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Though I think of myself as someone with some degree of knowledge of music (as I have played music myself for decades), I decided to listen to the CONTEMPORARY NIGHTS (2) of the Festival Orchestra on 22 March as if I knew nothing about music, put myself into the shoes of somebody for whom this is all new, and try to guess what such a person could understand from modern music. And I am happy to report that there is quite a lot he can understand. (I have to admit though that the result might be partly due to the fact that I did not manage to completely forget everything about music and pretend to be a complete beginner.) (ligetmuhely.blog.hu)

I realised that a lot of games were played.  Not necessarily cheerful and carefree, but games nonetheless.  Some evoked the atmosphere of death or war – but tragedies are also “played” on stage!

At the beginning the orchestra played the composition of an Estonian composer (Arvo Pärt), who was inspired by the death of Benjamin Britten (a British composer) to pay tribute to him.  Even if someone is a complete stranger in the universe of modern music he could identify the physical and mental degrading/disintegration in the stubborn repetition of descending, sliding scales.  The scales ended up in a long, sustained sound illustrating the passing away.  The end, which no one can change.

Another sad game was Zoltán Jeney’s piece “Wohin” (Where to?).  It is a reflection on a horrible and meaningless war, suggesting that war destroys and annihilates even the most sacred joys and emotions.   Everybody knows Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, maybe they can even croon it.  This is the reason why Jeney chose this as the basis of his piece, which he then reworked.  The composition starts with a solo cello, playing individual sounds, notes staggering, stumbling, tottering. The sound at the outset seemed to have been scattered around and fragmented, then slowly but surely even the tone-deaf realised that “this is the Ode to Joy, but in a distorted, disabled version, full of suffering instead of joy”.   Later some more strings joined in, evoking even more painful feelings.

One other “game” was that after the 3-4-minute piece was finished, a solo bassoon also played the same tune, with more winds gradually joining in.  This is how the orchestra demonstrated (as intended by the composer) that any instrument is capable of depicting the horrors of war.

It goes without saying that there were cheerful and joyful games played that evening as well.  György Kurtág’s Bagatelles (originally the title of the series was: Games) was a witty game played with various sentiments and emotions expressed by music.  The screaming flute and the growling double bass – “clipped together” with the piano accompaniment – sometimes mused over something romantically, and other times entered into a hysterical row. All in all, they played the whole range of human relations.

The closing piece of the concert was also a cheerful game.  Luciano Berio (an Italian composer) wrote variations on a dozen folk songs of different nations for a solo voice and orchestra (we enjoyed the virtuosity of Andrea Meláth).  There was a melancholic dreaming away, a mockery of women or losers, a song about boisterous dance, and – the last one – a dynamic pub song about Azeri girls.

For me the most playful was László Sáry’s Clap-music.  On the stage there were no instruments, only five people sitting in a semi-circle, clapping their hands, patting the rhythm on their thighs, snapping, tapping the floor, producing a cavalcade of rhythms which made your feet move by themselves.  This was all an illustration of the motto of Creative Music Activities written by the composer: “Music is joy”.

Indeed, this evening was living proof of it!