The 63rd International Festival of Contemporary Music, directed by Ivan Fedele and organized by La Biennale di Venezia chaired by Paolo Baratta, to be held in Venice from September 27th to October 6th, presents 16 events for a total of 30 premiere performances: 19 world premieres (12 of which were commissioned by La Biennale) and 11 Italian premieres.
“After the themes developed in the two previous editions” –comments Ivan Fedele– “concerning the relationship between the music and cultures of the Asian continent (2017) and the American continent (2018) and the cutting edge of European experiences, the next Festival will deal eminently with some of the most interesting realities (composers and performers) of the ‘Old Continent’ which remains a benchmark for music, and more in general, the culture of our time. A continent which has never ceased to raise crucial questions about art and its relationship with the present time and which remains today at the centre of a multiplicity of propulsive forces driving artistic contexts around the world”.
Consistently with this theme, George Benjamin, Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement 2019, will inaugurate the 63rd International Festival of Contemporary Music on September 27th with his first broad-scoped operatic work, hailed as a masterpiece: Written on Skin, performed by the Rai’s Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale conducted by Clemens Schuldt. Created in 2012 for the Aix-en-Provence Festival, Written on Skin – which along with the most highly acclaimed British composer in the world of international music also involved Martin Crimp for the libretto and Katie Mitchell as the director, the cutting edge of the English scene – played for three years and was produced in five different versions following the inaugural production.
And while George Benjamin has revitalized musical theatre with a masterful operation to “reconnect” with the past (starting with the story that borrows from the life and the unrequited love of legendary troubadour and poet Guillem de Cabestaing), the French-Greek composer Georges Aperghis is radically renovating musical practice as he creates his own surreal polyphonic universe in which all the ingredients – vocal, instrumental, gestural, theatrical, technological – are transferred from one context to another and integrated. This is the case with Thinking Things, Aperghis’ most recent work which will have its Italian premiere in Venice, written for four performers, robotic extensions, video, lights and electronics. Man and machine, the new cohabitation imposed on man by his creature, are not presented from the traditional apocalyptic perspective, but with humour and imagination more reminiscent of the magical world of Méliès rather than Metropolis.
Beside the masters, many events in the programme at the Festival by the younger generations seem increasingly to break loose from their personal perimeter to experiment with other modes of expression. Eclecticism, original admixtures, juxtapositions of materials and influences in new and different ways seem to be their distinctive traits.
There are inconceivable combinations of instruments that short-circuit traditionally diverse spheres, as in Songbook, which combines a rock quartet, an amplified classical ensemble and live electronics, a project composed by its author-performer Matteo Franceschini, the winner of the Silver Lion award, bringing together performers from the Icarus Ensemble and the Cantus Ensemble of Zagreb. This is the last piece in a triptych titled Live that intends to unite “the complexity, depth and richness of contemporary composition (the ‘written’ page) and the ‘unlimited’ energy, visionary impact and constant search for new sounds to be found in an electro-rock live set” (M. Franceschini).
There are also interconnections between instruments that are distant in time and space but come together to reinvent music, as in Nomaden, the work of German composer currently living in Amsterdam Joël Bons, which won the Grawemeyer Music Award, the Nobel prize of music, in 2019. Composed for the great cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras and the Atlas Ensemble, which gathers 18 musicians from China, Japan, the Middle East, Central Asia and Europe, Nomaden incorporates a wide range of instruments – from the Armenian duduk to the Iranian setar and the Syrian tombak, from the Chinese ehru to the Japanese shakuhachi and the Indian sarangi – and their palette of timbres, unfamiliar to most. A work that for Bons, who conceives art as an intercultural creation, represents the end of a 14-year journey exploring these possibilities with the Atlas Ensemble, which he founded.
A concerto for harp and electronics to discover the seduction of amalgamating apparently distant and contrasting soundscapes, is presented by Emanuela Battigelli. On the one hand, one of the most fascinating of instruments that embody harmony and one of the most ancient, boasting thousands of years of history but alternate fortunes in the history of music, capable of covering many different genres – classical, folk, pop – but used rather parsimoniously to our day. On the other, the potential of electronics that has distinguished musical experimentation from the late twentieth century to the present. Harpist Emanuela Battigelli, remarkable as a soloist, in a chamber music formation and in collaboration with major orchestras such as the Berliner Philharmoniker, the London Philharmonia and the Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala, shapes a concert with three new pieces commissioned by the Biennale to Michele Sanna, Daniele Bravi, Maurizio Azzan, an Italian premiere by Malika Kishino and a piece by Daniela Terranova.
“To express in music the emotional heart of words” is what the ancient repertory and contemporary creation may have in common. As in the juxtaposition of the Missa da capella a sei voci by Claudio Monteverdi and the motet In illo tempore by Gomberti with the composition by Gianvincenzo Cresta for six voices and electronics, in its world premiere performance at the Biennale, which is titled after the text by Giordano Bruno De l'infinito, universo e mondi from which it extrapolates several excerpts. “The two works are similar in their genesis, i.e. in their process of composition, and in their practice, i.e. in the subjective choice of matching the sound of human voices with artificial sounds” (from the notes for the project). It will be performed by the vocal ensemble Spirito from Lyon, conducted by Nicole Corti, along with I Ferrabosco for Monteverdi, a consort specialized in sacred and profane Italian polyphony, and for Cresta, the electronics curated by Francesco Abbrescia.
The listening space of music is transformed by musician-performers, scenographic soundscapes and immersive multimedia installations.
That is the concept behind the concert by Filippo Perocco and Lucia Ronchetti, two of the most widely recognized voices in contemporary Italian music, performed by the ensemble L’arsenale, winner of the 2016 Abbiati prize, conducted by Perocco himself. Two new pieces commissioned by the Biennale, two independent works that share a common matrix in “theatre” with texts by Russian-American poet and essayist Eugene Ostashevsky, in addition to the contributions of Antonino Viola and Antonello Pocetti for the set design and direction.
The concert by the Flemish group HERMESensemble, founded in 2000 by conductor Koen Kessels, is a journey to the boundaries between art and contemporary music. The works in the programme by Wim Henderickx and Vykintas Baltakas are conceived with visual artist and musician from New York Kurt Ralkse. Similarly, the work that Annelies Van Parys presents at the Biennale is the result of a prophetic 1932 feature film – Histoire du soldat inconnu – by Belgian filmmaker Henri Storck.
A special project has been entrusted to the Solisti Aquilani, in a concert to commemorate the earthquake that shook L'Aquila ten years ago in 2009. A historic ensemble, founded in the wake of the movement to reassess the seventeenth and eighteenth-century Italian instrumental heritage, and active for over 50 years with a repertory that ranges from pre-Baroque to contemporary music, the Solisti Aquilani have always had a special regard for Italian composers. The concert lines up all new pieces composed by Stefano Taglietti, Andrea Manzoli, Roberta Vacca, Pasquale Corrado – who will also be conducting in Venice – in memoriam.
Internationally-renowned ensembles have been invited to the Festival with concerts that range widely in styles, languages and generations: the Quartetto Prometeo, an outstanding quartet with a recognizable performance quality, winner of the Silver Lion in 2012, which recently added to its roster Danusha Wasklewicz, first viola of the Berliner Philharmoniker, presents a triptych composed by Marco Momi, Georges Aperghis and Alessandro Solbiati; the Meitar Ensemble from Israel, which has commissioned and performed over 200 new pieces since its foundation 15 years ago, offers a programme of pieces that will be performed in Italy for the first time, by Philippe Leroux, Noriko Baba, Mauro Lanza, Amos Elkana, Philippe Hurel; founded by Argentine composer Fabiàn Panisello, now a citizen of Spain, and specialized in contemporary music, the Plural Ensemble presents a concert featuring Spanish music – from Luís de Pablo to Gabriel Erkoreka, Alberto Posadas and José María Sánchez-Verdú and Panisello himself.
And finally, the Orchestra della Toscana, founded by Luciano Berio in 1980 and naturally dedicated to contemporary music, will be conducted in Venice by Peter Rundel in a concert with pieces by the finest composers of our time: Michel Van der Aa, Wolfgang Rihm, both with Italian premiere performances, and Claudio Ambrosini, with a new piece commissioned by La Biennale.
Following the success last year of Victor Wooten, a master of the electric bass, this year India brings us one of the greatest and youngest virtuosos of this instrument: Mohini Dey, born in 1996, the remarkable Indian bass player and a very precocious talent, raised in a family devoted to jazz fusion and classical music. Because jazz is able to channel, perhaps more easily than classical music, the alternating current of sounds between east and west, “migrations” that fuel transversal innovation and creativity (John McLaughlin and Trilok Gurtu, just to cite an example). This will be a fusion concert with a driving rhythm, in which Mohini Dey’s electric bass will be surrounded by Louis Banks’s keyboards, Gino Banks’s drums, U Rajesh’s mandolin and Giridhar Uddupa’s ghatam.
A sound that blends jazz and rock, as well as ambient and world music is the signature sound of the Malafede Trio, who have played at the most important jazz clubs and festivals in Europe. The trio was formed only four years ago by Federico Malaman, a virtuoso on the electric bass who also plays the double bass and arranges music, guitarist Riccardo Bertuzzi, and drummer Ricky Quagliato, who is also a composer and musical programmer. In 2016 they released Touché, their first album with entirely original music: eleven tracks ranging from vanguard to the most abstract and intimate fusion.
Biennale College – Composers and librettists
Since it was first introduced in the 2013 season, the Biennale College for the Music Department has singled out musical theatre as its theme of choice. As of today, 15 short operas have been produced and the presentation of these operas has become an established event at the Festival.
The international call for the year 2019 was launched in December, for teams of one composer and one librettist 35 years of age and under, to develop 4 low-budget chamber musical theatre projects based on a comical, surreal, fantastic and/or playful theme, lasting no longer than 18 minutes each. Of all the submissions from Italy, Spain, Israel, Portugal, Great Britain and Switzerland, the following were selected:
- Trashmedy by composer Alessandro De Rosa and librettist Mimosa Campironi;
- Ab Ovo by Israeli duo Talya Eliav and Liron Barchat, respectively composer and librettist;
- Tredici secondi o Un bipede implume ma con unghie piatte by composer Marco Benetti and librettist Fabrizio Funari;
- The colour's mechanics by Portuguese composer Nuno Costa, and librettist Madalena dos Santos.
The brand new thing this year is the orchestration which will include, in addition to nine instruments – flute, clarinet, trumpet, two violins, French horn, cello, percussions, piano – the use of live electronics. The Centro di Informatica Musicale e Multimediale, the Centre for Computer Music and Multimedia of La Biennale di Venezia will provide the necessary hardware and software under the guidance of a computer music developer and a sound engineer. Four voices may be chosen between soprano, mezzosoprano, tenor, baritone, bass.
The selected teams will develop their projects during a process of training and production that will take place in four phases – between March and September 2019 in Venice – coordinated by the Director of the Music Department Ivan Fedele and with the help of a team of tutors dedicated to the various disciplines: Sergio Casesi and Giuliano Corti for the dramaturgy, Matteo Franceschini for the composition. Like last year, the Director of the Theatre Department Antonio Latella will recommend the director.
The short operas will be presented on October 6that the Teatro Piccolo Arsenale at the conclusion of the 63rd International Festival of Contemporary Music.
CIMM – Centro di Informatica Musicale e Multimediale
The CIMM is a new infrastructure dedicated to permanent research and experimentation, in practice and studio sessions, working with all the artistic Departments of La Biennale, the Biennale College projects, the Historic Archives (ASAC) with the Writing in Residence project, and the Educational department.
Curated for the three-year period 2019-2021 by Ivan Fedele, the centre wishes to respond to an increasingly urgent need for the activities of the Biennale, to be independent in the field of digital technology. Furthermore, the Centre intends to offer the territory the possibility of developing creative and recreational activities in the Centre's specific fields of competence.
The CIMM will be divided into two hubs:
- the first located in Venice, with two studios in the Sale d’Armi at the Arsenale, dedicated to artistic research and long-term projects at the service of the exhibitions, festivals and initiatives of La Biennale: ideation and experimentation with instruments; techniques and creative models regarding every form of live performance and multimedia installation; production of new works using the most advanced technologies available or new creative models produced by the Centre itself (to this end, residencies will be available for artists); organization of an Electronic College dedicated to young artists from around the world, selected on the basis of an international call; periodic organization of international pavillons to present and communicate the most recent applications of advanced technology in the various sectors of art. The two studios of the Arsenale will produce the electronic part of the 4 short chamber operas of the Biennale College and the concerto for harp and electronics performed by Emanuela Battigelli.
- the second hub will be located in Venice Mestre at the Centro Civico and Teatro della Bissuola (which will be renovated by the City of Venice). It will feature a rehearsal studio and a recording studio for local musicians and young people of the territory, first and foremost students in upper and lower secondary schools, and universities, in collaboration with tutors: this structure aims to foster creativity, by organizing educational workshops at both the beginner and advanced levels, for students in schools of every educational level. The organization of the workshops in the laboratory will focus particular attention on the creative dimension of dj-ing, the electronic genre that is most familiar and widely practiced by the younger generations.
Biennale College – ASAC
For the second year, La Biennale will launch the call Writing in Residence reserved for young Italian college graduates under the age of 30, which involves a research experience on the field with participation in the Festival and studies at the Historic Archives of the Biennale – ASAC, under the tutorage of professionals and the supervision of the Directors of the Departments. The call will involve every Department of the Biennale: Dance, Music, Theatre, Cinema, Architecture, Art.
Like every sector, Writing about music will choose a specific theme related to the programme of the festival, to be explored with the guidance of a tutor. After attending the performances at the festival, the selected young graduates will research their own theme in the Archives: under the supervision of the tutor, they will search for sources and historical references with the purpose of writing a text.
We would like to thank the Ministero per i Beni e le Attività culturali for its significant contribution and the Regione del Veneto for the support granted to the programmes of the Dance Music and Theatre Departments of La Biennale di Venezia.