On The Road: Gaudeamus Muziekweek
Sometimes you go to the festival, and sometimes the festival comes to you.
During my time in the EU, I've found myself with easy access to performances and gatherings that I'd have had to travel some distance to see/hear normally, but it's quite another thing to have one of those things happening a couple of blocks down the street.
In this case, it was a chance for me to spend some quality time on a budget at the annual Dutch Gaudeamus Muziekweek - a festival of new music that balances a focus on emerging young composers with kick-ass performances and ensembles, and new/emerging areas of interest for musical practice. While I didn't have a chance to see as much of the week as I'd have liked (living somewhere nice also means visitors and changes of plans), I had the chance to see/hear some amazing work. Here's a bit of what was going on.
The centerpiece of the festival is - and has been for some years - younger composers. The festival presents a small number of curated individuals, each of whom has several pieces performed throughout the festival, culminating with an awarded prize of several thousand Euros. This year's group included Ethan Braun, Sky Macklay, Aart Strootman, Chaz Underriner, and Ivan Vukosavljević, along with previous winners/artists-in-residence Jerzy Bielsky and Thanasis Deligiannis (you can click on each of their names to see a short profile about them from the Festival). Here's just a taste of what was in the air:
In addition, the concert programs are chock-full of other emerging composers. It's a great place to see what might be new. Unsurprisingly, putting your finger on precisely what it is that's new in such a field is difficult. Where something like live interactive electronics might once have been an outward and visible sign of the new, that's now nearly invisible – or, rather, they’ve done the “dinosaur to bird” thing: their presence exists in mutated form. The electronics now exist as just another keyboard or instrument in the ensemble and, like everyone else in the ensemble, forms part of the ensembles' timbral engines (emerging in its undisguised form only rarely - as is the case with Star Macklay’s “White/Waves”). It might also be said to lurk in the background in the form of an interest in various kinds of idiosyncratic extended technique driven by that interest in timbre that – in part – may stem from the DSP-based audio analysis that underlaid the rise of spectralism.
While the focus is on young composers (young being defined as 30 and under) and emerging talent, you'll find better-known composers' works (Tristan Keuris, Georg Haas, Michael Gordon, Louis Andriessen) and an opportunity to stage some works that you’ve probably heard about more than you’ve actually had a chance to hear – this year, it was George Antheil’s Ballet Méchanique and Heiner Goebbels' Suite for Sampler and Ensemble.
The festival's not without its "edge condition" experiences, either - well-curated pieces brought together to sample in one place. For me personally, these were among the most memorable parts of the festival: Lars Kynde and Nicholaj Kynde teaming up with chef Mette Martinussen to restage their Tasteful Turntable event...
...to Thanasis Deligiannis' ALICE
...and my personal favorite (and an excuse to visit the Museum Speelklok, which is always a blast) a piece by Tyler Friedman and Andreas Greiner which combined a Diskclavier, seawater, and the bioluminescent algae Pyrocystis fusiformis to create something astounding that took place in near-total darkness.
The final happy surprise on the Gaudeamus schedule that I wasn't expecting was an evening of analog synthesis early in the week! I could have done an On The Road feature on this night alone....
The famous rock venue Tivoli has recently pulled up stakes and moved to the new Vredenburg concert venue. The old Tivoli space is now a the home of Kytopia - a diverse collection of artists and performers and host to a warren of interesting project studios, as well as the old hall, which regularly hosts the Modulation series of modular synth events curated by Allert Aalders. Our evening opened with a live performance of Tyler Friedman and Andreas Greiner's Studies of an Alien Skin - a piece inspired by the Chromataphores on the skins of squids from the Toyama area of Japan with live video mixing from Julia Holzer.
While the whole evening's bill was stellar, I went specifically to see MeSm, a duo consisting of two well-known names from the Dutch experimental music scene - Roel Meelkop and Jos Smolders. Their performances are an amazing blend of improvised analog electronics and percussion. It was a rare opportunity to see them in action ( I’m surprised that there are any live recordings of their work at all, but here’s one here).