Warsaw Autumn 2006 – I

Last night was the first concert of this year’s Warsaw Autumn Festival of contemporary music. I have long wanted to attend this festival since I first heard of it years ago and I am very glad to be able to be at these concerts.

Yesterday’s concert that opened the festival was one of orchestral music at that Filharmonia Narodowa Concert Hall. It was our first time at the hall and I found it quite a lovely and beautiful building with an intimate sized hall (and perhaps the best seats I’ve ever sat in for a concert: ample leg space and very comfortable!). Our seats were on the ground floor underneath the second floor than hung over, so perhaps not the best for acoustics, but just happy to be there.

The pieces on the concert tonight were:

  • György Kurtág – Stele
  • Tomasz Sikorski – Music in Twilight
  • Petero Eötvös – Atlantis

It was the first time I heard any of these pieces, and since I am not all too familiar with any of the composers or their works as well, I wanted to be cautious to give each of these works a fair listening and not be too quick to judge what I heard. Following are some notes I took regarding each of the pieces:

Kurtág – lovely chords at end, interesting but coarse work with temporal layers, curious piece, not sure if it’s where we’re sitting or if it’s the orchestration but earlier sections seemed dense/muddy, proportions/scale felt a little off (some sections felt too long, others felt too short), should listen to again sometime to get to know better to to know how much where we sat affected the experience of the piece

Sikorski – piano and orchestra, piano part mainly built on three types of ideas(pedal held down almost throughout): gestures that reminded me a lot of George Crumb’s piano writing, thick repeated chords, slightly less thick repeated broken chords; orchestra part was aleatoric; mostly thin/muted textures (some quite nice!); piece felt very episodic, orchestral part was a backdrop for the piano, often held single orchestral idea for a very long time while piano played on top of that; piano seemed at times unrelated altogether to the orchestra, also seemed very loud compared to orchestra and covered up the orchestra due to registration and thickness of chords (may be where we were sitting though and perhaps subtler effects were going on); the density of the parts were sustained for long periods and changes were in block-like motion

Eötvös – the piece is really loud! felt like being in a movie theater; large palette of sounds; interesting mix of synthetic sounds and the live sounds, but end of piece seemed very unrelated to rest of the music, almost tacked on; performance was very good, the baritone singer was fantastic and the boy soprano did very well; interesting orchestration with a large variety of percussion (six percussionists), a lot of brass and woodwinds, only a handful of strings, a cimbalon, and synthesizer; I think every person and instrument was microphoned and amplified; amplified instruments have a very different sound which was interesting to hear; large sense of space; hard to focus on the piece at times as it felt too loud for the hall (sort of like standing too close to a painting); ears hurt afterwards; interesting piece, but I had a strange feeling–considering I don’t know much about him or his work–that this wasn’t his best and that he’s going to write something that will be leave a deeper impression

As with a lot of music, I found the pieces to be well written, yet, perhaps searching for different things that what I am after within my own music. It was fantastic though to get to hear these pieces live and I am sure I will check these pieces and composers out again on CD (if they’re available).
Also, I found that each of the pieces incorporated aleatory in their works in different ways. It was great to hear this live and to have this experience to contemplate how it was used in each piece and comparing it to Lutoslawski’s use of aleatory, how differently they all sounded.
Regarding the audience, it was really great to see people of all ages and types there at the concert. I felt very comfortable being there, slightly dressed down, and not feeling an air of pretension. The audience seemed mindful of other people (no extraneous noise!) and also everyone seemed to have opinions on the pieces and had a sense of real interest in the music.
I enjoyed being at the concert very much yesterday and it was a wonderful way to start the festival. Today, a marathon of String Quartets by Polish Composers!

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