Author: Sabira Mustafayeva Baku
The fifth Qara Qarayev International Festival of Contemporary Music has ended in Baku. It has been 27 long years since the first one - 1986 to 2013. But although this is only the fifth festival it still has a long history. It was organized at the instigation of the Azerbaijani composer and teacher, one of the leading composers of the former Soviet Union, the son of Qara Qarayev, Professor Farac Qarayev, and with the active participation of the conductor, Rauf Abdullayev. At the time he included in the programme works which had been rarely heard in the USSR. And even today, when everything rare becomes total, the Qarayev festival justifies its intention - assessing and understanding what is rare is not given to everyone because it remains a rarity.
Twenty-seven years is a period of history that has seen many events, insights and discoveries. In the past it was only the "select few" who had heard about or possessed a computer and a fax machine: today everyone has the opportunity to tune into the global inter-active networks and the Internet, which for mankind has become a kind of sixth sense. In those far off days Qara Qarayev and his avant-garde music were regarded as a spiritual feat: today there are all kinds of facets of modern music and creativity and there is a feeling of perplexity as to what art is all about. In the world of music at the peak of avant-gardism there were generally recognized leading composers such as John Cage, Karl-Heinz Stockhausen, Luciano Berio, Gyorgy Ligeti and Witold Lutoslawski. Nowadays, no-one is surprised by avant-garde music. What is modern classical music today and why are festivals like the Qarayev festival being held?
As the music expert Jahangir Selimkhanov puts it succinctly, the modern music festival today is an event which is held in conditions of post-modernism or, as various cultural theorists like to call it, Meta-modernism, when modernism in the sense it was understood and felt in the 1980s no longer exists. "However, the idea of discovering new, lost trends is not a part of the remit of the Baku festival project."
According to the music expert, the Qarayev festival remains loyal to its own clear objective of acquainting the local audience with the fact that, basically, it has survived and become a kind of music classic. "Incidentally, the point of dedicating the festival to Qara Qarayev is by no means of a memorial nature - this is not a festival of the music of Qara Qarayev the great composer, but rather a continuation of an enlightenment mission in which he began to broaden the listening horizons of the public towards a perception and understanding of the new music of the 20th century. This task remains topical today, because as the years have passed a whole generation has grown up in Baku which knows nothing about the music of the last century, and many of the works of this "new classic" were not heard here either then or now. It is another matter as to how much emphasis is placed on the music offered today and what precisely those who perform it want to convey to their listeners. Opinions are bound to be divided on this which in itself is an interesting subject for discussion. In the "modern music" of the 20th century we can peer through the thickness of centuries of past musical culture and, giving vent to our imagination, lend an ear to and lightly touch the future and hasten its arrival. Because the most varied elements of the language of music - long forgotten, teeth-grinding in their triviality or "reconstrued" - can seem to be compared and over-interpreted in the context of a piece. It is therefore for the listener a quite difficult but attractive task to complete this journey in time along with the music," the expert says.
During this last festival in Baku there were many interpretations of contemporary music. The Qara Qarayev Festival of Contemporary Music was presented by musicians from Holland, Russia, Austria and, of course, Azerbaijan, for which the performance of the music of today has become a long and lasting tradition. The two concerts by the Uz. Hacibeyov Azerbaijani State Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Rauf Abdullayev were a feast of music of the 20th century. The orchestra's programme at the opening of the festival was focused around the name of Qara Qarayev: the great Dmitriy Shostakovich - the teacher, Khayyam Mirzazade - one of his favourite pupils, worthily presenting today's image of the Azerbaijani Composers' School, and the Italian Ottorino Respighi, whose vivid score of "Fountains of Rome" was most highly regarded by Qara Qarayev. At the close of the festival there were works by Schoenberg, Ligeti and Berio - composers who to a huge degree influenced their contemporaries and opened up new paths of development of musical thought in the work of composers of the 20th century.
Music experts make special mention of Berio's symphony - this work has become a kind of manifesto of post-modernism, in which someone else's material, linked with the composer's, has fused into a kind of musical mix, which has become a launching pad for a whole current embodying new trends in the music of the last third of the 20th century.
The premiere of this work was held in the USA in 1968. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra was conducted by Leonard Bernstein, and the world renowned Swingle Singers took part in the performance. Because of orchestral and vocal problems the symphony is unfortunately performed only rarely; in 2011 in Europe there were three performances - in Paris, Munich and Lisbon; in 2012 in London and Oslo and in Holland in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Groningen and this year in Milan, Paris and Porto. The Baku premiere of the work was all the more interesting because this was the first time it had been held not only in the former USSR but in the whole of Eastern Europe.
Taking part in the festival concerts were Asko Schonberg of Amsterdam, one of the most regarded European leaders in the performance of the new music, and the well-known Accroche Note ensemble from Strasburg. Both performed programmes including works by Dutch and French composers. And another surprise was the show "Variete" to the music of the unpredictable, Mauricio Kagel, one of the most extravagant composers, which was shown at the Young Spectator Theatre. The performers were the German-Spanish AVA Dance Company accompanied by the Baku ensemble Con tempo under the direction of the conductor Vladimir Runchak.
As regards the Piano I, II and III concert programmes, taking part in them were the well-known Azerbaijani performer Gulshen Annagiyeva, Moscow piano duet of Aleksey Lyubimov and Ivan Sokolov, and the Dutch Marcel Worms. Marianna Vysotskaya performed the programme "Organ+" at the festival.
Asked what avant-garde is, the Ukrainian conductor and composer Vladimir Runchak, who took part in Mauricio Kagel's unusual production "Variete", says that today this word has no recognizable form. "We are used to dating the start of avant-garde to the new-Vienna school. At that time absolutely precise associations and certain names and works were applied to this word. But in the second half of the 20th century, with the emergence of post-modernism, a vast number of different directions in the concept of avant-garde have arisen. It has become difficult to make a general classification of anything. What is avant-garde today? It is very difficult to put all this into a stylistic context. That is why the very concept of "avant-garde" has lost its meaning, and today it is better to speak only about the quality of music."
In Soviet times the creative art of Qara Qarayev was truly avant-garde. The composer's legacy embraces virtually all genres of musical art. His style is noted for its emotional quality, a combination of drama and fine lyricism. A number of works of the end of the 1940s - beginning of the 1950s carry the influence of the distinguished Azerbaijani poet Nizami - the symphonic poem "Leyli and Medjun", the symphonic suite "Seven Beauties", and finally, the eponymous ballet which became the peak of the composer's work.
Qarayev's expressive, romantic-emotional and colourful style are closely linked with the principles of folk music. Its influence is noticeable even in the latter period of the composer's work when he turned to a more rational technique of composition and experimented with dodecaphony (Third symphony, Violin concert).