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Steve Reich and Slovak musicians join forces

SLOVAK composers Roman Berger and Ilja Zeljenka initiated Melos-Ethos, a festival of contemporary classical music, so that local audiences could keep up with developments in the world of modern music. The idea, which goes back to the late 1960s, only fully developed after the 1989 fall of the Communist regime. Since 1991, foreign and Slovak musicians have got together every two years to deliver works by the world's great modern composers.

Hungarian Amadinda Percussion Group will play Steve Reich's works.
photo: Courtesy of Amadinda

SLOVAK composers Roman Berger and Ilja Zeljenka initiated Melos-Ethos, a festival of contemporary classical music, so that local audiences could keep up with developments in the world of modern music. The idea, which goes back to the late 1960s, only fully developed after the 1989 fall of the Communist regime. Since 1991, foreign and Slovak musicians have got together every two years to deliver works by the world's great modern composers.

Following on from such names as Arvo Pärt, György Ligeti, Sofia Gubajdulina and Krzysztof Penderecki, Melos-Ethos welcomes the legendary American composer, Steve Reich. The New Yorker called Reich "the most original musical thinker of our time" and his two pieces, Different Trains, which marked a new compositional method, and Music for 18 Musicians, won him Grammy awards. Both compositions feature at this year's Melos-Ethos, which takes place from November 7 to 17.

"It's a challenge and joy for us to welcome such a world name," said Daniel Matej of the festival's committee. Oľga Smetanová, the director of Music Centre, which organizes the festival, explained: "Reich's works are interpretatively very demanding but at the same time unusually attractive for listeners."

Reich composes for his own ensemble, Steve Reich & Musicians, which has toured the world playing his unconventional pieces. His Music for 18 Musicians and Tehillim, for example, which will be performed at Melos-Ethos on November 8, requires several pianists and drummers as well as singers with a large vocal range. Since Slovakia is not ready to meet such demands and in order to keep to the festival's concept of bringing musicians from various countries together, the project joins Slovak musicians with top Hungarian vocalists and the Amadinda Percussion Group.

According to Smetanová, Reich is looking forward to coming to Bratislava. "He's never been here, but he has had good experiences premiering works in post-Communist countries [Lithuania, Estonia and Hungary]."

The American composer's pieces dominate the festival's first three evenings. Reich's The Four Sections will feature on the opening night, preceded by two compositions from Slovak composers - Vladimír Godár's Partita for 54 String Instruments, Harpsichord, Timpani and Tubular Bells, and Juraj Beneš' Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 3. Beneš figures as a composer of opera on November 11 with The Players, the festival's only opera, a modern take on Shakespeare's Hamlet, performed by the Slovak National Theatre Opera, which includes the work in its repertoire.

The festival's 13 concerts take place at various Bratislava concert venues.

Other highlights of the eighth year are performances of new music chamber orchestras: Gaida from Lithuania (November 11), Aleph Ensemble from France (November 14) and the newly founded Melos Ethos Ensemble from Slovakia (November 15). The latter makes its premiere under the batons of Marián Lejava and Zsolt Nagy, who also conducts the festival's final concert, including Isao Matsushita's composition featuring the Japanese drumming instrument, the wadaiko.

For more information on the festival and its programme, visit www.hc.sk (also in English). Tickets are on sale through www.ticketportal.sk, Bratislava's Music Centre at Michalská 10, or one hour before the concerts start.


By Zuzana Habšudová

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