Friday,15 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1236, (5 - 11 March 2015)
Friday,15 December, 2017
Issue 1236, (5 - 11 March 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Wood and wind

Ati Metwaly describes an artistic communion

Wood and wind
Wood and wind
Al-Ahram Weekly

Music has the ethereal, magic ability to fill the senses with many experiences in one. Like a ritual, it is something we hand ourselves over to, probing every second with abandon. Music has no concern for nationality, spiritual or class identity, it doesn’t even matter what language you speak. Dodging the social straitjacket, music is culture in the broadest sense, it is the history and evolution of the humanity of which we are part. In a process that combines musicians, sounds, audiences and locations, music dissolves the cultural frontiers of each. What could be more gratifying to human consciousness than the confluence of several axes of cumulative moral wealth in one place, one evening, one experience?

Thursday’s, the 26 Feb, concert at the Arabic Music Institute, by the Polish woodwind quintet LutosAir, was one such confluence. The venue is a century-old piece of Islamic architecture with a beautiful dome belying the bustle of Ramses Road, one of the Egyptian capital’s most crowded and polluted. It dates back to the 1920s, when it was called the Royal Arab Music Institute and its function was to promote Arabic music, uphold its standards and educate such future icons as Mohamed Abdel Wahab, Mohamed Abdel Mottaleb and Abdel Halim Nowera. After decades of glory followed by a total oblivion, the institute was brought back to life in 2001, registered as an Islamic antiquity and administratively appended to the Cairo Opera House. It houses a museum and a library as well as the theatre. More important, however, are the stories and secrets it wreaths in a noble silence, only occasionally interrupted by intimate experiences like this one.

Though western composers have not been strangers to these mesmerising walls, it took me some time to mentally process the crossroad of cultures and aesthetic values that surrounded the event, whether at the level of time or space. Here I was in a gem of modern Islamic architectural, its walls protecting me from the awful racket of Ramses, immersing myself in three centuries of classical music performed live by Poles—a one-of-a-kind experience. “The LutosAir Quintet is one of the most active Polish woodwind quintets. It was born from the association of five musicians brought together by their common love for music and vision of the arts. This is a traditional, though still little known combination of five woodwind instruments — flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and French horn...” Thus the programme notes. The five musicians are soloists of the Wroclaw Philharmonic Orchestra and though they have played in many music formations, the LutosAir brings them together in a unique way. To enrich their repertoire, LutosAir also plays duets, trios and quartets.

While composers usually explored the possibilities of a range of ensembles, not many invested much time in the unique tonal spectrum of the woodwind quintet. The Czech-born French composer Anton Reicha (1770-1836), a contemporary of Beethoven, is perhaps the father of the wind quintet, a claim supported by 25 works that he wrote for this specific ensemble. Proud of his unique compositional focus, Reicha wrote in his memoirs how his predecessors and contemporaries avoided writing for woodwinds “simply because the composers knew little of their technique”. Though Reicha is no doubt one of the first iconic names in this game, a number of his predecessors and many later composers did learn the woodwind vocabulary. Polish composers like Wojciech Kilar, the celebrated contemporary classical and film score composer, was one. He is included in LutosAir’s repertoire but was not featured in this concert.

There was variety enough, however: from Haydn’s Divertimento No.1 in B flat major and Georges Bizet’s Carmen Suite to 20th century compositions by Bela Bartok’s Romanian Folk Dances, Eugene Bozza’s Trois Pieces Pour une Musique de Nuit, to woodwind works by the Polish composers Tadeusz Szeligowski and Grazyna Bacewicz. What came through in the course of this journey in time is that, due to the particular artistic texture and range of each of the wind instruments, in each piece the musical language is unique; this, in addition to the uniqueness of the era and the musician. From Haydn’s stately splendour to Carmen’s seductive warmth, from Bacewicz’s balance and irony to the indigenous verve of the Romanian Dances, LutosAir played with the listeners, juggling tastes. At the core of this unforgettable promenade, however, lay the quintet’s unfailing technique, the transcendence of their artistic vision and breathtaking musical aesthetics.

Jan Krzeszowicz on flute, Wojciech Merena on oboe, Maciej Dobosz on clarinet, Alicja Kieruzalska on bassoon and Mateusz Felinski on French horn: the remarkable unity of purpose and conceptual cohesion of LutosAir is born of the dazzling virtuosity of each. Soloists of the Wroclaw Philharmonic Orchestra, their CVs testify to many local and international appearances in a variety of ensembles and to many awards. Though as a quintet, LutosAir is a rather young formation, it has already enchanted audiences across Poland and beyond. In 2014, the quintet played in Leipzig, Germany, taking part in the open-air concerts around the Bach statue outside the St Thomas Church, and it attracted hundreds of passersby.

This was their first time in Egypt or Africa: hosted by the Cairo Opera House in Cairo (26 Feb), and by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina — where they played — in Alexandria (28 Feb) . This unique communion took place on the Bibliotheca Arts Centre’s initiative, in collaboration with the Embassy of the Republic of Poland.

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