Who would be an artistic director? Balancing the contemporary with the need to bring in the conservative audiences who love the standard repertoire must drive some mad. Add to that the need to convince world class soloists to learn new works when their programming is set by, probably equally, conservative agents and their promoter friends.
In the face of this, Janis Laurs, Artistic Director of the Adelaide International Cello Festival has done a fine job of presenting the new and interesting. The works by three living composers (Grandage, Koehne and Paert) have been mentioned in two previous Cellissimo blogs. And a concerto and chamber work by Senderovas are yet to come. Sunday afternoon’s Virtuoso Series concert featuring the Pei-Jee and Pei-Sian Ng brothers provided a different, though no less fascinating, insight into some contemporary composition for the cello. Sandwiched between two of the rich gems of the conventional sonata repertoire (Richard Strauss and Chopin) were new works by Gary Carpenter and Daniel Kidane.
The Carpenter work for cello duo, Dioscuri, commissioned by the Twin Cellists, and receiving its Southern Hemisphere premiere, was a set of six miniatures. The genesis of the work coming from twin brothers, Carpenter worked with thoughts from mythology and literature. The work’s title, Dioscuri, is the mythological name given to Castor and Pollux, twin sons of Leda. One mortal and one immortal, when Castor died, Zeus, at Pollux’s request turned them both into the constellation Gemini. A linked inspiration was the mythical twins’ status as patron saints of sailors, to whom, the stories tell, they appeared as St Elmo’s Fire. The richness of ideas available from Carpenter’s line of thought then embraces St Elmo’s Fire in literature, including Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s reference in The Ancient Mariner:
About, about, in reel and rout
The death-fires danced at night.
Following this lode also draws in the Narcissus legend, and more mundane issues raised by duplicates. Each of the six pieces carries a title
It could be you.
Death Fires Danced at Night
All things are Double.
Chosen Flowers of Reminding.
The music demands review by a more qualified scribe than your corresponded. Suffice it to say each miniature was a well crafted element in a fine anthology of short form composing. The first is remembered most for its juxtaposition of marcato bowing from one soloist against legato from the other (a powerful technique which Nicolas Altstaedt was to demonstrate later in a masterclass on Elliot Carter’s Cello Sonata).
The second was more reflective (no pun intended) while the third invoked fire as its title would suggest, commencing with a sort of moto perpetuo, then dying away to nothing as fires do, before ending in a crash of sound. The final three maintained the variety of sound and conversation between the instruments, the fifth being all pizzicato. It is a sad thought that this finely crafted work will get little performance. Who, after all is likely to program a recital for two cellos?
The two works by Daniel Kidane may fare better, being for solo cello. Metamorphosis (Australian premiere) and Fleeting Figment (world premiere) are both works of an equally fertile imagination. Kidane succeeded well in creating what he refers to in his program note as “a very organic and fluid soundscape”. He melds complex elements using a range of harmonics, ponticello bowing and pizzicato to develop to a soft flautando finish. The program note for the second piece suggested to your correspondent their may have been an opportunity for the soloist to develop some improvised ideas. Certainly there is an opening motive presented for development, but it is the composer’s rather than the soloists. Perhaps it might be characterised as a sort of theme and variations. Whatever, it was good stuff.
As is the luck of things, a relatively small audience enjoyed the variety in this festival presentation. More’s the pity. Along with the cellos a larger number should have delighted in the impeccable piano playing of the wonderful Caroline Almonte. You can catch her playing with Pieter Wispelway on Friday night at Elder Hall. Your correspondent will sadly be gone from Adelaide by Friday. And, sorry, he has already given away his ticket.