“The concerto has always been the testing-ground of virtuosity,” explains Richard Vella, mastermind of the competition and Head of Drama, Fine Art and Music at the University of Newcastle. “But there is this idea that standards go down the moment you move away from classical music, which is simply not true. We want to revive the form by bringing back the improvisational aspect of the concerto and asking what a contemporary concerto would look like.”
The application process is simple: university students of all levels can upload an audition video or showreel on YouTube by July 1 and fill out the online entry form. The competition’s rules are slightly less so. Solo or collaborating performers, composers, producers, and A/V artists may enter one of six “historical” or “innovative” categories to share in a prize pool of $50,000 and perform at the finalist concerts in Newcastle with telematic collaboration from Ars Electronica in Austria, the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music in Singapore, the Central Conservatory of Music in China and Waikato University in New Zealand.
Vella sees the relationship between the concerto and the spaces in which it has resonated as central to the competition’s historical categories “Baroque (1600–1750),” “Classical/Romantic (1750–1900)” and “Modern/Postmodern (1900–1990s).” As well as representing a musical repertoire and a relationship to space, the categories also reflect different modes of interaction between performers and audience members.
Born from the opera overture, the baroque concerto roused audiences by “concerting” solo and small groups of instruments against the opera orchestra. The soloist would virtuosically bait and antagonise the orchestra with a spirit of improvisation that fed on the audience’s reaction. Musicologist Richard Taruskin suggests, “One doesn’t have to work hard to imagine such a thing; any rock video will provide a living example.” Audience interaction was no doubt encouraged by the fact that musicians and audiences were usually on the same level of ground as each other, either in front of theatre stages, in churches (where one wonders whether they stamped and clapped so enthusiastically) or the concert rooms of palaces.
If the baroque period was the concerto’s wild youth, then the classical era saw the form ossified into a set of widely understood performance conventions. Having composed over 300 of the things for Frederick the Great, Johann Joachim Quantz enumerated the essential elements of the late baroque concerto grosso as “numerous accompanying players, a large place, a serious performance and a moderate tempo.” That Quantz listed the physical surroundings and performance style of the concerto alongside its formal properties shows the importance of cultural and physical space to music in 1752 Sans Souci (that’s “No Worries,” the palace after which the Southern suburb of Sydney was named).
The classical and romantic eras saw the birth of paid public music performances and the image we now come to associate with the genre: a soloist on a stage in front of an orchestra. Beyond the partition of the proscenium arch it is said that a wall of respect for the works they played—and no longer improvised—separated performers and listeners, that people partitioned their outer and inner worlds while listening.
In the 20th century audiences and performers were further partitioned within modifiable concert halls with different distributions of players. For generations weaned on broadcast media it is said that performing and listening became further alienated and individualistic. While a solo performer may choose to perform a work from one of these periods (in the competition's "Historical" section), they may alternatively bring the work’s fascinating history into the present, combine it with contemporary musical forces or completely reinvent the spirit of the concerto within one of the competitions three “Innovation” categories.
Inspired by a trip to Austria’s peak arts and technology R&D centre Ars Electronica last year, Vella challenges young composers to develop new horizons for this ever-relevant art form. “The rise of the personal computer in music-making over the past 20 years has provided different creative opportunities. What is needed is a perspective that is historical, but also looks forward to creating the future.” Groups of performers, composers, producers and A/V artists can get together and enter either the “Remix/Recontextualisation,” “New Modes of Presentation,” or “Networked Music Performance” categories.
The Remix/Recontexualisation category invites groups to engage with historical works through sampling or quotation. The orchestral part can be remixed (though it will eventually be played by a live orchestra) and you can even compose a completely different solo part!
In the New Modes of Presentation section you can think about the long history of the concerto and find new ways of presenting it. Extend the orchestra with popular, world and jazz instrumentation; use synthesisers and live signal processing; or use real-time kinetic or visual interfaces.
With tertiary educational institutions all over the world building video conferencing suites it is easy to connect several orchestras with high fidelity A/V in real time. While not providing great new sonic possibilities, telematic streaming provides a logical progression in the relationship of the concerto to space and the gaze of the audience. So, while you’re practicing your Handel, why not consider entering the Networked Music Performance category to be accompanied by the International Telematic Ensemble drawn from the competition’s five partner institutions?
The International Space Time Concerto Competition invites us to decentre our idea of the concerto from a repertory of works tied to a set of performance conventions encompassing history, space, performers and audiences. When viewed in this way “the concerto” becomes an immensely enticing sandbox of contemporary possibilities.
The International Space Time Concerto Competition, University of Newcastle, Australia; entry deadline July 1; http://spacetimeconcerto.com/; finals will be held Nov 30 and Dec 2
RealTime issue #108 April-May 2012 pg. web
© Matthew Lorenzon; for permission to reproduce apply to email@example.com