Warsaw Autumn 2006 – VII

The first concert tonight was one of orchestral music at the Witold Lutoslawski Polish Radio Concert Studio. The pieces performed were:

  • Steve Reich – Three Movements
  • Agata Zubel – Symphony No. 2
  • Zbigniew Bujarski – Peirene
  • John Adams – Slonimsky’s Earbox

Notes on the pieces:

Reich – not a tight performance at all, takes a great deal of focus and listening to play this well, pianos were not setup with mallet keyboard in center but rather off to the side which perhaps explains a little of the the timing issues,

Zubel – orchestra surrounded audience, wasn’t convinced by piece or performance, trumpet was maybe 3 meters away on left, loud sections made for foggy sound in spatialized setting, nice sounds and ideas but seemed a little too active for me, quiet sections could not hear performers on other side of hall (perhaps performance issues?)

Bujarski – Cinematic, three movements attaca but ending gestures so big in sections it would have been nice to have space afterwards, near beginning some of the gestures reminded me of Bartok, later the piece was very reminiscent of Debussy’s “La Mer”, open-spaced harmonies throughout, epic quality in tone, not much small ensemble writing (reduced strings, one on a part, solo instruments) or cross-family writing (i.e. trumpet and flute, oboe and trombone)

Adams – timing issues made it difficult for everything to be heard and rhythmic drive to form, reminded me somewhat of Torke, light fare, unfocused sound

As time is one of the biggest concerns of mine in music I find that I’m particularly sensitive to timing in music and so had a difficult time with the performances by the orchestra tonight (Symphonic Orchestra of the Acadmey of Music in Krakow); perhaps they are just a bit young or were nervous, but I think the minimalist pieces tonight require a great deal of focus and confidence to pull them off and it just didn’t quite happen for me.

Regarding the Zubel, it was actually the piece I was most interested to hear tonight. Last year I had picked up a CD with a piece of hers which I really enjoyed (can’t remember which CD, but it is a part of a series with Agnieszka Duczmal conducting). I was a little disappointed though in the piece tonight but am not sure where it didn’t work, whether it was something inherent in the piece or somehting in the performance. The stage had a small subset of the strings and four percussionists and the rest of the orchestra were in a single line that completely surrounded the audience. Unfortunately as we were sitting near the left-side and very close to a loud trumpet player, I spent a great deal of time just covering my left ear and worry about hearing damage. The piece has some echo-like spatial effects carrying musical ideas around the circle which seemed to take too long and wouldn’t have been repeated so much if it didn’t need to get around such a big circle. Also, I think that in a setting like that where there is a nice but not insignficant length of reverb, having sounds coming from all around and not performed in time lead to a rather foggy sound where it all sort of masked each other and was hard to discern much.

However, I’d like to believe my response to the Zubel was a matter of where we sat and the performers tonight, and that if we had sit more centrally and if the performers were a little more professional that I would have a different response to the piece, as I really do like the other piece I heard of hers very much. I’ll be looking forward to having a chance to listen to this piece again whenever that may be.

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