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hcmf// 2014 kicked off with a typically tough and knotty concert from Petr Kotik's chamber orchestra Ostravská banda, who performed a collection of UK premieres for small ensemble by Christian Wolff, three Czech composers and another American. The concert was billed as a tribute to Wolff, who was in attendance and who celebrates his eightieth birthday this year, and this acknowledgement of his status as one of the few remaining high modernists allowed the festival to begin with a celebration of the music with which it has been most closely associated. First up was Wolff's 37 Haiku, a setting of a poem (or 37 poems) by John Ashbery, sung by Thomas Buckner with an accompanying ensemble of oboe, horn, viola and cello. Like the poems, Wolff's settings are self-contained but accumulative, and, as the composer says in the programme notes, the ‘may form’ a whole. Variety is achieved through shifts within the accompanying instrumentation (some settings having none), line and fragmentation, instrumental technique, suggestions of common-practice harmony, flashes of word painting and spoken accompaniment from the instrumentalists (one haiku is spoken by the violinist, another is spoken in fragments across the ensemble). Coherence across these fragments is created simply through the presence of Wolff's mature and distinctive post-Webern sound world.
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