It’s all about understanding


It is the years of performing together that create magic and understanding between musicians. In an interview two weeks ago, this is what Menahem Pressler, the 91 year old pianist and founding member of the legendary Beaux Arts Trio, told me. It was the experience gained over sixty years of ensemle playing which made the Trio one of the finest chamber music groups of the last century. Does this also apply to ensembles dealing with new music?

Yes, of course, and yesterday it seemed that just a few years could create the kind of complicity that characterizes great ensembles.


The Mivos Quartet was the first ensemble in the "Ensemble 2014 - Showcase" concert at the Orangerie. The New-York based quartet, founded in 2008, is a fine example of where mutual understanding between musicans can take you. Performing Clemens Gadenstätter's schlitzen/paramyth 2 is not an easy task. It uses every sort of string technical effects (from flautando to pizzicato, glissando, harmonics and many, many other effects) and the Quartet gave a brilliant performance that sounded both spontaneous and entirely in tune with the "experiential possibilities" which Gadenstätter says are innate in his composition.


Next came Trio Catch, with two clarinet guests for their performance of Morton Feldman's Three Clarinets, Cello and Piano, and the organic complicity seen between the musicians of the Mivos Quartet was rather less evident. They were followed by Ensemble Garage; in Karaoke Rebranng! Michael Beil blurs one's listening experience, using delayed video playback so that soon one can't distinguish between what is real and what is not. The musicians displayed a striking sense of theatricality which suited this work and was also seen to great effect in Sergej Maingardt's Panopticon, which Mariano Chiacciarini conducted convincingly.


Half an hour later, and a few kilometers away, the Centralstation witnessed another musical adventure and one of no less importance. Even before they had played a single note, indeed while they were still making their way to the stage, the members of the Soundinitiative ensemble, founded in Paris in 2010, were welcomed by warm applause. Were the audience already in their pocket? Probably.


Diez-Fischer's Cancion del Ciego puts the voice at the centre of his piece. Fabienne Séveillac, the ensemble's singer – black dress, red lipstick – seems to be possessed by the character of a heroine from a film by Truffaut. Mauro Lanza's Vesperbild used an array of tools – a loudspeaker horn for the viola, a cheese grater, and so on – and toys too, and the sight of the unusual instruments seemed to spread a mood of childish excitement in the hall. But in spite of the work's comic aspect, the young French ensemble showed that they have a lot to say when dealing with new music.


Mauricio Pauly's Another celibate machine was probably not the best piece to demonstrate the qualities of the Distractfold Ensemble and is was only with Takasugi's The man who could not stop laughing that the ensemble gave a truly convincing performance. It is a work that requires far more than just musical interpretation and the Manchester-based ensemble revealed themselves as musicians who were also wonderful, sometimes even very funny, actors. With mime and music covering a wide range of emotions, from fear to neurosis to crazy happiness, the ensemble mixed virtuosity with a keen understanding of what the music was about; a vital and refreshing rendering of the work.


Two years ago, it was the Mivos Quartet who won the Darmstadt Stipendium Prize for Interpretation. On Saturday there will be more prizes for musicians and composers. Will one of the ensembles from yesterday's concerts be the winner of this year's competition?

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