Friday, December 22, 2017

Your Daily Gubaidulina

As part of my Gubaidulina project I am trying to listen to a new piece every day, just to get the music into my ears. Today I am listening to her concerto for violin and orchestra titled In Tempus Praesens ("In the Present Time"). It is a relatively recent piece, written between 2006 and 2007 on a commission from Anne Sophie Mutter. She has recorded it for Deutsche Grammophon with Valery Gergiev conducting the London Symphony Orchestra.

Here is the performance on YouTube:

I haven't had a look at the score and may have to do without as it is priced at $80 US. Based on listening alone this is a formidable piece, powerful and expressive. There are a number of reviews of performances available online and Gramophone magazine has a review of the recording:
In a single movement running for about 32 minutes, it shows the composer’s concern to make a direct and immediate impact, avoiding complicated materials but using very expansive forms. It’s possible to sense the kind of allusions to Mahlerian archetypes that are no less prominent in Shostakovich or Schnittke. Yet Gubaidulina has her own very personal musical identity, and the concerto’s strategies for playing off heights against depths, lament against affirmation, are very powerfully realised. The risks of rambling, improvisatory musing are triumphantly avoided, and the work’s final stages appear to bring starkly opposed images of extinction and rebirth into a strongly ambivalent conclusion that both affirms and questions resolution.
Is it just me or is that a really good example of the reviewer dancing around the mulberry bush and hoping we don't notice that he hasn't the slightest clue what is going on in the music? I suppose we can't blame him because even the foremost musicologist specializing in Russian music, Richard Taruskin, has written virtually nothing on Gubaidulina. I have searched in his survey, the Oxford History of Western Music as well as his most recent (2016) collection of essays on Russian music and there are only the briefest of mentions of Gubaidulina. Still, if one is reviewing the recording of a significant new piece of music by an important composer, one must give the impression of great knowledge. Alas, in this case, not very successfully!

Is there anything in the passage I quoted that gives us any insight into Gubaidulina's music? Don't all composers try to make a direct and immediate impact? By "avoiding complicated materials" does he just mean that she uses a lot of repeated notes? Why not just say so? Well yes, a single-movement work over thirty minutes long could be said to be in an expansive form. But what sort of form? Is Gubaidulina as Mahlerian as Schnittke or Shostakovich? Not to my ear, certainly. What is Gubaidulina's personal musical identity? Care to reveal any details? Oh, she uses contrasts! Heights, depths, etc... But my very favorite of all these empty clich├ęs is the last:
the work’s final stages appear to bring starkly opposed images of extinction and rebirth into a strongly ambivalent conclusion that both affirms and questions resolution
"Strongly ambivalent"! Don't you love it? "Brutally lyrical" is how I would describe it! Both affirming and questioning is a nice touch too.

My sense is that, at this point, there is general ignorance as to the nature of Gubaidulina's music though there is a general consensus that it sounds good and is significant. Taruskin either hasn't taken the time or perhaps just doesn't like her music and most others just don't have a clue. I have that analytical essay to examine, which will be next on the agenda. Judy Lochhead's essay will take us deep within the depths of post-modernism as it based on concepts deriving from Gilles Deleuze among others. So that will be both interesting and challenging.

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