A decade ago, Klangforum Wien - Austria's leading contemporary music ensemble - opened the Austrian Cultural Forum on 52nd Street with an eight-hour marathon concert in the building's jewel box theater. (The modernist wedge building is only 25 feet wide and 81 feet deep.) Since then, the ACF has hosted hundreds of concerts in the elegant wood-lined space, spanning the worlds of classical and popular music - all of them free.
This past Wednesday - 10 years to the day since their first appearance - Klangforum Wien returned to the ACF with a contemporary program of solo and small ensemble works that made it clear the Vienna Phil isn't the only Austrian ensemble with serious musical chops. Indeed, the skill required of some of these players went well beyond what would be expected of any orchestra musician. Bassoonist Lorelei Dowling showed unbelieveable stamina and virtuosity in Johannes Maria Staud's Celluloid, while flutist Vera Fischer did things I didn't think were possible on Franco Donatoni's Fili. The concert - which was performed without intermission - also featured works by György Kurtág, Salvatorre Scirrano, and Johannes Maria Staud, among others.
The program ended with the world premiere of Polish composer Agata Zubel's What is the word, performed by Fischer, Gunde Jäch-Micko (violin), Andreas Lindenbaum (cello), and Florian Müller (piano), with Zubel herself reciting Samuel Beckett's poem about a friend affected by aphasia. Zubel's heavily accented voice was haunting and strange, mimicked by the players who played with spiky energy and color. Having flown to New York straight from Warsaw, where her opera Oresteja was given its world premiere at the National Theater last week, Zubel is clearly a composer on the rise.