As part of the annual Cairo Contemporary Music Days, Japanese violinist Takao Hyakutome performed six pieces for solo violin on the Falaki theatre’s stage on 13 April to a receptive but not very understanding audience.
Hyakutome played the Egyptian premiere of Vykintas Baltakas’ Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (A Little Night Music), as well as Luciano Berio’s Sequenza VIII, and violin compositions by Mateu Malondra and Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Rahim.
Hyakutome’s performance marked the opening of the Cairo Contemporary Music Days, which is hosted by the European-Egyptian Contemporary Music Society (EECMS) and will run until 17 April.
Originally from Sapporo, Japan, Hyakutome won several prizes in international competitions when he was a student in Holland and Belgium. Hyakutome does research on extended violin techniques and five-string violin, and works with the Antwerp-based experimental contemporary music ensemble, Champ d’Action.
This experimental focus was a big part of his appeal at Falaki, but it also might have made him a bit inaccessible to his audience. While most were expecting to recognise melody, many of the pieces Hyakutome played were dissonant and, at different times during the concert, created a tense atmosphere in the theatre. There are no doubts about Hyakutome’s virtuosity; the complex pieces he performed ensured we were able to recognise that, but the audience was also expecting harmony and melody, and not merely seeing proof of Hyakutome’s ability to play.
The audience was mostly very well-behaved. In other venues where instrumental music is performed, like the Opera House, most people whisper, take out their phones and only manage to stick to the formal wear rule when it comes to proper behaviour during concerts. At the Falaki everyone was exceptionally quiet and the acoustics of the theatre lent themselves excellently to highlight the sounds of Hyakutome’s violin.
Hyakutome’s last two pieces were more accessible than the first four and despite the audience struggling to keep up with the violinist, a small number left halfway through, the pieces were inventive, complex, and no doubt presented a challenge for Hyakutome to master.
Baltakas’ Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, was described as a lullaby that the composer says he has been singing to his daughters for years and that its points of reference to Mozart’s popular piece ends with the name. The first part is difficult to believe, the latter not so much. It is hard to imagine a lullaby that sounds so discordant is sung as a lullaby for children but it is unsurprising that it only bears one similarity to Mozart’s composition.
One of the composers, Mateu Malondra Flaquer, was also present at the performance. Malondra, we are told, has also been the recipient of several grants and awards and his compositions have been performed by orchestras in international festivals, such as Donaueschinger Musiktage, Gaudeamus Muziekweek, and L’Auditoride Barcelona. He has recently been appointed artistic director and coordinator of the ME_MMIX Festival in Palma de Mallorca.
Both he and Hyakutome were present outside after the concert to talk to the audience and sign CDs (Hyakutome’s was available for EGP 100). However, most of the audience did not approach them, and some communicated they felt they were not learned enough to do so and did not understand what they had listened to.
The Cairo Contemporary Music Days is certainly an interesting event that enriches the city’s music scene, but there is a gap between the audience’s knowledge and taste and the performances – something that should be taken in mind, either through providing some background for audience members, or through the scheduling of more accessible pieces.