Venice:”Les Cris de Paris”

Venice. Teatro alle Tese. Arsenale. The Venice Biennale  of Music 2013
A cappella choir  Le Cris de Paris
Viola   Luca Sanzò
Conductor Geoffroy Jourdain
IRCAM   Gilbert Nouno, Manuel Poletti, Clément Marie
Marco Stroppa:   “Perché riusciamo a vederla? Cris, appels et clameurs”  per coro a cappella e viola obbligata ad libitum(2008/rev.2010)
Luca Francesconi: “Let me bleed”(2001)
Mauro Lanza:“Ludus de Morte Regis” per coro e elettronica (2013)
Venice. 13th October, 2013

The final concert of this year’s Venice Music Biennale was an apt  ending to a Festival entitled ‘Altra Voce, Altro Spazio’, referring to  how contemporary music fully explores the potential of voice and space.  This closing concert, in the theatre, carved out of the marvellous buildings which made up the historic  Venetian dockyards, was entrusted to the versatile  chamber choir ensemble Les Cris de Paris, whose repertoire spans from the XVIth century to the present, under the expert guidance of their founder and conductor Geoffroy Jourdain.  Their performance could rely on the skilful contribution of  collaborators from IRCAM, the renowned Parisian  institution dedicated to the research and creation of contemporary music, for the electronic support, and from the Italian viola soloist, Luca Sanzò.  Jourdain maintains that Italian composers write especially well for the voice, and this performance supports his claim.  The composers allowed the group to extend the frontiers of their exceptionally well trained voices, supported by a profound and rigorous musicianship, without resorting to mere ostentatious effects or anti-vocal demands. The sound of the choir was pure, firm and homogeneous, never betraying the slightest inconsistency in emission or vibrato.  The myriad of vocal techniques and effects were always tastefully executed with striking ensemble precision. The group excelled for both  the rich, subtle and ductile expressivity of their  voices, and for their extraordinary technical rigour and precision. The three pieces presented were all commissioned by the French choir from well-known,  contemporary, Italian composers.
Jourdain also maintains that the work of  Italian composers,  no matter what they’re asked to compose,  will always end up having strong political overtones. So it was, in the first work on the programme, Marco Stroppa’s, “Perché non riusciamo a vederla?”(2008 rev. 2010), subtitled “Cris, appels et clameurs”, a text constituted by anonymous contemporary Italian graffiti from the walls of Rome and Turin, and a title inspired by the novel ‘Achille piè veloce’ by Stefano Benni, an author considered a sharp critic of the globalized capitalist society.  Extremely complex rhythms and solo vocal lines(aided discreetly and understandably by tuning forks) and all manner of vocal effects of an instrumental type were performed effortlessly.  Stroppa’s writing gave each graffiti ‘cry’ a deeply individual and original characterization capturing musically and vocally  the irony and humour inherent in the  graffiti expressions.
A captivating piece which engages the listener, balancing  formal structure and amazing technical gyrations perfectly with a sensitive and expressive creativity. The text is organized and set to music following a dramaturgy that is both narrative and spatial and which adopts a different configuration of the singers in each movement, according to their relevance or significance in any given moment. With the aid of rear vision mirrors, sections of the chorus sing in a variety of directions(usually complying with or complementing the text) or simply about-faced if they’re not singing. A simple and effective staging reminiscent of the Greek chorus especially considering the style of the comment  they deliver. The solo viola, links each movement , often while the chorus, unnoticed, silently and swiftly changes position.  In each of these bridge passages, the sensitive and expressive viola voice of  Luca Sanzò, emerged softly out of  the choir line,(or out of the hum of glasses being sounded around the rim, in one instance), to weave contrasting and reflective interludes of notable virtuosity and intensity to the work,  before being reabsorbed once again into the vocal line of the following movement.
The theme of social and civil protest, is continued in the following work, as the title of the poem“Let Me Bleed”,  by Attilio Bertolucci  suggests.  The piece was written by Luca Francesconi, using the words of this moving poem, in the wake of the reaction to the death of  Carlo Giuliani, killed by the Carabinieri in Genoa in 2001 during a protest march at the G20.  The resulting work, with its structure of an extended lamentation of public mourning is a Requiem. The strong grounding of this eclectic choir in the traditional XVIth century a capella repertory, was revealed by the absolute purity and homogeneity of  their vocality, and the attentive and constant play and exchange between dominant and subordinate polyphonic voices.  The a cappella choir, divided into 42 parts, is divided into 3 separate groups detached from each other, giving physical breadth to the work which centre around two introductory ideas. The first is  a grave modal movement of an almost diatonic colour, and the second a continuing chain of chromatic plunges, or ‘cris’ from the upper to the lower register.  After the initial exposition, the first figure is taken up again and undergoes a long, gradual transformation into an elaboration of the wailing of the second figure before ending in the ethereal simplicity of a haunting solitary soprano voice gradually receding.
The final piece ‘Ludus de morte regis’ by Mauro Lanza treats the common  theme of social and civil protest of  this programme from a theatrical point of view, as the name Ludus suggests. The work is a trilogy of the three funerals of the three anarchists who killed King Umberto at Monza.  The texts are taken, respectively, from the Magnificat, a note from Nietsche to Umberto, and a quote from Seneca’s satire Apocolocyntosis(or Ludus de morte Claudii), giving three distinctly contrasting considerations of death.  Expressed in the Medieval term for drama, ludus, the predominant character of the work combines features of mourning, anarchy and carnival festivities to evidence the ritual and theatrical dimensions of  the symbolic act of assassination of a monarch. The choristers provide a particularly grotesque and iconoclastic atmosphere of a baccanale, as they participate with all manner of noisy party whistles and body gesture sounds. The electronic support from the IRCAM team provided the creation of an ulterior platform in which voice and sounds were interpolated, and from which their individual contributions were exalted and projected. All three works on the programme, offered enormous scope to the talented performers to display their command over  technical and interpretative skills. And the biennale closed with three  impressive works  by young Italian composers which demonstrated their ability to assimilate elements of  musical, literary and social tradition with highly inventive and expressive new forms and ideas, and  incorporate it into an intelligent presentation of important social and civil themes.