Tectonics is a Music Festival curated by Ilan Volkov, proudly presented by Iceland Symphony Orchestra. It takes place in Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavík 1.- 3. March
Ilan Volkov, Curator
How can an orchestra, the 19th century beast, be more radical and experimental? Is it possible? This is one of the questions that started me on a journey that led to the Tectonics Music Festival, to take place in Reykjavik this winter and next year with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in Glasgow. I am hoping to present future events in various locations and with the partnership of various orchestras always using local musicians and artists. Everywhere we will try to present various answers to our main question, and in Reykjavik this year we shall concentrate on a few pioneering figures who faced this challenge and present many new works by composers from Iceland and beyond. Starting with John Cage is a natural, easy choice, since his work is above all an effort to look afresh at the arts in general and at music in particular. Cage was mainly influenced by a number of original thinkers, such as Thoreau, Satie and Duchamp. Throughout his composing life he used large ensembles and orchestras in a totally new way, partly by completely transforming the conductor's role. In his early Concert for piano, for instance, the conductor becomes a living subjective clock, while in the late so-called number-pieces there is no conductor at all and each musician uses his own stopwatch. These big orchestral works were way ahead of their time and are not likely to become standard repertoire anytime soon.
Other composers, some of whom collaborated with Cage, were also seeking new paths, developing alternative notation techniques, spatial works, electronic pieces, installations etc. Works by Morton Feldman, Christian Wolff and Alvin Lucier will also be central to our festival. Some of the pieces for ensemble and orchestra will continue the line of experimenting with the conductor's role or cancelling it altogether. In Berio’s Accordo there will be 4 conductors, each conducting a separate brass band. Charles Ross uses two separate ensembles - one classical with standard notation and one consisting of improvisers reading a sand painting, and from among the Icelanders, both Aki Asgeirsson and Jesper Pedersen invent new ways to notate for orchestra, using light and movement.
It is crucial for me to have on the same stage and setting different kinds of musicians - not only from the classic music world but also from many other genres, where experimentation is exciting and powerful. Improvisers, live electronic musicians and many other independent musicians will join the orchestra in presenting various works in new and unique ways.
In the second day of the festival, Magnus Blondal, the Icelandic pioneer of electronic music, will be performed. We shall hear his chamber, orchestral and some of his electronic masterpieces. When I first saw Harpa, before it was finished, I was immediately struck by the opportunity to use various foyer locations and the acoustic landscapes in the halls. Frank Denyer's new orchestral piece is written specifically with this in mind. And finally, working again with John Tilbury will be a highlight for me, especially hearing him in duo with the wonderful Oren Ambarchi, creating huge, amazing sounds on his guitar. Recently I have had the pleasure of promoting Oren's concerts in Israel and I cannot wait for our coming encounter, performing a new work for orchestra and electric guitar. Some of the music is written but most of it is being signaled and cued while improvising and composing in real time.
All of that will surely be an adventure for us all. Musicians and audience – we will all be there with no safety nets whatsoever.