Playing piano with mountaineering equipment

Playing piano with mountaineering equipment

“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.

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“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.”

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“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.

Four women and one man

Four women and one man

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.

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“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.

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.

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“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.

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Large contingent at the musikprotokoll in the “Steirischen Herbst” 23

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.

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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.

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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.

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.

The sound of nature in the concert hall

The sound of nature in the concert hall

The music protocol presented the audience of the Steirischer Herbst per evening such a dense program that many people left the respective performance venue at about half-time. This may be due less to a lack of interest than to an overflow of what was heard and seen. In addition, the List Hall, where three evenings in a row were held, is only served by the streetcar in the direction of the city center until 11:15 pm. Unfortunately, this meant that many people missed out on things that would have been worth listening to. Like this evening the “Aria” by Beat Furrer, whose performance we could not attend.

The evening opened brilliantly with the “Piano Concerto” by Kristine Tjøgersen. In action at the piano was Ellen Ugelvik, who did not make it ring from the keys. Rather, as the orchestra played, she gradually built into the resonant space a forest of small trees, like those found on the staffage of model trains. The composer is fascinated by the communication of the trees, which takes place invisibly under the ground, and thus found an adequate realization of visualization. In addition to sounds, it is above all noises, such as a crackling and rattling, but also a hissing, wind noises or the buzzing of bees, which could be heard alongside repetitively descending bass lines, but also small snippets of melody. After the construction of the artificial forest was finished, the performer took care of a live video recording, which was projected on the large screen behind the orchestra. The task that the composer had set for this concert, to give a voice to nature in the concert hall, was actually audibly and visibly realized by her in this setting.

Madli Marje Gildemann is interested in nocturnal birds and tried to empathize with these animals while observing them. In her composition “Nocturnal Migrants,” she creates a hovering sound that swells and diminishes and is repeated in similar but not the same execution. A panicked chirping betrays doom at one point in the composition, as does a very darkly colored part that emerges in the bass of the piano after the bird scares. The basic tenor is dominated by an excitement, a permanent tension that only subsides when the music dies away at the end of the composition. Her work deals with the attraction of light, which is exerted on birds and can ultimately have fatal consequences. However, she herself describes this “as a metaphor for the impulsive and compulsive behaviors of people…who have little idea of the motives that drive them.”

“if left to soar on winds wings” by Karen Power was created alongside the Klangforum’s live part from recorded sounds the composer has collected around the globe. She prefers to go to places with few people, only to discover time and again that there are no places left in the world where people have not already been and left their traces. What can be heard everywhere as a constant is wind – albeit in different forms. It is also this natural phenomenon that can be heard right at the beginning of their composition. Chirping sounds and birdsong also appear in her work, but the defining element remains the wind, which can even be attributed the function of a basso continuo. “Like many of my works, “…if left to soar on winds wings…” asks each performer and audience member to hear all sounds simply as music we have never heard before. I ask us all to open our ears and reconnect with our environment as something that unites us rather than divides us, and to reconsider our power and influence over all that surrounds us.” – Karen Power said in her statement, which can be read in the program booklet.

The performance of “Exercises in Estrangement II – L’animal que donc je suis” by Sandeep Bhagwati proved original.

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“Exercises in Estrangement II – L’animal que donc je suis” (Photo: ORF musikprotokoll/Martin Gross)

The ensemble was allowed to move choreographically on stage, finding each other in ever new constellations. Kneeling at the beginning, but then striding or turning around their own axis, the musicians offered not only auditory but also visual fodder in their actions. The starting point for the work was a book by Jacques Derrida, in which he explores the close connections between animals and humans. The musicians repeatedly slipped into the role of different animals and communicated with each other constantly. Combined with recorded voices, some of whose text was deliberately unintelligible, the result was an animal-human-auditory mesh whose individual components no longer formed a focal point. Bird calls, elephants roaring, or cicadas chirping, all this could be heard with the help of the implementation of individual instruments, but also active voice use.

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Schallfeld Ensemble (Foto: ORF musikprotokoll/Martin Gross)

The second part of the evening saw the Schallfeld Ensemble perform “My fake plastic love” by Sehyung Kim, Dune by Carlo Elia Praderio and Katharina Klements “Monde II”. The latter work experienced a kind of “historical performance practice” with two repaired mixing machines, since these two had already been used in an earlier work by Klement.

Due to great similarities, or rather, great affinities in parts of the compositions, the programming of this concert sequence may be called very coherent in itself. All of them were characterized by recurring clusters of sound as well as an opposing decay. Sehyung Kim works with different timbres of the instruments and towards the end with increasingly narrow intervals. Praderio’s composition was experienced as minimalist-contemplative and dark in overall impression. Klement employs frequent bell sounds in contrast to the noises of the mixing machines. Electronic recordings expand her sonic cosmos, which is also characterized by recurring passages.

A concert evening filled to bursting point, which offered something new, but also the opportunity to draw comparisons between individual compositions.

stereophony in the “Dom im Berg”

stereophony in the “Dom im Berg”

The program – four pieces plus another three from submissions for the Student 3D Audio Competition, exemplified what was also demanded of the audience on the following evenings: Stamina. From 7 p.m. to 10.30 p.m. – with short breaks – sound experiences were offered that found an international audience.

The start was made by “Organa Quadrupla” by Heinali, who used the grandiose sound possibilities of the Ambisonics system in the Dom im Berg with his modular synthesizer. Fascinated by polyphonic structures as used in the Renaissance, he set up his composition in a similar way. He produced the sound of old organs, alto flutes or a bagpipe and underlaid the running melody lines with a kind of basso continuo. After an intro, still completely attached to a historical soundscape, it becomes audible that it is electronic sounds that are being generated here. The swelling with the increase of voices happens up to a cathedral sound, in which a penetrating up and down of runs characteristically comes to the effect. A rhythm is also cleverly deposited in the bass in the last part of the work, which fades away towards the end. A sonically successful festival entry, which does not break too much with our listening habits and therefore found great approval among the audience.

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“Organa Quadrupla” – Dom im Berg (Foto: ORF musikprotokoll/Martin Gross)

In stark contrast was the collaborative work “forest Floodlights” by Croatian Manja Ristić, as well as Abby Lee Tee and Franziska Thurner, both from Austria. They received a composition commission as part of a SHAPE+ artist residency and explored the sound of a secluded area in the Mühlviertel for it. SHAPE+ is the platform for exciting new projects in music and audiovisual arts of the festival network ICAS, founded in 2014 by the music protocol together with fifteen other festivals. It is funded by the European Union’s Creative Europe program. One of its bases, from which the trio worked, was Garage Drushba, formerly started by Karl Katzinger. It was a meeting place for offbeat cultural events in the nowhere until his death in 2021. From this Place they explored the area and created a visual-auditory, artistic diary. The water richness of the landscape, the remoteness, the ancient set pieces of the Garage Drushba, but also the beauty of nature were captured. In a combination of sound recordings and live recordings succeeded a coherent performance, in which one could dive deeply into the northern border of Austria. The visual realization received an extraordinarily aesthetic component through the superimposition of several video recordings. Sounds of nature such as birds chirping, water rushing or the rustling of dry leaves while walking over them alternated with e-sounds, but also live sounds of a violin and animal sounds. “forest floddlights” is a work not only with high recognition value, but it also makes you want to watch and listen to it more than once.

Taiwan-born artist Sabiwa presented “Island N. 16 – Memories of future Landscapes” with her partner Nathan L.. She describes the work as a place of memory she created during the pandemic.

In addition to a diverse video installation that alternates between real footage, footage in which real material has been alienated, and purely computer-generated footage, she created an equally diverse sound mesh. Recorded material is mixed with live recordings. Fish in an aquarium, to be seen on the video, fresh flowers in a floor vase on stage, in which garden hoses are inserted, through which air is blown, flute sounds, those of an alienated saxophone and singing, all this results in a visual as well as auditory kaleidoscope, which constantly changes form, color and sound. At the beginning, the video remains entirely rooted in the Asian cliché of bondage practices, but soon switches to purely computer-animated color constellations, and later to impressions of landscapes and cities and close-ups of butterflies or wasps feeding. The overall conduct speaks a youthful sound language with a high noise density, in which later passages change into the psychedelic. “Island N. 16 – Memories of future Landscapes” is a good example of the fluidity of musical different sources, alternating between the realms of E- and U-Music, which cannot be sustained in this way.

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“OSWYC” – Dom im Berg (Foto: ORF musikprotokoll/Martin Gross)

In OSWYC – the title of the composition by Robert Schwarz – he combines artificial and natural sounds, which, however, are indistinguishable from each other. With crickets chirping, wind noises and a billowing sound running across the room, he lets the audience enter his work. Door creaks, a sound resembling a bouncing roulette ball and a chirping accompanied by a dull bass repeat with slight changes. A buzzing, murmuring, gurgling and clanking is interrupted by a rattling, shortly after which one thinks to hear insect sounds. Again and again, it is natural sounds that one thinks one perceives, again and again the sounds and noises wander across the room and pretend what has only come about electronically.

The evening ended with contributions from three students who applied for the ‘Student 3D Audio Competition’. All three made clear how much they are immersed in the matter of space-body perceptions and once again demonstrated the breathtaking listening possibilities that the sound system in the Dom im Berg is capable of reproducing.

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