Music of Luigi Nono from the Electronic Music Foundation

United StatesUnited States  Nono: Soloists, NYU Percussion Ensemble, Frederick Loewe Theatre (New York University) and Judson Church, New York City, 27-28.2.2012 (BH)

Stacey Mastrian, voice
Stefan Litwin, piano
Alvise Vidolin, electronics
Thomas Beyer, technical director

NYU Percussion Ensemble
David Fein, conductor
Chu Wing In
Andrew Kendris
Yael Litwin
Jeremy Lowe
Matthew Overbay
Jamie Pittle
Conrad Harris, violin

Concert I (Frederick Loewe Theatre, NYU)
La Fabbrica Illuminata (The Illuminated Factory)
Ricorda cossa ti hanno fatto in Auschwitz (Remember what they did to you in Auschwitz)
…sofferte onde serene… (…suffering quiet waves…)
Con Luigi Dallapiccola (With Luigi Dallapiccola)

Concert II (Judson Church)
La lontananza nostalgica utopica futura – Madrigal per più “caminantes” con Gidon Kremer (The distance nostalgic utopian future – Madrigal for other “walkers” with Gidon Kremer

Thanks to the invaluable programming of the Electronic Music Foundation and artistic director Alvise Vidolin, two concerts of the music of Luigi Nono demonstrated the composer’s aural inventiveness. On the first night, at New York University’s Loewe Theatre, Soprano Stacey Mastrian began the evening with La Fabbrica Illuminata (The Illuminated Factory) for voice and recorded sounds – in this case, of a steel mill near Genoa, Italy, combined with excerpts from the RAI Milan chorus, and bits of electronically-generated material. A turbulent maelstrom of chattering voices immersed Mastrian, coupled with groaning, crackling electronics.

Few pieces – from any era – are as upsetting as Ricorda cossa ti hanno fatto in Auschwitz (Remember what they did to you in Auschwitz). Perhaps Penderecki’s nightmarish Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima holds a similar power to describe the indescribable. Nono’s opus is for taped children’s voices, a soprano (Stefania Woytowitz), plus instrumental and electronic sounds, all processed to create a frightening composite. The music erupts in huge, shattering blocks, as if weighty gates are slowly opening to give one a glimpse of hell.

Written for Maurizio Pollini, …sofferte onde serene… (…suffering from quiet waves…) is for two pianos – one live, one recorded – and was inspired by bells near Nono’s home in Venice. Its calm surface may or may not mask a certain quiet discontent with life and its rhythm. Here, pianist Stefan Litwin gave a pristine reading, with the result seeming even calmer than usual, coming after the intensity of the first two pieces. David Fein and the NYU Percussion Ensemble concluded with a vivid performance of Con Luigi Dallapiccola, for six percussionists and live electronics. Intended to evoke the “multiplicity of spaces in [Dallapicola’s] musical thought,” the score is in contrasting sections – now clanging with bell-like sonorities, now rumbling ominously with the sometimes quiet thunder of timpani.

The following evening – just a few steps down the block at Judson Church – was devoted to a single work: La lontananza nostalgica utopica futura – Madrigal per più “caminantes” con Gidon Kremer (The distance nostalgic utopian future – Madrigal for other “walkers” with Gidon Kremer. Written for walking violinist, eight loudspeakers and eight to ten music stands, it is one of the composer’s last works and at least as performed here by Conrad Harris, one of his most beautiful. With the audience arranged “in the round,” Harris slowly entered the space and made his way – slowly, deliberately – to one of the music stands and began playing. The violin material is complex: single notes are framed by silence, trailing off into space. Quiet sputters later erupt in a flurry of spasms. Sudden outbursts will surprise any in the audience caught dozing. The recorded material contains music, speech and other processed sounds, and is deployed separately by a second person (here, Mr. Vidolin); no two performances will be the same.

In the spacious, resonant acoustic of the church, with its lofty ceiling, Harris’s tone seemed to float high in the room. Perhaps imagery was suggested by the venue, but the word that came to mind was “celestial,” as if Harris were communing with angels. The electronics – always clear – mingled with the live violin in extraordinary symbiosis, constantly surprising the ears with glimpses of speech, shifting colors, quiet rustlings, and now and then, what sounds like furniture being moved. And the strolling, which some might think superfluous, adds its own mysterious allure. As Grant Chu Covell wrote in his 2004 article for La Folia, “Concert violinists are not used to walking around.”

Bruce Hodges