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German Premieres: Darmstadt And Donaueschingen

Ferneyhough, Dillon, Herrmann, Gander
Two of Germany’s foremost contemporary music festivals are presenting four significant new Edition Peters works this year. The Internationale Ferienkurse für Neue Musik in Darmstadt, this month, will give premieres of works by James Dillon and Brian Ferneyhough. Later in the year, in October, the Donaueschingen Festival presents a further two works – by Arnulff Herrmann and Benjamin Gander.

Ferneyhough’s Liber Scintillarum – ‘The Book of Sparks’ – for six instruments (premiere, 22 July) takes its inspiration from ‘a late 7th- or early 8th-century florilegium of biblical and patristic sayings in Latin. It was compiled by Defensor, a monk who in the preface identifies himself as a member of St Martin's Abbey at Ligugé, near Poitiers. The “sparks” (scintillae) of the title refer to sayings (such as maxims and proverbs) of Our Lord and his saints, excerpted from the Bible and the Church Fathers.’ Ferneyhough characterizes the work as belonging to a series of what he calls ‘involuntary scherzos by reason of the sometimes imperiously wayward or unpredictable demands made […] by the material during the course of composition.’

James Dillon’s New York Triptych (premiere, 16 July) completes a series of ‘triptychs’ for chamber ensemble, following The Leuven Triptych (2009) and Oslo/Triptych (2011). Composed for New York’s Talea Ensemble, New York Triptych is for an octet of flute, oboe and clarinet (with doublings), piano, percussion (including radio receiver and CD player), violin, viola and cello.

This year’s programme at Donaueschingen focuses on the shifting emphasis between acoustic sound combinations and electronic instruments, examining the interplay of ‘music and machine in mixed-media constellations, as illustrated by ensemble groupings based on a combination of both’.

Arnulff Hermann and Bernhard Gander’ present larger-scale orchestral canvases – contrasting with the Dillon and Ferneyhough. The opening concert (19 October) will see the German premiere of Herrmann’s durchbrochene Arbeit, commissioned by Swedish Radio and German broadcaster SWR. The work reconsiders traditional approaches to writing for orchestra, with Herrmann leaving aside ‘classical’ principles in favour of an individualized texture composed of microtonal fields. Gander’s hukl, also commissioned by SWR, will form part of the final concert on 21 October. He also uses a ‘classical’ orchestral apparatus with large string section but excluding electronics. As previously in the case of khul for string quartet, the title of hukl is possibly a further permutation on the name of comic strip hero The Incredible Hulk.

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