Center Sold in Paris
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A week in Paris: We want the real Nono!
Tuesday, May 25th
...sofferte onde serene...
A Pierre. Dell'azzuro silenzio, inquietum
Fragmente-Stille, An Diotima
Solistes de l'Ensemble Intercontemporain (EIC)
Thursday, May 27th
cité de la musique:
Luigi Dallapiccola: Piccola musica notturna and Cinque Canti
Luigi Nono: Polifonica-Monodia-Ritmica and Risonanze erranti
Ensemble Intercontemporain (EIC), conducted by Ingo Metzmacher
These were tough evenings: some pretty difficult music to listen to. The Ensemble Intercontemporain seems to be going downhill now that Robertson is no longer at the helm... The music and the playing are becoming insufferably boring. The musicians are still naturally fantastic, and they play with the same precision, but its no longer a breathtaking precision. Perhaps its only temporary. One would hope that this is merely a reaction to knotty Italian music, and that once back on French terra firma (?), the group will resume their usual brilliance.
Then again maybe not. Nono and Dallapiccola are both fascinating composers, whose instrumental writing, use of the voice, and constructive abilities, had a huge impact on this centurys music. While the Germans and the French were going overboard to out-serialize each other, the Italians (like the Americans, perhaps) kept a political ear to the ground, did not lose track of harmony or melody, and above all, kept a sense of theater, emotion, and development. These three points were largely lost on the audiences at the IRCAM and the Cité de la Musique. Why? Because the EIC has been stricken with a bad case of ennui.
However, one piece was outstandingly performed, perhaps because it was too difficult to perform any other way... Luigi Nonos Risonanze erranti (a Massimo Cacciari), which is scored for the highly strange ensemble of solo contralto singer, tuba, bass flute (and piccolo), and six percussionists, each with just one or two instruments (For example two snares, or a cowbell).
This brilliant work from 1986 evokes Japanese garden, bells, and John Cage, as tiny sounds swirl overhead, electronically sustained and echoed for an amazing background atmosphere. Against this paradoxically sweet percussion, is juxtaposed the aggressive and ugly voice, senza vibrato, of the singer. Although contralto Suzanne Otto gave an strong performance, it must be a singularly unrewarding part to sing, given Nonos total avoidance of virtuosity and his embracing of the most isolated and gruesome vocal tones. This is all a means to an end; and the end is a essentially a heart-wrenching depiction of Dantes lines:
Mots de douleur et accents de colère...(This quote excerpted from Jurg Stenzls essay; cf: Contrechamps-Festival dAutomne à Paris, 1987)
Words of sadness and accents of anger...
Polifonica-Monodia-Ritmica was even dryer than it sounds, and marred but the replacement of Nonos original material. Hermann Scherchen, the conductor of the premiere in 1951 at Darmstadt, very wisely (I think) edited the score considerably. Woe to us that we had to listen the whole soporific performance this evening. It was impossible to distinguish between a wholly lackluster performance and a gruellingly pedantic (though not academic) piece.
Ingo Metzmacher conducted.
Meanwhile, in very stark contrast, the entrance hall was awash in the rocking sounds of an African trio, drowning out everybodys best attempts at sophisticated intermission conversation, and giving the Parisians a chance to chill out and drink ginger-flavored orange juice. This was a totally unrelated event: The opening of a handsome, no-expense spared exhibition of African harps and string instruments. Live music and hundreds of guests made it a total success. The exhibit itself is well worth a second look and visitors to the cité can check it out this summer. The cité and musée de la musique continue to make laudable and effective efforts to open up the refined world of french culture to a larger audience. Specifically, their efforts to attract a younger and more culturally diverse public seem to be working well, and are in marked contrast to the IRCAMs bungling efforts to open their doors to the real world.
Tuesday nights program at the IRCAM was just deadly, as no work had much of an interpretation at all. It reminds us just how vulnerable we are to bad performances, as the EIC soloists seemed perfectly oblivious to the musicality of this gorgeous music from an Italian master. Naturally, they have an intense schedule, all the inevitable internal and external political squabbling, an exhausting concert season, and no time to practice or rehearse. But for a really brilliant and dedicated Nono performance, see our review of Vox Nova at the UPIC this winter.
In the meantime, the highlight of Tuesdays concert was definitely A Pierre. Dell'azzuro silenzio, inquietum. Dedicated to Pierre Boulez in 1985, scored for bass flute, contrabass (!) clarinet, with live electronic distortions and elaborations, it was a peaceful and calming work, full of quiet sounds and successive valleys of softness.
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Szene Tokyo in Leipzig
Andreas Fuyu Gutzwiller - shakuhachi
Steffen Schleiermacher - piano
May 5, 1999
Kazuo Fukushima Ring of the Winds (1968)
Seiichi Inagaki Klavierstuck III >>Enkeh<< (1992)
Toshio Hosokawa Nacht Klang (1994)
Kazuo Fukushima Suien (1972)
Akita Sugagaki (Traditional music for Shakuhachi)
Shin Kyorei (Traditional music for Shakuhachi)
Toru Takemitsu Rain Tree Sketch I
Rain Tree Sketch II
Reibo Sokaku (Traditional music for Shakuhachi)
Jo Banshiki (Traditional music for Shakuhachi)
Jo Kondo Click-Crack (1973)
Akira Nishimura Carillons of Ekstasis (1987) The experience of arriving at a concert hall, finding our seats, listening to a concert, and applauding at its conclusion has become so ingrained in our behavior that we often forget to critically examine these actions. However, in his work Masse und Macht, Elias Canetti questions this tradition. He concludes that there are few phenomena so bizarre in our cultural life as the modern concert audience. Indeed, 'while the music that is performed lives mostly from its rhythm, no rhythmic movement from the listener may be perceived...people sit motionless there, as if they were able to hear nothing.' Canetti further observes that people that allow music to naturally work itself upon them act much differently. And those hearing it for the first time might react in ecstatic excitement:
As the Marseillaise was played by the landed sailors to the native Tasmanians, they showed their satisfaction through bizarre twistings of the body and astounding gestures, so that the sailors had to shake from laughter. An enthusiastic young man pulled at his hair, scratched his head with both hands and repeatedly cried out.
If our native Tasmanians had heard the shakuhachi, a distinctive Japanese flute developed in almost near isolation, they wouldn't be scratching and screaming and we might not be laughing at them. We might, however, be intrigued at their reaction; after all, how would they react? - probably quite differently from the approximately seventy people in attendance at the Ensemble Avantgarde's concert of Japanese Music, who sat in quiet, obedient observation.
I certainly do not hear the shakuhachi that often:its sounds occasionally appear as wallpaper music in Japanese restaurants eager to produce a complementary atmosphere to the eating of Udon noodles. But after this concert of painfully beautiful shakuhachi and contemporary Japanese piano music, I had mixed feelings about the environment in which I listened to it.
I was grateful to have the opportunity to hear this music and Schleiermacher's juiced-up Steinway in a reverberant hall. But simultaneously, I wanted to cringe, move my arms at times, or even eliminate the people around me. I could have even eliminated myself as I felt I was intruding into the performers' meditation. After all, there is something beautiful in the notion that this music would never be heard by a public. Yes, the Tasmanian reaction was not so strange after all.
Fortunately, the performers recognized the ceremonial nature of this occasion and planned accordingly, converting the concert hall into a secular sanctuary. On one side stood the shiny, black nine-foot Steinway with its master, Schleiermacher. On the other side, Gutzwiller remained in the lotus position upon a step-like wooden platform. He sat with his instrument, his music, and a traditional mat. All the lights in the hall were turned off and a spotlight shone on the pianist while he performed his solo pieces. After these were performed, the hall returned to pitch black again before the spotlight shone on the flute player, who slowly laid out his music in front of him from an accordion binder before gripping his instrument and placing it to his lips in a systematic way. This process allowed each half to proceed uninterrupted by applause.
Stark contrasts indeed: Old versus New, Light versus Dark, East versus West. But crude, simple, and superficial appearances intended to manipulate the 'mood' and create 'atmosphere?' No. Rather: potent reminders of where we were.
And in fact, East and West, Old and New were not so fat apart from each other. Schleiermacher's performance of some of the slow meditative soliloquies matched the flute's monologue, which struck me as quite 'modern' and which I can only describe as musical breathing. The connection could still be heard when forearms and fists were hurled at the piano in the concluding 'Carillons of Ekstasis' or loud and dark clusters of noise sounded in the opening 'Ring of the Winds.' Here the pianist never banged and always maintained a certain degree of Zen-like relaxation, reminding us of the Japanese art of archery, so acutely documented in Eugen Herrigel's short book on that subject. Herrigel reminds us that the archer does not shoot the arrow at the target. 'It' shoots. I am convinced that Schleiermacher did not force his forearm to strike the keys. His body simply reached the keyboard.
Even though I was forced to miss small portions of the concert, I found it a fascinating experience, one which opened up a new sound-world but which also reminded me that we must continue to evaluate our concert surroundings since we can always make improvements upon the flawed, yet still quite wonderful, modern concert hall. (An entire book could be devoted to this subject.)