Thursday, December 23, 2010

New Works for Old Instruments

An interesting phenomena in the contemporary music world is that many of these advocates are also very well versed in the field of period music. Thus is the case for composer Hans Huyssen, a prominent figure in South Africa. Huyssen himself wears many hats; he is a baroque cellist, conductor and educator. With a recent reading of an original composition of his by the KZNPO, I had an opportunity to discover that much of his compositional output is conducive for both modern and period ensembles.  This can be a fascinating cross over and one that I personally hope will continue to grow in this country. Of course, the lack of period instruments and performers is the most obvious challenge. However, like most areas of the arts, knowledge and persistence can make a world of difference.

Other composers have delved into this strange territory. An incredible work by Mauricio Kagel entitled "Music for Renaissance Instruments" explores the sound possibilities of period instruments in an entirely new way. A quote from Kagel himself during an interview with Anthony Coleman about this work:

           I really tried to understand the true function of some of these instruments. I read all that I could about the bizarre fingering techniques, because the instruments themselves are so primitively made that they are always damaged. This for me was the link to new music, because I was trying to work with the natural state of the sounds, and each of these instruments was like a generator of denaturate sounds. So I wrote for each instrument separately to make a unity of musical discourse and functional technique. 

Kagel's composition dates from 1965-66 but this link between new and old continues to be explored. It appears that there will be three new additions to this unusual compositional experimentation list, as they have been comission to write for what is arguably the best known collaboration between contemporary and period ensembles; ensemble recherche and the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra. Both groups are exceptional in their own genre, but also push artistic limits by offering a combined summer academy for students. At the 2011 academy, they ensembles will be performing three works by composers commissioned last year to write for a mixture of modern and period instruments. These progressive performances are yet another example of artists creating not only opportunities for themselves, but contributing to significant artistic growth as well. 

*A shout out to oboists everywhere, if you can manage to attend the joint-masterclass held by oboist Jamie González and baroque oboist Katharina Arfken in Freiburg, Germany from March 17th-19th. 
I am quite certain that it will be an extraordinary event - the deadline is January 15th, 2011!