26 November 2012
30th Asian Composers League Conference and Festival in Israel
© Katija Farac-Pertout
Andrián Pertout reports from the 2012 Asian Composers' League Conference and Festival in Israel.
Established in 1973 as a means of promoting the art music activities in Asian countries, as well as fostering mutual exchange between these countries, the Asian Composers' League (ACL) is a contemporary music organisation in the Asia-Pacific region with twelve official member countries and regions: Australia, Hong Kong, Israel, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, and Turkey. The inaugural ACL Conference and Festival took place in Hong Kong in 1973, and became either an annual or biennial event focusing not only on Western contemporary art music, but also on traditional music of the Asia Pacific region, as well as 'contemporary art music which uses both Western and Asian Pacific instruments and influences'.
The recent 30th Asian Composers League Conference and Festival in Israel was held in three cities: Tel Aviv (Israel's second largest city), Jerusalem (the capital city), and Beer Sheva (the largest city in the Negev desert of southern Israel). The seven-day ACL event (14-20 October 2012) was organised by the Israel Composers' League (ICL), chaired by Dan Yuhas, and consisted of 12 concerts dedicated to symphony orchestra, chamber orchestra, sinfonietta, chamber music (solo and duet, piano trio), electroacoustic/multimedia, Chinese chamber orchestra, and Mediterranean traditional art music. There was also the obligatory ACL Young Composers Competition concert on Monday 15 October at the Jerusalem Music Centre in Mishkenot. The young composer selected to represent Australia in this event was Nicole Murphy from Brisbane with the work Untangled for flute, clarinet, percussion, piano, violin and cello. The ensemble was conducted by Zsolt Nagy.
Other representation from Australia included Scott Mclntyre's Constellationism II for alto flute, clarinet, percussion, piano, violin and cello, featured in the second chamber concert at Tel Aviv's Hateiva Hall in Jaffa (the oldest part of Tel Aviv), as well as Johanna Selleck's Unspoken Dialogues for flute and strings, performed by the Israel Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Guy Feder at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, and Andrián Pertout's Bénédiction d'un conquérant for symphony orchestra, performed by the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra conducted by Frédéric Chaslin at the Jerusalem Theatre.
Highlights of the festival included Joseph Bardanashvili's (Israel) Children of God for voice and chamber orchestra, performed by the Israel Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Guy Feder. This was dramatic music with such intense warmth and emotive spirituality that it proved to be not only a memorable moment of the opening Sunday night concert at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, but also became ingrained in my conscience as an artistic experience to remember. The program notes stated the following: 'The musical Children of God (1988), inspired by deep thoughts about life and death, peace and violence, includes basic ideas of man's love to his fellow creatures, chosen from Talmud, Gospels and Koran. Every source (Jewish, Christian and Muslim) found its idiomatic equivalent in this music. It sings of different epochs and styles organically intertwined in the score. It is enriched with dramatic contrasts: from the single tune to orchestral incandescence of passion, colourfully and brilliantly amalgamated.'
Ari Ben Shabtai's (Israel) Angel's Tears for saxophone and chamber orchestra (which according to the composer 'serves both as an outcry and as an introverted weep, paying homage and respect for all victims of cruel acts of terror, wicked brutality, deep hatred and religious fanaticism throughout the world') was also an absolutely brilliant work, featuring prolonged extended melodies within an intense, yet subtle, harmonic and rhythmic structure - as was Australian Johanna Selleck's Unspoken Dialogues for flute and strings, with its virtuosic rhythmically vibrant quality.
The second day of the festival included a trip to Jerusalem - Israel's largest city, and one of the oldest cities in the world (added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 1981). The holy city to the three major Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Jerusalem's Old City (established in the 4th millennium BCE) is today divided into four quarters: Armenian, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim Quarters. (Tasting a sesame seed charged thin crispy specialty at a traditional bakery was one of the many highlights of the day.)
Monday afternoon at the Jerusalem Music Centre in Mishkenot then delivered the results of 19th ACL Young Composers Competition, with two first 'equal' prizes awarded to Kittiphan Janbuala (Thailand) and Lily Chen (Taiwan). The festival then moved to the Henry Crown Hall, Jerusalem Theatre, for an orchestral concert featuring the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra under the direction of French conductor, pianist, composer and author Frédéric Chaslin. The orchestra delivered a fine interpretation of Amos Elkana's (Israel) Truah, Concerto for clarinet and orchestra, which required the clarinettist to perform extreme dynamics and unorthodox sounds. The performance of Bénédiction d'un conquérant for symphony orchestra was certainly an admirable rendition of my personal protest against the illogical thought process behind war - the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra unveiling a distinct musical flavour, in comparison to previous performances by the Orquestra Petrobras Sinfônica (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) and Orquesta Sinfónica de Puerto Rico (San Juan, Puerto Rico).
The fourth concert of the festival on Tuesday presented a solo piano recital by Naaman Wagner at the Felicia Blumenthal Music Center in Tel Aviv. Two works in particular made a mark during this concert: Noriko Nakamura's (Japan) Agua for pianist and Hanna Ajiashvili's (Israel) work - the former, a musical interpretation of 'water' utilising the timbral colours of the pianoforte, while the latter, a quirky, energetic and vibrant set of six miniatures, each depicting a 'memory' or 'dream' about a specific idiosyncrasy manifested within twentieth-century piano literature.
The Mediterranean traditional art music concert at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art that followed can only be described as 'stupendous.' Taiseer Elias (oud) and Zohar Fresco (percussion) delivered a recital of classical Arabic music of insuperable finesse. Elias is widely recognised as the leading figure in classical Arabic music in Israel, while Fresco is known for revolutionising the Tof Miriam (the Jewish frame drum) with his new fingering technique and his original compositions.
The day ended with an unforgettable concert with the Chamber Orchestra of the Forbidden City (Beijing, China), divided into contemporary and traditional halves. The various highlights included the melodious and colourful Flow by Phang Kok Jun (Singapore), and the exquisite and evocative The Emperor Speaks... by Jack Body (New Zealand), not forgetting Gao Ping's (China) Neither fish nor fowl, which was absolutely sensational. Ping's work was for the mind and spirit, as it was not only extremely entertaining, but also intellectually engaging. The highlight of the second half of the concert was without a doubt counter-tenor Xiao Ma (China's first tenor vocalist), who captivated the audience with a voice of incredible purity and absolute beauty.
A feature of the first chamber concert on Wednesday was Menachem Zur's (Israel) gestural and interactive Contour Variations for violin and piano, while the second concert highlighted the jazzy syncopations of Seung Jae Chung's (Korea) Linear Mutation for violin, clarinet and piano, as well as an outstanding work for solo flute entitled Flumen by Man-Bang Yi (Korea).
Thursday presented another outing - this time to the Biblical Dead Sea. The remarkable aspect of the Dead Sea (called so due to its salinity, which prevents the existence of life in the lake) is the fact that it is the lowest point on earth (417 meters below sea level), and a body of water with the highest concentration of salt in the world (340 grams per litre of water). Swimming in this lifeless lake presents some serious challenges, as it is actually only possible (and wise) to float, and not swim in it. A memorable tour of the ancient fortress of Masada followed, not to mention a delicious 'Bedouin' feast, before the day's musical event at the Beer Sheva Performing Arts Center featuring the Israel Sinfonietta. Yuan-Chen Li's (Taiwan) Hovering in the Air, Concerto for zheng and strings was truly stunning, as was Jiuan-Reng Yeh's (zheng) exceptional performance as soloist.
One of the highlights of Friday's 'electronic' concert was Shai Cohen's (Israel) highly interesting Boundaries for violin and electronics, which presented the player with musical phrases on screen, selected indeterminately via Max MSP, to be then digitally processed in real-time in adherence to parameters based on an aleatoric sample area. Yashiro Otani's (Japan) The Difference Machine for flute and electronics, on the other hand, was a fine representation of the juxtaposition of timbral colour and live electronics. In the third chamber concert of the festival, the intense expressiveness of Hilat Ben Kennaz's (Israel) Colors for piano trio captured the imagination.
The final Saturday night concert at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art featured the excellence of the Israel Contemporary Players conducted by Zsolt Nagy. This concert not only featured a twentieth-century masterpiece (György Ligeti's Piano Concerto), but what could possibly be regarded as 'perfect art': Matsushita Isao's (Japan) A Shining Firmament for chamber orchestra - a work so masterfully crafted, so refined, so delicate, so subtle; consisting of a beautiful yet simple melodic fragment repeated and developed with ingenuity and finesse.
The 2012 ACL Yoshiro Irino Memorial Prize went to Goni Peles (Israel) for his work Der Fahrgast performed in Friday's electronic concert. This award, initiated in 1988, nominates the best chamber music work by a composer from the host country under the age of 30 at each ACL festival. The award was announced at the closing ceremony, which was held on the rooftop that overlooks Old Jaffa of the legendary Abulafia Bakery - an establishment today recognised as a symbol of Jewish-Arab coexistence.
The next ACL Conference and Festival is scheduled to take place in Singapore during 20-24 September 2013.
30th Asian Composers League Conference and
Festival, Israel (www.israelcomposers.org)
Asian Composers' League (www.asiancomposersleague.com)
Melbourne Composers' League (www.melbournecomposersleague.com)
© Australian Music Centre (2012) — Permission must be obtained from the AMC if you wish to reproduce this article either online or in print.
Andrián Pertout is a freelance composer. His music has been performed in over thirty countries around the world. He is currently the Australian Delegate of the ACL (Asian Composers’ League), Chairman of the Melbourne Composers’ League, as well as Honorary Fellow at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music (University of Melbourne) and National Academy of Music (Thessaloniki, Greece).
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