Saturday, 14 March 2015

Some hugely attractive compositions can be found on a new release from Wergo that features Ensemble Musikfabrik and guest soloists playing works by Unsuk Chin, Olga Neuwirth and Sun Ra

Cologne-based Ensemble Musikfabrik is one of the leading ensembles for contemporary music. Following the literal meaning of its name, Ensemble Musikfabrik is particularly dedicated to artistic innovation. New, unknown, and often personally commissioned works in unusual media are typical of their productions. The results of their extensive work, that usually takes place in close collaboration with the composers, is presented in over 100 concerts a year in both Germany and abroad, at Festivals, in their own series ‘Musikfabrik in WDR’ and in regular radio recordings and CD productions.

The musicians themselves take the responsibility for making all-important decisions. Exploring the capabilities of modern communication forms, and new possibilities for expression in musical and theatrical areas, are a focal point. Interdisciplinary projects that can include live electronics, dance, theatre, film, literature and creative artists, along with chamber music, and the confrontation with works using open form and improvisation, extend the traditional conducted ensemble concerts. Discussion concerts and the experimentation with alternative concert forms involving audience participation are also part of this.

The ensemble’s guest list includes Mark Andre, Louis Andriessen, Stefan Asbury, Sir Harrison Birtwistle, Unsuk Chin, Péter Eötvös, Brian Ferneyhough, Heiner Goebbels, Toshio Hosokawa, Michael Jarrell, Mauricio Kagel, Helmut Lachenmann, David Lang, Liza Lim, Benedict Mason, Mouse on Mars, Carlus Padrissa (La Fura dels Baus), Emilio Pomàrico, Enno Poppe, Wolfgang Rihm, Peter Rundel, Rebecca Saunders, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Ilan Volkov and Sasha Waltz.

The latest release in Wergo’s Edition Musikfabrik 08 Graffiti features works by Unsuk Chin, Olga Neuwirth and Sun Ra.

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Unsuk Chin (b.1961) was born in Seoul, South Korea and has lived in Berlin since 1988. Her music has attracted international conductors including Simon Rattle, Gustavo Dudamel, Kent Nagano, Esa-Pekka Salonen, David Robertson, Peter Eötvös, Neeme Järvi, Markus Stenz, Myung-Whun Chung, George Benjamin, Susanna Mälkki, François -Xavier Roth, Leif Segerstam and Ilan Volkov, among others. Though modern in language, there is a lyrical communicative power to her music.

With Unsuk Chin’s Graffiti (2012-2013) für großes ensemble the composer recognises that street art has been accepted as a true art form and here she ‘trails her hand along the walls of buildings, translating the palimpsests and frictions of the architecture into a musical thriller.’ Here Ensemble Musikfabrik are directed by Peter Rundel .

In three movements Palimpsest opens on held string chords that increase and fade with pizzicato phrases before leading into a rather scurrying passage, full of grating, sharp textures as the theme develops. There are sudden short outbursts where a bell is heard and a piano motif that leads to a huge rapid downward scale. There are many fine textures from the strings and bubbling woodwind passages before the music rises through faster surging passages with a myriad of textures, colours and timbres. Fleeting instrumental motifs are briefly heard with many sharp, brittle instrumental sounds as well as vivid contrasts between quieter passages and the more dynamic moments. Towards the end the music picks up a fast forward moving momentum full of bright, pin point textures before quietening to the coda.

Tubular bells and percussion open Notturno Urbano out of which emerges a woodwind theme, taken by the strings in this strange atmospheric, nocturnal landscape. There are sharp edged chords that appear and blend into the most wonderful dissonant harmonies as the music slowly moves forward. There are sudden staccato outbursts from various instruments, before the brass sound rasping chords; the music falls back with tubular bells sounding again with hushed primeval grinding textures before we are suddenly cast into the final movement.

Passacaglia has little staccato chords from a variety of instruments creating a kaleidoscope of colours and timbres with percussion forming a dominant role. It rises in dynamics, briefly, before resuming the staccato chords. It rises again through some terrific dynamic colours and vivid textures before a cry from the brass ends the work.

This is a spectacularly fine performance of music that is brilliantly orchestrated and infinitely fascinating.

Olga Neuwirth (b.1968) was born in in Graz, Austria and studied composition in Vienna at the Vienna Academy of Music and Performing Arts under Erich Urbanner as well as at the Electroacoustic Institute. She went on to study music and art at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music with Elinor Armer before studying with Tristan Murail and working at IRCAM. Earlier in her career, Neuwirth met the Italian composer Luigi Nono, whose similar radical politics had a strong influence on her life. In 2000, Neuwirth was appointed Composer-in-Residence of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of Flanders, Antwerp, and in 2002 she was appointed Composer-in-Residence at the Lucerne.  In 2008 she was awarded the Heidelberger Künstlerinnenpreis (Heidelberg Prize for Female Artists).

Olga Neuwirth’s trumpet concerto Miramondo Multiplo… (2007) Fassung für Trompete und Ensemble ‘…both thematises and heals a trauma.’ In five movements Aria Dell Angelo opens with a bold outburst from the ensemble before the trumpet of Marco Blaauw enters soon leading to a fast and furious theme around which the soloist weaves. At times the trumpet blends textures with the ensemble; at others he takes his own line. There is a slower section with trumpet and brass having a conversation, before a more flowing melody for the trumpet and ensemble arrives soon broken up by the ensemble. Strange harmonies and textures lead on, before the solo trumpet with more than a hint of jazz style is heard, but soon falls to a low pitch as though disintegrating.

Aria Della Memoria rises out of silence with strange sounds from the ensemble almost as though tuning yet with a harmony and structure, on the edge of melodic and discordant, which is most appealing. The trumpet can soon be heard, muted, taking the theme along with the ensemble before slowly the trumpet emerges from the textures to play a whimsical theme, again rather jazz inflected, developing with the ensemble into a slow flowing melodic theme before a sudden end.

Aria Dell Sangue Freddo arrives with a dynamic, almost fairground jollity in its wild harmonies and motifs before developing a more rhythmic insistent nature.  A quieter section soon arrives though retaining a rhythmic quality. The music has further quieter moments punctuated by rhythmically dynamic passages still full of riotous harmonies and motifs with even the hint of Stravinsky’s Petrushka before tumbling to the coda.

The trumpet opens Aria Della Pace with a series of repeated short notes out of which develops a theme to which the ensemble gently join with a dissonant chordal theme surely with baroque undertones. The soloist and ensemble brass create some very fine harmonies together over a muted background before leading gently to the coda. This is a remarkably fine movement, really quite lovely.

Ensemble Musikfabrik leap in at the opening of Aria Dell Piacere with the trumpet of Marco Blaauw appearing over the ensemble as they weave a terrific theme with an underlying forward rhythmic momentum. There is some more fine virtuosic trumpet playing here before running forward, only to slow for a virtuosic trumpet solo to end.

This is a hugely attractive work, brilliantly played by Marco Blaauw and Ensemble Musikfabrik directed by Christian Eggen .

Sun Ra (born Herman Poole Blount) (1914-1993) was born in Birmingham, Alabama, USA and was a jazz composer, bandleader, piano and synthesizer player, poet and philosopher.  Sun Ra was a complex person who used ‘cosmic’ philosophies and lyrical poetry preaching awareness and peace.

There are two pieces on this new disc by Sun Ra both arranged by Sun Ra’s long-time associate, Marshall Allen.

For Outer Nothingness für Saxofon und Ensemble, Ensemble Musikfabrik are joined by saxophonist Frank Gratkowski . The work opens with timpani sounding out in an extended passage before braying, wild brass join, full of wild energy. The music settles a little as the saxophone enters playing a theme over the rather more wild accompaniment. There are jazz elements as the saxophone and other ensemble brass players weave the theme around. Eventually the music falls to the solo saxophone, which creates a myriad of unusual and wild sounds from the instrument before being accompanied by other strange, wild brass sounds. Soon a drum solo arrives that leads to slow sporadic drum beats with interventions from the ensemble. The brass produces some strange sounds as the music speeds and moves forward to a great, furious brass outburst. Pizzicato basses enter as the saxophone appears with a slow punctuated motif against little cries from the ensemble to gently end.

Pleiades für Saxofon und Ensemble opens with the spoken words of Sun Ra ‘I am Sun Ra, ambassador from the intergalactic regions of the council of outer space’ and with gentle drum beats When the ensemble joins the voice stops, as we are left with a gentle motif for two flutes with sounds of the saxophone, almost as though bringing the sounds of nature. The music settles slowly to a gentle beat, a kind of sophisticated jazz rhythm with flutes over pizzicato basses. All the while, the saxophone creates its spectacularly unusual sounds that slowly increase in dynamics and tempo as more brass enter in a cacophony of overlaid jazz style motifs. The music eventually reduces to a quiet held harmony for ensemble, punctuated by sudden interventions from the saxophone and members of the ensemble.  There are more strange noises from the saxophone and ensemble, before strings lead ahead in a sombre theme with strange sounds still being heard. A gentle melody, subtly pointed up by jazz inflections, leads forward before just ending.

These are strange, wild pieces that receive terrific performances from Frank Gratkowski and Ensemble Musikfabrik.

The recordings are excellent and there are informative notes in the large fold out CD insert. Indeed, the packaging is very nicely done with a transparent outer sleeve.

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