Concert Reviews

Monday 7th November

November 8, 2011

So, some thoughts about Friday and Saturdays of concerts then, with a write-up of the five performances on Sunday tomorrow. Covering all in one night is too much and the sets on these two evenings were quite different to what we heard on the final day. I am going to be writing an overview of the Grundelweiser festival for The Wire, and I don’t want to cover the same subjects here, so I will avoid writing any critique of Jennifer Walshe’s Grupat performances now and focus on the Wandelweiser material. For brief write-ups on the Wednesday and Thursday events see previous posts here and here.

On Friday we heard a new realisation of an ongoing work written by the cellist and composer Markus Kaiser. of all of the Wandelweisrer composers it is maybe Kaiser with whose compositions I am the least familiar, primarily because none have appeared yet on any CDs I own, and because, to the best of my knowledge, none of his work has been performed in the UK. I have heard Kaiser play on a good few CDs before, and have enjoyed his work a lot, but watching him live was, alongside Jürg Frey’s remarkable clarinet playing, the instrumental revelation of the festival. His touch, so very light and gentle was wonderful to watch and listen to. His hour long composition Unterholz, a work he has been slowly evolving since 2006 was performed on Friday by Kaiser alongside Manfred Werder playing piano and Michael Pisaro playing electric guitar.

Unterholz follows a simple pattern. The score, which does change slightly from performance to performance can be played by a variety of musicians and instrumentation. Each realisation of the work however has been recorded, both as a sound and film recording. As we heard the gentle, lightly structured and softly played music in the hall, we also heard, and watched a playback of elements of all eight of the previous recordings of the score, broadcast through the PA alongside the acoustic instruments, and also projected onto the large screen behind the stage. Both the film and audio recording of the previous events were mixed and edited carefully so that different parts of the eight tracks came through in different places. Similarly the film was made with an equal degree of editing and attention to what tracks offered the most. Unterholz apparently means Undergrowth, which is a fitting title for the work as old layers of past recordings react and combine with the new live performance in the room. I was very very tired for this set, drifting in and out of clear consciousness throughout, though never actually falling asleep. This odd state of intense drowsiness actually added to my enjoyment of this particular work. The music was a gauze-like set of layers, all very soft and transparent but when collected together giving a depth and body to the music often missing from Wandelweiser performances. I was reminded of two things clearly while I listened. One was Jakub Ullmann’s wonderful 1997 work A Catalogue of Sounds- a composition in which there are few shifts in dynamic and the music flows in one straight line. Here the sound was more amorphous, fluid, with just the soft chimes of the piano (actually pianos as the last recording before this one, with Danté Boon playing on it could be heard clearly) standing out. The other thing I was reminded of was the sound of a running stream. If you listen at a slight remove from running water the sounds merge into one. Listen closely however and there are so many details- bubbles and pops and clicks as pebbles are passed over by the water. Unterholz felt a little like this to me- very beautiful when viewed from a  wide angle, but equally fascinating if you tried to listen deeper into the flow. The film was a nice addition as well. It spliced shadowy captures of past realisations amongst film of green undergrowth but with various musicians still easy to make out. This touch said a lot about the Wandelweiser collective to me. The closeness of these musicians, the camaraderie and the need to involve each other in their (often very different) works was both touching and inspiring. Unterholz was really very lovely indeed and I hope to get to hear more of Kaiser’s work very soon.

The Wandelweiser sections of the Cut’n Splice festival were all curated by Antoine Beuger, who took a simple idea of including one solo piece, one duo, one trio, etc, up to and including two octet works, and giving voice to all eight of the Wandelweiser composers in attendance. The Saturday evening then again saw a single, longer Wandelweiser score performed after a number of Walshe/Grupat sets. On this occasion we got to hear a new piece by Radu Malfatti, performed here as a sextet by Antoine Beuger, (flute) Jürg Frey, (clarinet) Radu Malfatti, (trombone) Michael Pisaro, (electric guitar) Burkhard Schlothauer (violin) and Markus Kaiser (cello). Darenootodesuka, the title of the piece,  apparently translates from Japanese to “Whose sound is it?” The piece is based around the notion of hinting at melody. Each of the musicians is given sections of four, five, six or seven very long tones, one after the other, somehow forming a very slow, drawn out little melody. They are then allowed to play them at their own tempo and can choose to repeat them or not, with just (I think) some basic timing frameworks giving the piece a sense of structure. I think you would have to boost the speed of the performance several times over to be able to really discern any obvious melody in the music we heard, but the piece certainly had a lot of quite beautiful colour and less of the trademark Malfatti greyness however. It was again quite gorgeous to listen to at first hand. The music moved through little sections, with each slowly dissolving into a silence over a long period of time. Listening to six mostly acoustic instruments gradually disappear from very quiet to nothing at all in this way was really wonderful. The playing was exceptionally strong, with all six musicians producing remarkably clear, clean sounds that just drifted over one another. Oddly, despite Thursday night’s set having included the very quiet rendition of Wolff’s Stones, this set felt the most still and the Saturday was the first time I noticed the very softly purring air conditioning in the hall. Six musicians playing mostly continuous sounds, and yet the music was so very quiet and soft, and when it began to fade the point where we lost it to silence altogether was often unnoticeable. Just wonderful, and the best live performance of a Malfatti score I have witnessed yet.

We have discussed a little in these pages about how the music of Wandelweiser can sometimes be suited to particular environments, and I mentioned before the ICA section of the festival began that I feared for how the music might fare in the large hall. The various pieces played over the four days in this space actually all came out differently, but the two long sets we heard on Friday and Saturday were two of the three played that worked best in this space. The Kaiser had a full enough sound to survive the large hall, and the presence of the huge screen projecting images made it all seem to work well in the large hall. The Malfatti piece, for all its quietness still somehow worked. Maybe there was something about the sense of freedom in the music, the way different pitches flowed out from each other like the unravelling of a piece of twine seemed to set them free in the big space. It probably helped that I was sat at the front, just below the stage (the presence of which didn’t help any of the pieces played , but that’s another story) and I heard everything very clearly, but somehow this composition worked well in the larger space. Other pieces, mostly on the Sunday suffered. The Malfatti piece is also maybe the one realisation from the weekend that could well sound better on CD than it did in the hall, should a release of it ever appear. The sense of space, the atmosphere int he hall, and the inclusion of the audience as crucial elements to the realisation of the scores was a recurring theme throughout the festival, and again in particular not he Sunday, primarily in the extraordinary performance of Manfred Werder’s 2010 (1) but more on that one tomorrow. The Friday and Saturday then, were, for me at least, the two nights that produced the two most traditionally beautiful performances. Other sets made me think more, others pushed the inclusion of silence further, others came from more complex, or intriguing methods of composition, but for pure beauty, immaculate playing and a wonderful couple of examples of large groups all understanding a piece of music the same way these two works were quite stunning.

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