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Longing for the Past

On January 29th 2011, Liviu Scripcaru, a Romanian violinist, who currently lives and works in Portugal gave a concert of Portuguese contemporary works for violin solo. The performance constituted a part of the Orquestra Metropolitana 2010 / 2011 concert season entitled “A música por dentro” (“Music from the Inside”). Its programme consisted of works by such composers as Emmanuel Nunes, Daniel Schvetz, Miguel Azguime, Christopher Bochmann, Sara Carvalho and Ian Mikirtoumov, with one national and three international premieres.

The event took place at the Portuguese Music Museum situated in Casa Verdades de Faria (Monte Estoril), which has always been connected to music through the cultural activities cultivated by its successive owners. Since I came there quite early, I had some time to admire the building from the late 19th century. While walking through the courtyard one could hear the violinist practicing in the concert room on the first floor…

The public was a relatively small group and mainly connected with the academic and contemporary music area. Let me interrupt this flow of events for a moment, in order to make a small digression. It is good and quite obvious that the composers and people “from the industry” come to contemporary music events. Nevertheless I was wondering if it would not have been more beneficial for contemporary music creation if people “form outside” also came to listen. Yet is it at all possible? It often seems as if these events were made only for an extremely specialized group of academic (this word may appear more times along this text) listeners. Is music not supposed to be a universal language, available for everybody? Why does contemporary music not provoke more curiosity at least among common classical music listeners?

These kinds of questions occupied my mind while I was waiting for the violinist’s appearance among other people “form the industry”, in the small concert room of Portuguese Music Museum, . One could feel slight tension among the public. Six music stands were on the stage waiting for the violinist. How will it be?

Liviu Scripcaru appeared, greeted the small auditorium and started playing.

The first work was by Emmanuel Nunes – “the visionary and outsider” of Portuguese contemporary music, as I came to understand after my 5 moths of living in the country. His work, “Einspielung I” (1979), is a study involving various interpretation techniques including passages in different tempos (with abrupt accelerations and slowing down), which always return to a keynote – the piece’s base or a kind of “drone”, like in traditional music. “Einspielung I” is a challenge for the performer, which Liviu Scripcaru could not match, turning the piece into a kind of academic exercise. During three years Emmanuel Nunes wrote two more pieces under a similar title – “Einspielung II” and “Einspielung III”.

Some of the composers were present during the concert and Liviu Scripcaru invited them to make a short introduction before performing their pieces. This gave an amusing and quite informative touch to the concert, giving an opportunity to get to know the stories standing behind the pieces.

The porgramme’s second work was Daniel Schvetz’s “Picolo studietto in tango style per violino”. According to the composer’s short introduction it was written for music school pupils for a special project inspired by Astor Piazzolla. And so it sounded, like a study with a shadow of the Argentinian composer’s tangos…

The third piece, Miguel Azguime’s “Soit seul sûr de son” written between 2004 and 2005, was interesting in terms of means used to exploit the acoustic qualities of sound. The piece’s formal construction is based on the opposition between sections of more virtuoso quality and the ones that explore violin’s different colours, timbres and harmonics. Unfortunately Liviu Scripcaru’s somewhat plane and straightforward interpretation did not include the piece’s nuances and abrupt contrasts between the virtuoso and more timbre-oriented parts.

Then, Christopher Bochmann appeared on the stage and made a short introduction to his two works, “Lied I” and “Cavatina”. The first piece, influenced and dedicated to a Greek composer, Dimitri Terzakis, was written in 2002, when Christopher Bochmann resided in Lepizig, whereas his second work was a result of an academic example, expanded for concert purposes. Christopher Bochamnn’s style, exposed to some point in these two short pieces is quite intellectual. In “isobematic” music, as the composer himself calls it, all parameters are relativized. “In music devoid of tonality, measure and hierarchic relations, everything is the same, «isobematic» (the semitones, the quavers, the semiquavers, the triplets, etc.). It is a question of relating one thing with another”, explains Christopher Bochmann.

Two more violin solo pieces were performed during the evening at the Portuguese Music Museum – Sara Carvalho’s “Solos I”, a more virtuoso work with various contrasting sections and Ian Mikirtoumov’s “Poisk”. According to the composer, the work’s enigmatic title is a Russian word meaning “search” or “inquiry”. It is maintained in a post-modern style, making references to sentimental and romantic violin music, especially in a theme that reappears throughout the piece.

Let me pass on to my second digression. I have always thought that programming concerts only with works for one solo instrument takes a lot of courage. As I see it, a solo player is like a stand up comedian or like an actor on the stage that performs a monodrama. He needs to keep the tension, captivate the public constantly and know exactly which strings to pull. In past “the dames” used to faint at the sound and sight of a performing virtuoso, but I have the impression that those times are gone. Or perhaps I should consider that the past always appears to us in an idealized and deformed way. I have to admit that I know most of the magnificent past music personalities only from films or books.

I was thinking a lot about the concert during my journey home from Monte Estoril (I cannot resist from mentioning that the view of the river entering into the ocean helped a lot in forming more general and “profound” conclusions).

As I mentioned above the whole event seemed to me as academic when taking into account its different aspects – not only the audience and programming, but also the performance. The chosen repertoire was too homogenous and the interpretation lacked virtuosity and profoundness in pointing out the pieces’ strong and key elements. What happened to Liviu Scripcaru’s East European and more “romantic” spirit? In the end violin is considered to be one of the most passionate instruments. Perhaps I need to come back to my previous thought – “the times of great virtuosi are gone”. Nowadays, it happens a lot that mathematic works are performed with academic standards, but is not music also about something else?

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