Leuven’s Transit Festival came to a close last night with Jessie Marino’s bewilderingly Nice Guys Win Twice. Blurring the line between music, theatre and visual art one was left impressed by the means, even if one was ultimately unsure of the message. The work ended on a strikingly visual note, a shoal of radio controlled goldfish sent swimming towards the audience. You couldn’t deny it was entertaining.
The rest of the weekend festival provided variety in abundance. There was finely worked and serious concert music, most notably James Dillon’s Tanz/haus, whose sometimes brittle Boulezian textures enchanted the ears. There was a concert of pop-inflected songs, a perfect late night palette cleanser with VONK ensemble; a concert project involving amateur players, the composers providing imaginative and effective solutions to the challenges that this kind of writing poses; there were deconstructed and reconstructed instruments with the Tiptoe Company; and absurdist theatre (and much more) with the Nadar Ensemble.
Across the weekend several works stood out. Bryn Harrison’s First Light was one of the pieces written for amateur performers, in his case for a choir of 24 singers. His approach, which involved giving each singer a single pitch, was astute and allowed the group to perform the work with real authority. Mostly, however, one was left impressed by the piece itself, the slow inevitability of its transformations, the shimmering beauty of its surface. Alexander Chernyshkov’s of the enlightened state of walruses, performed by the Nadar Ensemble had something of the circus about it, with two unexpected interventions, from a man wearing a mutant tuba and a drummer not quite in command of his apparatus. It was striking, however, that this piece succeeded where other more tricksy works failed, by being sufficiently musically interesting—in particular I enjoyed its Berio-like textural playfulness and clever interactions with a mechanical device mounted upon a table. Frederik Neyrinck’s 4 Fragements, for bass clarinet and double bass, played on Sunday afternoon, kept visual trickery to minimum, the players simply changing position between each of the four movements. The writing was exquisite, a compelling marriage of musical content and extended instrumental technique.
Amongst other audience members opinion differed widely as to what counted amongst the festival highlights (even though it was striking how many of those I spoke to mentioned Neyrinck’s work). Whilst disagreeing with one person, who also happened to be a Dutch musicologist, I predictably offered ‘in taste there are no arguments’, as a way of settling things. The Dutch riposte, he helpfully said, was that ‘if you have no argument then you have no taste’. Happily, amidst the disagreements, Transit provided something for all tastes, a splendid weekend of innovative music-making. I think we both went home happy.