“Música Viva 2012 at the Goethe-Institut”

Two concerts at the Goethe-Institut in Lisbon, on October 8 and 10, concluded the Música Viva 2012 Festival – Giving Voice! 

—    Extraordinary Concert in Homage to Emmanuel Nunes

The first event was the occasion to pay homage to the composer Emmanuel Nunes, who passed away on September 2 at the age of 71. Pedro Amaral, composer and Emmanuel Nunes’ pupil, introduced the concert with his personal tribute and insightful words. The concert was also an occasion to listen to works whose recordings are difficult to find or simply not available on CD: “Einspielung I” (1979) for solo violin, “75-Oeldorf-75” (1975), electroacoustic music, and “Sonata a Tre” (1986) for string trio.

“Einspielung I” (1979) for solo violin is the first of three “Einspielungen” composed by Emmanuel Nunes. It is characterised by a pedal note D, which is heard throughout the piece, and by specific intervals associated with each section. For the performer, the constant change of tempos and the technical difficulties necessary for the realization of the excerpts represent a great challenge. Suzanna Lidegran’s interpretation was notable and revealed impressive technical skills. She highlighted the details of articulation and the two voices that form the main thread of the work, leaving us with great expectation to her forthcoming recording of “Einspielung I” to be released on CD by Miso Records.

“73-Oeldorf-75” (1975) can be considered Emmanuel Nunes’ only electroacoustic work, even though it is not included in his catalogue. The programme notes to the concert mention that “it was built from the magnetic tapes of the composer’s three different works, «Fermata» (1973) for orchestra and tape, «Voyage du corps» (1973-74) for choir, synthesizer and tape, as well as «Ruf» (1975-77) for orchestra and tape”. Before the concert, Miguel Azguime informed us that the current version had been done with the composer for the Música Viva Festival in 2003. Basically, “73-Oeldorf-75” consists of “wefts”, of long, homogenous and gradually evolving sounds. Within each section, the superimposed wefts appear and dissolve progressively. The presence or absence of lower wefts characterise the internal articulation of the sections also marked by notes or chords more directly associated with the sounds of an organ. After absorbing so many notes in “Einspielung I”, the diffusion of “73-Oeldorf-75” provided a contrasting and satisfactory experience of sound immersion.

The concert’s last work was “Sonata a Tre”, the third of the five passacaglias that constitute Emmanuel Nunes’ “Wandlungen” (1985/86) for 25 instruments and live electronics. “Sonata a Tre” is a short piece, of around 5 minutes, based on a few chords where some notes, to which a fixed register is assigned, feature prominently. Among these notes, the G, D and E flat in the middle register, which form the lower part of the main chords, recur constantly, emphasising the interval of perfect fifth and the static quality of the work. The performance, by three musicians from the Matosinhos String Quartet, Vítor Vieira (violin), Jorge Alves (viola) and Marco Pereira (violoncello), was exemplary in what concerns the coordination between the instruments and the way in which the transformation of textures was executed. 

—    2nd International Forum for Young Composers of the Sond'Ar-te Electric Ensemble

The second concert realized within the framework of the 2nd International Forum for Young Composers of the Sond'Ar-te Electric Ensemble began with Rui Penha’s work “Pendulum” for flute, bass clarinet, piano, violin, violoncello, live electronics and video. For the work’s performance the piano is situated on the stage, the flute and violoncello are on the right side of the concert hall and the violin and bass clarinet on the left. “Pendulum” is inspired by a simple idea: the oscillations of pendulums of various lengths and the phenomenon of periodicity which results from their superimposition. A video projection representing oscillations of pendulums is presented during the work’s performance. Although attractive to the eye, the projected images maintain a relatively abstract relation with the sound experience; even though some punctual and repetitive elements in the low register suggest a certain form of periodicity. “Pendulum” can be linked with the spectral music movement as regards its harmonic dimension. It is based on a single and relatively simple spectrum. Yet the apparent simplicity of its harmonic resources invites us to enter into the space of the sound and share its internal life. Both the details of composition as well as the sound treatment in real time succeeded in creating this experience. In a subtle and intelligent way the composer was able to integrate space as one of the work’s essential components. 

“In Symmetrie” by Arash Safaian sounded minimalist, but imprinted with an original personal style. The work divides the instruments into two groups. The piano, which is opposed to the group formed by the violoncello, clarinet, violin and flute, provides the harmonic foundation of the piece with successions of recognizable chords. These chords are played tremolo and most of them progress stepwise. The voices are often out of phase, creating interesting effects of dissonance and harmonic superimposition. These effects are also accentuated by the use of delay in the electronic part. In opposition to the continuous modulations of the piano, the other instruments produce an underlying but constant pulsation, which results from the superimposition of melodic lines or the partition of fragmented melodic lines. The articulations and accents, precisely notated in the score, add a supplementary rhythmic layer to the overall texture. “In Symmetrie”'s formal plan evolves by assigning to each group a trajectory or space within the registers.

Composed on the occasion of 150th anniversary of Claude Debussy's birth, “Dialogismos II” by Nuno Peixoto de Pinho is based on works by other composers, including Claude Debussy, Jorge Peixinho, Wolfgang Mitterer and Mauricio Sotelo. We do not know what unites these composers or which criteria motivated the choice of the works referred to. In any case, Debussy’s prelude for piano “…Des pas sur la neige” form the main thread of “Dialogismos II”. “Dialogismos II” consists of 12 contrasting parts alternating solo and ensemble sections. Within the sections conceived as dialogues between the composers who inspired the work, the ostinato rhythm, which in Debussy’s prelude “should evoke the depth or expanse of a countryside, sad and frozen” (“Ce rythme doit avoir la valeur sonore d'un fond de paysage triste et glacé”), constitutes one of the most noticeable elements. But in “Dialogismos II” it is devoid of its original function for being frequently in the foreground. The last section of the work refers in an even more explicit way to Debussy’s prelude. It begins with an arrangement of the prelude’s last melody, to which Debussy indicated: “Comme un tendre et triste regret”. It is curious that in this transcription for flute, clarinet, violoncello and violin, one note in one of the chords of the accompaniment was changed. Was it intentional? The work ends with a direct quotation, though with electronics, of the last bars of “…Des pas sur la neige”. But the relevance of “Dialogismos II” resides more in the processes of transformation of the materials than in the use of recognizable references.

“Drawing lines” by Henrik Ajax is divided into three movements. The work shows formal clarity, which partly results from the simplicity of the materials used, namely the polarization of the note A or the use of diatonic scales. The opposition between the instruments or groups of instruments is evident and manifests itself through contrasts of textures and registers. The second movement is the most noticeable example of this. The slow and expressive melodic line of the violoncello is set against the rapid and homophonic fragments of the other instruments superimposed as chromatic aggregates. But of all the movements, the third form the main part of “Drawing lines”. At the beginning, it evokes the music of Ligeti, particularly the micro-polyphonic texture of the first movement of the “Kammerkonzert”, by combining the timbres of the flute and clarinet. The polarization of the pedal note A in the lower register gives a static character to the following section, but also contributes to the construction of a process which leads to the work’s climax, a few bars before the end. It is in this dramatization of the formal gesture that “Drawing lines” sustains our interest.

The concert ended with Hugo Ribeiro’s work “et alibi” for flute, clarinet, violin, violoncello, piano and electronics. “et alibi” can be divided into two different moments. The first one presents a succession of small gestures articulated with contrasting chords. It reveals skilful instrumental writing and an acute sense of form. The second one occurs when the instruments become silent and are replaced with musical fragments, as if produced by music boxes. In the superimposition of these fragments one can recognise well known melodies. And “et alibi” ends, not without a sense of humour, after one of the music boxes, alone, lets us hear the final notes of “Happy Birthday to You”. In Portuguese, this final phrase corresponds to the moment in which one sings “a round of applause”.  Certainly, “dear Hugo” fully deserved the round of applause that followed his work.

One cannot conclude without praising the quality and professionalism of the musicians from the Sond’Ar-te Electric Ensemble (Sílvia Cancela, flute; Luís Gomes, clarinet; Suzanna Lidegran, violin; Nelson Ferreira, violoncello; and Joana Gama, piano) who peformed under the secure, precise and inspired direction of Guillaume Bourgogne, as well as praising the Forum for Young Composers of the Sond’Ar-te Electric Ensemble initiative for its importance to the Portuguese contemporary music scene.

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