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25 October 2017

A long-awaited expedition to Russia

A long-awaited expedition to Russia

Andrián Pertout travelled to Kazan, in Tatarstan, Russia, for the premiere of his work Entropia (2016-2017) by the Tatarstan National Symphony Orchestra.

The idea of an expedition to Russia has fascinated me all my life, not only because I was named after a Soviet cosmonaut (Andriyan Grigoryevich Nikolayev, married to Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman to travel into space), but also because, prior to leaving Chile in 1971, my father's choice for emigration (as an enthusiastic communist sympathiser) was either Russia or Northern Italy. But Russia was not to be, and instead we spent several years in Gorizia, Italy, before finally immigrating to Australia.

An opportunity arose following the stunning performance, in Hanoi last year, of Angustam Amice for choir (SATB) and string orchestra, no. 428 (2014-2015) by the Vietnam National Opera and Ballet Choir and the Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Zoe Zeniodi (Greece/USA). After the closing concert of the 34th Asian Composers League Festival and Conference, Rashid Kalimullin (president of the Union of Composers of the Russian Federation and Union of Composers of Tatarstan), approached me and decidedly stated, 'You are coming to Russia!'

Andrián Pertout taking a bow after his premiere at the Saydashev Grand
Concert Hall with the Tatarstan National Symphony Orchestra.

In a later conversation, we agreed that this maiden voyage to Russia would constitute a commission by the 14th 'Europe-Asia' International Festival of New Music (a prestigious biennial music festival founded by the Ministry of Culture, Union of Composers of the Russian Federation and Union of Composers of Tatarstan in 1993) for a new orchestral work to be performed by the Tatarstan National Symphony Orchestra in September 2017. In time, the Australia Council for the Arts would come on board to support the project.

At this juncture I began to think about what kind of work I would actually compose. The last fifteen years or so of my compositional practice have no doubt been all about finding a middle ground between highly experimental work (extremely important for personal growth and the development of our craft) and 'measured', accessible work. But where a solo work may be a perfect vehicle for experimentation, with 'new music' specialists possessing a clear openness to 'new' and novel ideas (contemporary approaches to composition) and the 'modern' aesthetic, the orchestral musician is discernably more conservative. In this case though, the opportunity being a new music festival, I decided that a reasonably 'progressive' orchestral work would not get me banished to a Gulag. The resulting work was christened Entropia or 'Entropy', and composed as a 'Hommage à Peter Sculthorpe' (1929-2014). As my program notes state:

'The dedication to Peter Joshua Sculthorpe AO OBE, who is unquestionably Australia's most celebrated contemporary composer, is consequential, as he was the teacher of my teacher (Brenton Broadstock AM) and hence representative of a symbolic continuation of this great Australian composer's monumental musical legacy. The work explores the musical implications of combinatoriality as an organisational determinant, as well as the concept of entropy, which in physics may be defined as the "thermodynamic quantity representing the unavailability of a system's thermal energy for conversion into mechanical work, often interpreted as the degree of disorder or randomness in the system" - an alternative definition stating that entropy is essentially a "parameter representing the state of disorder of a system at the atomic, ionic, or molecular level; the greater the disorder the higher the entropy." The musical challenge being a sonic interpretation of this entropic notion of a measure of order (or disorder) and what could in effect be described as a gradual decline from order/predictability to disorder/chaos and vice versa; achieved in part by paying tribute to Peter Sculthorpe's Sun Music series, and particularly Sun Music I (1965) whereby the composer's artifice is the depiction of the Australian landscape via a utilisation of both Indigenous Australian and Asian influences.

'The eight distinct sections of Entropia fittingly travel between calmness and agitation, between equilibrium and perturbation, between serenity and anguish - an antithesis that functions in tandem with the Australian landscape, which is generally perceived as being harsh and unforgiving, yet beautiful and spectacular. At the end of a virtuosic marimba and xylophone solo, the bass clarinet (soon thereafter supported by the contrabassoon) even mimics the timbral nuances of an Australian didjeridu, synonymous with Indigenous Australia and the "Great" Southern Land. The ordered nature of the harmonic concept of "homometry" and the serialisation of the 48 all-interval tetrachords, not to mention tempo canons, magic squares, bell ringing sequences and an expanding and contracting arch-form numerical series, generate a semblance of the order/disorder dichotomy, hence playing an important part in artistically defining entropy within the compositional methodology of the work.'

The work received its world premiere performance by the Tatarstan National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Guerassim Voronkov on Saturday 30 September 2017 at the Saydashev Grand Concert Hall in Kazan, as part of the closing gala concert of the 14th 'Europe-Asia' International Festival of New Music. I spent a week in Kazan, attending three rehearsals with the orchestra as well as marvelling at the eminence of this extraordinarily beautiful and grand city. (I should point out that Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan, an autonomous republic still part of the Russian Federation, is a UNESCO World Heritage city with a population of about 1 million and one of the biggest cultural centres in Russia. Statistical data suggests that 'one out of three children aged from 6 to 15 years, studies art or music', which is simply a remarkable statistic that you will not encounter but in a few selected corners of the world.1)

The orchestra - dubbed by some as one of the finest ensembles in Russia - played exceptionally well, and the world premiere performance of Entropia was greeted with much enthusiasm by both the audience and orchestra. It's interesting to note that multilingualism has its rewards, as in this instance it allowed me to communicate in Spanish with the extremely talented Barcelona-based Russian conductor (who had to be conversant with the numerous complex metric modulations in Entropia). One of the highlights of the festival was meeting Spanish composer Pedro Vilarroig, who, by some remarkable concurrence of events, happened to also be a professor of physics and cosmology at the Universidad Politécnica of Madrid. He was of course able to confirm and deny the validity of my utilisation of thermodynamic laws within the compositional process.


1 See the '2015-2017 Kazan Cultural Development' report by UCLG (The Global Network of Cities, Local and Regional Governments)

Further links

Andrián Pertout - AMC profile

Tatarstan National Symphony Orchestra (http://en.tatarstan-symphony.com/)

The 'Europe-Asia' Festival Gala Concert, presented in association with the Union of Composers of the Republic of Tatarstan

Andrián Pertout is a freelance composer. His music has been performed in over forty countries around the world. He was Honorary Fellow at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, University of Melbourne (2007-2015) and is currently President of the Melbourne Composers’ League (MCL), Australian Delegate of the Asian Composers’ League (ACL) and Lecturer in Composition at the Faculty of the VCA and MCM (University of Melbourne).


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