As an introduction to the performance PAST >I ORALE Zefiro Torna asked film maker Mathias Ruelle to create a short documentary. Through the eyes of five characters, this film highlights a few elementary parts from which the performance originated. The music of PAST >I ORALE - a wonderful mix of Beethoven, sound art and alternative pop - resonates as a soundtrack.
> Watch the documentary here (from June 15th until July 13th)
'A summer evening in Catalonia, 1399. A group of pilgrims are sitting next to the wall of the abbey church of Montserrat. They have come in search of forgiveness, purification, a fresh start.' Zefiro Torna and Psallentes re-opened this famous "Llibre Vermell de Montserrat". You can find our intimate version of the pilgrim songs on our newest CD, out now on the label Le Bricoleur. Get your copy here, it's the ideal soundtrack for a relaxing summer evening.
Tune in to Podium 19, a new tv-channel for culture, on Sunday 21 March at 6pm for BALSAM, and let yourself be carried away by the enchanting music and images of the alchemistic concert by Zefiro Torna and Laika. Afterwards you can watch the show for another month on VRTnu.
Of course we look forward to welcome you live again into this magic laboratory. We are planning a long tour in Belgium and abroad, which we hope to start in June.
Tired of yet another version of Jingle Bells or All I Want for Christmas? Maybe you'll like our 'Special Seasonal Mix' on Spotify, a selection of songs to spice up this cold December month.
Even though we celebrate Christmas a little differently this year, presents are always nice to receive and to give. Balsam's music literally works as a balm to many souls in these times, an ideal gift for under the Christmas tree. Thanks to a stock sale of the Homerecords label, you can buy the Scattered Rhymes CD with the Frank Vaganée Trio at a discount price of 5 euros. For a swinging start of 2021!
We are all in need of cultural activities after the past months. It's something we noticed from the many moved reactions after playing Balsam at the Zomer van Antwerpen in July. The press has repeatedly called the performance "a balm for the soul." This autumn we bring you extra oxygen for the soul with the reprise of Balsam in Rotterdam and Heerlen.
On October 14, Zefiro Torna and the contemporary French Ensemble Variances will unite music from the 14th to the 21st centuries during the premiere of BACHC®AB in deSingel. And a month later we'll launch you 'im glückliche Fahrt' into a new time and space with the long-awaited premiere of PAST | ORALE: BTHVN transhumanized during the Lunalia festival. Looking forward to this special reunion!
Zefiro Torna, contemporary Ensemble Variances and visual artist Anne-Mie Van Kerckhoven join forces in an exceptional performance around J.S. Bach’s Musikalisches Opfer and the retorgrade technique. Underneath a purely technical charm seems to lie hidden a symbolic purpose. Maybe it is an attempt to control the relentlessly ongoing concept of time? Is it the expression of a negative world view : a waning society in full regression? Or could it be a magical intervention : is it actually possible to rewind an event and undo it by chanting backwards?
Throughout history, chanting backwards has been a returning particularity, which has survived from the Middle Ages until now. Emblematic scores in the shape of a lobster carrying the world on its back (Cancer Cancrizans), circular compositions or works related to the symbol of the labyrinth and self-sacrifice form the common thread through the BACHC®AB programme. The audience travels from the 14th-century song En la maison Dedalus or the 15th-century rondo Ma fin est mon commencement, to the 20th-century ritual dances of George Crumb and Thierry Pecou, whose Miraris Mundum will have his world premiere. Heinz Holliger explores the physical limits of the individual performer and Louis Andriessen’s Inanna’s Descent recounts the journey of the mythological Sumerian goddess to the underworld., while the enigmatic canons from Bach’s Musikalischer Opfer link old and new.
A video artwork by visual artist Anne-Mie Van Kerckhoven reinforces the ritualistic character of the eternal struggle between good and evil and of this performance.
Jurgen De bruyn concept, artistic direction
Dr. Prof. Katelijne Schiltz musicological research
Anne-mie Van Kerckhoven visual art
Ensemble Variances (FR)
In coproduction with deSingel, Antwerp
BACH, Johann, Sebastian (1685-1750) – Musikalisches Opfer
J.S. Bach’s Musikalisches Opfer, dedicated to Frederick II of Prussia, is not a cyclical piece like his Kunst der Fuge of Wohltemperierte Klavier, but rather a collection of solo pieces and ensembles with the ‘royal theme’ as a binding factor. His objective was to develop the musical theme as extensively as possible, going from an open to a rigid contrapuntal technique, and from the counterpoint in the early style like that of the six-part Ricerar, to the style of the trio sonata. As such, the ‘old Bach’ demonstrated that he was still the brilliant musical virtuoso and undisputed master in all compositional techniques. According to musicologist Christoph Wolff, Musikalisches Opfer is actually a hidden musical self-portrait : that of a composer as a piano virtuoso and masterly fugue player, conductor and chamber musician, connoisseur of the counterpoint and erudite figure in the field of music.
Next to this, the almost archaic means of expression and religious symbolism in Musikalisches Opfer, embody a penetrating Weltanschauung that is not in accordance with the enlightened philosophy of the king. This type of music ‘smells of church’, is how Frederick of Prussia put it, and the name of this piece reinforces this fact. With the Canon per Augmentationem, contrario Motu is also a musical commentary on the secular position of the Almighty king.
A two-part canon that is part of the 5 Canones diversi super thema reginum. The first part is played normally, while the second part starts at the same time, but is played from end to start. The term ‘fugue in retrograde (=rearward)’ hints at the movement of a crab or lobster moving sideways.
ANONYME (14thC) – En la maison Dedalus
With the Labyrinth of Knossos, which was actually meant to serve as a prison for the monstrous Minotaur, Daedalus created a powerful symbol that expresses man’s enduring quest and fate. The unpredictable paths of life and the many tracks that lead astray are visualized in a stilled way in the Labyrinth.
Throughout history this theme has inspired even the most diverse art disciplines, going from literature to painting, architecture and even garden landscaping. It even plays part in Western music history: for example, from the end of the 14th century – the period of the so-called ‘ars subtilior’ – comes the anonymous three-part ballad En la maison Dedalus. Here, the incomprehensibility of the Labyrinth is used as metaphore for the amourous quest of the narrator, for whom it is impossible to reach his beloved. To emphasise the text’s symbolic content, this ballad was depicted as a labyrinth using a specific type of handwriting. It was not coincidental that the composer chose this work for a canon between two lower parts, a technique in which the different parties continuously ‘chase’ each other, without ever coinciding.
ANDRIESSEN, Louis (1939-) – Langzame Verjaardag/Slow Birthday
The Dutch composer and minimalist Louis Andriessen wrote Langzame Verjaardag, a canon played in unisono, in 2007, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Ives Ensemble. The composition covers only 1 page and consists of 1 single melodic line. The instrumentation is open and musicians can decide when to play it. In BACHC®AB the work takes on a spherical form, forming a Natureingingang into a new programme component.
PECOU, Thierry (1965-) –Danse en cercle pour timbales
This piece evokes the tribal dances of the Indians of North America. The pulsation, the relationship to the earth and the landscape and of course, the circle and its symbolism of the cardinal points and of the cycle of life, are the frame of this score which uses all the resources of timpani sounds and the incantatory power of the pulsation.
CRUMB, George (1929-) – Ancient Voices of Children
Dances of the ancient Earth
De dónde vienes, amor mi niño
Dance of the Sacred Life-Cycle
Todas las tardes en Granada
In Ancient Voices of Children, based on poems by Frederico Garcia Lorca, George Crumb explores musical images that reflect Lorca’s imaginary world. Lorca talks of primary things, such as life, death, love and nature, and for this uses a language that offers numerous subtle nuances. A language he himself describes with one word: duende. “all that has dark sounds, the enigmatic force that everybody feels, but not one philosopher has been able to explain (…) it denies all the sweet geometry that man has made for himself”.
Crumb feels the urge to be all-encompassing in his work, and to connect various unrelated stylistic and cultural elements. An example from Dances of the Ancient Earth is the symbiosis of an Arabic sounding melody on oboe with a rhythmic motif on Tibetan prayer stones. De dónde vienes is a vocalization for soprano voice, based on purely phonetical sounds, which asks an enormous technical and colourful flexibility of the singer. Dance of the Sacred Life-Cycle has a cyclical pattern with a musical score in the shape of a circle, in which the same elements are repeated, yet always slightly changed, on top of an obstinate Bolero type rhythm. With the consideration ““Todas las tardes en Granada se muere un niño’’ (Each afternoon a child dies in Granada) and the Bach quote from Anna Magdalena Bach’s piano book “Bist du bei mir”, played on a toy piano,the programme ends in a perplexing serenity.
HOLLIGER, Heinz (1939-) – Studie über Mehrklänge
In his study of multiphonics, famous Swiss oboe player, conductor and composer Heinz Holliger, explores the boundaries of the musical instrument (oboe). He demands of the musician to fully put the self aside and cross the borders of day to day life or other conventions.
CORDIER, Baude (1380-1440) – Tout par compas suy composés
As suggested in the self-referencing title of Baude Cordier’s three-part rondeau, the composition is not only seen followingthe principles of a compass–the ideal tool to orient oneself in an unknown landscape – but is also depicted as two concetric circles.
PECOU, Thierry (1965-) -Miraris Mundum - Esope reste ici et se repose (creation 2020)
A composition inspired by the 16th century anonymous motet Miraris Mundum. The original score is shaped like an emblem of a lobster carrying the world on its back (cancer canzicrans), and thus refers to the retrograde theme.
ANDRIESSEN, Louis (1939-) – Innana’s Descent
Andriessen composed Inanna’s Descent in 2000 for female voice and small ensemble.He refers to one of the oldest myths handed down in Assyrian cuneiform writing and dated by archaeologists, ca. 4000 BC. The goddess of heaven Inanna was the supreme goddess of the Sumerian religion. She is often identified with the (Semitic) goddess Ishtar. She is the goddess of fertility, symbol for the moon, and the goddess of love, but also the goddess of war and prostitution.
At the risk of losing her social position and prestige (she was married and had a child with Dumuzi, the secular ruler) she decided to make a journey into the underworld and confront her sister and alterego, Ereshkigal, queen of death, whose throne she wanted to deprive. Each time she passed seven gates, she had to sacrifice something (including her voice) and was horribly humiliated and murdered. Servants of her father, Enki, the god of water, succeed to bring her body back to the upper world after which she comes back to life. In return her place must be taken by her husband and his sister.
The journey in downward and upward (retrograde) movement and the sacrifices that accompany it symbolise the cyclical nature in which life and death, order and chaos coexist.
BACH, Johann, Sebastian – Ricercar à 6
Ricercare à 6 shows a transient processing of the original theme through the six parts, with the introduction of new motifs as well. The original theme basically only appears as a cantus firmus in the entire context. The name Ricerar is derived from the Italian ricerare, which means to search. A ricerar was initially a free improvisation, but the role and meaning have changed over the years. During Bach’s era, it was strictly a rigidlycomplex and polyphonic fugue. Ricerare à 6 shows how this aspect of the fugue has been brilliantly developed.
AMVK video art work (creation)
Anne-Mie Van Kerckhoven (also know as AMVK) is an artist of exceptional complexity. She continues to live and work in Antwerp, where she was born in 1951. She has been actively creating art as a visual artist, graphic designer and performer since 1970. Being internationally and critically acclaimed, she has always been a pioneer: a female, collaborative, reflective innovator in an art world that is mainly dominated by men, has a focus on market value, and is obsessed with visual art. For this reason alone she should be perceived as an artist of the future. AMVK’s work is truly multidisciplinary.
For BACHC®AB, AMVK will create a video art work, inspired by the emblematic guises of the music and its underlying symbolism. A graphic animated film choreographically illustrates the inner battle between good and evil, as in a voodoo ritual.