Good morning from the Royal Danish Library in Copenhagen, where it's Day 3 of the Carl Nielsen International Chamber Music Competition.
We are live in 15 minutes.
Very nearly ready to go here in Copenhagen. 8 wind quintets have been whittled down to 5. We have moved from the HQ of Danish Broadcasting into the beautiful Royal Library, on the harbourside here in Copenhagen.
I'm Andrew Mellor, your live stream host. My colleague Rie Koch will be on stage, introducing the musicians and repertoire in Danish. I'll be here to talk you through what's coming up and what we've already experienced this week - and to translate a bit of what Rie is talking about. I'll also post comments here during the performances. Enjoy!
And we're off! The first contestants of the day, SenArts Wind Quintet from Barcelona.
We're listening to Kalevi Aho's Wind Quintet No 1 from 2006. The challenge of writing a Wind Quintet, says the Finnish composer, is in unifying and balancing instruments that sound so different in tone.
These musicians are used to playing together in rather darker, more cramped conditions - in the orchestra pit of the Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona's splendid opera house.
You can't see them, but the other musicians ARE playing! To get a particular balance, Aho has three musicians play 'off stage' for the quintet's fourth movement, Andante con tristezza.
Now we'll hear the world premiere of Athanasia Kotronia's Grönare än, written especially for this competition.
The title means 'Greener than' in Swedish, referring to being 'green with jealousy' (the inspiration is from ancient Greek literature by the poet Sapfo).
Athanasia was born in 2000, with Swedish and Greek roots, and is now based in Denmark.
Intimacy is the most obvious quality of her music. And this piece was designed to test an ensemble's intimacy - with intertwining figures and rhythms.
It also asks for several 'extended techniques' - including musicians playing with two different sorts of 'air' sounds - light and dark.
Now we're on to our first taste of Hindemith's Kleine Kammermusik for wind quintet...we will be hearing far more of this piece today!
Five short movements, written in Cologne 101 years ago in 1922, that pay homage to Stravinsky in their use of clear, repeating motifs and patterns.
Not difficult to see why this piece was chosen - a real test of ensemble cohesion, expression and discipline.
The Alinde Quintet from the Czech Republic - another ensemble that impressed in the first round. Who can forget that horn playing?
The group got together in 2019, and has already won some major prizes.
They're giving us the Hindemith Kleine Kammermusik first, followed by Kotronia and Aho.
Let's briefly remind ourselves of the rules: for Round 2, wind quintets could choose to play the Hindemith OR Ligeti's 6 Bagatelles (we'll hear the Ligeti twice today), and the Aho OR a movement from Schoenberg's Wind Quintet Op 26 (we'll hear one performance of the Schoenberg later).
The new work by Athanasia Kotronia is compulsory - each quintet has to play it.
And now, the second ever performance of Grönare än by Swedish/Greek, Denmark-based composer Athanasia Kotronia.
Truly, one of the most fascinating things about competitions like this is to witness the birth of a new piece of music - and how differently it can sound from different ensembles.
The Czech musicians will give us the first and second movements of the Kalevi Aho Wind Quintet No 1.
We're taking a short pause - performances will resume at 13.45 Central European Time.
The Quartzo Ensemble from Portugal, who made such an impact in Round 1. They will give us the day's first performance of the third movement, 'Marziale pesante - Furioso - Tempo 1' from Aho's Wing Quintet.
This is a great ensemble to watch - they appear to be anchored by their bassoonist, playing in the middle (in every sense).
We're now hearing the third - ever - performance of Athanasia Kotronia's "Grönare än" ('Greener Than'). The composer writes that 'fluid changes happen between the instruments, to create a landscape weaved out of the harmonies.'
It really is a magical, atmospheric ending - this series of 'tremolos' becoming air.
And so on to the Hindemith. No matter how many times you hear this piece, there is still more to hear in it.
The tiny fourth movement in particular - a tiny cadenza for each instrument, conected by those little dot chords - and now the whirlwind finale.
From Paris, the Diablo Quintet - easily recognizable as the only quintet in this competition that plays seated.
Those earthy low notes from horn and bassoon - we heard them in Round 1 from the French musicians, and we're sure hearing them again now. What a sound!
And so to Athanasia Kotronia's Grönare än. That clarinet opening is marked 'ppp' - very, very quiet!
As you might have sensed, the piece is in two movements: 'ängen' ('the meadow') and 'gräs' (grass).
There is so much character in Hindemith's Wind Quintet (aka Kleine Kammermusik), probably as the composer adored wind instruments and their capacity for pungent, cerebral sound.
Two more quintets to hear from this afternoon, starting with the Tesaru Woodwind Quintet - they met and formed here in Copenhagen, even though none of them are Danes.
And we get to hear some new repertoire now. The first movement of Schoenberg's Wind Quintet Op 26, and Ligeti's Six Bagatelles.
Here's Schoenberg's Wind Quintet, written shortly after Hindemith's, finished in 1924. The first movement is titled 'Schwungvoll' (Lively).
This is Schoenberg at his most rigorous and neo-classical, while also cleaving to his 12-tone method. It is a bold choice from this quintet from Copenhagen, and the only time we'll hear this movement.
Here's a reminder what's at stake:
-First Prize €15,000
-Second Prize €10,000
-Third Prize €5,000
-Prize for interpretation of the commissioned work: €2,500
Each of these quintets played for 35 minutes in Round 1, and the ensembles chosen to proceed to Sunday's Grand Final will be giving us Françaix, Jersild, a free choice of work, and of course Carl Nielsen.
Making it sound easy...and it is certainly not! Simply brilliant to hear this Schoenberg brought so joyously to life by these musicians. Once you get your head into this music it's just utterly thrilling.
Now for Ligeti's Bagattelles...
You can feel the influence of Hungarian folk music in these little pieces.
Each has a very distinct mood, from the dreamy (this Bagatelle, the second) to the wild fourth and boisterous sixth.
This Adagio movement carries an 'in memory' dedication to Bartók, who clearly influenced Ligeti in this piece, and led the composer to make such extensive use of Hungarian folk music.
The afternoon's last quintet: Ensemble Astera from Switzerland. They start with Kalevi Aho, the first two movements of his Wind Quintet No 1.
These musicians play in some of Europe's most distinguished orchestras: the Zurich Tonhalle, the Leipzig Gewandhaus, the Orchestra National de Lille, the Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne and the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande.
And so, the last of six performances of Athanasia Kotronia's "Grönare än" - the work specially commissioned for this competition. It is not often, a composer gets a world premiere, and then five additional performances, all in the same day.
And finally...Ligeti's Six Bagatelles, for the second and last time today.
The word refers to something of trivial or little importance, but of course you can read in that what you like. Ligeti's work's are clear and concise but full of meaning, gameplay and import.
There are so many disciplines explored in Ligeti's piece - so many playing styles, tone colours, dynamics of ensemble and interplay. A real test piece, although you can easily forget that when listening...
Thanks for being with us today! Join us again tomorrow for Round 2 in the String Quartets discipline - same time, from midday 12.00 CET.