Festival Maribor (3): (Nothing)

SloveniaSlovenia  Festival Maribor (3), “Nothing”: Soloists, Richard Tognetti (conductor, lead violin), The Croatian Radio Television Choir, Jon Frank (images and video installation), Festival Maribor Orchestra, Grand Hall of the Slovene National Theatre, Maribor (Slovenia). 06.09.2011 (LV)

Selected program highlights:

Walton: 2 songs from Façade
Cage: Sonata No. 5 (from Sonatas & Interludes for Prepared Piano), (1946-48)
Morton Feldman: Rothko Chapel (excerpts)
Cage: 4:33 (1952)
Handel: Cleopatra’s “Piangero la sorte mia” (from Giulio Cesare)
Beethoven: “Ah! Perfido,” Op. 65

In the deeply atmospheric interior of Maribor’s Slovene National Theatre, where the proud, beautiful city’s opera and ballet perform, Festival Maribor music director Richard Tognetti brought together a gigantic disparate barrage of video and music by composers ranging from Handel and Beethoven to Cage, Feldman, Scelsi and Tognetti, titled “Nothing.” (Only a fragment of the program is listed above.) Although there were grumblings in the audience about the length and impenetrability of the evening’s entertainment, and the grim realities projected onto the screen, any concert that features a naked soprano and Barry Humphries of Dame Edna fame can’t be all bad.

Add in the big bass drum, organ and bells, and all it really missed was Lady Gaga. Even Her Highness would have had to take a back seat to Polish soprano Aleksandra Zamojska singing Handel’s great aria from Giulio Cesare about love, the haunting “Piangero la sorte mia” – topless in her underwear. Zamojska came out in a great black cape for the recitative, then threw it off once the aria itself began, despite the efforts of female members of the chorus to cover her nudity. Zamojska has a voice of velvety beauty and impeccable intonation that would have been sensationally sufficient had she been fully clothed. The exhibitionist coup de theatre, however, with lights transforming Zamojska’s body into a anti-puerilistic cubist fantasy, gave it that little extra “oomph” that festival-goers, eager to tell the folks back home what they missed, always appreciate.

Other highlights included pianist Marino Formenti’s riveting yet casual performance of John Cage’s iconic 4:33; never has a performance slipped so fleetingly, intriguingly, refreshingly by. In the KGB pub afterwards, when Formenti told me it was his first performance of the piece ever, I admitted it was my first review of it ever. A glass or two of Slovenian wine later, he suggested leaving about 4’33” of space in my review blank. Here it is:

On an evening that was “curiouser and curiouser” from the get-go, it was fitting somehow that Barry Humphries bookended the concert with two excerpts from William Walton’s Façade in a voice incomparably rich in music and poetry. Hearing him recite about Ganymede singing and drinking, and cowbells “drowned in waiters dreams,” was perfectly appropriate, in an Alice in Wonderland way, to frame Tognetti’s “Nothing” theme.

 Laurence Vittes


[Editor’s note: the evening’s complete program and personnel can be seen here.]