A CRISIS OF FESTIVALS OF CONTEMPORARY MUSIC?

Prof. Vladimír Bokes - Music Academy Bratislava / SK/

Kroměříž present year symposium is dedicated to the topic Crisis of the contemporary music festivals. Noteworthy topic. Reversal question is whether some crisis of festivals exists, whether crisis in art and in the community isn't by chance a requirement to the existence of such a festival. Crises of the community, culture, crises of the art, music, crises of the contemporary music..., in time of our studies we were with my colleges making jokes from the term “crisis of tonal system”. When is this term used from? From time of Stockhausen, Schönberg, Wagner? Wasn't such a crisis already in the era of transition from baroque to rococo or from style ars antique to the style ars nova? Isn't such a crises the prerequisite for the existence of art?

Festivals of the contemporary music have already rather long and interesting history. Noticeable group of that-time modern composers established in the 20ties of the 20th century the International Society of Contemporary Music. Members were celebrities like Schönberg, Hindemith, Bartók, Stravinskij, Janáček and Novák. Society organized every year a festival that promoted new ideas in musical art and which is from that time hold every year in an another town. Relation of political forces towards activities of composers should be regarded carrefuly. Written into history will remain sadly known exhibition “Die entartete Kunst” and with them joined denial of Schönberg as well as Hindemith in fascistic Germany, or devastating critics of Shostakovich's opera Lady Macbeth in Soviet Union. Festival didn't take place in the time of Hitler's taking power, in the period of second world war and its activities were in west Europe revived after 1945. Here, activities of new music profoundly widespread: Paris, Darmstadt, Cologne, Milano ... There is no more only ISCM festival, another festivals, symposions and composition courses occur. Mutual influence of west-European and American avant-garde after meeting of Boulez, Stockhausen and Cage in Darmstadt brought its fruit. By the end of the 50ties a new music from East Asia introduces itselves – Japan, Hongkong, Taiwan, South Korea. East Europe invaded by Soviet Army, remained in the shadow of “socialistic realism” with the exception of Warszawa Autumn from 1958 and Biennale of Music in Zagreb from 1961. Connected to the notion of Germany and Russia in the 30-ties even these two events are bound to the social and political process, this time with the aim to get out of the soviet influence. In 1967 the festival ISCM was hold in Prague thanks to gradual slight liberalization. Years of “normalization” in our country did slow down this process, which emerges in Slovakia first after 1989 in the form of the festival Melos-Ethos. Summary of more than 80-years old development shows that the institution of festival of the contemporary music is an important cultural and political phenomenon. It shows that it gives countries that organize them and that take part in them a credit and a reputation. It shows that it is a mirror of the state of art and generally of civilian freedom.

Festivals begin to differentiate, create its own dramaturgy, its own face. On one side there are big, important, paradoxically “traditional” festivals of new music. On the other side there are small, specialized events of more laboratory type for narrow range of people concerned. Together with broadening of the ambit content of festivals and summer courses comes more and more actual question: “What is, what has to be and what shouldn’t be content of such an event. Quo vadis, musica nova?

At the same time arose in the 60ties two questions: what to do with the traditionalism and with the minimalism. Turn of Penderecki (2nd symphony), Górecki (3rd symphony) or Pärt (tintinabuli) to certain extent relates with successful presentation of Shostakovich`s work on Warsaw autumn. Paradoxically right at the time when our by that time untoleranced dodecaphonic, serial, aleatoric and elektronic music comes to scene, dramaturgy of world festivals of contemporary music returns to so-called classical values. At the same time American minimalism comes: “Cage children”, Reich, Riley and Glass with critics of Darmstadt. Minimalistic festivals meet several times stronger response in the society and mainly between the youth – their atmosphere is not far from the one of concerts of rock music. Of course neither Darmstadt school saves the critics: minimalism's entrance to this community is forbiden for a long time. Up to this day, relationship between representatives of these directions are problematic and conflict is solved by clever dramaturgy by very simple confrontation: in the programm of festivals are concerts of serialists (maximalists) as well as minimalists. Some top ensembles even play within one concert compositions from both sides without hurting some of them.

Reconciliatory dramaturgy polystylistics belongs today to standards of so called big festival of “non-standard” music. Postmodern opera in modern opera building. Opening and closing orchestral concert with premieres playing known opus of avant-garde “clasic” or master of the music of 20th century with compulsory premiere of instrumental concert in the presentation of world solo performer. Orchestral concert with all new pieces would overcome the possibilities of standard orchestra. Two or three specialized ensembles of new music with premieres of less known authors. Recital of known quartet, pianist, singer of exceptional instrumentalist. During night time at 22.00 an electro acoustic concert, multimedial exhibition, happening and an exhibition of abstract “sound objects”. Of course, we can this type of festivals comment with a distance, nevertheless this says nothing about its quality. That depends on the choice and structure of particular works, on the level of interpretation as well as in what cultural context holds the festival. And sometimes it is also given by chance.

Model for such a big festival is right now established form of events ISCM – World Music Days. With reference to them was created Warsaw Autumn at the end of the 50ties, which was school of new music for eastern Europe and that's why Melos-Ethos was formed in the beginning of the 90ties following it too.

Against there are so-called small, specialized festivals consisting of several concerts. They usually resign the effort to present contemporary music in its whole context. They orientate on their “own supporters” and play works of concrete near art group. Problems in such a case arise when there begin conflicts in opinions of this group. It is almost a rule that small festival has usually two options of its development: by the time it transforms into before mentioned big one or it survives, gradually reduces itselves and sometimes vanishes. Cancelling of a festival is a negative signal for all the society. Let's mention absence of festivals ISCM during the war, absence of Warsaw Autumn during the state of emergency in Poland.

Dramaturgy. Maybe today there is no doubt about what create elementary values of the music of first half of the twentieth century. The way gradually leave Schnittke, Xenakis, Ligeti, Berio and Stockhausen, stabilalizes also value system of the music after 1945. Neverending question remains what from the huge amount of new production will remain the value for the future. Success of dramaturgy relies on the ability to anticipate. So who creates dramaturgy of the festival? Usually several enthusiastic composers, interprets and musicologists, between them some visionary convincing about the sense of new art, practice able to persuade concrete institutions about the sense of the festival for the whole society and clearly a manager who secures interpreters even from the other side of the Earth and has contact with media. If an art association is able to elect such people as its leaders, festival can begin. Problems in relationships and in competences between personalities leading the festival sooner or later display on its own level.

Democracy election is a principle which I mention because ISCM is based on it. National sections elect their representants who propose compositions on festival. At convenience of festival takes place General Assembly, which elects ISCM guidance. Place where the festival will be hold is assigned by election. Elected guidance together with guidance of particular national section chooses from proposed works those that will be listed into program. Works that are listed in program of World Music Days so proceed through double selection – on the national and on the international level. Naturally, the best result is not always brought by such a procedure, but the whole result is impressive. Problems arise mainly because countries are not represented equally. What does it mean equally? The right of the country to prefer its home production is respected, but is it correct if from 160 programmed opuses are only 2 from Germany? How much should it be? Is it necessary to follow a rule, that every country has to be represented equally, that is milliard (billion) China the same way as 60 million Italia as well as 400 thousand Luxembourg? Or the amount of inhabitants should be considered and then one third of the program will be supplied by East Asia. Don't forget missing representation of African states in ISCM. Further: Should be respected cultural maturity of a state and prefer it thanks to this reason? Do objective criteria of the maturity exist? Difficult questions. I had a talk with influential representant of ISCM R. Oehlschlägel in Hongkong (WMD 2007) who claims that a new festival of contemporary music in Cambodia has for him tree times the value of a new festival in Europe just because of its pioneering character features. Isn't he right? Wasn't it that way 50 years ago in Warsaw too? An interesting phenomenon is also to favor home production. Other it looks like in a small country, else in a big one. It is impossible to say that organizer country has the right for 5, 10 or 20% of the programme. It is difficult to find and to enforce an adequate ratio.

I mention experiences from discussions on General Assemblies of ISCM because after East-European experiences with the election of festival committees scepsis did often arise, that democratic elections are the reason why the dramaturgy level falls and becomes averaged compared with the time when festivals had top level and were administered by outstanding personalities. Up to this day the dilema sounds as follows: to offer the space to as many as possible or to prefer art elite? In case of an international festival, further question comes: from which countries should be invited guests, composers and interpreters? We had a special regional problem during the organization of the festival in Bratislava: how many from the west and how many from the east Europe, what ratio should be between home and foreign presentation. Definitely, foreign cultural institutions help economically to solve this dilemma, if festival organizers gain their confidence. Such a confidence used to be in our region coupled with of distrust from the side of home institutions, that's why even here one needs to move with considerable mastery. What ratio to use between classical avant-garde and new production? What should be the ratio between new production of respected composers and the production of young ones? All of this can be measured by amount and duration of compositions listed in program. I didn't mention the question of value. On purpose. It emerges first after all of these dramaturgical puzzles are successfully solved. If not, we begin to talk about festival crisis. Laco Kupkovič, the prominent Slovak avant-garde representant, who emigrated after occupation of Czechoslovakia and in that time West Germany started to compose in style of old romantics, is an example. According to him, festival of new music became closed and unaccessible ghetto of several individuals with mistaken opinions – that the true contemporary music is composed elsewhere. This was told in Bratislava in 1991. Many listeners didn't agree with his opinions – simply because nobody occurs in ghetto voluntarily. Similar opinions were advocated before in 1985 by Krzysztof Penderecki in Zagreb – at that time, many West European musicologists were out of favor with him.

First performance of a new composition is a remarkable occasion. Festival of contemporary music should bring several openings. A composer creates an opus, dramaturgy includes it into programme within season of festival, performer, ensemble or orchestra does and plays it. If the propagation is chosen properly, sufficient amount of listeners will come and one or more musicologists will write their critics. Sometimes controversy rises by which idea positions of all the parties are making clear. This pose requires certain coordination of several professions. So the same rule is valid here as in the dramaturgy – the ability to cooperate brings results. Opening, and mainly opening of a work bringing new thoughts is to certain extent a test of the ability of reciprocal cooperation in the society. It creates a model for all the other human activities. Evidently, if this doesn't work, it is bad message about the state of society.

Certain tension will always remain in how many money should by and how much is in disposition. All organizers and managers know the situation with deadlines for project delivery on state, regional or local offices, problem of coordination with foreign cultural institutes, taking hold of sponsors. Former Austrian president Rudolf Kirchschläger said in 1981 at the festival opening: “A society without art experiment is a society without hope.” Those responsible in our country listened at that time to statements of others people. Without this hope is the word “crisis” correct. I hope it won't last long.

Translation / Preklad Michaela Martinková


Prof. Vladimír Bokes - Music Academy Bratislava / SK/

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