Hèctor Parra –

Hèctor Parra – "Un concertino di angeli contro le pareti del mio cranio" and "Mineral Life III"

Some performers mark their generation with their particular sound. This has been the case for several years now with the JACK Quartet, which, not only content with renewing our perception of works from the repertoire (such as Tetras by Iannis Xenakis), has become primary partners in the creation of today's music. 

The latest example will take place on 30 October with the world premiere in Cologne during the famous WDR series, Musik der Zeit, of Hèctor Parra’s fourth string quartet: Un concertino di angeli contro le pareti del mio cranio. 

Dedicated to the memory of Robert Gerhard (for the fiftieth anniversary of his death in 2020), this work "signifies", as always in the repertoire of this composer, resident at the Villa Medicis in Rome since last summer: 

"We live in a time of intense political uncertainty. But Pier Paolo Pasolini, already in the 60s had denounced with great insight the way in which fascism survives and annihilates all traces of humanity in modern society through the culture of consumption. By showing the horror of a society which, under the powerful impulse of homogeny, seeks to erase from the map those who feel trapped under the wheels of history. 

This was the case with many artists and intellectuals who had actively collaborated at the end of the 1930s with the Second Spanish Republic and with the Catalan government. Robert Gerhard was undoubtedly the greatest representative in exile of Catalan musical creation, and, with the composition of this string quartet, I would like pay him my most humble and sincere tribute. 

This new string quartet explores the oppositions between homophony and polyphony, platitude, and roughness, modernity and archaism, which are inspired by dualities so close to Pasolini’s heart: past/present, death/sex, ancestral society/modern life. In my quartet they are confronted with the mysterious emergence of a traditional Catalan song with atavistic colours - El cotiló -, very dear to Robert Gerhard throughout his thirty-year exile in the United Kingdom, an exile that lasted until his death. As Pasolini wrote in Empirismo eretico, “an author can only be a stranger in a hostile land: in reality, he dwells in death rather than inhabiting life, and the feeling he provokes is a feeling, more or less strong, of racial hatred.” 


Hèctor Parra - Un concertino di angeli contro le pareti del mio cranio « Quatuor à cordes n° 4 »
World premiere: October 30, 2021 - WDR, Musik der Zeit - Cologne
dannish premiere : November 6, 2021 - The Royal Danish Library- Aarhus
US premiere : December, 1st, 2021 - University of Iowa - Iowa City

JACK Quartet

The NOW! Festival at the Saalbau Essen has become a veritable crossroads of contemporary creation.

On November 1, the public will be fortunate enough to discover the third part of Hèctor Parra's Mineral Life cycle, commissioned by the Saalbau Essen from the composer, currently in residence at the Villa Medicis in Rome, for the flautist Anne-Catherine Heinzmann.

Alongside works by Georg-Friedrich Haas, Salvatore Sciarrino and Beat Furrer, with themes including "near" and "far", this new opus by Hector Parra invites multiple reflections on space and time, as shown by this exclusive presentation from the artist's own pen:

"The flute was intrinsically linked to the cave during the Upper Paleolithic. The flute is thus an essential instrument to interpret, in an imaginary way, the 150 famous engravings of the Pergouset cave in France. We know that the acoustic properties of the caves may have been exploited as part of the rituals performed in the caves. Sound was an important component of how the caves were experienced. The interior of the cave functioned much like a large echo chamber, in which sound was amplified: one can imagine the emotional impact of the sound resonating in the cave.

The sound must have been perceived by other parts of the human body than the ear. If certain frequencies were perceived as sounds, others would have been felt in the body as vibrations. Similarly, my new piece Mineral Life III explores the engravings of the Pergouset cave through a score for solo flute not only by interpreting the different artistic ensembles, but also by simulating our touch of the walls, their fractures and their convexities. This piece is a kind of journey from inside the cave to the outside, from the origins of life until death and ultimately its end.

Furthermore, the acoustic characteristics of the caves appear to have been specifically exploited, used to produce sounds directly associated with the paintings found within. Cave paintings and the acoustic properties of caves were inextricably linked. The majority of cave paintings are placed within a meter from the points of greatest resonance. Therefore, in Mineral Life III, the flautist will almost literally transform into each of the animals and monsters carved in the cave. Through her musical interpretation, she will go into a trance, a transcendental experience, developing a discourse of great gestural complexity but at the same time naturally energetic and experiential."

The sounds of all these animals will be blown into the flute, amplified, transformed and multiplied. Hybrid, monstrous and realistic animals will be embodied by the flautist, who will weave a large constantly shifting continuum. In this sense, we will find many musical passages that encourage dance and movement of the body. At the same time, the entire interval system and harmonic world of Mineral Life III is based on the range of one of the most complete Paleolithic flutes currently preserved - that of Grubgraben (Lower Austria). It dates from the Upper Paleolithic / Gravettian and is 19,000 years old.

The Upper Paleolithic flutes indicate that the engravings on the flutes may have conveyed information such as that communicated by message sticks. Thus, these artefacts functioned not only as producers of sound but also as carriers of symbolic information. For the "biological / evolutionary" fragments of Mineral Life III, I have therefore selected five short, concentrated, lucid and expressive excerpts from Charles Darwin’s book entitled On the Origin of Species. These texts are rhythmically coded and take the form of gestural articulations which combine the sound of the flute with consonantal and vocalic phonemes. There is a rhythmic element to be found in the repetition of the patterns engraved on a number of bird bone tubes. Thus, while emphasising the rhythmic and repetitive aspect, these "codified" passages are directly derived from Darwin's text itself, and will be, in a certain way, associated with the molecular and cellular evolution of life itself. Thus, the whole work will take the form of an initiatory ritual of understanding life and becoming aware of our position in the world.

In the engraving from the Cave of the Trois-Frères (Ariège, France), the animals surrounding a man-bison are represented in various activities: some fight, others run, while others still graze peacefully. Their activities seem to symbolise transformation between different phases of their lives or their changing behaviour over the passing seasons. The man-bison engraved in the centre of the panel appears to magically control these essential phases of life by means of his flute playing. Similarly, our flautist will appear to magically control the account of the origin and evolution of life on Earth. Finally discovering, perhaps, some clues as to our position, as human beings, within nature and the evolution of life."

Hèctor Parra - Mineral Life III
for flute
World premiere: November 1, 2021
NOW! Festival at the Saalbau Essen
Anne-Catherine Heinzmann, flute
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