Not for the last three Adelaide Festivals have we seen a serious commitment given to new orchestral music.
Not for the last three Adelaide Festivals have we seen a serious commitment given to new orchestral music. The London Sinfonietta came out in 2010 to play two concerts of Glass, Nancarrow, Bryars and Brett Dean, and before that the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra was tasked with the job of programming new music – Absolute Ensemble in 2004 and John Adams’ Dharma at Big Sur in 2008. But since then, the festival has rather dropped the ball, favouring more mainstream and eclectic forms of contemporary music over new classical music, which because of its perceived listener challenges sadly often sits in the too-hard basket. With the promise of changing all that, along comes one of today’s originals of the conducting scene, Ilan Volkov, to help curate the 2014 Festival. This young Israeli-born conductor is an uncompromising experimentalist, liberalist and reformist all rolled into one, with an intriguing train of successes behind him centering on his Tectonics Festival, which began in Iceland’s Reykjavik in 2012. Named after the geographic point in that country where the European and North American tectonic plates meet, Tectonics has also shown in Glasgow and Tel Aviv. This year it debuts in Adelaide and New York. Volkov’s Tectonics concerts so far have seen avant-garde era works by Christian Wolff and Morton Feldman jam up against pioneering ‘process music’ by Alvin Lucier (‘I Am Sitting in a Room’, 1969) and up-to-the-minute, grungy DIY electro-acoustic improvisations. Tectonics Adelaide will be a compressed version of the original event – it runs on consecutive days in two concerts, four hours 30 minutes and seven hours 30 minutes each, at the Grainger Studio and Queen’s Theatre. But the aim is the same: to create a meeting ground for different styles of music that otherwise rarely intersects. Experimental electronic composers, improvisers and sound installation artists will combine with their orchestral, chamber and solo classical counterparts. Trust, he says, is an important thing from the audience’s perspective. “If you look at art galleries and how many people visit them, there’s a huge interest in the art world in new work. Music is a different thing. It is very immersive; you have to trust the composers and performers to be able to give your time to them.” Volkov contends this does not mean popular taste has to then arbitrate on artistic decision-making. He prefers, he says, hard-edged experimentalism and styles of more popular appeal being able to co-exist but to do so within a single creative environment. “It is good to have both, but what I’m ultimately interested in is not something that’s ‘audience friendly’. I don’t believe in that. I’m not here to serve people, because if people have the mentality that they are paying for something like they’re going to supermarket, they should go there or see a film. I have a responsibility to trust that audiences will be interested, and if I reach down, I don’t feel I’m fulfilling my responsibility as an artist. I have to get into a dialogue with that understanding, not sit down and eat something.” Tectonics Adelaide looks set to resemble no other concert experience witnessed in this city. Quite apart from the concerts’ extraordinary duration, audiences will be free to walk in and out any time they wish. Says Volkov: “These concerts are people inspired. You can come and go out whenever you please. You can go out and get a beer. People can choose what they do. But what I’ve done in my head is assemble, I believe, some really amazing performances that people will be curious to hear. “In Australia,” he says, “one of the most important things is working with local musicians. It’s the same with Iceland; the idea is not about trying to bring stars from all over the world. I’m interested in that.” There will be orchestral works by Australian composers David Ahern (who studied in Adelaide with Richard Meale, and in Europe with Karlheinz Stockhausen and Cornelius Cardew), Adelaide-born Matthew Shlomowitz and guitarist-percussionist Oren Ambarchi from Sydney. A new work by Elena Kats- Chernin and experimental violinist Jon Rose, Elastic Band, will be unveiled. These plus two orchestral scores by Xenakis, Aurora and Akrata, will be presented by the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra with Volkov directing. Adelaide’s Soundstream and Japanese pianist Aki Takahashi will contribute piano works by Xenakis Tectonics Adelaide: Adelaide Festival Program One: Grainger Studio, Sunday, March 9 (2.30pm to 7pm) Program Two: Queen’s Theatre, Monday, March 10 (2.30pm to 11pm)