BIFEM: Argonaut Ensemble, Neon Pig

Jason Tavener Photography BIFEM 2017 NEON PIG_MG_9323.jpeg
Matteo Cesari performing Foglio d’Iride by Stefano Bulfon with the Argonaut Ensemble. Elliott Gyger conducting. Jason Tavener photography 

Review by Johannes MacDonald

BIFEM’s own Argonaut Ensemble opened their first concert of the festival with a performance of two pieces by international composers—Stefano Bulfon’s Fogli d’Iride (Iridescent Sheets, 2015) and Fernando Garnero’s Neon Pig (2017).

The Australian premiere of the flute “micro-concerto” Fogli d’Iride by the Italian composer Stefano Bulfon was conducted by Elliott Gyger with solo flute by Matteo Cesari. A string harmonic glissando sighed the piece into existence, interrupted by the entrance of the other instruments of the ensemble. Cesari weaved in and out of the ensemble’s skittering, shifting texture, building to a dynamic intensity before the music suddenly ceased. The last gesture played was repeated, and cut off again. Again and again, each time Gyger’s limber whole-body conducting freezing in place. These obsessive repetitions saturated the piece down to the smallest element, materialising most intensely in sequences of extremely virtuosic microtonal flute arpeggios. The overall effect of the piece was the continual consumption and regurgitation of its own material. Not only was Cesari the focal point of the performance—his extremely fluid and natural execution of the material also served as a stylistic catalyst for the other players.

The second piece on the program was the world premiere of Neon Pig, by the Paris-based Argentinian composer Fernando Garnero, conducted by Elena Schwarz. Garnero himself appeared in front of the stage’s curtain while the ensemble was preparing and introduced the piece with a heartfelt reflection on the recent disappearance of the Argentinian indigenous-rights activist Santiago Maldonado while in police custody. After holding Maldonado’s picture before the audience, Garnero disappeared behind the curtains, which raised to an ensemble of thirteen. A kaleidoscope of noises suddenly shuddered through the hall: string glissando scratches, abortive woodwind and trumpet half-tones, the contrabassist and harpist holding transducers to the bodies of their instruments, transforming them into chambers for the resonance of electric distortion, and a recurring oboe multiphonic reminiscent of a banal dial-up tone, all swelling, developing and looping around, creating a constantly shifting but fatalistically static texture.

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Fernando Garnero silences Marshall McGuire in Neon Pig. Jason Tavener photography

In a moment of spontaneous dramatic intensity, the lights of the hall dimmed, leaving spotlights located on the pianist, bassist, harpist, percussionist, and the composer himself, who had emerged from behind the ensemble and uncannily eclipsed the conductor. Garnero gently reached out into the air and slowly grabbed in each performer’s direction, withdrawing them from the sound one by one, until only his own electronic burblings remained, concluding the piece. Garnero’s framing of the work certainly led the final moments to be heard as a striking analogue for the silent disappearance of Santiago Maldonado. Neon Pig’s concluding performer-abduction was a terrifyingly incomprehensible and disturbing lens through which the earlier parts of the piece had to be redefined in retrospect.

Neon Pig
Argonaut Ensemble
Ulumbarra Theatre
Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music
1 September, 2017

Stefano Bulfon, Foglio d’Iride; Fernando Garnero, Neon Pig


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