Large contingent at the musikprotokoll in the “Steirischen Herbst” 23
11. October 2023
With the ORF RSO Vienna under the baton of Marin Alsop, musikprotokoll offered its audience an exhilarating evening of contemporary music.
Michaela Preiner
Photo: (ORF musikprotokoll/Martin Gross)

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.

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