Lola A. Åkerström experiences a unique music festival which is reinventing the past through modern eyes.
The crowd about 150 or so immediately falls silent as heart-racing driving keystrokes bounce off an Austrian Bösendorfer piano worked by pianist Danny Driver. I glance over the mesmerized crowd who a few moments earlier had been chattering vibrantly amongst themselves – young, old, children, some fashionably dressed, others in jeans and sandals. A complete eclectic mix.
Now as if in a trance, they – we – collectively soak up beautiful ethereal sounds as they echo through the dimly-lit rococo chamber we are sitting in with walls and columns painted in distressed hues, hanging chandeliers, and long windows letting in slivers of summer light. We wait patiently, almost breathlessly as he moves from set to set.
He is later joined on stage by cellist Torleif Thedéen and violinist Hugo Ticciati who also happens to the brains behind this collective display of engrossing artistry which seemed to be rekindling in me a long lost interest in classical music as we were all enveloped by masterfully crafted music.
Over the centuries, creativity often draws from the past and now in its third year and held every mid-June, Festival O/MODƏRNT is a one of a kind festival which celebrates this historically-tethered creativity by exploring relationships between classical works and contemporary composers “and their respective relationships to artistic and intellectual expressions in dance, the visual arts, film, creative writing, academic research and cuisine.”
Even its name “O/MODERNT” is a play on the Swedish words for “not modern” (omodernt) and “modern” (modernt).
O/MODERNT is held in Ulriksdals Palace Theatre Confidencen which is the oldest Rococo theatre in Sweden. It was built in 1670 as a horse riding school. After a short stint as a drinking tavern in the 18th century, Queen Lovisa Ulrika commissioned architect Carl Fredrik Adelcrantz to transform the former riding school into a theatre with rococo styled interiors including an auditorium and suites for the Royal Family.
The theatre got its name Confidencen from a table which was raised and lowered into the ground cellar through the floor whenever guests were expected. This type of 18th century table was called table à confidence.
Confidencen in its heyday played host to a variety of performers, composers, and talents. Swedish King Gustav III learned the art of theatre within its walls going on to direct and act in plays himself. When the king was assassinated in 1792, the theatre was shut down only to be restored in 1976 by Swedish opera singer Kjerstin Dellert with support from the Ulriksdals Palace Theatre Foundation.
Today, Confidencen hosts a variety of theatrical acts, ballet performances, operas, and chamber music every summer.
Each year, O/MODERNT chooses a composer who was active during the theatre’s golden age in the 18th century to be the “guiding spirit” for the festival. This means it combines classical music and “older repertoire” with more modern newly composed works and innovative arrangements.
2013 focused on French composer and theorist Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764) with innovative arrangements such as choreographing a ballet made up of a DJ and Hip Hop break-dancers to Rameau’s work as well as organizing a gala where French chef Danyel Couet designed unique menu items inspired by Rameau’s music which was being performed between dishes.
Rameau is often hailed as the father of French classical music with a diverse and rich legacy from solo arrangements to operas and orchestras. Known for his Treatise on Harmony theory put forth in 1722 that argues all music is fundamentally harmonic in structure, this thesis paved the modern way for musical knowledge which states that every harmony or chord is generated from a chord root in some consistent way.
According to artistic director Hugo Ticciati, “while Rameau’s rich and varied music forms the sounding bedrock of this year’s programs; his pioneering work in the theory of music provides the conceptual framework – the notion of verticality.”
The festival also highlights an artist each year and this year, the paintings of American-Swedish artist John Daily was on display at Confidencen.
A world renowned violinist and composer himself, Hugo Ticciati’s most recent honors include being admitted as a Fellow of the Royal Schools of Music in the United Kingdom, and he plays on a 1751 Giovanni Battista Guadagnini violin crafted in Milan in the 18th century.
I personally wondered what gaps this seemingly cutting-edge festival was trying to fill in terms of Stockholm’s music scene and it was clear right off the bat that there was something innovative and organically fresh about its programming.
“Fusions between more standard repertoire and more popular styles, jazz, salsa, tango, hip hop with lots of world premieres, young composers, and youth sharing the stage with international stages debuting rarely performed works,” shares Ticciati.
It was all about accessibility. Winning over audiences who may not necessarily be drawn to classical music by fusing it with other genres, different styles of dance, and eclectic programming offering something for all tastes
“Artistic experimentation and lateral thinking are once again the leitmotifs, creating a musical landscape where the harmonies of Rameau intersect with Reich, Ravel, Stockhausen, Messiaen, Piaf, Hip Hop, Harmonic Chant, jazz, theology, exotica, Sprechgesang, and much more.”
So in other words, O/MODERNT was making centuries’ old masterpieces accessible in a way that would make us fully appreciate them a lot more.
I was immediately sold on the concept.
Learn more about the festival on its official website.