Balkanicus

The University of Iow Center for New Music presents

BALKANICUS, a night of Bulgarian Contemporary Music

September 24, 2011, 7:30pm – University Capitol Center

BALKANICUS, a concert series featuring music of Bulgarian contemporary composers is the pet project of the University of Minnesota based Bulgarian cellist and lecturer Nickolai Kolarov.  Kolarov, a fast talking, long haired, and amiable man exudes an abiding interest in (as well as an encyclopedic knowledge of) the music of his homeland.  His affection for the topic is infectious and having had the benefit of hearing him lecture on Balkan folk music greatly improved my enjoyment of the music of the region.  As Kolarov explains, there are many factors that have been worked into the Bulgarian musical DNA, chiefly among them societal influences (iron fisted meddling in the arts by a communist state) and cultural (tendencies toward the infusion of folk elements like open throated singing; vast, choppy vibrato; tight, dissonant harmonies and asymmetrical rhythms).  These musical signatures peppered the landscape of all of the pieces Kolarov’s group played, making for an exciting evening of little known works.  Clarinetist Pat O’Keefe stood out and practically stole the show at times as a phenomenal player but all of the performers were exceptional.

“Fragments V” for Clarinet and Cello (1999) by Dragomir Yossifov (b. 1966)

This piece consisted of twelve movements, each of them very short, some only a few notes or seconds long.  While this piece served as a convincing concert opener, this mode of composition is fraught with danger.  Setting himself up to only write a chain of small fragments, the composer paints himself into the uncomfortable corner of being unable to develop any idea he creates.  This began to strike me as a bit of a pity as the piece went on.  The fragments ranged in mood from subdued to spiteful with periodic bouts of spastic frenzy.  The piece ended with a shocking abruptness…a seemingly endless pause, where the clarinet sustained a single pitch, abruptly cut off by a violent snap pizzicato from the cello.

“Song of the Dolphin” for Cello and Vibraphone (2008) by Vasil Kazandjiev (b. 1934)

This piece continued the trend of utilizing a wide range of extended techniques.  Often in the midst of these practices I could hear the relationship between Kazandjiev’s writing and the Bulgarian folk influences and vocal techniques Kolarov discussed in his lecture. The dolphin motif was signified at times by the cello and at times by the vibraphone playing with a bow.  Percussionist Fernando Meza played throughout the piece with utter seriousness and a kind of ferocity.  He had a remarkable array of tools with which to strike his vibraphone, one in particular being a metal “T” wrapped in yarn, used for striking many adjacent pitches at the same time to make a cluster.

“Confrontation” for Violin and Cello (1976) by Ivan Spassov (1934 – 1996)

SPOILER ALERT!  Ivan Spassov piece was labeled in the program as “Instrumental Theater,” which sort of gave away the joke but I feel it is necessary to warn anyone who might be interested in seeing this piece performed.  The cellist begins the piece, angrily moving stands about on the stage and playing musical passages as if in a tantrum.  The violinist enters from the rear of the hall, playing uncomplimentary music and the two begin to fight, hurling musical motives at each other, rather than insults.  Toward the end of the piece, thought the performers keep moving their chairs and eventually themselves further and further away from each other, the musical motives align until they are imitating each other completely.  Spassov handled this type of writing well, but I felt that the piece did not need the distraction of theatrics; the music was good enough on its own.  History would seem to agree with me as this type of piece has fallen out of favor in new music written since the ‘70’s.  Nevertheless, I think pieces like this can definitely serve to break up the routine of modern classical music concert going.

The practice of showcasing composers little known in the West is definitely a fruitful one.  It is refreshing to hear composers from so far away composing in a way, similar music to what recent composers in the West have done.  It is a
great benefit for the university and the local arts community to have the Center for New Music in residence to draw such talent into the city.  I look forward to the rest of the season.

For info on upcoming Center for New Music events, click below…

http://www.uiowa.edu/~cnm/#1

For more info on Nickolai Kolarov and Balkanicus, click below…
http://musicofthebalkans.weebly.com/

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