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Review by Johannes MacDonald, on Partial Durations
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.
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.
Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music
1 September, 2017
Recorded at BIFEM 2017 by Argonaut Ensemble conducted by Elena Schwarz
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