SIMN 2015

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I

The more I have searched for Romanian avant-garde music, the more I have been amazed by the enormous importance of individual expressivity to a large group of composers. Even though the very romantic idea of expression as artists’ fundamental goal seems obvious, in practice many tend, before and now, to be too attracted to formal solutions and atmospheres that link them to a group. Of course, composers have not simply given up on expressivity, but, for example, the appealing on technically experimenting very typical in contemporary music (and, often, the fear of being criticized among their peers at the Academy) seems to castrate their expression with a certain frequency. When they intend to praise expression, they step back, what again seems to me rather formal, as if old models were more touching than new. In both case, there is a cliché of a dichotomy in which you have to trade off innovation and appeal and  blames on a “rational music”.

Interesting, I cannot find this dichotomy among the best composers of Romania. When I listened for the first time Ștefan Niculescu’s Ison II, it amazed me how inventive, but also passionate and luminous it was. Moreover, it was pure, as if he was trying to decant the passion to a level of sheer will. Often this passion, luminosity and purity should bring some suspicion. Indeed, our tendency in modern arts for dark moods, irony, harshness, cynicism is, probably, a protection against opportunism, usual in a mass consumption society. Nonetheless, it shows how weak and defenseless we are, choosing pre-formatted defenses, when arts is likely what let us free of them. Ison II reminds us that freedom, that music can be sweet without being foolish and, if more, that everything else is pettiness.

Bear in mind also the strange case of Pascal Bentoiu, whose music sounds at the same time conservative and inventive. Curiously his music gets more experimental as the avant-garde starts losing its charm. His symphonies – mainly the 3rd, 4th and 5th – are so sure to follow their own path, that they make us forget there is anything incompatible between the old and new.

No other country in the 1960’s and 1970’s could afford such a creative generation, not even Poland. Names such as Ștefan Niculescu, Pascal Bentoiu, Anatol Vieru, Aurel Stroe, Myriam Marbé, Tiberiu Olah, Cornel Țaranu, Nicolae Brînduș, Octavian Nemescu, Mihai Moldovan and Corneliu Dan Georgescu are among the greatest in 20th Century and their music is very diverse. Spectralism is, it is true, a strong movement in Romania, but not only Romanian spectralism is quite different from the French, as inside of Romania the diversity is huge. A comparison of Niculescu and Iancu Dumitrescu shows how different the eggs put in a basket can be.

Probably, the best years of Romanian music go until the 1980’s, but newer generations are not less than impressive. Doina Rotaru, Calin Ioachimescu, Ulpiu Vlad, Costin Cazaban, Iancu Dumitrescu, Ana-Maria Avram, Nicolae Teodoreanu, Violeta Dinescu, Adina Dumitrescu are worth advertisement. In no other country I could find so many composers born after 1920 I admire.

Indeed, Romanian music deserves more recognition in concert halls and commercial recordings. Despite internet, it is still rather hard to find material (audio or scores) out of Romania and for many years my main source had been radio broadcast from Romania Muzical and scarce LPs sold here and there.

II

The overall level of International Week of New Music in Bucharest (SIMN 2015) was very satisfying. Intriguingly, despite being an international festival, rarely foreign pieces were as interesting as Romanian pieces. If we could deem the selection of non-Romanian pieces was not very carefully made ─ and this seemed particularly true for the pieces written in the last 15 years ─, even in face of great pieces Lutoslawski, Ligeti and Ferneyhough, local composers were not outshined.

As the festival was dedicated to Ștefan Niculescu in this year, the idea was to open and finish with his works. Ison II was the first and the best piece performed. I have many recordings of it and know the piece well, but they do not prepare you to experience of watching it in a concert hall. The distribution of musicians around the hall creates an oneiric atmosphere and effects impossible to imagine in stereo recordings, making you immerse in an incredibly delicate world. Camil Marinescu’s conducting showed maturity and boldness. Ison II is usually performed in around 20ˈ. His version lasted less than 13ˈ. But I felt no rush, as it should be expected. On contrary, Marinescu pointed out the piece’s potential to conserve its freshness and flexibility, as if every performance gave birth to a new work (always a good one, curiously). Vieru’s Two Cellos Concerto, Miereanu’s Flute Concerto and the apotheosis of Lutoslawski’s Concerto for Orchestra showed a very intelligent conductor in a very dense program, one of those that we rarely see: after Ison II, it should be hard to sustain the interest for the concert, but the almost mythological mood of Vieru’s concerto and the energy of Lutoslawski’s work made a nice choice, complementing Niculescu’s piece. Marin Cazacu, Mirel Iancovice and Ion Bogdan Ștefǎnescu were not less than amazing in their solo parts and the bis given by the latter was a very nice moment in this memorable experience.

The Orchestra of the National University of Music Bucharest’s program was also noteworthy. It gave us juicy interpretations for Liviu Glodeanu’s Suite for orchestra and boys choir and Munteanu’s Glasurile Putnei and the wise selection of works, building an interesting atmosphere, gave me such a good impression that I felt the youth orchestra outshined the much better Romanian Radio Chamber Orchestra, which performed the day after.

Other great moments were: the Profil Ensemble’s concert, mainly its stunning performance of Marbé’s Trommelbass; Andrei Tănăsescu and Mihai Măniceanu’s one/two/three-piano concert; Emil Vişenescu in Doina Rotaru’s Fum; Eric Lamb’s breathless concert at the Union of Romanian Composers, specially the premiere of Dan Georgescu’s Whati Waiata; and finally the premiere of Nemescu’s Music for the first 14 minutes of a fatal hour by the National Radio Orchestra.

III

When I decided to go to Bucharest for SIMN 2015, not only I was expecting to listen to Romanian contemporary music alive for the first time, but also I was interested in understanding:

  1. how such an inventive music was possible in the communist period;
  2. how well known that music is nowadays in Romania;
  • why it is not better recognized internationally.

Being in Bucharest some facts came to my attention:

  1. Usually no more than one third of concert halls seats were occupied and most people to whom I talked in public places had no idea of who were those composers (but they knew Enescu, of course).
  2. Looking for LPs, I understood it required more time and effort I could afford in order to find a single disc in Bucharest – and this very point was unexpected for me, as I deemed those vinyls were not so dear to collectors (I have bought most of them for good prices). They are, nonetheless, really rare in online shopping websites such as eBay: so, they should be somewhere and expected they would be in Bucharest.
  3. One the other hand, sheet music was edited during all the period and are not that hard to find them in old book stores. Libraries have good collections and they are fairly accessible.
  4. You can find books with information even about very obscure composers and their works, about whom there is almost no data in the internet (such as Dinu Petrescu).
  5. Music has been performed and recorded since the 1960’s and the Union of Romanian Composers has made a great job in releasing many of them in recent years (unfortunately, at the moment, just in non-commercial CDs).

Taking those facts into account, it is clear that even in Romania there is a serious lack of recognition of this music. Nonetheless, differently from Brazil, my country, or other Latin-American countries, where the access to sheet music is, quite often, very limited and until recently it was very hard to gather information on important composers and works, mainly for economic reasons, in Romania it was there, available. Political censorship is not likely the reason, as well. At least Romanian composers have not faced the kind of persecution that Russian/soviet artists, such as Mossolov, Lourié, Roslavets and Protopopov, suffered during all soviet period (including after death).

Wellington Müller Bujokas

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