Photo: © El Cultural
Maria Alonso, viola
Portraits by Álvaro Guibert** in El Cultural –
The PluralEnsemble concert for the BBVA Foundation transported us, on this occasion, to contemporary Ireland and to Vienna at the start of the twentieth century.
Plural Ensemble’s concerts for the BBVA Foundation are nearly always entitled Portrait, but they are not run-of-the-mill musical portraits.  Rather than people, what is portrayed in them is circumstances, time or space, which makes them all the more interesting, although somewhat violating its conventions.  The portrait of a place or a time is, in reality, a collective portrait of people, those at that place or at that time, and it is difficult to take your eyes off a good group portrait, with all its complexity of relationships, plots and subplots established by the composition and by the exchange of glances.  This time, as well as being circumstantial, the portrait was a double one or, better yet, a quadruple one: two periods and two spaces, present-day Ireland and Vienna of the early 20th century , which multiplied reciprocally like two facing mirrors.   As Tomás Marco said in his introduction of the concert, the Vienna of the three Viennese, was foundational and ended up covering everything.  By adhesion or rejection, all the music that followed on is also Viennese in a way, including the contrary.
The wave of Irish music, cutting edge tempered by the Gulf Stream, began with Jane O’Leary’s (1946) oceanic delight Between Two Waves of the Sea, personal but Webern-like, being made up of autonomous sounds, world phrases, each with its own meaning.  We see/hear a beautiful and austere marine setting: white clusters from the accordion, nearly Japanese, painting the cracked foam between the waves.  That is what I will remember of that evening, together with the actual interpretations, exact but alive, of Plural Ensemble under the direction of Fabián Panisello.  From Deirdre Gribbin (1967) we heard To Bathe Her Body in Whiteness, which has an interesting shape: rather than an A section followed by a B, what we hear is A followed by Non-A, a European music, full of things, followed by the contrary, of its complimentary music, oriental, static, barely nothing, made of gaps and breaths.  The beautiful thing about this structure is its transcendent aspiration: something, whatever, added to its complement, gives by way of a result the entire universe.  We also heard the Little Overture by Kevin O’Connell (1958), classic and solid in its construction.  Ana María Alonso astounded the audience with her virtuosity – and her enthusiasm – leading two concertos for viola and group: Wild Animals by Garth Knox (1956) and Strange Friction by Ed Bennett (1975).  The first is a Jumanji of all the beasts hidden inside the viola.  The second is an exercise of frenzied repetitions, and great fun.  Alonso made all the beasts roar, one by one, and applied friction to her instrument until the bow became a curtain of broken strings. 
The Irish works were presented interspersed with miniature Webern pieces for violin and piano, and for cello and piano, from Berg for clarinet and piano, and from Schönberg.  How moving it was to hear the orchestral colours of opus 6 downsized to a chamber group by Schönberg himself!  The modern Viennese pieces were reflected in the post-modern Irish and vice versa, and each added sense to the other and helped to explain them – like in the best of group portraits – to the public which jammed the Chamber Hall of the National Auditorium.
**  Álvaro Guibert –  Composer and biologist.  El Cultural’s musical critic since its foundation, he has collaborated with Radio Clásica and many newspapers and magazines.  He is the Director for External Relations and Consulting at the Albéniz Foundation, and has been Manager of the Almagro Festival of Classical Theatre and National Heritage Musical Adviser.  He is moved by unlimited curiosity: he considers that there is nothing more amazing than a symphony – except for everything else.