info I contact
advertising
editorial schedule
acknowledgements
join the realtime email list
become a friend of realtime on facebook
follow realtime on twitter
donate

magazine  archive  features  rt profiler  realtimedance  mediaartarchive

contents

  

the music is in the timbre

chris reid: soundstream festival 2010


John Addison, Soundstream 2010 John Addison, Soundstream 2010
photo Cindy Taylor
THERE HAVE BEEN INNUMERABLE DEVELOPMENTS AND DEFINING MOMENTS IN THE EVOLUTION OF COMPOSITION AND PERFORMANCE THROUGH THE 20TH AND INTO THE 21ST CENTURIES. SOUNDSTREAM NEW MUSIC FESTIVALS SHOWCASE RARE AND SIGNIFICANT CONTEMPORARY CHAMBER WORKS FROM THIS ERA, AND THE FOUR CONCERTS OF THE MUCH ANTICIPATED 2010 FESTIVAL PRESENTED SOME RADICAL AND DEMANDING WORK, OFTEN ENLIGHTENING, SOMETIMES INTENSE AND SOMETIMES LIGHT-HEARTED. IN MANY, THE EMPHASIS WAS ON TIMBRE AND HARMONICS, TEACHING US TO FORGET TIME AND FOCUS ON THE SOUND IN THE MOMENT—TO REALLY EXPERIENCE MUSIC.

the visionaries

The first concert, The Visionaries, opened with distinguished Russian composer Rodion Shchedrin’s Hommage à Chopin (1983) for four pianos, played superbly by Anna Goldsworthy, Jonathon Heng, Deborah Ng and Gabriella Smart. The inclusion of this work celebrated the 200th anniversary of Chopin’s birth and acted as a gateway to the festival. Proceeding from fragments of Chopin’s introspective Prelude in C minor No. 28 Op.20, this is a thickly layered and extroverted work of multi-voiced variations on Chopin themes that blends the romantic with the modernist sublime and group pianism with solo virtuosity.

This diverse concert included Adelaide composer Andrew Wiering’s Vortex (2006) for six percussionists, a powerful orchestration of percussive forces ably led by Wiering on timpani; Sydney-based Katia Tiutiunnik’s To the Enemy (2005), a striking setting of a contemporary poem by Eva Salzman for soprano (Sidonie Henbest) and two percussionists (Wiering and Nick Parnell); and Smart’s seductive performance of the third movement of Canadian composer Howard Bashaw’s structurally complex Minimalisms II (2005).

Pianists joined percussionists for The Visionaries concert centrepiece, the 1953 revision of George Antheil’s Ballet Mécanique. The logistically challenging 1924 original was intended to accompany a Dadaist film and was scored for 16 player pianos, sirens, aeroplane propellers, electric bells and extensive percussion as well as conventional pianos. This version, for just four pianists (Smart, Goldsworthy, Ng and Heng) and six percussionists (the Vortex Ensemble), with the siren and propeller sounds rendered through a sampler (John Addison), shifts the focus from visual or electromechanical spectacle to the musicality of the composition. With its multiple competing lines of sound, forceful rhythms and dynamics and urgent pace, Antheil’s high-energy work dramatically evokes modern industrial society. Under the direction of Roland Peelman, this performance electrified the eager audience.

ensemble offspring: the spectralists

On Friday, Ensemble Offspring gave us The Spectralists, a concert on the theme of Spectralist composition in which the analysis of the timbral or harmonic spectrum of a sound is used as the basis for composition or musical language. Spectral composition gained prominence in the 1970s especially through Gérard Grisey and Tristan Murail, and the concert opened with Murail’s Thirteen Colours of the Setting Sun (1978), a classic of the genre. Scored here for flute, clarinet, piano, violin and cello, it explores the harmonics surrounding a single high-pitched note and takes the emerging tones in new directions. With reduced rhythmic emphasis, the result is cosmically dreamy, nakedly revealing the timbral character of the instruments. By contrast, Gérard Grisey’s absorbing Talea (1986) alternates loud attack with quiet passages in swirling patterns that evolve as they are repeated.

This concert also premiered Australian violinist James Cuddeford’s enchanting KOAN I (2010), in two movements for flute, clarinet, violin and cello, a musical representation of an insoluble riddle, seeking philosophical resolution musically and ending questioningly. Also revealing the influence of Eastern philosophy were works by Giacinto Scelsi and Claude Vivier. Scelsi’s exquisite Ko-Lho (1966) for flute and clarinet is a meditative exploration of the sonic blend that emerges from the two instruments as they dwell on one pitch. Sounding at times like a single instrument, they produce densely woven microtones and overtones, requiring virtuosic playing to generate the required colouring. Similarly, Vivier’s Pièce pour Violon et Clarinette (1975) involves a simple melodic line played by both instruments and repeated with digressions to create a distinctive timbral compound. Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho extends these ideas in her Cendres (“ashes”; 1998), which blends the contrasting characteristics of the flute, cello and piano into a complex sonic tableau. The appeal of such work lies in the blend of melodic linearity and harmonic density, and you listen to each sound as an evolving entity. Ensemble Offspring was outstanding, combining sustained control of tone colour with excellent ensemble playing, and this knockout concert was an education in the genre.

brian ritchie trio: the rebels

In the Brian Ritchie Trio’s early Saturday night concert, The Rebels—former Violent Femmes bassist and shakuhachi master Ritchie, pianist Tom Vincent and bassist Leigh Barker—gave us their hybrid musical form that draws on the ethereal, meditative grace of the shakuhachi and the syncopated rhythms of jazz. The highlights were a new rendition of John Cage’s Ryoanji and scintillating re-workings of pieces by John Coltrane and Free Jazz saxophonist Albert Ayler. The result was hypnotic, balanced towards one or other musical tradition to suit the work.

john addison, the larrikins

Late Saturday night, John Addison presented The Larrikins, a technically demanding concert for solo cello, opening with Sydney composer Alex Pozniak’s Mercurial (2009), a gestural work of huge dynamics and writhing, neck-length glissandi that requires both tactility and theatrical athleticism of the performer. Addison, a star of last year’s Soundstream Festival, collaborates with composers, and a workshop he gave generated Pozniak’s work as well as Luke Altmann’s Somniloquy (2010), which brilliantly evokes the troubled sleepwalker, and Kat McGuffie’s wryly engaging The Tune is Out There (2010). The latter begins with a parody of the opening of Strauss’s Thus Spake Zarathustra, segues into fragments of Fly Me to the Moon, the Jaws theme, Dvorak’s 9th Symphony and Stairway to Heaven, and ends with a Deep Purple riff with the cello held horizontally and strummed. In an ABC radio interview, Addison suggested that so-called extended playing techniques “are just techniques.” Composers now draw on a broader range of these, so it’s actually composition that’s being extended. An eloquent and captivating performer, his approach is refreshing the cello aesthetic.

Addison continued with New York composer Toby Twining’s slow, mournful 9/11 Blues (2001), whose shrill harmonics suggest electric guitar feedback, and Brisbane-based Stephen Stanfield’s emotional and introverted A Lenient Me (2010). He concluded with a gem, Tatata (1998), for tape and cello by Dutch composer Jacob ter Veldhuis (aka Jacob TV), which includes the morphed recording of an old soldier singing “ta ta ta” rhythmically repeated over the cello line, and ending with the voice of Apollinaire sampled from an old phono disc.

Soundstream Festivals greatly support local composition and Gabriella Smart’s informed artistic direction is expanding our musical awareness. The ABC’s comprehensive coverage of these vital festivals is a welcome development.


Soundstream Adelaide New Music Festival 2010: Anna Goldsworthy, Jonathon Heng, Deborah Ng, Gabriella Smart; Vortex Ensemble; Sidonie Henbest; Ensemble Offspring, conductor Roland Peelman; Brian Ritchie Trio; John Addison; artistic director Gabriella Smart; ABC Studio 520, Adelaide, Aug 26–28

RealTime issue #99 Oct-Nov 2010 pg. 50

© Chris Reid; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Back to top