Sunday, May 12, 2013

New Music Dublin - a live event

Louis Andriessen De Staat (1976)
Arvo Pärt Symphony No. 4 (2008)
A Winged Victory For The Sullen (2011)

In the past there was this thing called the Living Music Festival, at which music by contemporary classical composers would be played. Since the advent of the current economic crisis such fripperies have disappeared and it appeared as though there not be much of anything large-scale going in the contemporary classical world. Sure, the likes of Kaleidoscope would continue to fly the flag for small chamber pieces, but if you wanted to listen to live performances of contemporary orchestral music then you would be best advised to leave the shores of Erin.

So it was a bit of a surprise that this New Music Dublin thing sprung into being this year. It seems to be broadly similar to the Living Music shindig, in that it was a series of concerts on over a weekend. It was a collaboration between the Arts Council, the National Concert Hall, RTE Orchestras and the Contemporary Music Centre. Unlike the latter years of Living Music, it was not focussed on a single composer. In fact, it seemed more focussed on performers, with a number of somewhat famous artists and ensembles appearing.

My own attendance was somewhat limited. I was having some kind of work meltdown and so could not make any of the events on the Friday. On the Saturday I was feeling lethargic and so missed the interesting avant-garde events they had on for free during the afternoon and also a screening of a documentary on popular Irish composer Raymond Deane in the early evening.

But I did eventually rouse myself sufficiently from torpor to make my way down in the evening to catch a double bill of pieces by Louis Andriessen and Arvo Pärt performed by the RTE Concert Orchestra and conducted by Reinbert de Leeuw, a Dutch gentleman. The Andriessen piece was called De Staat and featured a lot of brass, but brass playing sustained brash notes rather than the more usual kind of thing one associates with brass in the world of classical music. I like this piece for its unapologetic in-your-face quality. I think it may have had some kind of political meaning to it but I cannot really remember what that was.

Arvo Pärt's Symphony No. 4 also touched on the world of politics, being dedicated to Putin's imprisoned enemy Mikhail Khodorkovsky, one of the more shifty people to have ever become an icon for freedom. Pärt is of course well old enough to have remembered the casual disregard for bourgeois freedoms that characterised the old Soviet Union. In dedicating the piece to Khodorkovsky, Pärt is obviously making the point that the new Russia is not so different to the old Soviet Union, at least with respect to the arbitrary power of the state.

But what about the music? Well it was a bit Pärty and featured a lot of delicate little stringy bits. It made for a relaxing follow-up to the Andriessen piece and could have been a perfectly adequate end to an evening.

For me, however, this was not the end. There was another concert on late in the National Concert Hall as part of the festival, a collaboration between some composer and some guy who was in some band, and I decided on spec to buy another ticket to go along to it (first walking the mean streets of Dublin alone as I did not want to sit in the bar of the Concert Hall skulling back drinks on my own).

This event was called A Winged Victory For The Sullen, which was also the name under which the two guys who were directing it were trading. The composer guy is this lad called Dustin O'Halloran, while the guy who was in the band was one Adam Wiltzie. Mr Wiltzie was a sometime member of a band called Sparklehorse, whose main member was this guy called Mark Linkous. Mr Linkous topped himself a while back and the A Winged Victory For The Sullen thing was a tribute to him. I know nothing about this Sparklehorse and have never knowingly heard anything by them, but they seem to have been popular with a lot of people to the extent that the passing of Mr Linkous was a big deal for them. Maybe you know all about Sparklehorse and can advise me on how to proceed with them.

Their actual concert consisted of a small ensemble (piano (played with some difficulty by Mr O'Halloran, who had broken some bones in his arm), guitar, some strings) playing music to an accompaniment of relaxing visuals, of which my favourite was the very slowly moving picture of the moon. It was a bit more like a rock music event than a classical one, not least because the individual pieces were relatively short and people applauded in between them rather than waiting to the end. The music was droney and relaxing, living up to the programme's description of it as the late night record you have always dreamed of. One obvious point of reference for me was Eno's Music for Films. I find myself thinking that maybe the future is concerts is this kind of snoozey relaxing music, as there is nothing I like more than a nice bit of shut-eye.

Mr Wiltzie did comment that Mark Linkous particularly enjoyed a concert he played in Dublin, mentioning that he was very taken with how into the music the crowd in Whelan's had been. He seemed to actually mean it rather than just be doing the usual "You guys in [Town we are playing in tonight], you're the best" crowd-pleasing. But it is always so hard to tell.

I liked this concert enough to buy the accompanying album and have been using it as my own late night special ever since.

Gratuitous Pandas

Winged Victory image source

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