Kaija Saariaho, Hans Abrahamsen, George Lewis, David Lang, Luca Francesconi; Sivan Eldar, Sergej Newski, Samir Odeh-Tamimi, Francesco Filidei, Jennifer Walshe; George Aperghis, Arvo Pärt, Sylvano Bussotti, Morton Feldman: composers from different generations who conceive vocal composition as a means for experimentation and innovation in the contemporary age.
The vocal music of Kaija Saariaho, the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement of this Festival, is based on the texts of important authors from various eras who address universal themes such as the solitude of the journey, distance, death. The texts are analysed by the composer as sound material and as instructions and suggestions for listening. To her the Festival dedicates a profile in four works: the world premiere of Reconnaissance, performed by the Accentus ensemble, which is also the protagonist of the Italian premiere of Tag des Jahrs; the European premiere of Only the Sound Remains, in the new production by Aleksi Barrière and performed by Paul Hillier’s Theatre of Voices; and the performance of Notes on Light for cello and orchestra that is to inaugurate the Festival at the Teatro La Fenice with its Orchestra conducted by Ernest Martinez-Izquierdo.
The version for orchestra of Claude Debussy’s Childen’s Corner composed by the Danish composer Hans Abrahamsen, on the programme of the inaugural concert, highlights the fundamental relationship between the composers of the second spectral generation and the research on timbre by Debussy.
Born the same year, 1952, George Lewis, the acknowledged protagonist of experimentalism and the African diaspora, is a multimedia artist and professor of composition at Columbia University, currently artist-in-residence at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin. His new work, commissioned by La Biennale, is about Anthony William Amo, among the philosophers of African origin to obtain renown and become influential in Europe. The world premiere of the new piece for voice and electronics will be performed by the Neue Vocalsolisten, winners of the Silver Lion award.
David Lang, the protagonist of American post-minimalism and founder of Bang On A Can, is the composer of The Little Match Girl Passion, the piece that won the Pulitzer Prize for music in 2008. It will be performed by Paul Hillier’s Theatre of Voices, which recorded it for the Harmonia Mundi label, winning a Grammy Award in 2010.
Luca Francesconi will be at the Biennale Musica 2021 with Herzstück, a work for vocal ensemble composed for the Neue Vocalsolisten to a text by Heiner Müller, the author from whom he adapted the libretto of his opera Quartett, one of the most highly acclaimed contemporary opera productions, which boasts many performances and new productions around the world.
Representing the generation of the 1970s and 80s, Sivan Eldar, Sergej Newski, Samir Odeh-Tamimi and Francesco Filidei will respectively present three world premieres and one Italian premiere at the Festival.
Composer Sivan Eldar, who studied in Israel and the United States, where she graduated from Berkeley with Frank Bedrossian and Edmund Campion, now lives in Paris, and since 2019 has been in residence with the Orchestre National Montpellier (Opéra Comédie). Sivan Eldar reinterprets myth in After Arethusa, relying on the writing of Cordelia Lynn, the playwright and librettist with whom she has often worked (they will make a joint debut at the Opéra de Lille in the 2021-22 season).
Born in Moscow in 1972, Sergej Newski trained in Germany with Jorg Herchet in Dresden and with Friedrich Goldmann in Berlin, where he still lives. The Neue Vocalsolisten commissioned Newski to write a new piece, Die Einfachen, inspired by the reporting of historian Irina Rodulgina about “The Simple”, the name of the gay movement in Leningrad in the 1920s. Also working on the European scene like Newski, and like him a resident of Berlin, Israeli-Palestine composer Samir Odeh-Tamimi was born in Jaljuliya, an Arab city in Israel in 1970: a performer of traditional Arab music, he later studied musicology and composition at Kiel and Bremen. In Venice he will present the piece titled Timna. One of the most acknowledged composers of his generation, Francesco Filidei will present the world premiere of Tutto in una volta, a title borrowed from a poem by Nanni Balestrini.
One of the most significant artistic personalities in the panorama of contemporary music, Georges Aperghis was attracted by Adolf Wölfli’s obsessive repetitiveness. Wölfli-Kantata, in its Italian premiere performance, seems to reflect the dense patterns of the Swiss artist, considered a master of Art Brut. The monumental work for vocal ensemble and choir composed for 36 real parts will be performed by the Neue Vocalsolisten together with the SWR Vokalensemble choir.
Arvo Pärt’s Stabat Mater will be performed in the original 1985 version for trio of voices and strings. This is a liturgical song the text of which, for the Estonian composer, “presents to us the simultaneous existence of the immeasurable pain of this event and the potential consolation”. Valentin Silvestrov shares a common destiny with Pärt, as he turns to the “source of music” in his Liturgical Chants.
The painter, director, scenographer and artist Sylvano Bussotti will be at La Biennale with Per 24 voci adulte o bianche, a sort of vocal happening that was also performed in a version for the theatre by Living Theatre (in 1967 in Bordeaux). Part of the cycle Cinque frammenti all’Italia, in which Bussotti “deconstructs texts by Rilke, Adorno, Braibanti, Michelangelo, D’Annunzio, Baudelaire, and Jacopone da Todi oscillating between boundless freedom and a rigorous attachment to method”.
Rothko Chapel by Morton Feldman, like many works by the American composer, is inspired by the large canvases of American abstract expressionism, in this case the octagonal Rothko Chapel. “Rothko’s language goes right to the edge of his canvas and I wanted the same effect with the music – that it should permeate the whole octagonal-shaped room and not be heard from a certain distance”.