This year's Witten weekend, organised
by West German Radio, took place during the second weekend in May, with
the result it was possible to attend a couple of events in Munich during
the previous week. There was no Biennale this year, but both events
would normally have been incorporated into the celebration, and will
be in 2004.
The first was a Musica Viva chamber
music concert on 6 May, part of a mini series organised by Josef Anton
Riedl within the main programme. The four works were mixed in the sense
that they were variable in quality, but also scored for different instrumental
combinations. There were two percussion sextets framing the programme.
The first of these detained us for far longer than necessary. However,
Adriana Holszki's Jagd die Woelfe Zurueck was definitely a success.
In between, Roger Reynolds' Brain
Ablaze .. She Howled Aloud, for one, two or three piccolos, computer
processed sound and real-time spatialisation, performed by three flautists,
led by Karen Levine, demonstrated it was perfectly feasible to write
a half-hour piece for such a monochrome ensemble. Reynords has an imaginative
grasp of how conventional instruments can interact with computer technology,
as well as an ability to mould works of considerable diversity into
an overall scheme. Brain Ablaze.. will form part of The Red Act
Project, based on Ancient Greek drama, where there will also be a theatrical
George Lopez' Gonzalez the
Earth Eater, for tuba and small ensemble, played by members of
Triolog, was partly inspired by William S. Burroughs The Soft Machine.
Lopez is a composer of considerable originality, though his output tends
to be inconsistent. Gonzalez the Earth Eater is one of his most
arresting works, not least for the interplay between tuba andaccompanying
Members of Triolog were again
in action the following day, which brought the last of this season's
Klangspuren concerts. In this series, young composers are invited to
present their own works alongside pieces which have proved influential.
The featured composer on this occasion was Kenneth Hesketh, who gave
his presentation in English, but outlined his career with such fluency
that the audience seemed to have little trouble understanding him. He
was born in 1968, and while he has not yet acquired the individuality
of Julian Anderson or Thomas Adès, he can certainly match their
Hesketh chose three of his own
pieces, together with short items by mainly 20th-century composers.
An arrangement of a piece by Don Paulo da Firenze already revealed that
an interest in early music extended to his own compositional procedures,
and thus both his set of miniatures, entitled Cautionary Tales,
as well as the most ambitious dei destini incrociati, employed techniques
derived from composers of the 'Ars Subtilior' period. The supporting
items included Henze's 5 Nachtstuecke, knussen's Autumnal,
and an intriguing keyboard sonata by CPE. Bach, in D major, WQblefa
The Hesketh programme suggested
a comparison with several European composers of the same generation,
or even younger, featured during the Witten weekend. Indeed, in the
first two concerts, on 9 May, only Carola Bauckholt did not belong to
the younger generation. Ultimately, the impression was that the radicalism
of the Central Europeans, particularly, was more direct, with little
or no hint of compromise.
This was well illustrated by the
first of the three world premieres featured in the opening programme,
given by Klangforum, Wien, conducted by Emilio Pomarico. Arnulf Herrmann,
born 1968, is German, but, unusually, he is a product of mainly non-German
composition teachers. Accordingly there is less emphasis on the contrast
between sound and noise, using 'advanced' playing techniques. Direkt
Entrueckt has a conventional structure, and is largely concerned
with the transformation of material, so that basic ideas recur in unfamiliar
contexts. The harmony is often abrasive, occasionally influenced by
jazz. However, there are lyrical episodes, and wit is another feature
of Herrmann's sound-world.
Elena Mendoza-Lopez' Dort,
Doch, Auch, Nicht, Vielleicht, for thirteen instruments in five
groups was less inventive, despite the carefully planned spatial arrangement.
On the other hand, Aurelliano Cattaneo's Minotaurus, Dreaming,
for soprano, counter-tenor and two ensembles - setting texts by Eduardo
Sanguinetti and Friedrich Duerrenmatt - revealed a young composer, born
1974, capable of combining a radical outlook with a vocal sensibility.
Whether by coincidence or design,
several pieces in this year's Wittener Tage featured the viola. The
first of the performances in Haus Witten was devoted to three pieces
by Walter faehndrich; it was again featured in one of Bernhard Lang's
performance pieces, while two of the items in the main concert schedule
were for solo viola. In the second programme, Gustav Friedrichsohn's
Bis an das Ende, played by Christophe Desjardins, subjected the
instrument to a rigorous exploration, but was ultimately over-long.
Nevertheless, it was more rewarding than Carola Bauckholt's Kugel,
for three celli and noise makers, played by Cello Blue, where the attempt
to create an element of contrast was simply obtrusive. Juerg Widmann's
three Etudes for violin, written for his sister, was altogether
more successful, and made a greater impression than the more experimental
Signale, for vocal ensemble, heard in the fifth concert.
The third concert on 10 May, featuring
members of Neu Vokalsolisten, Stuttgart, plus instrumentalists, opened
with Gerard Grisey's Solo pour Deux, for clarinet and trombone.
It is a minor work, yet it initiated Grisey's investigations of spectral
harmony, thereby playing a major role in his subsequent development.
Likewise, Roman Haubenstock Ramati began a new phase of his career with
the graphically notated Alone I and II. In the version presented
at Witten, the graphics of Alone II were interpreted by clarinet,
trombone, accordion and percussion, and the performance was notable
for its humour.
Haubenstock-Ramati was also represented
by a performance at Haus
Witten. In 1991, he sketched an
electro-acoustic composition entitled Morendo. Bernhard Lang's
completion involved adding a virtuoso part for bass flute, played by
Eva Furrer, and the result, re-titled Morendo, Double, echo,
was received with well-deserved enthusiasm.
The remaining items were vocal.
Virtually all Joerg Birkenkotter's compositions have been non-vocal
but he was inspired to set Arthur Rimbaud's Depart by the poetic
language, particularly its sonorous quality. The scoring is for two
voices, trombone and percussion, and the composer has attempted to establish
links between voices and instruments, while reflecting the sound and
meaning of the text.
The most theatrical item was Markus
Hechtle's Still, setting a text by Giacoco Leopardi for speaker,
four male singers, plus accordion, grouped around a table. On one level,
the piece alluded to 19th-century domestic music-making. At the same
time, the imposing presence of the speaker, Andre Wilms, emphasized
the work's disturbing aspect. The work showed that in the right hands,
a post-modern approach can produce some intriguing results.
Theatrical projects underpinned
the three items in the fourth concert, again on 10 May, with Klangforum
Wien, and the soprano, Petra Hoffmann, sharing the programme with Ensemble
Recherche, plus the viola player, Christophe Desjardins. The main items
were Emmanuel Nunes' Improvisations I and II, for ensemble and
solo viola, respectively: preliminary studies for a forthcoming monodrama
after Dostoevsky. Improvisation I was complex, but used the ensemble
with great subtlety, while its partner stressed the element of virtuosity,
but with a repeating gesture helping to clarify the overall structure.
Hardly less significant was Lied
von Verschwinden, for soprano, ensemble and electronics, from the
opera, Berenice, by Johannes Maria Staud, scheduled to receive
its premiere during the 1994 Munchener Biennale. The piece certainly
made considerable demands, though without employing extended vocal techniques.
Unlike Nunes' improvisations, it was not
a preliminary study, but will be incorporated into the opera. Whether
the scoring is retained remains to be seen.
Ensemble Recherche and Neu vokalsolisten,
Stuttgart were responsible for the fifth concert on 11 May. Nunes' Rubato,
Registres et Resonances, for violin, clarinets and flutes, reflecting
his continuing preoccupation with JS Bach, was less convincing than
the improvisations. Nevertheless, it was more rewarding than the choral
items which framed it. Joerg Widmann's Signale was particularly
disappointing, comprising little more than overlapping sequences of
vocal glissandi. Michael Jarrell's .. car le Pense et l'etre sont
une meme choses, for chorus with tam-tam, was far better, but his
prowess as a vocal composer does not match his stature in the instrumental
or orchestral sphere.
In recent years, Harry Vogt has
been remarkably adept at selecting the most worthwhile pieces for the
final concert. On this occasion he was 50 per cent successful, with
one outstanding score off-set by a rather predictable item. Leaving
the best till last, it can be said that the first half minute of Bernhard
Lang's Differenz Wiederholung 9 - Tulpe Puppe – for voice, ensemble,
and electronics, was very promising, but then he relied on this single
idea for the remaining 25 minutes, or so. In short, there was not enough
differenz, and too much wiederholung. Like many composers, Lang finds
it virtually impossible to escape the confines of minimalism.
By contrast, Enno Poppe's Wand,
for ensemble, teemed with ideas, melodically and harmonically. Wand
may not be quite as consistent as the recent Scherben, or
Oel, but it illustrates the fact that his style is continuously
evolving. On the one hand, there were microtonal inflections; on the
other, there was an ambitious, almost 'symphonic' approach to his handling
of the ensemble. Poppe is undoubtedly a composer to watch. Klangforum
Wien were conducted by Emilio Pomarico, and they were joined by the
vocalist, Salome Kammer, for the lang.
There were several other performances,
together with a number of installations in Haus Witten. However, despite
the recent proliferation of these events, in conjunction with various
attempts to reduce the formality of traditional concerts, the familiar
format remains the best way of presenting new music. When the 2003 Wittener
Tage is documented on compact disc, most of the items will be selected
from the main programme.