Interesting Musical Encounters at the Porgy and Bess

 AustriaAustria  Wien Modern (6) – Rykova, Prins, Ivičevič, and Weber: Black Page Orchestra, Porgy & Bess, Vienna, 25.11.2015 (MB)

Elena Rykova101% mind uploading (2015, first Austrian performance)
Stefan PrinsPiano Hero #1 (2011-12)
Mirela Ivičevič  – The F SonG (dominosa VII) (2014)
Oliver Weber Heat Wave (2015, Wien Modern commission, world premiere)


Alessandro Baticci (flutes)
Florian Fennes (clarinets, saxophone)
Peter Mayer (electric guitar)
Alfredo Ovalles (piano)
Sofie Thorsbro Dan (violin)
Kaja Farszky (percussion)
Matthias Kranebitter (electronics)


In the beginning was Pli selon Pli: not only a modern(-ist) classic, but one of the very greatest musical works of the twentieth century. At the end – well, not quite the end of Wien Modern, but my final evening – came a late-night event at Porgy & Bess jazz club. Alas, I was only able to stay until the interval; no disrespect was intended to the three works to follow (Brigitta Muntendorf’s Public Privacy #1: Flute Cover, Matthias Kranebitter’s Dead Girl (Requiem E), and Alexander Schubert’s HELLO), nor to the Black Page Orchestra. I nevertheless encountered a provocative few works in the first half, some of which I responded to more keenly than others; new encounters are always, however, preferable to tired exhumations from the museum. Brahms I adore; I should travel a good distance to hear, say, Daniel Barenboim or Bernard Haitink conduct the symphonies. Brahms in a mediocre performance, there seemingly only to satisfy a non-discerning craving from tired subscribers: forget it.

I listened and – often, just as important – watched ‘blind’, knowing none of the composers’ work beforehand. (If you wish to point out that makes me unqualified, you are probably right, but it is perhaps less surprising than a situation in which I were to write about Brahms without some prior acquaintance.)  Elena Rykova’s 101% mind uploading, for three performers, seemed to me in some ways to hark back to the music-theatre of the 1960s and ’70s. We had three performers whose role was gestural, even dramatic, as much as musical. They arrived – I could not help but think of Henze’s Der langwierige Weg in der Wohung der Natascha Ungeheuer, especially given its jazz group – in surgical garb and proceeded, it seemed, to perform surgery upon the piano. Other instruments were part of the act from time to time, but the piano remained the central focus. All manner of sounds issued forth: almost wasp-like at one point. As a piece of theatre, I found it initially arresting, if perhaps over-long; it struck me that it might well have lasted for three hours, or for that matter three minutes. I am not sure how long it lasted, but to speak of ‘musical material’ and what length it might have justified would seem rather to be missing the point. Here as elsewhere, though, there was no gainsaying the ability of the performers, members of the excellent, undoubtedly radical Black Page Orchestra.

Stefan Prins’s Piano Hero #1, for midi-keyboard, live electronics, and video followed. I shall doubtless show myself woefully out of touch here, but it seemed to me to show an interesting musico-dramatic grasp and communication of the ‘gamer’ at his console. It was certainly a performance in a very strong sense, the video screen notwithstanding. Electronic look and sounds combined convincingly and not always expectedly.

The final two works had a little more of the jazz arena to them. (I am certainly not complaining that the first two did not, simply noting the ‘fit’ or otherwise with surroundings and expectations.) In the case of Mirela Ivičevič’s The F SonG (dominosa VII), the presence of a saxophone helped, but more fundamentally, the sense of an amplified celebration as well, perhaps, as deconstruction, of a jam session. Ensemble and electronics were intertwined in both composition and performance to an extent that, certainly on a first hearing, it was difficult – and probably fruitless – to try to distinguish between them.

Oliver Weber’s Heat Wave, for bass clarinet, electronic guitar, piano, violin, and electronics, seemed at times especially preoccupied with certain repeated notes, often on the same instrument, sometimes not. There were some Kraftwerk-ish electronic sounds, I thought, and my friend noticed a quotation from Summertime. (That might make sense, given the work title; I am afraid I missed it.) So much to think about, and much remaining to make sense of: I hope I shall be able to return before long to the festival. And, by the way, how lovely to go to a concert and receive excellent table drinks service!

Mark Berry

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