Last weekend at Lucerne Festival brought the world premiere of Olga Neuwirth’s latest major orchestral work: a percussion concerto titled Trurliade – Zone Zero (which references one of the Austrian composer’s sources of inspiration, the sci fi master Stanisław Lem). The soloist was Victor Hanna, and Matthias Pintscher conducted the Orchestra of the Lucerne Festival Academy.
Trurliade was the eighth in the ongoing Roche Commissions series, which picks from the leading composers at work today to commission a new orchestral work every two years, which is then premiered at Lucerne Festival. Neuwirth has also been serving as this year’s composer-in-residence at the Festival, which is focusing on the theme of women in music.
Neuwirth is a genuinely fascinating, one-of-a-kind composer who has created especially striking works of music theater (including collaborations with fellow Austrian and Nobel laureate Elfriede Jelinek, an operatic treatment of David Lynch’s Lost Highway, and a “musicstallation” in homage to Herman Melville, among others).
In her Neue Zürcher Zeitung review, Michelle Ziegler writes:
Trotz der plastischen Anlage geht Neuwirth mit den Bezügen und Zitaten in ihrer «Trurliade – Zone Zero» ungemein feinsinnig um. Sie lässt die Zahnräder der Orchestermaschinerie zwar wie geschmiert laufen, verliert sich aber nie in einem vorhersehbaren Trott. Sie fügt Geräusche nicht zur Show ein, sondern findet im Klang der Schrottobjekte einen poetischen Zauber. Damit hat die Komponistinfür ihre zweite Residenz beim Lucerne Festival ein wunderbar persönliches, zugleich tiefsinniges und erfrischendes Werk geschaffen.
The composer has written an intriguing program note introducing her new concerto:
This is why the title of the piece refers to Stanisław Lem’s Trurl’s Machine. With his warning against unfreedom, Lem in turn alludes to George Orwell’s novel 1984. In Lem’s story the machine designed by Trurl insists on its mindless and inflexible assertion: “Two plus two is seven.” In Orwell’s book the apparatus of power demands obedience through re-education, propaganda lies, and surveillance by illogically claiming that “two plus two is five” – until the individual complies with the stipulations of the regime and gives up thinking. The regime “teaches” renegades and dissidents to love Big Brother by using cruel methods of torture. The protagonist, already demoralized and worn down mentally and physically through continual re-education measures, nevertheless does not give up the fight and becomes dangerous to the Party when he dares to express (mathematical) facts: “Freedom is the freedom to say two plus two is four.” And he does so even though, according to Orwell, the loudspeakers keep demanding over and over again that everyone accept whatever Big Brother defines as true, including that two and two is five. This phrase represents the obedience required by an ideology in contrast to rational facts and truth.