The programme of the 62nd International Festival of Contemporary Music of the Biennale di Venezia will continue to draw its inspiration from the comprehensive project that, from 2012 to 2017, set as its main goal an interpretation of the concept of “contemporary” that extends the field of investigation and advancement to the most diverse styles of musical composition as well as to other genres and creative aims in which research and experimentation become significant aspects of artistic expression. The theme of the Festival, titled Crossing the Atlantic, will focus on the music and musicians of the Americas and the Old Continent in reference both to the specificity of genres – as demonstrated by the special attention dedicated to one of the leading figures in music improvisation, Keith Jarrett, winner of the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement – and to their mutual influences and cross-fertilizations. This particular Golden Lion, unique in the history of the Biennale Musica, has definitively widened the horizon of the great masters and brought it to full circle, one might say, as demonstrated by the acknowledgments awarded in the past to Pierre Boulez, Georges Aperghis, Salvatore Sciarrino, Sofia Gubaidulina, Steve Reich and Tan Dun, very different figures but each of absolute significance for the music of our time.
It is with great sorrow that we learned of the health problems that have forced Keith Jarrett to cancel all his commitments for the year 2018, including the piano solo performance scheduled in Venice on September 29th, which will be replaced by the portrait, performed by the Parco della Musica Contemporanea Ensemble, of another great master, Elliott Carter, who blends Euro-cultured modernism and the principles of American avant-garde music in a uniquely original style. For the opening weekend, the Festival presents a masterpiece by Frank Zappa: The Yellow Shark . Produced for the first time in 1992 at the Alte Oper in Frankfurt, this highly articulated and complex work will be performed in its complete version by the twenty-six members of the Parco della Musica Contemporanea Ensemble conducted by Tonino Battista, with the participation of David Moss, one of the most original vocalists in the world, who has already sung Zappa’s work. The Yellow Shark is considered the highest synthesis of the author’s creative intelligence, the expression of a musical thought that ranges freely across all genres, and is capable of merging orchestral score with improvisation, experimental rock and academic avant- garde, performance and interpretative detail.
From jazz to rock and finally to tango, that of another heretic such as Astor Piazzolla, who enriches the most popular dance form in the world with different instruments, techniques and styles that revolutionize and expand its expressive range. Marcelo Nisinman, composer, arranger, and virtuoso of the bandoneón, as well as conductor of the Ensemble AMP, has been entrusted with the Venetian edition of Piazzolla’s most famous tango-opera, María de Buenos Aires, a story that wells from South-American magic realism, with its characteristic blend of sacred and profane, through the pen of Uruguayan poet Horacio Ferrer. With a background in rock and jazz, French-Argentine composer Sebastian Rivas – the Festival’s Silver Lion award recipient – ranges confidently in his experimentation between digital, acoustic and electronic music: to the Biennale he brings Aliados, a multimedia opera that manipulates sounds, images and voices in real time, and is an opera of our times. It is based on the true story of the meeting between Augusto Pinochet and Margaret Thatcher, the allies in the title, during the conflict between Argentina and the United Kingdom over the Falkland Islands.
A true wizard of the bass is Victor Wooten, who has given an essential contribution to innovation in the performing techniques of an instrument that is critical to every band but has long been considered marginal. Ranked as one of the ten best bassists of all time by “Rolling Stone” and elected bassist of the year three times by the readers of “Bass Player”, Victor Wooten presents the European premiere of his latest CD, Trypnotyx, accompanied by two accomplished musicians: drummer Dennis Chambers, who was a session man for Scofield, McLaughlin, Santana, and saxophonist and flutist Bob Franceschini. These are just some examples of how every kind of music may be enriched by the experience of another, absorb its lesson and return it in a new form.
In the ample sphere of music enriched and created by technological devices, the concerts are moving increasingly towards theatre, with interpreter- performers, scenographic soundscapes and immersive installations that transform the space of the stage and the music-listening space: this is true of Nidra by thirty-five year old Giacomo Baldelli, conceived as a multisensory opera, “a new musical tour de force for electric guitar featuring video” (New York Times), with pieces that reconnect highbrow music to the subversive energy of rock, such as Trash TV Trance by Fausto Romitelli or Vampyr! by Tristan Murail; and in Le chant de la matière by Laura Bianchini and Michelangelo Lupone of the Centro di Ricerca Musicale in Rome, who invent large drums made with interactive membranes and a metal shell that makes the secret voice of matter resonate like a large-scale symphony, projecting the fascinating vibrations onto a screen, with the help of percussionist Philippe Spiesser. Or like the concerts dedicated to the solo double bass: by Dario Calderone, who will perform Ur, due riti per contrabbasso solo by Giorgio Netti in an amplified version that pulls in, draws away and immerses the spectator in the sound and in the instrument; by Florentin Ginot, who presents Not Here, a “staged concert with an in situ scenography” as described by Ginot himself, where four double basses are positioned at the four sides of the stage, one for each piece, to explore the entire range of the sound of this instrument; and by Charlotte Testu, who uses electronic devices to reinvent the instrumental technique of the double bass. Finally the duo of augmented cellos Norman Adams and Nicola Baroni: in their concerts the score, the computer programming and the performance blur their traditional boundaries and the “virtual” sound emerges as an actual consequence of the actions that take place on the stage.
Hailed as the “diva of avant-garde pianism”, and Cage and Crumb’s favourite performer, and the first to cultivate the art of the toy piano, Margaret Leng Tan brings to the programme of the 62nd Festival the leverage of an artistic biography that has made history. Her concert – with music by Cowell, Cage and Crumb – features the pioneers who laid the foundations for every extension of the language of the piano, inaugurating a process of experimentation with the instrument that remains essential to this day.
Different styles and generations cross paths in the concerts of the ensembles and quartets invited to the Festival, focused on the dynamic, performative and spatial element of the execution: the Orchestra Haydn, conducted by Tito Ceccherini, with soloists Giulia Bolcato (soprano), Roberto Miele (French horn) and Francesco D’Orazio (violin) explore the music of Augusta Read Thomas and Brett Dean; the Ensemble Linea founded in 1998 by pianist and conductor Jean-Philippe Wurtz, a former assistant to Kent Nagano and Peter Eötvös, presents a programme of music by European composers who have been or are still professors in the most important American universities: Brian Ferneyhough, Philippe Manoury, Georg Friedrich Haas, Tristan Murail and Chaya Czernowin; the Mivos Quartet, founded only ten years ago in New York and already known as one of the most undaunted ensembles dedicated to the performance of contemporary music, offers two European premieres by George Lewis and Sam Pluta as well as a Quartet by Mexican composer Hilda Paredes; another string quartet, Untref, formed only recently in 2011, but one of the first ensembles in Argentina dedicated to music from the late twentieth century to our day, presents a Euro-South American programme with music by Julio Estrada, Edgar Alandia, Fernando Fiszbein, Gabriele Manca and Stefano Scodanibbio; the Ensemble Itinéraire, the historic representative of new music from France and beyond, offers an original and significant overview of contemporary music from Colombia.
As always, in addition to the customary presence of the great masters, the Festival of Contemporary Music will also feature many works by emerging young talents that will attest to the continuity between generations and to the interest of these works in terms of originality. This continuity reveals how fertile the lesson of the great authors of our time continues to be, and how our young talents yearn to follow in their footsteps, demonstrating a vitality which renews our faith in the future. The very same orientation guides the project behind the Biennale College – Music, which in this year’s edition will again circumscribe its field of action to musical theatre, for which the new generations apparently have much to say. So far, the College Musica has produced eleven one-act operas (another four will be produced during this edition), and some of the young composers who proved to be particularly outstanding have been invited to subsequent editions to present new independent projects. This continuity is a particular source of pride for the Music Department, because it confirms the effectiveness of the project, as a concept in and of itself, and of the work we have done so far. This year, submissions were received by young artists from the four continents: Europe, America, Asia and Africa. The selected works are: Push! (Alvise Zambon – Maria Guzzon), Rodi! Rodi! (Sofia Avramidou – Cecilia D’Amico), El sueño de Dalí (Ignacio Ferrando – Jorge Ferrando) and Trìstrofa (Elisa Corpolongo – Ilaria Diotallevi). The selected teams were guided in the development and realisation of their projects through phases of training and production coordinated by the Director of the Music Department with the help of a team of tutors: Sergio Casesi and Giuliano Corti (libretto), Lucia Ronchetti (composition). The two directors of the productions, Katrin Hammerl and Irene Di Lelio, were recommended – for the first time – by the Director of the Theatre Department, Antonio Latella.
From the point of view of our audiences, our efforts have focused – as always – on involving people who do not usually attend the kind of performances that derive from a conventional idea of “contemporary music”. By opening up to other genres, our recent editions have attracted audiences with different backgrounds and interests, which have driven us to expand our selection and to facilitate access for an increasing number of spectators. Our hope remains the same, that audiences with different concerns may meet and mutually discover one another in programmes that represent the broadest possible horizon of music, and at the same time that they be facilitated in acquiring a more personal understanding of the reality of live performance. This orientation also underpins one of the newest features of the 2018 edition, the accreditation of “spectators in residence”. This proposal will make it possible to enjoy the full range of events in the Festivals of Dance, Music and Theatre, with the assistance of a tutor who will guide them in a dedicated experience through the performances and artists of the Festivals, the encounters with the protagonists and the many opportunities for dialogue and exchange.