Sacrum Profanum 2019

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  • Friday, September 27, 2019, 12:00 PM - Friday, October 4, 2019

Strangers or Friends?

In a world filled with fear and uncertainty, we are finding it increasingly difficult to trust others. Fortunately, art and artists don’t allow us to hide away from everything.

As W.B. Yeats famously wrote, “There are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t met yet”. In our social lives, we often feel overwhelmed by divisions and fear of others as we exist in gated communities and information bubbles. But perhaps we should look to our surroundings for comfort, support and reassurance instead? The Sacrum Profanum festival has always focused on appreciating differences and breaking boundaries. “We’ve always strived to bring people and ideas together; to juxtapose and intertwine all kinds of extremes. Both on and off stage; both in theory and in practice,” explains Krzysztof Pietraszewski, curator of the festival.

The leading motif of this year’s events (27 September – 4 October) is neighbourhood, and our explorations take us to Lithuania. Sounds from our Baltic neighbours, celebrating a centenary of their independence at the same time as Poland, resound during six concerts held as part of the LT cycle (in the coming years, we will examine music from other countries from Eastern Europe). The Single Player strand presents unconventional soloists. Artists – men and women being represented in equal numbers – present a total of 15 concerts, 14 pre-premiere performances and 29 Polish premieres over the course of eight days.

Phantoms and noise

The festival week kicks off in a hallucinogenic style. Anthony Pateras’ work spans the boundaries of composition, improvisation, electroacoustics and intertwining sounds and images. On 27 September, the Australian composer presents Pseudacusis – a spectacle prompting aural hallucinations and making the most of spatial sound projections. At the Małopolska Garden of Arts he is supported by outstanding improvisers, including clarinettist Lucio Capece, violinist Lizzy Welsh and Poland’s own Gerard Lebik and Mike Majkowski. The concert is opened by Natasha Anderson, Pateras’ compatriot and colleague, performing her Nor Girdling Gnaw for viola d’amore solo and six-channel electronics during a European premiere.

The same evening, Cricoteka once again presents Zbigniew Karkowski’s experimental compositions. Two years ago, music by the Cracovian globetrotter was presented by Zeitkratzer from Berlin, and, last year, by the Swedish chamber noise orchestra GGR Betong. This time works by the legendary anti-academic alternative artist are brought to life by cellist Anton Lukoszevieze, Dominik Kowalczyk AKA Wolfram and the Gęba Vocal Ensemble. Entry to the concert Encumbrance is free with passes.

It will be noisy!

The theme of noise continues on 28 September. The Bodies of Noise concert at the Małopolska Garden of Arts stars Kwadrofonik, making their Sacrum Profanum debut. The Warsaw-based ensemble (two pianos and two percussion kits) performs music by the avant-garde composer Patrick Higgins from New York and the Mexican sound artist Angélica Castelló who enhances the sound of the quartet with cassette players, radios and a selection of electronics. The programme also features We Called It Utopia by the German composer Laure M. Hiendl, exploring spaces between traditional instruments and electronics.

Cricoteka resounds with another composition by Zbigniew Karkowski: Field for quartet and tape. Founded by Anton Lukoszevieze, the ensemble Apartment House focuses on music by Lithuanian composers. The programme Oscillum features two generations of Minimalist composers: the radical Rytis Mažulis and the romantic Jurgis Mačiūnas, Egidija Medekšaitė focusing on sound textures, and the impossible to classify Antanas Rekašius and Jurgis Mačiūnas.

Solos and cellos

On 29 September, the Single Player strand is opened by Patrick Higgins, hailed as “one of the most gifted guitarists working today” by the prestigious magazine “The Quietus”. The founder and leader of the ensemble Zs comes to Cricoteka to present the dark, introspective material from his solo album Dossier. His compositions use the expressive power of electric guitar, electronics and video content driven by sound in real time.

Next we move back to the Małopolska Garden of Arts where we will sense a higher power. The venue fills with the sounds of cellos (between eight and ten instruments, depending on the piece) and the human voice. The programme Holy Presence explores Minimalism, with the festival presenting multilayered sound structures by Rytis Mažulis for the second time. We will also explore slow, meditative, time-warped compositions by Justė Janulytė and revisit the dramatic music by the American Minimalist composer Julius Eastman, familiar to Sacrum Profanum audiences. The vocal prelude to his Holy Presence of Joan d’Arc is performed by Sofia Jernberg, while the ten cellos are played by young Cracovian musicians under the baton of Anton Lukoszevieze.

Premieres, strings, giants

After a demanding weekend, the busy week opens with two world premieres. The next instalment of the LT strand (30 September, Cricoteka) brings a revival of Arturas Bumšteinas’ ensemble Works & Days, which includes the versatile guitarist Dominykas Norkūnas. Alongside music by the leader of the project, the concert Inward Music features compositions by his colleague Gailė Griciūtė for three instruments.

The performance is followed by a concert by the Arditti Quartet, one of Sacrum Profanum favourites. Famous for its original approach to traditional string quartet repertoires, the ensemble comes to the Małopolska Garden of Arts with a programme of works by giants of Minimalism: a monumental composition by the doyen of drone music Phill Niblock, and a light, undulating piece by Eliane Radigue who took a step away from electronics a few years ago in favour of writing for traditional instruments. The programme Exploratory also features a work by the Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq written as an adaptation of vocalisations to a music score, and a composition by Lucia Dlugoszewski, a Polish-American composer of the 20th century who is sadly largely unknown in Poland.

Closest neighbours

On 1 October, we return to the concept of presenting individual styles through a national prism, as inaugurated in 2017 with Romanian Spectralism. We are taken into the rich world of Lithuanian Post-Minimalism by Spółdzielnia Muzyczna contemporary ensemble from Kraków. Cricoteka introduces a range of elements of this aesthetic, including its static form (Justė Janulytė), sounds and textures (Egidija Medekšaitė), repetition (Antanas Kučinskas, Rita Mačiliūnaitė), drones (Dominykas Digimas, Rūta Vitkauskaitė) and gentle, relaxing sounds stimulating the autonomous sensory meridian response (Andrius Arutiunian).

What do drones and accordions have in common? Although the words themselves form a pleasant rhyme, the musical programme Accordrone is rather less predictable. Polish musicians Rafał Łuc and Maciej Frąckiewicz present a composition for two accordions and tape commissioned by the festival from Katarzyna Głowicka based in the Netherlands. We will also hear works by Egidija Medekšaitė and Antanas Jasenka, as well as Julius Eastman’s Evil Nigger; the composition was performed at the festival two years ago arranged for three string quartets, and this time it resounds in an arrangement for four accordions.

Taming instruments

The minds of experimental musicians are always buzzing with questions. Morton Feldman, pioneer of indeterminate music who often reached for recurring asymmetric patterns in his works, once asked: Why Patterns? A composition of this title, prepared by the Hashtag Ensemble, forms the focal point of the evening at Cricoteka on 2 October. We will also hear two pieces by Lucia Dlugoszewski, who was also active on the avant-garde scene in New York. The performance of Openings of the (Eye) will be accompanied by improvised dance.

Sacrum Profanum also attempts to blur the boundaries between contemporary and alternative music. During the concert Inescapable Spiral, the ICE International Contemporary Ensemble encourages us to hone our deep listening skills (composition by Pauline Oliveros), explore the ties between electronic and contemporary (Mario Diaz de Leon) and improvised and electroacoustic music (Anthony Pateras), and discover the incredible technique of the Korean cellist Okkyung Lee. Wojtek Blecharz has created a piece especially for the festival; he sees his art as a physical struggle with the “body” of the instrument. The composer was joined in his work on the composition by a colleague who is on the autistic spectrum. The documentary by Piotr Stasik will reveal the realities of the creative process and a public performance of the work.

Expanding, hitting, getting creative

“Ordinary piano? How boring!” – that must have been an impression of Reinhold Friedl, avant-garde composer and leader of the Zeitkratzer ensemble, a master of expanded techniques for piano. At Cricoteka (3 October, free entry), he presents the programme Studie in Form featuring several compositions for prepared piano. The premiere of the title composition by Roman Haubenstock-Ramati resounds on the hundredth anniversary of the birth of this Jewish-Polish composer. We will also hear another rediscovered composition by Lucia Dlugoszewski, as well as a selection of works by acclaimed international musicians: Laurie Schwartz (USA), Ana-Maria Avram (Romania) and Mario Bertoncini (Italy).

As usual, the festival maintains the tradition of reaching for literary texts. Last year’s Sacrum Profanum culminated with a world premiere of Aleksander Nowak’s opera ahat ilī – Sister of Gods with a libretto by Olga Tokarczuk. This year, the programme Other People is named after the latest novel by Dorota Masłowska. The Małopolska Garden of Arts resounds with a composition by Artur Zagajewski set to excerpts from the book. The second piece, prepared by Paweł Romańczuk for an unusual lineup of Małe Instrumenty (Small Instruments), explores unusual sources of sounds by referencing two specific sources: the heritage of the Experimental Studio of Polish Radio and sound sculptures by Sonambient.

We close the Single Player strand and the entire concert programme of Sacrum Profanum with four great music personalities. On 4 October at the Małopolska Garden of Arts, the House of Low Culture performance resounds with dark drones from Anja Cheung and different takes on the guitar: Hawaiian (Heather Leigh), brutalist/electric (Aaron Turner) and repetitive (commissioned especially for the festival from the maestro of rapid playing Mick Barr).

More than Minimalism

But the festival isn’t just about loud, quiet, repetitive, surprising, soothing and irritating music. Accompanying events of Sacrum Profanum also include thematic meetings and an exhibition (more information at the festival’s website). The composer Marta Śniady attempts to summarise events as an audiovisual piece – we will experience the results shortly after the end of the festival. We hope you explore Sacrum Profanum with open hearts and minds – and turn those festival strangers into new friends! (Bartosz Suchecki, ”Karnet”)

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