Morton Feldman and Rolf Julius: Music for a long time
In 1979 Rolf Julius created an important piece, Dyke Line, a series of 10 black and white photographs placed horizontally, each one of them just apparently identical to the other. Once, a couple of years ago, he told me that his intent was to realize the visual equivalent to Morton Feldman’s music, its sense of ‘endlessness’. Until several years ago, I ignored the existence of the Second String Quartet by Morton Feldman, renowned among the experts for its great length, until one day, after hearing about it from Giuseppe Gavazza, I decided to include it in a project that I had been nurturing for years: making an old dream of my friend Julius’ come true. He had never been able to bring a performance of the great Joan La Barbara to the stage (aside from a few private occurrences, in his artist studio in Berlin, where they had tried out his pieces together). She was supposed to improvise on his red and black ‘dots’. I myself attempted to bring the performance about, but unfortunately, to no avail. In the meantime, Julius passed away, at the beginning of 2011, before being able to witness the realization of his dream (curiously enough, also less than two months before his performance in the famous Rothko Chapel in Houston, so closely linked to Feldman himself). The two main aspects of the project clearly have more than one thing or two in common (Feldman created, especially for Joan La Barbara, the extraordinary composition Three Voices): this convinced me to embark on this adventure, maybe with greater conviction than I had ever had in the past. Eventually, thanks to the involvement of the Istituto Musicale di Rivoli, which included the two concerts in its 2012-13 programme, and of the Museo del Castello di Rivoli, where some of Rolf Julius’ greatest works will be mounted (they will be fundamental to La Barbara’s vocal improvisation), in December, Rolf Julius’ dream will come into being. “Music for a long time” is dedicated to his memory.
The project revolves around various elements: the music of a very important author of the second half of the last century, Morton Feldman, the peculiar work of a visual artist (who unfortunately passed away recently) who often used sound to create his pieces, Rolf Julius, and several performers: the Quartetto d'Archi di Torino (Vittorio Marchese, Umberto Fantini, Andrea Repetto, Manuel Zigante), and Joan La Barbara, who will respectively engage in the performance of the String Quartet II by Feldman and in a vocal improvisation of some of Julius’ famous ‘scores’. Incidentally, the Quartetto d'Archi di Torino has already performed Feldman’s so-called ‘long quartet’ (which derives its name from its extraordinary length: between 5 and 6 hours) twice during the last couple of years, the first time in Bolzano in 2009, and the second time in the Netherlands, in Groeningen, in 2010.
Speaking of Rolf Julius, as I said, this project was particularly important to him – he had been, of course, informed about it – and several years ago he had tried out in private with La Barbara a few passages of his Piano Pieces, which consisted in great ‘assemblages’ of Korean sheets of paper hung on the wall, with black and red ‘dots’ printed upon them. It’s a piece of art, which is both visual and musical at once, since the artist intended each dot to stand for a musical notation, according to its shape and colour.
One can fully appreciate the breadth of the event, as far as the String Quartet II is concerned, by visiting the website dedicated to Morton Feldman (http://www.cnvill.net/mfsq2perfs.htm): here one can find out that it was written by Feldman in 1983 for the Kronos Quartet, which performed it 6 times between 1983 and 1988, albeit not in its full length, but in a shorter version which was ‘just’ four hours long. Only in 1996, the Auryn Quartet performed the piece in its entirety. Barring the Quartetto d'Archi di Torino (the only Italian quartet that has the piece in its repertoire), it has been performed in its entirety only a total of 6 times, and the quartets that performed it amount to 6, including the dedicatee Kronos.
The first ever musician to perform Rolf Julius’ ‘dots’ was the Japanese pianist Aki Takahashi, at the Museum Fridericianum in Kassel in 2001, during one of the German artist’s solo exhibitions; then it was Austrian cellist Michael Moser’s turn to improvise on a score in the Stadtgalerie in Saarbrücken, during a solo exhibition by Julius in 2002; in 2003, Peter Ablinger’s eccentric Berliner ensemble Zwischentöne performed vocal improvisations on different series of black and yellow ‘dots’ on the occasion of an exhibition at the Akademie der Künste in Berlin, and later that year, the German singer Ute Wassermann engaged in a similar performance drawing on short ‘songbooks’ at the Metronom in Barcelona; in 2005, at WDR 3 (a public radio station) in Cologne, the German vocal ensemble Die Maulwerker performed parts 1 to 6 of Julius’ Songbook; in Berlin, Aki Takahashi improvised on the Piano Piece nr. 3 a live piano performance for the 2006 edition of Maerz Musik.
This vocal performance of Joan La Barbara’s can be effectively considered a world premiere, which is actually quite odd, if one takes into account the fact that the American vocalist was Julius’ first choice for bringing his great works/scores to life.
The event, a combination of exhibition and performance, will take place over two consecutive nights, on Friday 14th December 2012 (for Feldman's Quartet) and on Saturday 15th December (for Julius' Why Black? Why Red?). Both performances will take place in one big hall (the largest among those available) the hall n°36 on the third floor of the Castle of Rivoli Museum, which is the perfect choice as far as acoustics and space are concerned. Three great recent works by Rolf Julius (created between 2006 and 2007) will be hung on the wall, Piano Piece nr. 3, Piano Piece nr. 4 and Five Red, along with two other pieces, dating back to 1979/80: the series of black and white photographs Dyke Line and Body Horizons. Like I said, the first one is especially important, since it establishes a tangible relationship between the two authors. The second one, created immediately after Dyke Line, is very similar, and the only difference lies in the choice of portraying, as if they were but miniature landscapes – just an area of flat land beneath and sky on top – parts of a feminine body, which are actually unrecognizable as such.
Carlo Fossati, Turin, 2012
Programme of the two events:
Friday 14th December 2012 at 5.30 pm
"Music for a long time – 1"
Morton Feldman, String Quartet II (1983)
Quartetto d'Archi di Torino
Saturday 15th December 2012 at 9 pm
"Music for a long time – 2"
why black? why red? Joan La Barbara sings Rolf Julius
Rolf Julius, Piano Piece nr. 3, 2006
Rolf Julius, Piano Piece nr. 4, 2007
Rolf Julius, Five Red, 2007
Joan La Barbara, Solitary Journeys of the Mind, 2011
(the project is a production by Istituto Musicale della Città di Rivoli in collaboration with e/static and Museo del Castello di Rivoli, supported by Regione Piemonte, and is included in the season of concerts “Rivolimusica 2012/13”)
to watch a sample of the forthcoming video click HERE