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Dumitrescu Gervasoni Lachenmann Stoneham
BBC Radio 3 Invitation Concert Jerwood Hall, St Luke's Church, London 13 April 2005

Helmut Lachenmann Mouvement vor der Erstarrung; '...zwei Gefühle...', Musik mit Leonardo'
Stefano Gervasoni Antiterra
Iancu Dumitrescu Au delà de Movemur (II) world premiere
Luke Stoneham Hip to Easter Island

London Sinfonietta/Ilan Volkov Helmut Lachenmann, speaker; Sound Intermedia

A ground-breaking concert given by an augmented London Sinfonietta in London's newest concert hall, and the one with possibly the best acoustics in the capital.

St Luke's, a landmark in Islington, was a redundant Hawksmoor church, a Grade 1 listed building of enormous historical importance; declared unsafe in 1959, after many decades of structural problems - its roof was removed and it was abandoned. Now at long last it is flourishing again as the LSO's state-of-the-art music education centre and as a regular concert venue.

Helmut Lachenmann, represented by two major works, was the main draw - the spacious restored and converted church was full. I was glad to hear his iconoclastic, alienating Movement from the early 1980s, which was framed by the familiar negation of the core sounds of orchestral instruments, giving us instead breathing and tapping etc. In the middle, the music is allowed to grow with loud passages; the aim was 'to break down and discover anew our ways of perception'. His inscrutable later work, with a text by Leonardo Da Vinci, delivered by Lachenmann himself, had the narrator exploring a cave with 'fear of the dark and the desire to see if there was nothing mysterious there'.

Stefano Gervasoni's work delighted us with its timbres drawn from London Sinfonietta's large palette of unusual instruments assembled for the evening. The music, which originated from reading Nabokov, echoed and reverberated evocatively, even though we could not really follow the programme note which talks about 'a boundless Utopia - a land jealously protected by the unknown - Art is deception and so is nature'. Programme notes are often more of a hurdle in contemporary music concerts than the music itself.

Romanian contemporary music is all too little known in UK. A new name for us was the prolific and celebrated (in his own country) composer Iancu Dumitresco (b.1944). His work for seven strings, receiving its world premiere, shimmered with 'swarms of harmonics' produced with special techniques - constantly changing finger pressure and changes of bow position in relation to the bridge, heady stuff based on spectralism. Dumitresco now owns that Giacinto Scelsi, about whom I was one of the first to write in UK (Piano Journal 1986), was a related explorer of the essence of sound, although he only came to know Scelsi's pioneering music later on during his own parallel discoveries - [q.v. Harry Halbreich in Iancu Dumitresco Acousmatic Provoker, ReR Megacorp, pp 147-150, and Brent Fariss below*].

No one will like everything equally in such an event as this. For us Stoneham's piece, titled from 'a Parliament track' and composed for the ensemble [rout]'s 'dysfunctional collection of instruments', was the odd one out, and seemed to belong to a different programme.

The whole enormously demanding concert was steered by Volkov with aplomb and the composers present appeared well satisfied, Dumitresco taking numerous flash photos of the event! Let's hope it will be a beginning for him in UK, not a one-off exposure as can all too easily happen.

Dumitresco CDs

I was glad to be able to broaden my appreciation of this Romanian school (q.v. earlier recommendations of CDs by Doina Rotaru & Horatio Radulescu) through listening to some of Dumitresco's CDs afterwards. It needs more than one work to get into the mind of a radically different composer. On his own label, Edition Modern, the range of Dumitresco's music, some of it 'computer-assisted', and many discs shared with scores by his partner Ana-Maria Avram, one can get onto his wavelength. I found doing so rewarding. The CDs carry many recommendations from contemporary music experts, but they do not offer the programme notes one might expect.

IANCU DUMITRESCU : APOGEUM for orchestra & MEDIUM III for double bass solo (with Fernando GRILLO, double bass) & COGITO / TROMPE L'OEIL for chamber ensemble ( HYPERION Ensemble and F. GRILLO) & PERSPECTIVES AU MOVEMUR string quartet & AULODIE MIORITICA for double bass and orchestra (Fernando GRILLO, Yves PRIN Conductor)

ED MN 1018 has Dumitresco's spectral music for viola and Avram's Incantatio (2003) for viola, percussion and large orchestra.

* Romanian-born lancu Dumitrescu has made some of the most radical developments in the treatment of timbre. Though Dumitrescu is a great admirer of Scelsi, he did not discover him until recently. Dumitrescu has said, It's clear that I largely developed my music in the 1972-1975 period before anyone had heard of Scelsi. You could even say that my music contributed to how Scelsi was listened to when his music first became known in the 198Os. The fact that there are parallels has to be read as an aspect of synchronicity.
Dumitrescu's music is based on the idea of "acousmatics", a Socratic term meaning the intimate exploration of sonic phenomena. Dumitrescu composes by eliminating everything around the instrument and carefully examining the actual sound. Dumitrescu's «Medium III» for solo contrabass is one of the strongest examples of his method of timbral development. The piece is as exploration of harmonics and bow control, focusing on the relationship between micro-structure and macro-structure. Dumitrescu carefully subjects the contrabass to several different styles of sul ponticello and col legno techniques resulting in a constantly evolving timbre throughout the piece.» Brent FARISS - San Francisco

London Sinfonietta's BBC Invitation Concert will be broadcast by R3 on Saturday 18 June, in the Hear&Now contemporary music ghetto slot, at 11pm! Regrettably, listeners will not be able to enjoy the vital visual experience of this music, but for something definitely different, do try to record it, or hear it during the subsequent week on Radio 3's ListenAgain.


© Peter Grahame Woolf