All About Jazz

Home » Articles » Live Reviews


2013 Ultima Contemporary Music Festival

John Kelman By

Sign in to view read count
Bookending these songs were Grenager's "VEV" (Weave), a tone poem inspired by the Norse idea of how a skilled weaver can influence the course of history, and Zappa's "Sad Jane," a piece that, for those only familiar with Zappa's rock-oriented (albeit oftentimes complex) music, was still recognizable—in particular for his extensive use of tuned percussion, a trademark that linked much of his music together while also demonstrating his penchant for Ives and, perhaps even more noticeably, musique concrete innovator Edgard Varèse. It was an evening of music that, while filled with challenge and difference, still came together as a cohesive program beautifully executed by Brönnimann and the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra.

September 14: Jesus' Blood Has Never Failed Me Yet

Closing out a festival is always a challenge: go out with a bang or on a more subtle note? Thankfully, Ultima chose the latter, with a performance of Gavin Bryars' Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet that brought the 2013 edition to close, both respecting Bryars' core composition and, at the same time, bringing something entirely new to it in terms of spatial use.

Based on the repetitive loop of an old man singing "Jesus' blood never failed me yet, never failed me yet. Jesus' blood never failed me yet. There's one thing I know, for he loves me so," the Norwegian Radio Orchestra and Oslo Cathedral Choir (under the baton of Jonathan Stockhammer) did not just perform the longer, 75-minute version of the piece, taking advantage of the wonderful natural acoustics of the beautiful Oslo Domkirke (Church), they utilized the design of the cathedral to its fullest advantage.

A protestant church, the Oslo Domkirke's footprint is actually shaped like a cross, with a pulpit at the end of one arm, but pews spread across both of the cross' arms. With the bulk of the orchestra's instruments located near the pulpit, there were other instruments spread throughout the church's two levels—four French hornists located at the nexus of the two arms, a vibraphonist near the end of one arm, a violist sitting in a nearby pew and others on the second level, where Stockhammer occupied the box normally reserved for Norwegian royalty—but the only location that provided an unobstructed view of the entire room, allowing him to conduct the entire orchestra and choir.

All the more incredible was that, while some additional sound system gear was installed in the church for the performance, the only thing that went through it was the old man's looped voice; the rest of the performance was completely acoustic, though sound engineer Asle Karstad indicated, after the show, that just balancing the voice with the swells and dips in the music's volume was challenge enough. First, the voice had to fade in from the ether, at a pace so slow as to demand concentration—or complete surrender to the unconscious—and build to a number of climaxes before finally fading, once again, to silence so profound that it took the audience a significant amount of time to either return to full consciousness or, at least, realize the performance was actually over.

Few contemporary pieces of music are so evocative, so capable of bringing such a wide range of emotion to the surface as Jesus' Blood, and with Stockhammer carefully controlling the dynamics of ever member of the orchestra and choir, he delivered a closing performance that will surely go down as one of Ultima's most profound. Seated near the meeting point of the two cross arms, it was possible to watch the four French hornists located there, facing inwards towards each other, each responding differently to the music—both when they were performing and in the long periods where they weren't. Everything from smiles to close-eyed concentration—even the occasional tear—were there to be seen, and these responses weren't limited to the performers alone. There were surely more than a few wet eyes in the house, and others that may have been dry but were closed in either deep concentration or complete surrender, as the music transported their owners to another place. Still others may have appeared conscious and engaged, but were clearly captivated by music that, in its relentlessly consonant beauty, built like waves only to dissipate like ripples in a pond.

It was a tremendous way to end eleven days in Norway that began with the Punkt Festival in Kristiansand and ended at the Oslo Domkirke, before heading to the city's Gardermoen Airport for an even more grueling flight home than usual—but one well worth it. Between Punkt's relentless forward-thinking aesthetic to improvisation and Ultima's similarly boundary-breaking approach to contemporary music, there were more high points to be had in those eleven days than many get to experience in an entire year.

Photo Credit

Musicity: Courtesy of Musicity

All Other Photos: Courtesy of Ultima Contemporary Music Festival


comments powered by Disqus

Related Articles

Read Dixie Dregs at Lincoln Theatre Live Reviews
Dixie Dregs at Lincoln Theatre
by Eric Thiessen
Published: March 18, 2018
Read The Dixie Dregs at Scottish Rite Auditorium Live Reviews
The Dixie Dregs at Scottish Rite Auditorium
by Geno Thackara
Published: March 17, 2018
Read Bruselas Flamenco Festival 2018 Live Reviews
Bruselas Flamenco Festival 2018
by Martin Longley
Published: March 17, 2018
Read Kyle Taylor Parker at The Green Room 42 Live Reviews
Kyle Taylor Parker at The Green Room 42
by Tyran Grillo
Published: March 17, 2018
Read Festival International de Jazz de Port-au-Prince, 2018 Live Reviews
Festival International de Jazz de Port-au-Prince, 2018
by Mark Sullivan
Published: March 16, 2018
Read Derek Bailey // Three Presences at Cafe Oto Live Reviews
Derek Bailey // Three Presences at Cafe Oto
by John Eyles
Published: March 8, 2018
Read "Steve Reich @ 80: Music for 18 Musicians" Live Reviews Steve Reich @ 80: Music for 18 Musicians
by C. Andrew Hovan
Published: March 29, 2017
Read "Hermeto Pascoal at SFJAZZ" Live Reviews Hermeto Pascoal at SFJAZZ
by Harry S. Pariser
Published: April 21, 2017
Read "Vilnius Mama Jazz  Festival 2017" Live Reviews Vilnius Mama Jazz Festival 2017
by John Sharpe
Published: November 28, 2017
Read "Jazztopad Festival 2017" Live Reviews Jazztopad Festival 2017
by Henning Bolte
Published: December 13, 2017
Read "Gary Clark, Jr. and Jimmie Vaughan at the Iridium" Live Reviews Gary Clark, Jr. and Jimmie Vaughan at the Iridium
by Mike Perciaccante
Published: September 16, 2017