Thursday, December 9, 2010

Homage to Arvo Pärt - Pari intervallo | Auditorium Parco della Musica | 8 December, 2010

Vox Clamantis, Cello8ctet Amsterdam and the Parco della Musica Contemporanea Ensemble

Arvo Pärt
The Auditorium Parco della Musica began 2010 with a week long series of events in January dedicated to the Estonian classical music composer Arvo Pärt entitled Diario dell'anima to celebrate his 75th year. Yesterday evening, another concert - Pari intervallo – closed the cycle with a world premiere of music from his latest recording for the ECM label.

Throughout his career Pärt has often revisited his own earlier compositions and created new versions, scored for different instruments giving the pieces an entirely different and sometimes surprising feel, and yesterday's intimate evening in Sala Petrassi showcased several recent variations. The Parco della Musica Contemporanea Ensemble opened the concert with an exquisite version of Für Alina performed by Oscar Pizzo on the piano and flautist Manuel Zurria playing an extremely unusual instrument, but one which lent itself beautifully to Pärt's tintinnabuli style – a set of tuned wine glasses. Zurria would return later on during the concert to play the flute part in a new version of Estländler and a third time, with another less conventional instrument - a set of tuned bottles, played as a wind instrument - in a mesmerizing version of Pari Intervallo. In this, the title composition of the evening, he was once again joined by Pizzo on the piano using Mauro Bagella's P.O.P.System (Piano Overtones Production System) where the piano had been “programmed” as it were, in order to modify pitch and timbre depending on the harmonic sounds. The piano lid, in fact, was raised to reveal a complicated series of rods attached to the strings. Percussionist Fulvia Ricevuto added one final, yet essential ingredient to this piece – the rolling hypnotic sound of the bass marimba.

Pärt is strongly associated with holy minimalist music inspired by Gregorian chants and the group Vox Clamantis, a world famous Estonian vocal group, who perform early polyphony and contemporary minimalist music, were absolutely stunning during the sacred songs, such as the utterly captivating Most Holy Mother of God. He has also composed extensively for the cello and last night the vocalists were joined on stage by Cello8ctet Amsterdam, an eight piece cello ensemble, for two of the sacred pieces - Alleluia-Tropus and the enthralling concert closer Da Pacem Domine. It was an absolute joy to hear Summa, one of Arvo Pärt's most elegantly beautiful compositions, twice last night – once by the cello ensemble and later by two male and two female voices from Vox Clamantis (it was originally written in 1978 for four solo voices).

The performers received rapturous applause at the close of the evening and returned for what was genuine “encore” – a repeat performance of Alleluia-Tropus.

A wonderful concert!

Programme

Für Alina (new version)
Alleluia-Tropus (for voices and cellos)
Summa (for cellos)
And One of the Pharisees (for voices)
Missa brevis (Italian debut – for cellos)
Estländler (new version)
Summa (for voices)
O-Antiphonen (for cellos)
Most Holy Mother of God (Italian debut – for voices)
Pari Intervallo (new version for piano, tuned bottles and bass marimba)
Da Pacem Domine (for voices and cellos)

Monday, December 6, 2010

Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra | Auditorium Parco della Musica | 5 December, 2010

Yu Long conducting, with violinist Ning Feng, soprano Xu Xiaoying and baritone Yuan Chenye

The Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra, one of China's most important and critically respected orchestras, was in Rome yesterday, playing to a enthusiastic late afternoon audience in Santa Cecilia at the Auditorium Parco della Musica. The third appointment in the Italian leg of its current European tour, which also saw performances at Teatro La Fenice in Venice on 29 November and Teatro Verdi in Florence on the first of this month, the concert was one of the first in a series of events to mark the start of the Chinese Culture Year in Italy and the 40th anniversary of the establishment of Sino-Italian diplomatic ties on 6 November 1970.

Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra - Photo © SantaCecilia.it
The two halves of the concert were perfectly balanced between classical Western music and contemporary Chinese classical music. Violin virtuoso Ning Feng thrilled us with a display of not only technical brilliance, but pure passion, during Tchaikovsky's astoundingly difficult Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35. Concert protocol was thrown out of the window between movements and there was loud spontaneous applause from a sizeable portion of the public, which both conductor Yu Long and Ning Feng graciously acknowledged with a nod (and a refreshing lack of snobbery). As the closing notes of the third movement finished, the applause and cheers of bravo were thunderous, with Ning Feng called back on stage for a solo violin encore – a dazzling performance of Paganini 's Variations on God Save the King. As the winner of not only the first prize, but also two other special prizes at the 51st Paganini International Violin Competition in Genova several years ago, Paganini was the perfect way to end a faultless performance.

After a short break, the orchestra was back on stage, but there was no sense of the programme being merely rounded out, as is sometimes the case after a splendid soloist. Instead, in part two, the orchestra was joined by soprano Xu Xiaoying and baritone Yuan Chenye for a mesmerizing performance from both singers of The Song of the Earth, composed in 2005 by Ye Xiaogang, whose Starry Sky was played by Lang Lang at the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics in 2008. A Chinese version of Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde, The Song of the Earth takes the same Chinese poems by Li Bai that Mahler had used in German translation and instead uses them in their original Chinese language, also incorporating traditional Chinese instruments and the vocal sounds of Chinese opera into the score. I was, quite literally, enthralled by the crystalline beauty of Xu Xiaoying's voice and the warmth and expressiveness of Yuan Chenye's baritone.

After rapturous applause at the close of the piece, Yu Long signaled to somebody sitting in the audience, who turned out to be none other than composer Ye Xiaogang himself, who was called up on stage to take the final bows with the singers and the Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra. A wonderful evening!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Laurie Anderson – Delusion | Auditorium Parco della Musica | 2 December, 2010

When Laurie Anderson last performed in Rome three years ago, she brought with her what was then a work in progress – Homeland – a sometimes cynical, often darkly humorous portrait of America in the 21st century. Much of the material performed in that show finally appeared in one form or another on her latest (and stunning) CD of the same name, which was released earlier this year. The opening strains of Transitory Life from Homeland, followed by Another Day in America, narrated by Anderson's male-voiced alter ego Fenway Bergamot, are used to bridge the gap between that earlier work, with its undeniable political overtones and comments on broad social issues, and her newest work, Delusion, a far more intimate journey into the world of dreams, family and personal loss.

Whilst Homeland was a somewhat sparse affair on stage, Delusion is a fully interdisciplinary work – additional audio effects such as pouring rain and video projections onto a large screen and two smaller ones showing falling leaves, the surface of the moon, animated chalkboard drawings, dandelions, as well as occasional close ups of Laurie Anderson herself – are perfectly integrated with the music, whilst the artist herself stands mostly at the control keyboards, but sometimes, fostering greater complicity and intimacy, she moves centre stage to sit on sofa before delivering one of her monologues.

In recent interviews Anderson has talked about the fact that she has been asleep, quite literally, for twenty years of her life, and Delusion takes a closer look at that other state of being, recounting dreams and the uncontrollable craziness of the subconscious – when we are delusional, as it were. In one story, for example - recounted in Italian for the Rome show - she recalls a dream in which she gives birth to her pet rat terrier! Many more of the delusions in this performance are the stories we tell ourselves in our waking state – family histories and distortions of the truth. I adored one story in particular, in which she tells of meeting a farmer in Iceland, who lives in the midst of an utterly flat and desolate landscape, yet who wants to convert his barn into a dance hall, convinced that people, and even elves, will come from all around to dance there! This wryly humorous piece then meanders down a more personal root to musings about her father and his own similar delusions, and reflections on her probable Swedish and Irish ancestry. The devastating heart of the show, however, is the story of the death of Laurie Anderson's mother. Whilst her dying mother's words are jumbled and delusional, the artist's inability to fully mourn the mother she couldn't love rings painfully true.

As the final notes faded and the words “Thank you” indicated that the performance had ended, there was a moment's pause before the applause began – people were still absorbing this absolute masterpiece! And then the applause began and got steadily louder and the audience got to its feet bringing her back out for an encore, for which she chose Flow, the exquisite violin solo which also closes Homeland. We had come full circle.

Delusion by Laurie Anderson was performed in Rome as part of the 25th edition of the Romaeuropa Festival and It's Wonderful 2010. It was first commissioned by the Vancouver 2010 Cultural Olympiad and the Barbican Centre, London.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

An encounter with Christo at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni

Christo signing autographs in Rome
Whilst the Auditorium Parco della Musica may have stolen my heart as top music venue in the city, the Palazzo delle Esposizioni continues to woo me for the top spot of Rome's best exhibition space! Yesterday evening's event – an encounter with the artist Christo, back in Rome some thirty-six years after wrapping Porta Pinciana in January 1974 – once again demonstrated the calibre and importance of this arts centre. I fell in love with the work of Christo and Jeanne-Claude when I first saw the wonderful documentary Running Fence as an art student many years ago, so I was thrilled to have the chance to see the man in person.

Speaking to a packed room, with an encouraging number of young people making up a large part of the enthusiastic audience, Christo began the talk with the very sad news that his wife Jeanne-Claude, had died just over a year ago. His partner in life and art for over forty years – they even shared the same date of birth on 13 June, 1935 – Jeanne-Claude may no longer be with us physically, but her collaboration with Christo was clearly intrinsic to the realisation of all their works and he proceeded, rather movingly, to speak of her only in the present tense during the entire evening.

In what turned out to be an exhaustive review of almost their entire creative output, Christo then gave an illustrated talk with over eighty slides looking at their temporary past projects such as the world famous Wrapped Reichstag in Berlin, the breathtaking Wrapped Coast in Little Bay, Australia, as well as more recently completed urban installations such as the poetic The Gates in Central Park, New York City. The main purpose of the talk, however, was to take a closer look at two artworks in progress - Over The River: Project for the Arkansas River, State of Colorado, consisting of fabric panels suspended horizontally and following the changing course of the river, slated for a period of two consecutive weeks in August 2014 (permission pending) and The Mastaba: Project for United Arab Emirates, a work of art made of approximately 410,000 horizontally stacked oil barrels standing taller than ever the highest pyramid. Both projects have already been in the planning stages for years (in the case of Mastaba, for decades) and serve to demonstrate the sheer immensity of work, the years of dogged determination and patient negotiations involved, in the preparation and planning of any one of Christo and Jeanne-Claude's previous works.

As Christo explained in what was both a lengthy and lively question and answer session after the talk, this preparative period is necessarily part and parcel of the the entire work and does not detract from the final result. Some elements, he explained, such as the choice of which colours to use, were the result of testing and experimenting on scale models in situ and were decided relatively late in the development stages. In The Umbrellas, Joint Project for Japan and USA, for example, the choices of blue for Japan and yellow for USA, were linked very much to the climate and surrounding landscape of the respective sites in Ibaraki and California .

Signed by Christo!
What was most striking about Christo during this more spontaneous part of the evening, was his willingness to answer in great detail and with total transparency questions from which other artists might shy away, such as how he manages to finance mammoth projects costing tens of millions of dollars. All projects are entirely self-financed through the sale of the studies, preparatory drawings, collages, scale models, early works, and original lithographs, with Christo and Jeanne-Claude having always acted as their own art dealers. Their business acumen, in fact, so impressed the Harvard Business Review that they published a case study looking at how they have managed to finance such spectacular multi-million dollar projects. There were three topics he would not answer questions about, however, as he announced with a smile at the beginning of the evening – religion, politics and other artists!

Generous to a fault, Christo stayed behind after the event to sign catalogues or posters with a distinctive blue pencil – a wonderful souvenir of a very special occasion.

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