avec Bastien David, compositeur
animée par Tristan Labouret, musicologue
Théâtre des Variétés


Théâtre des Variétés

Durée approximative 1h10

Komitas Vardapet
Fourteen Pieces on Themes of Armenian Folk Songs, pour orchestre à cordes (transcriptions). Arrangements Sergey Aslamazyan

Bastien David
L’Ombre d’un doute, double concerto pour violoncelles et orchestre à cordes (création mondiale, commande du Printemps des Arts de Monte-Carlo) – Éditions Henry Lemoine

Béla Bartók
Divertimento pour orchestre à cordes, Sz. 113

Marie Ythier et Éric-Maria Couturier, violoncelles
Orchestre national d’Auvergne
Roberto Forés Veses, direction musicale et artistique

Intertwining strings

Over time, composers learned how to draw new sounds from the uniform raw material of the string orchestra. After bowing the strings, they turned to plucking them, brushing them, tapping them, quadruple stopping them, and so on. From whispered harmonics to quivering tremolos, from squeals and glissandos to woody col legno rhythms, numerous techniques have gradually become part of the violinist’s armory. Enthusiastic about all these techniques, Béla Bartók picked some of them up in the musical traditions of Central Europe. Since the early 20th century, the appeal of these unusual styles has endured, in newly premiered works such as Bastien David’s L’Ombre d’un doute. From Komitas’s Armenia to Bastien David’s France, via Béla Bartók’s Hungary, a thread has been spun, knots tied and strings intertwined.

Komitas-Sergey Aslamazyan: an Armenian tapestry

An iconic Armenian composer, Komitas drew the core of his inspiration from his country’s traditional music. For years, he traveled around the Armenian countryside, rigorously transcribing dances, festive music, ritual songs, funeral chants, etc. In so doing, he collected well over 1,200 folk melodies. At this same period, Béla Bartók was doing similar work in various European countries.

Devoted to the music of Komitas, cellist and composer Sergey Aslamazyan selected fourteen pieces transcribed by his compatriot and arranged them for strings. These short pieces illustrate the diversity of Armenian culture – a diversity of melodic inflections, rhythms and styles. Orchestral adaptation means making initially monodic songs polyphonic. In most of these pieces, Sergey Aslamazyan gives the themes to the first violins and cloaks them in refined textures, using echo effects between the orchestra sections. He may isolate a soloist or underline a phrase with bow effects that give a colorless or an aggressive sound. These fourteen arrangements thus combine unique melodies from an oral tradition with the complex embroidery of written music.

Béla Bartók: spun-steel traceries

A pioneer of ethnomusicology, Béla Bartók worked to preserve the folklore of Hungary and Central Europe, by collecting folksongs and using them in his own compositions. Although written in a Swiss chalet, the Divertimento for String Orchestra has an ethnic flavor. This is particularly noticeable in the first and last movements, which both feature lively rhythms and rustic themes. Between these two energetic and cheerful pillars, the Molto adagio marks a troubling rupture – above the doleful rocking of muted strings, the first violins sing an arid, highly chromatic lamentation. A stylized cry from the whole orchestra opens the central section, leading to the ghostly return of the initial theme. This stifling atmosphere could be seen to foreshadow WW2 – in fact, the Divertimento was written only weeks before the start of the conflict. The work borrows, moreover, from the Baroque concerto grosso model, in which a solo group dialogues with the orchestra. Working with string instruments alone, Béla Bartók had to separate individual voices from the group. He did this by offsetting the thick textures of the full orchestra against more finely drawn solo sections and combining the individual timbres of the soloists in delicate, interlacing, polyphonic patterns.

Bastien David: mingled shadows

Almost a century after Komitas and Bélá Bartók, Bastien David explores, in his turn, the interweaving sonorities of stringed instruments. In 2017, he dedicated his first solo piece, Riff, to the cello. This led to him wanting to extend his intimate relationship with the instrument, augmenting its timbre in a concerto for two cellos and string orchestra. L’Ombre d’un doute, commissioned by Printemps des Arts de Monte-Carlo and the Orchestre National d’Auvergne, is the realization of that desire. Premiered here, the piece will be interpreted by cellists Marie Ythier (who premiered Riff) and Eric-Maria Couturier. At the very source of the musical content, the two soloists unfold their ideas. With complementary initiatives, mirrored gestures and close complicity, the cellos melt together, like a sort of “eight-string meta-instrument” – an acoustic dream from which the orchestra emanates, like a shadow. The strings extend the music played by the soloists, diffracting the sound parameters and expanding the spectrum to both higher and lower frequencies. At times, Bastien David distances the shadow from its source. At others, he brings it closer. He thus works with space, disrupting our relationship with time and provoking doubt in the listener – the shadow is separated from its physical origin and perception is distorted. From there, the soloists’ discourse, highlighted by the orchestral contribution, reveals its ambiguities. Provoked by the doubt of a misshapen shadow, a listening drama unfolds, bringing new sensations.

Louise Boisselier

©Jean-Baptiste Millot