23 October 2016

Music in Image and Image in Music

Day two of GAIDA, and we are cracking on with another fine intensive concert. Last night was the first night in a series of concerts in the Contemporary Art Centre (Siuolaikinio meno centras). There was the same bustling and buzzing of anticipation before the concert started and there were audience members from as far away as Norway, maybe a sign of how important this festival is? The concert featured works that combined visual elements alongside the 'traditional' performing. And the repertoire included composers from various nations including Lithuania, France, Belgium, and Australia. What was particularly positive for me was the inclusion of composers who either rarely or never grace British shores; so it was a nice treat to broaden my perspective of the world.

After the usual warm introductions, Stephane Ginsburgh walked to the stage. The concert started with Stefan Prins Piano Hero No. 1 the first part in a major cycle of works. This work I was particularly curious after hearing about it circulating all over the place, including Darmstadt. As soon as the projection starts we are hammered by a violent and hyperactive glitching space. Every note of the piano had been assigned to a visual element and deconstructed piano sound, which created an intriguing sense of dialogue, especially the moment the visual and sound stopped and we just watched a wonderful pianist playing in silence. The whole work was manic and gripping, and was never 'just gimick' it remained powerfully musical and there was always a feeling of narrative, even if it was shouting at you while it attacked you. My only query was why have a performer? The whole piece could have been built purely electronically and with the visuals and could have easily produced the same result. This being said, I have yet to see the other two parts of the cycle there could be the answer to this question in following segments; and secondly Stephane Ginsburgh was truly magnificent! So why should I try to fault a brilliant performer.

Following a large amount of shuffling came the second piece Telosferos by Vytautas V. Jurgutis. From the darkness came snapping, scrapping and popping sounds, it was like a manic advert for Rice Krispies. These sounds slowly started building into distinguishable sounds, I was a little put off by the sound of scrapping polysterine but its use in the piece was effective; so my own personal discomfort from the sound didn't matter. The visuals by Akvile Anglickaite were beautiful, like a minimalistic lava lamp, it mesmerised me and to be brutally honest I could have sat and just watched that without sound; but that is probably due more to seeing similar things in my speech and language therapy during my youth. Back to the concert! Jurgutis's piece was highly influenced by the likes of Lachenmann and the spectralists, but at times I felt it lacked the same feeling of nuance and conversation you hear within Lachenmann. Maybe I missed something, maybe something in the performance was a tad lacking, who knows. All I know for sure is I was a happy bunny watching the pretty lights dance. 

Then more shuffling! This time to clear enough stage so we can see a purely audiovisual work by Thierry De Mey Light Music. The work is scored for one conductor and shows a singular conductor masterfully demonstrating his craft and elegance as the electronics following him and are shaped by his gesturing. The work was truly hypnotic, and I was in love with it. I had a personal little chuckle watching the conductor beat out patterns of cross-rhythm (5 against 3 if I counted correctly), it gave me a flashback to conducting lessons failing to do what the conductor did so masterfully. My only issue with the piece was it felt a tad too long, maybe this was just a sense of the fatigue of having waited along time just to get to the third piece; or alternatively, once the sense of shape was sussed out, it became quite easily to predict what was happening next. 

To be brutally honest, the next piece I kind of dreaded when I read the programme notes. In Matthew Shlomowitz's biography he describes himself as:
'something like a bastard love child of Brian Ferneyhough and Philip Glass'

Now my issue isn't with swearing, or the fact he draws comparison between two almost contradictory to each other. My issue was the tone sounded like he was trying to be edgy. Even though I am still young, watching 'angsty' artists try to shock you by saying nasty words and being crass, become boring very very quickly, mostly because once you investigate past the shock value, there is no art. Marquis de Sade still strikes and shocks people become he is maniacally brilliant, if he wasn't it would just be a lot of rude words.

Thankfully! My judgments were proven to be premature! Thank Christ. Stephane Ginsburgh sat and BANG! it kicked off. The four part composition played on singular elements be it terrifying and almost hilarious electronic sounds or simple melodic lines which were distorted so heavily they were barely recognisable. Structurally it was magnificent and amazingly funny. And thinking back to his comments, this piece could almost be the exploration of that personal existential crisis of landing slap bang in the middle of the two. Once again Stephane Ginsburgh was impeccable and in total control, adding to the humour in a sweet way. Just a joy!

After the break came Michael Beil's Karaoke Rebranng! I was fascinated as the quartet performing were young musicians from Synaethesis Ensemble playing, so I was intrigued how they would tackle a piece in this concert. The work was curious indeed, the musicians would stand, play something, then sit. Each contributing almost at random, but once the video footage followed and looped on itself, the structural devices began to become clear. The layering of lines and harmonisations of this sporadic movements suddenly turned these fine musicians into mechanical automatons. They functioned like clockwork and the young musicians nailed it! What I found particularly wonderful was the structure kept surprising me. Always tricking me. The finest example was towards the end when Marta Finkelstein, Monika Kiknadze, Arminas Bizys, and Lukas Budzinauskas all left the stage, we were left with just the visuals; I naively thought it would draw to a close by showing the recorded performers leaving too. I was wrong, and boy was a wrong! The sudden recitations in German, accompanied by grandeous orchestral stabs came from nothing and were just amazing. Those final gestures were the funniest things I have witnessed in a while. Just brilliant.

Then after a bit more shuffling, came Francois Sarhan's O Piano for speaking pianist and recorded sounds. The work was a sporadic and broken patchwork of quotations. The musical gestures either mimicked or distracted from the already scrambled text. The result was a curious and scatological biography, a performer discussing how they became a musician. The sensation was almost like they had forgotten everything and were trying to remember everything and only pieces came to them at a time. The shape and nuance was inspired, and Stephane Ginsburgh showed how magnificent he was once again. Just wonderful.

The finale came in the form of Anatolijus Senderovas's ...after Chagall. The piece for solo clarinet, string quartet and percussion, was inspired by stained glass he saw in Jerusalem by Chagall. The work started with tiny gestures from the stained glass being played by percussion and clarinet. It was restrained and modest. Sadly this was short lived. Senderovas's music does this quite a lot, starts modest, curious and mysterious then he shoots himself in the foot with music heavily inspired by Klezmer. The piece was unstructured and nonsensical. He tried to do what Peteris Vasks does so masterfully, which is combined 'modern' elements with nostalgic folk elements, in a desperate hope to bring native ancient traditions along with him in this modern lifetime. The gesture is noble, but demands two things firstly structurally and musically everything needs a greater purpose; there is no point in just slamming in a folk element for the sake of it. Secondly and for me probably the most important thing is Klezmer isn't the only musical form to come from Jewish communities, yes it is the most famous, but it isn't the only one. Judaism has been essentially everywhere, and has always brought a wonderful twist to life in the nation by combining their faith and tradition with their environment, my personal favourite is the Birds on Fire CD by Fretwork, which is recordings of music by Jewish composers living in Britain in the 16th Century. Like all great religions there is so much breadth to it and maybe if Senderovas explored some of that breadth we would have heard a much better piece last night.

Anyways the whole concert was magnificent. The quality of performance was astonishing, like always. Lithuanian Ensemble Network are a very fine group indeed and have done many wonders for Lithuania. Another fine concert for GAIDA 2016. Now bring on today's concert!  

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