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published on November 26, 2005

Biennial Festival of Brazilian Contemporary Music 2005

by Tom Moore

Tom Moore
Backstage with Schûnemann, Oliveira, Alves and Senna
Rio de Janeiro - Past editions of the Bienal de Música Brasileira Contemporânea, which ran November 4-13, had honored Villa-Lobos (1999) and Edino Krieger, organizer of the very first Bienal, who turned 75 in 2003. This year younger composers, in their twenties and thirties, were prominent on the stage and in the audiences during the ten full-to-bursting evening concerts. Organized and sponsored by the federal arts foundation Funarte, the festival is still generously subsidized, though ticket prices have doubled (going from R$1 to R$2). There was still minimal information about composers and their works in the program - no dates, no biography, no analysis or context.

Friday: the Orquestra Sinfônica Brasileira

The festival began with its only orchestral program, featuring the Orquestra Sinfônica Brasileira, directed by Luis Gustavo Petri, at the Sala Cecília Meireles, downtown. First up was a Nocturne for Strings by Felipe Lara (São Paulo, b. 1979), a slow, atmospheric, spare and well-made work, reflecting evening vapors with slides and microtonal trills, a long-breathed piece reminiscent in mood of the religious vein of Messiaen, with a fugato and quicker unison passages leading to a return of the opening at the close. The Four Cantigas of King D. Diniz by Rodolfo Coelho de Souza (São Paulo, 1952-) was in a disappointingly old-fashioned idiom (pre-1950, perhaps), though not quite antique enough to reflect the medieval character of the poetry. The interest of the vocal line was not sufficient to offset the strictly accompanimental material in the orchestra. The piece was beautifully sung with opulent tone by soprano Veruschka Mainhard.

Closing the first half was Retalhos (perhaps best translated as Patches - what you use to make a quilt) by Wellington Gomes (Salvador, 1960-), which set itself the challenge of making a compelling whole out of a succession of contrasting small sections. An interesting notion, almost successful here. For me the “worn” character of the materials used (borrowed from Villa-Lobos and the nationalistic music of the mid-century, with percussive ostinatos and plenty of brass) took away from the impact, and the work was not effectively orchestrated, with fortissimo strings inaudible beneath the din of the massed winds. Better to write for band, and have done with it.

The second half began with an ambitious and difficult Sonata for Piano by Mário Ficarelli (São Paulo, 1935-), in its world premiere. Though the first two movements are marked Moderato and Lento, respectively, there is little repose here, with the first movement noisy, and a substantial part of the second movement a faster fugato. Ficarelli’s materials drawn on “Brazilian” idioms on occasion, and the overall impression is that of an incredible level of musical detail crammed into every moment - in a sense, a “baroque” or even “rococo” modernism. The sonata received a virtuoso and bravura performance from Zélia Chueke.

The piano remained at center stage for Cadenzas for Piano by Guilherme Bauer (Rio de Janeiro, 1940-), which took that climactic moment which we all are waiting for, the arrival of the cadenza in the romantic piano concerto, and built an extended work from it, with cadenzas for the piano alternating with orchestral interjections. Here the orchestral writing was masterful, all the details transparently visible, and Bauer’s idiom one that is at the same time romantic, individual, contemporary and not hermetic. An absorbing work, and deserving the many approbations of Bauer’s fellow composers.

The evening closed with the Sinfonia Festiva of Alexandre Schubert (Rio de Janeiro, 1970-). Schubert has the knack of writing compelling music which is accessible and relatively uncomplicated. Here the brass and percussion at the opening would have recalled Copland had we been in North America. The work was full of novel and well-made details, as for example the sustained high strings supported by rotating wind figures in the second movement, Memories. A fine piece.

Saturday: Electroacoustic Music

Saturday and Sunday brought two nights of electroacoustic music in the Sala Baden Powell in Copacabana. Saturday opened with Cícero by Fernando Iazzetta (São Paulo, 1966-), a work for percussion controller and computer, percussive, jazzy, the sounds attractive, inviting. The more noteworthy works on Saturday included While They Laugh by Cristiano Figueiró (Goiás), drawing on the notable capacity of the clarinet for guffaws, with mocking from the tape track, Luis Carlos Csekö’s Catete Night, 5 for percussion (mostly berimbau) and tape, loud, dense, “hot, arid” in the ears of my companion, with a stage full of mist, and The voice of a shattered body by Paulo Guicheney (1975-), atmospheric, but with shape and narrative.

Less compelling, indeed, off-putting was Medea Prophesies, by Jocy de Oliveira (Rio de Janeiro, 1936-), a politically-correct farrago to a sophomoric text, with a dreadful interpretation of the mythical woman by Gabriela Geluda, who seemed more a petulant adolescent than a mature woman of power. Was she acting? It didn’t seem so. Her speech was flat, lacking in nuance (though not intentionally so). We were being preached at. The whole effect was insufferably pretentious.

Theatrical as well was A Didactics of Invention by Fausto Borém (Minas Gerais), but much more effective and involving. Soprano Rita Medeiros had an exaggerated stage presence, a sort of “cabaret” knowingness in delivering the arch drolleries of poet Manoel de Barros, but she might have gone much farther and involved her body as well as her facial expressions.

Saturday closed with Fagotes Bifurcados by Rodrigo Cicchelli, delayed somewhat by technical problems. Elione Medeiros’s performance was brilliant (how many concerts have you seen with bassoonist using pedal-controlled echoplex?), though the bassoonish blats from the computer verged on the stereotypically offensive. Not the best piece to close the evening with a bang. It is not enough to choose strong pieces, but programmers must create concerts as events, not simply one work after the next.

Sunday: More Electroacoustic Music

Sunday’s level of satisfaction was much higher, by all counts. Leading off was Inconfidências by Daniel Puig (Rio de Janeiro), a sort of theatre piece combining a wild variety of styles. The three women singers, their close harmonies, their revolving around a selection of suspended percussion instruments - it all seemed like a sort of extraterrestrial space-age ritual, from one of the planets that Jim Kirk’s Enterprise visited. I tried to resist, but was inexorably sucked into its spell. Complex Numbers by Neder Nassaro (1961-), which combined computer music with video, was very successful - a beautiful and complexly structured work using voices as its material, and in which the video illuminated the structure of the music. I also enjoyed Color Digits v. 2.0 by Didier Guigue (João Pessoa, 1954-), which matched 16 bars of color on screen, varying in size and motion, with varying amplitudes of harmonics within the consonant harmonic series of one fundamental. A moment of consonance, of meditational repose, of close attention to tiny details.

Treliças II, by Jonatas Manzolli (Campinas, 1961-), received a exhilarating performance from the virtuoso percussion duo of Cléber da Silveira Campos and César Adriano Taldi. I had so much fun watching and listening to the percussionists that it was difficult to integrate their work with the contributions from the computer. And the Three Pieces for Balcony (what does that mean? your guess is as good as mine....) by Rodolfo Caesar (Rio de Janeiro, 1950-) were brilliant, funky, rhythmic. The second piece, Bio-Acoustics, which managed to connect treefrogs, electronic beeps/boops, and the first two-part invention by Bach, evoked ample laughter from the listeners. An inviting, interesting, human work.

Monday: 7, Percussion and More

The remaining nights of the Bienal moved back to the Sala Cecília Meireles, though with reduced forces. Monday evening’s program began with 7 by Sergio Roberto de Oliveira (Rio de Janeiro, 1970-). [Critical full-disclosure: as a performer I have myself premiered a number of Oliveira’s works, have a well-founded prior view of his merits as a composer, and will not speak of them here]. This work is based around everything having to do with the number 7: seven instruments, 7/4 time signature, and so forth, and as it happened the work was played on Nov. 7th at 7 p.m. (well, this being Rio, it was more like 7:15). The Duo Perc-Ação (Philip Davis and Eduardo Tullio) had the advantage of several performances of the work under their belts, so Monday’s rendition was accurate, incisive and swung. Recuerdos con las pieles by Marcos Mesquita (Rio de Janeiro, 1959-) , which followed, suffered by comparison, as the composer had set himself the task of writing a solo percussion piece using only low-pitched percussion with drumheads (the “skins” of the title) - congas, tom-toms, bongos. Percussionist Paraguassu Abrahão labored valiantly, but the work failed to catch fire.

Yet another percussion work followed, The Shadows Which Traverse the Day by Maurício Ribeiro de Vasconcelos (Belo Horizonte), interpreted by Philip Davis, solo. Here the conceit was to take the percussionist through his set of instruments, arrayed on stage in a semi-circle, moving from one end to the other, never combining more than two, and never returning, creating a long narrative arc. And with this conceit the composer produced an in-drawing, fascinating memorable story, beginning with delicate, high tones arriving finally at a climax with the big bass drum (and a shout from the performer), and expiring finally with delicate tones from chimes. Davis produced such a variety of timbre, envelope, and attack that he recalled the extravagances of the electroacoustic music heard on the previous weekend.

Closing the first half was Eventum III by Frederick Carrilho scored for violin, guitar, clarinet, trombone, and two percussionists (and conducted here by Roberto Victorio). Just looking at the lineup is enough to imagine that they will not combine effectively (or that to make them combine will take a master’s touch). Carrilho’s structure did not really draw on the individual qualities of the instruments, and its narrative was shaped as a rondeau, or if you like, a Manichean struggle between discord and harmony (the latter represented by a saccharinely consonant moment worthy of Stephen Foster). Foster wins out in the end. Was I convinced? No.

The second half was weaker to these ears. It began with two song cycles featuring soprano Doriana Mendes, radiantly robed in white, a vision of loveliness. She did her best with... from the flesh of your heart by Fernando Rieder, which set texts by Elsie Lasker Schüller, Hilda Hilst and Clarice Lispector, with a sad, spare piano accompaniment, and Death Sonnets (texts by Augusto dos Anjos), set by Jorge Meletti for soprano and piano with obligato recorder. In the latter there were problems of balance, with the softer recorder difficult to hear in the large hall, so much so that it was hard to tell if it was in tune with the piano. The Bienal erred in choosing the following work, The Flies, by Leandro Turano, at least in its present form. What there was (about 30 seconds or so) showed promise, but should either be expanded, or included as one of a set of miniatures. As it stood, it seemed out of place in a program showing ambitious works. Rhyzomes I, by Felipe Merker Castellani went to the other extreme, perhaps, a long and serious meditation, giving the effect of a music not just from another planet, another galaxy, but from another space-time continuum, and was very well-played by Luciano Magalhães. WA by Antônio Carlos Borges Cunha (Rio Grande do Sul, 1952-) for guitar and percussion, based on the Japanese idea of “harmony of opposites”, was another ritual (popular these days....), but this time I wasn’t having any, and the ineffective and not very hi-fi amplification of the acoustic guitar (also marring Eventum III) didn’t help.

The evening ended with a livelier and more interesting work, Melo I: escapulário by Rafael Nassif (Belo Horizonte, 1984-), combining text by modernist Oswald de Andrade (from the 1920s) with a reinterpretation of funk carioca, with its stuttering, computer-generated rhythms and throbbing bass (here presented by the tuba, and very well-done, too). Doriana Mendes was acoustically overmatched by the rest of the ensemble (oboe, trumpet, tuba, piano, percussion), and should have been miked and amplified.

Tuesday: Chamber Music

Tuesday was an evening of chamber music for small forces - one, two, three, at the most four instruments, and unlike other evenings, with a strong female presence. The evening began with Wedding at Brum by Cláudia Caldeira Simões, a work for trumpet and piano interpreted by Nailson Simões (the composer’s spouse) and José Wellington. Given that the piece’s title reflects what must have been a festive event in the Northeast (Recife), I looked for more specificity of style, and more direction, the exception here being the final frevo. The performance was all that could have been desired, as the trumpeter is extremely gifted, both technically and musically.

The work that followed, Figural, by Paulo de Tarciso Salles (São Paulo, 1966-), was rewarding, compelling, a sort of psychedelic (that is, soul-expanding) take on folk idioms for guitar - accessible, but different, individual, personal, and receiving a marvelous, beautifully inflected performance from guitarist Paulo Pedrassoli. A stand-out. Woodfigures by Mylson Joazeiro was not so clearly structured, but also had the benefit of an exceptional performance on bass clarinet by Paulo Passos, showing off all the timbres of the instrument with an ease that was exhilarating.

Perhaps it was a night for works which showed their performers to advantage, for my mind’s ear is filled with striking moments. One of these was the warm but almost invisible sound of the clarinet of Marcos dos Passos at the close of the lyrical Anima by Marisa Rezende (Rio de Janeiro, 1944-), a soft, delicate, indeed mystical and exalted cantabile for clarinet and piano (played here by the composer). Long Trek by Rudá Brauns was close in idiom to the best work done in popular instrumental music, with intricate ostinatos over suspended harmonies for mandolin and two guitars (joined by derbak in the last of four movements). A very well-made piece, and well-played.

Simões and Wellington returned for Ctenocephalides by Heber Schünemann (Rio de Janeiro, 1971). That mouthful of a title refers to the genus of the common cat and dog flea (same genus, different species). The work was based on a dodecaphonic series and twelve rhythmic cells, and the result was in the tradition of Webern, the most “modern” and least “post-modern” work of the evening, with an abstractly pointillistic effect, and brilliantly rendered.

Two representations of the Brazilian geography closed the evening, the first a beautifully melancholy and quite tonal depiction of Florianópolis (Desterro Noite/Dia for solo guitar by Maria Ignez Cruz Mello - another superb performance from Pedrassolli), and the second, Brazilian Landscapes No. 1 (here the composer’s title is in English), a work in three movements by Liduino Pitombeira (1962-) for piano trio (the only such among the many chamber works). The latter work is quite traditional in style (that is, its idiom is an older modernism from fifty years or so ago), very effectively written (although without much evident Brazilian content), and received a thrilling reading from the trio of Fernando Pereira, violin, Paulo Santoro, cello, and Jacó Herzog, piano.

Wednesday: Finally a Flute

Wednesday marked the first appearance of the flute at the Bienal, with some effective and memorable compositions for the instrument. The evening opened with Finisterra by Marcos Branda Lacerda (São Paulo, 1954-), a misty, foggy, damp, nocturnal piece (depicting the Atlantic cape in Galicia, I would guess) scored for flute, vibraphone and marimba, full of tremolos from the percussion and flutter-tonguing and bird-calls from the flute. The aqueous theme continued with the striking Water is the Key for solo guitar (composer’s title in English) by Yanto Laitano (Porto Alegre). Here the guitar was in an alternate tuning, tuned down to a lower pitch, with the open strings sounding a minor chord. The language was full of blues from the very start, with a bent minor third in the bass, and used devices more common in popular guitar than classical, such as hammer-ons. A captivating piece and a captivating performance by Eduardo Gatto.

Perhaps the most striking piece of the evening was the extended solo work for flute, Anecdote, by Zoltan Paulinyi (Belo Horizonte, 1977-), presenting the story of three friends in a pé-sujo (simple, humble bar/cafe) - a Carioca, a Nordestino, and a Mineiro. Each friend successively holds the stage and tells his story. Antônio Carlos Carrasqueira combined a charming stage presence and gift for mime with superlative flute technique and musicality, particularly evident in the microtonal sliding of the Northeasterner. This is not a short piece (9 pages in the score), but the audience’s interest did not flag, even in the face of rude whispering by audience members, and a ringing cellphone.

A grave disappointment to this listener was the work by Tatiana Catanzaro (São Paulo) which concluded the first half. Contralto Carolina Faria has a big, dark, rich voice, but it took three-quarters of the piece to realize what language she was singing in (French), let alone what she was singing about. Such a voice deserves something compelling to sing about, and it did not receive it here. With such a voice to her credit Faria should also take more care with her diction. The opening work of the second half, Funerals I by Valério Fiel da Costa (Belém, 1973-) mustered six young musicians to sound the prepared piano (heavily amplified) producing sounds reminiscent of the electroacoustic music of the previous weekend, particularly the long tones produced by “bowing” the strings. Unfortunately the piece was much, much too long for its material. The opposite was true of the guitar etude by Henrique Autran Dourado (São Paulo, 1953-), which began promisingly, in an original vein, but ended abruptly.

The evening concluded with two strong works: Some Notes by Yahn Wagner, and Displacement I by Januíbe Tejera. The former, dedicated to composer Marisa Rezende and her group Musica Nova, exploited the possibilities of the quartet of clarinet, trombone, contrabass and piano (with some particularly effective and idiomatic writing for the keyboard) and won a warm welcome from the audience. The latter, scored for flute, two violins and piano, was made up three or four contrasting sections, following without interruption, well-constructed and idiomatically written for the combination, and sent the audience out into the rainy night on a high note.

Thursday: Flutes, Pianos and Musical Theater

Thursday evening had quite a different mix of works on tap, with half the program being devoted to works for flute and piano. These were: Urubuqueçaba by Gilberto Mendes (Santos, 1922-) ; Fragments by Roberto Victorio (Cuiabá, 1959-) ; three little pieces by Murillo Santos (Rio de Janeiro, 1931-) ; and Suite no. 1 by Yáskara Tonin. The very nature of the flute seemingly calls for a more traditional idiom - you can’t bang, scrape, squawk, honk on the instrument, those extended tonal resources popular in contemporary music. Urubuqueçaba, played by Pauxy Gentil-Nunes and Marina Spoladore, was extremely accessible in idiom - with gestures reminiscent of jazz and pop (think Claude Bolling), an ABA structure, a technically undemanding flute part and a somewhat more difficult accompaniment. It was attractive at first hearing, but there was so much repetition that for me it wore out its welcome. A work that would be popular with younger flutists needing a recital lollipop. Gentil-Nunes and Spoladore were also featured in Fragments, a much more challenging work, both technically and musically, in three movements with extended techniques (singing/playing at the same time, singing through the flute) in the second. This, of all the works in the evening, was the clear favorite among the composers I spoke to, and was very well-played by the duo. For a more lay audience, I think that the three little pieces might be the winner, less adventurous in its idiom than the Victorio work, very-well made, attractive movements, and receiving an exceptionally fine reading from flutist Marcelo Bonfim and his pianist, Patricia Bretas. The Suite no. 1 had some fine moments as well (particularly the third movement, with its long lines). Any composer who chooses to begin a suite with three slow movements (as did Tonin) has some hard work to do to bring the audience along, though the mood lightened with a final allegro.

Timefoam by Mário Ferraro closed the first half, an ambitious movement of 12-13 minutes for string quartet, very well-written for the medium, extremely balanced in its counterpoint, the music growing organically, every moment convincingly connected to the next, with a plethora of ideas, though it was hard to perceive the larger structure. And it ended with a dominant-tonic cadence! The Suite for Clarinet and Piano by Antônio Guerreiro was absorbing, with delicately tender beauty in the lyrical middle movement (and traditional enough in its idiom that one could mentally assign meters and moods - Andante cantabile, Mesto, etc.)

The evening closed with a bit of fun: a little musical theatre piece (Gymnarts) by Leonardo Fuks (Rio de Janeiro, 1962-), in the form of a musical-athletic competition between the Musician and the Athlete. The musical content was insignificant, but the comedy was wry and warmly welcomed by the “serious” musicians of the audience. An indescribable and memorable moment .

Friday: Contralto, Soprano and John Cage Samba

Contralto Carolina Faria began Friday evening with a much more rewarding piece, one in her native tongue, the Three Moments from Ana Cristina César by Carlos Almada (Rio de Janeiro, 1958-). These were very nicely written for the voice, with a natural declamation, nothing extreme, rather French in style. Trumpeter Paulo Mendonça, paired with pianist Maria Teresa Madeira, was heard in a sonata by Sergio di Sabbato (Petropolis, 1955-), a modal work in three movements that never seemed to catch fire and go beyond the limited tonal and melodic materials, and a fantasia by Roberto Macedo Ribeiro (Rio de Janeiro), with some exciting moments - an ear-catching opening cascade, and some energetic swing contributed by Madeira. Mendonça would have been more effective with an extroverted and brilliant interpretation to match Madeira’s.

Galaxies, by Pauxy Gentil-Nunes (Rio de Janeiro), set lyrics by Haroldo de Campos for tenor with an accompanying ensemble of dueling pianists and dueling winds (flute and oboe). The music nicely captured the repetitive, obsessive-compulsive nature of the text, with some unusual and effective touches - the winds joined in singing/speaking with the soloist as a sort of chorus. The vocalist was musical and clear in his diction, but his voice is far past the bloom of youth.

Closing the first half was a very effective piece, almost verging on the operatic, by Ricardo Tacuchian (Rio de Janeiro, 1939-), Assim contava o Baiá. Baritone Marcelo Coutinho acted the part of the poet/seer of the tribe of the Tembé, lamenting the decline of the Indians after the pernicious arrival of the white man. To create an effective work recreating the world and musical environment requires a delicate touch, and Tacuchian demonstrated his mastery , and Coutinho his, in creating and interpreting a moving piece of music.

Tim Rescala’s (Rio de Janeiro, 1961-) “samba-enredo” in homage to John Cage (“era americano, mas era legal”) began the second half on a lighter note, combining sambista Jards Macalé, in a pure samba, with humorous interjections from the “serious music” side of the stage (baritone, piano, percussion). The Three Songs by Lúcius Mota (São Paulo) were expressive works written for a friend who had lost a child and a grandchild, and beautifully performed by Coutinho and the young and impressively gifted pianist, Marina Spoladore. According to the composer, the Crystals of Longing (Cristais de Saudade) by Marcus Siqueira (São Paulo, 1974-) were limited to the technical resources available to the baroque violin, but to these ears the gestures, melodies and rhythms were far from constituting a convincing rhetoric. Closing the concert was a song cycle on texts by Guimarães Rosa by Marcos Lucas (Rio de Janeiro), performed by the contemporary music ensemble from UniRio. These were attractive works, but an understanding of the texts sung was made difficult by two factors: the young soprano Laila Oazem does not yet master a technique which combines projection and consistency of vowel sound, and the substitution of trumpet for the clarinet of the original setting overbalanced the voice.

Saturday: Young Composers

The closing weekend of the Bienal, on Saturday and Sunday evenings featured an impressive number of very strong works by young composers in their twenties and thirties. Epígeno no. 4 (for piano quartet) by Jailton de Oliveira (Campinas, 1968-) was a work in an almost Germanic spirit (think turn of the 20th century), mixing cantabile moments with sturm und drang, and finally rushing out in a mad gypsy dance. The Nordestinada of José Alberto Kaplan (João Pessoa, 1935-) was a capable and charming mix of folklore and modernism, with just enough modernism to keep the folk elements from cloying. João Guilherme Ripper’s (Rio de Janeiro, 1959-) idiom in his Six Carnaval Songs (poems by Manuel Bandeira) is rather conservative, both in harmony and construction, with a few more modern moments. Effective and attractive music for the piano, and the voice part very singable - works that would be welcome on recital programs both in Brazil and abroad. The Dialogues of Vinícius Calvitti were immature, without a style of their own yet, drawing on pop music, both that of the present day, and the sort of idiom that one might have heard at the circus in 1890. Well-written, but jejune.

After intermission we heard a work (Four Epigrams, by Alexandre Eisenberg, Rio de Janeiro, 1966-) that might have had its inspiration in a late-night conversation in a botequim: “how about a wind quintet? but a quintet made up of all the lower members of the family....”, that is, alto flute, English horn, bass clarinet, contrabassoon, and since there is no “bass” French horn, bass trombone. Should mean that the balance between the five is just like the regular quintet, yes? Well, no. The alto flute was much softer in relation to its peers, inaudible when low, and when high, why not just use a regular flute? The English horn and bass clarinet, well-balanced. The trombone, too loud, and too aggressive. And the contrabassoon, verging on pure vibration, rather than pitched tones. Add to this problems of intonation...Eisenberg is full of interesting ideas, seems capable of turning out streams of melodic invention with ease, combining five obbligato voices...perhaps the work might be more effective on a recording than it was in the concert. Very interesting, full of good humor, but a not-quite-successful experiment.

The work that followed, Impressions, between sleeping and waking, by Matheus G. Bitondi (São Paulo, 1979-), was powerful, one of the most striking of the Bienal, an ambitious and expressive work for string quartet, slow, beautiful, somber, different, original, recalling those moments of nameless anxiety when you wake from a disturbing dream. The work incorporated fragments from a chanson of Orlando di Lasso (Du fond de ma pensée), which only appeared quite late in the work (a procedure reminiscent of Britten’s Nocturnal, where the Dowland original appears slowly out of the mist). The mood reminded me strongly of the quartets of Shostakovich. Bitondi had strong advocates in the Quarteto Continental, which went on to play the Quartet no. 1 by Marcelo Rauta, an attractive work combining a modern idiom with some characteristic Brazilian rhythms (but I confess I was too much under the spell of the Bitondi still to pay it proper attention).

The evening ended with three works for chorus. The amateur choruses performing, alas, were not capable of giving the works their due, the lack of professionalism being out of character with the many excellent and compelling performances heard during the Bienal.

Sunday: Out with a Bang

Sunday sent the festival out with a bang. The first half featured four wind quintets (played by the nonpareil Quinteto Villa-Lobos: Antonio Carlos Carrasqueira, flute, Luis Carlos Justi, oboe, Paulo Sérgio Santos, clarinet, Aloísio Fagerlande, bassoon, and Philip Doyle, horn), along with two solos played by members of the quintet. Leading off was Epeisodion by Nikolai Brucher (Rio de Janeiro, 1978-), a very attractive work predominantly pastoral and lyrical in mood, with a harmonic language and idiom recalling Hindemith and his contemporaries. Cinco Pilas, by Diego Silveira, in three movements (the second for trio) built its structure from the interplay of repeated melodic motifs subjected to varying rhythmic cells, in the style of medieval isorhythm (or at least that’s what I heard - you might have heard reminiscences of North American minimalism). An effective and original work. The quintet by Paulo Dantas made less of an impression, but Opanijé Fractus, by Eli-Eri Moura (João Pessoa, 1963-), was very attractive, starting out in a folksy pentatonic groove, and gradually mutates to something more challenging (and back once more to the opening). Full of wit and charm.

Of the five varied works on the second half, I was most taken by the last three. The Paisagem sonora no. 5, op. 28 by Rodrigo Lima (Brasília, 1976-) was an attractive, technically challenging and witty (e.g. the transformed quotes from the opening of the Rite of Spring) work for solo bassoon played to perfection by Fagerlande. Caio Senna (Rio de Janeiro, 1959-)’s Communicants, for two pianos and two percussionists, carried out the most successful integration of jazz and classical idioms I have yet heard, combining the harmonic and rhythmic elements of late-sixties jazz (Tyner, Jarrett) with structural and expressive elements from contemporary classical in a way that synergized rather than enervated the mix. Ronaldo Miranda (Rio de Janeiro, 1948-), though his catalogue includes some high modernist works, seems to have an essentially Romantic sensitivity deep down, and so it made perfect sense for his Festspielmusik (also for two pianos, two perc), written while in residence at the Brahms House in Baden-Baden, to combine elements of Brazilian music with liberal helpings of echt Brahms (quoted in passing in movements 1, 2, and the finale, and in extenso in the Intermezzo, where the percussion is silent, and the pianos rework materials from the famous intermezzo in A, op. 118, no. 2. And with this nod to a distant past and a foreign land the 2005 edition came to a close.


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