Cities on Water

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Before I get to last night’s concert, a word about the spectacular venue where most Gaudeamus Music Week events take place. The Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ opened about three years ago on the docks of the IJ (the bay-turned-lake that feeds and empties Amsterdam’s canal rings), just to the east of Centraal Station. It’s a sort of concert music lover’s dream complex, whose centerpiece is a modular main hall where stage position, seating, and even acoustics can be adjusted. The building also incorporates a smaller hall and rehearsal space, as well as the administrative offices of Amsterdam ensembles. Finally, there’s the Bimhuis (that black box sticking off the side of the building to the left), now one of Amsterdam’s top jazz venues, and the site of the Music Week’s midday concerts. Arguably the Muziekgebouw’s best feature, though, is a large deck extending into the IJ—perfect for watching the pre-concert sunset over the old city or for drinks on the water after the show.

Wednesday night’s concert featured the newly minted Asko|Schönberg ensemble, formed this September by merging two of the Netherlands’ premiere new music groups. Combining forces allows the ensemble to redefine itself and its mission to “fill the gap between the symphony orchestra and the music ensemble.” They opened with jury member David Dramm’s Helen Barbara, a multimedia piece in which a film of an autistic woman (a cousin of the director) is projected behind the ensemble, supported by an electronic part composed of a light wash of industrial sounds. Then came Splatter by the Greek composer Lefteris Papadimitriou, a winner of the 2006 Gaudeamus Prize. It was a diffuse collage of disparate electronic sounds, spectra in the strings, percussion interjections, all leading towards the surprising ending—a single sustained and fading low note on the piano.

Two jury selections were featured, from the two Americans nominated for this year’s prize. Huck Hodge’s Parallaxes came first, an intricate and subtly orchestrated piece for a sort of modified sinfonietta ensemble, substituting saxophones for clarinets and double reeds. After intermission there was a performance of Jenny Olivia Johnson’s chamber opera Leaving Santa Monica. Both singers (soprano and mezzo-soprano) as well as the entire ensemble were amplified, making for an especially ear-splitting climax that progressively unwound to a sparse and delicate resolution.

Thursday’s noon concert featured the Croatian ensemble CANTUS in a program split between two pieces by Croatian composers and two from Dutch composers. Based in Zagreb, CANTUS is the ensemble-in-residence for the ISCM in 2008, and will be performing ISCM-selected compositions at the upcoming ISCM World Music Days in Vilnius, Lithuania.

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