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Music at the euro XVII conference: the Travelling Musician

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Music at the EURO XVII Conference: the Travelling Musician

The conference was held in the beautiful palace of the faculty of Economics, on the banks of the Danube, in front of the Gellért hill. At the opening party, on Sunday July 16, every participant was given a CD called ‘The Travelling Musician’ and a book with the abstracts of the EURO XVII. In this book, there were some music scores accompanied by little drawings. Participants found this musical notation perhaps unusual for an OR publication however they had soon to discover that the EURO had commissioned composer Daniel Schell with a set of works related to Operational Research techniques.

I had the great pleasure of being Daniel Schell and I was pleased to meet so many interesting people at the opening cocktail party. Many of them as Jacob Krarup, or Raymond Bisdorff , Jean Bovet, are accomplished musicians. The others, as Christoph Schneeweiss, are distinguished music connoisseurs.

A year ago, or so, Philippe Van Asbroeck, himself a musical connoisseur, learned that I use Operational Research techniques in my compositions. His idea was to produce an original CD that would mark the 25th anniversary of EURO. Following our discussions, we came with the idea that we should have this original music produced in Hungary, not only for practical reasons, but to take advantage of a country with such a great musical history. Through the clarinet player Judith Gudor, who played already some of my works, we came in contact with the Hungarian conductor and composer Gergely Vajda.

Gergely works regularly with a famous brass quintet called ‘Brass in the Five’. He sent us a CD of this Ensemble performing the music of Josef Sari. We were immediately impressed and decided to work with them. The Ensemble ‘ Brass in the Five’ is made of Peter Burgett (trombone and leader), Tamas Toth (trumpet), Laszlo Simai (fluegelhorn) , Peter Soos (Horn in F) and Tibor Tacaks (tuba). They are famous in Hungary and abroad for having created famous contemporary works from Sari, Eotvos, and Vajda.

Brass quintets are relatively unusual, and so there is not much music written for them. We thought that this would mark an original step for the EURO. The decision was taken, and I started to write this important ‘Quintet’. This is a relatively large piece, almost fourty minutes long, with a lot of different forms, as chorals, dances, duets, trios, tutti, dances, fast passages full of technical difficulties in order to exploit the amazing versatility of Brass in the Five.

Of course, we realised that a Brass Quintet might be a little ‘hard to swallow’ for some. So we decided to join to the CD two ‘Italian Trios, which I wrote in 1992, for the ‘Harmonia Trio’ of Firenze, but were which still unperformed in Hungary. This was made for a trio consisting of Judith Gudor (clarinet), Emese Mali (Piano) and Lajos Dvorak (cello).

We wanted also simple music to be performed by the ‘young musician’. That was the origin of the ‘Optimal studies’ to be performed by various ensembles. This music has been printed by Edition Simonffy Budapest and will be sent to a choice of Ensemble, Music Academies and Universities, as a commemoration of EURO’s anniversary. Every Optimal Study contains its own musical theme as well as some algorithmic feature.

In late April, we came to Hungary and recorded the music in the Phoenix Studio, near Budapest, under the excellent artistic supervision of Ibolya Toth.

Let us come back to the EURO meeting. On Monday 17, morning, we had already traditional music by a Hungarian folk ensemble.

On Tuesday 18, happened the conference “Optimality in musical melodies and harmonic progressions: The travelling musician”. The success of the conference was largely due to the fact that Judith Gudor (clarinet) and Emese Mali (piano) played the musical examples. Operational Research, at least to me, is a science of optimisation that applies to man. . Although I am a fan of computer-assisted composition, I am not so much impressed by music played by computers. Traditional harmony teaches, in an empiric way, to minimise the steps between notes in the melodies that have to be sung. One of the points of my conference was to demonstrate that it could be done with optimisation algorithms such as the minimum spanning tree. And so, it was interesting to see Emese Mali singing ‘step-optimised melodies’ with easiness, or fight with des-optimised non-melodies involving large saltos.

All the examples of Brownian, or Gaussian generated music, took also some flavour when played by such tasteful musicians. The beautiful geometric tilings, which I call karos, found also resonance in the heart of the listeners, when interpreted by the fingers of Judith Gudor.

Another highlight was of course the World creation of the ‘Travelling Musician’ by the Quintet Brass in the Five, directed by Gergely Vajda. This happened on the same Tuesday around 5pm in a large auditorium of the Faculty.

After a short presentation by Christoph Schneeweiss, I outlined the story which goes behind the work. A Travelling Musician goes on the road. He falls slowly asleep and dies in terrible car crash. Arrived in the Paradise, he finds it progressively so boring that he asks to meet God. God comes and allows him to go back on earth. What will happen now…? The honourable Pundits might ask why God plays a role in an OR drama? Well, the hidden question of the travelling musician to God was: “Is my life NP-hard or not?”

This is no opera or film. There is no real synchronisation between the action and the music. However, the listener can somehow ‘follow’ a story if he wishes so. The musicians played this difficult piece with unique attention and musicality. They proved to the audience that a brass ensemble is able to show much variety in its sound. The perfection of their tone and togetherness was really impressing and so they receive a warm applause and were covered with flowers. I, for myself, was decorated by Christoph, and received the Travelling Musician’s decoration-kit: a bread with cumin, a bottle of the best ‘Bull’s blood’ Hungarian wine, and last but not least …a pocket compass to find my way on the un-optimised roads.

The concert finished at 6pm, and we had just time to rush to the boat on the Danube, which brought us to an island where we had a party, with traditional folk and dance.

The last event, which closed in fact the EURO meeting, happened on Wednesday 19 night in Obudai Tarsaskor, a historic hall, situated near the Danube, in East Buda.

The trio made of Judith, Emese and Lajos presented a charming program presenting mostly Hungarian composers.

First we admired the mastership of Emese in Bela Bartok’s opus 14 for piano, alternating meditative with violent passages. It was followed by ‘Faust valse’ by Lizt Ferenc. (Franz List, in Hungarian). Emese, in duet with Lajos, cello, played ‘Two Hungarian dances’ by Farkas Ferenc. Judith Gudor on clarinet played a beautiful piece by Gergely Vajda called ‘Trembling’. This is a piece that concentrates on the sound rather than on the ‘notes’. It was an opportunity for the audience to discover that Vajda is not only an excellent conductor, but also a tasteful composer. Eventually, the audience could discover the two Italian Trios by Schell. Both pieces are based on traditional melodies from Italy and use a variety of transformation to generate variations. ‘ Notte d’estate’ is a fantasy on a dance in 6/8. ‘Fenesta’ is a variation on an antique Neapolitan melody called ‘Fenesta qua lucive’.

This was the end of the EURO XVII, in one of its probably most musical edition. May I here thank the organisers for their courage and dedication to contemporary music.

Daniel Schell E-mail: Web:


V9n3schell2: World creation of the Travelling musician at the EURO 25th Anniversary session by the Quintet Brass in the Five, directed by Gergely Vajda.
V9n3schell3: Composer Daniel Schell introduces the Travelling Musician at the EURO 25th Anniversary session chaired by Ch. Schneeweiss, President of EURO, and J. Krarup, Chair of the EURO 17 OC.

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