Monday, January 26, 2009

New Music from Greece & Dentistry (both in Munich)

(Still catching up...)

Ah, the joys of a dental emergency (temporarily-attached crown fell out). And yet, my dentist back home assured me that dentistry in Germany was very good. And he was right. Although I'd say the German dentist's touch was very, very heavy and rough, the assistant had a light hand that made up for it. It took a morning to locate them, get there, and get the thing repaired, but they did a great job; the whole thing could have been a whole lot worse and taken a good deal longer...And they gave me some spare dental cement, in case this should happen again before I get back home.

In the meantime, I'm waiting for my agent to get back to me about whether there will be auditions at the Theater he's thinking might have a place I could audition for. I had another audition scheduled (in northern Deutschland) yesterday, but the agent asked to move it to next week. Note: it is normal in Germany to have more than one agent.

So I'm enjoying a bit of Munich and learning my music with the electronic keyboard software (open source) thatI installed on my laptop. Very useful.

I spent the afternoon visiting a wonderful, intelligent and intellectual woman who runs a guesthouse in Munich. I met her the last time I was in Munich. We had tea and talked, while she put up with my German, correcting me--politely but firmly--all the way. We spoke of history, politics, families, Berlin before and after reunification, Munich, the U.S., the world, long-term global trends, you name it. We talked for 3 hours, and I would have gladly stayed longer, but had to leave for an appoinment.

That night, we went to a concert together, along with one of her tenants, a very nice PR person from Barcelona. It was a chamber concert of new music by Greek composers, at the Black Box theater in the Gasteig, sponsored by the Volkshochschule and the Greek ambassador. There are apparently very strong historical ties between Germanyand Greece (and no, it's not just because the names of both countries start with the letter "G" in English ;)...)

My friend doesn't get out much, due to debilitating arthritis, but a former tenant of hers, a brilliant Japanese marimba player, was playing the first piece and had begged her to come listen.

It was a superb concert:
Anastasio Mitropoulos "Get it Right" for solo marimba (2008)
Aristides Strongylis "Das Orakel" for harp and clarinet (2000-1)
Dmitri Terzakis "Le soleil des eaux" for solo piano (2008)
Georgia Spiropoulos "Ephemerals & Drones" for harp, double bass and drums (2006/7)
Dimitri Terzakis "Studieueber den Rubin" for clarinet and piano (2007)
Minas Borboudakis, "Unisono" for two percussionists (2003)


Now, I like new music: I like hearing it and I like performing it.Yet without tonality and traditional forms, often new music can be a challenging listen, sometimes even lacking any kind of raison d'etre. Why put those notes there and these rhythms here? Why this shape or that structure? Why this silence and that barrage of sound? Why end now? Why not?
Beginnings are the easiest to understand, endings often hard and unclear, and the middle--much like in an unsatisfactory novel--messy. When a piece works well, one loses sense of time passing: once the piece ends, one feels a combined sense of "Over so soon?" and "Yes, that felt just right." But it's hard to achieve: so often a piece of new music will end arbitrarily, signaled by the musician laying down her instrument instead of by the piece feeling like it has ended. Pauses in the middle of the piece--if they go on a split second too long--make the audience wonder if the end has (sometimes mercifully) arrived.

Having said all that, new music is still worth it. There's the exciting newness of it and a sense of discovery. When it works, it really can work incredibly well.

Overall, most of these pieces were very, very satisfying. The sonic universe was varied and appealing, with interesting timbres and modal harmonies.The outer pieces showcased percussive athleticism and virtuosity and were performed with vigor and verve. (Indeed all the pieces struck me as decidedly difficult to play--kudos to the performers).

The opening marimba piece was flashy, showing off bravura technique (as the title suggests). And "Das Orakel" was marvelous. I was enchanted by the way the clarinet and harp worked together and how well they fit each other as well as the color of the piece. One so often hears flute and harp, but I liked this combination better. (I love the timbre of the clarinet anyway). I wasn't totally convinced that the piece ended when, where, and how my ear wanted, but that's my ear and a single listening.

After the fascinating modalities and colors of the opening two pieces, the sound of a solo piano, with its equal-tempered tuning, was almost too bland in comparison. Once my ears re-tuned, though, it was okay.

Midpoint in the concert came the marvelous "Ephemerals and Drones." Using extended techniques for timpani, double bass, and harp--and conducted by the percussionist--the piece started with otherworldy sonorities that made me think of the bottom of the ocean, or the sounds from inside the hull of a ship--creaking, groaning, low and deep. I lost myself in the flow of this piece: it was that stunning, as was the final percussion duet. "Studie ueber den Rubin" was another wonderful piece, although I wasn't convinced it hung together completely. And the "Unisono" was simply amazing, both in terms of its performers (unison playing by two talented percussionists) and as a piece.

Musicians: Ensemble Oktopus, made up of percussionists Carlos Vera Larrucea, bastien Ricquebourg, and Kana Omori; pianist Anke Blumental; clarinettist, stephanie Faltermeier; harpist Stella Farina; and double bass player Sergej Konyakhyn.

My friend had a great time, and so did I.

What I'm reading: Jenny Nimmo's latest two Charlie Bone stories for middle grade readers. I've finished one (Charlie Bone and the Wilderness Wolf/ Beast--the titles in Europe are slightly different from in America, I think) and will save Charlie Bone and the Shadow of Badlock (the latest) for my next train ride. This is a dark but fun fantasy series about kids who are descended from the Red King, who was himself a good, magical king. Not all his descendants are. Each child has a different magical gift, and there is always a battle between good and evil (among the kids and the adults). I've enjoyed the series immensely, although there are usually sequel-type endings and sometimes questions get begged with authorial sleight of hand.
WARNING to the parent of a tender-hearted younger but skilled MG reader: people, including kids and parents, get hurt and/or die in this series on a regular basis. The first book (Midnight for Charlie Bone) was especially good. These are quick, light reads (despite being dark ;).

What I'm listening to: see above.
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