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Seen and Heard Festival Review


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 an opera.

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 roles.

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 Marthaler.

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 me Yesterday.

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 Quartet.

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.

Norske arkiver’s 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 approach.

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 weitweiter’ s construction was reminiscent of Webern, even if the resulting sound-world was very different.

Pierluigi Billone’s 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 and Freiburg.

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.

Ultimately, Tschappina-Variationen 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.



John Warnaby





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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)