Far Enough Away

The Klang­fo­rum’s Festliche Tage Al­ter Musik – with works com­posed be­tween 1908 and 1961 – show us how old (and beau­ti­ful) mod­ern mu­sic re­ally is

METROPOLE - Vienna in English - - CONTENTS - By Cyn­thia Peck

The mu­si­cal ensem­ble Klang­fo­rum seeks to change the per­cep­tion of 20th cen­tury com­posers with its Festlicher Tage Al­ter Musik.

It’s like need­ing read­ing glasses: the closer some­thing is, the harder it is to see. In­deed, many con­sider lis­ten­ing to “new mu­sic,” by def­i­ni­tion close to us in time, no­to­ri­ously hard to do. The avant-garde is reg­u­larly re­jected out of hand, with pain thresh­olds of­ten start­ing some­where be­tween Gus­tav Mahler and Igor Stravin­sky. This is some­thing the con­tem­po­rary ensem­ble Klang­fo­rum Wien be­lieves that is more than a shame. In­ter­na­tion­ally renowned for in­ter­pret­ing the new­est of the new, three years ago they started tread­ing new ter­ri­tory with a fes­ti­val for works com­posed be­tween 1908 and 1961, the Festlicher Tage Al­ter Musik (Fes­tive Days of Old Mu­sic). Is mu­sic com­posed be­fore 1961 old? Yes it is, ac­cord­ing to Sven Hart­berger, Klang­fo­rum’s artis­tic di­rec­tor. That’s why he chose the fes­ti­val’s ti­tle, al­though it was hotly con­tested and, to a cer­tain de­gree, still is: “I get emails com­plain­ing that I mis­led some­one into buy­ing a ticket for what they thought would be Re­nais­sance mu­sic.” That is ex­actly his point: Peo­ple need to be shaken out of their pre­sump­tions re­gard­ing “new” mu­sic. As Hart­berger de­scribes it, he is “re­align­ing the bound­aries.” The ma­jor­ity of what con­cert houses present and en­sem­bles play was com­posed be­fore 1900. Ask some­one on the street the name of a com­poser, and the an­swer will prob­a­bly be Beethoven or Mozart, both born well over 200 years ago. While other arts have seen their avant-garde en­ter the main­stream in due time, mu­sic lags se­ri­ously be­hind; the term “mod­ern mu­sic” is still used to de­scribe works a cen­tury old. In other eras, peo­ple only lis­tened to the lat­est; they would have never dreamed of per­form­ing some­thing even twenty years old. In his later years, Jo­hann Se­bas­tian Bach had to deal with con­tem­po­raries who thought his com­po­si­tions hope­lessly old-fash­ioned.

Gain­ing Per­spec­tive

The mu­sic from the first half of the 20th cen­tury has some­how been lost: Rarely played, many of its com­posers have been for­got­ten. It was a pe­riod marked by the birth of mu­sic un­pleas­antly “mod­ern,” with protests in con­cert halls and peo­ple push­ing their way qui­etly (or not) to the ex­its. But is

the har­monic lan­guage of those works still in­com­pre­hen­si­ble to­day? No, it is “very, very beau­ti­ful,” says Hart­berger. His re­ac­tion is clearly sen­sual: It is mu­sic like a smooth wine, it is an “epi­curean feast.” Each of the fes­ti­val’s four con­certs has its own ti­tle and theme. On Fe­bru­ary 14, Epizen­trum (epi­cen­ter) presents works by Arnold Schoen­berg, Al­ban Berg and oth­ers who were part of the earth­quake that was the Sec­ond Vi­en­nese School. On Fe­bru­ary 20, the Wien Mu­seum hosts Voix Étouf­fées (suf­fo­cated voices), de­voted to com­posers who were vic­tims of the 20th cen­tury’s fas­cist regimes. The fi­nal con­cert on Fe­bru­ary 24 – 360° – looks in all di­rec­tions, with mul­tilin­gual and multi-eth­nic com­posers born in China, Bu­dapest, Great Bri­tain, Fin­land and Vienna. The con­cert clos­est to my heart is on Fe­bru­ary 17, Transat­lantics, com­po­si­tions by the Amer­i­can pi­o­neers who taught me to keep my ears open: Charles Ives, with his mul­ti­ple lay­ers of har­monic keys and pa­tri­otic tunes; the jazzy bad-boy Ge­orge An­theil; Cal­i­for­nian Henry Cow­ell, who al­ready per­formed on the pi­ano with fists and fore­arms in 1912; or Con­lon Nan­car­row, whose driv­ing, enor­mously com­plex works for (player) pi­ano swept me off my feet back as a teenager. While the beauty of old mod­ern mu­sic “has to be un­cov­ered and de­tected,” Hart­berger is quick to add that “it touches us very deeply. It of­fers us some­thing pre­cious.” And it gives us oc­ca­sion to re­flect on what “the mu­sic we can’t tol­er­ate or un­der­stand to­day will some­day mean.”

Klang­fo­rum spe­cial­izes in in­ter­pret­ing mu­sic from the 20th cen­tury and later.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Austria

© PressReader. All rights reserved.