INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
New York Times APRIL 10, 2011 - by Allan Kozinn
WATCHING TREES AND PORTRAITS GO BY, ON WINGS OF VIOLINS
The Unsound Festival, a celebration of contemporary music with an emphasis on the avant-garde, has flourished in Krakow, Poland, since 2003, when it was started by Mat Schulz, an Australian writer who settled there in 1995. Last year Mr. Schulz brought an edition of the festival to New York, and it proved a lively addition to the city's thriving new-music world, not least because of its focus on European electronica composers who are scarcely known here.
This year's installment began with several concerts, called Unsound Labs, at the Issue Project Room, but the festival proper got under way at Alice Tully Hall on Wednesday evening with a performance by the Sinfonietta Cracovia. The three-hour concert was staid by this festival's standards: the first half, devoted mostly to string orchestra works by Krzysztof Penderecki and Steve Reich, could hardly have been more mainstream and still been a new-music concert. But the program touched on some of Unsound's concerns, including the mixing of music and other media.
Every piece was accompanied by a film, though the visual components were mostly beside the point, however pleasantly: trees, birds, ornate architectural elements and computer-generated geometrical designs were the favored images for the Penderecki and Reich scores. But the sole work on the second half, "We don't need other worlds. We need mirrors" - Music For Solaris, by Ben Frost and Daniel Bjarnason, was mated to an ambitious stream of morphing faces and landscapes, created (or as the program put it, manipulated) by Brian Eno and Nick Robertson.
As a prelude to the live performance the festival showed a film of the Ensemble Modern performing Pawel Mykietyn's 3 For 13, an entrancing ten-minute score that grows from a single note, repeated by several instruments, into an appealing neo-Baroque concerto grosso with a Minimalist underpinning.
Mr. Penderecki, whose days as an avant-gardist are long behind him, was represented by lustrous performances of his Serenade For String Orchestra (1997), Sinfonietta (1991) and Chaconne In Memoria Del Giovanni Paolo II (2005), all thick-textured neo-Romantic scores that take advantage of the urgency and, in the chaconne, the meditative richness of massed strings.
The unconducted orchestra (with Robert Kabara, its concertmaster, providing intermittent cues) gave vigorous, precise readings of Mr. Reich's Duet For Two Violins And String Ensemble (1993), a rarity with an appealing chromatic edge, and the mildly dissonant but more characteristically motoric Triple Quartet (1999).
Mr. Frost, playing electric guitar, bass and a laptop computer, and Mr. Bjarnason, conducting from the piano, presided over their work, a somnambulant study in harmonic stasis and glacially changing textures, inspired by Solaris, a novel by the Polish science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem. As meandering as the music was, it seemed to suit the somewhat more quickly changing imagery of Mr. Eno and Mr. Robertson's film. But that did not keep listeners who lost patience from streaming out of the hall, often noisily.