Sunday, 9 October 2016

Letter from Venice (10) 9-10-16

Insisting to myself on finishing a chapter in the book I am reading I cut it fine for making my way to the Arsenale tonight. I rush through the darkened streets spotting a well-thronged cicchetti bar with a live singer, on the way. I have a ticket for a Biennale Musica event featuring the London Sinfonietta. The programme features Ravel and Stravinsky together with an Italian composer I haven’t heard of. I pass the main gate of the Arsenale and cross the bridge. I am soon in a side street down the side of the dockyard where I can see light pouring from a large door onto the Calle. My ticket is scanned and then begins a terribly long trek through the entrails of the dockyard from which I emerge, with other audience members, onto the quayside of the grand basin of the dockyard. On my way I see many of the exhibition halls of the Architecture Biennale which I have been debating whether to visit. Finally we enter the Teatro alle Tese which is situated in Navata 3, an ancient brick-built boat shed. It is sparklingly fitted out with a large reception area and an auditorium with raked seating.

The evening begins with awards to Kyo Murakami who writes modern pieces with names like ‘Ambient Noise’ which I can’t help smirking at even though I have never heard anything by him and it could be excellent. He has long, centre-parted, black hair and wears black Doc Martins and baggy black trousers whose crotch is only a foot from the floor. He graciously, through an interpreter, accepts his prize. Next, a prize is given to the Italian composer, Salvatore Sciarrino, three of whose pieces are to be played tonight. He is around 50, wears a jacket and collar and tie with baggy jeans. I don’t know why I am so interested in the trousers of these two artists. They simply catch my attention.

The 10 man/woman Sinfonietta take the stage with their conductor and begin with a Sciarrino piece. It starts with the cellist making a scraping sound by placing his left hand across all of the strings without holding them down and using his bow. There are a number of mosquito like sounds form the violinists and this whining and squealing is augmented by the brass and woodwind players. Throughout the piece they don’t play a note. They simply hold their instruments to their mouths and let out sighing and puffing sounds which are clearly audible from the back where I am sitting. My guess is that Sciarrino is treating us to something like music trying to become music and possibly failing, pre-expression struggling to express itself. After this a tall, slim blonde soprano appears for the Ravel which is a short but beautiful rendering of some MallarmĂ© poems. Then, and this is most extraordinary, she walks round to a plinth behind the players and the second Sciarrino piece begins. It is similar to the first but, this time, she joins in making disjointed sounds with truncated words, whoops, squeals and a lot of glottal stops. It sounds like listening to a soprano in another room, between us and which some heavy double doors keep opening and closing. I do my best not to give way to my philistine prejudices and lean back with my eyes closed to see if these sounds are pleasant. Even then I can’ help thinking of incidental music to 60’s American cop shows, to ‘Alien’ or even to ’Tom and Jerry.’ Following the interval the Stravinsky is disappointingly brief and we finish on another Sciarrino offering, after which he takes the stage for accolades. I am impressed by the London Sinfonietta who have played his extraordinarily difficult soundscapes with great professionalism. What do they look like on the page? - I wonder.

At the end of the recital there are drinks and canapés on offer to the audience served stylishly by black-garbed waiters with black aprons. I slog back to my flat through silent streets and realise that, perhaps, the best thing I have seen or heard this evening is the crowded statuary beautifully lit at the main gate of the Arsenale.

The next day I am in town around 9am. It is a Sunday but the refuse collectors are working from their boats and there are street cleaners too. In addition several funeral parlours have their doors open. Their employees sit in collars and ties at their desks with the door open. A white cat sits on one of their desks.

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