Łukasz Długosz, Baldur Brönnimann / Basel Sinfonietta
Roemer / Marti / Hendrich / Bianchi
Dreispitzhalle, Basel / Münchenstein, 2019-11-03
2019-11-08 — Original posting
Starke “Delikatessen” in einem “Polnischen Konzert” der Basel Sinfonietta — Zusammenfassung
Die Basel Sinfonietta unter Baldur Brönnimann mit vier Werken von drei Komponisten und einer Komponistin. Davon waren drei Auftragswerke der Basel Sinfonietta in Schweizer Erstaufführungen. Die gleichen Interpreten hatten zuvor auch die Welt-Uraufführungen bestritten, anlässlich eines Konzerts in Warschau. Zugleich sind zwei der Komponisten polnischer Nationalität—deshalb auch der Konzerttitel “Auf zur Polonaise!”.
Das Konzert eröffnete mit “Fantasma” von Piotr Roemer, dem jüngsten der Komponisten—für mich faszinierende Musik mit einer starken, imaginären / imaginierten Erzählstruktur.
Noch konkreter, noch stärker im Eindruck die Komposition “Seeing Time 1”, der erste Teil eines Balletts von Cécile Marti, welche darin die traumatischen Erfahrungen eines Schlaganfalls verarbeitet.
Nach der Pause folgte das längste der Werke, “Absusurrus” für Flöte und Orchester von Paweł Hendrich, dem Solisten Łukasz Długosz auf den Leib (oder in die Finger) geschrieben: charakter- und ausdrucksstark, anspruchsvoll und virtuos im Solopart. Insgesamt spricht “Absusurrus” jedoch die Vorstellungskraft der Hörer vielleicht nicht ganz so direkt an wie die ersten beiden Kompositionen.
Zum Abschluss “Exordium” von Oscar Bianchi. Auch dies starke, vielfältige Musik, lebendig, imaginativ—wenn auch etwas weniger eingängig als die Werke von Piotr Roemer und Cécile Marti.
Insgesamt jedoch: mit geringfügigen Variationen in der Ausdruckstärke eine äußerst interessante Konzerterfahrung: Spitzenklasse im Bereich der zeitgenössischen Musik, souverän aufgeführt von kompetenten Experten auf diesem Gebiet!
- Setting, etc.
- Concert & Review
- Piotr Roemer: “Phantasm” for Symphony Orchestra and Electronics (2019)
- Cécile Marti: Ballet “Seeing Time 1” (2019)
- Paweł Hendrich: “Absusurrus” for Flute and Orchestra (2019)
- Oscar Bianchi: “Exordium” for Symphonic Orchestra (2016)
The renovation of Basel’s main concert venue, the Stadtcasino, will soon be complete. This is the last “exile season” for the Basel Sinfonietta. However, the orchestra already announced that it will continue to offer a fair proportion of its concerts in alternate locations. The past seasons demonstrated that there are plenty of alternate, viable concert sites. On top of that, these locations add a special “flair” that a conventional concert hall cannot offer. An atmosphere that particularly suits the contemporary repertoire covered by this orchestra (see my earlier reviews on concerts with this orchestra).
Still, for a while, this may well have been the last concert in the Dreispitzhalle in Münchenstein, just outside the southern border of the city of Basel: the area has been and is still undergoing major remodeling. The venue is part of the former customs clearance area (Zollfreilager Dreispitz). It actually is anything but a conventional concert hall. Rather, it’s a former warehouse that one accesses via stairs onto a former truck loading ramp. It’s not a huge hall, but still a fair size concert venue, with a generous foyer for receptions. The pictures should give an impression of the atmosphere in this venue.
As in most of its concerts, the Basel Sinfonietta performed under the direction of its principal conductor, Baldur Brönnimann (*1968, see also Wikipedia). The orchestra is specializing on contemporary repertoire (see below). With its impressive percussion setup, the ensemble looked bigger than it actually was: a mid-size ensemble with 35 string players, 8 woodwind and 7 brass instrumentalists, piano, harp, timpani and two percussionists. However, in this venue in particular, it does not take a huge orchestra to produce an impressive soundscape: certainly for the works in this concert, the orchestra sound left nothing to wish for!
One of the compositions (“Absusurrus” by Paweł Hendrich) features a flute solo. I’m introducing the soloist below.
The concert ran under the title “Auf zur Polonaise” (On to the Polonaise!).There are two reasons for that. The concert program was first performed on a recent tour of the orchestra to Poland. Then, the repertoire featured two works by Polish composers that premiered on that concert tour, along with another new work by a Swiss composer, all of which were commissioned by the Basel Sinfonietta. So, three of the works were Swiss premieres. A composition by Oscar Bianchi complemented these new works, and all four composers were present in this concert.
- Introduction, Interview with the Composers
- Piotr Roemer (*1988): Phantasm for Symphony Orchestra and Electronics (2019, Swiss First, Commissioned by Basel Sinfonietta)
- Cécile Marti (*1973): Ballet “Seeing Time 1” (2019, Swiss First, Commissioned by Basel Sinfonietta)
- Paweł Hendrich (*1979): “Absusurrus” for Flute and Orchestra (2019, Swiss First, Commissioned by Basel Sinfonietta)
- Oscar Bianchi (*1975): “Exordium” for Symphonic Orchestra (2016)
Baldur Brönnimann interviewed the composers in an introductory session prior to the concert performance. In order to spread the photos more evenly, most pictures from the interviews are found with the comments on the respective performances below, along with brief notes from the introductory interviews.
The concert venue was essentially full, the concert sold out. My seat was in the rear-left end of the main seating block, not too far from the center of the hall. I used a tripod to take pictures. Keep in mind that I’m not a professional concert photographer. The Sinfonietta had engaged a “proper” photographer who took “glossy action shots” from various positions in the hall. My own intent with the photos wasn’t to produce “shiny” pictures, but rather, to document the atmosphere from my position in the audience.
Concert & Review
Piotr Roemer: “Phantasm” for Symphony Orchestra and Electronics (2019)
Piotr Roemer (*1988) is the youngest of the composers for this concert. He was born and grew up in Kraków, where he also studied music theory and composition. After spending some time at the Conservatorio di Musica Santa Cecilia in Rome, he is currently working on his doctoral thesis. Already 2009, he won a first prize as a composer, and since then, his works have seen performances in Europe, as well as in China. Roemer is also a dancer and teaches Tango, performing in various locations in Italy and in Romania. Further, Roemer also won prizes as author of short stories: a truly multifaceted talent!
“Phantasm” for Symphony Orchestra and Electronics (2019) was commissioned by the Basel Sinfonietta. Roemer calls the composition a “fantasy, a dream about appearances (visions), spirit, breath and breathing, prayer, present, and death”. He describes it as “a volatile vision of manifold, ambiguous sounds, where soundcapes come to life, or pretend to do so”.
In the interview, Piotr Roemer explained that his aim, his focus is always in sound, energy, colors, textures, musical gestures, rather than structures, let alone a concrete “program”. As Baldur Brönnimann pointed out, this follows a tradition, a “school” in contemporary Polish music. The composer referred to that as “Polish Sonoristic Music”. He apparently also took inspiration from Tango dancing, which told him not only to focus on his mind, but rather to the sensory experience, sequences of movements, etc.
One peculiarity in this piece is that the violin arrangement is “inside out”, i.e., the concertmaster (Simone Zgraggen) found herself at the far left of the podium, which caused the violins to be oriented towards the audience.
The Performance / The Music
The piece emerges out of silence. the first thing that one hears is the ascending glissando of machine timpani. This of course made me think of Béla Bartók (1881 – 1945) and his Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta. However, that was no more than an initial, momentary allusion: in a crescendo, other noises from the rich percussion machinery started to mix in, rhythmic squeaking (made me think of sounds on an animal farm), overlaid with high-pitch, glittering sounds, falling into an Andante pace, then slowing down, almost to a complete halt.
Then, waves of tones were setting in, like in a resonating, reverberating cave. “Aleatoric water droplets”, asynchronously dripping. Rattling noises. “Noise & rhythm”, followed by amplified and sampled sounds from the violins. Whirring tones, individual melody fragments. A kind of cello cadenza, moving on onto a solo violin and back, alternating between highly artful and animalistic. Finally, scarce harmonies under reverberating clapping / clicking noises, pizzicato and col legno accompaniment in the high strings, cascades of high glissandi, followed by meandering sounds in the extreme depth.
The music seems to retract into peaceful serenity.. This only lasts until explosions in the percussion are setting in. A dragon rising its ugly head for a scary moment? Then again aeolian sounds, distant whining, like memories, wind. In the end, a heartbeat appears in the bass (timpani), causing instant commotion with the listener. The heartbeat is slowing down, fading away, into silence.
To me, this is a highly fascinating piece with an implicit, strongly imaginative narration. It is evoking pictures of living (animals) and dead nature (wind, waves maybe, landscapes). So full of fantasy, rich in colors…
With this orchestra and its conductor it wasn’t unexpected that throughout the evening, Baldur Brönnimann led the orchestra with a firm hand, proving that he knows the score inside out. And the orchestra performed with focus and concentration, totally united with the music—congrats!
Overall Rating: ★★★★★
Cécile Marti: Ballet “Seeing Time 1” (2019)
Cécile Marti (*1973) was born near Zurich, in a musical environment. Early on, she learned to play piano and violin, and she also got interested in contemporary music. During her violin studies, she started composing. So, she went on to study composition with Dieter Ammann (*1962) in Lucerne. She engaged in cooperations with composers such as Georg Friedrich Haas (*1953), Hanspeter Kyburz (*1960), Kaija Saariaho (1952 – 2023), and Malcolm Singer (*1953), finishing her studies in 2017 with a doctorate from Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Currently, she is doing postdoc studies at King’s College in London.
The Ballet “Seeing Time 1” (2019), commissioned by the Basel Sinfonietta, is the first part of a ballet with a planned duration of 90 minutes. The ballet emerged as part of a creative research project on the evolution, the progress of time.
The action in the (planned) ballet relates to a brain stroke that the composer went through in her youth, its physiological effects and the sensory experiences. I’m translating from the program booklet (in excerpts): “the moment of change when the stroke was setting in, the inexorable bodily transformation and changes. Irregular and accelerated heartbeat, static sounds describing the physical paralysis of the body, the impairment of vision (temporary blindness, blind spots).”
In the interview, Cécile Marti did not refer to the above incident (which is mentioned in the booklet), but she explained that the music is the result of a 5-year research project, focusing on temporal changes, developments, archetypes of static periods vs. targeted progression. Overall, she is trying to make time “visible”, i.e., to enable the listener to experience the course of time.
The Performance / The Music
The initial harmonies in the high woodwinds don’t even pretend to be harmless or peaceful: the premonition of disaster sets in almost instantly. It feels like paralysis in the face of the impending catastrophe, and everything seems to come to a grinding halt. Then, in rapidly following, growing waves, the stroke sets in with enormous thunder and threatening, high sounds.
The underlying heartbeat grows irregular. Overwhelming anxiety, paralysis, panicking. More thunder, chaotic noise following, high pitch, scary string sounds. Fear, distant whining, almost as heard from under the water. Attempts to breathe through paralysis, waves of extreme anxiety. Then, there’s a “resonating crescendo”, intensifying in brass and woodwinds. Standing dissonances, ambiguously sounding both harmonious and strange, still threatening, never-ending … the piece does end abruptly, but it is very obvious that the story is not over at this point.
To me, this isn’t music (in the traditional sense) that compares to anything else. A very strong piece, so utterly enthralling, intense, seizing the listener by the neck…
And again, the orchestra performed with clarity and precision under Baldur Brönnimann’s firm guidance and control.
Overall Rating: ★★★★★
Paweł Hendrich: “Absusurrus” for Flute and Orchestra (2019)
The Polish composer Paweł Hendrich was born *1979 in Wrocław. He studied economics in his hometown, while also studying composition at the Karol Lipiński Academy of Music, with Grażyna Pstrokońska-Nawratil (*1947). Further studies in composition took him to Cologne.
The title of the composition “Absusurrus” for Flute and Orchestra (2019, also commissioned by the Basel Sinfonietta) refers to the Latin word susurrus—whispering, humming, murmuring, rustling. The prefix “ab”, also Latin, describes a movement of separation, or absence, or difference. The booklet describes the music as “interwoven sounds of strong and weak dynamics, the mutual mixing of colors and textures”. In a short video trailer to the concert, Paweł Hendrich mentioned that he has written Absusurrus “into the hands” (or the abilities) of the soloist in this concert, Łukasz Długosz (see below).
In the interview, Paweł Hendrich further explained that he interpreted susurrus as noise which is interacting or interfering with communication. He also explained the advantage of having the flutist play with a microphone and amplification: this permits making “hard sounds softer”, and—more importantly—making “soft parts” (breathing, blowing noises, key noises, etc.) sound loud, to make the latter audible, make them compete or interact with the sound of the orchestra. “Disturbing the main information” is a key component in his composition.
The Soloist: Łukasz Długosz
The Polish flutist Łukasz Długosz (*1983, see also Wikipedia) grew up in Skarżysko-Kamienna. His studies took him to Freiburg im Breisgau, to Munich, Paris, and to the Yale University. Master classes with Aurèle Nicolet (1926 – 2016), Peter-Lukas Graf (*1929), Robert Aitken (*1939), Trevor Wye (*1935), Philippe Bernold, and Sir James Galway (*1939) completed his education as soloist.
The Performance / The Music
The piece begins with rattling, splattering noise, growing in complexity. Droplets (woodblock), high-pitch bird calls. An underlying repeated, very soft and harmonious chord, later microtonal intervals, strong contrasts soft vs. loud, tones like calls against or into the orchestral noise, near-chaotic complexity, fading away…
The solo sets in, with breathing, fluttering tones, very short, high-pitch, jumping motifs, overblowing. Intense, virtuosic figures against extreme pitches in the violins, associated with sound waves from the percussion in the rear. The music builds up in “structured waves”. A rich, dense and manifold soundscape. Rhythmic segments with flute “flashes” in a lively soundscape.
Tonality is definitely not intended. The music is often dissonant, though moving around “local center pitches”. Intense, organized, though without obvious harmonic ordering / course of action. Breathing, more waves, jointly carried by percussion and solo flute, brass trying to control the disorder, rhythms running in the background. Tiny, tonal fragments, drowning in extended rhythmic, dissonant bashing. Finally, the music is retracting into a distant nature scenery, and into a ppp, while the flute is whispering overtones that reminded me of a Ranz des Vaches.
Another strong piece of music, certainly highly challenging and virtuosic for the solo flute. Coherent and compelling, though not nearly as pictorial and imaginative to the first-time listener as the first two compositions in this concert.
Overall Rating: ★★★★½
Oscar Bianchi: “Exordium” for Symphonic Orchestra (2016)
Oscar Bianchi was born 1975 in Milan. He is dual Italian and Swiss citizen and currently lives in Berlin. He did his studies as composer in Milan, New York, and Paris (at the IRCAM, the Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique). The booklet quotes the composer with “I’m dreaming of a music that is talking in contemporary language to all centers of the body, and which enables people to understand their existence”. In his music, Bianchi fancies virtuosity and experimenting (e.g., through new and experimental instruments). The booklet also mentions other traits in Bianchi’s compositions: ornamented vocal lines, mysterious or melancholic moods.
The title of “Exordium” for Symphonic Orchestra (2016) is a term from the theory of rhetoric, meaning the introductory portion of an oration, the portion which lays out the purpose of a discourse, with the intent to make the audience predisposed to believing the speaker’s arguments. The composition was commissioned by the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana (OSI), and Bianchi also understood Exordium as a fresh start in the cooperation with the OSI. At the same time, it forms a new approach in the composer’s writing for orchestra.
In the interview, Oscar Bianchi explained that this is the first piece in a series (hence the title Exordium). With this piece, the composer wanted to develop a new approach to orchestral writing “from scratch”, in translating his auditive experiences / impressions into music.
The Performance / The Music
Penetrating and dissonant chords / tones from the high woodwinds, alternating with crackling noises. An abstract form of (very slow) breathing? Shooting / shattering noises from the percussion (war scenes??). Strong, rumbling noises under ear-piercing tones—tinnitus? The fear of deafness? Ascending glissandi, banging on wood, eruptive sounds from the brass section. A very rich soundscape, for sure!
Another piece leaving strong impressions. Multi-faceted, lively, imaginative, never even remotely boring or monotonous. Overall, though, (again) not quite as catchy and strongly narrative as the compositions by Piotr Roemer and Cécile Marti.
Overall Rating: ★★★★½
In its strength (rather: the strength of the impressions on the listener), this concert (especially in the first half) reminded me of the mind-blowing experience of my first encounter with the orchestra in Zurich, on 2015-10-05: excellent music in an excellent performance! And I very much liked the atmosphere, the venue, the spirit of the event!