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Biennale Musica 2020: modern classics and experimentation
Music -

Biennale Musica 2020: modern classics and experimentation

The 64th International Festival of Contemporary Music (25 Sept. - 4 October 2020) includes 18 events featuring 28 new works, 15 of which are world premieres.

The Festival

The 64th International Festival of Contemporary Music will be held from September 25th to October 4th: ten days with 18 events that will feature 28 new works, 15 of which are world premieres (7 commissioned by La Biennale) and 13 Italian premieres.

Titled Incontri, the Festival revolves around great figures in music of the recent past, their thinking and their musical practices, in a dialogue with the most cutting-edge contemporary composers.
The Lions of this sixty-fourth edition include the Lifetime Achievement award to Luis de Pablo, born in 1930, an omnivorous and highly original composer, a key figure in the renewal of music in Spain, and the Silver Lion to Raphaël Cendo, born in 1975, the founder of a real aesthetic movement, “Saturationism”, which has revolutionized the way of conceiving and composing music and attracted many young composers.
The leader of the contemporary Spanish school, Luis de Pablo is the author of an immense catalogue of over 200 works which includes the soundtracks to the films of Carlos Saura, has reserved for La Biennale and its inauguration on September 25th at the Teatro alle Tese, the world premiere of the Concierto para viola y orquesta and the Italian premiere of Fantasías for guitar and orchestra. The soloists are violist Garth Knox, formerly a member of Boulez’s Intercontemporain and later the Arditti String Quartet, and guitarist Thierry Mercier. The Orchestra di Padova e del Veneto will be conducted by Marco Angius, one of the most acclaimed performers of contemporary music.
Raphaël Cendo will present the Italian premiere of Delocazione, a piece composed in 2017 to a mosaic of texts by Claude Royet-Journoud, Georges Didi-Huberman, Rainer-Marie Rilke, Georges Bataille, with the French quartet Tana and the Neue Vocalsolisten, specialists in contemporary vocal music who have built a bridge between the avant-gardes and the roots of chamber music for voices alone.

The anniversaries

The many anniversaries on the calendar this year – Bruno Maderna, Luigi Nono, Franco Donatoni, Ludwig van Beethoven – serve as an impulse towards a new creativity.

“In a hundred years Bruno Maderna will be spoken of as a great composer who was also a conductor”, wrote Massimo Mila prophetically. The centennial of his birth is being met with a multiplicity of celebrations of the Venetian author (1920-1973), who has constantly meshed composition and conducting, ceaselessly testing his composition against its production in sound. In the vast range of Maderna’s horizons an entire section is dedicated to the scores he wrote for television documentaries, the soundtracks for films, and his passion for genres such as jazz, operetta and Kurt Weill’s cabaret (Maderna conducted Strehler’s first production of A Three-Penny Opera, with Giacomo Manzoni at the piano). This voracious curiosity is highlighted in the concert-documentary Sette Canzoni per Bruno, a world premiere and joint tribute by the Ensemble FontanaMix, directed by Francesco La Licata, and the Collective In.Nova Fert, a young ensemble dedicated to a “communitarian” composition of music. It features seven musical moments that weave together voices, ensembles, videos and electronics to narrate seven different chapters in Maderna’s life, from the violinist and conductor of The Happy Grossato Company to the composer of the great masterpieces of the 1970s. A concert-documentary made of “fragments, sketches, magic squares from Maderna’s work, also borrowed from the transcriptions of authors of the past and the lighter production, which are the sources for freely elaborated compositions that together form a musical story strongly imbued with his way of making music and his persistence in always exploring the new” (from the presentation).

Luigi Nono (1924-1990), a student of Bruno Maderna and like him a native Venetian, is dedicated a concert on the thirtieth anniversary of his death. Three pieces that belong to Nono’s final creative phase, in which he intensified his experimentation with a new idea of sound and space thanks to his frequentation of the studio in Fribourg in the 1980s, where he experimented with techniques for the live transformation of sounds. In addition to electronics, the other element that distinguishes the pieces on the programme is the figure of the performer-creator, increasingly central to the music of the second half of the twentieth century, an instrumentalist capable of inspiring the sonic vision of the composer by actively participating in the creative process. This is true of Post-praeludium n.1 per Donau and of La Lontananza Nostalgica Utopica Futura, pieces that Nono wrote inspired by the talent and experimentalism of Giancarlo Schiaffini, a great tuba player, and of violinist Gidon Kremer. In Venice the young Arcangelo Fiorello will take on the piece for tuba and electronics, while Francesco D’Orazio’s violin will dialogue with the 8 magnetic tapes of La Lontananza. One of Nono’s most oft-performed pieces, … sofferte onde serene… for piano and recorded tape, dedicated to his friend Maurizio Pollini and his wife, closes the concert with a performance by pianist Francesco Prode, who has offered a highly personal interpretation of Nono’s work.

Franco Donatoni (1927-2000), who began composing relatively late in his life to become one of the greatest authors of the second half of the twentieth century, distinguished by a creative radicalism that would always lead him “beyond”, was greatly influenced by Maderna, dedicating to him the famous Duo pour Bruno. On the twentieth anniversary of his death, Sandro Gorli, a former student of the Master from Verona, founder and conductor of the historic Divertimento Ensemble, presents a concert-tribute at the Biennale di Venezia. Intercalated between the performances of Arpège, Spiri and Hot, pieces that belong to Donatoni’s freest and most fertile phase, which he himself defined as the “playful exercise of invention”, will be two world premieres by Sandro Gorli and Ruggero Laganà, both former pupils of Donatoni.

Piano Recitals

As in previous years, the Festival presents a cycle dedicated to a solo instrument, the piano. The romantic instrument par excellence, the piano is also, for modern and contemporary music, the object of experimentation, trials and alterations that mark the evolution of an artistic process.
Leonardo Colafelice, William Greco and Pasquale Iannone are the pianists who will perform in three concerts that will all have in common the music of Beethoven, a body of work to which all of modern musical thinking owes a debt, in a play of interchange with pages from the piano literature of the late twentieth century by Karlheinz Stockhausen, Pierre Boulez, and Franco Donatoni.

The very young pianist Leonardo Colafelice, born in 1995 and winner of many prizes, brings together Beethoven’s Symphony no. 5 in the piano version by Franz Liszt, author of a complete set of transcriptions of Beethoven’s symphonies that confirm their instant success, with a significant selection of the Klavierstücke by Stockhausen, another excessive musician who considered the piano to be a “notebook” for his ideas.

Of Beethoven’s vast writings for the piano, thirty-two year-old William Greco, who cultivates a passion for jazz in parallel to his classical career, will perform the 6 Variations op.34 and the cycle of Bagatelles op. 126, based on a principle of great expressive freedom. Together with the Notations and Sonata no. 1, considered the manifesto-pieces of the young Boulez and the integral serialism he championed in the 1950s and 60s.

A pianist with a refined sensibility, Pasquale Iannone will complete the piano cycle by pairing Beethoven’s  Symphony no. 7, also in the transcription by Liszt, with the Françoise Variationen that accompanied Donatoni for over a decade, bearing witness to the evolution of his tormented artistic growth.

Musical Theatre

Performed in English in 1997 at the Almeida Theatre in London and later in French and German, the opera I Cenci by Giorgio Battistelli was first presented in Italian at LuganoInscena in a production last year over 20 years after its debut, under the direction of Carmelo Rifici,  with Francesco Bossaglia conducting the Ensemble900 from the Conservatorio della Svizzera Italiana.
The grim story of the Cencis, which has never ceased to inspire authors and artists, is presented anew by Battistelli – author of the music and the libretto – in a version that is stripped but substantially faithful to the tragedy written by Artaud in 1935. The result is a grand story on the brink between melodrama and opera, a teatro di musica that fully immerses the spectator, because on the stage everything is sound, everything happens inside the music: the noises, the voices of the actors, the electronics, the videos. It is the music that creates the drama, as Battistelli writes: “The sounds are like characters that move alongside the bodies of the actors”. They are: Roberto Latini, one of the great award-winning actors-directors of Italian theatre who has made the voice the primary instrument of his research, Anahi Traversi, selected by Muti for Sancta Susanna by Paul Hindemith, Elena Rivoltini, an actress with Bob Wilson in Odyssey who is also an opera singer and composer, Michele Rezzonico, a clown, mime and actor.

A visionary theatre of sounds also describes the Instrumental Freak Show by Giovanni Verrando, a composer, researcher and teacher who promotes a new idea of violin-making, new instruments with their own grammar and aesthetic that make it possible to shape and reinvent today’s music, to reach beyond the western acoustic orchestra. Daxophones, Daxotongues, electric guitars with dax and patafix: these are the freaks in the title, the protagonists of the concert-show conceived in five movements or episodes, each of which presents a specific sound through a specific instrument and a character-performer. Five different languages because “diversity is a powerful engine of the world” (G. Verrando). The performers on these instruments of the future are the components of the Interface Ensemble of Frankfurt, constantly involved in experimental forms of musical theatre and sonic performances, led by conductor Francesco Pavan.
Along with Instrumental Freak Show, the Interface presents another sound experiment with De Près by Jean-Luc Hervé, which engages two levels of listening: the frontal, traditional level, with five musicians on stage and five speakers that transform the sound in real time, and the immersive level, with “low-volume speakers positioned in the midst of the audience to create an echo of the instruments, whispered into the ears of the spectator” (J.L. Hervé).

Ensembles and orchestras

Other ensembles, along with Interface and FontanaMix, enrich the Festival with their programmes.

The eleven elements of the Cairn Ensemble, founded in 1998 by composer Jérôme Combier, who also serves as the artistic director, compose a concert with pieces from the Portulan cycle by Tristan Murail, with whom the Ensemble collaborates continuously. Just like the ancient sea atlases traced the coastlines to indicate ports, currents and the depth of the ocean floor, so for Murail the cycle is “a form of autobiography in the form of a metaphor”, where “each piece refers to something – a place, a trip, a book, an aesthetic experience – that is particularly important”. Along with Murail, there will be a piece by Jérôme Combier: Die Finsteren Gewässer der Zeit.
One of the youngest and most dynamic formations on the European scene, the Ensemble Fractales, founded in Brussels in 2012, offers a concert composed exclusively of premieres. Two world premieres by Fausto Sebastiani and Alessandro Melchiorre; three Italian premieres by Maurizio Azzan (Of other spaces) Mikel Urquiza (Ars memoria) and Yann Robin (Ftéra).
Premieres are also the mainstay of the concert by the Oktopus Ensemble which composer, conductor and teacher Konstantia Gourzi founded in 2003 at the Hochschule für Musich und Theater in Munich, leading her young musicians to perform at the Munich Biennale, for the Bayerischer Rundfunk and the Bayerischer Staatsoper, and working with them in recordings and radio broadcasts. Two new pieces by Sofia Avramidou and Marcello Filotei along with the Italian premieres of Francesco Filidei (Ballata n.7) and Gourzi herself (Rezitativ Antigone and Wunde | Wunder) make up the programme of the German consort.

Returning to the Biennale is the Orchestra Haydn di Bolzano e Trento conducted by Timothy Redmond, guest conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Philharmonic. On the programme is a triptych of prestigious composers: Fabio Vacchi with Concerto per violino e orchestra (Natura Naturans), Fabio Nieder who will present a new creation, and Japanese composer Dai Fujikura with the Italian premiere of the Shamisen Concerto.

Biennale College Musica

Like the other departments, Music has also contributed to the growth of the Biennale College, the initiative dedicated to young artists for the development of new creations in contact with the Masters, which has produced 19 short chamber works over the course of seven years. For the year 2020, director Ivan Fedele has chosen the creation of multimedia compositions that use electronics and videos, to be supported by the activity inaugurated last year by the CIMM – Centre for Computer Music and Multimedia of La Biennale di Venezia. Among the applicants of the call that was launched in February, four composer/video artist teams under the age of 35 were selected to create four original multimedia works lasting ten minutes.

Matteo Gualandi and Silvio Petronzio, twenty-five year-olds from Rome, will work on [nameless_remote_memory] for cello, live electronics and video; Luca Guidarini, twenty five years old from Rovigo, with Andrea Omodei, born in Cremona in 1988, will develop  Morphology of Digital Mouth for soprano, live electronics, real-time video and feedback system; Matteo Tomasetti, born in Cattolica in 1995, with Filippo Gualazzi, born in Urbino in 1993, will work on an audiovisual performance titled Perpetuo; Francesco Pellegrino, born in 1986 in Foggia, with Roberto Cassano, born in Trani in 1995, is working on the piece titled Habitat for tenor sax, live electronics and real-time video.

The teams will develop their projects in a process of training and production articulated in three sessions, from April to July, in workshops that for the moment will take place virtually on a dedicated platform. The workshops, coordinated by the Director of the Music department Ivan Fedele will be led by a team of specialists who will also be present for the rehearsals and performance as tutors for the selected young artists. They will be Matteo Franceschini for composition, Simone Conforti and Maurilio Cacciatore for the computer music, Andrew Quinn for the video design and Thierry Coduys for the sound engineering and sound design. The electronic part will be produced in the Venetian venue of the CIMM – the Computer Music and Multimedia Centre of the Biennale di Venezia, which will provide the necessary hardware and software. The pieces they produce will make their debut on the stage of the 64th International Festival of Contemporary Music on October 4th in the Teatro Piccolo Arsenale at 5 pm.

Biennale College CIMM

Last year La Biennale di Venezia created a new infrastructure dedicated to multimedia and digital technology: the CIMM – Centro di Informatica Musicale e Multimedia, the Center for Computer Music and Multimedia. The CIMM works from two venues: one in Venice with two studios in the Sale d’Armi at the Arsenale dedicated to artistic research and stable projects at the service of exhibitions, festivals and the Biennale’s own initiatives; the other in Mestre, in the Centro Civico e Teatro della Bissuola, with a rehearsal studio and a recording studio dedicated to local musicians and young people, which has identified the creative dimension of DJ-ing and producing as the electronic genre most widely known to and practiced by the younger generations.
For this purpose, for the second year in a row, we have launched a call for DJs and another for producers, to which we are adding this year, for the first time, a call for producer – performers.
The workshops are coordinated by Guglielmo Bottin in agreement with the Director of the Music Department. The group of specialized tutors also includes Bob Benozzo for the producer and performer workshops, and Cristiano Spiller for the DJ workshop.
10 young people have been selected to participate in the workshop for DJs during which they will study and experiment with instruments and techniques for mixing, selecting and preparing musical material, over the course of 8 afternoon encounters. The themes they will be addressing: the history of club music; from turntables to beat-matching; structure and functions of the mixer and a DJ’s instruments; sound manipulation (equalizers, effects, loops); preparing a DJ set and making a mixtape.
The 20 applicants selected for the basic producer workshop will be divided into 2 sessions of 6 encounters each. The themes they will be addressing include: components and connections in a production studio (computers, audio cards, master keyboard, monitor speakers); composing and producing electronic music (arranging and mixing using Logic Pro software); programming, recording and modifying MIDI tracks; virtual instruments, hardware synthesizers and how to integrate them; recording and editing audio; sound manipulation. The workshop will develop in two weeks (21 September > 3 October) with masterclasses on the themes of music production and club culture held by the CIMM tutors and by professionals in this area.

Our thanks

We would like to thank the Ministry for the Cultural Heritage and Activities and the Regione del Veneto for the support granted to the programmes of the Dance Music and Theatre Departments of La Biennale di Venezia.