music we’d like to hear 2013 (III) – cello and piano

The last concert of this year’s music we’d like to hear series included solo and duo works for cello and piano, played by Anton Lukoszevieze and Tim Parkinson, as well as one piece for a larger ensemble. Matteo Fargion wrote in the program notes that 11 Notturni was his take on Morton Feldman’s Piano (1977). Going back now to listen to the Feldman piece, it seems clear that Fargion’s piece involved quite a lot more stirring of the waters, greater contrasts, and more varied articulations. It made me generally curious about attempts to imitate other composers. Are there elements of a musical personality that seep out and deviate from the model, that are clear in the composer’s more avowedly original work? I think a generalization here is likely impossible. Fargion adds in the program note that his “unhealthy obsession [with Feldman’s work] was finally cured” through the making of “Both Sitting Duet” with Jonathan Burrows, which directly translates “For John Cage” into arm movements. This is a really fascinating piece. Here’s a score excerpt and parts 1 and 2 of a performance of it by Fargion and Burrows.

A very similar set of questions came up for me with Christian Wolff’s Cello Suite Variation, which was commissioned to be a response to Bach’s first cello suite. Each section relates to the Bach in a different way. When music is used as data, what remains of the spirit or atmosphere of the original? Many technical elements may be in place, or in fact a whole form or progression may be kept intact (as in Fargion and Burrows’ Both Sitting Duet), but the new piece becomes a new organism and has its own character. The Cello Suite Variation sounded far more like Wolff than like Bach. The procedures he used with it were his own, and while the Bach was somewhat audible as a premise, it was very different in character from the piece that we heard. The texture remained rather similar, but there was a sense that one set of procedures intercut with another long after the fact, to make a new thing that would not have come into being without that particular interface.

Jonathan Marmor’s Cattle in the Woods was something entirely different. Harmonic consonances were placed in a random sequence, so that there is in effect a dissonance between the vertical consonance and the horizontal disjunctness of the chords. The voice leading (if that’s the appropriate term for it) is deliberately inelegant. I had the chance to hear a rehearsal of this accompaniment without the cello solo, in this arrangement for melodica, two reed organs, prerecorded synthesizer tones, and electric fan. It’s an ensemble that underlines the intention of deliberate inelegance, and brings it into a whole other territory in which these consonances happily exist from on moment to the next. But the cello solo adds another element in taking the lead melody, in which many notes, selected through chance procedure, are to be played out of tune. There was a rich dissonance/harmony of these out of tune moments. It was amazing how they brought the cello immediately to the sonic surface, I think without exception, despite its being somewhat in competition with the other instruments for audibility otherwise. Out of tuneness of course has a typically negative connotation. It was amazing to hear it recontextualized so effectively as a shift in relations: here are the things that conform to a grid, and here is the one that does not. You can hear another arrangement of the same piece here.

Julia Eckhardt’s speling#4 was a deeply sensitive exploration of the body of the cello. I was left wanting more – more of Anton Lukoszevieze’s finely attuned performance, more of the piece itself, and more of her Eckhardt’s work overall. The title is a Flemish word she translates as “‘scope’, with a connotation of play, free space, and at the same time, limits.” That set of words evokes for me an image of a child’s play. But taken in combination with my experience of the piece, it is not riotous group activity or playing with toys with all the now-usual bells and whistles and lights. It’s what is possible when a child is given room to exercise their imagination. It’s more like giving a child a large box and letting them decide what to do with it. I haven’t seen the score, and I don’t know what the instructions are, but that image, and the particular type of openness of the result, seems most relevant.

Luiz Henrique Yudo’s Five Palindromes were a wonderful surprise. They are exquisitely made, and all the more so for their use of the palindromic form, which allows the listener to locate herself in each piece without a prior knowledge of it. Tim Parkinson’s and Anton Lukoszevieze’s playing conveyed them with such delicateness and precision. The sense of balance was carried not only with the form, but between the instruments and in the careful travel along the threshold between spoken and unspoken notes. Again I was left hungering for more, not only of Yudo’s work in general, much of which is available on his Soundcloud page, but to be able to hear this performance of this work again, many times over. The third piece in particular struck me as an alchemical combination of cello timbres and piano chords. They conversed with each other as a single unit, in perfect relation with one another.

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Jürg Frey’s 2 Stücke was another alchemical combination, between the instruments but also of elements from other pieces. Frey lists several pieces from the unbetitelt series and the Klavierstück Arrangement series, all from 1990-1991. (2 Stücke was written in 1991.) I had the feeling about this work that it simply goes by perfectly. The second piece had a quiet, gentle inevitability. This was the premiere of 2 Stücke, but links to several of the pre-existing piece are here.

This is my third time attending a set of these concerts, and my impression is affirmed more deeply each time that this series lives up to its name. The “we” of music we’d like to hear is not just the curators or the performers, but the audience that has developed and grown over its nine years. For one thing, the series format, placing a week between each concert, avoids any sense of overload or inundation. The concerts are unique events, and not part of a general blur of activity that often will occur at a festival. The performers are genuinely committed to the work. The audience is happy to be there, and is wonderfully attentive. Everyone is invited to come to the pub afterwards to keep talking, and just about everyone comes. A conversation is as likely to strike up between new acquaintances as it is with old friends, just as there is a mix of familiar and unfamiliar composers on each program. It’s what I call a perfect evening.


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