24 October 2016


On a wet and windy Sunday evening, we had all gathered to witness one of the most curious concerts imaginable. Harpsichord and Accordion duos! Yes you read correctly, Harpsichord and Accordion. The instrumentation is immensely mismatched, mostly due to the natural nature of the instrument. What are the possibilities? What is the repertoire? Who on earth has been writing for this mix? The concert repertoire was almost as varied as the instrumentation; Grisey, Vasks, Janulyte, Moc, Steen-Anderson, and Jodlowski. The atmosphere in the Contemporary Art Centre was full of the same intrigue and curiosity.

Michael Moc's MissA written in 2014 was a curious work indeed. The work plays on the curiosity with in the title. The linguistic pulling apart of the title produces Mass or Missa and Miss A or Miss Accordion. The hommage to femininity is mostly inspired by the performer Goska Isphording, and the Accordion is obviously a nod to Maciej Frackiewicz. The work overall is an emotional response to the aurora borealis Michael Moc witnessed on a trip to Iceland. The opening of the piece had a sustained chord which are subtly adapted by changing the stops of the accordion. The nuanced gesture was very much a kin to works by Olivier Messiaen and Ligeti's works for organ. As the work expanded the distinct differences between the instruments are exploited to drive the musical interaction and texture. The structure was a strong block composition with every segment being very clearly defined, but as the work progressed, the structure did become to feel a tad limp. And like almost all contemporary works for accordion there was loud clusters being stabbed everywhere on the accordion. Beyond the crasser moments the work was fascinating and well written. 

Following this came Gerard Grisey's Passacaille for accordion. The work is a piece written by Grisey before he started studying with Olivier Messiaen. The composer himself abandoned the work and it was not published alongside his list of works. The work's existence is due to a friend and accordionist saving the work and publicly celebrating it. The piece is an intriguing memento of a young Grisey. The language is heavily, if not inseparable from Henri Dutilleux. The lilting lines and beautiful harmonic colours are always a joy. I can understand why Grisey abandoned the work, as it bares no obvious relation to his works later in his life. But it is always fascinating to see where a composer came from, also it is quite interesting as the mood of Passacaille was vaguely reminiscent of Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, the character of the work is dark and reflective, pondering itself quite profoundly.

Following this, and some mild shuffling preparing the accordion, was Simon Steen-Anderson's Next to Beside Besides No. 3. The piece, like many of Simon Steen-Anderson's works, is curious and entertaining. Having completely broken the instrument, the piece rebuilds music from the shards of the destruction. Maciej Frackiewicz had a real affinity and knack with the piece. Bringing out the character, nuance, and dialogue of the piece.

Then Goska Isphording returned to the stage to perform Kantate by Peteris Vasks. Written in 1980, the work was written during an intriguing shift of Vasks's musical output. His works written while studying in Vilnius (like his first string quartet) are far heavier and more akin to the works of Penderecki. The works of the early 1980's like his second string quartet and this Kantate are shifting towards the modern day Vasks we know and love today. In this state of flux is extended moments of stillness and reflection, combined with outbursts of violence. For me this period is Vasks at his most fascinating, as he uses such a plethora of colours and gestures, as well as showing a masterful craft and brilliance in his work. Kantate is no exception, and Goska Isphording performed it beautifully, the chorale-like moments at the beginning and the violent outbursts were handled immensely and their nuance was never lackluster. She had control and purpose of every gesture in the piece and made everything profoundly musical. 

The next piece, for me, was the work I was most curious to hear within the whole repertoire. Anyone who has read this blog more than once will know I am a bit in love with the work of Juste Janulyte. Previous works have been defined by the exploitation of similarities in tone, so to be presented with a piece with two dramatically different instruments was an intriguing departure indeed. Harp Is A Chord is a play on the name of the instrument and a cheeky nod to the structure of the work. The piece very simply, is built on the exploration of a singular chord; with brilliant flourishes within the harpsichord, which are coloured by a sustained by the accordion. The sensation was like the dance between the ripples and the water. Their active qualities are intensely different but they are one and the same. The real strength within the work is from the simple fact the harmonic language is symmetrical forcing us to sit and just listen. This premiere was a joy, but to be honest this work is merely the beginning of something greater. The potential of this work to turn into a fascinating concerto for harpsichord is huge and I sincerely hope Juste and Goska make this happen!

The finale came in the form of Pierre Jodlowski's Lessons of Anatomy. The work was a sheer joy. Starting with a projections of a harpsichord Goska Isphording slowly walked in an interacted with the abstract electronic sounds and teasing the instrument through gesturing. The distortion of the nature of performance was fascinating to observe and Goska Isphording really bought the musicality out of every gesture, even though the majority of them were 'silent'. After a significant time the piece explodes with energy and the 'real-life' harpsichord intensely interacts with the manic electronics. The pairing was fascinating and a wonderful piece to witness.

The whole concert was a surprising joy. The variety of the repertoire and masterful performing of Goska and Maciej bought the evening to life and produced one of the most succinct concerts I have ever witnessed. I loved every moment, and I hope to see more  from these wonderful performers. Now for a small mental break before more brilliant concerts from GAIDA 2016.

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