Festivals as artistic spaces


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I believe the 40min series to be a boon to both the management and the concept of the Lucerne Festival, yet another series of free genre events, squeezed spatially and in terms of time before the ‘big event’ symphony concerts, presenting in essence specific extracts of the ‘big events’ with the participation of some of the same orchestras, artists and authors, but apparently setting more mass integration goals and meant for wider audiences, including children and young people. ‘Admission is free, there’s no dress code, and prior knowledge is unnecessary, those were the addressees of these events, maintaining the same high standards.

The twentieth- and twenty-first-century music was stylistically presented on a broad scale: from the classical avant-garde to sound installations to electronic or performance or synthetic art projects. One of the 40min series proved to be in the vein of the latter: inspired by the story of Cinderella, ingenious as an idea, conceptualisation of space realised remarkably wittily, resourcefully, posing a challenge to all ages and involving in a happening.




Twentieth- and twenty-first-century music was included in both programmes of the Berlin Philharmonic. Incantesimi (meaning ‘spells’ or ‘enchantments’ in Italian) by London-based Julian Anderson is a co-commission between the Berliner Philharmoniker Foundation, the Royal Philharmonic Society and Boston Symphony Orchestra, which will be given its US premiere by the BSO on 26 January 2017. Julian Anderson: ‘When Sir Simon Rattle asked me to compose a work for the Berlin Philharmonic, I decided to write a piece, which focused upon line and timbre unfolding at a slow rate. I have always admired the ability of Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic to play long, flowing musical lines with exceptional beauty of tone.’ The 8-minute piece unfolds slowly in what the composer describes as an ‘almost hypnotic state’ and is based on five musical ideas which circle around each other, sometimes accompanying in the background, sometimes rising to the foreground. The tension accumulated by the forces and the motion erupts towards the finale to lapse into silence.


Simon Rattle conducted also Éclat by Boulez, a piece of various interpretations, included in the repertoire as an undisputed cult ‘classic’ of present day. In the rest opuses, Mahler’s Symphony No. 7 in E minor, the Slavonic Dances by Dvořák and Symphony No. 2 by Brahms, Simon Rattle was brilliant, fine and arresting.



Both concerts given by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, traditionally commanding a great deal of respect, presented a routine and to some extent, disappointing in terms of the expectations instrumentalism raising claims especially to the strings and the horns. The level of certain musicians is known from their Bulgarian performance: Miroslav Petkov, who was immaculate as the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra’s principal trumpet, participated in Varna Summer International Music Festival as a soloist in Vasil Kazandjiev’s Trumpet Concerto; Concertgebouw Chamber Soloists Vesko Panteleev-Eschkenazy (concertmaster), Henk Rubingh (principal of the second violin section) and Fred Edelen (assistant principal cellist of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra) played at the same festival. As of the previous season, 2015–2016 Daniele Gatti is Music Director of the RCO; he is, of course, an outstanding conductor, strict, efficient and uncluttered. As a guest conductor, Daniele Gatti regularly leads the biggest European orchestras: the Vienna Philharmonic, the Berliner Philharmoniker, the Munich Philharmonic, the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and leading Italian orchestras, being participant in such significant festivals as those in Bayreuth and Salzburg; principal guest conductor at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden (1994–1997) and of Royal Philharmonic Orchestra London (1996–2009); at Opernhaus Zürich (2009–2012); of Orchestre National de France (until 2016). For the spring 2017, he is working on Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg for La Scala and Parsifal for the New York Met. In Lucerne, he conducted not only pieces from the mainstream concert repertoire such as Debussy’s Jeux and Stravinsky’s Petrouchka, interpreted in a more stylised manner than the music supposes, but also Métaboles (a concerto for orchestra) by Henri Dutilleux. The latter definitely piqued up interest due to the ‘search for a new (to that age) kind of internal logic and musical form’ and, of course, definitely influenced by Debussy and Ravel.

Sol Gabetta, an Argentinean cellist, born to parents of French and Russian extraction, recording exclusively for Sony Classical and presently teaching cello at the City of Basel Music Academy, was the soloist both nights in Cello Concerto No. 1 by Saint-Saëns and Schumann’s Cello Concerto. She is undoubtedly a fine, expressive and temperamental musician.


Olga Neuwirth, the festival’s composer-in-residence was presented at stages, in several concerts including partially or fully her music pieces. Emblematic and very pronounced in terms of their ideas are her: Kloing! for a Bösendorfer CEUS computer-controlled grand piano, live-video and pianist; Hommage à Klaus Nomi, a songplay in nine fits for a countertenor, actor and ensemble; Eleanor for a blues singer, an ensemble of strings, brass, woodwinds and percussion (with a Swiss premiere at the festival), where Neuwirth shows herself as a pacifist, holding anti-racist views. This line is extended in Le Encantadas o le avventure nel mare delle meraviglie (with a Swiss premiere as well) for six ensemble groups partitioned across the performance space, samples, and live electronics, commissioned by the Lucerne Festival, SWR/Donaueschinger Musiktage, Ensemble intercontemporain, IRCAM – Centre Pompidou, and Wien Modern. The piece is remarkable for both its realisation and inventiveness. Neuwirth thinks of ‘naturality’ complexly and on a large scale relying on various contemporary algorithms. With her, the natural, the human and technologies flow into a ceaseless mutual deformation. The challenge here lies in the acoustics of the Church of San Lorenzo in Venice. Apart from the reverberations in the church space, Neuwirth defines the space first and foremost as a ‘kind of energy fluctuation’. Shifting her composition into the concert space of Donaueschinger Musiktage, she admits that the too dry acoustics make ‘the sound feel like falling directly on your head’. Neuwirth’s piece contains a synthetic voice, sound modulations, which she interprets as groping about between ‘technologies as an obsession’ and a return to ‘humanity’.

More of her music was presented at the festival: the sound installation…miramondo multiplo… and Lost Highway Suite for instrumental soloists and ensemble.

The concert given by the Orchestra of the Lucerne Festival Academy under the baton of Finnish conductor Susanna Mälkki with the participation of Martin Grubinger (percussion) would receive my greatest acclaim for the conductor’s brilliant interpretation of Webern’s Six Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 6 (remarkably performed) and for Schoenberg’s Accompaniment to a Film Scene, Op. 34, for Lachenmann’s Schreiben for orchestra, and first of all, for the world premiere of Olga Neuwirth’s Trurliade-Zone Zero for percussion and orchestra, the eighth of Roche Commissions, a long-term model of cooperation in the area of cultural sponsorship between Roche and the Lucerne Festival, supporting innovation in arts.


Martin Grubinger


Olga Neuwirth (R), Susanna Mälkki (L). Photo: Private archive


Helmut Lachenmann, Photo: Private archive

Festivals as you like them

Commenting on the specifics of the Lucerne Festival on the basis of some comparisons as well, one could make a division between these using the conventional–avant-garde correlation: while certain events are engaged in preserving the tradition with an eye back to the past, in surviving for the sake of genealogy, stretching humble municipal budgets, reaping poor social benefits, the Lucerne Festival builds up and exists in the present, being future-oriented, investing in the future and attempting to have prognostic importance. The high art in the latter category stems from personal initiatives and is in high demand. Sociologist Richard Sennett, commenting in detail on the old and new forms of publicity, defines these as a prerequisite for changes in the environment and personality as such. After diagnosing ‘the fall of public man’, the latter’s ‘self-inflation’ and intimacy as a rule, Richard Sennett highlights the opportunity for a compensatory social function of these forms of publicity that instigates them to transform, to reform positively. What the festival practice does has in fact been defined long ago in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics as praxis and poiesis. The goal of praxis, with all the finer points of creativity, lies in creativity as such; while praxis is performed in a social context for it requires audiences and is associated with virtuosity. Hannah Arendt gives similar explanations on the basis of Aristotle’s terms, comparing the role of a brilliant performance to a political role as part of contemporary society. She wrote: ‘The performing arts, on the contrary, have indeed a strong affinity with politics. Performing artists … need an audience to show their virtuosity, just as acting men (politicians) need the presence of others before whom they can appear;both need a publicly organized space for their “work,” and both depend upon others for the performance itself’ (Arendt, H. Between Past and Future. Six Exercises in Political Thought, N.-Y.: The Viking Press, 1961. р. 154).

Another fact cannot be disregarded either: the passage of phenomena that have reached the stage of virtuosity onto the stage of conservatism. According to my personal observations, at this stage, the festival practice co-exists in dangerous immediacy of the routine and the ‘consolidation’ of the elitist initiatives such as the same guest artists and orchestras at certain festivals, held by the elites and meant for the latter. That is the reason why giving lots of encouragement to innovation in the area of arts is the right cause to be committed to.

[The author is especially grateful to the organisers of the Lucerne Festival and to Sereina Büeler, Nina Steinhart и Katharina Schillen personally for their financial support/accreditation and for the provided information that has made visiting the festival possible.]

Festivals as artistic spaces

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