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Biennale Musica 2022: experimental music theatre
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Biennale Musica 2022: experimental music theatre

The 66th International Festival of Contemporary Music runs from 14 to 25 September 2022. Titled Out of Stage, the Festival is entirely dedicated to experimental music theatre.

Biennale Musica 2022
Out of Stage

The Biennale Musica Festival Out of Stage, dedicated to experimental music theatre, presents a full panorama of current research into highly diversified styles, composition techniques and technologies.

Biennale Musica 2022 will present new works of experimental music theatre commissioned from Simon Steen-Andersen, Helena Tulve, Michel van der Aa, Paolo Buonvino and Annelies Van Parys, in addition to the Italian premieres of new projects by Alexander Schubert, Rino Murakami and Ondřej Adámek co-produced with other European institutions. A new production of Jules Verne by Giorgio Battistelli, Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement 2022, will be performed by Ars Ludi, winner of the Silver Lion 2022, on the inaugural evening of the Festival at the Teatro La Fenice. The new production will feature the construction of large sound sets as part of the stage design by Angelo Linzalata. Battistelli, the author of this chamber fantasy in the form of a performance inspired by Jules Verne, will appear in a new role as director. The work highlights his capacity to theatricalise the performing gesture, evoking the fantastical imagery that the world of rhythm can conjure, exploring the everyday reality we are immersed in with the capacity to transform it into a delicately poised, poetic compositional reality. Ideally suited to interpret this new vision of percussion theatre are Antonio Caggiano, Rodolfo Rossi and Gianluca Ruggeri, founders and members of Ars Ludi, histrionic and charismatic musicians who consider every engagement to perform as an existential experience to be shared, in a spirit of fun and complicity, communicating to the public the need and the joy of being on stage, moving nimbly across the spectacular set that is their world, the ideal home for every seeker after sounds.

The festival programme also includes several classics of “instrumental theatre” by Mauricio Kagel, Georges Aperghis and works by composers recognized in this field such as Carola Bauckholt and François Sarhan.

Perspectives in contemporary music theatre

Out of Stage, a title that refers to works conceived for places and situations other than those offered by traditional stages, sketches out a wide perspective of contemporary music theatre and the role of new technologies, of multimedia, that includes the programming of virtual and augmented reality applied to sound, in new forms and genres codified by the composers involved in the festival, such as Instrumental theatre, Experimental Music Theatre, Sound Installation, Radio Play, Performative Lecture, Experimental Performance, Scenic Concert, Performative music theatre, Performative Sound Installation, Augmented reality sound installation, Performative radio composition and Sound theatre, Choral Music Theatre, Prying ritual and the contemporary revival of two ancient genres, the Sacra Rappresentazione and the Madrigale Rappresentativo.

Sleep Laboratory by Alexander Schubert, a work co-produced in collaboration with the ACHT BRÜCKEN festival of the Kölner Philharmonie and the “rainy days festival” of the Philharmonie Luxembourg, is an immersive and participatory performance lasting 60 minutes, for ensemble and virtual reality, which seeks to recreate a group sleep session with interpolations based on the themes of hypnosis, journey and meditation. As the people in the audience lie in small individual compartments on cots wearing VR headsets, the German composer and director Alexander Schubert transports them from the performance venue into various sound environments that take the form of dreams and visions.

Among the works of music theatre commissioned by the Biennale Musica 2022, one that is particularly representative of the festival is The Return, the new project by Simon Steen-Andersen, the Danish composer based in Berlin, one of the most widely acknowledged voices in post-Kagelian experimentation. The dramaturgy of the piece, based on Claudio Monteverdi’s Il ritorno di Ulisse in patria, uses quotations and re-elaborations of the original score to tie into a reconnaissance of the sites on which the Teatro di San Cassiano and the Teatro dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo, the first public theatres in Venice, once stood, and to an evocation of the opera’s first performance.

Visions by Helena Tulve, the Estonian composer who continues Arvo Pärt’s experimentation in composition within the field of liturgical vocal music, postulates the creation of a new form of contemporary sacra rappresentazione, based on the musical manuscripts in the Library of Santa Maria della Fava, studied and transcribed by Giulio Cattin in 1994 and on the Gospel of Mary Magdalene. In collaboration with the Estonian ensemble Vox Clamantis and the historical Cappella Marciana, Helena Tulve has conceived a work in which the sound from different instrumental and vocal sources inside the Basilica transforms the acoustic space into a complex pulsating instrument. In 1994, the year of Giulio Cattin’s important discovery, the Biennale Musica directed by Mario Messinis celebrated the event with a concert of contemporary sacred music held in San Marco, which included the world premiere performance of the newly-found fragments. The tribute to Messinis and Cattin will be further explored in a round table organized by Roberto Calabretto, scientific director of the Fondazione Ugo e Olga Levi, with the participation of Helena Tulve, conductor Francesco Erle and musicologist Antonio Lovato.

The Dutch composer and director Michel van der Aa has imagined a new work for the Biennale Musica 2022, The Book of Water, based on the theme of land erosion as a result of rain and flooding, after the novel Der Mensch erscheint im Holozän by Max Frisch and working on the images, movements and sounds of different environments. The composer will bring a theatrical vision of the lagoon environment into one of the most ancient theatres in Venice, the Teatro Goldoni, as if it was a re-evocation of what took place for the very first opera performed at the Teatro di San Cassiano in 1637, Francesco Mannelli’s Andromeda, which opened with a scene of a nocturnal water landscape lit by faint candlelight, as described by Antonio Bariletti in the printed libretto: “The curtain disappears. The scene is entirely of the sea. In the distance there is a view of water and rocks so ingeniously crafted and natural-looking that it made the spectators doubt whether they were in a theatre or on a real seashore”.

The Sicilian composer Paolo Buonvino, known for his soundtracks, has designed a scenic concert based on the experience of collective breathing as a sound and as a vital gesture. The project is inspired by the Sicilian and Mediterranean culture of the çiatu (breath) and by the relation between the rhythm of human breathing and that of the waves that surround the island. Paolo Buonvino has conceived a stage structure that will hold, protect and host the audience of çiatu, inside which the musicians will create a collective breathing exercise, in a participatory form that seeks to evoke and transcend the experience of suffering and fear brought by the pandemic.

Belgian composer Annelies Van Parys in Notwehr re-elaborates Adriano Banchieri’s collection of twenty madrigals for five voices Barca di Venetia per Padova, published in 1605 and revised for the second edition in 1623, an overview in music of the society of the time that gathers a variety of characters, idealised portraits of musicians from foreign countries and various Italian regions, on a journey by boat along the canals. The journey, in this case, will take place in the form of a scenic concert in the Sala Capitolare of the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, painted by Tintoretto, which will include figures from the past and from the present, giving rise to a dialogue between two realities distant in time but close in terms of expressive and dramaturgical means. Adriano Banchieri’s important collection, an acoustic photograph of eighteenth-century Venetian cosmopolitanism, represented a new form of concertante vocal polyphony, the Madrigale rappresentativo, in which the singers were identified as characters, and their performance supporting the static but intense theatricalisation of the event, an idea revived and developed with contemporary techniques by Annelies Van Parys in collaboration with the librettist Gaea Schoeters, the Belgian HERMESensemble and the new vocal ensemble VENETIAETERNA founded and directed by Francesco Erle.

Ondřej Adámek, composer, performer and director from Prague and the young Japanese composer Rino Murakami are collaborating on a joint project entitled Reaching Out for the Ensemble N.E.S.E.V.E.N., an ensemble founded by Eric Oberdorff and Ondřej Adámek, consisting of six voices, two percussionists and two dancers which can perform coherent and complex vocal and instrumental dramaturgies and choreographic works.

Contemporary music theatre is constantly evolving, elaborating forms from the past that can bring meaning to the present time and to the complex global reality we live in. The voices of composers Mehdi Jalali from Iran, Yvette Janine Jackson, the American composer, representative of the Afro-Diasporic Experimentalism, Klein, the Nigerian performer based in London, of the American composer and producer of Taiwanese origin X.Lee, the composer of electronic music from Florence Daniele Carcassi and the group of Native American composers showcased by the collective project of the Shenandoah Conservatory, which includes a world premiere performance of a work by the composer of Mohican origin Brent Michael Davids, bring protest back to contemporary music theatre, in forms borrowed from pop music creation and non-academic musical experimentation, against dispossession, abuse, the denial of rights, the refusal to acknowledge and respect sexual identity, all of which continue to take place before our very eyes. The Biennale Musica 2022 wishes to offer some of these voices a place in which to express themselves, encouraging them to experiment with new forms of performance.

Radio: the ideal place for the theatre of sound

The fertile collaboration between Biennale Musica and Rai Radio 3 is confirmed again for the year 2022, with four episodes of “Lezioni di Musica”, the programme curated by Paola Damiani and broadcast live from Ca’ Giustinian, in which Giovanni Bietti will explore the history of ancient and modern experimental music theatre in Venice, through the masterpieces by Francesco Cavalli, Antonio Vivaldi, Bruno Maderna and Luigi Nono. In addition, a cycle of audio-documentaries for “Tre soldi” will be produced again this year by Giovanna Natalini, to document the composition and performance workshops attended by the young artists selected for the Biennale College Musica. The programme curated by Antonio Audino, “Il teatro di Radio 3” will host the live radio broadcast of the new opera for the radio created by the young Catalan composer Gemma Ragués.

The radio as an ideal dimension for the theatre of sound, and the role presenters and speakers as communication performers and activists in the sphere of sound, will be further developed in a collaboration with BBC Radio 3, which will produce a special edition of the programme “New Music Show” dedicated to experimental music theatre, curated by the renowned radio host Tom Service, who will be in Venice during the Festival to moderate the two concerts on September 17th and 18th dedicated to instrumental Theatre, with works by Georges Aperghis, Mauricio Kagel, Giorgio Battistelli, Carola Bauckholt and François Sarhan.

Between theory and performance

Out of Stage will also feature a series of theoretical events presented in the form of performances, in the lectures by important international scholars of contemporary music theatre, supported by audio and visual documentation. Laura Berman, the American music curator Superintendent of the Hannover Staatsoper, will give a lecture on new music theatre; Helga de la Motte, the German musicologist specialising in the contemporary performance repertoire, will engage in a dialogue with Giorgio Battistelli at the awards ceremony for the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement; the music historian and dramaturge Guido Barbieri will meet the Ars Ludi ensemble, winner of the Silver Lion, to talk about the theatrical aspects of contemporary percussion performance. Following these there will be a lecture by Ellen Rosand, a specialist in Venetian Baroque theatre, professor emeritus at Yale University, about the condition of the Baroque and contemporary composer, and a performative reading by Paolo Da Col, director of the Odhecaton ensemble and librarian of the Conservatorio “Benedetto Marcello” in Venice, of texts by Giulio Caccini and Claudio Monteverdi about the nascent music theatre. There will also be meetings with the composers Ondřej Adámek, Michel Van der Aa, Simon Steen-Andersen, Paolo Buonvino, and Yvette Janine Jackson, who will illustrate the techniques and strategies of today’s music theatre.

The final round table will take place at the Fondazione Giorgio Cini with the participation of international musicologists and dramaturgists, in collaboration with Gianmario Borio, director of the Institute of Music at the Foundation, and the musicologist Vincenzina Caterina Ottomano, assistant professor at the Università Ca’ Foscari in Venice. The round table, entitled Music Theatre Today. Voices, Actions, Technologies will provide an opportunity for an analyse of the current state of experimental music theatre production, with contributions from Robert Adlington (University of Huddersfield), Susanne Kogler (Universität Graz), Giordano Ferrari (Université Paris 8), Dorothea Hartmann (Deutsche Oper Berlin), and Koen Bollen (Opera Ballet Vlaanderen).

The experimentalism of Baroque opera and contemporary dramaturgy

The new music theatre productions will be presented at the Teatro La Fenice, in the Salone Sansoviniano of the Biblioteca Marciana, in the Basilica di San Marco, in the Sala Capitolare of the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, in the Sala delle Colonne of Ca’ Giustinian, in the spaces of the Conservatorio “Benedetto Marcello” in Palazzo Pisani, at the Teatro Goldoni, in the Squero of the Fondazione Giorgio Cini and in the various spaces of the Arsenale: the Tese dei Soppalchi, Sala d'armi E, Tese II and III and the Teatro Piccolo Arsenale. These spaces were reconsidered in terms of their unique acoustic and architectural qualities to become spaces for contemporary creativity in the hands of emerging composers, the new dreamers of the unprecedented, who have been in Venice since February 2022 to conduct site inspections, rehearsals, visits and meetings, with the idea of creating a new season of the Venetian Carnival, which will echo the Carnivals of the early seventeenth century.

One of the goals of the Festival was in fact to establish a connection between the experimentalism of Venetian Baroque opera and the recent developments in contemporary dramaturgy, involving the most important institutions of the city and its historic locations. The first Venetian composers of the new music theatre genre were creative in addressing the many issues involving acoustic and visual cohesion, which remained open questions in musical dramaturgy in the centuries that followed, from the position and role of the instruments on stage to the ideation of techniques relative to visual “rhythm”.

Like many protagonists of the extraordinary Baroque era, perfectly illustrated by Leone Allacci’s remarkably rich Drammaturgia, the first catalogue of the nascent music theatre published in Rome in 1666, the composers invited to Venice by Biennale Musica 2022 are the impresarios of their own projects. They create their own dramaturgy, defining the techniques and technology they require, gathering artists, actors and musicians who can understand their project and play various roles, and interacting with a new type of audience to seek an empathic response and a possible dialogue. Simon Steen-Andersen, for example, has come to Venice as a composer, a librettist, a dramaturge, a director, a video artist and a performer, working with Venetian soloists specialised in Monteverdi for a new music theatre work that takes place inside the scenic space of the Arsenale, using video as a stage and as a stage reportage on what is happening outside.

Composers, performers, sound-artists: the new generation

The cutting edge of contemporary research into music theatre will be represented again in this edition of the Festival by the projects of Biennale College Musica 2022; these are closely connected to the Festival theme of the Out of Stage through the five sections of the competition dedicated to young composers, performers and sound-artists of various origins, educational backgrounds, and stylistic inclinations.
The ten young people from around the world were mentored by Biennale College Musica 2022 tutors in the development of the dramaturgy for their projects, in the choice and treatment of their texts, and in their experimentation with different instrumental and vocal techniques intrinsic to music theatre.
Timothy Cape and Daniil Posazhennikov created two new works of instrumental theatre for the voice of Esther-Elisabeth Rispens and the Ars Ludi ensemble; Gemma Ragués a new opera for the radio with performative aspects; Tania Cortés and Jacopo Cenni will appear in two experimental performances which include visual and installation aspects; Kathryn Vetter, Dafne Paris, Federico Tramontana and Esther-Elisabeth Rispens interpret the instrumental theatre works by Georges Aperghis, François Sarhan and Carola Bauckholt, virtuoso works that require performing and theatre skills; Paul Hauptmeier presents a new site-specific sound installation for the Sala d’Armi A, which relies on augmented reality programmed by the composer to create poetic acoustic spaces that can only be perceived when walking through them.
The totality of these events, which illuminate and amplify the diverse genres and stylistic dimensions of experimental music theatre, represent the most ambitious achievement of the Biennale Musica 2022, which is to bring to the attention of the public the most extreme, fragile yet futuristic works of contemporary musical dramaturgy.