Sylvain Cambreling / Klangforum Wien; Kairos 1233.
The fiercely original Austrian composer Georg Friedrich Haas is at the center of a late-summer festival entitled Moving Sounds 2010, which unfolds over the next few days at the Austrian Cultural Forum, the Czech Center, and (Le) Poisson Rouge here in New York. The curator for the event is Michel Galante, director of the Argento Chamber Ensemble. The Austrian Forum and the Music Information Center Austria have provided assistance and kept ticket prices low; the suggested donation for most events is $5. The festival also includes work of Bernhard Lang, Edmund Campion, Christian Fennesz, Steven Takasugi, and the Austrian alternative singer/songwriter Soap&Skin.
A few years ago, I was knocked sideways by Haas's large-scale ensemble piece in vain, which I mentioned at the end of The Rest Is Noise as one of the great pieces of the new century. What I find especially compelling in Haas's music is its visceral feeling for the elemental ebb and flow of sound, as if the composer were translating into instrumental or vocal terms the aural storms and surges that you find in nature. He's like Xenakis in that respect, although the analogy with natural phenomena is perhaps even stronger. He makes constant use of the overtone series, moving from intervals of blazing simplicity to saturating microtonal clouds. Although he is certainly capable of confronting the listener with dark, abrasive sounds, he avoids late-modernist clichés, what might be called the "kitsch of the difficult." There are slow-burning continuities that make one think, though never in a nostalgic sense, of Wagner, Bruckner, or even Richard Strauss, whose Metamorphosen appears on one of Argento's programs. You sense an artist who has no interest in playing intellectual games but who instead has something absolutely essential to express. It is not music in competition with any other; it makes its own world.
Underscoring that point, Haas has asked that several of his pieces be performed in partial or total darkness; on Sunday night at the Austrian Forum, the JACK Quartet will reprise their famous pitch-black rendition of the Third Quartet. I've placed a bit of in vain above; you can listen to many more tantalizing fragments of Haas's music at the website of Universal Edition (go to the audio player on the left). Argento will reprise in vain at EMPAC in Troy, NY in November.