Italian Perfection: Portland Art Museum and Third Angle New Music bring 20th century Italy to life

Posted: March 9, 2015 in Experiences, Modern Music, On Beauty
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

THANK YOU, THANK YOU THIRD ANGLE! The “Made in Italy” concert, in conjunction with the Portland Art Museum is one of my top 3 favorite shows you have ever done. For the record, the other two were Rothko Chapel (also with PAM), and China Music Now (with the Portland Chinese Garden). This time, though, I learned a lot as well as listening to what I already love.

The evening began with one of several pieces I’ve never heard, Dallapiccola’s 1951 piece for violin and piano called “Tartiniana II,”  , The piece is a tribute to Baroque composer Giuseppe Tartini. It was programmed first as a sort of bridge between the 20th century and the long history of Italian art music. Personally, this was the piece I found least interesting but I’m not sure i could have selected a better piece to bridge the centuries and I totally get why Ron chose it.

For me, the evening just got more and more interesting as the show continued.

I was most excited to hear the 3rd piece, Berio’s lovely tribute to Martin Luther King, “O King”. It seems to me that Berio is terribly under-performed since his passing in 2003. I’m biased about this piece for 2 reasons. First, it is a chamber setting of music that also serves as the second movement of Berio’s “Synphonia” which I think is one of most beautiful things to ever come out of the late 20th century. Second, Berio is one of the few 20th century composers who I deeply admire but who I was never able to meet. I came close once, when my uncle Mel and aunt Joey took me to see the LA Philharmonic perform several of his works, including my favorite Berio piece “Linea”, conducted by Berio himself. So, basically, I went into the evening expecting to grin for 5 minutes while “O King” was performed; and grin I did.

Backing up a step, I’ll also mention a really amazing piece that I’ve not heard since my college days in the B304 electronic music studio: Luigi Nono’s “La Fabbrica Illuminata,” This is a piece for tape and voice that comes out the electro-acoustic and musicque concrete movements of the 50’s and 60’s. It was realized in 1964 as a protest against Italian factory working conditions. Nono is one of the guys we got to study, moment by moment in Barry Schrader’s electronic music classes because Nono was one of the first composers to create electronic music. Before there was such a thing as 5.1 and 7.2 multichannel audio systems, we used to create music for 4 track tape. Nono’s tape was made from the sounds of factory worked workers that were electronically processed. The recorded material was played back through a very solid 4-channel sound system that reminded me exactly of the old Quad recordings that we used to make. If enough time has now passed that one can call electro-acoustic music “authentic” then this performance surely was.

Even though I was excited to again hear Berio and Nono performed live, it was the 3 final pieces that really made this an extra special evening for me. This is because I found something to adore in each of 3 works whose composers I knew noting at all about. The 3 pieces were “Ganimede”, a 1986 solo viola piece by Fausto Romitelli; Salvatore Sciarrino’s “Ultime Rose”, for voice, cello, and piano, from 1981; and a 2010 piece called “Gr…” for solo bass flute by Oscar Bianchi. Each of these compositions demonstrated the extraordinary innovation that only Third Angle has to guts to include in it’s programming. Romitelli gave Charles Noble a chance to use almost every extended string technique in existence. Bianchi did much the same for the bass flute. And, Sciarrino, surprised me with an extremely beautiful use of cello, some really well timed vocal cues from the piano, and a third reason to respect any vocalist with the guts to tackle contemporary music.

I especially want to send our some kudos with respect to my last statement. In the cases of the Nono piece, the Berio piece, and the Sciarrino piece, I was tremendously impressed by Soprano Catherine Olson. Although a soprano, not a mezzo like the genius I’m about to mention, Ms. Olson’s body language, and to some extent her vocal technique, reminded me of the great interpreter of Berio and Maderna, the wonderful Cathy Berberian. This might be my imagination since Berberian died when I was just out of college, but I could see Ms. Olson singing Berio’s “Circles” and I’d go to hear her do so in a nanosecond!

Mentioning Berio’s great muse, Cathy Berberian, brings me to one last thought. You have perhaps noticed that I have said nothing but positive things about this concert. There is really nothing bad to say. So, I’ll leave you with my one issue. Noticeably absent from this program was the music of Bruno Maderna. I always feel like Maderna is noticeably absent whenever Berio stands alone as Italy’s preeminent contemporary composer. So, if I could add anything to a nearly perfect concert, it would be one extra piece representing the work of Maderna. But, there is only so much one can handle of cool contemporary chamber music. So…. I’m letting it slide and just going to say….

Bravissimo 3A!

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