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S & H International Festival Review

"Sound Ways" International Festival, St. Petersburg, Russia, Nov 2002 (AR)

 

In the middle of November 2002, the St. Petersburg contemporary musical scene witnessed the fourteenth "Sound Ways" international music festival, directed by composer Alexander Radvilovitch. The festival combined the best of contemporary Russian music, represented foremostly by composers from St. Petersburg, and music from other countries. In its tone the festival can seem ascetic but, at the same time, has a rather festive air.

Established in 1989, the festival became a bridge between the Russian musical avant-garde and similar trends from other countries. In previous years the festival has honoured composers from Europe and America such as George Crumb, Klaus Hinrich Stahmer, Paul-Heinz Dittrich and Ernst Helmuth Flammer. It has presented performances of notably large-scale works such as the entire set of John Cage’s "Sonatas and Interludes" for prepared piano (1992), all of the "Macrocosmos" cycles by George Crumb (1994), all of Gyorgy Ligeti’s Etudes for piano (1996), as well as the Russian premiere of Wolfgang Rihm’s "Following the Seraphim’s Trails" (1996), an entire concert of works by Mauricio Kagel (1996), Alfred Schnittke (1998) and Arvo Part (1999).

This year, one of the main themes of the festival was the commemoration of the 90th anniversary of the birth of John Cage, which is why a conference, dedicated to Cage’s legacy, as well as three concerts devoted to his music, provided an additional dimension to the Russian and European music, presented at the festival .

The festival opened with a performance of Arvo Part’s "St. John Passion" for soloists, chorus and instrumental ensemble. A lengthy and austere composition, it carried the listener away into the Middle Ages by its continuous minor triads and archaic melodic sequences, remaining rather soft and subdued in dynamics throughout. It was performed with great artistry and exquisite taste by the St. Petersburg Youth Chamber Chorus, directed by Yulia Khutoretskaya.

Quite impressive was the concert, dedicated to the music of St.Petersburg composers from the 1960s and 1970s, which featured music for piano and for string quartet. The Piano Sonata by Romuald Grinblat (written in 1969), performed by Asya Ardova, had a very serious, austere and dramatic mood, lengthy, elaborate development and innovative piano textures. String Quartet No.1 by Lucian Prigozhin (written in 1970), and given an excellent performance by the Rimsky-Korsakov String Quartet, was striking for its interesting stylistic traits, quite innovative for their time, and for usage of certain features of aleatoric writing, such as the type present in Ligeti’s String quartets. One can only regret that the very saturating musical culture of the contemporary St Petersburg composers, present for several generations, is still so little known among Moscow musicians.

The concert of November 20 featured two works by the St.Petersburg composer Leonid Rezetdinov: "Inner Space I" (1992) and "Inner Space II," (2002) both for clarinet, violin and piano. They have a rather rational, cerebral quality of sound, bright, innovative timbres and a lively, vivacious mood. From the music of the younger generation of composers, especially noteworthy was the Quartet for oboe, viola, cello and piano by Ilya Ostromogilsky, a student at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, which was striking for its maturity of musical thinking as well as for the delicate, intricate timbral colors. "Voices de profundis" for guitar by Czech composer Stefan Rak was a bold and lively work, utilizing the instrument in a very virtuosic and imaginative manner.

Very prominent among the performers of the festival was the Swiss woodwind quintet ensemble "New European Winds" (featuring flutist Magda Schwerzmann, oboist Kazimierz Dawidek, clarinetist Matthias Mueller, horn player Raul Diaz and bassoonist Georgio Mandolesi), which presented an impressive programme of contemporary compositions. Among the pieces they performed were such lively and depictive compositions, written in a rather traditional style, such as the "Miniatures for Woodwinds" by Swiss composer Peter Wettstein, "Zako" for flute, oboe and bass-clarinet by Mathias Mueller from the ensemble, as well as Gyorgy Ligeti’s early piece from 1953, "Six Bagatelles for Woodwind Quintet." Especially noteworthy in the ensemble’s program was Leonid Rezetdinov’s Woodwind Quintet No.2, subtitled "Family Idyll" (inspired by paintings of Herluf Bidstrup). The work, which was given its world premiere at this concert, contained six movements, each one carrying rather ironic titles, and in its overall structure presented a large-scale cyclic sonata form, in which the exposition, development and recapitulation are each formed respectively from two movements of the work. This picturesque, lively and descriptive composition combined a rather tonal harmonic language with very imaginative, innovative and theatrically descriptive instrumental textures. The landmark work of the concert was Schoenberg’s Woodwind Quintet, which the ensemble performed in a brilliant and masterful manner, presenting coherently the work’s massive, elaborate formal structure, austere harmonies and colorful instrumental timbres The following day, several of the performers of the "New European Winds" ensemble presented their skills as soloists. Clarinetist Matthias Mueller brilliantly performed "Monologue" for bass-clarinet by the Korean composer Isang Yun, a composition with quizzical sonorities and thematic development and almost tonal harmonies. Especially impressive was the performance of the young bayan (accordion) performer Sergey Tchirkov. One of Edison Denisov’s last pieces, "Des Tenebres a la Lumiere" ("From the Darkness to the Light"), written in 1996, contained a contemplative, philosophical mood and very exquisite contrapuntally marked instrumental textures. "Winter Seeds" by Swiss composer Klaus Huber was noteworthy for its sparse, delicate sonorities, whereas "Episodes. Figures" by Mauricio Kagel was a much more extravagant piece, containing a fair share of theatrical gestures and textural qualities. A very good impression was created by the prominent Polish oboist, Kazimierz Dawidek, presently living in Germany, who performed a diverse and impressive program of contemporary compositions for solo oboe, among which was "Serpantine" by Christina Moszumanska-Nazar, noteworthy for its virtuosic, innovative textures and dynamic mood.

November 23 was the most intensive day of the festival, all devoted to the musical legacy of John Cage. This day featured a conference of music theorists, a Russian premiere run of Mitch Corber’s film "John Cage: Man and Myth" (1995) and three concerts of all-Cage programs. Much of the conception of the concerts’ programs, as well as a great deal of technical assistance, was provided by the German pianist Markus Berzborn, who himself performed several piano works by Cage. Very impressive was the performance of "Radio Music," a work from 1956, in which several radios sound out a motley collection of sounds, emitting various kinds of music from different radio stations, which regularly changed. The effect, taken together, created a rather colorful, almost symphonic ensemble of sounds and timbres.

Many of the composer’s early works from the 1940’s contained a rather elementary type of sound material and a rather reduced textural palette, frequently concentrating on developing certain rhythmical ideas, paying more attention to the rhythmic rather than to the harmonic aspects: among these are works for piano such as "Quests" and "A Room" as well as "Experiences" for two pianos. The most noteworthy composition from this category was "Three Dances" for prepared piano, a work from 1945 – virtually the first work by the composer for prepared piano – which received a brilliant performance in the concert by Markus Berzborn and Konstaintin Polyakov. The composer’s late works from the 1980’s and early 1990’s contained a very sparse, intricate and, at the same time, saturating textural sound world, and were endowed with a truly mystical quality; despite the seeming staticism, they held the listener’s attention throughout. Among these, most prominent was "Two4" for violin and accordion, performed by violinist Anna Tchizhik and accordionist Sergey Tchirkov, as well as "Five" for five performers – both works possessing highly meditative mood, almost of a Buddhist quality. Cage’s "Aria" from 1958 was sung skillfully. and with a great amount of theatrical artistry and humor. by Svetlana Savenko. The highlight of the concert was a performance, conceived of by Markus Berzborn, consisting of a simultaneous rendition of two compositions by Cage: "Atlas Eclipticalis" (dating from 1961-62, in a version for flute, violin and accordion) and "Winter Music" for piano (written in 1958), during which Alexander Radvilovitch sat at a table on stage and read out loud parables from Cage’s book "Indeterminacy." Both musical compositions successfully combined with each other, creating a homogenous musical space, into which the recited text organically merged, complementing the musical fabric with a literary element, with such a feeling of spontaneity, as if Cage himself conceived of this performance in the way it was carried out.

The final concert of the festival, which took place in the Small Philharmonic Hall, was titled with the opening line from the final number of Schoenberg’s "Pierrot Lunaire" – "O Fragrance of the Old Times" ("O alter Duft von Mдrchenzeit.") Apparently, the idea behind the concert was to present compositions, utilizing certain stylistic traits or prototypes of music from passed epochs. Variations on a Theme by Bach for solo oboe by Polish composer Edward Sielicki was performed in a virtuosic manner by Kazimierz Dawidek. Though the composition elaborated on three well-known chorales by J.S.Bach in a rather straightforward manner, it nevertheless possessed a very intricate and graceful type of texture and a refined sense of taste. Edison Denisov’s Variations on a Theme by Schubert for cello and piano were performed by cellist Stanislav Lyamin and pianist Olga Radvilovitch with a great amount of intricate expression. Alexander Radvilovitch’s "Der Lesende," a Vocal Poem for soprano and ensemble set to the poetry of Rilke was prominent for its innovative sense of harmony, an elaborate timbral and textural language and a lyrical emotional mood. It successfully combined the chamber qualities of the lied genre with the massive qualities of a large-scale chamber composition. It was performed in a vibrant manner by soprano Victoria Yevdotyeva and an ensemble of highly competent performers under the direction of Arkady Steinlucht. The final work on the concert was a work by the famous St. Petersburg composer, Sergey Slonimsky: his "Troubadour Songs" for soprano, tenor and chamber ensemble of early instruments. Written in 1975 to the texts of Medieval German and Provencal poets in Russian translations, the composition was impressively performed by singers Elena Antonenko and Dmitri Smirnov, guitarist Mikhail Goldort and the "Gardelino" ensemble under the direction of Arkady Steinlucht. The composition, containing traditional, tonal harmonies with a conscientiously marked usage of Medieval modes and discernable traits of stylization, was endowed with a very colorful and masterful instrumentation, which organically combined together the archaic and the contemporary sound worlds, re-evaluating Medieval and Renaissance artistic features in the context of 20th century musical aesthetics. On that triumphant note the "Sound Ways" festival came to its conclusion, presenting itself as an exquisite musical pageant.

Anton Rovner


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