupted by long orchestral interludes.
The famous German chamber ensemble Musikfabrik, under American-born and German-based James Avery, performed at the Villa Louvigny in Luxembourg city. British composer Ian Wilcock's Grave, receiving its world premiere, was dynamic, texturally innovative, intriguingly eccentric in sound and form. In the beginning, a few vertical chords started and stopped abruptly, then the piece went into full sway, featuring full, loud, elaborate tuttis and some unusual effects, like tuba stacattos, as well as some exotic percussion effects, all of which added up to produce a very effective and inspiring work. Annä herungen by Gunter Steinke, produced the most favourable impression, harmoniously blending a cerebral approach with a lyrical, introvertive mood. It was a very texturally advanced piece with subtle effects and extended techniques. British composer
In Saarbrü cken, the Sinfonieorchester des Saarlandlischen Rundfunks was conducted by Oswald Salaberger, with soloists and the Saarbrü cken Chamber Choir under the direction of Georg Grü n. The most interesting work on the program was Die Erde ist eine Schale von dunkelm Gold, a Konzertscene for soprano, tenor, baritone, chorus and orchestra by German composer Rolf Riehm, a large, dramatic atonal work, utilising some innovative orchestral effects, quite Wagnerian in its Romantic, emotional qualities, heavy orchestral textures, - alternately busy, spirited, dramatic and slow and static - and an almost declamatory orchestral style. Towards the later part of the work, there were quotations from Bach's Musical Offering, as well as fragments of music with Bach stylisations.
In the Orangerie of the Domaine Thermale in Mondorf-les-Bains, pianist Bé atrice Rauchs and violinist Vania Lecuit performed an extensive program. The most memorable piano piece Ciurlionis' Sketches by Lithuanian Anatolijus enderovas, alternately tonal and atonal in harmonies, with rather traditional, Romantic piano textures, at times alternating with Neo-Classical textures. Where two became one by Israeli Nurit Jugend was by far the most impressive work on the program. The performance by Vania Lecuit on the violin and Beatrice Rauchs on the piano was outstanding, inspiring in its great musical insight and sensitivity. The moods contrasted a static, sparse beginning with a more robust, dramatic, full-textured climax, which never lost a certain reserved quality, as well as utilising extended techniques for both instruments.
We were taken by cruise ship to Ehnen, on the coast of the Mousel, to hear chamber music performed by soprano Mariette Lentz, Aude Rocca-Serra on the harp, Dimitris Marinos (mandolin) and Isabelle Kayser (flute) included a world premiere of Trois Chansons d'Amour for soprano, flute and harp by Luxembourgish composer Johny Fritz, a rather traditional and harmonically tonal piece which depicted very well poetry to they were set, and also proved an excellent complement to the picturesque scenery of Luxembourg country. Contrapuntal Variations by American composer Craig First was a subdued, delicately textured modal piece for mandolin, with the instrument's famous tremolos and some harmonics in the upper range. Japanese composer Harue Kunieda's Serenade for soprano and harp featured elaborate extended techniques for the harp as well as atonally virtuosic yet lyrical and expressive lines for the soprano. It contained a very gradual form of development, utilising limited pitch areas (suggesting the limitations of Japanese modes, though keeping the atonal harmonies throughout) and limited textural units, featuring just a little material at a time, which gradually changed or developed. Luciano Berio's Sequenza for solo flute, with its theatrical effects and extended techniques, was performed in a masterly manner by Mariette Lentz, whispering, muttering, laughing and hissing, as required, using an assortment of theatrically comical facial expressions, which Berio himself would have enjoyed.
After the concert, our cruise ship took us along the Mousel from Ehnen back to Mondorf-les-Bains, and on the way we were given, as a treat, a piece of Luxembourgish exotic extravaganza - an operetta Die Scholdschä in (1855) by the 19th century Luxembourgish composer, Edmond de la Fontaine, the first musical comedy in the Luxembourgish language. It featured extensive spoken conversations, intermingled with light-weight 19th century style popular songs in the vein of Gilbert and Sullivan or Offenbach. The exotic novelty of the Luxembourgish language (a curious half-way blend between German and Dutch) proved to be music for our ears, and, moreover, a new and intriguing linguistic-musical experience.
The final concert at the Luxembourg Conservatory featured the BBC Symphony Orchestra of London, with four diverse compositions, all performed with vigour and zeal. The first three were conducted by Pascal Rophé . Giro by Esa Pekka Salonen was a very impulsive, dramatic piece, with a moderately avant-garde style, an atonal harmonic language, which frequently seemed to approach tonality from a distance, never embracing it straightforwardly. It had a lush, full-textured orchestration and an inspiring, heroic mood, without excessive bravura. Variations by Hugh Wood was fast and busy, with polyphonic lines and the texture bordering on a Neo-Classical approach. Though not long, the piece had a complex, dramatic formal structure with substantial development of the initial thematic material. The Stations of the Sun by Julian Anderson was an extensive, dramatic piece, moderately traditional in style, with a strong Romantic flavour. The work had a well-built form, suggesting an epic narrative, with a well-built form and inherent dramatic substance.
The Gate, Orchestral Theatre IV by Tan Dun, was conducted by the composer and featured Peking opera actress Shi Min, soprano Nancy Lundy and puppeteer Zehuai Zhuang. This large-scale composition was an extravagant multi-media performance, in effect a short opera, with strong theatrical elements, about three women, who committed suicide out of love, awaiting judgement at a gate where souls await to be reborn. The music was a rather traditional, theatrical type, with a strong flavour of Chinese exoticism, inherent in the pentatonic harmonies and the strong allusion to Chinese traditional folk music by the orchestral textures. A very effective touch was a video screen which magnified and showed on screen respectively the conductor, the singers and the actors.
This last work was successful in bringing yet another dimension to the festival, namely that of the theatre, emphasising once again the extreme diversity of talent presented, and providing a triumphant and entertaining conclusion to The World Music Days Festival, which provided a chance for talented musicians from all over the world to meet each other in a vibrant creative atmosphere and will have ensured a secure place for Luxembourg on the Western European contemporary music scene.
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