Monday, June 4, 2012: The Berg’s Open Challenge

Czech Museum of Music ceiling

Hauntingly beautiful, the Czech Museum of Music is the next venue for The Berg Orchestra, June 11.

The Berg’s Open Challenge

If you’ve ever tried to play the guitar, violin, or even a child’s plastic flute, the recorder, you know the term “open” note. It’s the sound you get when you take all the fingers of your fingering hand off the instrument, and just let it make its basic sound.

Beginners love the open notes, because they’re the ones you can always count on: strong, pure, impossible to make too sharp, too flat, or too wobbly.

But can you imagine an entire composition performed only with the open strings of the violin? It almost makes no sense, since there are only four of them. The longer the composition, the more boring it would become.

That hasn’t stopped Dutch composer Louis Andriessen from trying it. Nor the intrepid Berg Orchestra from performing it. And you can hear it for yourself at the orchestra’s latest concert, “Open Strings,” June 11 at the Czech Museum of Music.

Now, resist the temptation to assume Andriessen’s Symphony for Open Strings is doomed to boredom. For this special composition, each violinist tunes his or her four violin strings differently, in such a way as to – collectively – have all the notes available in four octaves.

So creating the pure, open tones is no challenge. Synchronizing each note with the other players to produce a smooth sound and even tempo – is.

The Berg Orchestra usually chooses the venue for their performance to somehow match the music. And this concert at the weirdly intriguing Czech Museum of Music is no exception. The concert area is packed with winding staircases, multiple galleried balconies, repeated arches, and doors too small for adults to walk through. Moreover, it was once used as part of a convent, then a post office, a police department, and even a sugar warehouse.

“We had the idea that we could make a concert using the balconies to show people what is going on in the orchestra during the concert,” Eva Kesslová, public relations manager for the Orchestra, tells Opus Osm. Because the musicians will be on the concert-area floor, but the audience will be on balconies on the first and second floors above it, “People will be able to see the interactions among the musicians, and between the orchestra and the conductor, and which musician is clearly playing at a particular moment,” she says.

The “Open Strings” evening will also feature one of the first compositions (1958-59) to use computer-assisted sounds (pre-recorded sounds on tape), Iannis Xenakis’ Analogique A+B. Young Czech composer Jan Šikl, whose genres include classical, nujazz, or world music, will premiere his Berg- commissioned On the Meaning of Things, and Estonian composer Lepo Sumera’s Musica Profana will round out the interesting evening.

A guided tour (in Czech) of the Museum an hour before the concert is included in the admission ticket, so not only the strings, but the door will be open, and the curious can check out the twisty staircases, short doors, lopsided archways, and especially those balconies where they’ll soon watch the music from. — oo

– Mary Matz

Photo Credits: Miroslav Setnička

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