Donaueschinger Musiktage 2005, 14 – 16 October reviewed by John Warnaby
Following changes to the original programme, it looked
as though the 2005 Donaueschinger
Music Days would not live up to their initial promise. Further
confirmation seemed to come from the opening choral and orchestral
concert, given by the SWR Vokalensemble
Stuttgart, conducted by Marcus Creed, and the South-West German
Radio Symphony Orchestra Baden-Baden and Freiburg,
conducted by Sylvain Cambreling,
in which only one of the three works passed muster. This was
Wolfgang Suppan’s Phase (Idyll 4),
for orchestra and tape, whose performance at Donaueschingen
2004 was beset by technical problems. A studio recording provided
a good impression of the work, but its first public performance
had to wait until this year’s Music Days.
Suppan belongs to the substantial
band of Austrian composers born during the second half of
the 1960s or later. Phase forms part of a series reflecting
Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s novel, Emile. It is non-programmatic,
but restrained in character, with a distinctive harmonic language.
The tape element included brief samples, designed to alter
the character of the instruments, though this was not always
obvious. The other function was as background, with sounds
which melded into the orchestral material. It was more or
less continuous, apart from the unconvincing central episode,
comprising detached chords interspersed with silences. However,
the chordal passage contrasted effectively with the more fluid
sections which opened and closed the work.
The other orchestral contribution was Bernhard Lang’s
DW 17, for electric viola, electric cello and surrounding
orchestra, which occupied the second half. It belongs to an
extended series for various instrumental combinations, whose
effect may limit Lang’s style. Indeed, the principle of repetition
has been applied to works outside the DW series, including
Lasting 50 minutes, and usually rather raucous, DW 17
was well received, though your reviewer considered it far
too long for its material. Nevertheless, there were some reflective
episodes, and occasionally these revealed a genuine appreciation
of delicate sonorities. The soloists were Dimitrios
Polisoidis and Michael Moser.
In between, the pianist, Helena Bugallo,
and the SWR Vokalensemble Stuttgart,
performed Caspar Johannes Walter’s Dunkle
Materie, for 32-voiced choir and solo piano. The texts comprised
fragments from Novalis and Aristophanes’ The Clouds, together
with extracts from ancient and more recent philosophical speculations
concerning the nature of ‘dark matter’. Walter responded with
some decidedly experimental choral effects.
The 30-minute piece included shouting, whispering and
whistling, together with some unusually dark sonorities.
At key points the choir collectively blew into bottles to
create a particularly eerie sound. By contrast, the writing
for piano, whether in its accompanimental, or soloistic capacity,
was generally conventional. Yet despite this variety, the
piece was rather static, though it might have made more impact
if its duration had been significantly reduced.
The opening concert was rapidly eclipsed by an additional
late-night performance of Beat Furrer’s
Fama, for eight voices, actress, large ensemble, ‘sound-building’,
and lighting. The ensemble was placed outside the ‘sound-building’,
initially in front of, but later behind the audience. The
‘sound-building’ was a resonant performance installation,
with the audience situated in a box-like structure whose panels
were constructed of either metal or plastic, so that the reflection
of the sound altered its character. As such, the function
of the panels was analogous to an organ bellows insofar as
they could be opened and closed in various ways. In his programme
note Furrer calls this ‘sound-building’ “one single big transformator of sound, a resonator, a meta-instrument”. There
were also experiments with instrumental sonorities, with the
double-bass flute and two bass clarinets having soloistic
Fama, meaning rumour, refers to
the house of rumour in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Ovid’s tales
have featured directly in two of Beat Furrer’s
four music-theatre projects which, in turn, have influenced
his compositional development over many years. Fama
does not quote from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, but, metaphorically,
they are the fundamental source of inspiration for the work.
The work is subtitled ‘theatre of listening’. It opened
with a concentrated outburst of sound, analogous to an ‘exposition’
from which emerged a great deal of controlled nervous energy,
derived from the interplay of rhythmic patterns. The eight
scenes encompassed a wide range of expression, with the actress
embodying the main protagonist in Schnitzler’s Fräulein Else. The
culmination involved opening the panels to reveal a completely
new perspective, not least as regards the lighting. Also,
the ensemble was no longer on stage, but positioned behind
the audience. The composer conducted Neue
Vocalsolisten Stuttgart and Klangforum
Wien; the actress was Isabelle Menke,
with stage direction by Christoph
The second day began with the presentation of this year’s
Karl Sczuka Prize for a radiophonic
or electroacoustic work. The winner
was Hanna Hartman, of Sweden, with ‘The Felling of Tall Trees
Entails Danger’. The winner of the Foerderpreis,
for the most promising new work was Antje
Vowinckel, of Germany, with ‘Call
This year marked the 50th anniversary of the
event, and this was commemorated by the playback of some of
the most successful past winners. These included John Cage’s
Roaratorio, together with works
by Mauricio Kagel, Pierre Henry,
Heiner Goebbels, R. Murray Schafer etc. It was only possible for
the reviewer to hear one of these, Luc Ferrari’s Portraitspiel,
which won in 1972. It would be hard to beat for its intriguing
mixture of documentary, humour, ear-catching snatches of music
and sheer enjoyment of all sorts of sonic material.
There were two further performances of Fama, plus the second SWR NOWJazz
Session, presenting Ken Vandermark’s
“Territory Band 4”. The first SWR NOWJazz
Session had been on Friday overlapping with Beat Furrer’s
late night performance of Fama.
It presented the Otomo Yoshihide
On Saturday there was another concert featuring the Hilversum Radio Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Peter Eoetvoes. They had presented a memorable programme in 2002,
and their return this year was no less auspicious, featuring
four stylistically diverse works by composers, born in the
1970s. Opinions differed as to which piece was the most successful,
as each had its enthusiastic advocates, but your reviewer
favoured those scores which were compatible with the modernist
mainstream, not least because both convincingly adopted recent
‘live’ electronic technology.
The recent compositions of the Italian, Valerio Sannicandro, born 1971,
increasingly reflect his preoccupation with the spatial aspect
of music, and his involvement with real-time electronic processing.
In Fibrae, for trumpet, oboe, and
ensemble with electronics, spatialisation
was associated with the main instrumental group, but two horns,
trombone and two percussion were also situated in the hall. The interplay
between the soloists, instrumental groups, spatialised
and electronically transformed sounds also influenced the
harmonic language which Sannicandro
has been developing in his latest scores, so that Fibrae
stood out as a highly individual creation. The soloists were
Marco Blaauw and Peter Veale.
Dai Fujikura is six years younger than Sannicandro. His studies with George Benjamin and contacts
with Pierre Boulez have encouraged him to broaden his style
significantly. As with Sannicandro,
the role of electronics has become increasingly prominent,
and the ‘chain of musical relations’ between the instrumental
ensembles and the loudspeakers, outlined in his programme
note, was not dissimilar.
However, the character of the resulting piece, Vast Ocean,
was quite different. Firstly, Fujikura incorporated programmatic
elements from Stanislaw Lem’s novel,
Solaris, but only insofar as they relate to the solo trombone
material and its transformation by the live electronics. Secondly,
Fujikura adopted a different approach to the spatialisation.
Nevertheless, Vast Ocean demonstrated a comparable grasp of
the latest electronic technology. Toon van Ulsen was the soloist.
The range of styles associated with the Donaueschingen Music Days has expanded considerably over the
past two decades, but it is doubtful whether Lars Petter
Hagen’s Norske arkiver
would have been included twenty years ago. Hagen described it as a “pseudo-documentary
reflection of Norwegian music history” which is also a reflection
of himself. It was a distillation
of Norwegian culture through the six principal composers up
to 1940, whose Norwegian identity was tempered by their studies
in Germany, and subsequently living abroad.
five movements included folk music, brief extracts from broadcasts
of Norwegian choral singing and orchestral music, fiddle music,
and even an imitation of a sheep. Two folk instruments were
also included in the score. This was the quietest piece in
the concert, and in the entire Music Days, though it was strange
that a 30-year-old composer should already have abandoned
complexity of his earlier scores in favour of a documentary
By contrast, Samir Odeh-Tamimi’s Gdadrója, for three
sopranos and chamber orchestra, was certainly the most abrasive
item on the programme. Tamimi, born
1970, lives in Berlin, but is a Palestinian-Israeli. This
was a visceral response to events in his homeland, but despite
the intensity of the instrumental writing, the wailing of
the sopranos made the greatest impact. However, there was
a suspicion that if the immense energy had been deployed more
sparingly, the impact would have been greater.
The first of the two main concerts on the final day contained
a further four works presented by Klangforum
Wien, conducted by Emilio Pomarico.
Concerning weit – weiter, for ensemble, Juliane
Klein stated in her programme note that she had abandoned
the extreme style in which she had composed for nearly twenty
years. Unfortunately, your reviewer has little knowledge of
Juliane Klein’s earlier music, so
comparison is not possible. Nevertheless, her programme note
indicated that her idea of beauty was closely connected to
the notion of genuine originality, which is increasingly rare
in a world dominated by cheap produce and cheap ideas.
Weit – weiter showed that Klein’s
apparent new style retained many of the characteristics of
a modernist sensibility. It was a predominantly quiet piece,
stressing textual clarity, and each instrumental gesture was
carefully placed within the overall discourse. Ultimately,
the precision of weit – weiter’ s construction was reminiscent of Webern, even if the resulting sound-world was very different.
PA: Omaggio a
Evan Parker, for solo oboe and five instruments – soloist,
Markus Deuter – was his latest piece
for Donaueschingen. Billone declined to provide a conventional programme note,
thereby encouraging listeners to arrive at their own interpretation,
but given his enthusiasm for Parker’s work, and the fact that
they approach new music from different perspectives, it would
have been valuable to have Billone’s view of the aesthetic criteria inking his compositional
development with free jazz.
Billone’s piece was experimental, though
less elusive than some of his scores. Curiously, it was also
less convincing. Ultimately, PA was as much concerned with
percussion as with Evan Parker, with a large assortment of
mainly metal instruments. Nevertheless, the virtuoso writing
for oboe also contained some familiar characteristics of Parker’s
playing, including the use of multiphonics.
Another reviewer suggested that Marco Stroppa’s Ossia:
Seven Strophes for a Literary Drone, for violin, cello and
piano may represent the piano trio of the 21st
century. It had three movements, with the first subdivided
into three sections, and the others into two sections each
and was inspired by the work of the Soviet writer, Josef Brodski.
Stroppa is best-known for his ensemble
and orchestral works, frequently employing electronics. He
has only recently begun writing chamber music, and this has
entailed a new approach to composition. Yet the spatial dimension
of the earlier works has been retained, with the violin and
cello adopting new positions on stage for the individual sections
within each movement. The spatial configurations also influenced
the choice of material. The organisation of Ossia
was as detailed as Stroppa’s earlier
scores, but the style and character of the resulting piece
bore little resemblance to his larger works.
Salvatore Sciarrino’s Archeologia del telefono: Concertante
for 13 instruments, was accompanied by a serious programme
note, in which the pernicious influence of the mobile phone
symbolised other aspects of modern technology. On the other
hand, the work itself was rather amusing, with Sciarrino incorporating a variety of telephone sounds, ending
with a typical mobile phone ring-tone.
The piece was cast in a single movement and evolved from
rather unpromising material. Sciarrino’s
characteristic sound-world was quickly established, but there
was little sense of momentum until a muted trumpet was introduced.
Its contribution was relatively brief, but it provided the
transition to the multiphonic interjections
from oboe and bassoon which increasingly dominated the final
stages of the work.
The South-West German Radio Symphony Orchestra returned
for the final concert, conducted by Peter Hirsch. The programme
was not as originally envisaged, but the three works in the
first half, beginning with an Italian master of the previous
generation, were well chosen.
Franco Donatoni’s ESA was his
final composition. This was its first German performance,
but it has been heard many times elsewhere, and several performances
have been characterised by strikingly different interpretations.
As a consequence of a phase in his career, Donatoni
has been associated with the concept of ‘musica
negativa’. However, since the late
1970s, his music became increasingly affirmative, and the
Donaueschingen performance of ESA,
the fifth piece in the series In Cauda,
illustrated how this change of attitude enabled him to retain
his creative vitality to the very end.
Philippe Schoeller, born 1957,
belongs to the same generation as Philippe Hurel
or Marc-André Dalbavie. Schoeller’s
studies included masterclasses with
Boulez and Xenakis, but little of their influence is evident in his music,
nor that of the spectralists. In
keeping with its poetic title, The Eyes of the Wind, for cello
and orchestra, was atmospheric and contemplative, punctuated
by a few slightly more animated passages. Essentially, it
was a ‘dialogue’, in which the soloist transformed the energy
of the orchestra into chamber music. As such, it presented
a striking contrast to Donatoni’s
ESA. Jean-Guihen Queyras was the soloist.
Klaus Ospald is a year older
than Schoeller, but they share the
fact that their international reputations have developed gradually.
However, Ospald may benefit from the success of his Tschappina-Variationen, for piano and large ensemble, which
was the prize-winner of this year’s composition competition
associated with the Symphony Orchestra of SWR Baden- Baden
As with Schoeller’s Cello Concerto,
Tschappina-Variationen did not conform
to a recognisable style. Rather, it drew on a variety of sources,
but the quotation from a poem by Friedrich Rueckert
hinted at a ‘romantic’ sensibility. The work, lasting a little
under 25 minutes, was arranged in seven sections, each exploring
different aspects of variation-form. There were complex episodes,
but these were gradually superseded by passages of genuine
stillness in the work’s later stages. There were also occasional
allusions to tonality, and distinctive contributions from
steel pans gave Ospald’s sound-world a Caribbean flavour.
reflected an occasion when Ospald
was particularly aware of the natural environment, and conscious
of the need to reconsider his compositions in relation to
the Western ‘classical’ tradition.
Clemens Gadenstaetter’s most
recent large-scale creation, Powered by Emphasis (Ballade
2, 3, 4), for speaking voice, combo, choirs, orchestra and
electronics occupied the second half, lasting more than 45
minutes. Some aspects of the piece seemed to indicate a possible
link with Gadenstaetter’s Comic
Sense, for piano and large ensemble, but in comparison with
his earlier scores, Powered by Emphasis was overlong and disappointing.
Lisa Spalt was responsible
for the text, and the work was clearly intended as a powerful
political statement against rampant commercialism and the
various mechanisms, including advertising, which now dominate
consumer culture. It was arranged as a sequence of three ‘ballads’.
The speaker was Anna-Maria Pammer,
and the combo comprised saxophone, guitar and piano-keyboard.
However, the work’s fundamental problem was a lack of
genuine originality, and the declamatory style of the speaker,
who was present virtually throughout. There was not doubt
about the sincerity of Gadenstaetter and Lisa Spalts’s
intentions, but their approach was essentially a throw-back
to the 1960s, when Luciano Berio, particularly, created
far more successful pieces by virtue of their greater flexibility
and greater variety.
Powered by Emphasis was certainly ambitious, but it was
given a hostile reception for failing to match what was otherwise
a largely successful Music Days.