The York Spring Festival of New Music started last night with a concert in the Jack Lyons Hall by German contemporary music group, El Perro Andaluz. The small audience who made it in from the appalling weather, were offered an appropriately ominous, evocative programme of four ensemble pieces from different composers.
It was perhaps an odd choice to begin what looks to be a bright festival with a dark, highly technical, contemporary group, but it was an interesting insight into an often inaccessible genre of music nonetheless.
The first was ‘a2’ by German composer Thomas Simaku, a duet for violin and cello, which the composer himself described as ‘two things seen/heard as one’. The interpretation of this title was achieved well, the nuances of transferring the weight of the score to each other seamlessly, whilst maintaining moments of tempo and silence. It was supposed to be reminiscent of the divide caused by the Berlin Wall, and the ‘different worlds in one city’ (Simaku). It sure was dramatic, but the imagery evoked was perhaps less about physical divide and more one of psychological fission.
We then had ensemble pieces for flute, clarinet, violin, viola, cello, and piano by Franz Martin Olbrisch and Carsten Hennig, whose piece, 3100 gramm was a UK premiere. The former was a piece composed to explore the different ways of piercing musical streams. This piece’s ‘knotted tempo’ where rhythmical patterns interweaved never quite plateaued onto a harmonic spectrum, and this made listening somewhat disjunctive. The instruments dwelling on each other contributed to a suspense, which, at times, I thought was suspended just a little too long.
The latter piece had its’ pianist use a brick (weighing in at, yes, you guessed it, 3100 grams). This was amusing, yet not perhaps conducive to anything else radical in the musical texture. The piano itself though was used to great effect in this piece and achieved a unity which the other instruments interrupted, the overall effect being interesting.
Finally, Nillni’s World Premiere of his musical story inspired by Bunuel’s surrealist film ‘Un Chien Andalou’ (which is where the group get their name) was a stark and difficult piece. From the descending noise, the listener was supposed to be enabled to draw up their own imagery of ‘once upon a time’, but if my childhood bedtime stories sounded anything like that, I would be seriously concerned.
To be honest, I don’t think anyone really wants to listen to music that ‘slowly scratches out’, so the enjoyment factor of this concert was low. However, one can appreciate the compositional complexity of the scores and the rigour of the disciplined musicians even if you wouldn’t download the tracks onto your iPod.
Although extremely accomplished, it was a dry and personality- lacking show, which is a shame as contemporary music doesn’t need to be like this; the genre does offer a lot to contemporary culture. And in the context of the festival, it has offered the programme a European varietal twist, amongst what otherwise promises to be quite a fun series of concerts.
The York Spring Festival of New Music is running until Sunday 13th May with concerts in different venues across the city. Go to yorkspringfestival.co.uk for more information and discounted tickets.