SonoMania – “Voyage” Interview

The beginning of winter brings not only cold weather and running noses, but also a boost in the Bucharest contemporary music stage, with the start of the MERIDIAN International Festival (read the whole program HERE). During the festival, SonoMania new music ensemble will perform, on December 4th 2013, VOYAGE, a concert with works by the young generation of Romanian composers, realized in partnership with CIMRO. On this occasion we’ve invited the young artists that participate in the concert to answer some questions about the contemporary academic music world and what they expect or take from it. Without further ado, here are their answers.

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Some of you are still students, some are already established artists, nationally and internationally. What has determined you to start working in the new music field and what is it that keeps you going?

Gabriel Mălăncioiu (composer): Meeting Remus Georgescu and hearing a concert of contemporary music played by Trio Contraste were very important factors for my musical development.

Diana Rotaru (composer): I was very skeptical at first of this “contemporary music”, I didn’t listen to it until I was 15 or 16 years old. My mother, being a composer, had a lot of recordings, and so I gradually started to explore this new domain, starting with her works. And when I was hooked, I was hooked for good. At some point I listened to a CD of this Swedish ensemble, peärls before swïne experience, and I was surprised to see that, in its essence, no matter what the general audience may think, new music is mostlyFUN. Fun to write, fun to play and fun to hear. Even when it’s tough or deep or visceral or hallucinatory, once it grabs you it never lets you go. And this is why I’ll keep doing this, no matter the difficulties.

Raluca Stratulat (violinist): I first discovered what contemporary music feels like after I graduated. What made me want to do it seriously was the idea that haunted me for some time, that is that people often misunderstand contemporary music, and that the fault for that may very well be the performer’s (being one myself). Nobody forces you to accept to play something, and if you accepted to play it, then it’s only in your nature as a performer to search the perfect way to express it and to reach to as many people as possible. What keeps me going is the constant novelty of this kind of music, and the wish to continuously be a complete musician. The means of expression contained in this area of music (which is almost impossible to describe in words because of it’s immense mixture of genres) helped me improve my violin technique, my acting skills, it significantly widened my artistic horizon, made me want to always discover for new things, and finally, this music is an important part of what I mean today as a musician. 

Octavian Moldovean (flutist): Music has a lot to offer, as much as it has a broad spectrum of possibilities. As artists, we are built to seek diversity more than regular people do. In addition, a complete artist should have a performance repertory as wide as possible. In this way, new music proves to be both a challenge and a curiosity switch. I find contemporary music to be useful and interesting. It attracts me because of its complexity – thanks to all the miscellaneous effects and dynamics it develops instrumental technique. (For instance, after playing Ferneyhough or Takemitsu, any other classical piece feels like a walk in the park). Thus, I believe it is a matter of keeping an opened mind and broaden our perspectives with every experience that music has to offer. 

Sabina Ulubeanu (composer): I was attracted to new music since elementary school. The piano competitions included a mandatory Romanian new work which I loved and was eager to play every single time. When I was 8 years old, I was assigned a  piece by a living composer who came into the class and gave me indications and advice. It was a fascinating experience for me and it made me love the new music even more. Of course, now everything I played back then sounds so „normal” and even mainstream, but in those times when the repertoire was mainly baroque, classical and romantic, it was  a very welcomed variation. Later I decided to try to compose my self and it became addictive. I realised the new music and the new sounds are a necessity for me, I just have to let out every wave that haunts me. 

Eugen Bogdan Popa (cellist): Although it was not an exclusive choice regarding that music, my motivation has been, since the beginning, the sincere interest for the contemporary language and for the performing means it develops. My activity in that regard started about 10 years ago, when I received the honouring invitation from composer Dan Dediu to be a member in the PROFIL ensemble. The approach I made ever since to the new music also influenced my Ph.D. research, and being part in other newer ensembles, such as PROPULS and SONOMANIA keeps offering me possibilities to express as a musician in a field of ever growing interest, so I let myself be challenged and inspired! 

Maria Chifu (bassoonist): I felt a real need to grow, and new music offered me that unique joy of experimenting and surpassing my own limits, of being one step beyond of what had been created so far.

Sebastian Androne (composer): Stravinsky’s „Rite of Spring” was the trigger in my case. I’ve listened to it in highschool with my jaw on the floor, hardly believing that a piece of music can have such a humongous expressive force. Later, while I was still grasping the idea that the XXth century music merely expands the expressive pallet of the universal music, drilling into unexploited fields, I’ve come across another composition that blew my mind: Penderecki’s „De Natura Sonoris”. Gradually I realized that through art objects (a painting, a novel or a symphony for example), one can manifest his/her own view and attitude of his/her time. Why should I choose the unchangeable past when I can try to understand my own present and add my contribution to the future? 

Ana Giurgiu-Bondue (composer): I am a composer but also a pianist and a harpsichordist. As an interpret, I play very different musics, from baroque to contemporary. So, my interests in music are many and varied. I started to compose very early, even before knowing the musical notes, when I was around 5 years old but I decided quite late to be a composer. Nevertheless, composition is now for me a necessity, a permanent need to create and re-create my reality.

Gabriel Mălăncioiu ©  Stefan Firca

Diana Rotaru © Stefan Firca

Do you think that contemporary music in Romania benefited from a perceptible interest growth in the past few years, or do you think it remained mostly the same as it was after 1989? 

Gabriel: I can see some good signs in the later years: the composition workshop during George Enescu Festival is a very useful idea, helping young composers to get in touch with internationally recognized composers, the appearance of New Music Festivals like InnerSound is certainly giving a fresh look to our contemporary musical scene; another good sign is the emergence of ensembles dedicated to playing contemporary music in various cities: Sonomania Ensemble in Bucureşti, Ad-Hoc Ensemble in Cluj, Atem Ensemble in Timişoara to name just a few. 

Diana: I definitely think there are some changes, especially in the independent field. A lot of new people involved, a lot of events and a growing public for experimental music. This did not happen when I was a student. Still, we have a long way to go until we reach the level of other European centers, even the small ones, and our improvement should start with more funding and more respect for new music artists, especially the younger ones. 

Raluca: Yes, I think things have considerably changed since 1989, but I always believed that the more we musicians gain interest in it, the more the rest of the people will. So if we really want to gain more public, then we have to become truly in love with the new music ourselves first. 

Octavian: Hard to compare, since I came to exist precisely in ’89. However, I can say that compared to a few years ago, Romanian new music has grown. A reason for this growth is the solid tradition of several modern age composers such as Anatol Vieru, Aurel Stroe, Sigismund Toduta, Theodor Rogalsky, Constantin Silvestri and many more others. These people left a valuable heritage of works, establishing an inspired perspective for the living composers today. For example, Doina Rotaru is appreciated all over the world for her compositions. I had the privilege to work with Mario Caroli, one of the leader instrumentalists in new music, who is constantly playing Mrs. Rotaru’s creations. Henceforth, I find that young composers should become aware of our native predecessors and maintain a national tradition as much as they learn to express themselves. 

Sabina: Immediately after 1989…no, the interest did not raise.  But in the last few years it did. My explanation is simple: the involvement of new media, such as video, photography, contemporary dance  and electronics, attracts a new kind of public,  people that perceive art as a whole and develop a taste for new music with the help of visuals. And they don’t come only to syncretic shows, but begin to fill the concert halls even when only music is present. 

Maria: It surely did. I notice this each year in the increasing number of people in the concert halls and in the unconventional spaces, in the appearance of new festivals – which was absolutely necessary -, in the growing interest of composers and performers from abroad and in their reaction towards Romanian contemporary musical creation. Anyway, if one desires a boost of this impact, I think it’s necessary to have a more intense creative input, as well as a much better distribution towards the potential receptive audience. 

Ana: I think it is a huge difference between these two periods, the situation exactly after ’89 and nowadays times. The new generation of Romanian musicians is extremely concerned to discover new art forms and to conquer, at the same time, a new public. I think a very important aspect in promoting new music is establishing a really interactive dialogue, work and experimentation between musicians and other arts and artists, even scientists, as well as a better communication between different generations. When I helped Adina Dumitrescu and Catalin Cretu to create Opus in 1998, this was our goal. I was very happy to find some of these ideas embodied into another form, the InnerSound Festival. I think that, at the moment, the idea of Team work is vital for the future. Nobody works in science nowadays on their own, but in a team. But this implies patience and giving up one’s personal pride and rigid conceptions.

Raluca Stratulat © Mihai Cucu

Octavian Moldovean

Do you think chamber music still has a place in the new music field, or did it became anachronistic in comparison with all the new technologies? 

Gabriel: Yes, I think chamber music is the first choice for many composers. I don’t think chamber music will ever became anachronistic in comparison with new technologies, but, certainly, it can be enhanced by the electronic medium. 

Diana: I think it does. There is still that irreplaceable quality of a human being touching a string or a flute that I doubt will go out of fashion. Working with multimedia or electronic devices is fascinating and opens whole new worlds, but I don’t think that these means of expression should exclude the “traditional” ones. 

Raluca: I like to believe that chamber music will never seize to exist regardless of the age we live in, and I also believe that all the new technologies that are used today can only help it to evolve or if you like help it transcend it’s status. Chamber music is my first love, and I think it is an important part of every musician’s life, one that cannot be dispersed without the risk of losing one’s identity. Chamber music is not only a superior way of communication among musicians, but because more than one of them play together, it also becomes a communion, a reflection of one’s self in the others and vice versa, and not lastly a supreme being in which one seize to exist as an individual, to become part of something greater. So yes, I think we will always feel the need of chamber music, because it’s a part of our human nature translated into music. 

Octavian: Regardless of how much technology would develop, people will still need the energy that flows in the concert hall during a performance. It is a chemistry between the transmitter and receiver, bounding that a machine or computer could never make. Solo playing can become boring, and orchestra requires a lot of organizing and it usually is expensive. Chamber music has a greater chance to thrive because it offers a more intimate approach to the music. It has the advantage of being more accessible for composers and the audience. Moreover, chamber music enhances solo performing and dialogue better than orchestra playing does. 

Sabina: Chamber music will never die. Even the new technologies are made by people! and these people play together: a composition for 2 computers is still chamber music. Chamber music means interaction, attention, empathy and a whole range of feelings. Also, the public and the players need variation. We need to hear classical music, contemporary music, made with a few instruments, made by a  big symphonic orchestra or  electronics. So I am positive that chamber music cannot be anachronistic. 

Eugen Bogdan: Chamber music will always exist in any type of new music. I strongly believe that the dialogue, as a valuable principle, will always be a key to understanding music, regardless of the specific era in which music was created. The topic is extremely debatable, but regarding the impact on new technologies, I don’t think it creates a situation of exclusion or marginalization of chamber music, but quite the opposite, it enhances it.

Maria: I am certain of it. For me, contemporary music is the sum of the multiple states a human being can feel, if the composer manages to convey their message to the audience. I think in that case, any means of communicating ideas, immages, emotions – that everybody needs – is useful.

Sebastian: I believe that technological innovation expands certain elements of what it can later replace. But I am convinced that chamber music will not disappear due to some technologically improved replicas. The tradition of an instrument for example cannot just be erased from the collective memory and be replaced by a substitute. 

Ana: Chamber music is like a pyramidal basis in our European musical tradition. So it is impossible to consider it “anachronistic”. New technologies bring other resources,  an enormous variety of sounds, effects and creates a new possibility, a new perspective for different arts to collaborate.

Sabina Ulubeanu © Cornel Brad

Eugen-Bogdan Popa © Florin Artist

The “avant-garde” concept seems to have scared the music lovers in the past century, although this didn’t happen with the other arts. Can we still speak of avant-garde in today’s music or not? 

Gabriel: I think in the present time it’ s more a question of synthesizing the discoveries made in the last centuries. And more than that, I think that each composer tries to find his own way by going more deeply into his own psyche and then using methods, systems, sonorities, structures… that resonate with those inner discoveries, than just finding himself in an endless search of something REALLY NEW. In the same time, the  avant-garde has the role of destroying the borders created by tradition; and these two opposite  forces paradoxically coexists, even in our times.

Diana: Not really. I think we have reached the point when we don’t have to reject the past or the non-academic music, we can embrace them and try to create something sincere and original by combining all sorts of influences. That doesn’t mean that I promote kitsch or facile music, far from it. I am puzzled by young composers that are writing as if they lived at the beginning of the XXth century, or worse. I see absolutely no use in trying to copy the past; one should learn it, yes, assimilate it and tranform it into something else, something personal – and by “past” I mean the whole XXth century, with all its currents and developments, as well! 

Raluca: My opinion is that the spirit of avant-garde is proper to the art itself, whose only constant is change, the continuously hunger for novelty and finding new means of expression. It depends of what we understand through the concept of avant-garde. If we see it as a reaction to something old that is already consumed and in a dead end, I’m sure there will always be people to think that, along with people who miss the old ways, like there always have been, and not just regarding music, but other arts too and even life itself. Also, the range of today’s music is so wide that I believe we cannot speak of anything absent. Something new happens every day, only thing is that everyone sees it as they can or like, and it’s not labeled as it used to be in the past. There are too many genres to be analysed and labeled, and as many as they are, the shorter their life seems to be. One of today’s feature is that one can constantly prove itself, which didn’t seem so happen so much in the past, perhaps because of our increase hunger to consume, to live more, to experience as much as possible. And if the avant-garde concept seize to exist in today’s music, then it means we have to remove it from our vocabulary too. Therefore I think that as long as we still use it, it exist, but maybe it’s signification has changed, or gained new meanings. 

Octavian: Avant-garde can be spoken of anytime during history; and thanks to that, we’re not in the cave right now, or hunting animals with our bare hands. There have always been people that simply did not settle for the rules and regulations imposed by others within a certain time. It’s quite the same in music too: some composers strive to find uniqueness in every aspect of their creation – and they succeed. Nevertheless, there is the danger of overdoing the avant-garde: in the hazardous attempt to be original, other music creators write a lot of meaningless repertory. And that is scary, for everyone. 

Sabina: The beauty of our times is that we can choose from a multitude of facets in new music. Feeling nostalgic? Listen to Doina Rotaru. Computer virtuosity and beautiful energy? Have some Henry Vega. Want to reflect on the meaning of life? Octavian Nemescu is your guy. Do you need to develop and search your innerself in a beethovenian way? It’s time for Tiberiu Olah. So, there is time and space for everyone who has the talent to transform you and your feelings. I don’t know if it’s avant-garde or not, but I am happy with the current state of music. 

Maria: Art, as well as science, in normal conditions, develops under the light of evolution, everything progressing along with our civilization. Within the audience there are always controversies, the history has continuously known these forms of reaction, while being witness to progress. One cannot create works that bring nothing innovative, only from fear of failure or to please the audience. I have met people who were reticent towards new music, but those same people, after a while, started to understand the message of the composer and are currently coming to syncretic concerts and shows with pleasure and interest. 

Sebastian: Probably the avant-garde has had this effect on humans since always in all arts. Novelty is obsession to some and kryptonite to others. Of course we can speak of avant-garde in today’s music. There are experiments in each new music festival. Although this fact does not guarantee masterpieces it still has the potential of opening new artistic directions. 

Ana: No, I really think the concept of avant-garde is not available anymore. The Avant-garde is supposed to precede something. We cannot forget that the “avant-garde” period in 20th century had also huge political and economical aspects and enormous artistic constraints. I think now is the time for a new “Renaissance”, a new Freedom and Responsibility for the artistic (musical) gesture. Responsibility? Yes, for the creators; because art is supposed to form the sensibility. We cannot ignore the human emotional function and just address “interesting concepts and ideas” to the intellect.

Maria Chifu © Alma Ghiulea

Sebastian Androne

Ana Giurgiu-Bondue

One last question, for composers only: tell us two words about your work and how it integrates with your own artistic search and aspirations. 

Gabriel: Into this work “Linişte” , I’m using Lucian Blaga’s poem, which creates a connection with an archaic musical culture that is fascinating me in this moment.

Diana: My work is called “Play!”, a polysemantic word that means “to play a musical instrument”, “to play a role”, “theatrical performance” as well as “to play a game”. It synthesizes my musical preoccupations, as it deals with narrative elements (contrast, musical characters, development) as well as trance-like, contemplative ones. I’ve used some little theatrical elements, like the “theatre” gong that the pianist has to play, as well as a quite strict modal language and rhythms based on the Fibonacci series. Mostly though I just had fun writing it. 

Sabina: Raum und Liebe is a composition that explores my melodic world, a distinctive pattern in my creation, but also my less used harmonic interior, which I felt the need to „exercise”. Space-Time and Memory , my whole life obsessions, are the  two investigated concepts behind this music. Memory relies on affects, on feelings and on associations. Memory is therefore Love, that creates Time, Space and Presence. From the musical point of view,  Space is expressed transformative and evolutional, in its interlaced harmonic and melodic states. The harmonic paradigm becomes obsession,  ostinato,  while  melody travels from heterophony to polyphony, only to unveil the serenity of monody at the very end. I have deliberately worked  with harmony  and ostinatos and also with a more rythmical and energetic side of myself, and I have enjoyed that a lot.

Sebastian: „Le Voyage de l’Age Voy” is directly linked to Anouar Sarhan’s concert and the piece was composed to be performed in the opening of his concert. I wanted to compose a piece that would contrast his music but would still share some idiomatic traits. I was interested in expanding the expressive palette and I treated it like a real journey, a stylistic incursion into distinct and recognizable worlds of sound. One of my objectives was to create a homogenous discourse focusing on the transitions that were of great compositional interest to me.

Ana: My work “Le Feu” is written in 2012. I was very impressed by some poems belonging to a francophone poet and doctor from Haiti, Jean Metellus, poems about the 4 elements in Nature. My intention was to explore, in my musical way, the link between this metaphoric and mystical text, the voice, a melodic instrument (viola) and a harmonic instrument (piano). The form is inspired by an ancient profane cantata by Montéclair, a French composer in the 18th century. I am fascinated by the formal asymmetry in ancient and baroque music and my “narrative” approach in composition allows me to create links between some of these forms and my own musical ideas; of course, in a new context and in my personal musical language.

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