Fabian Ziegler, Akvilė Šileikaitė
Works by John Psathas
ZKO-Haus, Zurich, 2022-11-04
2022-12-16 — Original posting
Fabian Ziegler & Akvilė Šileikaitė: CD-Taufe mit Musik von John Psathas — Zusammenfassung
Der Autor wurde vom Perkussionisten Fabian Ziegler (*1995) und seiner Partnerin, der litauischen Pianistin (und Malerin, und Fotografin) Akvilė Šileikaitė (*1992) eingeladen, der Präsentation ihrer soeben fertiggestellten, neuen CD “Modern Gods” im ZKO-Haus in Zürich beizuwohnen. Die CD präsentiert ausschließlich Werke des Neuseeländisch-Griechischen Komponisten John Psathas (*1966), nämlich
- “RealBadNow” für Schlagzeug solo und und Audio (5 Sätze, 2021)
- “View from Olympus” für Schlagwerk, Klavier und digitales Audio (4 Sätze, 2019, ursprünglich ein Doppelkonzert für Schlagwerk, Klavier und Orchester, komponiert 2015)
- “Halo” für Klavier und Solo-Perkussion (3 Sätze, 2016, ursprünglich eine Komposition für Cello und Klavier aus dem Jahre 2010).
Dem Präsentationskonzert vorangestellt war ein Empfang im Foyer des Hauses, an welchem Fabian Ziegler und Akvilė Šileikaitė ein weiteres Werk von John Psathas aufführten, nämlich “Atalanta” für Vibraphon, Klavier und digitales Audio (2020). Diese Komposition ist Teil einer früheren CD dieses Duos. Leider waren die Akustischen und elektroakustischen Voraussetzungen im Foyer nicht ideal.
Umso eindrücklicher war die perfekt gestaltete Aufführung im Konzertsaal. Als erstes erklang “Halo“, danach die 5 Sätze aus “RealBadNow” (ohne Klavier), und als Krönung schließlich der dritte Satz, “Tanz der Mänaden” aus “View from Olympus“. Als Zuhörer konnte man sich der Faszination dieser Werke nicht entziehen. Alle Kompositionen wurden in einer multimedialen Aufführung präsentiert, mit aufwändiger Beleuchtung und gleichzeitiger Videoprojektion auf Großleinwand. Die wohlverdiente Zugabe war der als solche konzipierte vierte Satz “Fragments” aus “View from Olympus“.
Die musikalische und technische Leistung des Duos war höchst eindrücklich, John Psathas’ Musik faszinierend, die CD wärmstens zu empfehlen.
Table of Contents
- The CD Album: “Modern Gods”
- Concert & Review
- A Preamble
- The Composer: John Psathas
- “Modern Gods” — The Album Title
- “Atalanta”, for Vibraphone, Piano, and Digital Audio
- “Halo”, for Piano and Percussion
- “RealBadNow”, for Solo Percussion and Audio
- “View from Olympus”, for Percussion, Piano, and Digital Audio
- Encore — IV. “Fragments”, for Vibraphone and Piano, from “View from Olympus”
- Closing Remarks
|Venue, Date & Time||ZKO-Haus, Zurich, 2022-11-04 19:30h|
|Series / Title||“Modern Gods” – Concert / Physical Album Release|
|Reviews from related events||Fabian Ziegler — in concert reviews|
Akvilė Šileikaitė — in concert review(s)
Fabian Ziegler, Percussion
My first encounter with the Swiss percussionist Fabian Ziegler (*1995) was in a concert on 2019-01-21 in Lucerne, where the artist performed as part of the “Cosmic Percussion Ensemble“, a group of six percussion students at the ZHdK (Zurich University of the Arts). Towards the end of that same year, the artist invited my to a percussion performance on 2019-12-01 together with his teacher at the ZHdK, Raphael Christen (*1969). Today, Fabian Ziegler’s main artistic activities are with his partner, Akvilė Šileikaitė, and also as part of a percussion trio, the Trio Colores.
Akvilė Šileikaitė, Piano
Akvilė Šileikaitė (*1992) grew up in Lithuania. Let me start the artist’s description by quoting from my review from a concert on 2019-05-26: “Akvilė Šileikaitė has been studying painting and piano in Klaipėda. 2011 – 2015, she continued her piano studies at the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre (LMTA). Thereafter, she moved to Zurich, to study at the ZHdK. The artist has won numerous prizes at competitions as a pianist, attended master classes, and started a career as concert pianist. On top of that, she also has had numerous successes as a professional painter. A true multi-talent!”
In the time since 2019, Akvilė Šileikaitė has launched a successful business as art(ist) photographer, competing with the celebrities in this area! Musically, she is teaming up with her partner, Fabian Ziegler. At the same time, she is also entertaining her long-standing duo partnership with the French saxophonist Valentine Michaud (*1993, France), under the label AKMI Duo (which emerged in 2015). It was in this latter formation that I encountered her, back in 2019.
All works in this concert & album are by John Psathas (*1966), see below.
Main Concert, Concert Hall:
- “Halo“, for piano and percussion
- “RealBadNow“, for solo percussion and audio
- “View from Olympus“, for percussion, piano, and digital audio (III. “Dance of the Mænads“)
The pre-concert had the form of an informal reception, held in the entry hall (Foyer), with the artists performing in the center of the hall. That setup proved somewhat unfavorable, not just because of the acoustics, but also due to limitations in the adjustability of the electroacoustic equipment.
For the main concert, the visitors were then moving into the main concert hall in the upper floor: this is the former location of a high voltage research laboratory of the Swiss University of Technology (ETHZ). It now is a concert hall with a big podium and an ascending audience holding around 200 people. As the name “ZKO-Haus” suggests, the building is the home for the Zürcher Kammerorchester (Zurich Chamber Orchestra, ZKO), with the podium serving as the orchestra’s rehearsal space. The location is also available for rent, for private events, such as this CD presentation, where the stage offered ample space for the artists’ multimedia setup.
In the main concert, Akvilė Šileikaitė’s instrument was a Bösendorfer 280 (pre-Vienna Classic model). The lid had been removed for this event.
The CD Album: “Modern Gods”
Modern Gods — Music by John Psathas:
RealBadNow / View from Olympus / Halo
Fabian Ziegler, Percussion
Akvilė Šileikaitė, Piano
Private production Fabian Ziegler (℗ / © 2022)
- RealBadNow (2021), by John Psathas
- Individualize the Social — 2’54”
- Normalize Catastrophic Imagination — 4’22”
- Prepare for Defiant Acts of Radical Imagination — 3’06”
- Teach Appreciation of the Aesthetics of Violence — 4’02”
- Epilogue: RealBadNow — 3’27”
- View From Olympus (2019), by John Psathas
- The Furies — 8’37”
- To Yelasto Paithi (The Smiling Child) — 7’59”
- Dance of the Mænads (featuring Ruven Ruppik, Riq) — 6’05”
- Fragments — 2’35”
- Halo (2016), by John Psathas
- Red Halo — 3’32”
- Stacia — 6’19”
- Angelus — 10’07”
Total duration: 63’12”
Concert & Review
This is not an ordinary concert review (if my reviews were ever “ordinary”…), for several reasons.
- For one, the event—albeit in the form of a concert with “pre-concert”—wasn’t just a concert, but the presentation of a newly released CD (see above).
- Then, this is music at the fringes of my reviewing repertoire. I rarely review modern percussion music, as I lack the familiarity and the vocabulary for these genres. However, the artists have invited me to that events, and so, I was happy to attend, and to listen into this music, maybe to try describing my impressions in brief, if not stenographic form.
- Even though I may not be able to describe this music adequately, the pieces and their performance were definitely fascinating, and certainly worth a note in my blog.
- Most importantly, the performance as such was a rich multimedia experience, and the pieces have a strong philosophical component that was hard, if not impossible to grasp in a first-time, live experience. I therefore decided to collect the composer’s texts on his music, and to present it here, along with collateral, information from the concerts, and with my impressions from the performance. All text quotes are marked in color (the composer’s biography in green, text from the program notes, as well as quotes from the composer’s Website in red).
With very few exceptions, I always add a rating to my concert reviews. As mentioned, this is not an ordinary concert review—nor is it a “normal” media review. My overall rating in this post is not a rating of the CD: I have nothing to compare this CD with, hence a rating makes little sense. Therefore, the overall rating is that of the live concert impression (ignoring the pre-concert, see below). It includes the music, the performance, and the complete audiovisual experience.
The Composer: John Psathas
As the name suggests, the composer John Psathas (*1966) has his roots in Greece—though he has spent most of his life in New Zealand. For simplicity, let me just quote the biography from the composer’s Website, which also features a longer version with more detail.
NZ-Greek composer John Psathas shot to worldwide attention when his music was heard more than a billion people during the Opening Ceremony of the Athens 2004 Olympic Games. The NZ Arts Foundation Laureate has achieved a level of international success unprecedented for a NZ composer, having reached concert audiences in more than 50 countries on 7 continents, even Antarctica. He is now also considered one of the three most important living composers of the Greek Diaspora.
In 2019 Psathas closed the door on 25 years of university teaching to devote all his time to composing, and to embark on a return to performing onstage.
He has collaborated on a Billboard classical chart-topping album with System of a Down front man Serj Tankian, has written feature-film scores, collaborated with the Grand Mufti in Paris’s Grand Mosque, crossed into jazz in projects with luminaries Michael Brecker (1949 – 2007) and Joshua Redman (*1969), and collaborated on an e-book project with Salman Rushdie (*1947). Few composers cross the boundaries of musical genres to the extent that Psathas does, and with such ongoing global success. His journey is best described as an explosion of collaborations with artists from dozens of musical traditions spanning Asia, Europe, North and South America, Africa, and Australasia.
Percussion has always been a strong feature of Psathas’ output, with a consistent schedule of new percussion commissions from many of the world’s top players. COVID-19 also served to further broaden the scope of his work, with the 2020 release of long-distance collaborative albums It’s Already Tomorrow, and Last Days of March.
“Modern Gods” — The Album Title
The title of the album may sound strange at first—it can’t possibly be that either the composer or the artists view themselves as “modern Gods”??? Of course not! Actually, the title refers to philosophical / historio-societal reflections by the composer. These reflections were the subject of projections onto a canvas in the rear of the podium. In the performance, though, it was impossible to comprehend (in-depth), let alone memorize the content of these texts / reflections. Let me therefore reproduce here a translated version of a text (shown in color) that was distributed by the artists, for the concert. Text © Fabian Ziegler & Akvilė Šileikaitė; translation based on an automatic translation using the free version of Deepl, with minor modifications by the author, for better readability:
Modern Gods — The Philosophical Reflections
In ancient times, people had a relationship with the gods. Today, they have one with technology. In ancient times, people were not allowed to disappoint the gods. Today, we are not allowed to disappoint our followers. Who follows, controls and judges us? Do we sacrifice our time and lives to the gods—or rather to modern technology? In today’s society, our self-image reflects the way others see us. Therefore, it is easy to manipulate us. John Psathas’ music questions the relationship between humans, gods and technology in different ways:
- View from Olympus: Creatures, the Furies and the Maenads once watched over humans, obeying the wishes of the gods.
- The sacred Halos were once secretly protecting humans. Nowadays, they are present in a different form.
- RealBadNow, finally, is a reflection on the power of modern technology. Its influence on us depends on our own, deeply human behavior.
The album presents an intimate combination of classical, electronic, and multicultural forms of music, combined with as well as visual art.
“Atalanta“, for Vibraphone, Piano, and Digital Audio
On his Website, the composer writes:
I’ve always been strongly influenced by the performers I write for. In the case of Atalanta I was affected by the knowledge that percussionist Fabian (Ziegler) and pianist Akvilė (Šileikaitė) were a couple and soon to be married. There is a sense of youthful love and warmth in the piece, and of two young spirits chasing each other at high speed.
The literal meaning of the word Atalanta (from Greek mythology) is ‘equal in weight’ – not a bad concept for the foundation of a marriage. Atalanta is also the name of a Greek heroine, a swift-footed virgin who eschewed men and devoted herself to the huntress Artemis.
She agreed to marry only if a suitor could outrun her in a footrace, which she knew was impossible. If the suitor was unsuccessful, he would be killed. Many suitors died in the attempt until Hippomenes prayed to the goddess Aphrodite for assistance and received three irresistible golden apples. During the race Atalanta, was diverted off the path as Hippomenes tossed an apple for her to retrieve; each time Atalanta caught up with Hippomenes, he would toss another apple, ultimately winning the race and Atalanta herself.
The backing track features a recording of Taonga Puoro performed by the recent Richard Nunns (if you listen closely, you can hear his voice sung through the body of a Putorino).
The atmosphere was informal, with the audience (some 30 – 40 people) sitting along the edges of the hall, enjoying light drinks while listening to the music. Unfortunately, it was hard to enjoy the performance by the two artists, as mentioned above. The acoustics in the foyer may have contributed to the irritation—but for the most part, it was the electroacoustic setup which proved inadequate. The piano bass (& the sampled track) was over-amplified, rumbling, overdriving the loudspeakers and the acoustics of the venue, often drowning the sound of the marimba. The overall impression: “too loud for the venue”.
Overall, sadly, it was hardly an enjoyable experience, even though it offered a sketchy impression of John Psathas’ music, especially in the meditative moments, with repetitive pattern reminding of minimal music. One such moment was the very beginning, with the piano playing against a backdrop of sampled wind noises & discreet vocals.
I talked to the artists after the concert. They told me that in the given time (and the available resources), they were not able to fine-tune the setup. Given its deficiencies, I decided not to write about the music extensively, let alone rate or judge the performance. Rather, Fabian Ziegler kindly pointed me to a video recording of “Atalanta” on YouTube, which he and Akvilė Šileikaitė did in connection with their debut CD “Gods, Rhythms, Human” (pointers provided in the YouTube comments). I strongly recommend watching this video, as it gives a good impression on the excellent performance by these artists. And it offers a much more favorable impression about John Psathas’ composition than the limited, informal setting in the pre-concert reception.
“Halo“, for Piano and Percussion
“The sacred Halos were once secretly protecting humans. Nowadays, they are present in a different form”.
“Halo” is a composition from 2010. The adaptation for percussion (marimba / vibraphone) and piano is from 2016. On his Website, the composer states: “Originally commissioned for cello and piano (…), this adaptation (by the composer) is for marimba and vibraphone (1 player) and piano. The piece requires a small audio speaker to be placed, unseen, inside the piano. Once in the first movement, and twice in the third movement, audio is subtly heard through this speaker – intentionally being perceptible as an unnatural extension of the piano’s resonance at the time. The audio is sent to the speaker (through a cable or via bluetooth) from a discrete phone or mp3 player, to be handled by the pianist.“
- Red Halo
The concert opened with a few pre-recorded phrases by the composer, through loudspeaker. Only after that, the artists launched the performance of “Red Halo”:
I. Red Halo
The piano presented an initial gesture—a chord that started in the middle, then solemnly spread outwards, across the keyboard. It kept resonating throughout the piece—a calm, low drone, picked up in waves on the marimba, illustrated / enriched with trills, tremolos, returning to the piano and back again. Harmony, calm, a halo, resonating into a void. Other notes shone up, but the harmony always fell back to the initial drone chord. A dialog in infinite harmony (that harmony of the spheres?), an atmosphere that reminded me of music by Arvo Pärt (*1935). The piano ends this introduction with the opening gesture.
The music switches to a new harmony, soon picks up rhythm, drive. Harmonies that appear to turn in circles, pattern that remind of minimal music, retracting, returning, excursions into ethereal spheres. Singing on the marimba, periods with aeolian sounds on the vibraphone (played with a bow). Playful, melodic pattern over a sonorous piano bass foundation, gradually retracting and vanishing into the distance. Sublime music, highly atmospheric—beautiful!
Angelus—just “angel”, or rather (Wikipedia) a “Roman Catholic devotion commemorating the Incarnation of Jesus and including the Hail Mary, said at morning, noon, and sunset”?
Eruptive bursts on the marimba, picked up by the piano, then jointly building up volume and motoric motion, also involving the vibraphone: enthralling, virtuosic. Repeatedly breaking off for new build-ups, exhaustive climaxes, intensity through tone repetitions, the piano as percussion instrument. Standing pattern with scarce impulses. Fading to—again—aeolian sonorities (vibraphone with bow), scarce tone “droplets” on the piano, solemn aeolian harp sounds: again highly atmospheric, solemn, listening, suspense / expectation.
The response is a new, slow build-up, strongly rhythmic, jazzy, busy and virtuosic, up to a ff climax. After that, the music gradually converts to a solemn, meditative mood: ethereal tones and harmonies, lowest marimba resonances / humming below “minimal music” pattern on the piano, further retracting, mixing with sampled sounds from within the piano—pppp—and an end in silence.
“RealBadNow“, for Solo Percussion and Audio
“RealBadNow is a reflection on the power of modern technology. Its influence on us depends on our own, deeply human behavior.”
On the sleeve to the above CD, the five segments of this composition from 2021 are labeled as follows:
- Part1 — Individualize the Social
- Part2 — Normalize Catastrophic Imagination
- Part3 — Prepare for Defiant Acts of Radical Imagination
- Part4 — Teach Appreciation of the Aesthetics of Violence
- Part5 — Epilogue: RealBadNow
In an attempt to “decrypt” the above titles, I’m quoting the composer’s own description, at his Website. John Psathas starts with “If you’re interested in this piece I thought it might be useful to know some more about the thinking and feeling behind the composing. I was inspired by the book Disposable Futures: The Seduction of Violence in the Age of Spectacle by Brad Evans (*1974) and Henry Giroux (*1943). This book is where the movement titles come from.“
The CD track labels just refer to the first title in parts 2 and 4.
The Composer’s Description
I. Individualize the Social
The spaces in the world where we used to gather socially (and be physically present together) have been drastically reduced, some would say deliberately, so that there are fewer and fewer opportunities for us to come together as groups and communities. Of course, this weakens us. What used to be social space is now individual space. Even when we connect digitally, we do so when we are (usually) physically alone and this is not the same thing. This movement is designed to give the feeling of floating freely and alone, in a universe of one.
II. Normalize Catastrophic Imagination
III. Encourage Citizens to Participate in Their Own Oppression
IV. Create Zones of Terminal Exclusion
(…) This movement is a reflection on the idea that we are encouraged to think catastrophically, and to accept that we can do nothing about the way things are and where we are heading. But that is not enough, we are also encouraged now to participate in our own oppression, contributing to, and admiring, the success and glory of those who are accumulating the majority of resources and wealth. For the unluckiest in the world this has led to ‘zones of terminal exclusion’, where the hopelessness is made permanent, and sections of societies are considered increasingly ‘disposable’, with no escape from this status.
V. Prepare for Defiant Acts of Radical Imagination
Of course, this does not have to be the way, and it does not have to be permanent.
But for change to occur in the 21st century, a much stronger kind of defiance is needed. All the ‘isms’ (communism, capitalism, fascism, neo-liberalism, etc.) have failed.
Protest and resistance need to be inspired by radical imagination, not by the old methods. The world needs a new idea. Positively charged, collective energy is represented here with music that is confident, celebratory, and pumping with determination.
VI. Teach appreciation of the Aesthetics of Violence
VII. Prevent Solidarity at All Costs
VIII. Instigate and Perpetuate a War of All-On-All
We live in an era in which violence has become the main spectacle in life, whether it is
filmed entertainment, news clips, or social media. The line between real and fictional violence (and real and fictional suffering) has been almost completely erased. We are well past being desensitised; violence as a spectacle now has its own aesthetic criteria. And it is greatly enjoyed as entertainment by billions of people every day. The big tom-tom sections in this movement represent that violence-as-entertainment.
Along with this is a very clear message that ‘each of us is in this alone’. That each person must learn to be self-reliant and look after themselves. This prevents the development of solidarity and community strength. By becoming hyper-individualised we not only focus almost entirely on what is good for each of us as an individual, but we also start to enter into an individualised competition for resources and rewards. This is the establishment and perpetuating of a war of all-on-all.
IX. Epilogue: RealBadNow
Here is the final expression. A sadness about things having arrived at the ‘real bad’ place.
I am old now. When I was younger, I was certain things would get better and better.
But that certainty is gone. Now I feel the world has been split into billions of individuals, lost in their own uncertainties, without the knowledge, or will, to build communities, and act in groups for positive change. Yes, depressing. I could have changed the order of the movements so that the 3rd movement was last. That way RealBadNow would finish with a positive, hopeful energy. But that would feel dishonest. I am glad the 3rd movement is part of the piece – because there is still hope in there. But only just. This last movement, with its exquisite sadness and beauty, is almost like a shift in consciousness, especially the last part. A leaving of terrestrial life, drifting into the cosmos, or the afterlife.
This composition does not involve the piano. It is for solo percussion and sampled audio. As the pictures indicate, Fabian Ziegler had his percussion set placed in front of the projection canvas, along the rear edge of the podium.
Spoken comments to “RealBadNow” by the composer filled the gap between “Halo” and this second piece. Here, the lighting changed from predominantly red tones on a predominantly dark stage to blue-turqoise. Throughout the piece, the music was associated with projected (mostly abstract) illustrations / moving pattern on the screen in the rear of the podium. A very rich experience, occasionally approaching sensory overload, at least in a first-time experience, and especially, if one also wanted to reflect on the philosophical background. With this, my comments below only cover the audio impression. The amount of sensory “influx” was such that trying to take notes about the music, the visuals, and the text (let alone philosophical content) was simply impossible.
Part1 (“Individualize the Social”)
The piece opens with a diffuse cloud of droning noise, into which Fabian Ziegler “injects” short motifs on the vibraphone, which are picked up by the sampler, creating slowly fading echoes / reverberation. As these vibraphone motifs follow each other in closer succession, the echoes overlap. The vibraphone is asking questions, making proposals—the response in the reverberation remains vague, open, even indicating denial (destruction?) in the final, dampened beat on the big drum.
Part2 (“Normalize Catastrophic Imagination”)
The “Catastrophic Imagination” showed as a broad burst of droning (/ “industrial”) noise, fading into “underground noise”. Fabian Ziegler appeared to fight the catastrophe with archaic drum / percussion eruptions, though the menace from the “underground noise” remains. The projection illustrates the sounds, which now also features luring singing from sirens, ethereal sounds—temptations, seduction? Sounds lost in a big void, vanishing into a distance far away?
Part3 (“Prepare for Defiant Acts of Radical Imagination”)
The “counter-proposal” to the catastrophic perspectives in the previous section: fast rhythms, virtuosic pattern on the vibraphone, along with “game of life” visuals and rasterized images. Then Fabian Ziegler adds in a motoric pulse with the bass (foot) drum (more and more reminding of rock beating), while the vibraphone continues its mesmerizing, beautiful melodic flow. The visuals are / feel psychedelic. Indeed: “music that is confident, celebratory, and pumping with determination“.
Part4 (“Teach appreciation of the Aesthetics of Violence”)
An intense experience! From the isuals I remember abstract graphics on themes such as “city”, “traffic”, “acceleration”, “programming”, kaleidoscopic richness. This suddenly lead into an eruption of loud, violent (maybe orgiastic) drumming, crescending into a climax of true firework. “Space” sounds, technical, abstract, rumbling, thunder, whining sounds from the metallophone, fading away.
Part5 (“Epilogue: RealBadNow“)
The epilogue: “A sadness about things having arrived at the ‘real bad’ place”? Well, I sensed sadness mostly in the hopeless (sampled) vocal episodes, illustrated on the vibraphone with floating aimless harmonies, mesmerizing, hypnotic. The visuals showed colored dots (like in some screen savers some years ago), the vibraphone ended with ethereal sounds (slightly esoteric?), dangling, unresolved…
“View from Olympus“, for Percussion, Piano, and Digital Audio
“View from Olympus: Creatures, the Furies and the Maenads once watched over humans, obeying the wishes of the gods.“
Originally (2015) conceived as a concerto for percussion, piano, and orchestra, commissioned by Dame Evelyn Glennie, who also asked for a version where the orchestral part is provided as MIDI track. In this concert, the artists presented the 2019 version for Percussion, Piano, and Digital Audio, commissioned by Fabian Ziegler. The double concerto takes listeners on a journey through the world of Greek percussion styles and playing techniques. The composer states that “View from Olympus” has become one of his landmark works.
In the movement descriptions below, text in color is from John Psathas’ Website.
I. The Furies
The Furies were avenging spirits of retributive justice whose task was to punish crimes outside the reach of human justice. Their names were Alecto, Megaera and Tisiphone.
II. To Yelasto Paithi (The Smiling Child)
To Yelasto Paithi (The Smiling Child) is the closest I’ve come to expressing — in a way not possible with the spoken or written word — the feelings inspired by my precious children, Emanuel and Zoe. In this movement is also caught the summer I spent working on the concerto at my parents’ house just outside the village of Nea Michaniona – a house perched on a cliff which looks down on the Aegean and up to Mount Olympus
III. Dance of the Mænads (featuring Ruven Ruppik, Riq)
Draped in the skins of fawns, crowned with wreaths of ivy and carrying the thyrsos — a staff wound round with ivy leaves and topped with a pine cone — the Maenads roamed the mountains and woods, seeking to assimilate the potency of the beasts that dwelled there and celebrating their god Dionysos with song, music and dance. The human spirit demands Dionysiac ecstasy; to those who accept it, the experience offers spiritual power. For those who repress the natural force within themselves, or refuse it to others, it is transformed into destruction, both of the innocent and the guilty. When possessed by Dionysos, the Maenads became savage and brutal. They plunged into a frenzied dance, obtaining an intoxicating high and a mystical ecstasy that gave them unknown powers, making them the match of the bravest hero.
IV. Fragments, for Vibraphone and Piano
Forming an optional encore to the concerto is Fragment (percussion version), for vibraphone and piano.
Again, it was the voice of the composer, announcing, explaining briefly the piece to come, also mentioning its origin as an orchestral double concerto.
During these comments (unnoticed by most?), Fabian Ziegler had installed himself on a second percussion set, high up in the rear of the audience—the height of the Mount Olympus, literally! Akvilė Šileikaitė, on the other hand, was “holding the fort” on-stage, at the Bösendorfer, surrounded by a circle of lighting LED sticks. A distant, but tight interaction, bridged by the digital audio track—orchestral sounds, sometimes discreet, then again growing to more concrete levels.
In this performance, only the third movement, “Dance of the Mænads”, was performed. The fourth movement, “Fragments“, followed as encore, see below.
III. Dance of the Mænads
Akvilė Šileikaitė opened with continuous, repetitive pattern (a return to minimal music!?), busy, motoric, with a strong drive. Gradually, Fabian Ziegler joined in on the vibraphone. Wasn’t there a scent of an Indian Raga, or allusions to Gamelan music? The piano continued its persistent drive, while Fabian Ziegler moved onto drums, brighter percussion, later also hammered dulcimer, also adding driving pulses from the bass drum(s). A colorful, truly oriental soundscape. Both parts are highly virtuosic, often also jazzy, heavily syncopated, the coordination of the two artists across the length of the hall (and with the digital orchestra track) simply astounding. Fascinating, enthralling, ending in a splash like big fireworks.
Encore — IV. “Fragments“, for Vibraphone and Piano, from “View from Olympus“
A reflective piece, starting on the piano alone, once more almost reminding of Arvo Pärt’s music, The vibraphone picks up motifs from the piano, expanding them to sonorous melody fragments. Meditative, ending in waves of repeated chords—pensive, timeless, like reverberating thoughts. An excellent closure!
As ever so often in concerts featuring contemporary music, I ended up writing a lot—and almost nothing about the artists’ performance & achievements. That’s not negative, but a good sign: there was nothing (technical or musical) to worry about the artists’ playing, my mind was focusing on the rich audiovisual experience. Adding platitudes about technique and performance doesn’t make a review any better—quite to the contrary!
I apologize for the late posting. Not only did I have a backlog of pending reviews, but I knew (and had warned the artists about this) that writing a review about this event would be tricky, challenging. Yet, I wanted to the devote the same care and detail to this text (it’s not a “critique”, really), as in my other concert reviews…
The author would like to express his gratitude to Fabian Ziegler and Akvilė Šileikaitė, for the invitation to this event, and for forwarding a rich set of concert photos. All pictures from the live event are © Vincent Magnin.