Wandelweiser + Bozzini, III

Wandelweiser in Victoria

In the Press

Review

in A Spiral Cage (USA), June 15, 2013

Day 2 was another beautiful sunny day in Victoria which made for very pleasant concert environment with the sounds of the harbor — including some seriously baritone ship horns — and the pleasantly warm sunlight.

The afternoon concert featured two composers that I was completely unfamiliar with Thomas Stiegler from Germany and Daniel Brandes from right here in Victoria B.C.. Daniel, whom I talked to briefly before this concert (and also on Twitter) I would describe as a second generation Wandelweiser composer; a student of Antonie Beuger he definitely seems to be in that lineage. Of course this being the only piece of his I’ve heard can’t expound on his body of work, but from what I heard here I think that to be the case. Thomas Stieger, though his bio is rather brief on the Wandelweiser site, would seem to be an early member of the collective. He’s trained and works as a physician but his CV lists him winning a composition prize in 1997, not too long after the founding of Wandeweiser. It was nice to have an introduction to two new composers especially in a live context which seems to be the best way to experience this music.

Daniel Brandes — a tenuous “we” (2013)

This piece was for the largest ensemble of the series and included the entire Bozzini Quartet along with Stiegler, Beuger and Frey and for his only performance of the weekend Stefan Maier playing electric guitar. Maier played his guitar with eBow generating long, sustained low tones. Likewise for the other instruments, with long drawn out, barely affected tones. There was also a set of text fragments, which were included in the series program, that were read out by the performers. The vocal performances were akin to that of the Beuger piece from yesterday, all murmured and hummed and rather self-consciously performed. Considering that Brandes was a student of Beuger this seems a pretty direct influence here. It also makes me wonder how deliberate that vocal performance style is. As I noted in my thoughts on the Beuger piece I’m not very taken by this type of vocal performances and this held for this piece. Otherwise I found the long, shifting instrumental lines rather pleasant and I found the piece quite accommodating to the sounds of seagulls and several conversations from the mezzanine down below. Especially at the times when the piece was purely instrumental — which as I assume the material of the piece was gone through at the performers desecration was arbitrary — did it seem to almost provide a background “wash” for the compelling exterior sounds.

Thomas Stiegler

  • Gelbe Birne III (2008) (violin, clarinet, violoncello)
  • Treibgut 1/2 (2011) (violin, violoncello)
  • Gelbe Birne VI (2013) (string quartet, world premiere)
  • Und.Ging.Außen.Vorüber (I) — for 3 voices and 3 radios (2005)

The rest of the afternoon program was pieces by Thomas Stiegler. These were all very short except for the last two. I should note that the program lists these pieces in a different order (the string quartet first) but according to my recollection (and notes) the string quartet, which was the longest of all the pieces was final piece before the piece for 3 voices. My notes weren’t very good for this part of the concert, which I’ll replicate here:

  • The first piece rather pointillistic and very short < 100 notes
  • The second piece made me think of Lachenman with it’s scratchy extended techniques and rather staccato style. Again a short piece only a few minutes.
  • Quartet long, vibrato-less drones that went on for a long time and unraveled at the end with rapid dry bowing and then an abrupt simultaneous end.
  • Frey, Stiegler, Beuger — each reading fragments of words and such in German. Frey seemed to be almost just reading syllables and Beuger repeated single words and in the middle Stiegler The speakers were then joined by the titular 3 radios toward the end, which were playing randomly tuned Victoria stations — mostly pop music. The speakers kept it up in the same fashion they had been reading, though a bit haggard at this point.

I have to admit I wasn’t taken by the short pieces, or by the text piece. I did enjoy the longer string quartet quite a bit. It was rather drone-y with a single note played by the players in an unaffected style. This continued for a long time varied only by subtly beating tones until the last minute or so where they shifted to these rapid shorter attacks and it had the feeling of coming apart at the seems and then suddenly ending. Really interesting piece and one the fit into the space really well.

Antoine Beuger — little more than a whisper (2010)

A primarily soft, gentle piece that structurally seemed rather call and response, that is they seemed to play in reaction to each other. In this it seemed like some Christian Wolff pieces I’m familiar with where the instructions are that your options are informed by what you are hearing from your partners in the performance. The sounds were mostly rather short tones with the occasional scales and a small amount of extended technique — tongue clicks and over-breathing and the like. There was one or two slightly loud bits, that is to say louder than the overall softness, that seemed to be in reaction to something the other had done. There’d be something from say Jürg and you’d see a slightly quizzical expression from Antoine which he’d respond with something that would slip into slightly louder territory. Really engaging and charming piece.

After the concerts I took a peek at the score and it did seem to have the elements of interaction that I sensed there. I took a (bad) cameraphone picture of it which if you squint hard enough you might be able to make out some of. But the instructions are that the performers alternate sounds, they should be uniformly soft and the that alternated sounds should constitute a phrase. I like the instruction that between the phrases there should be “some silence to allowing the previous phrase to resonate in memory“.

Jürg Frey — Streichquartett 3 (2010-12)

The final piece of the concert series was a string quartet from Jürg Frey. Now I should note that in my initial introduction to the Wandelweiser Ensemble one of the recordings I listened to was Frey’s String Quartet Disc on Edition Wandelweiser Records and I didn’t care for it at all. While I have gotten into the works of many other Wandelweiser composers (Pisaro and Beuger especially) I’d really not delved much further into Frey’s works. In this concert series it was his pieces that I enjoyed the most (along with the Pisaro) and was the most revelatory to me. So I was quite interested to hear this String Quartet — would it be how I recalled his earlier ones, or more in line with the piece of his I’d heard the day before? The piece was rather Feldman-like sharing his penchant for beginning and ending abruptly, utilizing lots of unison playing and was of course overall soft but not extremely so. I found this to be a nice piece and found it to be another highlight of the weekend. While not as long as a late Feldman piece — it was around 30 minutes perhaps — it did have several different sections to it. Along with the aforementioned unison play there was some solo violin from Clemens Merkel and some very dry rustling playing from the whole group. There were some sections that had a melancholy melodic feel, reminding me a bit of Mihaly Vig’s Werckmeister Harmonies score. I felt it was of a nice length, deliberately paced throughout with no real dramatic moments. I wouldn’t have complained if it had been a longer even.

And that was that. Another weekend of music done and as with all concert series it had pieces I enjoyed more than others. But it is always welcome to get to hear new pieces from new composers especially in a live situation. Nothing I felt was horrible or hard to sit through or anything like that — some things were just more to my taste than others. With the nature of the entire series even for pieces that didn’t grab me it was was pleasant in context to the surroundings and environmental sounds. It was a lovely weekend in Victoria and it was great to be introduced to Open Space, which I am sure I will be attending concerts at again.