IT SEEMS that fans of traditional classical music often shun what is known as contemporary classical music, aptly referred to as vážna (serious) in Slovak. This sometimes challenging genre can, however, offer something for both traditionalists and non-traditionalists, as demonstrated by the performances in the week-long New Slovak Music festival, which took place in Bratislava on November 11-16.
The festival’s 26th year presented a wide selection of compositions by contemporary modern, local composers, in four venues. The week’s numerous events, which included a concert for children at the Mirbach Palace on the opening day, and a vocal concert later in the week, culminated in the monumental closing event on Friday at the Reduta concert hall. Friday’s event featured a host of performances, both chamber and symphonic, that presented 50 works by Slovak composers, including 19 world and six Slovak premieres. The festival was dedicated to renowned Slovak avant-garde composer Ilja Zeljenka, who would have turned 80 this year (but who died in 2007).
With the final concert being dedicated to Zeljenka, it was only natural that one of his compositions, Structures, the Symphonic Picture for Big Orchestra, was performed. A piece dedicated to Zeljenka, called Organismi, composed by Ivan Buffa, was played by the Quasars Ensemble, the SF orchestra and sung by mezzo-soprano Petra Noskaiová. Buffa is the founder of Quasars Ensemble, which specialises in performing modern classical music. Other pieces played included two premieres: Lukáš Borzík’s Clarissima (celebrating the birth of his daughter), and Jozef Podprocký’s Concert for Piano and Orchestra Op 60. The evening was completed by The Fire of Life, a suite from the ballet Prometheus by Rastislav Dubovský, which was a Slovak premiere. Although evolving around Zeljenka and his heritage, the concert conducted by Pole Szymon Bywalec was diverse in its range of musical expression.
Those who came out to get a taste of contemporary Slovak music had much to choose from. Unfortunately, the festival’s bulletin was published only in Slovak, although there were foreigners in the audience. The festival was, nevertheless, the perfect opportunity to present modern Slovak composers to international music connoisseurs.