S&H review

International Masterclass in 20th Century Composition and Music Week (PGW)
Luis de Pablo, George Crumb, Sigfried Mauser, Peter Grahame Woolf, OENM, Salzburg/Gabriella de Esteban Bilbao, 2-6 July 2001

The City of Bilbao promoted a multilingual week of contemporary music study and concerts in honour of Luis de Pablo, who taught young composers each morning. In the afternoons there were lectures. Prof. Sigfried Mauser from Munich discussed the development of Schoenberg's method of composing with twelve notes; Peter Grahame Woolf gave a personal and idiosyncratic overview of some later 20 C composers important to him during his half century's experience and involvement with contemporary music, playing, teaching, record producing and writing, particularly about those composers encountered whilst editing Seen&Heard. George Crumb and Luis de Pablo discussed and analysed some of their own scores.

The evening concerts, given in a magnificently ornate medium sized hall with perfect acoustics, covered music by Stravinsky, Webern, Berio (Sequenza, Pilar Jurado , soprano), Stockhausen and Dallapiccola, and there were monographic programmes of music by the two featured composers, who were present throughout the week for wide ranging discussions with the composition students. The standard of preparation and performance was extremely high, with several accomplished local musicians participating, and the brunt of the demanding programmes entrusted to an orchestra of new music specialists associated with the Salzburg Mozarteum, all under the general direction of their Spanish-born conductor, long resident in Salzburg, Gabriella de Esteban.

De Pablo was represented by several duos and solos, and two larger ensemble works, Metaforas and Eros. There was an illuminating contrast between those and the amplified music of George Crumb (Gnomic Variations, Music for a Summer Evening & his classic string quartet Black Angels ) which demanded meticulous setting up (close to a conflagration when the fuses of the venerable Bilbao library blew during a nocturnal rehearsal!) All this music depended equally upon new and subtle sound combinations as on musical argument. For an experiment, Black Angels was played on electric string instruments (the cellist put his head right though his at one point when he had to simulate a viol) and I doubt if such sounds had been heard in the hallowed surroundings of the Bilbao Library's concert hall before. Their strident tone did not please everyone and the members of the OENM String Quartet certainly had reservations about using them.

The whole week, a new venture for a city which has a flourishing arts programme, was a great success with which it was a privilege to be associated, and it was hoped that it will pave the way for regular new music events in Bilbao.

Beforehand, we had anticipated that Bilbao might prove to be a rather dull, commercial city, apart from the extraordinary new Guggenheim Museum, its chief claim to fame. Don't you believe it! Nothing could have been more wrong. It is a delightful city in which to spend a week, with several other excellent museums and galleries, an attractive, photogenic Old Town and the seaside quite near, reached on an efficient Metro railway. For achievements in contemporary architecture, London's ill-fated Dome and wobbly Millennium Bridge can bear no comparison with an exceptionally beautiful new footbridge across the River Nervion and Bilbao's spectacular and airy new airport building, both by the Spanish architect Calatrava.

Peter Grahame Woolf

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