HR staged their second Klang Biennale this weekend, with the theme "Satellit Maderna", centered around the figure of composer-conductor Bruno Maderna (1920-1973). The major impetus for this choice of themes is a new set of five cds with all of Maderna's orchestral works, played by the hr-Symphonieorchester under Arturo Tamayo. (The first two have already been released, the remainder should appear early in the new year.)
WHILE it was certainly a good thing to be able to hear so much of Maderna's work, most of it very attractive — indeed with a gentleness quite distinct from his near-contemporaries — and with formidably idiomatic instrumental writing, AND especially to hear the orchestral works played by an orchestra that does them very well, AND it was also good to hear the work in contrast to major works that were contemporary to Maderna's by, a.o. Berio (Serenata), Nono (Due espressioni ), or Boulez (Le Marteau*), AND it was good to rehear some of Maderna's electronic pieces (Dimensioni II (1959/60), using a text by Hans G. Helms and the voice of Cathy Berberian is unjustly in the shadow of Berio's Thema: Omaggio a Joyce) IT is a fundamental problem that this festival comes out of the budget line for new music. At a certain point — and 36 years after the death of the composer, the point is surely long past — we should expect responsibility for repertoire of this age to be moved into the standard rep budget line. The Klang Biennale did, in fact, include some actual new music, commissioned premiers by living, breathing composing folk, but the Maderna theme was a major consideration in the commissioning or selection of these works, so again, there is a real sense that the interests of music of a significant age is being used in a zero-sum game against the interests of new music.
The "Aging of the New Music" (as Adorno phrased it) has always been problematic. There has been significant entry by 20th century music into the institutional concert repertoire, but there is a problem with music which appears to gets stuck in the phasing-in process as no longer novel, but not yet repertoire. I'm under no illusions that all music should enter the standard repertoire — it shouldn't and that's perfectly okay — but the process of selection should be as flexible and open to surprises as possible. The solution has got to come in not taxing the more vulnerable concerts and series for new music, but by rather finding better routes into those for traditional music. One step is clearly better documentation, more readily available (i.e. recordings, broadcasts, and online), of this music, and the other is advocacy by musicians, particularly conductors, who program the mainline series. The fact is that music like that of Maderna is not forbiddingly obtuse in character for audiences accustomed to the trivial atonality of half a century of film music, and players, conductors especially, particularly in the pieces in which some performer choice is required, actually enjoy playing this music.
* I want to send a special salute to the composer Dániel Péter Biró, who flew in from Victoria, B.C. (where he teaches) in order to play guitar in Le Marteau, continuing a tradition, probably begun with Cornelius Cardew, of composers who have played this part.