The exotic West
Proposed by Klara Festival,
Compositions for percussions
(for 1 to 4 percussionists).
Do the foreign artists who live in our countries allow themselves to be influenced by their adopted countries or by their habitats of origin? And if they do so, will it be clear then? Will it be heard in their scores, seen in their paintings or read in their books? Intercultural influence is one of the keystones of our lives today. Some people see this as a threat to their own identity. Others say there can be no culture without intercultural exchange, whether this takes place on the conscious or the non-conscious level. Bearing in mind the recent socio-political and cultural discussions on this topic in France, the Netherlands, Austria, Italy and Belgium, it is clear that this is one of the most important subjects in our current (cultural) life.
The transfer of cultural elements from East to West and vice versa has a long tradition. One of the first important sources for this was the Bible. As I explained in the previous MusMA project paper, the arts have always made a significant contribution to the conceptualisation of what is foreign by both Western and Eastern artists. Making use of the unique MusMA platform, I believe this would be a very interesting issue to investigate as regards music. You can already read how, since the Middle Ages, artists from the West have formed a certain image of ‘non-Westerners’, the ‘East’ and the ‘Orient’; in literature, art, theatre, opera and music. But composers and librettists who have created this image seem to have taken very little notice of reality. “Preconceived ideas, clichés and prejudices have formed this image” from ancient times up until the 21st century.
Willem Bruls, the Dutch international expert on the subject of the Orient, suggests that the Western fascination with the East appears to hold in it a fascination for personal questions of life and death. The metaphor of the mirror regularly reappears. The East has been a great screen onto which all our fantasies, both beautiful and ugly, may be projected. Edward Said speaks in this regard about ‘Orientalism’, a European ideological creation, which artists, philosophers and politicians provided a framework that will allow us to deal with something/anything(?) foreign; Orientals seen through the eyes of Westerners. The Orient that is presented is our Orient, from a Western European perspective. The same occurs for the Easterners who have also created their own images of the West. Following Said’s arguments, this system is called Occidentalism, the opposite of Orientalism.
And since the immigration from the East to the West and from the West to the East of many hundreds of thousands in search of new happiness in the 20th century, which is in fact still quite a young phenomenon in history, the East and the West have, only from a physical standpoint, moved much closer. Only in a city like Brussels are there more than 200 nationalities living and working. And yet, the problems of constructing an image of the “other” or “foreigner” have never been as complicated as they are today. Foreign artists feel they are stuck in the middle between different cultures, traditions and identities, between the expectations of others and personal ambitions.
In terms of the music industry, immigrant artist composers on the one hand are expected to play an ambassadorial role for their country’s music, while on the other hand are also confronted with an identity that is assumed by the Western (art) world. “As a non-Western artist and composer, they are all but too often required to live up to a construed identity, built up from stereotypical representations.” And so their works are rooted in a kind of double “otherness” towards both the West and the East. Their works reflect on the field of tension between the Western dominated music circuit and the local background between cultural and imposed identity, between multiculturalism and the legacy of the exoticism. And this is suggestive of Jacques Derrida who once wrote about “escap[ing] definition when definition is put into place”.
Making use of the unique MusMA platform, it would be intriguing to enter into an intense “dialogue” with those artists by commissioning new work from young, immigrant composers coming from countries that, in the past, were seen as the East by Westerners, who live and work in each of our seven festival cities, countries or regions. The new works should reflect on the problem of constructing an image of the exotic ‘foreign’ and the underlying problems of identity, cultural identity and perceived identity from East and West.
These compositions can possibly be presented in combination with ‘exotic works’ from the 17th to the 20th century. The new compositions can also be stand-alone or part of a group. As part of a group, we can present as a cross-section of ‘non-Western’ contemporary music from Europe; a dialogue between various countries about the role and meaning of composing as an immigrant in a multicultural Europe.
Ljubljana, 20 – 23 June 2012
From 20-23 June 2012, the latest atelier of the collaboration project MusMA – Music Masters on Air was organised in Ljubljana. MusMa is an ambitious international collaboration on many artistic fields. As patron of the MusMA event in Ljubljana, renowned Sir Simon Rattle participated in the atelier hosted by the Ljubljana Festival. The latest MusMA atelier in Ljubljana has been very well received by all participants: during the 3 day workshop MusMA composers, musicians, radio reporters and festival programmers discussed the new works of the season’s selected MusMA composers, as well as future strategies to promote the project and its artists. The 2012 edition was hosted by the Festival Ljubljana and was kicked-off festively at the Cankarev Dom, where Sir Simon Rattle conducted a flawless Vienna Philharmonic. As Patron of the MusMA atelier, Sir Simon Rattle made an appearance at the first atelier meeting where all festivals presented their composers. In his typical modest style, Sir Rattle encouraged the honoured MusMA composers and musicians to keep up the faith and enjoy their special gift as creators of music to the fullest.
Report of the Atelier:
At 18h00, the MusMA atelier 2012 opened festively at the Cankarev Dom in the centre of Ljubljana with an improvised percussion piece, played by 4 very entertaining musicians from the wonderful Slovenian Percussion Project (Stop).
A welcome word from Veronika Brvar and Darko Brlek of the Ljubljana Festival was then followed by all Festival representatives presenting their chosen MusMA composer for this year’s theme. Unfortunately, the composer and 4 other people from the MusMA delegation from Ankara International Music Festival had had a problem with their flight connection, so they had to miss the high-light of the opening ceremony, when Sir Simon Rattle stopped by for a brief meet and greet with the composers and musicians.
While Sir Rattle went to prepare for the concert, the participants of the atelier could enjoy a refreshment and snack before attending the opening concert of the Ljubljana Festival with the Wiener Philharmoniker and Sir Rattle, a delightful present from the organisers of the Festival to the visiting guests from MusMA
The evening was concluded with the opening reception of the Ljubljana Festival in their beautiful courtyard at Križanke.
By the next morning 9 am, all participants had arrived at the Ljubljana Conservatory for Music & Ballet, venue place for the actual atelier.
Petra Strahovnik kicked-off the master classes assisted by Srečko Mreh , the atelier-moderator and Gregor Pirs from RTV Slovenia. She was musically accompanied by the musicians from STOP, who would be in charge of performing all MusMA pieces this morning. Her piece Between East and West was very well received by the participants, and she spent quite some time explaining the instrument she created herself by combining the talents of her mother (artist) and father (electrician).
This personal approach to her presentation was typical for the master classes of all composers.
Giulia Monducci from Brussels, known to be a true fan of Whitney Houston and Celine Dion (or was this a joke turned to a myth?) was second. Percussionists Franci, Marina, Matevžand Barbara had a little problem with finding the rhythm intended by Giulia at a specific moment in the piece, which shows how valuable master classes like these can be.
Next in line, Novel Samano (with his interpreter Cecilia Fink, niece of the famous Bernarda) explained about the pressure of being a descendent from a generation of musicians, talked about the importance of percussion instruments for Flamenco & explained Fandango and the link with John Cage, who’s 100 th birthday is being celebrated this year in every member Festival (His piece is called Cage’s Fandango). Special guest to attend his presentation was the Spanish Ambassador in Ljubljana. She unfortunately could not join the group for a well-deserved and tasty lunch, prepared by the students of the cooking school next to the conservatory.
After an interesting seminar on the complex terminology of numerous percussion instruments and the sometimes difficult interpretation of the scores (we thank Franci Krevh for his work preparing this seminar and moderating it), Onur Turkmen counted on an alert public; He treated his listeners to a very academic presentation of his work & vision. His MusMA piece was then performed by the wonderful Talking Drums Trio. The very young Emil, Se Mi and Jessica surprised everybody with their intense performance and professional approach towards music.
Alexey Sysoev, the MusMA composer for Culturescapes, guilty of writing the most complex percussion piece for MusMA, began his presentation with a video sample of a well-received contemporary stage performance in Moscow. He told the public how life experience brought him to enter the conservatory at a later stage in his life and how his love for fishing gave him the idea to use parts of the gear as instruments. Alexey’s piece Zaum was shown to be quite an intense piece to perform, and Stop had to replace one of the musicians before performing the first part of Zaum as conclusion of the day.
The Ljubljana Festival treated interested participants to a real time-out that evening by offering those tickets to Battaglia, a farce in 2 parts, at the cute Mini Teater.
The day started with a brief intervention from last year’s MusMA- composer, Joǎo Godinho (Estoril), an enthusiastic participant also this year, encouraging participants to question the composers as much as they could and to take advantage more of this wonderful opportunity by raising debate. During the first master class, Ivan Brkljaćic showed us some impressive video material from his earlier works before the percussionist he brought from Belgrade Srđan, Marija, Mladen & Stefan, gave a spotless performance of his MusMA piece.
Talking Drums Trio followed immediately after a short break with an intense performance of Himah, Dobromiła Jaskot’s piece. Listening to it before the actual presentation resulted in a long discussion about her MusMA piece before Dobromiła could actually show us some more of her work (for instance a video-game for which she composed the music.)
The workshops ended with a very entertaining Ivan Skender, explaining us how “White Line Fever”, the title of his MusMA piece has nothing to do with narcotics but rather with the zone you’re in when driving long distances.
The afternoon brought us an interesting round table debate on contemporary music, how to bring it to the public, how it should be wall-breaking for artistic programmers before they would give it a chance, how, from the point of view of composers, it needs to be honest and from within in the first place…. Conclusion of the debate: The composer comes first!
The Master-classes having officially terminated, discussions among participants continued for the rest of the evening during dinner and a short boat-trip before everybody was invited to the official showcase of all MusMA pieces by the Slovenian Percussion Projekt, Talking Drums Trio and the Belgrade Percussionist. RTV Slovenia was in charge of recordings, which can be requested via MusMA partner European Broadcasting Union. We hope to be able to soon post video-fragments of the master classes, filmed by the atelier sponsor KOBE.