June 14, 20137:00 pm
The Wandelweiser Composers Ensemble is an international group of composers/performers, founded more than 20 years ago. Although their compositional output is varied, the members of this group share a similar aesthetic and philosophical sensibility towards composing, playing, and listening.
It’s a wonderful thing to see performers and composers who genuinely care about each other’s work. This sort of relationship might start with a single event, but it grows over time. Ten years ago, several members of the Wandelweiser Collective traveled to Montréal for “Événement Wandelweiser” with the Bozzini Quartet. You can read reviews of events I, II, and III at the links. The connection goes further back than that, with concerts in Switzerland and Germany as early as 2001 and many times since. This past June, a similar set of events took place called Wandelweiser + Bozzini. Wandelweiser Collective members Antoine Beuger, Daniel Brandes, Jürg Frey, Radu Malfatti, Michael Pisaro, and Thomas Stiegler joined the Bozzini Quartet, along with Christian Wolff, Martin Arnold, Isaiah Ceccarelli, and Marc Olivier Lamontagne, for a series of events which took place in Victoria and Montréal. (Not everyone participated in both cities.) I attended the six concerts in Montréal. The members of the Wandelweiser Composers’ Ensemble have been committed to each other’s work from the inception of the group and developed a particular facility with its demands. The Bozzini Quartet is a separate but remarkably sympathetic ensemble, with a deeply held understanding of this constellation of practices that comes through in every note.
There was such a sense of settling in, such a naturalness about the appearance of the chords of Antoine Beuger’s Silent harmonies in discrete continuity. As we got deeper into the half hour of the section that was realized, I felt myself smiling wider and wider. Beuger’s description of the piece might partially explain this reaction. But all in all, the best follow-up is to finally get this CD so I can take the experience with me in a more tangible way.
Manfred Werder’s Ein Ausführender followed, several pages of which were realized (or as Werder would say, actualized) by Beuger. It was a challenging, aescetic piece, in which one sound (chosen by the performer) is repeated at particular intervals. As Werder writes, “one question constitutes ein(e) ausführende (r): action or silence.” This piece is a vulnerability to the external circumstances of its performance, due to its extremely narrow restrictions on (internal) content. In this case, those circumstances were less than propitious, between the apparent acts of aggression and violence emanating from the festival directly below us and the loudly whispered dismissive remarks from one or two audience members within our midst. The 30 minutes of Beuger’s piece could not have felt moe different from the 32 minutes of Werder’s, but that juxtaposition lends a complexity to my memory of the event that is much richer than it would have been if I had found myself to be a more wiling participant in the second work.
Martin Arnold’s Waltz Organum was like a grid — both of pitch and of rhythm — that was perpetually being broken. I don’t know how that happened. I honestly don’t know what was going on. How can a grid be broken if it’s never in place? All I can imagine is that it was somehow at play with previous or traditional listening experiences.
Jürg Frey’s third string quartet was incredibly lush. Its relation to Frey’s previous quartets is not an obvious one, but I heard it. Maybe it has something to do with the sheer love of harmonies as played by the string quartet. The voice leading (yes, voice leading — it wasn’t what I expected either) led me down such a path that when certain chords emerged, they seemed to be bathed in sunlight. Those chords alone could not have had such a radiant quality, but they emerged through the progressions. I had a series of mental images of enclosed spaces through the different sections of the piece, the most vivid of which was a garden enclosed by a stone wall in a perfect square.
It was a great ensemble for the Christian Wolff performances: Wolff himself, the Bozzini Quartet, Isaiah Ceccarelli, and Martin Arnold. There was such a relaxed, confident, competent approach to each of the pieces, each of which was quite different from the others. Most of the pieces were from the Prose Collection: Song, For Jill, Fits and Starts, and Looking North. The final piece, Or 4 People was, I believe, the longest, and had the fewest players. It didn’t have the rich interactions and sense of possibility of the earlier works, but made them seem all the more endearing in retrospect.
Daniel Brandes’ A tenuous “we” might have been written specifically for this group of players, consisting of members of both the Bozzini Quartet and the Wandelweiser Collective. I imagine it could work in many other types of groups as well, and I believe it was actually written for a different set of performers. But the openness of the text score to in-the-moment decision-making within a finite set of possibilities came together in the performance in such a natural way that I had the impression that all of these musicians had lived with this piece for a long time.
Thomas Stiegler’s Gelbe Birne I had a purity, a concentration, a clarity of a wonderfully unique character. Its presentation as a much longer piece among miniatures was interesting, in that it set up an intensity of concentration that was equivalent to that suggested by the shorter pieces.
I’ve written about some of the pieces, but not all of them. I’m finding it something between difficult and impossible to talk about a number of these works, though I very much enjoyed them and would love to hear them again. I don’t think it’s just an issue of having let some time pass since the concert. It would be like trying to describe a fragrance. I remember it, and I could recognize it again in a moment, but I just don’t have the words for it. I don’t know that that’s helpful to a reader who wasn’t there, but rather than fighting for what I can’t find and delaying this post longer, I’ll commit to the words that I do have and direct you instead to some available recordings. Beuger’s Méditations poétiques sur quelque chose d’autre is on a new CD from Potlach, along with another piece by Beuger and one by Frey. Radu Malfatti’s darenootodesuka closed the whole set of events with a strange breed of beauty that I’d never before encountered. It is available on CD, which can be purchased in the US through erstdist and in Europe directly through Malfatti’s label, b-boim. Brian Olewnick’s review is more helpful than the little that I’ve said. Jürg Frey’s Landschaft mit Wörtern is also available through b-boim and erstdist. While I’m on the subject of available recordings, the Bozzini Quartet has CDs available of two of the visiting composers’ works, Thomas Stiegler and Jürg Frey.