A double Presence of Absence

As opening concert (21 March 2018) of the Rotterdam Festival Spring Loaded, to celebrate 10 years Red Sofa (series of contemporary music at the De Doelen Concert Hall) curator-in-residence Pete Harden and De Doelen staged Oscar Bettison's 'Presence of Absence'. Performed by soprano Michaela Riener, Matangi Quartet and Ensemble Klang. The same line up as for the World Premiere one and a half year ago. But this time the concert was enriched.

The Festival was opened by the Festival 'pop-up' artist in residence, American violinist Monica Germino. She played Bach on a frame violin. A violin without a resonance-box. So the audience had to be very quiet. From the stage she walked through the stands and disappeared through the entrance doors, with the music thus dying away. This, by coincidence, also to commemmorate Johann Sebastian's birth in Eisenach 333 years ago.

Ensemble Klang - Matangi Quartet - Michaela Riener

The enrichment of the programma was the display of Nikolaus Geyrhalter's film 'Homo Sapiens'. Discovered by Pete to accompany Oscar's music. 'Presence of Absence' is the second major composition Bettison wrote for Ensemble Klang XL. His first, the bluegrass requiem 'O Death' being a highly energetic, extraverted piece. The Presence of Absence is a kind of introverted counterpart of 'O Death'. With significant DNA similarities, although being quite different pieces. Composed around an old Anglo-Saxon text: The Ruin. With the Anglo-Saxon part of the text being sung in Anglo-Saxon by Michaela Riener. The combination with Nikolaus' film was striking. For in long camera shots he shows utility buildings, houses, shopping malls, concert halls, infrastructure etc. abandoned by mankind. And of course nature takes over these abandoned properties. So also a kind of presence of absence. The music strenghtens the film and vice cersa. A brilliant combination of these two kinds of art.

Ensemble Klang - Matangi Quartet - Michaela Riener - with Nikolaus Geyrhalter's film 'Homo Sapiens'

As part of 'De Doelen' series for contemporary classical music there is a Red Sofa aftertalk. This is always led by interviewer and Programme Director of De Doelen, Neil Wallace. He and Michaela, Pete and Oscar took place on two red sofas. Neil Wallace:"Did you change much in the music to adapt it to the film?" Oscar:"Not really. The only changes in the piece. Well, there are obviously gaps. I call them gaps. The piece in itself runs all way through. In about a fifty minute span. But there are some things, there are some pauses in the piece that are longer in the film than they are in the concert version. But that's it."

Oscar Bettison


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