NANINANA | A musical premiere for the Opening of NInA
FRI 29 / 05 / 2015
20:00 – 21:00
Anecdotes are what matter to Aleksander Nowak. Stories that, unlike 19th century program music, don’t tell us what a piece is “about.” Nor are they confessions on the part of the composer, like in 20th century festival programs. In Nowak’s work it is the anecdote that sets the mood, provokes associations and encourages emotions.
What stories do we find in the program for AUKSO Chamber Orchestra’s concert at the opening of the National Audiovisual Institute? The performance features three pieces composed over the course of nearly a decade: Last Days of Wanda B. (2006), Half-Filled Diary (2013) and NANINANA (2015).
Last Days of Wanda B.: the very title evokes a sense of drama. Should we expect a thriller? And yet the notes read:
This piece is, above all else, a purely acoustic impression, but it is also a recording of the emotions accompanying goodbyes and a set of snapshots of memories, interspersed with fragmented quotations from Wanda B.’s favorite melodies.
Other sources tell us that Wanda B. is the composer’s grandmother; as for the quotations, a sharp ear will even pick out references to the band Czerwone Gitary. And while the piece concludes by slowing down into a gentle harmony (a goodbye?), the prolog itself is rather dark in tone: a melody gradually emerges from the low registers, only to clash with diving screams.
Nowak knows how to grasp the listener’s attention, as evident in the next piece, the dramatic Diary. The downright guitar-like arpeggios of a solo cello create an exceptional atmosphere, supported by the crescendo of a nearly euphonic yet out of tune orchestra. And it all began as follows:
Jan B. lived through most of the 20th century and just a bit of the 21st. He was born and raised near the town of Wieluń, and spent his adult years in Gliwice. He was married, with two children and five grandchildren. He was a mechanical engineer who spent most of his time in his shop and garage. He patented several technological solutions for building machines. He designed a perpetual motion device. He was an alcoholic, and was rather unhappy and lonely. He kept a diary from 1943—53, filling up half of a 300-page notebook.
(One might suspect, given the identical initials of the characters in Diary and Last Days, that Aleksander is one of those five grandchildren.)
How flowingly this piece develops! In the culminating moments the percussions pick up speed and then pull back to the cadence of the cello, which sometimes sounds like a meager folk instrument. The five clearly delineated chapters sketch radically different emotional states and an equally broad range of skill on the part of the string orchestra.
And, finally, the last piece, at once the newest and most eagerly awaited: NANINANA. The composer gives us a knowing nod in the very title of the piece, which was commissioned by NInA, and hints at the lullaby-inspired form of the composition. The liner notes are just as ambiguous: “Where, oh where / is that cat that is / and is not there?”.
The piece opens with sounds produced by “a string half touched, half pressed; sounds with an audible pitch, yet heavily marked by noise,” a punctual texture with highly variable articulation. The band is split into two halves, just as the Fender Rhodes is amplified through two cabinets. Next, the piano comes in with a repeated note… Let the rest of this story remain unknown. After all, Schrödinger’s cat is and is not there.
Author: Jan Topolski
Aleksander Nowak, Last Days of Wanda B. for string orchestra.
Aleksander Nowak, Half-Filled Diary for cello, percussion and strings, performed by Magdalena Bojanowicz (cello) and AUKSO; conducted by Marek Moś.
Aleksander Nowak, NANINANA, piece commissioned by NInA, performed by Piotr Sałajczyk (Fender Rhodes electric piano) and AUKSO; conducted by Marek Moś.