Spectrum XXI-2006

Dumitrescu at Salon d The second annual Spectrum XXI festival will take place this November in Bruxelles, Paris, and Genève. If it’s anything like last year’s festival, and from the line-up it looks as if it will be, this is a festival you will not want to miss. Put on by Romanian composers Iancu Dumitrescu and Ana-Maria Avram and featuring Tim Hodgkinson and Robert Reigle, among others, along with the Hyperion Ensemble, Spectrum XXI is a wild, and wildly various, survey of new music for electronics and ensemble, electronics and soloists, and just plain soloists (if you can think of people like Andrei Kivu and Monica Timofticiuc as “plain”!).

At the end of the report on last year’s festival, you can see a portion from the press release for this year’s festival.

The first annual Spectrum XXI festival took place in Paris from the 15th to the 23rd of November 2006. The title word, by the way, is a pun—referring not only to the broad spectrum of new music presented at this festival, but to the spectral music favored particularly by Romanian and French composers. Last year’s festival began, in true French fashion, with a conference on spectral music, to which I was invited, more because I’d met Iancu at Bourges the preceding spring and he’d liked me than for any musicological reasons, I suspect. Not that I haven’t picked up an idea or two in a half century of listening to music (most of which has been spent listening to twentieth century music). And I must say that the real musicologists there, and the real musicians, were all very gracious and welcoming.

We met first in the Salon d’Or of the Hotel de Béhague, not for the purpose of performing music of listening to it, but to talk about it. I was an hour late to the meeting and fifty years late coming to French, so the main thread of the discussion flashes out only fitfully to me and without coherence. I am invited, regardless, to participate, and being not at all adequate to comment on spectral music—even in English—I advance some tenuous observations about listening and listeners, after which I am mercifully left to do just that, listen, for the rest of the discussion.

In the reception afterwards, it appears that my comments had been more favorably received than anything so far off-topic has any business being, but I am still grateful that for the rest of the festival I could quietly do the one thing I’m really good at—listening to music.

(To see the program for the 2006 festival, go to http://festivalspectrum21.tripod.com/index.html)

The opening concert, in the Salle d l’Institut Culturel Roumain, presented an impressive body of electroacoustic music, impressive for its variety, for sure, but also impressive for the uniformly high quality of the ten very different pieces. Lidia Zielinska’s Too Many Voices had a much larger mix of electric sounds than the title would suggest, and the voices were mostly very heavily distorted and layered. Oh, and definitely not too many! Next up was Annette Vande Gorne’s Ce qu’a vu le vent d’est, for bass clarinet and tape. After years of listening to recordings of Tim Hodgkinson playing, it was a big thrill for me to hear him live. More than any other performer I’ve ever seen, Tim gives the sense that he’s making everything up as he goes along and equally the sense that everything he does has been carefully thought out ahead of time. The very mark and sign of a great improviser. I don’t know, in this instance, how much freedom Annette built into the piece; I do know that no one puts across the contraries of spontaneity and contrivance, in whatever he plays, so well as Tim Hodgkinson. The piece is great, by the way, as is usual for Vande Gorne.

Alain Savouret’s Le bois de la Goinfre is a lovely, dry piece for violin (Iaon-Marius Lacraru) and tape, one of the better “tape + violin” pieces I’ve heard. Samon Takahashi’s Senza contorno starts out with vague, atmospheric, almost melodic sounds but moves eventually to metallic noises, both high, hard sounds and low, echoey clangs. This settles into a certain mechanical regularity which is frequently interrupted with odd little interpolations. Very entertaining. Yves Daoust’s Mi bemol brought Tim Hodgkinson back for a little bit, too little. (The piece is quite short.) Maybe it’s Tim, but the tape part really sounded like an ensemble that was responding to Tim and being responded to, all in real time. Uncanny.

With Christian Clozier’s Markarian 205, we were back to straight electroacoustic music. Tape with no +, that is. Some pieces dazzle by being dazzling. Markarian 205 dazzles by building a rich, complex result out of few materials and mostly slow, small changes. Next was Du vent, d’air, hier by one of Clozier’s colleagues in Bourges, Yves Coffy. Du vent, d’air, hier weaves several disparate strands—organ (Hammond and cathedral), bells (cathedral), talking (“live” and on radio), and the sounds of a public space (a train station or a street corner)—into a predictably (for those who know Coffy’s work) tight package. The next piece, Jean-Claude Risset’s Sud, also mixes disparate strands. His are water and birds and electronic sounds (the birds often sounding more electronic than the synthesizer noises). With all its clattering and clicking and thundering, I found Sud more enjoyable than other Risset pieces I’ve heard in the past. And I feel I should revisit them all, now, as Sud was one I’d heard before and disliked! Revisiting music that you’ve disliked is always a good idea. I would never have realized how insanely beautiful Scelsi’s music is had I not overcome an early prejudice.

And speaking of good ideas—cello and saxophone. That’s what the next piece, Espace V, called for. By Swiss composer Rainer Boesch, Espace V was for me the most exciting piece of an exceptionally exciting evening. And just by the way, the cello can make noises more electronic than even the saxophone can. Just so you know. The evening ended with the music of a member of the Hyperion Ensemble, Petru Teodorescu, his Remix (II). Hodgkinson played on this piece as well, and if I say that his dynamic and theatrical part was calm and sedate next to the computer-assisted sounds, then you’ll have a pretty good idea how wild this piece was. A ripping conclusion to a ripping evening.

Gerard Pape at Salon d The second concert, back in the Salon d’Or, featured music by Pape, Hodgkinson, Xenakis, Cazabon, Scelsi, Radelescu, Cârneci, and the festival organizers Dumitrescu and Avram. Soloists were violinists Iaon-Marius Iacraru and Diana Cazabon, bass clarinet Tim Hodgkinson, and cellist Andrei Kivu. Unfortunately for the accuracy of this report, I did not note which pieces were played by Iacraru and which by Diana Cazabon. I assume she played Costin Cazabon’s fiendishly difficult Alcyon. And I recall that Iacraru did the fancy bow work of Pape’s A Maurizzio for amplified viola. But that leaves Scelsi’s gritty and precise Xnoibis, Radelescu’s minimal Dr. Kai Hong’s Diamond Mountain, and the seriously lovely Carmen Cârneci’s seriously lovely Dreisprachiges Bild in Dezember.

Well, no matter. They’re both excellent violinists; both very much at ease in the demands of new music.

Ana-Maria Avram directing the ensemble in the Auditorium Saint Germain Otherwise, there were two pieces by Tim Hodgkinson, the very tasty Pragma (which features the softest and most controlled over-blowing imaginable) and Gushe, in which unexpectedly melodic lines in the clarinet are then echoed in the otherwise harsh shenanigans of the tape part. In one part, the tape is screaming clarinet over-blowing while the live clarinet has pretty arpeggios. Stunning! There was one piece by Ana-Maria Avram, the utterly wild Telesma (II), conducted by Avram as well, who conducts as if she were the soloist playing the ensemble instrument—who conducts as if she were dancing and the dance is producing the music. Mesmerizing. And there was one piece by Dumitrescu, Origo for cello.

There is no place on the cello, from the adjustable pin on the bottom to the scroll at the very top, that cannot be played. When strings are detuned, they will buzz against the fingerboard. Sometimes two bows are better than one. There is a lot of theater even in a piece for one performer.

And so on to the third evening, and two concerts back-to-back, as often happens in Europe. (In Ulm, I once very happily spent the hours from six (18h) to midnight attending concerts in a hall there.) Unfortunately, as also often happens at festivals anywhere, there always comes a point when the program strays from what is printed, or worse, when the printed program breaks down completely. Things happen. Pieces aren’t ready and others have to be substituted for them. But changing the order, which happens way too often, just seems eccentric to me. Oh well, so long as the music’s good….

Evening four (concert five) featured Monica Timofticiuc, who is as phenomenal a performer as one would expect from someone associated with the Hyperion Ensemble. I would guess that Monica started out very close to the front of a very crowded pack (concert pianists) and is unmistakably edging closer and closer to the very front. Ligeti’s Arc-en-ceil takes just about every kind of touch imaginable, and Timofticiuc handled each kind perfectly. From the most violent extremes of Dumitrescu to the lyricism of Enescu to the power and grace of Fineburg, Timofticiuc played everything with passion and precision.

Other soloists that evening were Denis Simandy, French horn, Robert Reigle, saxophone, and Ana-Maria Avram, voice. Ana-Maria truly resembles the greats, Galas, LaBarbara, Berberian. Whatever she performed was not on the program, so I don’t know if it was a piece by her (it could easily have been) or simply for her. It was a wild ride, whichever was the case. Denis and Robert each played pieces by Scelsi, prompting me to write in my notes that all other people who had ever written for solo instrument should have just left all that alone for Scelsi to do, a piece of hyperbole as much a tribute to the playing of Simandy and Reigle, I’m sure, as it is an appreciation of Scelci’s inarguably brilliant music.

That’s about it for this concert. According to my notes, Reigle’s Missa Pfeni Nengoma, for saxophone, bass clarinet, and tape—with a horn part added for Denis, was a “screaming nice piece,” and that the performance of Cage’s Fontana Mix was simply as exciting as music gets. You hear from time to time that this or that piece sounds as fresh and new as the day it was written. Sometimes that claim is just literally true.

Concert six took us to the Auditorium Saint Germain, one of the three partenaires for this venture, along with SACEM and CCMIX. This concert opened and closed with pieces by Dumitrescu—Numérologie Secrète (V) and Temps condensées (III), both for ensemble and computer-assisted sound, the first with quite an unusually long, slow opening for Dumitrescu, the second emphasizing the percussion of the ensemble. Both prime Dumitrescu, meaning very very good indeed.

Tim Hodgkinson rehearsing the ensemble in the Auditorium Saint Germain In between were pieces by Teodorescu (Remix (III), Avram (Voices of the Desert (II)), Boesch (Paysage), and Pape (Hyperion-Hommage à Hölderlin)—all of which combined live acoustic ensemble and soloists with tape or computer. Teodorescu’s is an energetic piece, requiring equally energetic conducting. I’ve already mentioned Ana-Maria’s conducting, as if she’s playing the ensemble as an instrument. But hers was not the only interesting conducting style in this festival. Tim Hodgkinson’s gestures are as flamboyant as Avram’s, but he looks the most “usual” in that he cues in anticipation of what’s coming up. Iancu, on the other hand, makes grand gestures exactly as the corresponding music is played. So while Avram appears to be playing the ensemble and Hodgkinson to be conducting it, Dumitrescu appears to be creating the music on the spot. Most extreme is Pape’s technique, best described as a dance that the ensemble responds to with music.

Hyperion was a fairly quiet piece, a whispy, whispering, twittering piece. Very subtle on the “bande” side of things. Paysage was a frenetic, jangly piece—another treat from a composer I knew very little of before this festival. To my shame. Avram’s Voices was a genuinely astounding piece, the most impressive piece of hers this whole festival—and that’s saying quite a lot. (You may have gotten the idea that I’ve just been using superlatives throughout this report, incessantly and interminably. I assure you, I’ve toned everything way down, so it would seem realistic. Fact is, only superlatives will do for this festival. Superlatives are mere description.)

Anyway, back to Avram. Voices was remarkable for largeness of sound, a quality present whether the piece was soft (and it was often quite soft indeed) or loud (and it was terrifically loud). A truly lovely piece.

The first piece of the seventh concert, Dans la Nuit de Temps, by Costin Miereanu, is quite simple—and effective: Very tiny sounds. Silence. Loud sounds. Silence. Tim’s solo bits are often just a single note or sound. Unfortunately, my notes for many of the pieces on this concert are sketchy, either because of fatigue (as real for auditors as for performers) or an unwillingness to criticize pieces that might have appeared better had they been earlier in the festival (when I was fresh). At least by the time Tim Hodgkinson’s Amhas/Nirriti came along, I had apparently gotten my second wind as it were and was able to attend to the long, long crescendo in the tape, ending in a crash that spawned predominately percussive music until something came on the tape that I described at the time as “seriously strange sounding.” For someone with my listening habits…, well, let’s just say I hope to be able to hear Amhas/Nirriti again very, very soon.

Avram’s Lux Animae is mostly very quiet, at first. Only after a long while does the computer sound start to get rowdy, but once it does, everyone joins in to the fray. Dumitrescu’s Remote Pulsar was listed without number, oddly enough, as it was definitely Remote Pulsar (II), which is for ensemble and computer-assisted sound (the unnumbered Remote Pulsar being for computer alone). This piece too is prominently percussive.

Concert eight introduced GOL, which is Samon Takahashi, Xavier Roux, Jean-Marcel Busson, and Frédéric Rebotier. Samon we had already heard from, and it’s a tribute to the range of his talents that nothing of his we’d already heard was anything like what GOL played. And that, I must say, was pretty phenomenal. They played two sets, the second very different from the first, more lyrical (can a table full of laptops and turntables and assorted other noisemaking equipment produce something lyrical?), fewer sudden contrasts, more steady-state stuff. All good. During the first set, I was sitting next to a wall, which was vibrating with the noise. Yummy.

Next up was a premiere by Peter Karman, didyoubeatviewtifuljoe, which is a laptop piece that would have seemed badly out of place in any other concert of this festival but which here was perfectly placed. I had had an early version of this on my own laptop for several months. And Peter worked on the final mix while we were in Paris, and he had me listen to it before the concert. But I’m just going to put here what I wrote during the concert: You wonder if it’s going to change. You decide that it’s not. You wonder if you can stand it any more. You never want it to change.

It changes.

A real stunner.

Followed a tape piece by Tim Hodgkinson, Fraghor. Appropriately for a piece on the same concert as GOL and didyoubeatviewtifuljoe, Tim Hodgkinson’s Fraghor sounds more like live electronics than it does like a “tape piece.” Not just the sounds, but the way they sound somehow as if they weren’t contrived, as if they were happening that way for the first time.

Pete Ehrnrooth’s Looking through my window starts out keyboardy, samples controlled from a keyboard as well as actual piano sounds. But there are also some nice buzzes and hiss. And then, as the piano sounds become more and more frenetic, the electronic sounds seem less and less as if controlled from a keyboard. Interesting effect, that.

Other than Radulescu’s Sound Icon (which sure enough was for sound icon—a piano tipped on its side and played directly on the harp), there was only one other piece played this evening, though there were several more in the program. And I never managed to find out which piece it was. Not Equus, which I know well. Perhaps someone who was there will write in and supply the missing title. It was what one might call a polyglot piece, with a constant back and forth between acoustic and electronic sounds—even some chords from a symphony orchestra.

The last concert was way out in a suburb of Paris, in the Auditorium DEBUSSY-RAVEL (SACEM). It opened with Xenakis’ Charisma. It’s always a bit of a shock to hear Xenakis for just a few instruments, especially “single note” instruments like bass clarinet and cello. But Charisma is certainly charismatic, with much satisfying squawking and grinding. The next piece was listed as Dumitrescu’s Spectrum (III) for cello. It may have been Spectrum (III), but the instrument was the double bass. Like Origo, this piece has the player loosen the lowest string so that it vibrates against the fingerboard. In this case, the soloist (Jean-Pierre Robert) also bows that string while pulling it taut with his other hand. Very exciting theater, again, as well as superb music. Bolids and contemplations (III), also by Dumitrescu, was also a really extravagant piece, characterized by wild outbursts from the computer and equally wild crashes from the cymbal.

Scelsi’s Maknongan/C’est bien la nuit/Reveil profond, for double bass, was a stark contrast to all that, being mostly microintervallic changes on long tones. Avram’s Axe 7, also for double bass solo, was mostly very small sounds—the swish of the wood of the bow against the strings, very soft bowing over the bridge, the strings bowed in a circle (i.e., not straight across), bowing all over the instrument—again making for some very nice theater. Avram’s Hylé for cello and ensemble and computer-assisted sounds was listed in the program, however what was played was something for ensemble and computer, with Tim Hodgkinson as the closest thing to a soloist. Many prominent solos for bass clarinet, anyway.

Regardless of the many deviations from the printed programs, this was a thoroughly enjoyable festival. And while thematically unified, the festival presented as broad a range of various musics as one could wish for. Perhaps this was conscious. It was at least impressive that if these various pieces could all be called spectral music, then spectralism is indeed as fecund a technique as its proponents claim it to be. I hope for your sakes that you can all make it to the 2007 festival, and the 2008, and….

From the press release for the 2007 Spectrum XXI festival:

42 composers will be presented in seven concerts of electroacoustic and chamber music.

All the concerts take place at 20h and are free.

October 29 – Conference: “Spectral Musics,” at the Romanian Embassy in Brussels, 107 rue Gabrielle. With Harry Halbreich, Jean-Noël Von der Weid, Ben Watson, Jean-Philippe Collard-Neven, Robert Reigle, Tim Hodgkinson, Rainer Boesch, Gerard Pape, Costin Cazaban, Iancu Dumitrescu, and Ana-Maria Avram.

October 30 – Concert acousmatique: Espace Demeer, Brussels (5, rue Henri Demeer)

October 31 – Concert for soloists and electroacoustic sources: Espace Demeer. Music by Iancu Dumitrescu, Horatiu Radulescu, Ana-Maria Avram, Robert Reigle, Tim Hodgkinson, Iannis Xenakis, and Gerard Pape.

November 1 – Concert for ensemble, soloists and electroacoustic sources, in collaboration with Transcultures. Maison du Spectacle la Bellone, 46 rue Flandre Brussels. Music by Xenakis, Avram, Dumitrescu, Nono, Kurtag, Lubet, and Vlad.

November 2 – Recital by Jean-Philippe Collard-Neven: Centre Wallonie –Bruxelles 46 rue Quincampoix, Paris. Music by Bartok, Avram, Dumitrescu, Nono, and Harvey.

November 3 – Concert for ensemble and electroacoustic sources. Centre Wallonie –Bruxelles. HYPERION Ensemble

November 6 and 7 – Radio House Suisse Romande, 66 Passage de la Radio, Genève) In collaboration with AMEG and Big-bang Orchestra, Geneva.

For details of the programme please consult:
http://festivalspectrum21.tripod.com/spectrum.pdf

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