Compelling gibberish opens modern music festival

Kentridge (left) in his absurd dialogue with soprano Greif, violinist Igor Semenoff and tap dancer Peter Kuit

Photo credit: Philharmonie Luxembourg / Alfonso Salgueiro

A man in his fifties comes on stage, sits behind a lectern and opens a book. He clears his throat and it looks like his audience is ready for a serious lecture on a worthy subject. But as soon as South African multi-artist William Kentridge starts speaking, only utter nonsense comes out of his mouth – which he maintains for the next 40 minutes.

Such was the audacity of Kurt Schwitters that his Ursonate still shocks a hundred years after the German Dadaist wrote it, even if you have already heard it. The opening line – “Fümms bö wö tää zää U, pögiff, kwii Ee”- is a sign of what is about to hit you. The rest of this four parts Klanggedicht (sound poem) doesn’t compromise much more. Nothing, in fact.

Still, Kentridge is a compassionate performer, whose smooth delivery allows you to listen with interest. Sometimes he even seemed convincing. The 66-year-old can obviously count on goodwill in the Grand Duchy, after the Mudam exhibited his art this year (one of the best shows he has put on). Friday’s performance was a worthy coda.

The Ursonate was the opening night of the Rainy Days festival of contemporary classical music, which Luxembourg can consider itself happy to have. It is now the 20th time that the festival has taken place and the works on offer are of world quality. There are no less than 18 world premieres, while eight other pieces will only be performed for the second or third time.

Contemporary music is notoriously niche. Classical composers practically ceased to gain popularity after Igor Strawinsky. While abstract painting is now almost more of a cliché than figurative art, music without a clear melody, harmonic structure or rhythm demands too much from most audiences. It’s a shame, because contemporary music contains a wealth of works that are sometimes – not always, it is true – surprisingly beautiful or moving.

It’s music best enjoyed live, with the astonishing skills of musicians performing these demanding works in full screen. If you’ve never heard it before, Rainy Days is a great opportunity to pick a gigs or two and decide if you like what you hear. If the strictly classical sounds too disturbing, there is also electronic music, world music and film music, and jazz.

On Friday, for example, the Orchester philharmonique du Luxembourg will present works by three composers in their forties and fifties – a French, a German, a Belgian – one never heard, the others two or three times. On Saturdays, you can be among the very first audiences to hear works by young composers from the United States and Europe and, in the evening, a world premiere of a work by the Greek Georges Aperghis, one of the leading modern composers. .

There are also works that mix Persian with contemporary Western music, a new work for two big names in experimental rock and electronic music by Cédric Fermont, a “musical traveler” in search of experimental music in Africa and Europe. Asia. And yes – tickets are still generally available.

Back to William Kentridge. Just as he started to look like another baby boomer on a stage buzzing about something you don’t understand, a woman in the audience stood up and fiercely started yelling at him. words. It was Ariadne Greif, a New York soprano who received rave reviews in America for her roles in baroque and contemporary works.

As she took the stage to chat with Kentridge, a violinist and – why not – a tap dancer too. The last 10 minutes were a spectacle to watch and listen to. The disruption was a commentary on the spartan way Schwitters treats his audience – and provided just the touch of diversity the evening needed. As absurd to amuse, it bodes well for the festival.


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