One hundred metronomes in motion. Almost six decades later, what was a risky musical enterprise in 1963 is now nowhere near enough to incur the public’s wrath. We now find experimental music ‘inaccessible’ rather than unacceptable, explains Persis Bekkering. Have we lost something? Can rebellion in art still exist? And is ‘the new’ even better, the writer wonders. Does connection not outweigh it? An unexpectedly changing starting point emerges from an avant-garde angle.
‘Make it okay’
‘And then, finally, the conductor gives a signal with a big sweep of his arm and the players go into action.’
Suppose Poème Symphonique were to receive its world premiere tonight. Would we be shocked? Could we once again feel what the Hilversum audience felt in 1963: a mixture of disbelief, anger, discomfort and confusion about something that falls outside traditional paradigms? I imagine that I am walking into the hall where the muffled voices of the meagre audience, given the maximum number of visitors that are currently admitted, can be heard as they look for a place to sit. Hundreds of analogue metronomes are lined up on stage, as if it were an orchestra.
And there stands Ligeti in his oversized tailcoat. The performers appear wearing smart concert attire. For several minutes nothing happens, which makes me a bit anxious, and, judging by the nervous coughing around me, I am not alone. And then, finally, the conductor gives a signal with a big sweep of his arm and the players go into action. They hurry along the rows of metronomes, setting them in motion. A disorderly wave of ticking swells up. For fifteen minutes it sounds like heavy rain tapping on a sloping roof.
My mind involuntarily tries to make head or tail of it. Sometimes I recognize rhythmic patterns, but the metronomes soon diverge again and lose coherence. Slowly the sound dies out, but the last metronome valiantly keeps on ticking, for significantly longer than the rest. Then silence returns. The audience waits to see if anything else happens, but Ligeti makes a gesture and we understand it’s time for applause.
I think I would have found Poème Symphonique an interesting work without prior knowledge. Challenging, playful, but not staggeringly new. Maybe I would have said something like ‘hypnotic’ at the after-concert drinks, or ‘meditative’. It certainly helps that I am a fairly experienced music listener, with a taste for adventure, but still: I would not feel that I was being confronted with the future. Logical of course. Nowadays we have a completely different view of music’s possibilities than in 1963.Our sensitivities have changed, perhaps been stretched, and we have learned that anything can be music. Silence, for instance, or metronomes. We now find experimental music ‘inaccessible’ rather than unacceptable. I honestly can’t remember ever leaving a concert hall in a state of shock.
But compared to 1963, what we expect from music, and from art as a whole, has also changed. Gone is the time when a new art movement was created every month, with a great deal of fuss. The avantgarde seems to be a concept that has got stuck in the twentieth century. If a riot ever breaks out in the hall or the museum, it is more out of dissatisfaction with ideological, economic or political matters than with the artistic strangeness of a work. Are we still striving for innovative art? Is ‘the new’ possible at all, now that everything is allowed and everything has already been done?
The complete essay by Persis Bekkering is available in the special Gaudeamus anniversary book. A limited edition of five bundled booklets full of extraordinary stories out of Gaudeamus history since 1945.
‘Is ‘the new’ possible at all, now that everything is allowed and everything has already been done?’
Gaudeamus presents innovation
Gaudeamus presents, organizes, stimulates and supports the latest creations by young music pioneers. Gaudeamus scouts young talent and contributes to their professional development with the annual Gaudeamus Award, special residency programmes and by commissioning new works.
New music made visible and tangible Dianne Verdonk develops and plays new musical instruments for electro-acoustic music. When her musical instruments are played, more than one of the audience’s senses are stimulated: how the sound is created is made visible and even tangible. By this means she is searching for new forms of expression, in which there is room for direct contact with the audience.
The composer as frontwoman Performance is a major component in the work of Genevieve Murphy. She is aware of the audience and its presence. In what sort of context do you present a concert and what kind of experience will the audience have? In her pieces she combines performance art and visual art with contemporary composed music to explore themes such as psychology, and disability.
Master cellist in all genres
She is a true master of the cello and can do and play anything: classical, pop, (gothic) rock, folk, jazz, new music or flamenco. Maya Fridman refuses to tie herself down to just one genre. Not only in her music, but also in her visual language. For her album covers, for example, she lets herself be inspired just as fondly by elements from gothic and metal as the classical music tradition.
‘Sebastian Hilli has a very personal aesthetic that is underlying all of his music, and he possesses the technical knowledge and imagination to realize what he is driven to create. His music combines bold structures with a huge variety of subtle sonic detail.’
Jury about Gaudeamus Award winner 2018 Sebastian Hilli (FIN).
‘Anna’s music deeply touched us, despite being firmly rooted into modernity, her work, which encompasses historical references that ranges from Gabrieli’s venetian double choirs compositions throughout Cage’s historical piano preparations, is somehow free from all of it.’
Jury about Gaudeamus Award winner 2014 Anna Korsun (UKR).
‘A genuine sonic explorer working with adapted and extended objects. Her machine like repetitions allow the listener to inhabit an uncanny noise world that almost begins to breathe.’
Jury about Gaudeamus Award winner 2019 Kelley Sheehan (USA).
‘Anthony Vine creates a solid, mature, beautifully crafted fragile sound world. He knows how to blur the identity of the different sources of sounds including the use of electronics in a very singular way.’
Jury about Gaudeamus Award winner 2016 Anthony Vine (USA).
‘He has achieved a perfect balance between his sonic universe and the written realization. He has a brilliant way of expanding advanced techniques, and creates a mysterious and profound sound world.’
Jury about Gaudeamus Award winner 2015 Alexander Khubeev (RUS).
‘Aart Strootman is a complete original whose sonic invention is an inspiration and who approaches composition with a remarkable freshness, reinventing the sound of each instrument within an ensemble down to the finest detail. A performer, an improviser, an inventor and a unique composer.’
Jury about Gaudeamus Award winner 2017 Aart Strootman (NLD)
Gaudeamus is celebrating its 75th anniversary.
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