S&H Festival Report
25th Gulbenkian Encounters of Contemporary Music
Lisbon, 21 May-3 June 2001 (PGW&AW)
To Portugal in quest of Scelsi -
Courbet, Manet, Pissaro, Jongkind and Whistler, rejected in 1863 by the academic jury of the prestigious biennial Paris Salon, organised their own break-away Salon des Refusés, with their supporters Monet, Renoir, Sisley, & Cezanne, consigning their rejecters to ultimate oblivion.
The 25th annual Gulbenkian Encounters of Contemporary Music in Lisbon was unique for a time when that word has become debased. The many new music festivals which attract publishers, concert promoters and large audiences usually focus upon world premieres, which attract press coverage, with personal attendance by numerous composers, despite their often being represented only by single works.
In the daring (and with hindsight, some may think foolhardy) scheme brought to Lisbon by the Belgian musicologist Harry Halbreich, [left] dreamed of for many years, and only reaching fruition through the resources and confidence of the Gulbenkian Foundation, premieres were conspicuous by their rarity and relative unimportance. His selection of music was also a formidable stroke in the growing movement towards demolition of the concept of a restrictive 'canon' of masterpieces, which still dominates (increasingly anachronistically) the output of the major recording companies and the promotion of performing 'stars'.
Halbreich's very personal musical 'Salon des Refusés ' - towards an alternative history of 20th century music focused upon the resurrection of some undeservedly neglected composers of the recent past, headed by Giacinto Scelsi (9 works), Maurice Ohana (8), Roberto Gerhard and Horacio Radulescu (6 each), Bernd Alois Zimmermann (4), Stepan Wolpe (3) and Claude Vivier (2). The Scelsi retrospective, possibly the largest since the death of this pioneer and still controversial composer, about whom PGW was amongst the first to write in UK, drew Seen&Heard to spend a fortnight at the westerly extreme of Europe. And there was the rub.
To give British readers a national perspective on this event, imagine an eminent UK musicologist being given the go-ahead by holders of the purse strings for an 'alternative' festival centring on, say, Havergal Brian (his Gothic Symphony, of course), Alan Bush, Sorajbi and Harold Truscott!
Lisbon is at the Atlantic edge of Europe, and Portugal is culturally isolated by its situation and its language. It is not on any normal route traversed by regular European festival goers. The cut-price, no-frills airlines which have made attending most festivals so readily affordable from UK with the currently favourable exchange rates, do not operate to Lisbon. We learned of this intriguing festival from the invaluable bi-annual Gaudeamus Bulletin.Publicity otherwise was sparse, and there were no special package offers that might have attracted more visitors from afar.
Little surprise, in the circumstances, that audience numbers were predictably disappointing, with scattered enthusiasts directed officiously and insistently to their designated seats in near-empty halls.
Invitations from the platforms for everyone to move down to the front and a few introductory words from the performers could have broken the ice and helped counteract the formality and the gulf between artists and listeners. CDs on sale after the concerts, as is commonplace in UK, should have helped the little ripples of appreciation to spread - a good record firm can organise this for festivals in their localities on a sale-or-return basis.
Harry Halbreich, whose always fascinating liner notes will be familiar to CD collectors, gave an overview of his thinking (in English) before the first concert; after that, we non-linguists were completely on our own, in striking contrast with the museums an other attractions in Lisbon, where we found information in English to be commonplace. He indicated the variety of reasons for the neglect of his chosen composers. Many of them were poor or reluctant self-publicists. Some were uncompromising individualists and 'difficult' people, who even reacted to adverse reception of their ideas by suppression of the music and banning its performance!
Artists who refuse to conform to current fashions risk rejection. Young talent can be quickly overexposed & prematurely promoted, only to be as quickly squeezed dry like a lemon and discarded for the next one. Ohana had bravely ignored the Boulez dominance in France (his advocacy of total serialism swept England too for a time) and quietly went his own way. Some were late developers, several of them died prematurely, Vivier assassinated, Zimmermann by suicide, Guerrero (an important teacher of Spanish composers) 'burnt himself out'. Some were disadvantaged by the cultural and political situations in their countries, e.g. Vieru who Halbreich believes would enjoy similar fame to Lutoslawski had he not been Romanian. The Lisbon festival was in no way intended to denigrate famous contemporary composers, but to show 'what else exists'. Music history needs to be continually re-written, all the time.
In accord with the unique focus of this festival, our report will not undertake to deal comprehensively with all the performing groups and their individual programmes. Explanatory notes about the music and its background in the lavishly produced programme book (about which more later) were only available in Portuguese translations, and there were no texts of vocal items in any language, so we were thrown back upon the sound itself, which is not readily amenable to describing in words. Suffice it to say that in general the standards of preparation and performance were gratifyingly high, indicating that generous funding made it possible to bring large orchestras to Lisbon from abroad and for the allocation of generous rehearsal time to tackle unfamiliar repertoire.
The Belgian Ensemble Musiques Nouvelles from Mons, conducted by its multi-skilled director, composer/cellist Jean-Paul Dessy, adumbrated the themes of the fortnight, but attracted only a small audience to the vast Grande Auditório at the Gulbenkian Foundation to hear Scelsi, Vivier, Radulescu, Gerhard and Dessy. Starting at 9.30 p.m., as did most of the main festival concerts, it was not easy after a long day's travelling to immediately tune into the refinement of Giacinto Scelsi's explorations of the inner life of tones, sometimes so quiet that they tended to be absorbed by the sound of air conditioning, a problem which came to a head at a later Scelsi event. Claude Vivier's Zipangu was robust and impressed me more than many pieces by this pioneer of spectral music, who had become something of a cult figure since his assassination at 34. From where we sat, Gerhard's concerto for (amplified) harpsichord, strings and percussion did not come off as well as anticipated - but maybe we were just too tired.
The elusive, shimmering strings patterning of the Romanian Horatiu Radulescu's Unde Incotro in that first concert whetted the appetite for a whole concert of his music in the second week, given by his English wife, the cellist Catherine Marie Tunnell with Romanian born pianist Dana Ciocarlie. This proved a strange event, attracting only a tiny audience and arousing conflicting reactions. Radulescu, who lives now in Switzerland, had been featured in London's Almeida Festival, from which time I recall his music having used pulsating coloured lights, which left a lasting impression of something strange and new. He goes in for bizarre titles, in English. I liked his second piano sonata Being and non-being create each other with blocks of music repeated and re-ordered, something in the manner of Tippett's 2nd sonata. He emphasises the resonances inherent in the piano by keeping the pedal down to create halo effects, contrasted with sharp chordal interruptions. He shows a real and captivating originality in his writing for the unaccompanied cello, favouring high harmonics and perilous sustained tones close to the bridge. Das Andere was overlong at 18 mins but has a perceptible inheritance from Bach's suites and is well worth the attention of an enterprising cellist, as is the later and shorter Lux Animae. The title of Radulescu's infuriating obsessive, relentless and interminable 3rd piano sonata says it all: You will endure forever. Not everyone returned after the interval, but I was glad to have heard the half-hour cello sonata L'Exil Interieur (1997), which brought together Radulescu's uncompromising preoccupations. Catherine Marie Tunnell has a recording of it on CD available from firstname.lastname@example.org and Dana Ciocarlie a particularly desirable Romanian programme (Enescu, Constantinescu & Bartok), including the original piano version of Enescu's popular 1st Romanian Rhapsody, all sympathetically played and recorded: Harmonia Mundi l'empreinte digitale 13122.
Elisabeth Chojnacka brought the festival to life with a well planned - aurally - programme of contemporary harpsichord music. Aurally, because the presentation was bizarre in the recently fashionable manner, leaving those us without torches bereft. Chojnacka was spotlit whilst playing, but took her generous applause between items invisibly in total darkness, leaving those of us who had not memorised the order and details of the eight works from the programme book (in Portuguese only, and too heavy to carry around!) equally 'in the dark' and confused as to what we were hearing; negating the festival's ostensible focus upon neglected or unknown composers rather than upon performing personalities, which so dominate the music business. Sorting it all out afterwards, we had heard a nice piece by Jerzy Kornowickz in which the harpsichordist counterpointed taped episodes of natural sounds from jungle and ocean depths (whales), one by Yves Prins that featured bandoneon (Max Bonnay) with harpsichord to great effect in his enjoyable Tango Fusion, which required some improvisation and culminated in a frenetic dance, and Luc Ferrari had an insistently driving piece with tape, which remained elusive even retrospectively, because he eschews programme notes in any language!
From Maurice Ohana there were attractive pieces related to conga and tango, a grave Tiento referring back to Cabezon, transcribed from a guitar original, and Miroir de Célestine (1990), a major work for harpsichord and percussion (Pedro Carneiro, PLG Musician 1999, who has frequently been admired in London by S&H). This, the high point of the concert, had been worked up from Maurice Ohana's opera La Célestine, premiered at Paris Opera in 1988 - a very worth-while rescue operation, given in the small hall of Lisbon's Cultural Centre at Belém a performance of astonishingly close rapport and aural sympathy between Elisabeth Chojnacka and this great young percussionist, who impresses more each time we have encountered him. Ohana's last work, Avoaha (1991), enjoyable if less than earth-shaking is scored for choir, two pianos and three percussionists, it is an attractive, eclectic work with African and Cuban rhythms, at one point requiring an assistant conductor, and owing something to the Stravinsky of Les Noces. The Gulbenkian Choir and group of instrumentalists were scrupulously prepared, and conducted with verve and precision by Fernando Eldoro to bring the entire festival to an end on a high note.
Elisabeth Chojnacka's concert had been preceded by the disaster of the festival, a performance of Morton Feldman's interminable Violin and String Quartet (1985) of unrelieved greyness, which tested those few who came beyond reasonable endurance. Scheduled (no more than a guess?) to last 100 minutes, after two hours I departed for a much needed break before Chojnacka's recital. Although the cataclysmic event of a few pizzicati had broken the monotony, it still showed no likelihood of finishing in the foreseeable future. Whilst some of the players missed an occasional note to turn over a page, exercise a shoulder at risk of seizing up, or wipe a dripping nose, I was impressed most by the fortitude of the cellist's page turner, and his musical skill demonstrated in the ability to keep his place through her endless succession of long sustained notes. Next morning I restored my equilibrium by playing Alan Feinberg's magical account of Feldman's little (21'44") Palais de Mari (Koch International Classics 3-7308-2). Had it just been a poor performance of Violin and String Quartet , I was left wondering?
Jean-Paul Dessy gave a solo cello recital, starting with a piece of his own, which began (as he afterwards explained) with no more to be heard than left hand fingernails 'begging for a bow' and finishing with the player bowing the spike of his cello! Both had been rendered inaudible by the air conditioning, and after Dessy had returned and begun a major work by Giacinto Scelsi he suddenly stopped, apologised to us and said he could not continue against that distraction. A long pause ensued with discussions backstage; eventually he returned, somewhat sheepishly it appeared, and resumed the performance against the same noise, which no-one could now attempt to ignore. Some ten minutes into Scelsi's Trilogia (The Three Ages of Man), and after we had resigned ourselves to the domination of mechanical contrivances, the air conditioning (completely unnecessary for so small an audience) was finally switched off and one was able to hear, for the first time, the true sounds of the cello; a memorable demonstration for those who had been unaware of what they were missing, a long running problem which Seen&Heard has regularly aired, to little avail. (The best solution to the air conditioner problem is that adopted in the Venice Biennale in sweltering summer heat; the machine was switched on during platform re-arrangements and off for the actual performances.)
This still little known masterwork, so daunting to study that, as Jean-Paul Dessy told me, 'you look at the score and put it off!' is in Halbreich's opinion (which I share) comparable in importance to the Suites of Bach. Composed and subsequently recorded in close collaboration with the innovative cellist Frances-Marie Uitti 1957-1965, the three main sections are each subdivided into three movements, the whole totalling about 45 mins. Dessy is believed to be the only other cellist who has taken it into his repertoire - shame upon the others! - and it makes for an intense, direct and readily accessible listening experience, which won this superb musician an ovation after he had coped also with the more normal vicissitude of a broken string whilst retuning between movements near the end. This was for us the most significant event in the first week.
Jan Latham-Koenig brought his Ensemble de Musique Contemporaine from Strasbourg and they gave excellently prepared accounts of many rarities in the Foundation's Grande Auditorio Gulbenkian. Aare Merikanto (1893-1958) in his surviving Nonet of 1925 showed a free-thinking personality and equivocal moods, with a sparkling iridescent use of piano together with quartets of winds and strings and made one want to explore the available earlier music of this frustrated and totally rejected original, who finally succumbed to disappointment and rejection by sinking into alcoholic depression, destroying much of his music and eventually compromising and settling for conventionality in later life - 'the archetype of the Refusé'. Nikos Skalkottas, who had no chance in his culturally isolated 'native backwater' of Greece was represented by his Octet (1931), a sterling work of enduring worth, bringing melody, warmth and wit to the serialist techniques learnt with Schönberg in Berlin. Roberto Gerhard's late Libra sounded magnificent and left us happy that there would be a substantial retrospective of his music to come. Championed generously by Lina Lalandi in her English Bach Festival for several years, he remains only sporadically heard in UK and completely unknown in Portugal.
Lisbon has no shortage of splendid concert venues. The first programme by the Gulbenkian Orchestra (Portugal's oldest, founded only in 1962) under the American conductor Charles Bornstein in the acoustically magnificent Aula Magna of the University (located not without considerable difficulty!) was an unsatisfactory mish-mash of unrelating items thrown together without intelligible reason. Of greatest interest, Hanspeter Kyburz's piano concerto (1999) was tackled valiantly by Ueli Wiget but, especially in the first movement, his visibly virtuosic efforts were largely Seen but Unheard against dominating orchestral winds and percussion. The slow movement has a reserved gravity, with many passages for piano alone, of a simplicity which brought to my mind that of Ravel's piano concerto in G. In the finale there is a little delving into the strings over and under the music stand, and there are some important passages for a second, orchestral pianist. Kyburz is a significant complexitist whose music teems with energy and the proliferation of simultaneous events. I have found CDs of his music engrossing, and he is one who would benefit from Glenn Gould's innovation, an interactive recording which allows the listener to balance music variably, bringing out now one strand, now another from the original recorded channels. Bruno Maderna's delectable Giardino religioso was replaced by brief inconsequential pieces by Ruth Crawford & her husband Charles Seeger, and the Lisbon orchestra's offering ended with a dated 1981 political piece by Claude Vivier, which had Martin Luther King's last speech as part of the background to mezzo Isabel Soccoja's singing of Holderlin's poem Wo bist du Licht?, her contralto register used to memorable effect.
The Gulbenkians' other concert had the makings of one of those scandals beloved in music history. The players took against the music they were rehearsing and defected in droves! Likely cancellation was rumoured. By the day, 25% of the musicians had lodged medical certificates and had to be replaced by recruiting free-lance substitutes. Although the cracks were papered over, and the concert took place with the audience receiving an emollient, euphemistic explanatory leaflet, the programme was too difficult for a successful rescue operation.
Zimmermann's Sinfonia em um andamento was a rousing starter, but Roland Hermann had to force his voice to little effect to cope with the extravagant, noisy orchestra (8 percussionists!) in Hartmann's Gesangsszcene, given in the original German, which most of the audience will not have understood. Antonio Pinho Vargas's To impatience with Mahler did not quite live up to its challenging title, but welcome though was an opportunity to hear again the first major orchestral work of Alberto Posadas, his Áperion, which had been a hit in Strasbourg at its 1999 premiere, this huge orchestral tapestry took 32 minutes under Michael Zilm's relaxed direction, instead of the prescribed 23. Áperion is an astonishing achievement for a young composer, very much in the idiom of Scelsi's orchestral music, but the latter was unknown to Posadas at the time of its creation.
Ivan Fedele's violin concerto (1993), given in one of the Ensemble Intercontemporain's concerts by its first interpreters, Á-Sun Yang and conductor Pascal Rophé, is a twenty minute single movement, which unashamedly celebrates the 19th C. romantic virtuoso violin concerto. The assured and well equipped soloist explored her material and bravura passage work, her part eschewing fashionable extended techniques, cushioned by a rather large chamber orchestra of double winds and percussion, plus harp, piano and cimbalom, skewed by having only a string quintet. This supports and punctuates the (very discreetly amplified) solo violin line with mainly homophonic gestures, their subtle orchestration giving the work its individual character. There is no conflict or sharing of material and the ovation by the small audience, its constitution in Lisbon not typical of the 'new music scene' elsewhere, was fully deserved. It must be as rewarding to play as it was enjoyable to hear, and should be well received by people who prefer traditional music as a welcome novelty included in an 'ordinary' symphony concert. For later development of this important Italian composer, try his piano concerto on Stradivarius The performance of Wolpe's Piece for Trumpet & Seven Instruments was marred by the tendency of the trumpet to 'swallow' the other instruments. Scelsi's concentrated Pranam II was a precious example of his later style, and foretaste of the major orchestral works to come, but at only 6 mins it would have been sensible to repeat it during the concert for an audience to whom he would have been unknown before this festival.
The Ensemble's other concert was devoted to two live electronics works by Portugal's Emmanuel Nunes, who was supported by a sizeable number of devotees. What his music is about, I cannot venture to opine, and without access to a commentary one was thrown back, as often during this festival, upon contemplating peripheral aspects of presentation. Seated just outside the central block, not far from the bank of computers and their five (!) operators, a disproportionate amount of Lichtung I reached our left ears from a loud speaker nearby, nullifying what could be seen happening on stage. Moving afterwards to free seats at the exact centre, Lichtung II for a larger ensemble (the 4 percussionists placed behind transparent screens!) came into perfect focus, with a difference as dramatic as had been switching off the air conditioning after protest during Jean-Paul Dessy's recital - but what a limitation it is to have music so dependent upon technology and that can only be heard as intended by a privileged few.
The augmented Flemish Radio Orchestra and Luca Pfaff, [left] brought a new dimension to the festival with a magnificent concert of large scale orchestral works by Ohana, Scelsi and Gerhard, requiring a full complement of players and such extravagances as the four tubas needed for Scelsi's Aiôn. This is an eager, upcoming newly independent orchestra, and they should be brought to UK with this fine conductor, who is an all too rare visitor to Britain.
Invited by Harry Halbreich to the last rehearsal (they had been preparing their two concerts in Leuven for a week) we succeeded eventually in penetrating the formidable security of the Cultural Centre of Belem to gain admission, but only after being sent around to consult a series of duty officials, followed by numerous phone calls and finally the presentation of our passports. Halbreich himself failed to gain admission!
Ohana's Livre des Prodiges was good to hear live, but of limited true originality, bringing to mind Stravinsky and Messiaen, and it seems unlikely to establish itself in the world's concert halls. Gerhard, in the 4th Symphony for the New York Philharmonic, showed again his sure touch for vivid, effective and colourful instrumental clothing of his eventful ideas. It proved a strenuous ending for the demanding programme which finished at close upon midnight, too late for public transport and I thought the reverse order, as at the rehearsal, more satisfactory.
The centre piece of the tripartite programme was Scelsi's Aiôn (1961), the earliest and most extraordinary music of the evening, works around a few tones with microtonal inflections and newly conceived coloration to moving and dramatic effect. Scelsi's sound world is unique to him and it remains a scandal that, forty years on, his exciting and readily accessible orchestral music has still not achieved any public performances in UK. I am sure they would sound magnificent in the Royal Albert Hall and be received enthusiastically by Proms audiences, if only Scelsi was not on the British establishment's list of Refusés.
Regrettably, the audience in the vast, comfortable and acoustically excellent Grande Auditório of Belem (one of several in Lisbon of which London could be jealous!) numbered fewer than the musicians who packed the stage, nor was that embarrassingly prevailing feature of the whole festival remedied for their second concert in which Scelsi's huge orchestra was joined by the Gulbenkian Choir for Konx-Om-Pax (1969), one of his last and largest creations. The tape sections of Gerhard's Symphony No 3 Collages (1961) had come to sound dated with the passage of time and the sophistication of today's electronic composing, and the purport of Bernd Alois Zimmermann's intense protestations in a work completed shortly before his suicide was lost on me without access to the meaning of its texts. Most memorable was the swirling intensity of Oleada (1993) for large string orchestra, each player with an individual part, by Francisco Guerrero (1951-97), which confirmed my impression from his string quartet Zayin that this Spaniard, who taught many of his young compatriots and died prematurely, had one of the most powerful compositional voices of his time.
The Arditti Quartet, British based but more likely to be encountered on its peripatetic travels, was acclaimed by a substantial audience (for a string quartet) and the choice of its location in the Gulbenkian Grande Auditório was justified by the inclusion of Labirinto by the Portuguese composer and organist Joao Pedro Oliveira (b 1959). [left] For amplified quartet and tape, this was one of the finest demonstrations of the potential of state-of-the-art electronics that I have heard. There was no distortion of string tone and (from a central position) the engaging, abstract tape music melded perfectly spatially, reaching back from the stage and making the whole more than the sum of its parts.
That can be said too for the concert as a whole, a well designed programme which epitomised Halbreich's scheme and featured three strong Iberian novelties. Gerhard's 2nd quartet explored extended string techniques, which were to figure throughout the long evening of music which will have been new to most listeners. A substantial new solo violin piece by the Spanish pupil of Guererro, Ignacio Miro-Charbonnier, related distantly to the virtuoso violin repertoire but also reflected his interest in Ferneyhough and others; he had been featured by the Arditti Quartet at the Strasbourg Festival of new Spanish music, which S&H covered in 1999. It was premiered by Irvine Arditti with his easy command of difficulties at the edge of possibility, and that characterised the playing of his colleagues too throughout a long concert which ended just after midnight. Another welcome item was Zimmermann's solo sonata for cello (Rohan de Saram), which I found more rewarding than his (to me) incomprehensible last work heard the night before or the others featured during the Festival.
Alberto Posadas (b 1967) could, reasonably, be included amongst younger Refusés, because he had to wait 6 years to hear his orchestral Áperion and seven before the Ardittis gave the world premiere in Lisbon of his A Silenti Sonitu (1994), which was a comprehensive demonstration of many possibilities for the 'new' string quartet, music which took the innovations of Scelsi and others to further extremes and may have daunted other quartets who looked at the score. Composers need to keep those realities of the music business in mind. To finish, Scelsi's compact 4th quartet of 1964 (the one with each string written on a separate stave!) stood up well in this company and sent us to bed happy. The Arditti Quartet's recording for Salabert of Scelsi's four string quartets should be in everyone's collection. A welcome new Arditti CD designed to display the richness and diversity of composition in Portugal today has an earlier quartet by Oliveira as one of five string quartets by Portuguese composers born in the first two decades of the second half of the last century. This was recorded last year in the sympathetic acoustic of the Belem Cultural Centre (where half the festival concerts took place, but not theirs) on Et'Cetera KTC 1242. and if available after the concert they would have sold like hot cakes.
Few like-minded music lovers came to Lisbon to join Halbreich and share with him the realisation of his dream. The festival was a substantial artistic success, but had more problems than most. For mounting an international music festival, the organisers conspicuously lacked the services of a publicist and a pro-active press officer to look after visiting critics.
To our surprise, in contrast with the art galleries and exhibitions in Lisbon, which generally provide clear and informative bilingual documentation in Portuguese and English, the lavish Gulbenkian Foundation programme book, too heavy to carry around all day, had notes in Portuguese only (some of them translated from English!) and it was of little use to those of us from abroad. Had it been produced and designed by musicians with imagination, instead of being farmed out to the production company Coyote Designers, it might have become a historic publication with an enduring after-life, like some of the best art catalogues. Drab pictorial graphics, and over inclusive biographies and CVs, devoured space which could so easily have been devoted to some of the original texts, which had been made into Portuguese by an army of seven translators!
Tourists in Lisbon
To end on a positive note, most concerts began at 9.30, allowing us ample time each day to join the tourists who throng Lisbon, a fascinating city spread over steep hilly terrain and with a wide, busy water-front. The picturesque old parts of town are criss-crossed with marble-cobbled streets, usually in need of repair, the buildings to either side having tiled facades. Buses and quaint old trams rattle along up and down through narrow winding streets at breakneck speeds. Public transport tourist passes make it easy to hop on and off and to get to know the lie of the land (travel on a modern and efficient underground Metro is also included) and for people not wanting to be troubled with map-reading, an abundance of relatively cheap taxis, useful late at night.
There are port areas to explore around the city centre and to the east a modern Park of Nations, with a remarkable Oceanarium in which different denizens of the deep coexist peaceably in appropriate but unseparated habitats, water of the required temperatures being introduced into sections of a vast tank which offers viewing below and above the water surface, where we found ourselves at close quarters with birds and seals.
For those in need of concentrated visual culture Lisbon offers a plenitude of museums scattered over different parts of the town and in outlying districts, too many even for a whole fortnight. The Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga has an exceptional display of furniture, silver and ceramics, good quality paintings, and many fine examples of medieval sculpture, several from Nottingham, which somehow escaped the blind fury of destruction during the time of the reformation which nearly eliminated a visual cultural heritage of the highest order.
We encountered an illuminating exhibition of Portuguese Surrealists in the Chiado Modern Art Museum, a superb conversion of a biscuit factory started by an Englishman in the 19th Century. Those who have encountered Vieira da Silva's work in the world's major collections can get reacquainted with her paintings in the intimate surroundings of the Arpad Szenes-Vieira da Silva Foundation. Hovering between abstraction and representation her unique ability to render in visual terms the enormous complexities of urban environments is captivating. You can even see one of her cityscapes, tiled, down in the Metro station nearby.
We visited impressive temporary exhibitions displaying modern paintings, video installations and thought-provoking photo journalism, in the Culturgest and the unexpectedly vast gallery spaces of the Belem Cultural Institute.
We found thematic art displays in the Electricity and Water Museums and abstract paintings by Frederic Halbreich, a Belgian artist, shown at the Gulbenkian Foundation to complement the music in the festival. These works have a sensual surface on an intimate scale, well-crafted, quietly eloquent with a subtle palette, some darker streaked paintings paradoxically the most lively.
Pondering Harry Halbreich's theme after the sound of the music had begun to fade, in the light of the discouraging level of audiences for contemporary music in Lisbon (not that there was the competition one would expect during May in northern European cities - the Opera was shut and there were no rival concerts) it is pertinent to point out that the issue of neglected musical 'Refusés' cannot nowadays be considered only in relation to live performance. Close by our Lisbon hotel was an audio megastore, packed with music of all kinds including CDs of neglected composers from Britain (e.g. Rawsthorne) and from all over the globe.
Many of the works featured in the Gulbenkian festival have been recorded, and available CDs may be discovered through determined Internet search of MusicWeb's Classical Review section and its many links. What we really need to know next from musicologists of Halbreich's stature and encyclopaedic knowledge is whether there is an even deeper level of Refusés deserving to be exhumed - buried music of importance by composers unplayed, unrecorded and maybe even unpublished? Potential enthusiasts may be recruited more effectively through the capability of the Internet, which facilitates world-wide distribution of words and sound, than in the world's concert halls.
Take care on your holiday travels. We were robbed by a group of professional thieves who 'helped' us with our luggage onto the bus back to the airport!
Peter & Alexa Woolf
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