MUSIC / The perfect ten: Annette Morreau reports from the MUSICA festival in Strasbourg

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The Independent Culture
Fortunes of new music festivals in France change rapidly. The twin peaks - Royan and La Rochelle - are no more, and even Metz is to close after this year's festival. But MUSICA in Strasbourg has been celebrating its 10th anniversary in a blaze of artistic richness and stylistic variety.

The festival enjoys subsidies from the city of Strasbourg, central, regional and local government at a level six times that of Britain's principal new music festival, Huddersfield. Clearly, the large crowds of Strasbourgeois attending the events trust the eclectic choices of its festival director, Jean-Dominique Marco, and his artistic advisor, Marc Dondey (of the late lamented Almeida contemporary music festival). Over the past two weeks, MUSICA has bubbled with activity, presenting new music-theatre works by Xenakis (although without newly composed music), Aperghis and Bernard Cavanna; homages to two recently deceased composers - Giacinto Scelsi and John Cage; and late-night 'alternative' offerings ranging from the heavy rock of American David Moss to Japanese pianist Aki Takahashi's commissioned 're-compositions' of Beatles tunes.

An ecstatic reception was given to the young British composer Benedict Mason for his refreshing scores to three silent Charlie Chaplin classics, Easy Street, The Immigrant, and The Adventurer, performed brilliantly if with inappropriate sobriety below the big screen by the London Sinfonietta in the first of their two concerts. ']', by Mason, commissioned jointly by the London Sinfonietta and MUSICA, maintained the same sense of frenetic activity with half-remembered tunes and a liking for exotic instruments including the shirrbogen - a rumbling and screaming propeller-like contraption whirled about the heads of the perambulating performers.

A day devoted to the Baltic republics revealed one major composer, the Lithuanian Bronius Kutavicius, now in his 60th year. His music might be described as Lithuanian minimalism with its repetitive, static, constrained use of limited material. La Pierre des Jatvingiai (1983), for a group of 10 vocalists playing traditional Lithuanian instruments dressed in white and seated in a circle, startlingly recalled The Great Learning by Cornelius Cardew, as well as Stockhausen's Stimmung. The Philharmonic Chamber Choir of Estonia, conducted by Tonu Kaljuste, magically ended a three-and-a-half hour marathon.

British music and British performers provided a major focus with works by Birtwistle, Maxwell Davies and Michael Tippett. But tonight's hoped-for triumphant close for MUSICA, the first French performance of Tippett's The Mask of Time, has been cancelled following last-minute demands by the Polish choir for additional fees. Tippett's Third Symphony has been substituted.

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