Monday, October 16, 2017

Mountain/water - where east and west meet

Many years ago, when I was a student, there was one (1) composer in the music faculty who happened to be a woman. She was preparing her PhD at the time. She was a live wire - a ferociously intelligent Argentinian who had left her home country after the 1976 coup - and a rare, shining example to us toiling undergraduates. Her name was Silvina Milstein. I'm delighted to support her forthcoming premiere at King's College London on Tuesday with this guest post from Silvina herself,  now a professor at King's, in which she reflects on the great value to today's composers of consistent, long-term artistic engagement with their work from conductors and performers - in this case, Odaline de la Martinez and her ensemble Lontano. Please note, tickets for the concert are FREE, but should be booked in advance at the links below. JD

Silvina Milstein
Silvina Milstein was born in Buenos Aires in 1956. After the Argentinian military coup of 1976 she emigrated to Britain. At Glasgow University her composition teachers were Judith Weir and Lyell Cresswell, and at Cambridge University she studied with Alexander Goehr.  In the late eighties she held fellowships at Jesus College and King's College (Cambridge), and is currently a professor of music at King's College London.

In addition to composing Silvina has a distinguished career as a teacher and scholar.  Her book Arnold Schoenberg: notes, sets, forms was published by Cambridge University Press.

She has received commissions from leading ensembles and the BBC.  A selection of her chamber works has been recorded by Lontano conducted by Odaline de la Martinez and issued by lorelt.  Several of her most recent pieces for large chamber ensemble --tigres azules (London Sinfonietta and Ensemble Modern), surrounded by distance (London Sinfonietta) and de oro y sombra (Birmingham Contemporary Music Group)-- were premiered under Oliver Knussen.

Here you can view an illustrated lecture that she gave in 2012 about her compositional processes, which includes excerpts of her music.

BCMG and Oliver Knudsen rehearse her de oro y sombra

Silvina Milstein writes:

On 18 October the ensemble Lontano conducted by Odaline de la Martinez will premiere my Shan Shui (mountain/water) for nine instruments alongside works by George Benjamin, Ed Nesbit and Rob Keeley, at the Great Hall, King's College London, WC2R 2LS, as part of the Arts & Humanities Festival 2017.

It has been said that the shan shui style of Chinese painting goes against the common definition of what a painting is: it refutes colour, light and shadow and personal brush work. 

"Shan shui painting is not an open window for the viewer's eye, it is an object for the viewer's mind, it is more like a vehicle of philosophy."

"The Western mind appears to work in straight lines; the Oriental, in wonderful curves and circles," wrote Lafcadio Hearn, the late 19th-century writer of Greek and Irish descent, strongly anchored in American literature, and fascinated by French and Eastern cultures, who married a samurai's daughter, took Japanese citizenship, and became a Buddhist practitioner. 

Paradoxically in the 1960s, Lafcadio Hearn's retelling of several Japanese ghost-stories became the source of Masaki Koyabashi's film Kwaidan, featuring a sound-track by Toru Takemitsu, whose music brings together traditional Japanese and contemporary European art music. Treading on the footsteps of these intercultural encounters, diachronic "shadowings", and transpositions between art forms, my Shan Shui plays around with notions of time and imagery from films by Kenji Mizoguchi and Kaneto Shindo.

Shan Shui is part of a long string of works that I have written for Lontano over the past three decades: Of lavender light and cristales y susurros have been included in my first LORELT CD, while the septet ochre, umber and burnt sienna, and the two trios with harp (and your sound lingered on in lion and rocks and a thousand golden bells in the breeze), as well as Shan Shui will be part of a new double-CD to be released in early 2018. 

This type of long-term artistic engagement and substantial support is at the core of what makes Odaline de la Martinez’s commitment to the music of women composers so uniquely precious. By presenting several of my pieces together in concerts and CD, it effectively addresses a crucial difficulty often encountered by composers in the current concert-programming climate.

Not only has this approach allowed me to undertake ambitious and often rather bold projects (such as a work scored for two double basses and harp), but more importantly has offered me platforms for the presentation of my work as groups of pieces with common compositional concerns, like renderings of a mountain from many sides, under different lights, and at different scales. On this occasion, Dominic Saunders will perform the recently revised version of my Piano Phantasy after Mozart K475 written in 1992.

My pre-concert talk will introduce Shan Shui placing it in the context of my earlier compositions and its sources of inspiration in contemplative Chinese landscapes and Japanese cinematography (room SWB21 in the Music Department, King’s College London, Strand, WC2R 2LS, at 16:45). All attendees are invited to a drink-reception before the concert. 

Entrance to the talk, reception, and concert is free, but tickets should be booked from the following site: