A winter walk in the musical labyrinth of Luciano Berio

Luciano Berio, the Italian omnivore who, through his compositions, was constantly entering into discussion with musical culture, is the subject of a joint project by music centre De Bijloke Gent and MATRIX [Centre for New Music]. With the Berio 360° project, De Bijloke is bringing a selection of his works to the concert stage, and MATRIX is organising a web exhibition.

Luciano Berio (1925-2003) is known for his constant search to connect the past with the future. His most important works range from De Falla, via Brahms and Schubert, to Mahler, Ravel and Stockhausen. In his choice of voices, he regularly turned to the vocal voice, or rather to his former wife, the American soprano Cathy Berberian. In Berio’s case, there was only one voice, Cathy’s. She was able to combine the vocal with the instrumental. She connected the vocal with the theatrical and thus pushed back frontiers. But also in the instrumental domain, Berio’s justification for boundaries was the possibility to transgress them. His life’s work, Sequenze, is a 14-part exploration of the possibilities of solo instruments. From the first (flute, 1958), via the third (vocal, Cathy Berberian) to the last (cello, 2002), each instrument is picked apart to the bone. The performers are each tested for their virtuosity and their love of their instrument, a typical Berio approach. The Bijloke has given 14 young musicians the opportunity to perform the Sequenze on the fringe of its regular concerts. For the programme see https://www.bijloke.be/pQd3mcd/de-sequenza-s-zijn-incontournable. Berio not only reflects on musical history but also incorporates literature into his compositions. One example is Sinfonia (1969), a musical labyrinth for large orchestra and eight amplified vocalists, in which the singers use the ‘commentary technique’ to quote from various literary figures, including Samuel Beckett and Claude Levy-Strauss. Musically, the scherzo from Gustav Mahler’s Second Symphony is central. De Bijloke has programmed Sinfonia for 27 May 2022.

The web exhibition Berio 360°, created by MATRIX, and the concert series at De Bijloke function like communicating vessels. The collaboration between De Bijloke and MATRIX is not new. Earlier this year, they presented the web exhibition Steve Reich 360°, and that formula proved successful.

Melissa Portaels (MATRIX)

Melissa Portaels, MATRIX’s final editor and co-creator, says, “We’ve noticed that it works really well to convey information about music through a web exhibition, because you can then use different media. In this way, we can stimulate the visitors in different ways. We want to go a step further than traditional concert introductions. Our target group consists of both laymen and connoisseurs, and we want to immerse them in the world of Luciano Berio in a comfortable way. It is a two-way street. Some people will first choose to attend a concert in order to immerse themselves in the music that has moved them. But the reverse is also possible: that someone first comes to see our exhibition and then starts listening to the music. In both cases, I consider our mission to have succeeded. “.

Portaels: “The challenge with a web exhibition is how to prevent visitors from clicking away soon after entering. That is an extra challenge because the visitor has usually set aside a few hours for a physical exhibition. With a web exhibition, you look from your home and there are many stimuli around you. For me, it is important that we offer the visitor various tools to gather information in different ways. We do this, for example, by contextualising documentaries we have found, by articles we have had written, by interviews. By combining different formats, we try to keep visitors interested. It is also important that we do not present one straightforward story about the composer. We want to approach his music from different perspectives. We did the same in the exhibition about Steve Reich. So you don’t have to go through the exhibition from A to Z but you can also start in the middle. That flexibility is an advantage”.

Portaels: “That works very well with the Sequenze, for example. [MP1] We approach the sequenze from three different perspectives. Firstly, in the long read written by Paulien Driesen. The intention is that it reads like a general introduction to the life and work of Luciano Berio. A second perspective comes from the experiences of the musicians who perform the sequenze in De Bijloke. It is very interesting to read those personal testimonies. You often read the admiration for and the struggles with the instrument. “.

Portaels: “And the third time is offline, namely a physical exhibition in the Kabinet of De Bijloke. For each sequenza we looked for something special to take to a concert. An example is Sequenza IV for piano. Here we put the spotlight on the use of the sostenuto pedal[MP2]  because it is both a technical masterpiece and is used a lot in that piece. There are few technicians with much expertise in this pedal, as it is not used intensively in many compositions and, moreover, the mechanism of the sostenuto pedal may differ from one piano to another. We would therefore also like to highlight the virtuoso behind the scenes. Incidentally, the sequenze are also an excellent way for the listener to get to know an instrument very well”.

WHAT: Berio 360°, concert series and web exhibition, with a physical exhibition in the Kabinet of De Bijloke (open 1 hour before the start of each concert, until December 22). The web exhibition runs throughout the 21/22 concert season.

REALISATION WEBT EXHIBITION: MATRIX [Centre for New Music] commissioned by Muziekcentrum De Bijloke Gent

CONCEPT: Melissa Portaels and Rebecca Diependaele

DESIGN and REALISATION: Klaas Coulembier

LINK MATRIX: https://matrix-new-music.be/nl/online-expo-luciano-berio/

LINK THE BIJLOKE: https://www.bijloke.be/pQaB8tO/360–berio

PHOTOS: Centro Studi Luciano Berio, The Guardian, Edition Peters, Last fm, Niels Laveren

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