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Notes from the 2013 Salzburg Festival ( 16 )
Salzburg contemporary • Klangforum Wien 2, Heinz Holliger

Salzburg contemporary • Klangforum Wien 2: Heinz Holliger

Japanese Rain, Confused Owls, Nocturnal Guitar Lessons

All pictures courtesy Salzburg Festival, © Silvia Lelli. Details - click image to see entire photo.

Heinz Holliger is wonderful: A charming advocate of contemporary music—his own but especially that of others’. Still an outstanding oboist. The finest Haydn conductor I’ve heard in concert. And of course someone who has taken the comb-over to Olympic levels… often going with “Squirrel-that-came-home-to-die”, or another successful creation that he sported on this occasion of the Klangforum Wien performing contemporary Japanese composers: the “Pigeon-that-flew-into-a-ceiling-fan”, a lighter, fluffier creation particularly suited to hot Salzburg summers.

Not that hot, actually, because after a heat wave that had everyone lob ice cubes into their white wines with fatalistic resolve, cool air had moved into Salzburg—with the consequence that Rain Coming by Tōru Takemitsu was not supported by the microclimate outside the University Church, despite evening thunderstorms rather being the norm during the Festival summer. And so the harmonious, contemplative Rain Coming came—and went—with calm ease, with its notes rising and falling into contemplative silence, making way, eventually, for Drawing by Toshio Hosokawa (*1955).

available at Amazon
Tōru Takemitsu, Tree Line, Rain Coming, Rain Spell et al.,
O.Knussen / London Sinfonietta

Drawing quietly opens on one note, breathes in, exhales, and is punctuated by wistful little silver bells (probably not actually silver, but sounding like we might imagine silver bells to sound like). The piano just accents with dark, far-away thunder-in-the-distance chords. The strings heave, the vibraphone insinuates, the wind instruments occasionally rise to melodious form or else moving more in wale song territory or blowing empty air through their reeds. Later the strings become more active, the mood more agitated, the thunder (if it is thunder) draws closer… a soundscape that is dramatic, even if one imagines no particular story to it. An aural experience to bath in and soak up all kinds of flavors, subtle and obvious. It all dies away, imperceptibly, exactly the way it began.

Up next was ice for chamber ensemble by Dai Fujikura (*1977) which seduced with gently fingered string instruments, caressed more than strummed, until the five players—violin, viola, cello, double bass, and guitar—really dig in, leaving no doubt that the gentle stuff was mere foreplay and that now they meant business. When was the last time you saw a violinist with a plectrum? A dulcimer at the far back tried to join the fracas up front. Various rare rain-impersonating rattling and jangling percussion instruments (pod rattles, rainsticks, springdrum, kalimba et al.) set the mood for the increasingly torn, insisting action, while the woodwinds, startled, flew up and squawked with indignation at what they see below them.

Darkness sets in, matters quiet down, calm reigns, and our woodwind birds tuck their heads under their wings, while only some exotic owl—obviously preferring the wee hours—gives its unfazed opinion amid this suddenly very different environment. Heavy raindrops fall down from the trees, and creatures of the night start unpacking their instruments. One of them a guitar: still new to the instrument judging by the simplicity of the chords, but progressing nicely over the course of the night. After that episode, the owl returns to comment on matters, a little flustered and a little blustery, but in that reserved way that imaginary old exotic owls tend to comment when they realize that their imaginary jungle has been contemporary music—likely unrelated to any of the mind-pictures above—all along.

More rain from Tōru Takemitsu (1930-1995) with Rain Spell for clarinet, flute, harp, piano, and vibraphone: entrancing sounds and silences, chords that rise and die, and with the flutist producing a particularly fine sound, no matter what was asked of her in the challenging score.

With Distanzen, Isang Yun (1917-1995) provided a game of tag for rummaging string trio, lyrical violin duo, and patient wind quintet before Takemitsu’s Tree Line for chamber orchestra closed the concert—a see-sawing, growling, pinging work, delicate and rugged in about equal measure, ending with the call of a clarinet hidden somewhere in a crevice of the Kollegienkirche which was on this occasion stuffed with students from a neat Roche-initiated and sponsored program that brings young scientists and contemporary arts together.