A discovery and an unexpected detour

Dark modernity. © Charles Thibo

One of the hottest days of this summer. The air is dead calm and the heat rests like leaden weights on my shoulders. I am walking across a deserted industrial site. I am waiting for the bus. And I make a discovery. A female composer. From a land not exactly predominant in classical music. Grazyna Bacewicz. She was born in 1909 in Lodz (Poland), she died in 1969 in Warsaw of a heart attack. I had been deeply impressed by Krystian Zimerman’s recording of Franz Schubert’s Piano Sonata No. 20 in A Major and I was looking for other recordings by Zimerman. And I found Grazyna Bacewicz’ Piano Quintet No. 1 performed by Rafal Kwiatkowski, Ryszard Groblewski, Kaja Danczowska, Zimerman and Agata Szymczewska.

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Up the mountain, through the fields, into town

Wheat field with cypresses, painted in 1889 by van Gogh

The shimmering air on a summer afternoon – a physical phenomenon that astonishes me time and again. Air is transparent per se and still you can see it when it ascends, being heated and becoming less dense than the air around it. I had to think of it when I listened to “Les eaux” (The Waters), the first movement of Thomas Adès’ piece of chamber music “Lieux retrouvés” (Places rediscovered). It refers to the flow of water, horizontal, vertical, patterns easily disturbed, leading to turbulence, interferences – the rippling of a water surface caused by wind, a dropped stone. The geometry behind this has fascinated many a composer – we have already found that in the music of Franz Schubert and Maurice Ravel.

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A student’s reverence to Dmitry Shostakovich

Passion © Charles Thibo

“Nature gives me more than useless layers of fossilized academicalism”. To whom Edison Denisov may he have referred too? Certainly not to his teacher Dmitry Shostakovich. To the “Union of Soviet Composers” who ostracized him for the influence of Western contemporary classical music on his work? Denisov’s music did not intend to charm the ear and certainly not to conform to the official doctrine of Socialist Realism. It did rather intend to express the composer’s ideas and feelings about the Socialist reality in the Soviet Union, an ambition that the Communist party could not tolerate.

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A cosmic meditation about humanity

22 000 light-years away – the cluster NGC 4833. Courtesy of NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope

When I was a child I wanted to become an astronaut. A dream. Occasionally I think of that dream. I love science-fiction movies. I often look at the stars on a sky-clear night. My daughter and I share a secret passion for astronomy. And I sometimes imagine myself alone in a space station, zero gravity, zero sound. Looking at Mother Earth, meditating.

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