No Holds Barred
New York in the 1950s. Ambitious creative spirits from many different backgrounds met in the Cedar Bar and engaged in lively discussions about the future of art and music. They included the artists Jackson Pollock, Robert Rauschenberg, and Jasper Johns and the composers John Cage, Morton Feldman, Earl Brown, and Christian Wolff. Steffen Schleiermacher has taken a closer look at this explosive mix with his Ensemble Avantgarde and presents astonishing new findings: although the four composers often appeared as a group, their works are radically different – a fascinating journey back to the times of volcanic-force creative probing and questioning.
Up for Grabs
Everything, absolutely everything is up for grabs. Choice of instruments? Let the interpreter decide! Tempo? Your pick! Order of the notes! You’ll think of something! And behind all of this the questions: What is my role as a composer? What may I or must I spell out for the interpreter? What can I do to develop the creativity of the performers while granting them the greatest possible freedom? Traditional playing conventions are generally called into question. Hard and fast rules? Not here!
In “December 52” from the Folio series Earl Brown produces a score resembling Piet Mondrian’s graphic designs. The music may be rendered as one likes, even in the form of a complete improvisation. The Ensemble Avantgarde has decided in favor of an interpretation “close to the text”: certain graphic elements are assigned to musical parameters, and the sketchy “picture” is fittingly transformed into sound. In order to illustrate the high degree of freedom here, there is a second version, this time with the “score” turned 90°! Two versions of Christian Wolff’s “In Between Pieces” are also presented; they verbalize musical reactions and in this way thematize ensemble playing.
Liberty for All
In this respect Morton Feldman’s “Why Pattern?” seems quite conventional. The tempo and pitches are prescribed – but watch out! Even the smallest deviations, which are absolutely inevitable, lead to completely new constellations. And the work’s considerable length does its part here. In “Two,” one of John Cage’s famous Number Pieces, all the instrumentalists are allowed all sorts of liberties in tempo and coordination, and the Ensemble Avantgarde helps itself to them. An enthralling experiment that even sixty years later continues to convey immense freshness and newness!