The Devil is in the Dissonance

Just how many violins do you see here? Are they converging or diverging? Ah, the devil in the details ...

Just how many violins do you see here? Are they converging or diverging? Ah, the devil in the details …

‘The devil is in the details’ is the idiom warning that the small details can make something difficult or challenging. And it applies to two memorable Prague Spring concerts with elements of musical dissonance.

A historical landmark that has stood for over 700 years, St Agnes’ Cloister was built by a devout Bohemian princess. The building’s tripart windows and sconces stand as a testament to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Similarly, musical theory of the time held that three adjacent whole notes should also be the perfect embodiment of the Holy Trinity.

In fact, this actually makes a jarring sound, like the moment of a monster revealed in a horror movie. This left priests of the time somewhat flummoxed, so, in their thinking, it must have meant that the Devil had corrupted music. And so, to the concerts:

Konvergence ensemble, Cloister of St Agnes, May 19

It is entirely fitting then that the Cloister played host to music that makes detailed use of the Devil’s discord. Contemporary Czech composer Ondřej Štochl’s Konvergence ensemble performed the concert created of works portraying each composer’s reaction to something important or rare.

Replicating water drops to suggest a dark atmosphere

Replicating water drops to suggest a dark atmosphere

A total of five works were employed, such as Marek Kopelent’s I Believe (based on texts by political prisoners in uranium mines); Pavel Zemek-Novák’s Quartet No 3 (dedicated to the memory of Evžen Plocek, a man who burned himself to death in political protests of 1969); and Ondřej Stochl’s Whispers (on the human ability to listen).

The performers made it clear early in the presentation that listeners would not know what to expect. Musicians took positions behind and around the audience, and the instrumentation was unique. The pianist physically climbed into her piano to pluck the strings like a harp.

The dribbling of water in prisons was emulated with a metal bowl full of water and a wooden spoon. Violins were violated to be used as sources of percussion.

A special mention must be made of Irena Troupová, whose haunting soprano in Peter Graham’s Viola Walk called to mind anguish and despair in a manner that was just as effective as one could want.

Bennewitz Quartet, Kampa Museum, May 30

They are young, they are handsome, and they come armed with stringed instruments. This is the Bennewitz Quartet consisting of Jakub Fišer (first violin), Štěpán Ježek (second violin), Jiří Pinkas (viola), and Štěpán Doležal (violoncello).

Their Quartet is named after the famous Czech violinist and teacher Antonin Bennewitz (1833-1926). What sets them apart is their intense integration when performing. Focus, balance and skill combine in a mesmerizing fashion.

Opus Osm wrote previously about Marek Kopelent at Prague Spring 2012, and Ondřej Štochl and Slavomír Hořínka at Berg Orchestra concerts and events.

Their concert at Museum Kampa spotlighted Czech composers appealing to a broad range of musical tastes. Czech neoclassicist composer Iša Krejčí, characterized as modest and even shy, never attempted to assert his works publicly. Even so they attained significant popularity due to their indisputable artistic quality. His Serenade (String Quartet No 2) in the hands of the Bennewitz Quartet had the audience in awe.

Slavomír Hořínka, on the other hand, is devoted to promoting contemporary music. He was present at the performance of his Songs of Immigrants, a piece which fused tape recorded sounds with usual and less traditional uses of stringed instruments.

In yet another convergence, the Bennewitz Quartet performed in the Kampa Museum contemporary art gallery.

In yet another convergence, the Bennewitz Quartet performed in the Kampa Museum contemporary art gallery.

The room in Museum Kampa was perhaps too small for the tubular bells, and the initial strikes left some of the audience clutching their ears during Luboš Fišer’s anti-Normalization protest, Crux for Violin and Percussion.

Fortunately, Pavel Rehberger had exactly the right touch on percussion so any tinnitus was merely temporary.

Josef Suk’s Meditation on the Old Czech Hymn ‘St. Wenceslas,’ Opus 35a brought the concert full circle for those with more classical predilections.

Having firmly established their mastery, the Bennewitz Quartet was unable to depart with any less than two encores. — oo

Frank and Hana Trollman, regular contributing writers to Opus Osm

Photo Credits: Top: Frank Trollman; middle, Ivan Malý; bottom, PJ Zdenek-Chrapek

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