Magazine article Musical Times

East Meets West

Magazine article Musical Times

East Meets West

Article excerpt

New Music in Germany Various Performers

Munich, Leipzig, Stuttgart, Wittener

The Press Release for the sixth Munchener Biennale, Peter Ruzicka, the Artistic Director, suggests that the failure of postmodernism will lead to a new kind of modernism, based on a deeper understanding of Oriental cultures. His observations are based on the fact that two of the music-theatre works presented in this year's cycle are by composers born in India and Japan, but they also reflect a trend towards a more international outlook which has been developing within German-speaking areas for several years. Orchestras contain an increasing number of instrumentalists from the Far East, and some of these have built successful solo careers, specialising in new music. Composition students from the region are also becoming more prevalent, contributing to a growing dialogue between an aesthetic based on the tenets of postwar Central European modernism and an Oriental sensibility. Similarly, composers from South America and Eastern Europe, working in Germany, have exerted a significant influence. Moreover, even the most committed exponents of traditional modernism have assimilated ideas from non-western cultures. Stockhausen's enthusiasm for Japanese culture informs several works. Lachenmann's profound understanding of the sho has enabled him to expand European modernism into a new dimension in the final scenes of Das Madchen mit den Schwefelholzern. Likewise, Klaus Huber has been influenced by Far Eastern, and Middle Eastern cultures, while Gerhard Stabler and Nikolaus A. Huber have absorbed influences from different parts of the world.

These examples exemplify Ruzicka's remarks which are also supported by the range of new music available to German audiences during the early months of 1998. The Ex-Negativo Festival in Berlin included concerts of recent British and Italian music. The highlight was a recital of British string trios by Trio Recherche. A brief trio by Cornelius Cardew from the early 1960s recalled one of the first attempts by a British composer to establish common cause with the European avant-garde, while the more recent and substantial items by James Dillon and Brian Ferneyhough showed that at least some British composers retain links with the mainstream of European modernism.

Younger Italian composers also maintain a dialogue with modernist trends, at least partly through their contacts with German ensembles, notably Ensemble Recherche. Pierluigi Billone, Giulio Castagnoli and Mario Garuti were among those featured at Ex-Negativo, but Salvatore Sciarrino's Lo spazio inverso was the most arresting piece. Also in January, Stockhausen conducted Inori as part of the 1997-98 Musica Viva season in Munich. The work made a powerful impression, confirming its status as one of Stockhausen's major achievements of the 1970s.

Roman Haubenstock-Ramati was also at the height of his powers in the 1950s and 1960s, and a concert in Leipzig by Ensemble Avant-Garde, conducted by Beat Furrer - a HaubenstockRamati pupil - suggested that the variety and ingenuity of his output has never been fully appreciated. The programme comprised several ensemble works including one with voice, plus two versions of a solo piece for marimba or vibraphone, mainly from the latter half of his career. The highlight was his String Quartet, which should be considered by any quartet specialising in 20th-century repertoire.

The first major German contemporary music festival this year was Eclat in Stuttgart in early February. It was only possible to attend a few weekend events, but Eclat lasted six days, covering multi-media presentations and installations in addition to more conventional concerts. One of the major events was a 'portrait' concert devoted to Peter Ruzicka, which contrasted two relatively familiar sets of brief orchestral pieces with his third and fourth string quartets, plus a new orchestral song-cycle. Ruzicka is exploring different forms of vocal writing in preparation for his forthcoming opera, on the life and work of Paul Celan. …

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