Speed, power and exercises of meditation – the youngest generation of composers at the Kalv composer academy

By Mihaela Rusu

Sometimes life can be surprising. A Facebook post brought me here, to Sweden, in the middle of nature, to express my admiration for contemporary music and Swedish culture, together with other musicologists, composers, and performers.

As part of the Kalv festival for contemporary music, the Swedish composer Malin Bång and the Austrian organist and composer Klaus Lang lead a composition academy for young composers. Eight composers were selected from 138 applications, and during one week these composers from China, Russia, England, the U.S., South Korea, Iran and Sweden had individual lessons with Bång and Lang and rehearsals with the ensemble Mimitabu from Göteborg who performed their works at two concerts in Kalv church on the 9thand the 10thof August.

What could be said about the works that were performed? Can one speak of any special tendencies amongst the youngest generation of composers, although originating from all over the world? What first struck me was the contrast of the compositional style of the composers who were leading the academy. Malin Bång uses unconventional objects as instruments, and through them, discovers new qualities of sounds and different ways of expressing her philosophy. Her philosophy can be summarized as music being a cluster of different noises, timbres, whispers, which symbolises life: breathing, heart beats, movement and silence.

KlausLang, on the other hand, is deeply connected with Renaissance traditions, especially keyboard composers such as Ockeghem, Merulo or Palestrina. His music can be interpreted as a tribute to the composers of that time, but in a modern way, using elements of minimalism, mixtures of chords and registers, and modern form structures.

Mimitabu is a relatively young ensemble who in the last few years has played an increasingly important role for contemporary music in Sweden. Their experience was reflected in the quality of the performance of the works by the academy composers.

The works performed included a diverse spectrum of styles and sounds, from static atmospheres to more gestural sonorities. In a way, one could say that the diversity of aesthetics among the mentors was reflected in the works of the composers at the academy. In the first concert, there were some common traits, such as“sound exploration” and the usage of uncommon instruments and objects. At the second evening, the works adopted a more introspective attitude, using electronic sounds and a different musical dramaturgy. I managed to group the pieces into four main categories with the musical expression as the main criterium.

First, William Sundman Sääf’s work En sorts ritual for small ensemble and Klaus Lang’s Die hässliche blume expressed the idea of alternation of speed and power, and the dialogue between beauty and ugliness, through simple melodic structures and tonal sonorities. The main themes of these works invite the listener to imagine expressive and suggestive images, especially through the idea of an ancestral ritual or the picture of nature.

Second, the composers Andrew Maxbauer (Poem: Intermezzo for flute, oboe, clarinet and cello), Lydia Winsor Brindamour (Of the ether for violin cello and piano), Shaun Davies (Deeply doppling for laptops and four speakers) and Klaus Lang (Riden motette for flute, bass clarinet, violin and reciter) instead invited the public to an exercise of meditation through a sound-trance, a unique musical experience. The composers used a static discourse, composed from long notes, rhythmic pedals, and combinations of timbres in a minimalist style, sometimes reminiscent of Arvo Pärt’s music. A special moment was Shaun Davies’s work in which he used electronic sounds played by four speakers in a continuous rotation movement, which was transported through the church by four composer colleagues. The movement gave a special sound effect of proximity and distance and also had a symbolic sense of change and alteration.

Another tendency presented at the concerts was the usage of extreme contrasts. Darya Zvezdina expressed this idea in her work Unknown and undine for flute, oboe, clarinet and microphone enhanced percussion by passing over a general dramaturgy and instead highlighting the timbre and the range of the instruments. In Si bleu… si bleu…II for small ensemble Tian-Üh Zou used opposing sonorities and dynamics in an elaborate way, combining expressive motifs in a polyphonic discourse and thereby creating delicate sonorities connected to the impressionist painting which had inspired the composer.

The last tendency that appeared in these concerts was the modernist “avantgardist” style, as could be experienced in the work for bass flute, percussion and cello by Fojan Gharibnejad, Take2 for flute, oboe, violin and piano by Hunjoo Jung and Malin Bång’s Palinodefor bass flute, bass clarinet, cello and three objects. These works included combinations of timbres and sound effects (whispers,noises), elements of musical theatre, and some unconventional objects for music making (plastic bags, knives, chains, a vase, a batten). In contrast to the above-mentioned works, these ones expressed speed, aggressiveness and the energy of contemporary urban life.

These two concerts featuring the work of the composition academy were given a prominent place in the program, which says something about the importance that was attributed to the youngest generation of composers at this festival. The works featured diverse styles, being inspired by ancestral as well as urban culture, from arts and different human experiences. The quality of the concerts was impeccable and the ensemble’s players created special moments with their dedication and expressiveness. Both concerts showed contrast and a diversity of artistic views, although at the same time they showed some common aesthetic features as well.

Mihaela Rusu is graduating Masters in musicology at National University of Arts George Enescu in Iași, Romania, has written music journalism and presented papers at conferences in Romania and abroad.

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