Since 1996, the American Academy in Rome has been proud to host the annual fall new music festival called “Nuova Consonanza” at the Villa Aurelia. Through its “Focus USA” program, this event, a marathon of music, film, and video/installation art, has always presented the work of the two Fellows in Musical Composition each fellowship year. Beginning last year, however, the invitation was extended to other Fellows in the School of Fine Arts to contribute work, and the result this year has been a very robust participation indeed by the AAR community, both as artists and as audience members.
The forty-ninth annual edition of “Nuova Consonanza” is dedicated in particular to John Cage, in his centenary year (and thus bears the title The Cage After) and to Italian composer Aldo Clementi, and the festival is happening both in Rome and at the Fondazione Cini in Venice between November 18 and 24. The well-attended press conference for The Cage After took place at the Roman home (now an archive and museum) of another important Italian composer, Giacinto Scelsi, and speakers at that event included Gisella Belgeri, president of the composers’ organization CEMAT, Kasper Howald, Director of Cultural Programs at the Goethe Institute in Rome, Massimo Pistacchi, Director of the Istituto Centrale per i beni sonori ed audiovisivi, Nicola Sani, also a composer and President of the Isabella Scelsi Foundation, and composer Fausto Sebastiani, President of “Nuova Consonanza.”
The 2012 marathon took place from 4:30 PM to 11 PM on Sunday, November 18 in all the public spaces of the Villa Aurelia and even in one space created specially for the occasion: Visual Arts Fellow Glendalys Medina performed a monologue entitled Dear Me in a little pavilion or kiosk under the trees outside the Villa. (Her composition, a kind of love lyric, achieved considerable intimacy in that small enclosed space: “Can you feel Me?/ I’m an inch 6 above the soil underneath Your feet./ Green ribbons grow out of Me at the knees./ I rest on My bow feet....”) Whether because of the rainy weather or in spite of it, a record number of new music lovers and their families filtered through the Villa during the afternoon and evening. The marathon began in the Sala Aurelia with a piece entitled Onde for actors, musicians and puppets that was a huge hit with the children attending. The sheer density of programming was such, during the “Nuova Consonanza” festival, that audience members were sometimes forced to choose between simultaneous or overlapping performances in different venues at the Villa. This listener was lucky to hear a complete performance of John Cage’s fifty-minute-long piano piece Four Walls (1944) in the Sala Musica. This piece is described as a “dance drama,” and includes a vocal interlude as the eighth of fourteen movements. Singer Irene Morelli and pianist Giancarlo Simonacci both acquitted themselves very ably.
The reception room on the second floor of the Villa and the corridor outside saw installations and artwork by four School of Fine Arts Fellows, almost all of it-- like Glendalys Medina’s monologue-- created for the occasion .Visual Arts Fellow Nari Ward contributed the video Sweater and a new sculpture entitled Roam Rise. (Nari’s open studio on Friday night had afforded AAR community members a chance to see a larger installation before it went off to an exhibition in Geneva.) Design Fellow Erik Adigard contributed a looping paper structure entitled Facsimile, Visual Arts Fellow Carl D’Alvia the two sculptures Calf and The End is (both 2007), and Design Fellow Nicholas Blechman, together with Leonardo Sonnoli and Irene Bacchi, produced Heidelberg Speedmaster, a beautiful series of three posters (in multiple copies) together with a video documenting their production on the eponymous printing press.
A highlight of the festival, from the AAR’s point of view, has always been the program dedicated to work by the two current composer-Fellows. This program also took place in the Sala Musica and opened with Elliott Carter Rome Prize winner Jesse Jones’ piano composition Nocturne (2008), performed by Marco Marzocchi. The program notes provided describe this intensely-Romantic work as a lament for the composer’s mother, herself a pianist and the composer’s first teacher, who is battling Alzheimer’s. Jones’ Night Music (2008) was next, performed by Marzocchi and flutist Andrea Montefoschi. Work by Luciano Berio Rome Prize winner Anthony Cheung followed, performed by the composer himself, who is a most accomplished pianist. (Cheung had presented an informal piano recital in the Salone of the McKim building last Wednesday night.) Cheung opened with Though it’s just a simple melody, a brilliant improvisation on the popular song by Duke Ellington. Here all the effortless intimacy of Ellington’s phrasing was lovingly atomized-- or perhaps anatomized-- in a beautiful new composition. Cheung followed this with his Roundabouts (2010), a work in five movements deriving from a four-note descending motif.
Other works by John Cage featured in the course of the evening included Atlas Eclipticalis (1961-2), Postcard from Heaven (1982), Suite for Toy Piano (1948), In the Name of the Holocaust (1942), Two Pieces for Piano (1946), A Room (1943), 4’33” (1952), Dream (1948), and Tv Köln ((1958). The mint condition Steinway B on loan to the AAR from Fabbrini in Pescara while the Villa Aurelia Steinway C is being overhauled was supplemented by a rental Steinway for the more aggressive and invasive prepared piano pieces. The festival finale took place from 9:30 to 11 PM in the Sala Aurelia under the title “Cage e altri rumori” (“Cage and Other Sounds”) and offered a tour-de-force performance by the Italian percussion ensemble Ars Ludi Laboratorio of selections including William J. Schinstine’s Scherzo without instruments (1978; all stamping feet and clapping hands, in a dizzying sequence of rhythms and cross-rhythms), John Cage’s Third Construction (1944), Rupert Kettle’s Dining Room Music (1983; a beautiful percussion symphony, like a parent’s meal-table nightmare, of clashing silverware on plates and glasses), John Cage’s Sonatas V, VIII, XIV and XV (from Sonatas and Interludes, 1946-8), FAAR David Lang’s The Anvil Chorus (1991), Henry Cowell’s Pulse (1939; all five ensemble members weaving rhythms together on wooden blocks), and the world premiere of a lively new composition by FAAR, RAAR and Music Advisor Richard Trythall entitled Sweet, Sweet Memories. For this finale, the north end of the Sala Aurelia was home to the largest percussion kit this writer has ever seen.
An alternative title for this year’s “Nuova Consonanza” festival was CentoCage. A “cento,” in English, is a kind of patchwork or collage. The rich selection of Cage’s own work was supplemented, during the festival, with works by composers including Aldo Clementi, Ivan Fedele, Marco Morgantini, Giuseppe Renne, Fabio Cifariello Ciardi, Fulvio Liuzzi, Daniele Lombardi, and others (and also an electroacoustic music feature based on The City Wears a Slouch Hat), making a true patchwork, ranging through time and across countries, to indicate exactly how widespread Cage’s influence has been. Thanks to “Nuova Consonanza,” this evening showed Cage, and indeed new music, at their vibrant best in the Villa Aurelia.