European Capital of Culture Bad Ischl – Salzkammergut 2024
The program was wide-ranging. Book presentations, readings, indoor and outdoor concerts at various locations in the city, performances, exhibitions and the opening of a gourmet laboratory offered a tight program in which visitors had to make allowances for gaps, as the individual items on the program were so tightly packed.
History and requirements for a Capital of Culture
In the center of the town, in the former drinking hall with its characteristic, historic columns, is the information point and the press center, where domestic and foreign press representatives bustled about. It has been a long time since Bad Ischl experienced such an international influx. From 1822 until after the First World War, Ischl, as it was known at the time, was used to welcoming high-ranking guests from Austria and abroad. It was only after the fall of the Danube Monarchy and the decreasing number of visitors from the nobility and bourgeoisie that the resort’s appeal diminished. Nevertheless, tourism remained, albeit in a different guise. After the Second World War, cures in Bad Ischl became the domain of Austrian patients who were sent there by the various insurance companies. Culture, once represented in the small town by composers and writers, musicians and theater people, faded into the background. The Lehártheater lost its charisma, later serving as a multi-purpose venue and cinema and was finally closed due to its dilapidated condition. Anyone who wanted to see or hear something modern had to leave. This is now changing with the Capital of Culture 2024 program. For the first time in the history of the “European Capital of Culture” award, a total of 23 municipalities share this attribution. Although Bad Ischl is presenting itself as the standard bearer of the cultural event, the participation of the other participating municipalities from the Salzkammergut will become more apparent over the course of the year. It is hoped that this will not only attract international attention, which should also be reflected in the number of overnight stays. However, according to artistic director Elisabeth Schweeger in her opening speech on the stage in the Kurpark in front of several thousand people, the basic idea is to strengthen culture away from urban centers. She sees culture as a socially and democratically important medium that can have a great impact not only on tourists, but also on the people who live here, especially in rural regions. In this way, it also meets the requirements set by the EU, the donor. According to a resolution passed by the European Parliament, the aim of being awarded the title of Capital of Culture is to “strengthen the competitiveness of the European cultural and creative sectors, in particular the audiovisual sector, with a view to promoting smart, sustainable and inclusive growth”. And further: “Cities awarded the title should also promote social inclusion and equal opportunities and work as hard as possible to involve the widest possible range of all sections of civil society in the preparation and implementation of the cultural program, with a particular focus on young people, marginalized and disadvantaged groups.” In fact, it was already possible to experience the implementation of these requirements live on the opening weekend.
The opening cermony on the large stage in the Kurpark attracted thousands of people from Bad Ischl and the surrounding area despite the freezing sub-zero temperatures. With the artists from the Salzkammergut region – Hubert von Goisern, Tom Neuwirth aka Conchita Wurst and Doris Uhlich
showed that the region has more to offer than just traditional customs. All three are personalities who have made a name for themselves on the world’s stages and symbolize the fact that international recognition can also be achieved with regional roots. A performance by students from the Ebensee fashion school, who presented modern interpretations of traditional costumes made from paper, gave the evening an additional strong regional character, with a contemporary design twist.
Tom Neuwirth aka Conchita Wurst (Foto: Henrieke Iring, courtesy Kulturhauptstadt Europas Bad Ischl Salzkammergut 2024)
Hubert von Goisern (Foto: Henrieke Iring, courtesy
Doris Uhlich (Foto: Daniel Mayer, courtesy Kulturhauptstadt Europas Bad Ischl Salzkammergut 2024)
Modeschule Ebensee 54 Henrieke Iring, courtesy Kulturhauptstadt Europas Bad Ischl Salzkammergut 2024
Exhibitions and installations
– „Luv Birds in toten Winkeln“
Altes Sudhaus Bad Ischl Ausstellung „Kunst mit Salz und Wasser“ (Fotos ECN)
During the day, several exhibitions were opened, such as the one in the post office building with a work by artist Maruša Sagadin. The Austrian-Slovenian artist installed “Luv Birds in toten Winkeln”, a multi-part sculpture installation. Colorful body parts such as tongues, ears and lips are arranged on pillars. They refer to intimate zones and actions that hardly find a place in public spaces anymore. The small benches located in the high atrium next to the pillars can actually be used for sitting and thus also change their previous use. Opposite, in the old brewhouse, the crowds for the opening of the “Art with Salt and Water” exhibition were so great that visitors had to be put off until the next day, as the exhibition was at full capacity. The curator, Gottfried Hattinger, did a great job. 18 contributions from a total of 21 artists provide an astonishing overview of artistic contributions on this topic. From installations that can only be accessed on site via an app on a cell phone to works that are constantly changing during the exhibition and those that radiate an incredible static beauty, everything is represented. One and a half hours is not enough time for a visit. If you want to take a comprehensive look at the works, you should allow plenty of time and not choose a day that is too cold or too hot. The place cannot be heated or cooled, making it a challenge for exceptional weather conditions.
Nearby, at the rear of the post office building, an “embroidered net” by artist Katharina Cibulka is emblazoned at a lofty height. “Solong ois bleibt, weils oiwei scho so woa, bin i Feminist:in” can be read on it. It is the 29th edition of her “solange” series, in which sentences are created with the participation of the local population, which make it clear why there must still be committed feminists today. You can take a look back to the 1920s at the Lehártheater. A new interpretation of the legendary Ballet Méchanique can be seen there. At the first peak of the industrial revolution, the American composer George Antheil created a “music machine” that automatically plays a composition for over 20 minutes, accompanied by a projection of a black and white film by Férnand Leger. Winfried Ritsch, Professor of Electronic Music and Acoustics at the MUK, the University of Art and Music in Graz, and his students created an adaptation of the sound installation using electronic means, which had been commissioned for the Kunsthaus in Graz a few years earlier. The adaptation in Bad Ischl delights with its morbid surround sound, but it won’t stay that way for long. The theater is set to shine in new splendor by 2027 with the help of funds from the Capital of Culture budget. At the moment, however, the ageing space with its visible structural wounds blends atmospherically and skillfully with the sounds of pianos, bells, xylophones, drums and other instruments that are moved as if by magic. Anyone wishing to see this impressive installation must do so by mid-April, after which the Lehártheater will be used for other purposes.
Katharina Cibulka “Solange” (Foto: ECN)
Ballet Méchanique (Foto: ECN)
Altes Sudhaus Bad Ischl Ausstellung „Kunst mit Salz und Wasser“
Genusslabor Bad Ischl (Foto: Daniel Mayer)
Genusslabor Bad Ischl (Foto: ECN)
Genusslabor Bad Ischl (Foto: Marc Schwarz)
Genusslabor Bad Ischl (Foto: ECN)
Preplanning is also the order of the day if you want to be served fine food at the “Tavern Lab Bad Ischl”. The Bad Ischl School of Tourism is reviving the former railroad station restaurant with well-known restaurateur Christoph “Krauli” Heid from Siriuskogl. There, the young innkeepers can live out their idea of contemporary restaurant culture. From the choice of food to the service, it is up to them whether the act is a success. The first weekend was such a success that many who came to eat had to be put off until another time. Those who were lucky were not only delighted with the culinary offerings, but above all with the enthusiasm and joy with which the young people went about their work. “We didn’t think it would work so well,” was one of the comments, as well as “who says the young people can’t do anything!”. The Tavern Lab is proving to be more than just a practical space for the pupils of the 4 HLa. It is also a first-class place of communication, where you can quickly get into conversation with other guests and the people who run it. Another pub lab will be opened in Gmunden on January 29 under the aegis of Jochen Neustifter. The involvement of young people not only offers practical relevance. Rather, it creates a link to the Capital of Culture idea with a large number of multipliers who identify with this idea.
O tones and the “interventa performance
The people in the Salzkammergut are friendly and talkative. You can make contacts quickly and learn a lot, which amazes culture vultures like me. One statement should make all those responsible for projects away from the capital cities in Austria sit up and take notice, and not just in the Salzkammergut. During the introduction to the performance “interventa Hallstatt 2024
“, moderated by Marie-Therese Harnoncourt-Fuchs and Sabine Kienzer, a visitor turned dryly to his companion with the words: “I don’t understand a thing”. In response to her reply that the volume was fine, the answer was: “It’s not the volume, I don’t understand the content, I don’t know what that means, what the women are saying.” The two initiators reported in a few sentences that the “interventa” symposium will take place in Hallstadt in the fall and what its content will be. A completely unexpected response came from a visitor standing nearby: “Art has its own language and this is the language being spoken here. We now have one opportunity this year to learn this language”. The performance, choreographed by Esther Balfe, was a harbinger of “interventa Hallstatt 2024”, which will take place from 19 – 22 September 2024. It will take an interdisciplinary approach to building culture between tradition and innovation. Dancers from the Music and Private University of Vienna, dressed in the white working clothes of salt workers, had wooden bells tied around them, which had been made by the HTBLA Hallstatt. A reference to the down-to-earth bell-ringing tradition of the region, which, however, is only performed by men. The dancers wore characters that turned out to be individual artistic objects. They were designed by the artist Isabella Kohlhuber and together they formed the title of the work: “Glass sliding door”. The artist is intensively involved with typography and used a plastering material that is used in construction. Here, too, the idea of togetherness and involving the local population was taken into account.”
Another interesting comment on the opening came from a store owner in the city center. “I watched Doris Uhlich’s dance performance, the ‘Powder Dance’, very closely and noticed that the naked people on stage looked very different. There was a woman with an amputated breast and even disabled people in wheelchairs. I thought it was fine that they were naked, but I’m not sure if it was good for the children to see.” Here, too, an answer came promptly – and again not from “newcomers”, but from an employee: “It shouldn’t be anything special for the children, because they should have already seen what a man and a woman look like naked at home.” “That’s just art” was how an elderly gentleman summed up his opinion of this performance to acquaintances on the street. Uhlich’s performances with naked people always divide opinion, but artistically they point to one of the most important demands that a Capital of Culture has to fulfill: social inclusion and equal opportunities with a focus on disadvantaged groups. It should be mentioned that the aesthetic component on this evening was a very special one, probably thanks to the cold. The powder that she and her ensemble briskly squeezed out of the powder containers remained suspended in the cold air for a long time until it sank to the ground. The lighting direction did the rest to make this look unforgettable.
Not Franz Lehár, but Oscar Straus
The “operetta” “Eine Frau, die weiß, was sie will.” by Oscar Straus, a Jewish composer who worked in Bad Ischl at the same time as Franz Lehár, also highlighted another focus of the Capital of Culture with a production by the “Komische Oper Berlin” on the opening weekend. The reappraisal of Jewish life in the town and the Salzkammergut is to be intensified in order to shed light on a chapter that has been concealed for many decades. To look behind some of the programming, you need to do your own research. But this can be expected, especially from audiences who make their way to the region to enjoy the local cultural events. One or two direct references with background information to facilitate understanding would nevertheless be appropriate, especially for all those for whom art is a marginal phenomenon in everyday life. After all, the two scheduled performances not only served to amuse the audience, but would also have offered much greater potential for enlightenment regarding the life and fate of Oscar Straus and many others in his circle. A brief insight can be found here
Oscar Straus: “Eine Frau, die weiß, was sie will” (Foto: Iko Freese / drama-berlin.de
It is conversations like the ones mentioned above that will be the salt in the local communication this year. Dealing with the new, breaking old patterns, discussing with each other and also talking about it will bring added value that cannot be monetized. Anyone interested in contemporary art will find what they are looking for in Bad Ischl and the Salzkammergut this year and will no longer have to leave. The fact that the majority of the artistic contributions come from women is not only remarkable, especially in the international art scene, but should be emphasized. This is thanks to Elisabeth Schweeger, who shouted loudly and enthusiastically into the microphone on the opening evening: The future belongs to women!
All information can be found here:https://www.salzkammergut-2024.at/
One place that was played for the first time is a former call center in Mariatrost. The vacant building, from which phone calls used to be made from an open-plan office, underwent a transformation into “Demon Radio”. A place where the demonic can be found in many ways.
The Four from the Gas Station
Jos de Gruyter & Harald Thys, The Four from the Gas Station (2023), installation view, Demon Radio, photo: steirischer herbst / kunst-dokumentation.com, courtesy of the artists
Already at the parking lot, in front of the exhibition location, an irritating installation awaits the audience: “The Four from the Gas Station” by Jos de Gruyter & Harald Thys. The work was given its title in reference to the 1930 film “Die Drei von der Tankstelle” (“The Three from the Gas Station”), which was placed on the list of banned films by the Nazi censors. In the car there are not three people, but four uniformed Dobermans. Dogs, sharply trained, like to appear around people who need special “protection”. The number plate of the old Mercedes can be deciphered, since it bears the date on which Hitler thrilled the crowds in Klagenfurt in 1938. The two artists, who live in Brussels, leave it open in this installation whether the four occupants are chasing someone or whether they are on the run. Thus, the artwork opens different windows of interpretation – an approach that is significant for the exhibition “Demon Radio”. The work corresponds with those in the interior – primarily with the one about the former German jazz expert Dr. Schulz-Köhn.
A second artistic contribution of the duo inside the exhibition hall also bears animal features. Micro Mundo 3, 4, 5, 8 and 10, created this year, are small, surreal terrariums in which rodents, reptiles and other creatures with human heads cavort. Fascinating and repulsive at the same time, they present themselves to the viewer and pose ad hoc the question of genetic manipulation and mutations that man did not intend in this way.
A jazz collector, SA and Nazi member
Das Archiv von Dr. Jazz, kuratorische Intervention, Demon Radio, Foto: steirischer herbst / kunst-dokumentation.com
Das Archiv von Dr. Jazz, kuratorische Intervention, Demon Radio, Foto: steirischer herbst / kunst-dokumentation.com
The German, Dietrich Schulz-Köhn, was a lover and connoisseur of jazz music. He bequeathed to the Institute for Jazz Research in Graz, of which he was one of the founders, his collection of jazz records that he had collected before, during and after World War 2. Himself a member of the SA and the NSDAP, he was stationed in France as a young man during the war, where his good contacts with the American enemy enabled him to get hold of the new releases he was so interested in as quickly as possible. Not only are some of his records on display in the exhibition, but a radio recording can also be heard. As the presenter of many jazz programs on WDR and other radio stations, he created a series of programs on this subject. In that contribution, which can be heard in the exhibition, one can well understand how, after the war, a kind of dislocation must have taken place in Schulz-Köhn’s own actions during the war. After all, he speaks there about the restrictions during the Nazi regime as if he had never been part of this murderous regime, but rather had been commissioned by a broadcaster outside Germany to speak about this topic.
Contextualizing this with the other contributions still in this exhibition, it becomes clear that the demonic in man is a phenomenon that is evaluated differently depending on time.
Serene Velocity in Practice: MC510 Signs & Wonders (Prerequisite for CS183 How to Build the Future) (2017-23)
Serene Velocity in Practice (Photo: courtesy of the artist)
Across from the small room where the radio show is playing, Michael Stevenson, bounded by fabric panels, created a kind of room within a room. In it, he recreated the setting of a practical course on faith healing and exorcism taught by church founder John Wimber at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena from 1982 to 1985. The artistic alienation done there further intensifies the oppressive impression that one is in a surroundig in which psychic violence has been inflicted on people.
Indian freedom fighter and current nationalisms
A total of four video contributions invite us to confront the demonic in completely different ways. Indian theater-maker Zuleikha Chaudhari created a film about Subhas Chandra Bose, a fighter against British colonial power. He had hoped to gain Hitler’s support in the 1930s and had therefore traveled to Berlin. On this trip, as well as others that were to follow afterwards when he left Germany again without having achieved anything, he assumed different identities with different nationalities. Similar to Schulz-Köhn, one is amazed at how much reality and ideal diverge in certain stages of life, sometimes even turning into the opposite. In addition, the artist also mixes in the video recordings of lectures on nationalism given at teach-ins during the 2016 student movement at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.
Mechanical and profoundly human
Israelite artist Dani Gal was commissioned by Styrian Autumn to create two works. In his film “Book of the Machines,” close-ups of 19th-century mechanical dolls that bear human features and behave like humans are used to pose questions that are congruent with those our society is currently having to ask itself in light of ubiquitous AI applications.
Book of the Machines, courtesy of the artist
Extremely moving has become his film “Dark Continent,” which reenacts a case study from the book Black Skin, White Masks (1952) by psychiatrist and anti-colonial author Frantz Fanon: It’s about a girl who began developing nervous tics at the age of 12. She eventually ended up in a mental hospital, where the head primar quoted Freud in his final diagnosis, saying that women’s sexuality is a black continent. During the film, we learn that soon after colonization, bus drums were banned in Africa, simply because they could be used to transmit messages over long distances, and thus the danger of revolts could not be ruled out. The father of the young girl, himself formerly conscripted in Africa, put on music in the evening in which these drums could be heard. An unambiguous imagery, which suggests a cruel trait of the man and the fantasy, which one develops as a viewer himself, let think at the end of the film of a child abuse within the own family. The perfidious way in which the drumming of the black population, which is portrayed as backward and threatening, is shown leaves one speechless.
In the coupling with the expressions with which Schulz-Köhn mentioned the black jazzmen from America in the Nazi dictum, a bridging between the individual artistic contributions succeeds here as well. The curatorial team around Ekaterina Degot – David Riff, Pieternel Vermoortel, Gábor Thury and Barbara Seyerl – did a great job here.
Anna Engelhardt and Mark Cinkevic trailer, courtesy of the artists:inside
With a video by Anna Engelhardt and Mark Cinkevic (Russia and Belarus), in which they refer to the demonic power of Russian high-tech support points in occupied states, the arc of the exhibition’s theme reaches into our present.
So does a sound installation by Anton Kats, in which he recalls his childhood and the war in Kherson, recorded by a quiet female voice (Susanne Sachsse) on the sound layer “Palladium” by Weather Reports. That influential jazz band founded by Austrian Joe Zawinul. Palladium had cult status in the USSR, of all places. Fine and beautiful to listen to, flowing and harmonious, the music deceives and covers the horror that was added to it in the text.
What from the outside colorfully flags, pretends to be a fun scene, is inside full of dark spots worth uncovering.
Admission to the exhibition is free thanks to a generous sponsorship offer from AK-Steiermark.
“IX KLA VIER E” was the name of the half-hour performance by Nick Acorne, for which 3×3 pianos were set up on top of each other in the anteroom. In front of them stretched a scaffold, which could be nimbly climbed by Acorne. Equipped with a helmet and a waist belt from which hung all sorts of kitchen utensils, counter-secured by a rope, he swung not from branch to branch, but from piano to piano, playing short passages on each. They all resulted in a truly breathtaking composition – but first and foremost for the pianist himself. Each time he had to climb several meters, both up and down, or shimmy along the metal struts to reach the next instrument. The pianos themselves were prepared and had different sound characteristics.
“IX Kla vier e”
The be-all and end-all of any piano lesson – proper sitting and hand position led to absurdity in this performance. After all, Acorne had to find his footing hanging in the rope in the higher regions or kneel in front of the pianos in some cases in the lowest region. It was astonishing that, despite the sporting hardships, an improvised composition emerged that could be heard even without climbing. The fact that each performance – there were three in total – was different is obvious given the concept. The artist, who previously took a climbing course for beginners, noted in an interview with Daniela Fietzek that he wouldn’t underestimate the physical exertion, “but I know from myself that as soon as it comes to art, I always find resources in my body.”
“IX Kla vier e” (Foto: ORF musikprotokoll/Martin Gross)
The different colored socks at the 2nd performance – one was yellow, the other blue – as well as the short encore – hanging upside down in the rope, spoke a clear language.
While one must appreciate the physical and artistic performance of Nick Acorne, at the same time one must not forget that his act is also peppered with a great deal of humor. Laughter and amazement were equally permitted.
The premiere of “canvas” by Slovenian composer Nina Šenk and librettist Simona Semenič was shown. Šenk was awarded the prize of the Johann-Joseph-Fux Opera Composition Competition after the performance, which she had won with this opera.
“canvas” (Foto: ORF musikprotokoll/Martin Gross)
It tells the story of four women who – without knowing it – love the same man. The latter flutters, as he pleases, from one to the other and tries to maneuver the women into emotional dependencies and keep them. Ingo Kerkhof – KUG professor of music drama (scenic interpretation) directed, Katharina Zotter provided the set and Gerrit Prießnitz was responsible for the musical direction.
The orchestra was moved to the left wall of the hall, and the conductor stood with his back to the wall, thus having both the instrumental ensemble and the singers in view. A square, white-covered revolving platform, a few centimeters high, marked the area where the music was played and sung. In addition, the singers took turns acting at a desk facing the audience at the right edge of the stage.
“canvas” (Foto: ORF musikprotokoll/Martin Gross)
“canvas” (Foto: ORF musikprotokoll/Martin Gross)
The female students slipped into different roles, miming, among others, a part of factory workers. A young girl experienced her tragic death on a hospital stretcher right at the beginning. Her alter-ego sang about this process as if the dying girl was watching herself die. The exact circumstances that led to this death remained unresolved – speculations on this may clearly be individual.
The captivating libretto, consisting of short, terse movements, with repetitions and sometimes rude expressions, offered the composer a great deal of emotional fodder, which had to be sonically realized. Šenk succeeded in leaving the voices in the foreground extraordinarily audible and in using the instrumental part only as a support.
Only at one point, in which a sexual abuse is told, does the orchestra play a much stronger role. In this part, the text is spoken for the most part and the violent event is made clear by the raging in the instruments with crashing and clattering sounds. In this scene, all the women stand motionless on the platform, dressed in black, and persist in that position until one of them whispers, “I have to be quiet when it’s time to be quiet.” This phrase is picked up by the others and turned into a whisper song that gets under your skin.
“canvas” (Foto: ORF musikprotokoll/Martin Gross)
Well brought out were the various characters – married women fearful for the discovery of their affair, a young girl asking God to deliver her, a factory worker who sees in the man the highest fulfillment, a lady who begins to feel youthful again through the happiness of love. The Womanizer himself – also portrayed by one of the women – comes into play only briefly and is shown neither seductive nor violent. Only one woman stands outside the love spiral. She is announced as a fat Italian woman who comes on stage without singing and leaves again. She is the only one who does not seem to be emotionally dependent, but based on the body description should have a strong sexual attraction.
The composer uses quartets, but also solo arias, and marked the scene changes with loud breathing sounds amplified by microphone. It is the particularly successful balance of speech and music that makes this performance so special. Helpful, but also aesthetically well solved, was the projection of the English text on a large screen behind the singers. In addition, these, students of the Music University Graz, were all perfectly disposed.
Melis Demiray, Lavinia Husmann, Laure-Cathérine Beyers, Marija-Katarina Jukić, Ellen Rose Kelly, Christine Rainer and Ana Vidmar are to be congratulated on their great performance.
At the beginning, Sappho / Bioluminescence by Liza Lim was on the program. In her composition, she wanted to “open a space for speculation,” which is an easy thing to do given the title. Lim speaks both of the ancient writer, about whom we suspect more than would have survived from her, but also of an octopus that can transform itself into a starry sky, thus deceiving its enemies. A trembling in the flutes, which passes into the orchestra, is at the beginning. Soon a harmonic progression is heard in the wind parts, strongly reminiscent of film score practice. The main players are again and again the horns, which stand out well audibly from the orchestra.
Marin Alsop und das RSO (Photo: ORF musikprotokoll/Martin Gross)
It is also striking and characteristic that the entire instrumentation is almost in continuous use. Chimes, shimmering violins and a rude interruption by the harps – which will be heard several more times – follow. Again, however, it is a wind melody that stands out from the rest of the action. After a majestic orchestral sound and spherical strings, the tremors heard at the beginning are heard again. Both the brass and woodwinds get their own part, with euphony flowing through the instrumentation again and again. But also a small violin solo is allowed to present itself, supported by small harp interjections. Again and again the beautiful, in which one likes to let oneself fall, is interrupted by unexpected hard sounds like from a xylophone, a vibraphone or harps. The fact that at the end a kind of suspended state is described fits well and logically with what has been heard before. A beautiful work that makes one want to hear more from the composer.
Karl Heinz Schütz as soloist on the flute (Photo: ORF musikprotokoll/Martin Gross)
The second program item “making of – intimacy” is by Clemens Gadenstätter and is written for solo flute and orchestra. Karl-Heinz Schütz took on the demanding soloist part, exploiting a wide tonal palette of his instrument. The beginning is made by the entire orchestra simultaneously in an excited, rapid ductus. The flute, which becomes audible shortly thereafter, is quickly used by the large sound apparatus to respond to it. This play between default and reaction will soon be repeated in reverse, after a wild interlude without flute.
As intense as the beginning was, soon after a melancholy flute solo sets in, its lamentation tone again taken up by the entire instrumentarium. What was just audible in mourning changes atmospherically into a rebellion. Striking and loud brass, a roar and loud drums characterize this part. As before, the action changes completely and to whispering voices the quiet flute stays on one note for a long time. The long, quiet passage is also marked by a delicate solo, which the flutist also accompanies vocally while playing. Meanwhile, the orchestra acts like a sleeping animal, responding to the dynamics of a flutter-tongue entry by Schütz and its runs. An ensuing intensification of sound with full orchestral entry moves agitatedly into a roaring state, like that of a hunted animal. Now it’s up to the flute to take over the orchestra’s ascending and descending runs and then leave the stage to it again. Bells, cymbals, a roaring brass, hard blows and knocks mark the violent passage, which is again replaced by a long, quiet passage with vocal breaths. As before, the action flares up again, only to calm down quickly. Voices, dark brass and a fluttering flute can now be heard – until everything fades into a long quiet passage that slowly drifts away. It is an up and down, an emotional lament and roar as much as an introspective, melancholy lingering that has been transformed into Gadenstätter’s musical language. In the first place in this work are audible emotions. Emotions that can be interpreted by the audience in a similar, but not identical way, thus providing enough room for interpretation for everyone.
Also “strange bird – no longer navigating by a star” by Clara Iannotta, describes emotional states, in which the metaphor of a strange, fluttering bird, is included, “whose aimless circling is the source of the cries that echo in an empty square” – according to the composer. Her sound material is not always precisely definable; an electric guitar is often used as a rhythm instrument, violin bows brush along cymbals, deep brass hums mark a somber overall impression. Again and again there are excited chirping noises and states in which it seems as if time stands still. The Emil-Breisach-composition 2023 ends with bird sounds and leaves the impression of having looked briefly into a psychic abyss with the help of the music.
Foto: (ORF musikprotokoll/Martin Gross)
“Scorching Scherzo” by Bernhard Gander, am Klavier Jonas Ahonen (Photo: ORF musikprotokoll/Martin Gross)
At the end of the concert series was “Scorching Scherzo,” a piano concerto by Bernhard Gander. The work is a typical “Gander“: Intense, pulsating, upbeat, furious. And it leaves the piano in its original aggregate state, without preparation or rhythmic expansion possibilities. Nor are these necessary, so furious is the part largely allotted to it.
Jonas Ahonen needs strength and stamina to counter the rapid chord progressions from the orchestra in a way that keeps them at the sonic apex rather than drowned out by the instruments. A whipping, jazzy rhythm, accompanied by timpani and basses at the beginning, and rising, repetitive runs that conclude in bass chords immediately catch the ear. The wildness, which has already shown its face at the beginning, returns again and again and at one point decays only in the solo part of the piano. The piano takes up the rising runs of the winds heard at the beginning until the orchestra returns wildly.
Another solo with short thrust runs reveals a harmonic structure from the 19th century, which is again interrupted by short runs, but again a melody is inserted. The strings join in obliquely with a nevertheless lovely timbre and experience a renewed start to a furious part with the cellos and wild timpani. A wild rhythm, rushing and breathless, takes hold of the orchestra and overtakes the piano, which is now barely audible. The action moves into a part dominated by the basses, low brass and woods, which by itself, disengaged, would be an impressive work in its own right. Wild chord progressions with equally wild runs, again supported by the full orchestra, form another climax toward the end of the composition, which ends abruptly and leads into a varied, tender section carried by the piano and violins. Now it is not rising spirals but descending ones in a bright major that bring a new color to the proceedings. The idea of letting those runs sound again in the finale that were audible in the bass of the piano at the beginning, but this time in the treble, forms a wonderful parenthesis with which the concerto ends.
It is the combination of the rousing wildness of the technically demanding piano part and the quotations from the Romantic piano literature that made the audience extremely enthusiastic. Four times it brought Gander, Alsop and Ahonen back to the stage for acclamation. A circumstance that is an absolute exception in performances of contemporary music.
With this evening, the musikprotokoll offered an opulence of sound that at the same time demonstrated that compositions for large orchestra have lost none of their fascination. Much to the delight of the audience.