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  Luigi Nono - Fragments of Venice, with Maurizio Pollini  Bevillia at 21:54 on 07 November 2007

Franz Schubert famously once remarked 'what is there left to do after Beethoven?'. It is a sentiment that could be re-applied in our own age with regard to the great Italian composer, Luigi Nono, at least from a musical perspective. However, to exhaust the possibilities, musical or otherwise never entered Nono's imagination; for him the possibilities were infinite (his late work A Carlo Scarpa is inscribed to the architect's 'infinite possibilites' or his 'possible infinity') and the political issues were forever contemporary. Artistic innovation co-incided with techinical innovation to address contemporary problems. Nono once wrote,

My works always take their bearings from a human stimulus; an event,an experience, a text of our life touches my instinct and my conscience and demands of me that as a musician and as a human being I should bear witness. (1958)

These are the thoughts that occured to me after a breathtaking performance of Nono's A Floresta e jovem e cheja de vida, as part of the Southbank's festival 'Luigi Nono - Fragments of Venice'. The title translates as 'The Forest is Young and full of Life'; an anti Vietnam-war piece for clarinet, singers, percussion and tape composed in 1966 that far surpasses anything by, say, B. Dylan in musical artistry, depth and power.

The performance on 31st October at the QEH, conducted by accomplished composer Beat Furrer, and played by Alain Damiens (clarinet), the Cologne Percussion Quartet, with Barbara Hannigan (soprano) and three singer-actors, was among the most powerful artistic encounters I have ever experienced in the concert hall; which is ironic for a work not necessarily intended for the concert hall. (A Floresta is one of the critical masterpieces of Nono's second period; a time when the composer overtly rebelled against bourgeois musical tastes, and increasingly created and performed works for factories and trade-unions of the working class). To hear such amazing music with live performers, the tape-part relayed around the hall to produce Nono's acoustic spaces (expertly realised by Andre Richard) was overwhelming and exceeded all my expectations. There was a marvelous interplay and overlapping between ensemble and electronics throughout its continuous 40-50 minute duration, and the often irregular entries of the soloists kept me on tenter hooks.

It was as if Nono - through his collage of strident sounds, protests and cries, wonderfully interwoven into an imaginative harmonic tapestry (with high vocal tessituras that miraculously seem to anticipate the 'Holderlin' choruses from Prometeo) - forces the audience to aurally re-experience the intensity and heat of battle, the pathos and pity of a senseless war. To hear those cries as documented on Nono's tape, echoed and complimented by the live performers, is gripping and moving indeed.

A Floresta is a remarkable testimony to a shameful episode of recent history (that later generations would do well to learn from); as if to urge us to take a stand, where possible, against all governmental indifference and abuse of power. (Such as stance would have resonated well with all those who protested against Blair's foreign policies in the Iraq War). Here I would like to quote from Robert Maycock's highly perceptive review (The Independent, 02/11/07).

Behind the period modernist-Marxist tie-up is a patient and generous humanity of expression, which it perhaps takes a few decades' distance to appreciate fully. You accept that if (Nono) could know and convey all this, he could hardly be other than commited to revolutionary change. Yet the music manages to transcend as well as convey the struggle, such is its beauty and force. The soprano Barbara Hannigan and the clarinettist Alain Damiens had its measure, and the tape is an extraordinary acheivement: part electronic, part realistic, with half-heard voices and an imaginative scope beyond what even Stockhausen was doing at the time.

This was one of the perceptive reviews. By contrast, The Financial Times among others, fell into the usual trap of 'agit-prop' stereo-typing, missing the point entirely. For it is Nono's sympathies with the oppressed, both Vietnamese and American, that comes shining through. A Floresta is a seering indictment of an unpopular war, and fittingly it conludes with the words of an American student protesting at Berkeley College.

It is amazing to consider that such music was written barely 10 years after the equally remarkable Il Canto Sospeso (1956), and what a change of style!, or rather what an enlargement, broadening of style! I hope Nono's overtly 'political' works from the 1960s and 70s, in addition to others, will continue to be performed in the UK (especially such neglected classics with orchestra as Per Bastiana, Ein Gespenst im der Welt and Como una ola de feurza y luz). After the performance, the sound-engineer Andre Richard triumphantly held aloft the new performing score of A Floresta to rapturous cheers from the audience. There never was a definative version, so a score had to be re-assembled from Nono's sketches; a job well done indeed!

A concert of this magnitude and importance (which earlier had included pieces by Schoenberg, Berg and Nono masterly dispatched by pianist supremo, Maurizio Pollini and clarinettist Damiens) should have been televised - perhaps by the BBC? But then again, the music of Luigi Nono has been one of the very real cultural failings of the BBC in recent years. Now under the philistine auspices of Director-General Mark Thompson, they seem to have become like any other television channel; they have lost all authority and credibility with regard to the music of our time.

Reviewed by composer and pianist, Stephen Beville.

  Re: Luigi Nono - Fragments of Venice, with Maurizio Pollini  ruska02 at 09:45 on 12 November 2007

Thanks for all this Stephen. I am Italian Composer. Born in Venice...and when you complain about the BBC failures I am happy you do not have anything to do with the Italian media and state support for arts. In Nono's time he was talking and interacting with many politicians that were helping him a lot ( Napolitano, former member of the Comunist Party,is now our Rep President and was the basic referent for Nono, Maderna and Berio without whose help you will be listening to nothing now). To keep the message alive is why I am trying to build a composer's and performer's web strong enought to be able to build a resonance of contemporary works and performances. Only working togheter we may be able to defeat the world of ignorance and "common taste" that is not only keeping great music away from the real audiences but confining performers and composers in a hole where there is not light left no oxigene. The condition of the American and English Universities where contemporary music is keept as a a dead alive beeing, or the situation of supported suspended animation present in the Teutonic Artistic World , where they help only themselves, is not the real way to let Contemporary Classic Music live and comunicate.
You , as all the ctoday members are deeply invited to cooperate and propose to Venice
Respect Rusconi Roberto Composer

1) When Beat Furrer wa syoung he wrote to Nono who invited and helped him a lot. I meet Furrer this spring and...?
2) When Beat Furrer was young Universal Edition , knowing he was earning no money at all, gave him a 1000 pount monthly this happening today still...?