French-Italian Sound Painting of Modern Life

Vassily Kandinsky's painting "Rot Gelb Blau"
Vassily Kandinsky’s painting “Rot Gelb Blau”

Look and listen: The French Quatuor Zaïde at the Philharmonie de Luxembourg! Charlotte Juillard (violin), Leslie Boulin-Raulet (violin), Sarah Chenaf (viola) and Juliette Salmona (cello) performed yesterday evening “Secondo Quartetto”, a young Italian composer’s new work. Francesca Verunelli has written it specifically for the European Concert Halls Organization’s (ECHO) “Rising Stars” program 2015/16 and the French quartet.

Overlapping sounds

The Quatuor Zaïde knew already Mrs. Verunelli’s compositions before the musicians asked her to write a piece for the ECHO program. In an interview with Anne Le Nabour, dramaturge of the Festival International d’Art Lyrique d’Aix-en-Provence, viola player Sarah Chenaf explained: “We like the way she treats time and sound. [In her works], narrative phases, where one sound element follows the next one, alternate with phases where sounds overlap and become distorted. Sometimes, sounds may even become hypnotic and time seems to be suspended”.

Classic goes electronic

This is one of Mrs. Verunelli’s hallmarks: elements maintain their integrity while at the same time they change their shape – a technique that is also applied in painting, i.e. in Vassily Kandinsky’s work “Rot Gelb Blau”. On her homepage, the composer explicitly refers to this painting. Another hallmark is the use of electronic means to shape classical instrumental music into something new. In 2011/12 for example, she wrote “Unfolding”, a piece for a classical quartet and electronics, upon the request of the French Research and Coordination Institute for Music/Acoustics (IRCAM) at the Centre Pompidou where she worked at that time as a composer in residence.

Diversity in color, pitch and tempo

The piece “Secundo Quartetto”, lasting nine minutes, has several “centers of gravity”, as Mrs. Verunelli likes to describe it, that are developed simultaneously into different directions. They co-exist and at the same time they form a whole – not unlike Cécile Marti’s composition “Seven Towers“, that I have presented in an earlier post. The piece could be an allegory of modern life with the different identities all of us take on every day, the multiple choices we make and their uncertain outcome.

I was impressed by  the range of sounds and the diversity in color, pitch and tempo that characterize the piece: Fast, strident, loud parts alternate with broad, barely audible, timid parts. Surprise elements like the cello emitting a kind of “electronic” sound, single string plucks showing up at unexpected places or short, violent tutti parts with a hint of a continuous melody give the piece an unsteady rhythm. It was a serious piece of physical work for the French quartet, and at least as far as I am concerned, I appreciate that effort as I learned a few more things about contemporary classical music.

Rome and Paris

Francesca Verunelli was born in 1979 in Tuscany and studied composition at the Luigi Cherubini Conservatory in Florence. In 2007, she concluded her studies at the Academia Santa Cecilia in Rome and joined IRCAM for a cursus on Composition and Computer Music. Here she wrote two other pieces: “Interno rosso con figure” for accordion and electronics and “Play” for classical instruments and electronics. She has received numerous commissions from musical institutions and festivals i.e. La Biennale di Venezia, the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra and the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence.

The partnership between Quatuor Zaïde and Francesca Verunelli proved last night to be a fruitful one, and I hope to hear more of these five artists in Luxembourg. Though I am aware that the pieces by Mozart (KV 387) and Bartok (Sz. 102), that were part of last night’s program, were more compliant to the taste of the audience, I am always happy to embark with the Philharmonie de Luxembourg on a journey into unchartered waters.

© Charles Thibo

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de Chareli

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