09 November 2019

Edgard Varèse, Olga Neuwirth, and Louis Andriessen

September found me several times in the Philharmonie, given that the Musikfest Berlin festival which features contemporary classical music was on-going. The second concert I attended was a performance by the Ensemble Modern, an international group based in Frankfurt, dedicated to performing contemporary classical music. That evening, they performed three pieces: Edgard Varèse's Déserts, Olga Neuwirth's locus...doublure...solus, and Louis Andriessen's De Stijl.

Edgard Varèse's Déserts was for 14 woodwind instruments, piano, percussion, and 3 interpolations for electronically organised sound. I have to admit I didn't quite get this piece. As the title indicated, there were three parts of the piece where sound was sampled and simply played. Everyone else stopped playing, and we all just listened to this tape of music, or rather, a combination of sounds. Aside from being interpolated within the piece, it wasn't integrated at all. Then again, perhaps that was indicative of how much I don't know Varèse's music at all. All I know is that he conceives of music as "organised sound", and that the spectrum between music, noise, and sound has always been fluid to him.

After that, they played Olga Neuwirth's locus...doublure...solus for piano and ensemble, which was mind-blowing. It is made of 7 movements, and every movement was just a very different soundscape, at times surprising, other times shocking, and all the time gripping. Her use of various instruments as well as the way she manipulates the variation in tempo (especially in the second movement) definitely kept me to the edge of my seat. I must say I absolutely enjoyed this one.

After the pause, they played Louis Andriessen's De Stijl for 4 female voices, a speaker, and a large ensemble. The ensemble featured electric guitars, a bass guitar, two pianos and a third one that is located off-stage. This one was heavily influenced by jazz, given the rhythms that were used. At times it felt slightly too loud for me, and the sounds just mixed together, but for the most part it was something that I definitely enjoyed. The piece was written in 1985, and given Andriessen's aversion to conservative modes of writing music, he has called for radical sound combinations, hence the appearance of electric guitars.

Overall this was again a great and enjoyable evening for me. I definitely love the musical offerings of this city. And I'll probably be attending more concerts when this festival happens again next year.

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