Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Waltz for the Insomniacs

Friday night, Antonello and I and two friends went to the Rassegna di Nuova Musica--a contemporary music festival held annually here in Macerata. Antonello and I are not great connoisseurs of contemporary music--in fact, our knowledge of it is quite minimal--but the event is pretty important here in the city, and we attended it last year and enjoyed it. Each year the festival celebrates the music of a certain place, showing the way contemporary music has developed there. This year, the focus was on America, with important names such as John Cage, Philip Glass, and Terry Riley. Of these, I had only heard of the first two upon going into the concert, and my understanding of their music was still quite limited. Therefore, it can be concluded that Antonello and I didn't know what we were getting ourselves into.

After the first couple of pieces, though, I felt a little more relaxed and was starting to enjoy myself. I must say that it's difficult to feel like you can understand this kind of music after just one sitting--it is more than just aesthetic in appeal surely--but after hearing various horror stories about sitting through 30 minutes of only a metronome ticking, this wasn't bad. Antonello and I would turn to each other from time to time and smile, warming up a little to this modern music. We even clapped quite enthusiastically after a piece where the pianist started banging on the keys in what seemed to be an angry rage. Ah, there is hope for us and contemporary music.

But it was the last piece of the night that was definitely the most interesting. We were lucky enough to have chosen the last night of the event to attend, because out came Terry Riley! After spending the entire intermission translating the accolades written about him in the program, I came to the conclusion that he must be pretty important, given the fact that he is considered the father of the minimalist movement in contemporary music (And Antonello and I had never heard of him before--this tells you something about our limited knowledge!). He was to perform his greatest piece: "In C."

And it WAS great. The piece is a series of patterns that the orchestra can play to its liking: the guitar can continue with one pattern as long as he likes, whether it be 30 times or just one. However, the musicians have to continue in a certain order. The piece is a sort of organized chaos, it seems, but quite organized, actually, and the result is a kind of musical sheen--a clarity of sound that carried over the entire theatre--and we the audience were almost begging for it to continue. The musicians themselves seemed fascinated by what they were doing as well--the violist looking over every two minutes at Terry Riley and just smiling, as if he felt he were really part of something great.

And perhaps he was. Because in the end, after an hour and a half of them playing just one piece, no one seemed to want to stop playing. It seemed to me that the idea that this contemporary music is experimental in nature couldn't be more true, because instead of an orchestra up there, it felt more like a laboratory of sound. It was incredible to watch them play and to see them, those musicians, almost as astounded as we were by the nature of the music they were creating.

Leaving the theatre late that night, there was fresh chatter all around us. Outside, the sky was a ceiling of fog, and the piazza almost glowed in a misty haze, holding in the newness of the night. It was just past midnight, and we were tired. But there was a sense of being more awake now, and aware. There was a sense that the music hadn't stopped, and the patterns would continue, even as we walked a quiet street toward home in a small town in the middle of the night.


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