Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Sofia Gubaidulina, Part 15

Sofia Gubaidulina continued to be regarded with animosity by the Soviet authorities. She was invited to attend a special fiftieth birthday concert in her honor in Dusseldorf in 1981, but was refused permission and when musicians from Moscow tried to perform her music in concerts in the West they were routinely eliminated from the program. Gubaidulina continued to be inspired by religious themes and her next major work follows from that and from hearing a performance of Haydn's unique piece the Seven Last Words of Christ in an arrangement for cello and strings by her friend Vladimir Tonka. Gubaidulina's piece is for cello, bayan and strings. You will recall that the bayan is a type of Russian chromatic button accordion often used in folk music.

For Gubaidulina the cello is associated with Christ on the cross and the bayan with God the Father while the orchestra represents the Holy Spirit. The work was premiered at a concert on October 20, 1982 as part of the fourth "Moscow Autumn" festival. This performance was not entirely successful, perhaps because of its placement in the overlong program and the performers scheduled another outing in the Spring as part of a program of works entirely by Gubaidulina. Since then it has seen a host of successful performances. This one is by Jean-Guihen Queyras, cello; Geir Draugsvoll, bayan and the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra:

One aspect of Gubaidulina's approach to music that I have perhaps not emphasized enough is her work with the improvising trio Astraea. After Victor Suslin, one of the members, emigrated to West Germany in 1981, the trio dissolved. But in 1983, as part of another all-Gubaidulina program, she organized a group improvisation in which the role of each performer was determined by the Chinese book of changes. If you recall, one Western composer also used this book, the I Ching, as a compositional tool--that was John Cage. Here is a photo of Gubaidulina, Laurel Fay (author of a biography of Shostakovich) and John Cage in Leningrad several years later, in 1988.

The problem with a composer like Gubaidulina is that you might ask her for some short piano pieces and receive instead, much later, a fifty minute piece for soprano, baritone and seven string instruments. Such was the case when she wrote Perception, a thirteen-movement piece that explores the relationship between male and female concepts of art and between human beings and God. After two years hard work on this piece, a staff member at Sikorski, the Soviet publishing house, told her that the piece would likely not be published due to its length and troublesome texts. The piece as a whole is not available on YouTube, but the separate movements are. Here are the first three:

At this point, Gubaidulina, fifty-two years old and with very little recognition or success in her own land, is having some rather dark thoughts.

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