Variations on / by Petar Klanac

Variations II, which will be premiered at the Pierre-Mercure hall on May 4th, in the course of the annual thematic concert of the ECM+, will be the sixth work by Petar Klanac to have been commissioned to him by Véronique Lacroix since his participation in the Ateliers et concerts (“Workshops and concerts”) now called Generations, in 1995. Klanac is thus a representative of what I term the “Slavonic of Montreal,” which have in common the geographical origins, their generations (born around 1970), to write an often playful music, consonant, immediately effective, and to have enjoyed for may years now a privileged relation with the ECM+, the two other members of this triad being Ana Sokolovic and André Ristic. Variation II, then, is inscribed in the continuity of a fertile and faithful relationship between a composer and an ensemble. Relationship whose crowning jewel is without doubt, to this day, La joie éclatante des jeunes époux (“The newlywed’s exultant joy”) of 1999, recorded by ATMA by the ECM+ (2000), selected for the International Tribune of the UNESCO (2000), and finalist for the Composition Prize of the Fondation Prince Pierre de Monaco (2005). This continuity is all the most apparent since Variation IIconstitutes the second movement of Variation, a concertant work for two pianos and orchestra, whose first movement was premiered in 2007 by the ECM+. Véronique Lacroix is thus ideally positioned to comment on the diptych:

The second movement restates in its essentials the simplified form of the first movement, but inverting the order of orchestration: I: A (slow; pianos soli) / B (fast; pianos + orchestra) / C (solo orchestra) / B (fast; pianos + orchestra) / coda (pianos soli) II: A (slow; solo orchestra) / B (fast; piano + orchestra). The title Variations refers to the monothematic character of the main sections A and B, in which a succession of variations on the main theme is heard, first slowly with the pianos (at the beginning of the first movement), then slowly again on the orchestra (at the beginning of the second movement), and then in sixteenth-notes in the B sections.[1]

The theme of the concert, developed by the videographers of Foumalade and early music specialist Matthias Maute, revolves around playing cards – the show is called Les Cinq As(“The Five Aces”) – and the medieval world. And appropriately, Klanac, a student of two Messian disciples (Gilles Tremblay and Gérard Grisey), uses, like the organist-composer, numerous musical techniques developed chiefly between the medieval and baroque eras, particularly isorhythm (talea-color) and canon (one finds moreover in Klanac’s works numerous imitative techniques, notably heterophony). Véronique Lacroix comments:

The medieval aspect of the theme is found in general characteristics of the composer’s writing, which uses techniques common to the Ars Nova, such as canon and a general contrapuntal style. In fact, the first movement of Variations was originally named Canons… Those canons are generally quite tight, sometimes even to the sixteenth-note. Supple melodies in long note-values in the orchestra, hovering above the running sixteenth-notes in the pianos, could also be heard as a sort of cantus firmus. Also, the flute part in Variation I is played on the recorder and Klanac uses the tambourine profusely in the two movements, an instrument also typical of this era. On a harmonic level, some harmonic progressions of parallel chords make the fourths and fifths of those chords stand out, in a way that may sometimes recall the use of these intervals during the Middle Ages. Finally, section C of Variation I is a sort of “baroque dance.”

Reading those commentaries, one imagines a tangible footprint of Messiaen’s heritage. In addition, this heritage is felt in the details of Klanac’s writing, notably the added note-values that are often heard in the rhythmic structures of his talea. It is surely not forbidden, moreover, to evoke Messiaen while speaking of Klanac’s sometimes exuberant and coloured character – almost “alleluiesque,” since both share the Catholic faith – allowing some connection. Connections, for instance, between the Turangalîla-Symphonie and La joie des jeunes époux, on the levels of dense and extremely colourful orchestration, consonances, dancing and fast rhythms, even titles (the movement titled Joie du sang des étoiles (“Joy of the blood of stars”) by Messiaen, very close to the title of Klanac’s work, comes to mind). However, to these characteristics one can add a sense of process recalling the work of Gérard Grisey, who was his teacher at the Paris Conservatory, even if that is perhaps the only level on which, upon hearing the work, one may link those two composers. Indeed, the material is deployed with Klanac by large cyclic spirals and phase plays, domains in which Grisey has developed techniques with astonishing results. By the consonant playfulness as well as cyclical processes and spirals, Klanac is moreover rather close to another of Grisey’s student, Régis Campo. It is known that Grisey appreciated in processes an impersonal dimension to which he readily attributed metaphysical, if not mystical, qualities; this may perhaps not have been without appealing to the religious sensibility of his student Klanac [2]. In that regard, the title of the latter’s first collaboration with the ECM+, Les êtres estrangement cycliques (“The strangely cyclical beings) of 1995, had a certain forewarning quality about it. But can Klanac’s faith, explicit in other works, be felt in Variations? Véronique Lacroix offers her thoughts:

The religious aspect does not appear to be in the foreground of this work, but it runs undercurrent in the rigour of the writing, a sort of sobriety that is almost pious in the slow sections, the thematic repetitions (prayers?), and the reference to ancient techniques in general.

As far as we’re concerned, we’ll be able to make up our own mind on those different playing cards in Klanac’s game at the Pierre-Mercure Hall, on May 4th. ——————————————————————————– [1] The citations by Véronique Lacroix come from an epistolary exchange with the author, who took place by email on April 23rd, 2011. [2] On Gérard Grisey’s spirituality, see “De l’esprit au spectre: mysticisme et spiritualité chez les compositeurs du courant spectral », Pierre Rigaudière, Circuit, vol. 21 nº 1 (2011), p. 37-44.Variations II, which will be premiered at the Pierre-Mercure hall on May 4th, in the course of the annual thematic concert of the ECM+, will be the sixth work by Petar Klanac to have been commissioned to him by Véronique Lacroix since his participation in the Ateliers et concerts (“Workshops and concerts”) now called Generations, in 1995. Klanac is thus a representative of what I term the “Slavonic of Montreal,” which have in common the geographical origins, their generations (born around 1970), to write an often playful music, consonant, immediately effective, and to have enjoyed for may years now a privileged relation with the ECM+, the two other members of this triad being Ana Sokolovic and André Ristic. Variation II, then, is inscribed in the continuity of a fertile and faithful relationship between a composer and an ensemble. Relationship whose crowning jewel is without doubt, to this day, La joie éclatante des jeunes époux (“The newlywed’s exultant joy”) of 1999, recorded by ATMA by the ECM+ (2000), selected for the International Tribune of the UNESCO (2000), and finalist for the Composition Prize of the Fondation Prince Pierre de Monaco (2005). This continuity is all the most apparent since Variation IIconstitutes the second movement of Variation, a concertant work for two pianos and orchestra, whose first movement was premiered in 2007 by the ECM+. Véronique Lacroix is thus ideally positioned to comment on the diptych:

The second movement restates in its essentials the simplified form of the first movement, but inverting the order of orchestration: I: A (slow; pianos soli) / B (fast; pianos + orchestra) / C (solo orchestra) / B (fast; pianos + orchestra) / coda (pianos soli) II: A (slow; solo orchestra) / B (fast; piano + orchestra). The title Variations refers to the monothematic character of the main sections A and B, in which a succession of variations on the main theme is heard, first slowly with the pianos (at the beginning of the first movement), then slowly again on the orchestra (at the beginning of the second movement), and then in sixteenth-notes in the B sections.[1]

The theme of the concert, developed by the videographers of Foumalade and early music specialist Matthias Maute, revolves around playing cards – the show is called Les Cinq As(“The Five Aces”) – and the medieval world. And appropriately, Klanac, a student of two Messian disciples (Gilles Tremblay and Gérard Grisey), uses, like the organist-composer, numerous musical techniques developed chiefly between the medieval and baroque eras, particularly isorhythm (talea-color) and canon (one finds moreover in Klanac’s works numerous imitative techniques, notably heterophony). Véronique Lacroix comments:

The medieval aspect of the theme is found in general characteristics of the composer’s writing, which uses techniques common to the Ars Nova, such as canon and a general contrapuntal style. In fact, the first movement of Variations was originally named Canons… Those canons are generally quite tight, sometimes even to the sixteenth-note. Supple melodies in long note-values in the orchestra, hovering above the running sixteenth-notes in the pianos, could also be heard as a sort of cantus firmus. Also, the flute part in Variation I is played on the recorder and Klanac uses the tambourine profusely in the two movements, an instrument also typical of this era. On a harmonic level, some harmonic progressions of parallel chords make the fourths and fifths of those chords stand out, in a way that may sometimes recall the use of these intervals during the Middle Ages. Finally, section C of Variation I is a sort of “baroque dance.”

Reading those commentaries, one imagines a tangible footprint of Messiaen’s heritage. In addition, this heritage is felt in the details of Klanac’s writing, notably the added note-values that are often heard in the rhythmic structures of his talea. It is surely not forbidden, moreover, to evoke Messiaen while speaking of Klanac’s sometimes exuberant and coloured character – almost “alleluiesque,” since both share the Catholic faith – allowing some connection. Connections, for instance, between the Turangalîla-Symphonie and La joie des jeunes époux, on the levels of dense and extremely colourful orchestration, consonances, dancing and fast rhythms, even titles (the movement titled Joie du sang des étoiles (“Joy of the blood of stars”) by Messiaen, very close to the title of Klanac’s work, comes to mind). However, to these characteristics one can add a sense of process recalling the work of Gérard Grisey, who was his teacher at the Paris Conservatory, even if that is perhaps the only level on which, upon hearing the work, one may link those two composers. Indeed, the material is deployed with Klanac by large cyclic spirals and phase plays, domains in which Grisey has developed techniques with astonishing results. By the consonant playfulness as well as cyclical processes and spirals, Klanac is moreover rather close to another of Grisey’s student, Régis Campo. It is known that Grisey appreciated in processes an impersonal dimension to which he readily attributed metaphysical, if not mystical, qualities; this may perhaps not have been without appealing to the religious sensibility of his student Klanac [2]. In that regard, the title of the latter’s first collaboration with the ECM+, Les êtres estrangement cycliques (“The strangely cyclical beings) of 1995, had a certain forewarning quality about it. But can Klanac’s faith, explicit in other works, be felt in Variations? Véronique Lacroix offers her thoughts:

The religious aspect does not appear to be in the foreground of this work, but it runs undercurrent in the rigour of the writing, a sort of sobriety that is almost pious in the slow sections, the thematic repetitions (prayers?), and the reference to ancient techniques in general.

As far as we’re concerned, we’ll be able to make up our own mind on those different playing cards in Klanac’s game at the Pierre-Mercure Hall, on May 4th. ——————————————————————————– [1] The citations by Véronique Lacroix come from an epistolary exchange with the author, who took place by email on April 23rd, 2011. [2] On Gérard Grisey’s spirituality, see “De l’esprit au spectre: mysticisme et spiritualité chez les compositeurs du courant spectral », Pierre Rigaudière, Circuit, vol. 21 nº 1 (2011), p. 37-44.

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