Tribuna Musical: Schönberg and Ferneyhough, a century of avantgarde

Tribuna Musical: jueves, mayo 12, 2016
Schönberg and Ferneyhough, a century of avantgarde
Colón Contemporáneo is a feature incorporated by Pedro Pablo García Caffi during his tenure at the Colón and it has been maintained by the current Artistic Director Darío Lopérfido. From the beginning its director has been Martín Bauer, in charge since its inception two decades ago of the November contemporary music programming at the Teatro San Martín as main venue. In fact, in recent years some events that demand an orchestra have been under the auspices of both theatres.

            Bauer has always shown a marked inclination for the avantgarde to the detriment of other worthwhile trends; even so, there are marked differences between those whose aim is to explore new boundaries but based on solid  principles and those that merely want to disrupt and “épater le bourgeois”.  Reviewers take sides; mine has always been the first category and I reject sometimes strongly the second. Bauer reveres Feldman, Cage and Sciarrino, I don´t; but people like Schönberg, Stravinsky or Ligeti have really advanced the history of music in a positive (though controversial) way.

            The preceding paragraph is by way of prologue to what for me was a revealing and important concert: the Arditti Quartet, founded in 1974 by its first violin Irvine Arditti, has become the very symbol of contemporary quartet music. They have premièred hundreds of scores and recorded two hundred CDs. Bauer of course has invited them three times before, always with admirable results, but probably their most revealing recital has been this year´s (their second presentation at the Colón).

            Although Colón Contemporáneo started in March with Goebbels´ strange experiment “Stifters Dinge”, the true musical start is with the Arditti. For their programming this time was as intriguing as it proved fruitful.  Both Arnold Schönberg and Brian Ferneyhough did avantgarde in their own time and the quartets we heard are separated by close to eighty years. But another thing unites them: both did a rare thing, a quartet combined with a voice (there are few other instances; I remember Respighi´s “Il tramonto” and Barber´s “Dover Beach”).

            And that brought the magnificent local debut of soprano Claron McFadden, an artist capable of singing stratospheric roles (Berg´s “Lulu” and Strauss´ Zerbinetta in “Ariadne auf Naxos”).  Also, the  fact that Ferneyhough, long championed by the Arditti, came to our city and offered the same day a lengthy lecture at the Colón´s Salón Dorado (he was present at the concert).

            Arditti, now a veteran, showed no decline, and was partnered with stunning efficacy by Ashot Sarkissjan (second violin), Ralf Ehlers (viola; not Elhers as wrongly printed in the hand programme) and Lucas Fels (cello).

            We heard the premières (not so stated but they are) of Ferneyhough´s Quartets Nº3 (1987) and Nº 4 (1990), text by Jackson MacLow on the “Canto LXXII” by Ezra Pound. Ferneyhough, born in Coventry (1943), has written music “born of total serialism, combining a complex interweaving with an instrumental virtuosity to the edge of possibility” (hand programme´s biography). It´s what many define as “new complexity”.

            Ferneyhough (also in the hand programme) describes the chosen scores thus (abbreviated here).  Quartet Nº 3: “The First movement pictures an autistic world inhabited by isolated fragments and unmotivated sudden impulses. The Second is a torrent of irate images;…three strata of processes are played at the same time”.

            Quartet Nº4: “The texts are deconstructions of Cantos by Pound done by MacLow…Words become isolated syllables…(There is an) alienation of the texts. In the second movement the voice depends on the quartet´s textures; in the fourth (there are) two incompatible discourses rarely superimposed”. I would add that I felt a strong influence of Berio´s  Sequenza III for human voice alone. As to the instrumental movements: “the First tries with no success to create a linear discourse; the Second is a kaleidoscopic experience permutating and yuxtaposing loose figurations”.

            Schönberg´s Second Quartet is an essential work in history: finished in 1908, on poems by the talented Stefan George (unaccountably omitted in the hand programme: they are fundamental to understand this masterpiece), when the soprano sings “Ich fühle Luft von anderen Planeten” (“I feel air from  other planets”) indeed she does: it is the first atonal music ever written! The instrumental movements are of very advanced chromaticism but not quite atonal.

            McFadden was fantastic; born in 1961 (New York), her vocal means are intact. In Ferneyhough she matched Cathy Berberian (Berio´s wife) and in Schönberg showed the same stylish penetration as Evelyn Lear´s famous recording, but always with her own personal touch of singular magnetism and technical perfection. The symbiosis with the Arditti Quartet was ideal. A great night. The audience was sparse but enthusiastic.

For Buenos Aires Herald

Tribuna Musical: Schönberg and Ferneyhough, a century of avantgarde

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