20 June 2017


Since Monday, I have been in the beautiful city of Salzburg for this year's Crossroads International Contemporary Music Festival. This festival is a growing festival which aims to bring composers from different nations to celebrate ideas and challenge each other in an intensive few days of concerts and lectures. This year was the largest festival and included a lecture by the Italian Simone Fontanelli who discussed his creative work and the conundrum of how to address other people in your own music. Ensemble Synaesthesis have been resident for the whole week, and in the second night of the festival gave a performance of works by Andriessen and Lang. The penultimate night I had the opportunity to discuss elements of my recent research to date.

But ultimately the point of focus was last night's finale. All the work and anticipation was geared towards this performance of two Austrian premieres and three world premieres presented by the resident ensemble Synaethesis. The first work was Rytis Mazulis's De plus en plus, which was first premiered in Druskomanija 2016. Those of you that read my review of the premiere, will remember my astonishment at the fact that this work was so upbeat and perky in comparison to many other of Rytis's works. Last night's performance in Jazzit:Muzik:Club in Salzburg was the perfect venue for it, and a perfect way to open a wonderful concert.

Then after a bit of shuffling came a little ditty by myself, but noone wants to hear about that so lets move on to the more interesting stuff. After even more shuffling came the Austrian premiere of Matthias Leboucher's Underwards for ensemble and electronics. The work was premiered in Synaethesis's GAIDA debut, and I was really struck by the work for its ability to be knee deep in the wonderful worlds of Romitelli and Grisey, without sounding like cheap knock-offs of either. After talking to the composer at the original premiere, he pointed out there were a few hiccups with the electronics, so last night's performance was an extra joy to hear as all the electronics were present and gave the work that extra little something. The gestures, the shape, the colours, were all immaculate; my only thought is how would Matthias tackle a large scale work? I imagine if he did it successful it would push him into a really truly fascinating realm. I highly recommend you check out his soundcloud.

After slightly less shuffling came a work by Karolina Kapustaite, a composer whose development I have watched with the same keen interest that a kestrel watches a mouse in a cornfield. Her work White Light, which was the second world premiere of the night, was written for a slightly smaller ensemble but was by no means less colourful or powerful. The use of harmonic space, combined with strong direct gestures made the work highly memorable, and an interesting step after her work which was premiered in Druskomanija 2016. Ultimately listening to this I was reminded of the works of Magnus Lindberg where the sense of energy was the result of an elaborate combination of natural overtones and building chromatic fields. The other thing I found myself loving, was the fact Karolina and Matthias were a wonderful compliment of each other. Their works inhabited similar spaces without sounding like imitations of each other. Also check out Karolina on soundcloud!

The finale came in the form of seven steps from the top by Dominykas Digimas, another composer I have observed with a lot of interest. I have often found myself witnessing Dominykas exploring the start of a very curious rabbit hole, and last night's premiere was no exception. The piece drew inspiration from Lithuanian Sodai, beautiful folk art sculptures with many layers of symbolism and spirituality.

The piece for quintet was an interesting departure as it was a work straddling the line between refined elegant sounds and filthy noise. The pulsations and circling round singular pitches were bold and strong, but after a while the effect began to thin out as simply the originality of the gesture wasn't strong enough to hide some of the weaknesses in the construction. The harmonic field was the main weakness, simply because it wasn't strong enough to give the work a point of reference. This being said, there is a lot of space to explore in this kind of world, it is a world I have a lot of love for ever since I first discovered the works of Radulescu, Iancu Dumitrescu, and Ana-Maria Avram. This could be why I found faults with the piece. I am looking back up from the rabbit hole, knowing how much further Dominykas can go. As long as he lets himself fall further into the warren there is potential for something very curious to come out of him. See more of Dominykas's works here.

The ensemble Synaesthesis were on good form, and tackled the bold task of performing the premieres in their stride. They have really come on a long way in the year I have been watching their performances. The one trick I particularly adored about the concert, was the simple fact all the works complimented each other, the concert as a whole had a wonderful shape to it, something which is far to rare in contemporary music concerts. So bravo Synaesthesis and bravo Crossroads for a wonderful festival.

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