Contemporary music and a world premiere in Rome

ItalyItaly Nilson, Cifariello Ciardi, Gervasoni, Battistelli, Sani: Ivo Nilson (trombone), Antonio Caggiano (percussion). Nuova Consonanza Festival, La Pelanda, Rome, 14.12.2021. (GP)

Ivo Nilson (trombone) and Antonio Caggiano (percussion) (c) Marta Cantarelli

Ivo Nilson – Sylfer
Fabio Cifariello Ciardi – Appunti per amanti simultanei
Stefano Gervasoni – Nube obbediente
Giorgio Battistelli – Trama
Nicola Sani – Till I end my song#2 (world premiere)

Before the pandemic, as many hours of contemporary music were performed per year in Rome as they were in Berlin. Rome was one of the world capitals of contemporary music in its own right, as it had been in the sixties of the last century when various musicians, above all if Anglo-Saxon extraction, moved to the Italian capital, both to work in the ‘Hollywood on the Tiber’ and to make innovative music. Even earlier, in the thirties, contemporary music flourished in Rome because it was encouraged by the government itself. Today there are public institutions, such as Musica per Roma, that promote it. The National Academy of Santa Cecilia itself includes contemporary music in its concert series. Together with the Accademia Filarmonica Romana, international academies and cultural institutes based in Rome organize a summer festival to make the contemporary music of their countries known. There are festivals, such as the Romeuropa Festival, entirely dedicated to musical innovation. Not to mention private foundations. And above all, the Nuova Consonanza Association which is almost sixty years old and whose 58th festival included sixty events.

This concert was dedicated to compositions for brass (specifically, trombone) and percussion: an anthology of the Italian experience of the last twenty years and a world premiere of a work by Nicola Sani, artistic director of the Accademia Chigiana in Siena and an esteemed composer.

As Ramón Andrés recalls in El mundo en el oido (Quaderns Crema, 2008), which deals in detail with music in Mesopotamia, Israel, Egypt and Greece, the union between brass and percussion has ancient origins. The term ‘touch’ – hence toccata – must have passed by analogy from percussion (drums and cymbals) to wind instruments (trumpets) well before the Renaissance, when the two families of instruments were inseparable in performance practice. In an essay presenting the concert, the musicologist Paolo Rosato recalls that Vinko Globokar (the French composer and trombonist of the first performances of Berio, Kagel and Stockhausen) divides the world of percussion into two opposing philosophies. One is that of ‘beating’ – the ancient ‘touching’ – on the part of those who work with multiple instruments, in order to achieve more timbres; the other is that of the search for different timbres on a single instrument, by ways other than beating. Both of these approaches were present in the concert, with Nilsson himself on the trombone and Antonio Gaggiano on percussion.

The program began with Sylfer, for trombone, percussion and electronics, by the Swedish Ivo Nilsson. It deals programmatically with the story of the sylph, an imaginary being, mortal but soulless, that Paracelsus (1493-1541), the Swiss alchemist and astrologer, thought to be associated with the air. The piece is based on a poem by the Swedish Gunnar Ekelöf (1907-1968); he was a surrealist writer, also influenced by Baroque and Romantic art. It is a very atmospheric piece, starting from the pure air produced by the breath and oscillation in the instrument and subsequently acquiring increasingly concrete, tangible aspects.

Appunti per amanti simultanei (Notes for simultaneous lovers), for trombone and electronics, by Fabio Cifariello Ciardi is one of the possible versions of a work inspired by the short novel Amanti simultanei by the futurist Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. In the end, the trombone hints, with irony, at songs reminiscent of fascism, disappearing a little at a time.

With Nube Obediente (Obedient Cloud), Stefano Gervasoni establishes an analogy between the laws of meteorology and those of music. Gervasoni firmly believes in a dialectic relation between the freedom of the composer and a musical subject that opposes him, also by virtue of linguistic and formal conventions and consolidated performance practices. It is a piece full of tension.

Trama (Plot), for a percussionist, by Giorgio Battistelli immediately imposes itself on listeners due to a rhythmic vehemence that refers to Edgard Varèse and Iannis Xenakis. The percussion instruments used, which come from four continents (Africa, Latin America, Asia and Europe), are simply beaten, with hands, fingers and chopsticks. The piece, however, also has a visual dimension, purely theatrical, so much so that the musician opens and closes the performance with some sleight-of-hand effects, including a magic book and lightning paper.

Much awaited was the world premiere of Till I end my song #2 for trombone and percussion by Nicola Sani. It is inspired by the poem The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot (1888-1965) and the verses contained in it are by Edmund Spenser (1552-1599). At first listening, the song is elegiac and melancholic, very different than the Battistelli. It was intimate and personal, poignant and engrossing.

The concert was held in the Sala La Pelanda, inside what the art nouveau style slaughterhouse built between the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century on the banks of the Tiber. The hall was full and the evening a great success.

Giuseppe Pennisi

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