Blogging ISCM WNMD Days 3 and 4: Freedom of Creation

After writing yesterday’s installment I had a couple of hours of free time so I headed straight to Tratinska Street. According to a Google search I did back in NYC, there are two record shops there. Unfortunately one turned out to be out of business, but the other one, called Free Bird, was a gold mine. I picked up a few very affordable recordings of Croatian folk music and some singers from the 1930s. But since I was starting to feel like I was going to wind up spending a lot of money there, I cautiously asked the two guys who worked there if they accepted American Express before I browsed further. “Yeah, anything American; just not Russian Express!” exclaimed one of the guys, and we immediately started chatting. When I asked if they had any recordings by the 1970s prog rock band Tako from Serbia, the conversation got even more interesting. Unfortunately, the only Tako LP they had was way too scratchy for an aesthetically rewarding playback, but it led to my getting a crash course in the history of rock in the former Yugoslavia. They convinced me to pick up recordings of three groups from the 1970s: Buldo┼żer, who were heavily influenced by Frank Zappa, the somewhat Jethro Tullish Drugi Način, who were based in Zagreb, and Time, who have a heavier, more hard rock sound. Then, Distorzija and Električni Orgazm, which were the Yugoslavian version of punk and new wave in the ’80s. After getting all the records, I really had to rush to get to the 4 p.m. concert on time. I just made it.

The first of the three concerts of the WNMD yesterday was a program of works for tuba quartet, including a heavy-hitting piece by our own Julie Harting who came to hear the performance. It turned out to be her first visit to Europe.

Next was a performance by the Croatian Armed Forces Symphonic Wind Orchestra. Of the seven works on the program, three were by Americans. Brian Fennelly and Melinda Wagner both wrote challenging pieces that the Armed Forces band executed magnificently. B.J. Brooks from Texas, the only one of these three composers who was able to attend, wrote a piece that made them groove as well, and they did.


Cadence: Fantasy on Rhythms of Nick Angelis by B.J. Brooks
Performed by the West Texas A&M University Symphonic Band
Don Lefevre, Conductor

Turns out that he also had never been to Europe before and, as far as he knows, this is the first time his music has ever been played here even though his band piece, a surefire audience hit, has already been played quite a bit in the United States.

After the concert I talked with the band’s conductor, Tomislav Fačini, who was very enthusiastic about American repertoire. It is so gratifying that this year’s festival has resulted in exposure for so many new American compositional voices.

The final concert featured the Plovdiv Philharmonic visiting from Bulgaria. It was an extremely varied program, but the only composer with strong ties to the USA was Roberto Toscano from Brazil, who studied in the United States for seven years. At the end of the performance the conductor almost failed to acknowledge him, but he ran up to the stage and made himself known. Bravo!

The highlight of this morning’s general assembly was the unanimous election of Sofia Gubaidulina as an honorary member of ISCM. Shockingly, it is the first time a woman composer has been so honored. The most recent American composer to be honored was Milton Babbitt, only months before he died. Also worth noting here is a comment from Japanese composer Tatsuya Kawasoi, who had a piece performed on the wind band concert yesterday. In an open letter to WNMD participants published in today’s Zagreb Biennale newsletter, he talked about how difficult it was for him emotionally to come to Zagreb amidst all the tragedy that has happened in his homeland and why he ultimately decided to be here:

We have to prove, by continuing our activities in any situation no matter how painful it is, that [a] human being possesses the freedom of creation [from which] arises new art.

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