For me, achieving aesthetic satisfaction at contemporary music concerts requires shifting points of view, especially during an era in which there is a sort of polyglot aesthetic at work, in which one often cannot know what style or styles will be encountered. Usually within the first few seconds of listening to a new piece it is possible to tell which perspective a composer comes from, whether it is spectral, or of the new-complexity, or noise-based, to name just a few.
Beyond this initial positioning, however, lately I have been listening especially for those works and performances I have labeled, for want of a better term, “honest.” These compositions are well-crafted, so that they carry and express a stylistic position, but also have marked idiosyncrasies that seem as though they come directly from the composer; some gestures or formal shapings that, if used by another composer, would clearly be imitative. An “honest” performance displays similar characteristics: well-rehearsed, enabling an interpretation that is in tune with the work itself.
I found two such examples of “honest” music while attending Saturday’s offerings at the 14th annual Festival Musica Vivia in Lisbon, Portugal. One was by Patrícia Sucena de Almeida with video by Daniel Antero titled Aranea, Insidis Noctis Serenae, in an exquisite performance by the Sond’Ar-te Electric Ensemble directed by Pedro Amaral. With intermittent video of the composer’s back, often on partial screen, the accompanying musical gestures referenced lyricism and interlocked to create an overall flow, which was then chopped into bits, repeated, recycled in ways that seemed entirely personal. Later that day, in a concert by the Orquestra Gulbenkian, directed by Lorraine Villancourt and with Gareguin Aroutiounian as soloist, Bruno Gabirro premiered his violin concerto vai falter sempre um dia. Shimmering layers of dense gestures were interrupted by passages as simple as 18 (I think I counted this correctly!) solo repeated plucked notes on the harp. The violin was intermittent, used less than one would expect from a violin concerto, but the hunger this created in me to hear more felt refreshing, and the violin solos were especially uncompromising.
I challenge myself to be “honest” as a composer, and I find it is one of the most difficult tasks, as not simply imitating in a world filled with music requires intense focus and discipline. But maybe not. Sometimes I find myself thinking that a more intuitive approach might be equally successful, a better way to get at the idiosyncratic. Any thoughts related to listening or composing in this way?