S&H Concert Review

"EuropeAsia" Contemporary Music Festival in Kazan April 2000 (AR)

Seen&Heard is pleased to publish some extracts from an extensive report by American/Russian writer/composer Anton Rovner of a festival held in Kazan. He was with us at the Luxembourg New Music days, and this festival from so remote a part of the world may be of interest to readers in the West. Those excerpts selected concentrate upon musical/theatrical works and performances of music by composers connected with the ISCM meeting in Luxembourg and the pianist in the Gaudeamus "Goldfish Concert" in Amsterdam reported by S&H. PGW (Editor)

Amongst the grandest musical events in Russia this year was the Fourth International Contemporary Music Festival «EuropeAsia», which took place in Kazan, the capital of the autonomous Republic of Tatarstan which, though technically part of the Russian Federation, Tatarstan has had control over its own economy since 1992. As a result Tatarstan has access to money, which has enabled it to establish contact with many Asian and Middle Eastern countries as well as with Europe, and set up some cultural happenings of its own, one of the most prominent the international "EuropeAsia" Festival of contemporary music.

The Tatars, descendants of the Bulgars, who lived on the Volga more than a thousand years ago, are a distinct ethnic group within Russia, with a unique ancient history and culture, as well as strongly found and held Muslim tradition. Many important Russian cultural figures have lived in Kazan or visited for lengthy periods.

The "EuropeAsia" Festival was been established in 1994 by Rashid Kalimoullin, the head of the Composers' Union of the Republic of Tatarstan, a charismatic musician, who has been successful in establishing strong musical connections between Tatarstan and an assortment of European countries, as well as Japan and the United States. The first festival was devoted exclusively to Tatar and Japanese music. Since then the festival has taken place every two years in April and expanded its horizons to include musicians from Europe and the United States. The format has usually been three full days of concerts in Kazan and a limited number of lectures. On the fourth day a selected group of musicians along with Kalimoullin himself travel to perform at one of the adjacent cities, such as Naberezhniye Chelny or Almetyevsk.

Over the years, Kalimoullin had established wide musical contacts and his music has been performed in various music festivals in Moscow, Kiev, Odessa, Chisinau and in various European cities, notably Amsterdam. In April 1998, a number of musicians from the United States came to Kazan and took part in the Third "EuropeAsia" Festival.

For the opening concert on April 14, 2000 the grandiose new Large Concert Hall was packed to the brim. An arrangement by a younger Tatar composer, Shamil Sharifoullin, of "The River of Saidesh's Melodies" by Salikh Saidashev was essentially sweet and sentimental in character, switching to slightly more atonal harmonies over a low bass ostinato towards the end, followed with a return to the initial tonal harmonies at the very end. "Impast" for four percussionists by Chan WingWa of Hong Kong was loud & bombastic, virtuosic, rhythmically busy and ended with a loud theatrical flourish.

American bassoonist/composer Johnny Reinhard, director of the American Festival of Microtonal Music in New York, performed his theatrical solo "Zanzibar", catching the audience's attention by taking the bassoon apart, clapping on a part of it with his hand as if it were a bamboo stick, playing on the fingerboard, and gesturing theatrically - which looked almost like a choreographed dance. A sock and a ping pong ball were both used as mutes for the bassoon and respectively thrown off in a dramatic way, after playing the bluesy main theme. A conglomeration of reeds was used to portray elephant calls. After singing out the main theme toward the end of the piece in the manner of a roaring lion, he finished off the piece in a series of dramatic tremolo flourishes, which was followed by a wild applause.

"Viola" for soprano and viola by Swedish composer Frederik Oesterling was both sung and played by the very artistic Swedish violist Anne Pajunen Lindmann. She started with her back to the audience, playing soft, slow and sparse harmonics, simultaneously singing, almost humming, two or three-note motivic fragments. That gave way to alternating double-stops and regular notes, followed by alternating two-note harmonics with ordinary note double-stops, all of which had a continuously static mood. The main variety produced was that of short incursions of singing by the soloist. Gradually more dynamic and rhythmically varied and agile passages alternated with the regular, static textures. Towards the climax, the violist walked around the stage, sang in a voice resembling a purring cat and played passages in the extreme high range with dramatic textures, all of which gradually dissipated towards the end of a very effective piece.

A world premiere by Kazan composer Alexander Mirgorodsky followed, "Fantasy and Variations on Two Folk Melodies of the Crimean Tatars", performed on the organ by Rubin Abdoullin. It was dynamic, rhythmically and texturally varied and disjunct, and juxtaposed loud and soft dynamics as well as thick and sparse textures. The piece incorporated bluntly tonal, alaBach harmonies, which alternated with chaotically atonal harmonies, as well as all the gradations between these extremes. Thick chordal clusters alternated with thinly textured, quasifugal polyphonic developments. The piece was generally episodic and ended very dramatically with an alternation of grotesque, atonal clusters and a bombastically loud triadic chord.

Rashid Kalimoullin's "Fantasy N.2" for saxophone solo was performed by Pierre Stephane Meugé, a regular participant and favorite of the EuropeAsia Festival. Repetitive sequences and folk elements combined organically with Stravinskian neoclassical textures & traces of European avantgarde stylistic elements. Chromatic weaving in delicate semitone quavers gave way to tonal melodic patterns, while the mood of the piece alternated between the introvertive and the extrovertive.

"Dos a dos" ("Back to back"), Composition for Two Wind Players by Vinko Globokar, performed by Meugé on the saxophone and German trumpet player Lutz Mandler. With the stage lights turned off at the beginning of the piece, the two soloists stood back to back to each other, with flashlights attached to them, playing episodic fragments of a pronouncedly atonal, athematic character. After a while the musicians start walking on stage, creating an impression of a well thoughout choreographed piece and in one section they intermingle their playing with short spoken phrases, creating an effect of a «dialogue»: "If" - "If", "I love you" - "I hate you", "I hate you" - "I love you". This amusing crowd pleaser was performed by the musicians with great candor, zeal, virtuosity and humor.

"Questions" for violin, viola and cello by Tatar composer Rezeda Akhiyarova was premiered by three out of the four members of the «Lumina» String Quartet from the United States: violinist Lynn Bechtold, violist Boris Devyatov and cellist Melissa Westgate. The cellist came out on stage, playing a rhythmically steady eighth-note passage of moderate, "tonal centric" atonality. Then the other two musicians, first the violinist and then the violist alternately came out on stage and respectively start to play in two-tone and one-to-two counterpoint with the cellist. This way, the piece started out by sounding like a Bartok-like fugue, after which the music switched to more Romantic melody and accompaniment textures for a while. At a certain point in the piece, the violinist put on a metronome, which started ticking regularly, and left the stage. The violist and cellist returned to the two-tone contrapuntal passages of the beginning of the piece, after which the violist got up and left the stage, leaving the cellist by herself to finish off the piece with the same rhythmically regular solo passage. After the cellist finished, got up and left the stage, the metronome continued to tick on stage.

Japanese folk musician Kakujo Nakegawa, dressed in an exotic, purple Japanese costume, performed a traditional piece of Japanese folk music.on the biwa, an arrangement made for the instrument by composer Kinshi Tsiruta of the "Dannowura", which recounted a Japanese epic story of 800 years ago, telling of a great battle between two Japanese clans. The music featured sparse nasalsounding textures on the instrument, to which the musician chanted in an epic style with an equally nasal vocal sound, generally presenting highly ornamental melismas around one note. The music, extremely intriguing and inspiring at first, went on somewhat too long and became tedious for many of us. Nevertheless, the audience showed its heartfelt appreciation by cheering and raving wild for a lengthy period.

Folk music guitarist Enver Izmailov, a Crimean Tatar from Simferopol, wearing an exotic Crimean Tatar hat, presented a very extravagant figure on stage. His performance, featuring a wide assortment of arranged folk music for guitar, was titled as "Crimea Album" and it featured a number of pieces, most of which he called out the names of from the stage. He started with rhythmically emphasized pentatonic passages, which gradually acquired almost ostinato percussive patterns, with repetitions and sequences of rhythmic and limited harmonic cells, followed by extravagant layerings of rhythmic patterns, in the manner of Steve Reich's «Piano Phase». Each of his musical numbers was followed by wild, enthusiastic applause, shouting and whistling from the audience and demands for more.

Johnny Reinhard was an important presence during the festival. He presented a world premiere of his new bassoon piece "Ultra", totally different from "Zanzibar"heard earlier. Starting with key clapping and playing a low note for a long of time, the composition went on to combine lyrical, melodic qualities with a quizzically sounding sparse textural approach, making up a much more introvertive type of piece. It was performed with Reinhard's unsurpassible originality, virtuosity and innate theatricality - present in even such special tricks as turning right round while flutter tonguing on a low note.

Reinhard followed his composition with an improvisation, featuring his unlimited fantasy for novel musical effects. The improvisation started with emitting squealing sounds from the mouthpiece, followed by clapping on the fingerboard and, most effectively, putting a vacuum cleaner tube into the top part of his bassoon, producing a sound resembling a doublebass. After a while he produced an additional theatrical effect by shaking himself along with his bassoon while playing, causing the tube to rotate, which evoked great amounts of appreciative laughter from the audience. This dramatic flourish of sound with intermingled with a few subdued, introvertive sound passages, played both by means of flutter tonguing and ordinary playing. While essentially formless in terms of any coherent structure, this improvisation provided a great deal of effective theatricality and dramatic zest, which the audience greatly enjoyed.

Joshua Pierce from New York featured "Three Page Sonata" written by Charles Ives in 1915 and John Cage's "Daughters of a Lonesome Island" (1945) for prepared piano, with a busy, steady rhythmic textural pattern, exotic gamelan like, percussive effects and at the same time lyrical and emotional. Pierce successfully brought out the experimental, modernist and the traditional, expressive qualities of the piece. Johnny Reinhard with Joshua Pierce performed on bassoon and piano "Meditation on Two Themes from the Day of Existence" originally for cello and piano, by Russian composer Ivan Wyschnegradsky, one of the microtonal pioneers. It alternated a spirited, exalted mood with more lyrical, almost tragic, elements, employing quartertones and sixthtones for the cello and, subsequently, the bassoon. The performance of the piece by Reinhard and Pierce, possibly one of the first in Russia, was unsurpassably virtuosic manner and inspiring.

The evening concert in the Large Concert Hall combined the genres of small solo and chamber works with large, orchestral compositions. It started with Anne Pajunen Lindmann singing the extravagant "Aria" by Cage. The piece, meant to convey sounds produced from sleep and dreaming, contained a wide assortment of unusual sound effects and extended techniques, featuring a wide array of words from many different languages, as well as such extended effects as hissing, whispering, screaming and producing many other humorously extravagant noises, creating an effect of an extended circus. Ms. Lindmann brought out the piece's extravagant qualities and humorous theatrical effects, all of which were greatly appreciated by the audience.

"Batuque" for seven percussion instruments by Marcel Wengler  (left) of Luxembourg was a very extravagant, robustly loud, rhythmically pungent piece, presenting a lot of noise and vigor, which nevertheless held the balance very well and did not overdo the percussive effect. It started with exclusively nonpitched instruments, later adding pitched instruments such as bells, vibraphone. The initial noisy music was followed by quieter dynamics, though the rhythms remained regularly fast and rigorous. The piece presented great textural variety and imagination, rhythmic vigor and an exquisite musical taste, not to mention a charming sense of humor. [Editions LGNM 541 (Portrait Marcel Wengler)] ***

"Doppelbelichtung Seelensturze" ("Double storms of the soul") for trumpet solo by Karl Wieland Kurtz from Germany was performed by German trumpet player Lutz Mandler. This was a tragicomical portrayal of a suffering clown, who tries to do different things and continuously comes up with disaster and failure. It was an athematic, avantgarde piece, with an overall emotionally dramatic mood and a big variety of contrasting textures and extended techniques, including playing in the mouthpiece separately, creating a whistling sound, stamping feet, breathing and singing into the trumpet (in one place even coughing into the trumpet). In one place the player bent down and played noises sounding like gargling, as if he was throwing up. Throughout the piece, notwithstanding the effects the dramatic athematicism continued, getting quite loud and screaming at times with plenty of feet stamping.

Another piece of Japanese extravaganza, namely "Mutako" (Cranes) by Samei Sapo of Japan for the traditional ethnic instruments was performed by Kakujo Nakegawa on the biwa and Akikazu Nakamura on the sukukhati. It was very quiet and delicate, pointillistic music, which was barely audible, despite the fact that the musicians asked for the ventilator to be turned off during the performance. It started with the biwa playing what sounded like extremely Western avantgarde type of music. After a while, the sukukhati entered with its froggy sound, playing extremely slow and soft music. One could sense that time itself had become very extended for the two instrumentalists. Towards the second half of the piece the music switched from avantgarde techniques to more mainstream type of Japanese traditional music.

At a huge Gala concert in the Large Concert Hall, the first piece on the program was "Doubleholiday" for piano by American Meredith Monk, performed by Japanese pianist Tomoko Mukaiyama, who has lived in Holland for many years. This was a minimalist piece of a very absurdist and dadaist character. The pianist started singing a minor pentatonic tune, then bringing in the piano "accompaniment" of a simpleminded character, starting with onevoice and gradually expanding to thicker piano textures. Throughout the piece, essentially one harmonic diatonic pattern was repeated, though the textures were continuously varied and expanded. The pianist sang throughout the piece in a very casual singplay manner. Her voice was fluctuating from a humming to an almost laughing quality, and from a silly children's song to a grotesque quality of a crazy lady singing. At times the pianist shook and rolled her head around in a quizzical manner, adding to the "crazy" quality of the piece, which was a very amusing and extravagant way to start a huge gala concert.

The world premiere of Rashid Kalimoullin's Duet for two saxophones was given by Alexei Volkov and PierreStephane Meugé. It was a lively linear and polyphonically elaborate piece, successfully combining a pronounced modal language with vibrant 20th century techniques, and contained a dramatic type of lyricism. At times the music seemed to parody Bach's twopart inventions, after which the music switched to vibrant trills, tremolos and snippets of stylizations of Tatar folk music.

"Omneus tempo habeat" for solo soprano by the famous Swedish composer Arne Mellnaes (who is presently the President of ISCM), a text setting of the Ecclesiastes from the Bible, was sung by soprano Anne Pajunen Lindmann. It was a lyrical atonal piece, freely utilizing the unaccompanied soprano, though containing some remote allusions to church music traditions, namely Gregorian chant, which did not upset the piece's avantgarde qualities. It also contained effects bordering on sprechstimme, as well as vocal glissando, not to mention theatrically articulated staccatti, occasional bouncy rhythms as well as echo effects of repeating a sung phrase slower and softer when singing it the second time. It was a very effective, colorful and theatrical piece, which contained remote resemblance to Berio's "Sequenza" for solo voice in its abundance of extended techniques, though still being more lyrical, expressive and "humane" than the latter.

"Lupu yu" by Romanian composer Violetta Dinescu was performed by Elena Ergiev on the violin and Ivan Ergiev on the bayan. It was a lyrical type of avantgarde piece with sparse, fragmented segments, which nevertheless combined to produce a unified musical entity. The moderate usage of extended techniques in both instruments complemented the lyrical quality of the piece in a tasteful manner. The bayan sounded at times both like an organ and an electronic synthesizer, which was probably intended.

The final concert of the festival took place in the Concert Hall of the Nizhnekamsk Music College in a smaller city in Tatarstan, one of the centers of oil business of the Republic of Tatarstan. A select group led by Kalimoullin went on a big bus, which drove for about six hour before we reached Nizhnekamsk, unlike Kazan an architecturally ugly town, built in the typical contemporary Soviet style, except for a very impressive huge modern mosque. The concert was attended for the most part by the students and faculty members of the college, as well as by the sponsors of the oil companies.

A world premiere of "Johnny Spielt Auf" for solo bassoon, written by the writer of this report, was performed by Johnny Reinhard, to whom it was dedicated. The piece, which contained a fair share of microtones and a few theatrical gestures, such as singing by the bassoonist, playing on the keys of the instruments, and doing a theatrical gesture of the performer's own choice, was masterfully performed by Reinhard, who met all the technical challenges of the piece and artistically brought out both the lyrical qualities and the theatrical gestures of the piece. Unfortunately the college students of Nizhnekamsk, who had never before heard this kind of contemporary music with extended techniques and theatrical gestures, expressed their appreciation of the piece in a somewhat uncivilized manner by cheering and applauding in the middle of it and laughing at some of the overtly comical sections of the piece, particularly the singing and the place at the end, where Reinhard undid the top part of his bassoon and then looked at it as through binoculars, then took off his glasses, raised them over his head and looked at them from below. In a couple of places the laughter and cheering of the teenage students went louder than the piece itself. After the concert it took some effort by Reinhard to convince the writer that he shouldn't be upset at this interference of these unruly students, and that in reality it marked the success of the piece with the audience.

Next, Johnny Reinhard performed his own "Dune" for solo bassoon, which, written on the theme of a science fiction novel by Frank Herbert, displayed an assortment of new techniques for the instruments and used these techniques in an expressive way, governed by a wellbuilt form. The performance of the piece was just as brilliant as that of the previous piece and just as wellreceived by the audience, who this time behaved better and expressed their appreciation after the performance and not during it.

Japanese pianist Tomoko Mukaiyama, who lives in Holland, performed "Tuweel" (or "Velvet") by the Dutch composer Toek Nyman. This was an energetic, virtuosic piece, which utilized greatly an assortment of heavily percussive rhythms and vibrant neoclassical textures, modernized in a typical Dutch manner with more forwardlooking textural elements. A great portion of the beginning of the piece involved a very percussive-type repetition of one chord (to which the unruly uneducated college students clapped along for a while), while the end of the piece was quieter, more sparse and involved a subdued chorale texture.

Rashid Kalimoullin's Fantasy N.2 for solo clarinet was performed by American clarinetist Philip Bashor. It was a moderately lyrical, modal piece, starting with a distinct melodic segment of a folkmusic type of contour, which was then sequentially repeated and then elaborately developed in a very harmonious manner. The frequent sequential repetitions brought a certain amount of dramatic intensity to the piece and helped sustain its overall lyrical mood.

Just as a few of the previous concerts, this concert ended with another performance by Enver Izmailov on the electric guitar, who entertained the audience with his brilliant performance of a whole assortment of ethnic and folk music of various nationalities, bringing in elements of jazz, blues and even rock. His playing included some overtly extended techniques for the instruments including some virtuosic nonpitched percussive effects as well as a few distinctly comical effects, such as almost literal imitations of airplanes, cats, cows, sheep and pigs in one number called "The Kolkhoz (collective farm) named after Lenin", both the title of which and the comical effects of which greatly amused the audience, which cheered, yelled, whistled and raved after each number. His performance brought the concert and the whole festival to a triumphant conclusion.

After the concert the performers were pleasantly overwhelmed by a large number of very pretty girls all of whom were students of the Nizhnekamsk, who were coming up to the performers, swarming around them and asking for them to sign their autographs. The festival was very successful in bringing together a wide variety of highly qualified musicians from Europe, USA and Japan, and to connect them with a host of others from Tatarstan, Russia and the Ukraine, altogether creating a truly international, interstylistic and intercontinental musical endeavor.

Anton Rovner

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