A Tremendous Success
Rome's 'Controtempo' contemporary music festival,
experienced by GIUSEPPE PENNISI
A major international contemporary music festival was held in Rome from 1 to 15 February 2014. I was at four of the eight concerts (those on 3, 6, 7 and 15 February). It was a very special festival not only because the audience was, by and large, young but also since, by the motto 'also classical music is contemporary', Beethoven was performed along with twentieth century composers as well as works of the newest generation. Another important feature was that, now at its fifth edition, the 'Controtempo' festival was a joint venture of several institutions: under the overall umbrella of the Académie de France in the Renaissance Villa Medici, several other institutions worked at the manifestation: the Accademia Filarmonica Romana, the Auditorium Parco della Musica, GMEM (Groupe de Musique Expérimental de Marseille), London's Wigmore Hall, the Louvre Auditorium, the Luxemburg Philarmonie and the Aix-en-Provence Festival. In a period of budgetary stringency, this is the only way to provide top notch quality.
Thus, even though most concerts were held in the Grand Salon of the magnificent Villa Medici, some were organized in the frugal Sala Casella in the gardens of the Accademia Filarmonica Romana, and the final concert was in the large and impressive Santa Cecilia Auditorium in the Parco della Musica; this implied some interesting effects to make music an art not only to be heard but also to be seen (and nearly touched). Finally, this was a themed festival on the string quartet: in the quartet the four main string instruments merge and become a single instrument with sixteen strings and a vast gamut of potential combination.
The 15 February concert, the last of the series, held in the 2,800 seat Santa Cecilia Auditorium, featured compositions of two recently deceased composers: the Romanian Horatiu Radulescu and the Italian Stefano Scodanibbio. Radulescu's rarely performed Quartet No 4 was a real example of how music can be seen. Radulescu needed eighteen years to compose a quartet which requires a main quartet center stage (in Rome, the Arditti Quartet) and eight other quartets around it — a total of thirty six instrumentalists. The work lasts forty-five minutes; the main central quartet, tuned at 431 hertz in fifth intervals, dialogues with the others, which simulate a huge viola da gamba with 128 strings.
The four concerts when the Diotima Quartet juxtaposed every night one of the last Ludwig von Beethoven's quartet with one of the Arnold Schoenberg late romantic quartets and (in four successive evenings) the full livre pour quatuor by Pierre Boulez in the 2011 revision of the 1948-49 original compositions, were quite interesting. The Villa Medici Grand Salon with its tapestries and a view over the city center of Rome provided the perfect setting to see and touch the analogies between early nineteenth century quartets, early twentieth century quartets and eventually twenty-first century quartets. Indeed classical music is always contemporary. The audience was enthralled.
To taste where contemporary music is going, on 3 February, Laurent Durupt, Francesca Verunelli, Mauro Lanza and Raphael Cendo unveiled four premieres: two for two quartets each and two for one quartet each — all with live electronics.
The Tana Quartet and the Qvixote Quartet were the performers, and GMEM provided the electronic support.
This very interesting and quite sensual music was appreciated by the audience.