The best thing I heard all day was the first thing I heard. French composer Karol Beffa presented a piece Octopus (?) by the Ensemble Oct’opus (I think – the program wasn’t clear and the proceedings were all in French). But what a cool piece! It was for 10 saxophonists so why it was all called “Octopus” was beyond me. The piece was pretty much along the ‘post-minimal’ vein with lots of repeated, but varied figures that built in intensity, including a gradual accelerando and crescendo.
But then I pretty much burnt out on the rest of day’s music. Following the first session, I attended a premiere of Canadian composer Nicolas Scherzinger’s Three Very Mad Tenors, featuring three tenor saxophonists, including Vancouver’s Julia Nolan, and computer-generated sounds. I thought this was a fairly cool piece. The tiredness was setting in though.
I guess the thing I’m finding most is that what I’ve heard at the Congress so far is by far dominated by music that could be characterized as textural, gestural and relying a lot on highly repetitive strident sounds or “noise”. I’m totally okay with these approaches but when it’s pretty much all you hear, then it gets a bit old.
I was excited to attend a 1:30pm concert in which two ensembles, Proxima Centauri and Strasbourg Linea, would collaborate to present a total of eight new premieres (over two shows) of works by international composers for solo saxophone and a chamber ensemble of varying instrumentation. It got off to a really bad start. Honestly. I didn’t even clap for the first piece. And I never refrain from clapping! I don’t know what it was. The soloist promised something awesome because his first note was a perfect crescendo from nothing but then it sounded like he played the whole piece out of tune or something. Or maybe it was the French horn player who sounded out of tune. In fact, it sounded as if there were multiple keys going on simultaneously. Again, I’m not opposed to this technique but to hear eight minutes of it… no thanks. To top it all off, although the conductor was conducting in a pulse for the most part, it was impossible to feel a beat. AGAIN, this is okay for a while, since it really builds tension. BUT… well, you get my drift. The second piece had a lot of redeeming qualities, not the least of which was the musicians playing in the same ball park, so to speak. Also, the soloist was an amazing player. Less of the noise stuff – though there were some multiphonics – it just seemed like it was tasteful. I didn’t like the third piece much. Way too much repetition! The fourth piece was quite cool. There was a lot of noise but there were also some beats and grooves. And there were some interesting electronic parts added to the mix. By this time though I was getting really tired.
I went back for a second dose at 4:00pm. This half I didn’t much like at all. Just more of the same noise-noise-hack-hack-slap tongue bullshit. I applauded all their efforts but I just became sick of it. Where’s the melodies? Where’s the interesting but trackable (and feel-able) rhythms? Where are the interesting harmonies? Because I don’t want humdrum classical triad crap either. I want some musical meat. But this was way too much for me and I was bummed out after. Truly. Remember I’ve heard three days worth of this kind of stuff, among other and better things, of course. Is this where contemporary music is? Do I have to write this shit to survive?
Don’t get me wrong. We do some crazy stuff in the untitled improv group. I like to invoke chaos from time to time. But there’s gotta be a balance. In most of the pieces, I heard, there is no balance. It’s as if I directed each member of an ensemble to play a different, crazy improvised figure and keep doing it for a whole piece. Anyway, I’ll stop ranting now.