Storioni Trio in The Strad
Dreams, Demons and Discovery: Storioni Festival 2016
The Storioni Festival, brainchild of the eponymous Dutch-based piano trio, celebrates nine years of chamber music and exhilarating repertoire. Eleven days of musical journeys in ‘relaxed’ Brabant, a Dutch province touted for its joie de vivre gives the trio plentiful possibilities to perform with likeminded musicians to test new waters. “We seek to change perceptions of repertoire, concert formats and even the relationship between audience and composer,” observed Storioni violinist, Wouter Vossen during a short break in the group’s marathon schedule. This year’s source of inspiration is rooted in homegrown folklore. 500 years after local genius Hieronymus Bosch passed away, Brabant celebrates his surrealistic cosmos. Storioni 2016 subtitled “Dreams and Demons” turns Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights into an aural magical mystery tour and has attracted an exuberant, international crowd.
While many an international festival includes contemporary works within the comfort-zone of programming, few offer the variety that Storioni 2016 showcases. A closer look at composers in the limelight, their intentions and musicians’ preparation vital to effectuating top-class performances within a short period of time motivate this review.
No fewer than four composer-artists took center stage at the festival: the distinguished Krzysztof Penderecki as composer-in-residence; the American-Dutch composer Vanessa Lann as commissioned featured artist and the hip performance artists-composers-instrument makers, Marco Mlynek and Aart Strootman whose novelty hurdy-gurdy and harp lute reconstructed from Bosch’s vibrant canvas figured prominently in their five-part extravaganza, Heavenly Hell.
At 82, Penderecki never tires of producing music nor globetrotting, “I thrive on inputs, involvement and artistic action; it is always eye opening or ear opening to hear my works performed in yet another location. This festival gave me the chance to experience a retrospective, very beneficial as a new composition (octet) takes shape.” Storioni Festival 2016 staged compositions covering every period of the composer’s development, from early experimental to later tonal, neo-Romantic works. “I do not like titles that define a work of art, of free will. Composers revolve in a world between notation and sound, inspired by the latter to put the former to work. I consider all of my music even the minimalistic works to be somewhat romantic or at least tied to emotion. My motivation to compose a piece comes from an urge to combine harmonies, rhythmic patterns and specific sounds that give intrinsic meaning to how I feel, I perceive the world.” Speaking about Capriccio per Siegfried Palm, a flashy solo cello piece, the maestro reminisced, “I studied violin for many years and like all instrumentalists try to push the boundaries of what the instrument can do.” Monika Leskovar, the brilliant performer whose emotionally charged communion with the work brought down the house observed, “Penderecki’s score is so precisely annotated that the meaning behind the music unfolds once the notation is mastered."
The honor to provide a special commission to celebrate twenty years Storioni Trio went to the American-Dutch composer Vanessa Lann, trained at Harvard in film theory and physics. Infatuated by composition from a young age, Lann pursued post-graduate studies with Dutch luminaries Louis Andriessen and Theo Loevendie. Enthusiastic at the prospect to create her first piano trio with Bosch’s hellish hallucinations as a point of departure, she spoke persuasively about the roots of her inspiration for Big Picture, the logic behind the compositional process, special effects and ‘coming to being’ within the rehearsal process.
“There are so many repeated images in the Bosch triptych that I’ve attempted to repeat elements in the three main movements of the piece, first in one instrument and then in the other two. In the first movement, the violin serves as a background element, playing with mute, without vibrato and with slow patterns in a soft dynamic. When the same exact notes return later, the violinist is in the foreground, playing with much vibrato and a much louder dynamics. Throughout the piece the cello echoes the lines of the violin yet it sounds different as the cello has another timbre. It brings up the question of what on what instrument sounds heavenly can simply be hellish on another. ”
Working with a composer who really knows what she wants calls for extra preparation on the part of performers and the technical complexity of Lann’s piece called for scrupulous dissection to reach the explorative, interpretative phase. Painstaking preparation precedes all rehearsals for the Storioni’s no matter which piece of repertoire is on the stand. “It might help that we know each other well (violinist Wouter and cellist Marc are indeed brothers) yet even after two decades of music-making, we realize that the more we come prepared to rehearsals as individuals, the better we can apply ourselves and ultimately let go once we are on stage.”
Lann’s music is replete with special effects that call for an openness to experimentation and modification. Even the most visionary composer needs to learn how the instruments can be used to their best advantage. “The secret is really not a secret, it involves finding a technical way to achieve the sound in the composer’s mind.” Lann discovered that heaven and hell can find aural expression through artificial and natural harmonics and that there can be a special importance to unusual, repeated bowings. Technique thus becomes a flexible means to an end keeping in mind that the composer will have to let go as the performers take over on stage.
After two rehearsals, the musicians contemplate the exploration that flows from the process to realize that the boundaries between visual arts and music are indiscernible. Listening to Lann, “the audience will find some of the repeated patterns as strange as the images in Bosch’s painting. Yet, once the piece nears completion all of the musical gestures make sense. They grant a role to the listener to see what he or she notices just like different people pick up on different things when looking at a visual image.” The musical juxtaposition between foreground and background gives each instrument the chance to become a part of a ‘bigger’ picture.
At Storioni 2016, Krzysztof Penderecki and Vanessa Lann agree wholeheartedly, “there is no greater feeling than having your work come to life through a group who loves what they do.”
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