World Music Days 2000
A very notable event, which took place in Western Europe in the Fall of 2000, was the World Music Days Festival in Luxembourg, organised by the ISCM (International Society for Contemporary Music) and its Luxembourg branch, the LGNM (Luxembourg Society for New Music). The artistic director of the festival was Luxembourgish composer and conductor Marcel Wengler and the compositions, performed at the festival were for the most part chosen by an international jury of composers from countries who are ISCM members. The World Music Days Festival is an annual festival of the ISCM, which is hosted by a different country each year and tries to represent music of virtually all the countries of the planet, most notably, those that are members of the ISCM. It was a rare and unusual occasion to have the World Music Days hosted by such a small country as Luxembourg, but this festival has proven that the creative potential of this small country exceeds by far its geographical size. Between September 29 and October 7, there was a total of 29 concerts, which took place in various concert venues in Luxembourg city and in many of the extremely picturesque smaller towns and villages of Luxembourg country, of which there is an infinite amount, not to mention one concert in nearby Metz, France and another one in Saarbrücken, Germany. The concerts featured soloists, duets, small chamber ensembles, large chamber ensembles and symphony orchestras. Each day featured three or four concerts (one unique day featured as much as six concerts!!!), which provided for an extensive and saturating musical experience.
The festival began on September 29 at 4:30 PM in the “Casino Luxembourg,” the modern art museum, with a demonstration of three sound-sculptures by composers-sculptors from different countries. In a smaller room, adjacent to the central hall of the museum, as a display of curiously and innovatively shaped metallic objects, many of them including rotating wheels, bells, chimes and other means of sound production.
This sculpture display was the “Sound Objects Orchestra” by Christoph Schläger, which, at a certain given moment, started to sound out, producing a real effect of an orchestra, since the individual sculptures-instruments produced their respective individual sounds at especially prescribed times, their successive combinations producing the most varied types of metallic sounds, which demonstrated that there was a “score” for this musical installation, the overall form and structure of which was conscientiously thought out by the composer. My guess was confirmed, when in a corner I saw the composer monitoring the successive entrance of the instruments at a computer, which contained all the respective entrances and exits in graphic notation. The result was a very invigorating metallic “symphony” in a typical German avant-garde cerebral aesthetics of contemporary music, which in this case we could both see and hear, with its own logically coherent laws of musical development.
“Bambuso Sonoro” by Hans van Koolwijk from Holland was a huge, wooden instrument, located in the central hall of the museum, with an assortment of pipes and levers, the function of which was similar to that of an organ. When the composer sat down at the instrument and began monitoring it, the pipes began to sound out, also featuring individual sounds, produced by the various pipes, entering and fading out, producing another logically coherent “symphony.” In this case, the sounds produced by the instrument loosely resembled that of an organ, or, more remotely, wind instruments, some of the sounds being quite comical. The musical “composition” resulting, in its turn was a typical representation of contemporary Dutch musical aesthetics – it featured diatonic harmonies, for the most part, as well as a quasi-minimalist approach of static harmonies and a sound-world alluding to certain folk or ethnic music traditions, with an air of the Down-town American music tradition.
The last work, “Interactive Raum-Klang Installation” by Urs Rickenbacher from Switzerland, had the easiest type of “technique”. It was a sculpture of very thin pieces of metal, shaped in a big object, resembling a gate, a door and a short passage, forming triangles and rectangles, which produced an assortment of different sounds and textural sonorities, all of which were produced by reverberations caused by visitors or “audience members” walking inside the gate and the passage, which the sculpture was, which ceased as soon as everyone walked away from the sculpture; as a result, a “symphony” was composed, in this case the audience members were the co-authors and the conductors of which.
These three sound-sculptures were a very intriguing way to start a music festival, the majority of the music of which was likewise very intriguing. A few more sound-sculptures by the first two artists – two by van Koolwijk and one Schläger, were displayed in the Gallerie Editions Simoncini, two blocks away from Casino Luxembourg, which the festival participants had a chance to visit at their leisure time. They were essentially smaller in side than the ones at the Casino and presented variations of the same ideas of construction and sound-production, the result of which was likewise very intriguing.
Very impressive was the opening concert of the first night at the Luxembourg Cercle Municipale, which featured the Swiss Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Klaus Arp. They performed four compositions for orchestra with or without solo instruments, among which, Marcel Wengler's Flute Concerto, performed with flute soloist Carlo Jans, presented itself an especially interesting composition. It was a orchestrally elaborate, dramatic work, a striking feature of which was a successful combination of a very dramatically intense, restless orchestral sound with a very light-weight, delicately textured and nonchalant flute part. The work had very colourful, imaginative and emotionally saturating orchestration, combining avant-garde and Romantic features, alternating dramatic staticism with dynamicism, altogether producing a well-balanced, structurally and emotionally coherent work.
The morning concert on Saturday, September 30 at 11 AM took place at the Cercle Municipale, Luxembourg's major concert hall in the very heart of the city. It featured the “Antipodes” Ensemble, directed by horn player and cellist from Switzerland, Olivier Darbellay, the son of the famous composer, Jean-Luc Darbellay. Their rendition of the program deserved the highest amount of praise, being technically proficient and containing great musical insight.
Especially impressive was the performance of “Ein Garten für Orpheus” for horn, basset horn and string trio by Jean-Luc Darbellay, a texturally imaginative, colourful and moderately expressive piece, with a well-built form and character, intricate, sensitive instrumental usage and a well-blended interplay between static and dynamic. An important feature of the piece was when one or two instruments (most prominently the horn and basset horn) held long notes, while the other instruments (the strings) scurried around in micro-polyphony. The steady change of textural elements suggested a narrative element, as if the music was recounting a story of some kind. The piece was the most impressive one from the entire concert, all of which was of excellent quality.
A special treat for connoisseurs was “Anaktoria” by Iannis Xenakis. It was an especially striking piece with a radical approach to texture and timbre, an imaginative variety of instrumental combinations, most notably the brass instruments, not to mention the dramatically effective well-placed pauses, and a wealth of timbral effects, including extended techniques and Xenakis' favourite glissandi. The composition was polyphonically elaborate and contained great emotional breadth, which was greatly balanced with intellectual substance. The performance of this piece was technically competent and the musical interpretation of it by the players was superb.
An extremely unusual event, unique in its genre and memorable in its qualities, was an immense theatrical-musical performance “Der Gelbe Raum” in Theatre Municipale of Esch-sur-Alzette, performed by “Das Neue Ensemble” from Hannover, joined by Soprano Annette Robert, mezzo-soprano Annina Papazian and baritone Thomas Holzapfel. The overall conception and program ordering was by Eberhard Kloke, the lighting effects were by Thilo Reuter, while the pictures in the last act were by Klaus Merkel. The theatrical performance was one of an abstract type, combining elements of theatre, stage lighting and musical compositions. Its overall conception was based on the abstractly modernistic script of Wassily Kandinsky, “Der Gelbe Raum,” which was published in his almanac “Der Blaue Reiter” in 1912. This production featured music by many different composers, performed practically without a break, meant to function together as one continuous theatrical and musical mega-composition, written collectively. There was rather minimal action going on stage, mostly emphasising the music performed, whereas the music was in a way meant to be subservient to the actions on stage, so in a sense, the music was subservient to its new emploi of being the object of the theatre.
The performance was divided into three acts, each one containing a nearly equal share of classical and contemporary composers. In the third act, while as part of the stage setting (which remained empty for the most part) was a giant abstract painting, parts of which were illuminated during the course of the third act. The music performed in this theatrical production included music of the classics of 20th century music, namely, Arnold Schoenberg's “Three Pieces for Chamber Ensemble” from 1910 and Charles Ives' “The Unanswered Question”. They also included music by one 19th century composer, namely Schubert, whose celebrated lieder, such as “Gute Nacht” from the “Winterreise” song cycle, “Tod und Das Madchen,” “Der Krahe,” “Der Doppelganger” and “Der Zwerg” were brought in as morbid interludes and titled in the programme as “Todesmusiken” – the decadent usage of these classic songs in this context applied very well in the context of the overall program. This theatrical production also utilised compositions by contemporary composers: German composer Moritz Eggert's vocal-instrumental melodrama “Der Andere” (“The Other”) based on a novel by H.P.Lovecraft was a composition, combining an expressionistic, post-Romantic tradition of Schoenberg and Berg, with newer sonorities of the contemporary German school. Australian composer, David Young's composition “Thousands of bundled straw II” for two voices, bass-recorder, violin and percussion was an imaginative avant-garde piece, combining lyrical and cerebral musical elements, resembling in its sound Berio's “Circles” and Ligeti's “Aventures” (though without any of the buffoonery of the latter). Luxembourgish composer, Jeannot Heinen's “Ich plante zu sprechen” for two sopranos, baritone, two violins, viola, cello and double-bass, set to the text of Monika Köhn was another lyrical, avant-garde piece with elaborately textured, florid vocal parts, following the tradition of Ligeti and Berio, which towards the end, gradually became more and more tonal, so gradually, than no apparent discrepancy of style was perceived.
“Tientos del dia infinito” for soprano, flute, guitar, cello and percussion by Spanish composer Augustin Charles Soler was another expressive piece with a florid, graceful soprano part, containing many melismas and ornamentation and, for the most part, rather sparse, though texturally elaborate accompaniment, frequently utilising accompaniment by solo lines of the respective instruments, with two spots with marked digressions of style – the style of Schubert and Verdi, and the style of Monteverdi.
German composer, Gerhard Stäbler's, “Spatial Ayres” for soprano, chamber orchestra and electronics, was a very impressive, dramatic work, with declamatory singing by the soprano, accompanied by simultaneous dramatic declamation by the baritone, who sometimes resorted to shouting, accompanied by harsh sounding sonorities for the instrumental ensemble. It was an expressionistic piece, reminiscent in style of Bernd Alois Zimmerman, its emotional pathos and innovative orchestration producing a very moving and vivifying favourable effect, being one of the most substantial works on the program.
The last work was by Alftred Schnittke, which was the one that had the title “Der Gelbe Klang,” written for mezzo-soprano, chorus, chamber orchestra and electronics. This was the work initially inspired by the Kandinsky text, around which the whole mega-composition was based. The work was very eclectic with no musical unity whatsoever, with contrasting material, which could be fit for many different pieces. It was unified only by a sombre, introvertive, philosophical mood, which sometimes manifested itself in the opposite trend of loud bombastic music. Nevertheless, the sharp musical contrast of style emphasised the theatrical genre of the music, and demonstrated that the composition was clearly following the development of the stage script in its form. Though the eclecticism of this work determined it as the weakest among all the compositions of the production, the overall conception of it was interesting and intriguing, certain musical sections were very effective, while its curious form and conception gave it a unique role of a distinct final number in this multimedia theatrical and musical performance.
An extravagant performance in the same town, Esch-sur-Alzette, was that of the Tanztheater Basel, which performed along with the musicians from the Electronic Music Studio of the Basel Hochschule, directed by Jean-Guillaume Weis on September 30 at the extravagant time of 11 PM, at a time when most of us were so tired, that we were ready to go to sleep during the concert, despite the fact that it was very good. The setting of the concert was a very bohemian theatre or concert hall, rather shabby on the surface, but obviously meant for more extravagant, informal happenings, either theatrical or musical, of artistic merit; naturally it was an excellent setting for an electronic music concert. Three dancers, namely two women and one man, the latter being Maestro Weis himself, dressed in simple, black costumes, danced graceful, abstract, rather geometric figures, twisting and twirling around separately, then doing graceful pas together. The three electronic compositions by very diverse composers from different countries, featuring advanced, avant-garde music of a sophisticated, intellectual type, featuring, for the most part, abstract patterns of sound. They were presented one after the other without any pause or interruption, so without looking at the program, one would have assumed that this is one composition; nevertheless the change of style and textural material was apparent. The three compositions were “Histoires de Sons” by Spanish composer, Eduardo Polonio, “Currents”, composed jointly by Jens Hedman and Paulina Sundin of Sweden and “Derriere la porte la plus éloignée” by Canadian Gilles Gobeil. The first piece employed a sparing amount of abstract electronic material, presenting a lot of development of scanty material in a tasteful and serious-sounding way. The second piece had more of a diversity of musical material, though maintaining a tasteful amount of moderation. The third piece utilized elements of musique concrete, since certain sounds from life, such as birds singing and water running, were heard, though applied in an adequate and moderate way, not breaking the excellent equilibrium of the three compositions. The concert produced a very favourable impression in its harmonious blend of artistic freedom and tasteful moderation of means.
The performance of IRCAM's Ensemble Intercontemporain at the Luxembourg Conservatory on October 2 at 8 PM was extremely impressive. The performance of all the pieces was in an extremely refined and elegant way. Pierre Boulez's “Explosante fixe” for large chamber ensemble and electronics, a serious, substantial, 40 minute piece with a succession of static but extremely elaborate and sonorous textures, including an appropriately sparse and well-balanced use of the electronics, which blended successfully with the instrumental ensemble. All of these features, added together produced a very coherent formal and dramatic structure of the piece, which aroused an extremely invigorating impression.
The concert on October 5 at 12:30 at the Cercle Municipale featured a set of more traditionally styled orchestral works, performed by the Grand Orchestre d'Harmonie des Guides, conducted by Norbert Nozy. Most of the compositions in this concert were of a rather academic type, with an abundance of movie clichés and loud, bombastic orchestral effects, their undue loudness emphasised by the extra-resonant acoustics of the hall and the lack of balance on the part of the orchestra, due to the fact that it was a military orchestra, equipped for the most part for standard wind band music. The most interesting composition in this concert was “Phantasmagoria” by French composer Regis Campo, which though also containing a fair share of bombastic movie effects, was a much more inspiring piece with interesting exquisite orchestral effects, especially in a place where the xylophone and bells were juxtaposed with the full orchestral sonorities. The last piece on the program was a tribute to a 19th century, featuring the “Marche du Premier régiment des guides” by Luxembourgish composer Valentin Bender (1801-1873), which was a standard 19th century overture, resembling Offenbach or Johann Strauss, featuring very happy, theatrical kind of music with plenty of trumpet fanfares and drum rolls; this was a type of music which would be very effective if played outdoors by a wind band. At any rate, it seemed that the orchestra, being in effect a military band, was most effective when playing this kind of music.
The evening concert of October 5 at 8:30 PM went across the border from Luxembourg, taking place in Metz, France in the Arsenal concert hall, about two hours away from Luxembourg city. The Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra, performing the concert, was conducted by Fabrice Bollon. In this concert, the most impressive compositions were the last two.
“WU-YU” by Chinese-born, Australian-based composer Julian Yu, the title of which referred to Chinese rain-making ceremonies, performed in times of drought, was a very impressive and effective composition with atonal harmonies and an expanded and very exotic textural palette, especially prominent in the imaginative and tasteful usage of percussion; the latter suggested some Chinese exotic elements of folk music, used in a very intricate and appropriate manner.
“Duodramen” for soprano, baritone and orchestra by the famous Mauricio Kagel was a dramatic work, though atonal and avant-garde, still written in a Romantic trend, extremely different from his more well-known pieces. The orchestration of the work was very imaginative and emotionally expressive, with a wide palette of diverse orchestral effects, such as glissandi in strings, as well as double-bass pizzicati. The soprano and baritone sang short, successive lines, suggesting an opera scene, at certain times their singing being interrupted by long orchestral interludes. The piece produced a most favourable effect by its dramatic qualities and imaginative orchestral effects.
The daytime concert of October 6 at 12:30 took place at the Villa Louvigny in Luxembourg city and featured the famous German “Musikfabrik” chamber ensemble with guest conductor, American-born and German-based James Avery, the artistic director of the Freiburg-based “Surplus” ensemble. They performed four very accomplished works for large chamber ensemble with a masterful technique and great musical insight.
“Codename Orpheus” by Finnish composer Johan Tallgren was a subtle, soft avant-garde piece with sparse, delicate textural effects – among which were string instruments playing on and over the bridge and taping on wood, winds playing in undertones and whispering, as well as fluttertonguing – a moderately cerebral approach and an overall intricate, introvertive mood.
“Annäherungen” by German composer Gunter Steinke was a very texturally advanced, avant-garde type of piece with subtle effects and extended techniques, including a lot of undertone string and wind textural effects and the pianist tapping on the piano wood and playing inside strings. It was a very well-balanced piece, the most impressive work on the program, well-built in terms of form and harmoniously blending a cerebral approach with a lyrical, introvertive mood.
“Apoteosi del blu” by Valerio Sannincandro from Italy was a fast, loud, impulsive and emotionally challenged work with the most innovative extended techniques and imaginatively varied instrumental effects: shrill, loud shrieks by wind instruments in the upper register, gentle, soft, undertone string effects, gentle percussion taps. Occasionally interspersed in this motley sound collage were almost entirely tonal or modal melodic fragments, juxtaposed with a totally different type of music without producing any dissonance hereby.
A world premiere of British composer Ian Wilcock's “Grave” concluded the concert. It was another avant-garde, texturally innovative piece, intriguingly eccentric in sound and form, with imaginative unusual sound effects. In the beginning, a few vertical chords started and stopped abruptly, then the piece went in full sway, featuring full, loud, elaborate tutti ensemble textures and some unusual effects, like tuba stacattos, resembling double-bass sound, as well as some exotic percussion effects, all of which successfully added up to produce a very effective, imaginative and inspiring work.
For the afternoon concert of October 6, at 5 PM, we took another two-hour long trip out of the country, to Saarbrücken, Germany. The concert featured an assortment of musicians from Luxembourg, Portugal and other countries, playing a series of chamber pieces from various countries, predominantly from Portugal. The musicians were respectively: flutist Paula Azguime, percussionist Miguel Azguime, French pianist Alain Neveux, saxophonists Guy Goethals and Leana Sealy and recorder player Tosya Suzuki. Most of the pieces were solos or duets, so the musicians did not play as a unified ensemble, but separately, one by one, or in small groups. The pieces performed were “Réitérations” by Portuguese composer Joao Rafael for piano solo, performed in an effective way by Alain Neveux, “Salamander II” for solo recorder by Japanese composer Hiroyuki Itoh, performed by Tosya Suzuki – a delightful, innovative piece with a free form and sporadic development, “De l'Étant Qui Le Nie” by Paula Azguime from Portugal for piano and electronics, performed by Alain Neveux – a loud, fast, lively and energetic piece, “The Trap for Two” for two saxophones by Julia Gomelskaya from Odessa, Ukraine, performed by Guy Goethals and Leana Sealy – an especially impressive, texturally elaborate piece with humorous effects, including the performers whispering the title of the work in English, and “Pulse Code Modulation” for electrically amplified bass flute, percussion and electronics by Miguel Azguime from Portugal – an exotic, brightly textured, dramatic piece, with plenty of varied, diverse effects for the instruments.
The evening concert of October 6 at 8 PM in the Large Concert Hall of the Funkhaus Halberg in Saarbrücken, Germany featured the Sinfonieorchester des Saarlandlischen Rundfunks, conducted by Oswald Salaberger, soprano Ksenia Lukic. Tenor Christoph Späth, baritone Yaron Windmüller and the Saarbrücken Chamber Choir under the direction of Georg Grün.
“Aurora Australis” by Slovenian-born and Australian-based Bozidar Kos was a pictorial, almost impressionistic work with elaborate orchestration, featuring an assortment of delicate textures and refined sound effects, but no real unified idea, containing an assortment of succeeding musical ideas with broadly diverse subject matter, fit for several diverse compositions. Despite this drawback, the orchestral writing in the work was extremely imaginative and delightful.
A world premiere of “Orchesterstück Nr 7” by Austrian composer Herbert Grassl sounded next, which was another eclectically formed piece, which combined the most varied assortment of orchestral ideas together, building a compound, complex form, built on the succession of these disjunct musical fragments. In this case, they seemed to merge together much better into a unified, albeit eclectic and unusual form.
A performance of Johann Sebastian Bach's Cantata no. 56 opened up the second half of the concert, interpreted in a graceful and elegant manner, though with too much of a 19th century Romantic approach.
The performance of the Cantata, though at first seemingly out of place in the context of a contemporary music concert, proved to be very well programmed, since it was very much connected to the next work on the program, a large, dramatic vocal and orchestral composition “Die Erde ist eine Schale von dunkelm Gold,” a “Konzertszene” for soprano, tenor, baritone, chorus and orchestra by German composer Rolf Riehm. The work consisted of two movements or scenes, respectively “Garten, Nacht und Mondschein” of which this was a world premiere, and “Leonce und und...”, the latter movement employing the singers. It was a large, dramatic work, atonal in harmony, utilising some of the most innovative orchestral effects. The work was quite Wagnerian in its Romantic, emotional qualities, heavy orchestral textures, – alternately busy, spirited, dramatic and slow and static – and an almost declamatory orchestral style. Towards the later part of the work, there were frequently appearing quotations from Bach, namely the Musical Offering, as well as fragments of music with Bach stylisations. It appeared to be a narrative piece of music with an almost operatic approach of combining the soloists, chorus and orchestra. A short but recognisable fragment from Bach's Cantata no. 56 sounded toward the very end of the piece, which altogether proved to be a very inspiring and effective piece, the most interesting on the program.
The last day of the festival, October 7th, featured an impressive excursion into the unforgettably impressive pastoral settings of a number of small towns and villages of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. The morning concert of 11 AM took place in Orangerie of the Domaine Thermale in the small town Mondorf-les-Bains, situated on the Mousel river, just across the river from the German border. The two performers, who played in the concert, pianist Béatrice Rauchs and violinist Vania Lecuit performed an extensive program of pieces by composers from various countries. The pianist played piano solos for almost the entire concert, except for the last piece, where the violinist joined along. Just about all the piano compositions were rather academic in their style and not extremely interesting. The most memorable of them was “Ciurlionis' Sketches” for piano by Lithuanian Anatolijus Šenderovas, a piece honouring Lithuania's greatest painter and composer of the turn-of-the-century, a lyrical character piece, possibly quoting or at least stylising Ciurlionis' own short piano pieces, alternately straight-away tonal and atonal in harmonies, with rather traditional, Romantic piano textures, at times alternating with Neo-Classical textures.
The last piece, “Where two became one” by Israeli composer Nurit Jugend, for violin and piano, was by far the most impressive work on the program. The performance by Vania Lecuit on the violin and Beatrice Rauchs on the piano was one of outstanding merit, being very inspiring by its great musical insight and sensitivity. The piece, written under the impression of the composers' visit to Belgrade, Yugoslavia in 1998, was meant to depict a statue in a place in the city where two rivers merged into one. This work contained a wide variety of innovative and dramatic textures and sonorities for the two instruments, contrasting between a static, sparse beginning with isolated notes for both instruments, and a more robust, dramatic, broadly emotionally expressive full-textured climax, which still never lost a certain reserved quality of the music, as well as a moderate amount of extended techniques with the pianist playing inside the strings and the violinist playing fast, scurrying passages tremolo and pizzicato.
After the concert, we were taken on a cruise on a ship along the Mousel river (named after the region in Luxembourg country where they make excellent Mousel beer – a Luxembourgish specialty), where we had lunch on board and enjoyed the spectacular rural views of Luxembourg on one coast and Germany on the other. As the river Mousel happened to run on the border between Luxembourg and Germany, the festival's artistic director Marcel Wengler suggested me jokingly that “you could ask for political asylum in either Luxembourg or Germany, or you could establish a separate country on the territory of the river”.
The cruise took us to the extremely picturesque small town of Ehnen, likewise on the coast of the Mousel, where in the Ehnen Church the next concert took place at 2:30 PM, featuring chamber music performed by four musicians: soprano Mariette Lentz, Aude Rocca-Serra on the harp, Dimitris Marinos on the mandolin and Isabelle Kayser on the flute.
A world premiere of “Trois Chansons d'Amour” for soprano, flute and harp by Luxembourgish composer Johny Fritz, set on the texts of French 18th century poet Evariste Parny, was performed by Lentz, Kayser and Rocca-Serra. It was a rather traditional and harmonically tonal piece with a lyrical, melancholy mood, a rather Impressionistic textural language, resembling Debussy and Ravel and a fair share of exoticisms, produced by subtle, intricate instrumental effects. Being very pictorial and descriptive in its nature, evoking Romantic images of medieval town, castle or forest surroundings, it produced an extremely favourable impression. It depicted very well poetry to which it was set, and also proved an excellent component to the picturesque scenery of Luxembourg country.
“Contrapuntal Variations” for mandolin by American composer Craig First was second on the program, performed by Dimitris Marinos. It was a subdued, delicately textured piece in three movements, almost entirely modal in harmony, utilising a variant of a minor mode, with a moderate amount of exotic textures for the instruments, such as the famous tremolos, as well as some harmonics in the upper range. The piece had an air of being a theme and variations, which continued despite the division of the piece into three movements.
Luciano Berio's famous “Sequenza no. 3” for solo flute, containing the large amount of theatrical effects and extended techniques, was performed in a masterly manner by Mariette Lentz, who competently performed the whispering, muttering, laughing and hissing, present in the piece in a dramatic and humorous way, adding such dramatic effects as twisting around, bringing her hands up to her head and then stretching them out at her sides, using an assortment of theatrically comical facial expressions and lying back on the chair. It seemed that Berio himself would have been very pleased and proud of this performance, had he had the chance to see and hear it.
The last piece, “Serenade for soprano and harp” by Japanese composer Harue Kunieda, was an elaborate, avant-garde piece, which featured elaborate extended techniques for the harp, carried out in a very musical manner, as well as atonally virtuosic yet lyrical and expressive lines for the soprano. It contained a very gradual form of development, utilising limited pitch areas (suggesting the limitations of Japanese modes, though keeping the atonal harmonies throughout) and limited textural units, featuring just a little material at a time, which gradually changed or developed into a new textural idea.
After the concert, we went back to the ship, which took us along the Mousel River from Ehnen back to Mondorf-les-Bains. During the cruise back, we were given, as a treat, a piece of Luxembourgish exotic extravaganza – an operetta by the famous 19th century Luxembourgish composer, Edmond de la Fontaine (also known by his pen name, Dicks), “Die Scholdschäin”, composed in 1855, which was the first musical comedy in the Luxembourgish language. Performed by soprano Sophie Proost, mezzo-soprano Yannchen Hoffmann, tenor Fernando Presley Jr., baritone Carlo Hartmann and pianist Marco Bettendorf, the work featured extensive conversations of the characters, intermingled with light-weight 19th century style popular songs in the vein of Gilbert and Sullivan or Offenbach.
Despite the fact that the genre of the piece and the time of its composition did not bring common ground between it and most of the music, performed at the festival, nevertheless, for most of us foreigners the exotic novelty of the spoken and sung Luxembourgish language (a curious half-way blend between German and Dutch) proved to be music for our ears, and, moreover, a new and intriguing linguistic-musical experience, causing this operetta to fit perfectly into the category of “contemporary” or “avant-garde music,” and thus perfectly validating its inclusion into the program of the festival. In Mondorf-les-Bains we sat on the buses, which took us back to Luxembourg city, in time for the last concert of the festival.
The evening concert on October 7 at 8 PM, which took place at the Luxembourg Conservatory, featured four diverse compositions, performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra of London, the first three of which were conducted by Pascal Rophé.
“Giro” by Finnish composer Esa Pekka Salonen was a very impulsive, dramatic piece, with a moderately avant-garde style, an atonal harmonic language, which frequently seemed to approach tonality from a distance, never embracing it straightforwardly, and an inspiring, heroic mood, which was expressed with tasteful moderation, without the least bit of excessive bravura.
“Variations” by British composer Hugh Wood was a fast and busy piece, with plenty of rhythmically-regular polyphonic lines, the texture bordering on a Neo-Classical approach. The piece had a complex, dramatic formal structure with substantial development of the initiative thematic material, despite the fact that it was not very long.
“The Stations of the Sun” by British composer Julian Anderson was an extensive, dramatic piece, moderately traditional in style, with a strong Romantic flavour. The work had a tasteful amount of contrast between the loud and impulsive sections, with the soft, lyrical and pastoral sections, as well as a well-built form and inherent dramatic substance.
“The Gate, Orchestral Theatre IV” by Chinese composer, living in New York Tan Dun, was conducted by the composer and featured Peking opera actress Shi Min, soprano Nancy Lundy and puppeteer Zehuai Zhuang. This large-scale composition, which took up the entire second half of the program, was an extravagant multi-media performance, in effect a short opera, with strong theatrical elements, featuring singers and actors walking around the stage, acting out the dramatic play, to which the music was set, about three women, who committed suicide out of love, awaiting judgement at a gate where souls await to be reborn. The music was a rather traditional, theatrical type, with a strong flavour of Chinese exoticism, inherent in the pentatonic harmonies and the strong allusion to Chinese traditional folk music by the orchestral textures. A very effective dramatic touch was in the presence of a video screen on stage, which magnified and showed on screen respectively the conductor, the singers and the actors, emphasising their importance in this musical-theatrical production. Despite the slightly excessive theatrical slant of the music, the whole performance of the last work was very impressive, and was successful in bringing yet another dimension to the festival, namely that of the theatre, once again emphasising the extreme diversity of talent presented at this festival, and providing a triumphant and entertaining conclusion to it.
All in all, the World Music Days Festival provided a vibrant creative atmosphere, a lavishly and generously rich musical program, and a chance for musicians to meet with other talented musicians from al over the world, as well as hear the music of their colleagues from the most remote parts of the world, as well as to establish friendly and creative connections with these musicians. This event was not only a special event for the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, which did not previously have such large-scale international music events, but also for the World Music Days Festivals in general, since this year's festival was the first one in which composers from all the sections of the ISCM were represented, as well as in which there was such an abundance of performing groups, including the very famous ones, from all over the world. This festival ensured a secure place for Luxembourg on the scene of the Western European contemporary music scene.