String weekend

When passing through England for Bill and Karen’s wedding a few weeks ago, we saw posters for a festival of Sofia Gubaidulina’s work, put on by the BBC. We toyed briefly (very briefly) with the idea of coming back, but then realized it would naturally be broadcast and archived online. So this weekend we’ve been listening. Another in the “Internet used for good” category.

We brought our dinners into our living room, sat on the floor and listened to violinist Gideon Kramer premiere the first part of her Triptych Nadyeka. He’s as brilliant as she is; we saw him in Estonia at Kancheli’s 70th festival, a modernist with the dynamic range and physical imagination not only to interpret, but to inspire and challenge these composers.

The third element of the Triptych bordered in places on melo- instead of drama, but was interesting still, integrating harsh phrases of recorded techno music blaring over the orchestra. Alluding (in the context of a plague epidemic) to soulless abandonment to pleasure, or perhaps to the sterility of art’s response. Either way, I’m not sure it worked, I don’t think she has the control of that idiom that she does of the orchestra; as a fragment of music meant to have meaning I think it is necessarily weighed down by the tensions between the genres, by mutual contempt and incomprehension.

And then last night to the Konzerthaus here in Berlin to see a string quartet play Mendelssohn, Kurtag, Schnittke. The final piece, Schnittke’s Piano Quintet, was the star, weaving between dissonant textures, through a waltz of insane clowns, finishing with a quaint one-finger pastoral melody on the piano that resolved in a way the strings never did: an only half-ironic reminder that simplicity, maybe even innocence, can make a path through complexity and chaos without being wholly lost.