The 18th Bienal of Contemporary Brazilian Music, 2009

The 2009 Bienal, running from October 23 to November 1, includes an even
dozen of concerts presenting works by composers throughout Brazil. It is
supported by Ministry of Culture and administered by Funarte (the National
Foundation for the Arts), with participating organizations including the
department of culture of the State of Rio de Janiero, the Foundation for the
Arts of Rio de Janeiro, the Universidade Federal Fluminense of Niteroi, the
School of Music of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, and the Brazilian
Academy of Music. Over 400 pieces by 256 composers were submitted for
consideration by the jury, and about a quarter of this rich harvest is included
in the dozen concerts of the festival (one could easily imagine seven weeks of
continuous nightly concerts!)

The Festivals generally open with a night of works for orchestra, and 2009
was no different in this regard. However, the five works heard were all created
by recipients of a program of grants supporting creative work awarded in 2008
by Funarte. Performing was the National Symphonic Orchestra, directed by Lutero
Rodrigues, an ensemble which is in residence at the Universidade Federal
Fluminense across the bay from the city of Rio. The first work up was Pontos de
BifurcaÁ„o by Felipe Kirst Adami, the second movement of a Sinfonia sistemica
(2009). Evidently this is the slow movement of the work. It opened strikingly
with material for the low strings alone — violas, celli, basses,
developing motives of descending semitones, which continued at some length.
Finally the voice of the trombone was heard, and the violins and other winds
entered, leading to a discordant tutti (the outcome of all those semitones).
This opened into a more active texture featuring the woodwinds, and finally the
movement concluded over murky trills in the lower winds. The proliferation of
ideas in the work more than anything else suggested an expansive Brazilian

Next were two movements (II and III) from a five-movement work, IntervenÁıes
(2009), by Jose Orlando Alves, a mineiro, via Rio de Janeiro, who is now
professor of composition at the University of Paraiba in Jo„o Pessoa. Alves, in
contrast to the practice of Adami, is a composer who builds up an extensive
structure based on an economy of materials. Here his basic building block was
the tritone, heard in endless permutations. II began adagio, with the winds
featured and engaging solo material for the harp, which reappeared several
times, ritornello-fashion. Alves drew on bird-song as well as his tritones, and
III moved to playful and good-humored pizzicati from the strings. The writing
for the orchestra was transparent and masterful, one might say classical, in
its clarity.

Closing the first half was O massapÍ vivo (2009), by Jorge Antunes, the most
evidently “Brazilian” of the works for the evening. The title, which might be
rendered as “The Living Clay”, refers to the folk ceramic figures produced by
the artist Mestre Vitalino, from the city of Caruaru in the state of Pernambuco
in northeastern Brazil, the region which is the heart of the nation’s folk
traditions. The work began with a noisy roll on the big bass drum, with
grumblings from the low brass, and developed into a potpourri (or in Brazilian
terms, a feijoada), with folk tunes floating in a rich broth, so that the
listener was taking in various unrelated blocks of sound taking place at the
same time, an effect familiar in American music in the works of Charles Ives,
who also worked with folk materials. Finally the orchestral mass thinned out,
and the first chair string players began to sing the tunes along with the
swinging percussion. The oboes left the stage and at the conclusion we heard
the festive music moving farther and farther away. A wonderful evocation of a
timeless Brazil, done in a thoroughly contemporary fashion.

Beginning the second part of the evening was Colapsos (Collapses) by Marco
Siqueira, for string quartet and orchestra (featuring the Quarteto Radames
Gnattali). Its title refers to the collapse of the wave form in physics, and
the language of the work was highly advanced and abstract, with very little for
the listener to get hold of. One might describe the sound as atmospheric, with
substantial use of pitched percussion, and a fundamental substrate of noise,
including mumbling/whispering by the orchestra while the quartet plays.
Atmospheric, but from some planet with chlorine and methane to breathe. This is
a work which is rebarbative in the extreme.

The concert concluded with a work in a far more traditional language by
Eli-Eri Moura, also from the University of Paraiba, Uiramiri — Four
Orchestral Scenes, which might be thought of as an updating of the pictorial
symphonic poem in the Villa-Lobos vein. The movements were Forest, Fire,
Spirits, and Phoenix. Forest was an effective rendering of the various sounds
of the tropical forest (at least in the musical imagination), and interestingly
enough used a motive in thirds identical to one heard in the work by Alves
earlier in the evening. Fire presented the quickness and unpredictability of
the flames, with runs from the strings and bites from the brass. The Spirits
were decidedly unquiet with altissimo strings and disturbing figures from the
winds. The closing Phoenix implies the possibility of rebirth and redemption,
with a noble theme from the horns (certainly the only such all evening), but
closes with darker material. A strong and attractive work.


The second evening of the 2009 Bienal focused primarily on electroacoustic
music, both in its pure form (so-called “tape” music) and mixed with live
performers. First up, for technical reasons, was a work with video by Alexandre
Sanches, Density. Lamentably, technical problems meant that the piece (being
played from a DVD) was begun about five times before starting in earnest with
full-screen video. The work began with video and audio of soccer fans at a
stadium being transformed little by little, and then moved to a piece built
around the whooshes of passing vehicles (something done more memorably and with
more panache by Paul Lansky some years ago). Not very original or very strong,
the piece at least had the merit of being relatively brief. Next came a work,
Contos Inacabados [Unfinished Stories] by a local young composer, Paulo Dantas,
for a small chamber ensemble (clarinet, bassoon, piano, percussion) with its
sounds miked and modified electronically. An extended adagissimo, with very
little happening, but it was warmly welcomed by the audience. Sad to say, the
rest of the first half was on an equally flat level. Que som È esse? [What is
this sound?] by Vinicius Giusti began while the audience was still burbling,
with an isolated whack, and its whacks and bangs did not impat much of
interest. EcolocaÁ„o [Echolocation] by Daniel Puig had a promising premise,
with soprano Gabriela Geluda alone on stage responding to the output of the
various speakers distributed around her, and Geluda had a compelling presence,
but the musical content was thin indeed. Worst of all was Outra hipotese para o
fim de Jacques, o fatalista [Another hypothesis for the end of Jacques, the
fatalist] for processed cello [Hugo Pilger], which was grossly longer than its
content of ideas or structure should have permitted (two elaborate page-turns
left me wondering how much more was left before the blessed arrival of

The second half moved into the realm of actual real art, with two very
strong pure electroacoustic works — Five places to Remember, by Fernando
Iazzetta, and A imagem e o reino [The image and the realm] by Washington
Denuzzo. The Iazzetta demonstrated skill in invention of sounds and mutation of
sounds, and a mastery in putting these into a compelling sound narrative.
Denuzzo’s vocabulary recalled underwater sounds above all, combined into an
attractive piece. Original in its scoring was Cantiga by AurÈlio Edler Copes
[based on the famous collection of Cantigas de Santa Maria] — two
accordeons and electronic sounds [accordeon=Portugal?] but the result was bland
and uninteresting. Arthur Kampela’s Happy days for solo flute and electronic
sounds [the title refers to the Beckett play] was a virtuoso tour de force for
carioca flutist Andrea Ernest, who ended the piece whimpering into the
mouthpiece of the instrument. Marcelo Ohara’s Prato ˙nico was an exploration of
the sound world of a single cymbal (hence the name0, and the evening concluded
with another mixed work, Open Field by Daniel Barreiro, with violin soloist
Mariana Salles. An evening with few gems strewn among a wealth of dross, and
which ended far later than it should have — for the dedicated only.


Sunday evening’s program returned to more traditional media, and began on a
high note with two sets of songs. The strongest work of the evening was the one
which began the night, a set of three songs on poems by Fernando Pessoa each
beginning with the imperative “Dorme!” [Sleep!] which were sung impeccably by
soprano Maira Lautert — the words set beautifully by composer Flavio
Santos Pereira, the syllables delivered with crystalline clarity by Lautert.
The musical setting recalled the almost atonal expressionism of early
20th-century Vienna, and the piano accompaniment was rendered flawlessly by
pianist Priscila Bonfim. A moment to treasure.

This was followed by four Lorca settings by Antonio Ribeiro, soulfully sung
by contralto Carolina Faria, who can boast a beautifully produced and dark,
dark, dark tone. The musical responses to the texts were effective and
well-made — these songs, and those by Santos Pereira deserve to enter the
repertoire immediately.

Third was a four-movement concerto for acoustic guitar and six
percussionists by Roberto Victorio — Tetragrammaton XI. The guitar was
considerably amplified, but even so there were issues of balance in combining
the soloist with the band of percussion in the opening movement. Things were
clearer in the two interior movements, the second of these a solo for the
guitar. The performance by Paulo Pedrassoli, with the ensemble conducted by the
composer, was simply brilliant. An very effective piece in a modern and
attractive idiom.

After the sublime, we had a work by Clayton Mamedes about which I could
exhaust my stock of pejorative epithets without yet doing it justice. This was
the Paisagem bucÛlica ou jogo das longas variaÁıes [Bucolic landscape, or set
of long variations]. The composer seems to have instructed the musicians to
intentionally play out of tune, an additional poke in the eye with a sharp
stick to the long-suffering listener, for the melodic/rhythmic content for this
small ensemble work (flute, violin, oboe, viola, cello, percussion) was already
banal without it. Dull, dull, dull — fifteen minutes wasted which will
never again return.

The situation improved with the first two works on the second half —
Yu, by M·rio Ferraro, for flute, bassoon, horn, harp, contrabass and piano,
deftly combining these instruments with wit, was warmly received, and two
disparate movements from a Suite by Heitor Oliveira proved the most musically
conservative of any of the works so far — first a set of little songs for
soprano, flute, piano and percussion (titled Aperitifs) in a contrapuntal
idiom, ably delivered by soprano Veruschka Mainhard, and then some completely
tonal music for a sort of stage band (flute, clarinet, trumpet, sax, trombone,
two guitars, piano, percussion) in a nervously Brazilian style — the sort
of thing which would have been viewed as dangerously reactionary not so long
ago. Well-done — I would be interested to hear more from Oliveira.

The evening closed with work equal in its dreadfulness to the Mamedes
— the Paranambucae by SÈrgio Kafejian, with some good ideas, perhaps
[movements titled Space, Frequency, Duration] by with a musical content verging
on the absurd — offensive and deafening screeching from the clarinet,
childish banging on the piano. Simply awful, and far too long. A work I would
pay to avoid hearing.


Monday night at the Bienal brought a second program of orchestral works
(with one exception), bookended by pieces from doyens of the Brazilian
compositional scene — Ernst Mahle and Ricardo Tacuchian. Performing was
the Symphonic Orchestra of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ)
under the sure direction of conductor Ernani Aguiar (also a composer of note
himself). The Abertura Festiva by Mahle was the platonic ideal of such a work,
opening with a fanfare in slow triplets (such as immortalized in the music for
Star Wars by John Williams), and quickly moving to a theme recalling, to these
ears at any rate, a sort of frenetic 1950s modernity, though with a Brazilian
tinge (the lombardic snap so often associated with popular music here). The
overture then moved to a more reflective and lyrical theme, and the final chord
was arrived at through a vigorous accelerando. Very conservative in style, but
an effective work, and with a match between its material and extent (clocking
in at around six minutes.)

Second was an extended work in one movement by ValÈria BonafÈ, Lagoa [Lake],
depicting, I imagine (since program notes were lacking), a lake in the
rainforest untouched by humans. The work began with a quiet cymbal roll and
long tones from the solo first chairs of the string, with percussion (the
various noises of the forest). After five minutes or so we hear something
indigenous from the flute (unclear whether this is birdsong or native flute),
and eventually there is a crescendo to fortissimo. One might have expected
contrasting material, allegro, but to her credit BonafÈ maintained the same
affect throughout. A very accomplished work from a composer seemingly at the
beginning of a promising career.

The first half concluded with a three-movement Orchestral Suite by Rafael
Bezerra, fairly conservative in its idiom (though not as conservative as the
Mahle), and displaying a skilled deployment of the resources of the full
orchestra, with a particular affection for the boom/crash of the bass drum and
cymbal. In the second movement the climax of the discourse was a moment for
brass choir followed by the orchestal tutti. The third movement was big, bold,
almost romantic in scope if not in sound, and the young composer received a
loud ovation (he is presently a masters¥ student in composition in Rio, and a
professional singer to boot — not a usual combination). I expect we will
hear more from both BonafÈ and Bezerra.

The first work after intermission was quite a contrast — a work for
solo viola, with the instrumentalist alone on the darkened stage. This was
Obsessione by Arthur Rinaldi, an extended piece with a compelling shape (the
note spoke of the “obsessive return” of material), concluding with a passage in
altissimo, piano, which held the audience in rapt attention. A strong work
given a very strong performance by violist Silvio Santoro.

The orchestra returned for three more works, first the Movimento Concertante
[Concertante Movement] by Pedro Augusto Dias, with clarinetist Cristiano Alves
as soloist. This was an amazingly virtuoso one-movement concerto, with an
original sound, and yet one comprehensible at the first listening. Alves played
with fluency and panache, undaunted by the technical demands of a work which
exploits the entire range of the instrument (to the very top!), and which
manages the prodigy of very full writing for the orchestra, which yet did not
drown out the soloist. An exceptional moment. Bravo!

Next came Casa…magia…palhaÁo enfeitiÁado by JoÈlio Luiz Santos
[House…magic…enchanted clown] which I imagined as a pictorial sort of work
that Disney might have included in Fantasia. This apparently made reference to
a popular song in its rhythms (not one that I know, alas), and the motives
sounded very bluesy (given to the brass), with a spooky moment late in the work
for altissimo strings and harp. Very effectively written for the orchestra.

Closing the evening was another particularly Brazilian work, reflecting the
magic of the rain forest, Filho da Floresta, by Ricardo Tacuchian, a senior
figure in composition in Rio (retired from UniRio), based on a fine poem by
Thiago de Mello, which was sensitively set and marvelously sung by soprano
Veruschka Mainhard, whose instrument is Wagnerian in scope, lovely in tone, and
intelligently used by its owner, who must certainly be entering her prime as a
vocalist. She effortlessly matched the outpourings of the full orchestra in the
work, which began with an adagio depicting the stillness of the forest, moved
to an allegro with crashing thunderbolts, and returned to a slower movement in
which the poet declaims “I am child of this generous realm…where
men….though born consumed by the carnivorous flower of misery, are born wise,
converse with the clouds…

The B material returns briefly, and finally the opening text, to close. A
beautiful and moving piece, a fine end to an evening which moved from strength
to strength.


Tuesday at the Bienal offered an evening devoted to percussion, in
combination with other instruments, coordinated by young Carioca percussionist
Ana LetÌcia Barros, and presenting twelve works — a long evening, due to
the multiple resettings of the stage. First up was a intriguing work for solo
violin and percussion (performed by Mariana Salles and Leo Souza respectively)
— Enigma, by Pablo Aldunate, a piece in one uninterrupted movement but
with four connected sections — a slow prelude with a regular harmonic
rhythm and modal harmonies, a faster sections recalling folk music or jazz,
with repetitive patterns in the marimba, a very spare section with long tones
from the violin combined with ringing tones from the vibraphone (interspersed
with material for the marimba), and finally a faster conclusion. No clues as to
the nature of the enigma, or what the answer might be, but the search for the
solution was in-drawing.

The following work, Viagem ao oco das coisas [Journey to the hole at the
center of things] by ValÈrio Fiel da Costa, was in complete contrast. This was
scored for prepared piano, percussion, guitar (acoustic, but plugged in), and
tuba. The result was a background of tinkling sounds from the rhythm section,
joined by the outsize musing of the tuba. An interesting concept, and pattern,
but with no development, so it wwas not surprising that it simply stopped

Next was the Lai de bisclavret by Tania Lanfer Marquez, the program of which
evidently had something to do with a French medieval lycanthrope (not that you
could tell). The tenor sax and percussion seemed to belong to different worlds,
especially given the microtones of the saxophone. Unless these are used for
comprehensible and expressive purposes, the result for the listener is simply
something that sounds out-of-tune, as they did here. The materials were very
sparse, with little to hold the interest, and no perceptible shape or

CalÌope by Celso Mojola for ensemble of flute/piccolo (Sofia Ceccato),
trumpet (Nailson Simıes), trombone (Jacques Ghestem), piano (Marcelo Thys) and
percussion (Pedro S·) was quite entrancing, with some blues tonalities
(minor/major thirds), changing meters (including a passage in a rolling triple
meter), some Messiaen-like harmonies, jazz-ish references very subtly
interwoven, and the whole was exquisitely played by the ensemble. A work to
bear repeated listenings.

The following Ciaccona by Edson Zampronha seemed to have nothing to do with
the 17th-century dance, but belonged to the world of Eastern ritual —
very quiet, slow, spare — recalling Japanese music, or perhaps Satie in
its simplicity and clarity. This was followed by Falsas illusiones by Daniel
Serale (played by the composer), the most explicitly intertextual work so far,
which combined a set of toms, bass drum, and cymbal, with a tinnily reproduced
recording of a work by Stravinsky. Each time the recorded work would seem to
approach a resolution it was interrupted by a bash on the bass drum, and and
then would restart. Little by little the interruptions and the reaction to them
became more frequent and more complex. An interesting conceit, and a useful
structure for a piece.

Luiz Carlos Cseko can always be counted on for something dramatic (in past
years often accompanied by stage smoke). This year it was a work (Vermelho
escuro [Dark Red]) for bass clarinet (and E-flat clarinet) and percussion,
played in the light of three dim candles, with the houselights down, with
multiphonic shrieks from the bass clarinet and spooky runs from the marimba. An
entirely Halloweenish effect, and carried off with flair by reedist Paulo
Passos and percussionist Joaquim Abreu.

The second half brought five more works, all quite rewarding. The first was
Mitos [Myths] by young Carioca composer Nikolai Brucher (presently residing in
Germany), a two-movement work depicting two figures from Brazilian folklore
— the Iara and the Saci-Perere, the latter a sort of mischievous sprite
or bogeyman well-known to Brazilian children, and particularly well-drawn here
by Brucher in frantic and virtuoso writing for sax and marimba. Exceto, by
Guilherme Bertissolo, for piano and two percussionists (Marina Spoladore, Karla
Bach (non-tuned percussion) and Paraguassu Abrah„o (vibraphone), was based
around the harmonic series of the pitches C and F-sharp, with very effective
writing for the piano (first-rate playing by the young Spoladore, as always for
this artist), and a compelling shape leading to a beautiful conclusion.

Neder Nassaro, a member of the collective Preludio 21, based in Rio, has
created some intriguing electroacoustic works, and has a flair for the dramatic
gesture. His skills were in evidence in Circuito, for clarinet and percussion,
with the clarinetist making extensive use of slap-tonguing and key-noise, and
the percussionist drawing the maximum expression from a small and relatively
soft-voice instrumentarium — blocks, triangle, reco-reco, snare, and
cymbal. The performers shaped very effective gestures into a convincingly
dramatic shape.

The penultimate work for the evening was Do Èter ao carbono [From the ether
to carbon] by Natan Ourives for an unusual combination of piano, clarinet, two
cellists and two percussionists, drawing together disparate influences [if I
don’t misread it, the composer’s note refers to all the possibilities facing
the contemporary composer, in the ether, as it were], into a compelling
structure, including sounds from the Quartet for the end of time (not
inexpected for a work with clarinet, cello and piano). This piece had drama and

The final work was Gestuelle (for violin, cello, clarinet, trumpet, piano,
and percussion — Vinicius Amaral, Diana Lacerda, Marcio Costa, Nailson
Simıes, Marina Spoladore, and Eduardo Tullio) by Rodrigo Lima, and indeed it
was so full of gesture and activity that I barely had a moment to scratch down
a single note. The piece was virtuoso, with rhythmic verve and expression,
despite a highly fragmented language, and the perfomance, under the baton of
Roberto Victorio, was simply brilliant, bringing the evening to a spectacular
ending. Bravo!


Wednesday at the Bienal focused on some more traditional chamber music
genres, with two string trios, two string quartets, a work for violin and
piano, and a set of songs with piano. First up was a set of seven miniatures or
“character pieces” for violin and piano (Mariana Salles, Maria Teresa Madeira),
the set of 7 peÁas Kurtags [Kurtag pieces] by Cristiano Melli, in the style of
the contemporary Hungarian master. These (but for the last couple) were works
with no great romantic affects or technical demands, but requiring a refined
musicality from the interpreters. Salles has been prominent in the festival
(though for an overheard listener she is an artist who doesn’t quite belong to
the “new music” milieu), and she has a highly developed techique, with
laser-sharp intonation, and a tightly controlled tone. Madeira, a carioca, who
is familiar from earlier Bienals, is a lively presence at the piano, with every
phrase duly inflected. The duo made the most of these brief works.

The following work for string trio, Traces foullis gris p‚le presque blanc
sur blanc, by Tatiana Catanzaro, with a title which I would imagine belongs
more properly to a work of visual art, began with quiet harmonics, gradually
adding more activity and sound. This was a very original voice, one that grows
on you. I would be interested to hear other works of hers. The next work,
Amadeus, by Liduino Pitombeira, one of the rare Brazilians who has achieved
some renown outside the country, was a compelling integration of materials from
an unfinished string trio (K. Anhang 66) by Mozart with new and much more
contemporary material by Pitombeira. The work, in three movements, can boast a
slow movement which will haunt the ear of the listener with beautiful minor-key
harmonies ending in block-chord harmonics which hang in the air, and a closing
movement which successfully achieves a tragic tone, something rare. A work
which deserves to enter the international concert repertoire immediately, and
one of the highlights of the Bienal, convincingly played by the rio of
Adonhiran Reis, Gabriel Marin, and Martina Stroher.

Next was a fine set of children¥s songs by Eduardo Guimar„es Alvares setting
translations of poems by Brecht (translations by Paulo Cesar de Souza), bright,
sparkling, spiky works exquisitely rendered by soprano Doriana Mendes (if
Veruschka Mainhard is the master of operatic tone, Mendes is the master of the
parlato) and pianist Maria Teresa Madeira, who had plenty to do and did it very

The first half closed with Teias, a work for ensemble of clarinet, trombone,
double bass and piano (Marcos dos Passos, Jo„o Luis Areias, Alexandre Brasil,
Marisa Rezende), which took on the task of integrating the disparate discourses
of these four instruments, without ever quite fitting them into a single groove
(the listeners here were notably disturbed by one of that tribe of deranged
older women who insist on bringing large plastic shopping bags to concert and
rustling them noisily throughout. The hall has a sign banning children under 5
for reasons of noise, but nothing to deal with this plague).

Opening the second half, almost by stealth (beginning simply a few seconds
after the final signal for listeners to take their seats) was a setting of
Psalm 23 by Danilo Machado. It pains me to have to report that the singing by
the male quartet presenting the work was so poorly in tune that it was
impossible to actually hear which intervals Machado had intended. The less said
the better, alas.

Following was a simply brilliant work for string quartet, the Quarteto
Circular (Circular Quartet) by Tim Rescala, so called due to the circularity of
its themes. This was a work in one extended and always mutating movement, full
of tension, with only a moment or two of lyricism for the viola and then the
cello, leading to an extended and very difficult section in pizzicato for all
four instruments, with a brief conclusion, arco. A marvelous piece which grabs
your attention and never lets it go for a moment. The performance by the
Quarteto RadamÈs Gnattali (Carla Rincon, VinÌcius Amaral, violins, Fernando
Thebaldi, viola, Paulo Santoro, cello) was electric.

The string quartet Texturas by Ronaldo Miranda, his first for the medium,
was in four movements. The dialectic in Miranda’s works is frequently between
an innate romanticisim and lyricism and a modernism of means, and here between
moments of dissonance and diatonicism. To my ears this work was quite
successful in mixing its lyricism (verging on sadness) and more athletic
moments (particularly the second movement, with a sound recalling the modernism
of the fifties, and the fourth, with more characteristically Brazilian motives
and a well-calculated slow boil to the final climax). Once more, a fine
rendering by the Gnattali Quartet.

Closing the evening was a set of elegies by Mauricio Dottori for soprano
(Doriana Mendes) and instrumental ensemble (Maria Carolina Cavalcanti, alto
flute, Paulo Passos, clarinet, Marcio Sanches, viola, and Rodrigo Favaro,
double bass) which achieved notably less success than the quartets preceeeding.
The idiom was atmospheric and French, and not all the details told, due to
problems with balance and issues with intonation.


The scenic and nostalgic trolley from the neighborhood of Santa Teresa was
running slow, but I still managed to arrive before Thursday evening’s program
at Sala Cecilia Meireles, which started with Britannic punctuality spot on
eight o’clock. The first work was Reflected Sight by Alfredo de Barros, for
flute and piano, which had three movements listed, but which unfolded in one
unbroken span. The flutist (Andrea Ernest) made notable use of both micro-tones
(quarter-tones) and whistle tones (sounds almost inaudible to the audience, so
soft that the human voice could not even produce them, more the ghost of a
sound than anything else). Pianist Tatiana Dumas made use of percussion and
speech in contributing to an eerie and extremely effective work.

Next came a Toada (the name has no exact translation into English, but can
indicate an archaic sort of folk tune or song from the backcountry) by
CalimÈrio Soares, for violoncello and piano (Mateus Ceccato, Katia Baloussier).
This was a very tonal work in an elegiac tone, featuring a cadenza for the
cellist, and a characteristic arpeggiated flourish to close.

Following were three works featuring either members of, or the entire
Quinteto Villa-Lobos (Antonio Carlos Carrasqueira, flute, Luiz Carlos Justi,
oboe, Paulo SÈrgio Santos, clarinet, Aloysio Fagerlande, bassoon, and Philip
Doyle, horn). As soon as the trio of Carrasqueira, Santos, and Fagerlande began
to play Yuri Prado’s Five Carnavalesque Pieces, I realized that these three
works would have an unfair advantage — the performers are simply at the
very top of what they do. Since I am a flutist, I am particularly wowed by
Carrasqueira, who manages to give the somehow contradictory impression that 1.
his whole body is involved in the music-making and expression, and 2. he has
such a mastery of the flute that only a fraction of his attention is really
necessary to produce a tone of such beauty and expression that anyone else
would have to give 110 percent. But indeed the other members of the quartet are
at this exalted level as well.

Yuri Prado’s pieces had no particularly carnivalesque references, at least
not that were obvious to these ears, but were extremely effective for the
combination. Harry Crowl’s “Sapo n„o pula por boniteza, mas sim por precis„o”
[The frog does not jump for beauty, but rather because he must] (a reference to
the author Guimar„es Rosa) was one long (and successful) movement of intricate
counterpoint in which all three high instruments (flute, oboe, clarinet) were
equal in function (with no real bass line), and employed multiphonics for the
oboe and clarinet. Again, no particularly explicit folkloric references.

Thiago Sias offered a one-movement Quinteto de sopros (Wind Quintet) which
employed techniques rarely heard elsewhere at this festival — a pedal
bass underpinning a modal sound which sounded rather grave and Slavic to me, a
work which by and large was slow and lyrical, though with moments of greater
intensity. The narrative was perhaps a little difficult to follow at first
listening, but the ending moments were beautiful and sad.

The first half closed with a sextet for saxophones (soprano, 2 altos, 2
tenors, baritone), Aije, by Marcos Nogueira, which was beset by some
perfomances issues (the soprano seemed overbalanced, the baritone too loud, and
there were moments when I had my doubts about the intonation. The composer
managed to bring the six saxes to a paroxysm of discordant overtones, before
resolving the tension (a moment that will remain in the ear), but all in all
this work perhaps had more potential than it achieved.

The second half looked brief on the page, but for better or worse, such was
not the case. Superlative soprano Doriana Mendes was featured in three sets of
songs, the last with cello as well, but of the three only the first was
recommendable — Leibniz, from the Four Song-Fragments by Paulo de Tarso
Salles, with a witty interaction of text and music. The TrÍs cantos para
espaÁos vazios by Paulo Guicheney [Three songs for empty spaces] had far too
much space and not enough interest, and even less rewarding were the CanÁıes
dos Olhos by Paulo C. Chagas (I shuddered when one song concluded and it became
obvious that another would follow).

Patience was rewarded with the concluding 14 Miniatures for piano by Almeida
Prado, given a brilliant and sensitive performance by Benjamin da Cunha Neto,
who if I am not mistaken, is a specialist in the composer’s work. These works
are inspired by the grandchildren of the composer, and there was a certain
childish clarity and joy in these relatively diatonic and beautifully-made
works, which deserve to enter the broader piano repertoire.


The arrival of the weekend with Friday’s program at the Bienal meant that
the program of orchestral and choral works could count on a substantially
larger audience than the events midweek. The first work for the evening was a
six-movement suite for string orchestra by Alexandre Schubert, a resident of
Rio, but a native of the state of Minas Gerais. The work depicted the
characteristic mountains of the state (first movement, in two parts), and five
cities — Tiradentes, S„o Jo„o Del Rei, Prados, Mariana, and Ouro Preto
— all of these places which could boast baroque splendor in architecture
and music in the 18th century after the discovery of gold in the region.
Schubert is a gifted composer who frequently writes in an idiom that recalls
the work of Hindemith — relatively tonal, and free of spiky and
irritating dissonances. The various movements were propelled by accomplished
counterpoint, and the conclusion of the piece was greeted by shouts of
approbation from the audience.

Next was Arpoador by Diogo Ahmed. The title literally means “Harpooner”, as
in one who harpoons whales, but presumably it refers to the rocky point at the
eastern end of Ipanema Beach (which separates it from Copacabana). The subtext
of the work certainly was something tragic — a drowning? a premature
death? since this was one of the most unremittingly sad works I have heard in
some time, in a predominantly tonal idiom and low register. Very effective.

Concluding the first half was the Little Concerto for Violin and Strings by
Edino Krieger, one of the leading figures in the oldest generation of Brazilian
composers. The work began strikingly with several slow phrases for
unaccompanied violin (apparently using material from an unfinished work of
Krieger’s dating to the 1940s), and then moving to propulsively rhythmic
material from the orchestra. The slow movement which followed was unabashedly
romantic in character with a BIG TUNE for the first violins, and a deft and
affecting close with shimmering high strings while the soloist ends low in his
range. The work closed with a very effective allegro, and throughout the work
the solo material was idiomatic for the instrument while nevertheless original
in its content (if I am not mistaken, the violin was Krieger’s first
instrument). Excellent and assured solo work from violinist Daniel Guedes.

The second half continued with two more works for string orchestra, the
Sinfonieta no. 2 by Marcelo Rauta, and Sem amor, por amor [Without love, for
love] by Rodrigo Garcia. The Sinfonieta began with such a profusion of ideas
that it seemed like the composer had problems with editing the outpourings of
his creativity — the affect, meter, etc. changed every few moments
— this, for a movement that the composer told us in his notes was in
sonata form. Eventually the movement gained a certain stability (with what may
have been the second theme?) The second movement was slow, in the minor mode,
but the combination of melodies and harmonies often seemed too simple and not
quite “right” — too much “wrong note” music here. The concluding quick
movement had a very bizarre moment where the movement came to a halt, and we
heard seemingly unrelated harmonics, solo, from the first chairs. A work which
might point to interesting future work, but for the moment showed a composer
far from mastery.

Much, much more distressing was the work by Garcia, also in the minor mode
(where is all this angst coming from?), unremittingly loud and high-tension,
pulsating rhythm in the bass, and a piece that my notes tell me went “on and on
and on and on and on and on….” One of the works which might have profitably
been replaced by one of the several hundred pieces not accepted.

My spirits drop when I see choral works listed here in Brazil on a classical
program, because for all its advantages musically, Brazil’s choral tradition is
many notches below its achievements in soccer, let’s say, with frequent
deficits in the area of tuning and blend. Cantiga, by Guilherme Barroso, was an
effective setting of poetry by Manuel Bandeira, which took advantage of what
choruses can actually do well — simple modal harmonies, simple
chromaticism, homophony — with hypnotic repetitions of the phrase “nas
ondas” (in the waves), and framed the music with imitations by the singers of
the whoosh of the waves rolling onto the sands. Less effective was the
unconvincing idiom of the Ave Maria (in Portuguese) by Marco Feitosa. Both were
performed by the Brasil Ensemble of UFRJ under the direction of Maria JosÈ

Concluding the evening was a surprisingly brief (seven minutes or so)
neo-baroque Magnificat by Jo„o Guilherme Ripper, scored for soprano, alto, and
bass solos, chorus, plus string orchestra with trumpets. To my ears, the
opening was too heavy, too ponderous (any composer setting this text must
expect to be compared to the Bach setting), and the one continous movement
became fleeter of foot at “fecit potentiam”, in a quick 7-beat measure. Of the
solo moments, only that for the soprano was truly effective (at “sicut
locutus”) — the bass was having a bad night, though it must be noted that
he was replacing another bass who was indisposed due to illness. Ripper
sensibly brought back the “fecit potentiam” material for his Gloria Patri
(where Bach reuses the opening of -his- work). The work was greeted with
enthusiastic applause.

Saturday afternoon

The final two days of the Bienal offer two concerts each day, starting at 4
and at 8 PM — that is, about ten hours of contemporary music between 4 PM
Saturday and 10:30 PM Sunday. Saturday afternoon began with a brief song from
Mauricio de Bonis, Carta a uma jovem vibora [Letter to a young viper], with a
novel and effective scoring for soprano, with piano and guitar. Much of the
work was accompanied by plucked chords from both the piano and guitar, giving
the effect of a powerful and oversize guitar. The music was slow and hieratic
(unfortunately I couldn’t catch the words), and it was nicely sung by young
Caroline de Comi. The guitarist was the estimable Maria Haro, with the composer
at the piano.

One of the real finds of the festival was the work which followed,
Metafonia, for cello and piano, by Aluisio Didier, an extended work, rhapsodic,
lyrical, in multiple sections, but beautifully proportioned, and marvelously
played by cellist Antonio del Claro and the always impeccable Maria Teresa
Madeira. This is a work to live with. Next came a Concertino by Ricardo
Szpilman for harmonica and piano (JosÈ Staneck, K·tia Baloussier), one of the
rare works at the festival with explicit Brazilian references, in this case, to
the folk music of the Northeast. It was melodious and very attractive, and
received an excellent performance by the duo.

The title of Em Verde e Amarelo [In Green and Yellow] by Rodolfo Coelho de
Souza, for piano four hands, refers to the Brazilian national colors (green for
nature, yellow for gold), and also to the work In White and Black by Debussy. I
might have been more receptive to a different performance by a different duo,
but here the impression was “main theme ‡ la bang-bang”, with bits of Debussy
thrown in — a big, blowsy shapeless mass with no form, and pounded to
death by the merciless hands of the two women who did it to death. Ouch! They
were a little more gentle, but not much, in the attractive pieces by Murillo
Santos which followed, the Homenagem a Villa-Lobos, in two pieces, Canto da
saudade (in memoriam) and Tempo de Marcha.

Closing the first half, alas, was a simply dreadful work by Silvio Ferraz,
Passo de Manoel Dias, theoretically a rewriting of colonial-era music by
Brazilian composer Manoel Dias (hence the name, Passo de Manoel Dias), scored
for long notes a floating, harmonically drifting string quartet, enlivened
(ha!) by plinks from the piano.

The second half, likewise, was a mixed bag. It opened with two works by
leading figures from the Rio scene, Marisa Rezende and Caio Senna (the former
retired from teaching at UFRJ, the latter on the faculty at UNIRIO).
Preludiando, by Rezende, was commissioned by the internationally renowned
cellist Antonio Meneses, to serve as prelude for performances of the Bach Suite
no. 5. There was no hint of a Bach flavor here, but the work successfully
inhabited the tradition of the improvised instrumental prelude of the Baroque,
in which the player warms up to the main work with a succession of scales and
arpeggios, here played by Antonio del Claro once again. Senna’s work, Das
varias maneiras de se estar sÛ [On the various ways of being alone], for
clarinet quartet, began with the four players (Thiago Tavares, Walter Jr.,
Marcelo Ferreira, Ricardo Ferreira) arrayed in different places on the stage,
who gradually gravitate to their stands for a lyrical and pensive piece, with
memorable moments including one for solo clarinet solo over a held chord from
the rest of the ensemble. Very fine.

ReferÍncias (also for clarinet quartet), by AndrÈ Martins, began slowly
(beginning slowly seems to be the “new black” at this festival, at which the
preferred tempo marking seems to be adagio, or even slower), and picked up
momentum with popping fifths, showing Martins to be a capable master of rhythm,
and saved the best for last, with a beautiful ending (something not always at a

The next two works should certainly not have been included in the Bienal
— the first, by Salom„o Habib, a forgettable piece of popular-style music
scored for guitar quartet (Ritual Sinfonico), and the second, Toada, by Zoltan
Paulinyi, written for and played by the composer on the viola pomposa (a
five-string viola), a hermetic work with bizarre intonation and odd harmonic
thinking (if one can be that generous), something that only the composer could
play, certainly. Ugh! Were it a movie, I would have left the cinema.

Luckily, this was followed by one of the highlights of the festival, the Two
Pieces for Clarinet Solo by Rio composer Guilherme Bauer, music difficult to
play but not to listen to, music with moments of stunning virtuosity, and given
a simply brilliant performance by clarinetist Cristiano Alves. Bravo! This is a
piece that will remain in the memory. International clarinetists, here is a
work to test your mettle and wow your audiences.

The concluding work was a set of two enticing songs in Spanish, Narciso y
Adonis convertidos en flores, by AndrÈ Vidal, scored for soprano (Veruschka
Mainhard) and ensemble of flute (Laura Ronai), clarinet (Cristiano Alves, once
again), viola (Fernando Thebaldi), and cello (Paulo Santoro), with the first
song focusing on Adonis, the second on Narcissus, the first slow, the second
quicker, with intricate and attractive figuration for the instrumental
ensemble, the music very French in character (as one might expect with the
flute taking pride of place), beautifully played, and beautifully sung by
Mainhard. The only deficit was that the Spanish text did not come across
clearly (something easily remedied with a printed text).

Saturday Night

Saturday evening at the Bienal began with another work of explicit homage to
the Brazilian who is still the only Brazilian composer known to everyone, a
half-century after his death. This was Villalobiando, for quartet of violin,
guitar, viola and cello (Ricardo Amado, Maria Haro, Gabriel Marin, Ricardo
Santoro), with the guitar amplified (a bit too much for my taste — I
never think it a bad thing for violins to play at a lower dynamic, rather than
forcing other instruments to match them). The work started out tonally in a
bouncy duple meter, and progressed episodically, mainly in a bright and happy
mood, until entering a discordant, and consciously ugly patch, which led,
accelerando, to a final cadence which was inconclusive. Nicely played by Maria
Haro and accomplices.

Deflectere I by Alexandre Lunsqui was an excellent demonstration of what a
gifted composer can make of restricted materials, with its undeviating focus
around one tone or tonal center, with single-minded, perhaps obsessive returns,
beginning with microtonal wobbles, expanding, and finally returning to the
original material. The performance by violinist Ricardo and clarinetist Thiago
Tavares was witty and right on the mark. Maria Haro then returned for a set of
new serial etudes for solo guitar by Carlos Almada, attractive works,
particularly the final study with its reiterated major chord.

The quartet of clarinets which had given such a good account of itself in
the afternoon program (Thiago Tavares, Walter Jr., Marcelo Ferreira, Ricardo
Ferreira) presented a very successful piece in several movements by Marco
Lozano — Quarteto, the first movement with rhythm and swing, with trills
and repetitive patterns in a floating tonality, leading to a fine strident
climax. The second movement was contrapuntal, with a hypnotic quality, and the
obsessive trills returned to close out the work.

The remaining works on the first half continued strong. First a beautiful,
calm, lyrical but atonal andante lovingly interpreted by cellist Marcus Ribeiro
and pianist Luiz Henrique Senise — this was the Rituais e m·scaras
[Rituals and masks] by Rodrigo Marconi. Fnally an exhilarating piece in
quintuple meter (Duo in 5, also for violoncello and piano, this time performed
by Lars Hoefs and Luciano Magalh„es) by Marcelo Carneiro. This was a
tour-de-force, with a highly active and very idiomatic piano part, so much so
that it sometimes drowned out the cello [critics might complain that there was
too much repetition, but it made its effect]. It was brilliant rendered by
Hoefs and Carneiro, with vivid rhythms and precise ensemble.

The first work on the second half, Biologie litttorale des mer temperÈes, by
Bruno Ruviaro, for solo cello, was a disappointment, juvenile, a patchwork of
fragments from which it was difficult to extract a coherent narrative or shape.
This was followed by an interesting and different work for Les Paul electric
guitar with effects, and prepared piano (Marcos Campello, Cl·udia Castelo
Branco) — Posl˙dio by Jean-Pierre Caron, in three movements,
slow-fast-slow, with steady rhythm only in the central portion, with the
composer blending harmonics and volume effects from the guitar with the
creatively-altered timbres of the piano. Quite attractive.

The following work fell prey to miscommunication (scores not delivered), but
we had a performance via CD — not the best of options. This was Caminhos,
passagens e saidas by Gustavo Penha.

The concluding quarter of the program began with two very attractive
movements by Renato Vasconcelos — Dois fragmentos — for violin,
cello and piano (Ricardo Amado, Ricardo Santoro, and K·tia Baloussier). I was
happy to hear, finally, a work that began in rhythm, and a composer who knows
how to create and combine memorable gestures, without oversaying what he is
about. He will certainly have more to contribute.

Gnusianas by Marcos Lucas (flute, clarinet, and piano — Maria Carolina
Cavalcanti, Vicente Alexim, and Pablo Panaro) is named for the contemporary
music ensemble at UNIRIO, and is a very dark work in three movements, with
piano strumming and obscure clarinet rumblings to begin, and the mood becoming
even darker, if that is possible, without a moment of respite, light or humor.
A surprisingly Gothic work for bright and tropical city like Rio.

Closing the evening were four little character pieces by Luciano Leite
Barbosa, Ciner·rio, brief, spare but effective movements for flute, clarinet,
piano and guitar, with motives tossed back and forth among the members of the
quartet (M·rcio Angelotti, Alexim, Panaro, and Gabriel Lucena).

Sunday Afternoon

It had been a cloudy week during the Bienal, and Sunday afternoon was
dreary, with steady rain falling. Those who have a tendency to nap in the
afternoon would have had this tendency reinforced by the first half of the
program, with little at a scintillating level of excitement. The program began
with a work for piano four hands, Dualidade [Duality], in two movements linked
by an interlude, and the whole thing rather too dryly contrapuntal for me to
enjoy, though at least the fugal motives made reference to Northeastern folk
music. The 5 canÁıes de Ernesto Pachito, by Ernesto Hartmann, for soprano and
piano (Luciana Costa e Silva, Ronal Silveira) were somewhat more enticing,
though verging on the melodramatic (singer declaims, and most of the musical
interest is in the detail of the accompaniment). The Sonata (Fantasia) by Mario
Ficarelli, for cello and piano (Lars Hoefs, Luciano Magalh„es) was large in
scale, and traditional in form, if not in terms of content, with the tonality
rather obscure and difficult. Not much to grab onto here, at least for these
ears. The first half came to a depressing conclusion with Vales, for solo
piano, by Maria Helena Rosas Fernandes, ably interpreted by Ruth Serr„o
(recently retired from the piano faculty at UNIRIO), but a work with an
unremittingly grim view of life (the “valleys” depicted, we were told, are
those of love, pain, and peace, but all three shared a common minor tonality
and Sisyphean repetition).

Things picked up with the second half. This began with a work for solo
clarinet — Feixe de luz, desolado e turvo, no anoitecer [Band of light,
desolate and turbid, at nightfall], by Luis Passos, compellingly played by
Vicente Alexim, beginningly lyrical and gradually picking up, a one-movement
span, very well-written for the instrument. Adejo, for solo celo, by Cyro
Delvizio, was much closer to the spirit of the unaccompanied Bach suite than
the Preludiando of Rezende heard on Saturday afternoon, beginning with a long
section moving quickly in irregular meters and perpetual motion, so long that
one thought that this might be all the material in the piece. Delvizio then
moved through several constrasting sections — slow and cantabile, a sort
of recitativo, a return to an allegro movement. A long work to make hang
together, but well-played by cellist Paulo Santoro.

The Ode to Blumine by Jo„o Svidzinski, for violins, viola, cello, and double
bass (Fernando Pereira, Dhyan Toffolo, Diemerson Sena, Cl·udia Grosso, Larissa
Coutrim) was another of those works where I wished the programming committee
had reconsidered. A composer that claims to do hommage to Mahler should have
more chops than this — the work was incoheerent in shape, with no
intelligible direction, and the writing for strings simply inept, a mass of
almost naked homophony. If you have five string parts at your disposal, don’t
write two pairs of parts in unison.

The program concluded with a work, O enigmatico gato de rimas [The enigmatic
rhyming cat], by Paulo Rios Filho, which employed the same string ensemble as
the previous work, plus clarinetist Marcos Passos, and had the intriguing
program of combining the Northeastern folk music of the repentistas (singers of
improvised verse, often in pairs with one poet competing against the other)
with Viking metal from contemporary Scandinavia, but neither the idiom of the
repentistas nor the style of the rockers was much evident, and the only clear
reference was a duel between violin and clarinet over sustained strings.

Sunday evening

Sunday evening brought the final step in a marathon of twelve concerts in
ten days, and another program featuring orchestral works, this time with a
chamber orchestra put together especially for the Bienal by Aloysio Fagerlande
and Mariana Salles, and conducted by Roberto Duarte. The opening work, however,
was for solo piano, Sons vol·teis [Volatile sounds] by Ticiano Rocha, another
of those contemporary works with no steady pulse, nervously rhapsodic in
character, and leaning toward the fortissimo end of the spectrum. Ingrid
Barancoski elicits a large sound from a large-voiced Steinway, and was a fine
interpreter for the work, which ends abruptly (I suppose that’s what volatile
things do).

Next up was a concerto, with Barancoski as soloist, by Paulo Raposo,
post-modern in style in the sense that it seemed to refer to other musical
styles, beginning as a sort of odd waltz, with prominent solos from the flute
and the oboe. There was a slow movement in 4/4 (pom by the piano on the first
beat, ta-ta-ta by the orchestra on 2, 3, 4), with a nice moment for wind choir,
and then a scherzo. Very effective, well-shaped, music that held the interest
without overstaying its welcome, and receiving a fine performance by Barancoski
and the virtuoso members of the chamber orchestra, including four of the
members of the Quinteto Villa-Lobos.

Eternidade a deriva by Bruno Angelo began quickly, but turned into a sort of
slow night music, with a solo turn for cello. It was followed by a very
striking work by Dimitri Cervo, from Porto Alegre, a veteran of other Bienals
— the Concerto for guitar and chamber orchestra, op. 31, with soloist
Paulo Pedrassoli. With the exception of the negligible guitar quartet by Habib,
this was probably the only truly tonal work in the entire festival, in a
luxuriant D major for all three movements, and very idiomatically conceived for
the guitar, with the low E tuned to D to facilitate ringing chords strummed in
the tonic. The slow movement featured lyrically beautiful solos for flute and
oboe over accompanimental figuration from the soloist. The concluding fast
movement returned to a quick dance topic, and throughout the figuration for the
strings reflected the composer’s study of the American minimalists. The work
elicited shouts and whistle of admiration from the audience, though I imagine
other composers may have been shocked by the audacity of the composer in
writing something so direct, a work that could and should compete in terms of
audience with works like the Concierto de Aranjuez or other popular classics.
Sharon Isbin, here is something for your repertoire or your next CD.

Alexandre Espinheira’s Meta: 1, alvo, mira (I won’t try to translate the
title), was the ultimate contrast to Cervo, highly dissonant, with multiple
intersecting and complex lines, and climaxing with a huge discord. I can’t
imagine maintaining this language over a span much longer than the brief moment
the work occupied.

The young Vicente Alexim (either still part of, or recently graduated from
student life in Rio — he was greeted with a huge ovation from his friends
in the hall) had been heard as soloist in other composers’ works earlier in the
Bienal, but here he shone as both composer and performer in the same work, a
fine Chamber Concerto in three linked movements (Tense and mysterious, Slow and
nostalgic, Violently). Alexim is a brilliant and unflappable soloist who
performed his work from memory, a piece with impressive writing for the
clarinet, and some nice moments for the orchestra, overall quite noisy and
dissonant. Someone with this level of both technique and imagination should go

I had my doubts at the opening of the Estudo alquÌmico [Alchimical Study] by
Armando Lobo, the very final work for the entire festival, as it began with an
opening which seemed to throw in everything but the kitchen sink, with moments
in very quick succession for piano, high strings, oboe multiphonic, tamtam,
vibraphone, and brass. How could the composer make such a mish-mash cohere?
Lobo moved to a more lyrical section with more extended solos for oboe,
trumpet, flute and bassoon, and finally a noisy bang-boom finale, all suavely
negotiated by conductor Roberto Duarte and his forces. The piece received long
applause, partly due to its merits, but I think also in appreciation by the
audience for the incredible amount of effort and passion represented by the
entire Bienal, and with the knowledge that such a rich offering of contemporary
music in one time and place would only come again in two years, with the 2011

Tom Moore

image_description=Christ the Redeemer, Corcovado, Rio de Janeiro
product_title=The 18th Bienal of Contemporary Brazilian Music, 2009
product_by=A commentary by Tom Moore