Dumitrescu/Avram – Radical Amateurism (part 1)

Wednesday 18 November 2009

It was hard to shake off the feeling that I was in the midst of a cult when attending last month’s Spectrum XXI series of concerts. Before and during the gigs, which were essentially a vehicle for the composers Iancu Dumitrescu and Ana-Maria Avram, little things kept niggling at my consciousness.

Dumitrescu’s scrappy, free-hosted website welcoming you to “the great experimental composer’s home page” conjures up memories of Madame Berthe Trépat (Gold Medal, Grenoble) from Julio Cortázar’s Hopscotch. The programme announcement – on a different free-hosted website – makes the rather suprising promise of “World and UK premières by Dumitrescu, Avram, Diaz de Leon, Hodgkinson, Pape, Tsuda, Scelsi, Xenakis”, but in a bait-and-switch move favoured by many cults the actual gigs featured nothing by the last four composers. That’s OK though, because the link to the London programme from the main page doesn’t work.

If you look on the web for reviews of Dumitrescu’s work, you’ll probably first find panegyrics from Harry Halbreich and/or Ben Watson; two critics whose tastes tend to the cultish and whose praise tends to the fulsome. Watson himself was in the audience for a couple of the gigs, and occasionally stepped up front in his green suit and tennis shoes to recite some sound poetry to the faithful. This did not help to elucidate the music much.

More frequently, Ana-Maria Avram would introduce each piece in an attempt to convey to the punters just how important the music was, that they were about to hear. This well-intentioned but misplaced advocacy also brought back memories of Madame Berthe Trépat (Gold Medal, Grenoble), and her introduction to the stage by Valentin (“it represented for contemporary music one of the most profound innovations to which the composer, Madame Trépat, had given the name “prophetic syncretism.”)

As in Madame Trépat’s recital, there was a high proportion of world premieres: I count a whopping seventeen across the four London gigs in the programme, from a tour which had already been to Brussells and Paris. This doesn’t inspire confidence, not in either Dumitrescu’s or Avram’s quality control nor that all the performances will be as polished as they could be. In this and other ways, their enthusiasm would sometimes undermine their strengths as musicians.

(Continued in Part 2.)