Eve Risser L' ensemble ensemble at Stegi Onassis Cultural Centre

Henning Bolte By

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Eve Risser L' ensemble ensemble
Stegi Onassis Cultural Centre
March 8, 2019

The Onassis Cultural Foundation and the Stegi site/building in Athens are both offshoots of the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation, a foundation created by ship magnate Aristotle Onassis (1906-1975) to honor the memory of his son Alexander, who died at age 24 in an airplane crash in 1973. The cultural part of the foundation is financed by the business part and is dedicated to culture, education, health and social solidarity. Stegi, meaning 'roof' in Greek, is an impressive multidisciplinary and multicultural art space opened in 2010. Stegi Onassis Cultural Centre presents a pointed choice of Greek and international artists in challenging and illuminating ways to Greek audiences (see current program here). It "offers events across the whole spectrum of the arts, from theater, dance, music, film, and visual arts, to the written word. The Center emphasizes contemporary cultural expression, supporting Greek artists, cultivating international collaborations, and educating children and people of all ages through lifelong learning."

In 2000 the US branch Onassis Foundation USA was started. "For over 19 years, it has been dedicated to culture, community, and education, with projects that can effectively inspire social change and justice across borders. By collaborating with Onassis Stegi in Athens and educational and cultural institutions throughout the Americas, Onassis USA presents theatrical and dance productions, art exhibits, conversations, lectures, and other initiatives, triggering discussions about democratic values, human rights, civil rights, and the ever- changing realities facing today's citizens on a global scale. Onassis Foundation USA runs through two major initiatives, one cultural for the general public through its Onassis Cultural Center New York, and the other educational for scholars and students in partnership with educational institutions through the Onassis Humanities Impact Program."

The group

French pianist Eve Risser, Norwegian vocalist Mari Kvien Brunvoll, Norwegian guitarist Kim Myhr, Romanian violinist/guitarist George Dumitriu and drummer/percussionist Toma Gouband evolved as a performing group during a 2018 residency at Nouvelle Scene National de Cergny-Pontoise. The group made its initial public appearances on the scene in June 2018 at Atelier du Plateau in Paris and then in November at Festival Sons Autonomne in Annecy. Stegi Onassis at Athens then was its third appearance—a bold programming choice for this Pan European combination heading to new directions of improvisational music making.

The concert

The group's music took shape in uncommon and miraculous ways that felt like alchemy. Starting from sounds that seemed to exist on their own without purpose it continued with wondrously repetitive and shifting moves that did not give away immediately these seemingly random sounds' determination. The musicians were wandering in ambivalences and minimal tonal gestures, thereby evoking and enabling surprising amalgamations. They playfully juggled the sounds and let them morph to (and along) transitory zones in a delicate interplay of pure explorative joy, expectant suspense and cathartic dissolution. It was more a matter of suggestion and gripping approximation than a matter of straight articulation. In a way it was the opposite of deconstructive approaches. In a game with playful particles something 'known' emerges from unknown and non- determinate zones of sound.

There was a certain uniformity in the 'procedure' but there were also mixed cases where elements of 'known' pieces were distorted and transfigured. In the long run, tension and denseness diminished due to sameness of procedures or due to having hitherto worked through something less deeply. Both can be ascribed to the developmental stadium of the group's process that requires further continuing exploration and transformation. The most rewarding was the second piece of the concert with Mari Kvien Brunvoll singing in Norwegian. It was a good example of a well worked through piece and a new song form that was laid out in the germ of some other pieces too. It is a song form that emerges from the above indicated operations and processes.

Both Norwegian musicians are part of a strong and varied tradition of working in this micro-to-macro direction. This collaboration however did not turn out a mere extension of that very tradition. Both, and especially Myhr, are experienced in collaborating with musicians approaching it from other angles. The music of this new group then turned out as an advanced form of mutual understanding, exchange and synthesis.

The musicians

Eve Risser (1982), a highly versatile pianist/flautist, is one of the most venturesome forces of the younger French generation of musicians. Her most audacious and simultaneously endearing enterprise as a leader and composer are her orchestras, first the ten-piece White Desert Orchestra (Les Deux Versants Se Regardent) and its offshoots, the two African versions of the Red Desert Orchestra, the Red Desert Orchestra + Kaladjula band as well as the Red Desert Orchestra + Bambara/Hié/Hié. The orchestras bundle up some of the strongest musicians of the younger generation such as Julien Desprez, Antonin-Tri Hoang, Sylvaine Hélary or Sophie Bernado. On the other side of her musical range we find strong improvisational configurations such as the 'free' trio En Corps with drummer Edward Perraud and bassist Benjamin Duboc, and quite a number of duos. She herself lists seven configurations. In between these two poles you find the five-piece French-Norwegian-Romanian configuration of l'ensemble ensemble. The orchestras also include Norwegian, Dutch and German musicians.

Mari Kvien Brunvoll (1984) is a Norwegian vocalist from Bergen. She started to perform ten years ago using little instruments and electronics (not so common then as now). With her vocal performing style, her timbre, phrasing and texture she came with a clear signature of her own. Her vocal approach has some similarities with the loose and edgy phrasing of Björk, with Björk's natural as well as exalted theatre of voice. Cadence and intonation of Brunvoll's singing are deeply rooted in Norwegian language (as that of Björk is rooted in Icelandic language)—also in wordless singing. She makes use of it and emphasizes it in a playful way—including singing in her vernacular Norwegian dialect. She employs a lot of non-straight singing maneuvers by means of various ways of distortion including radical muting her voice's sound. She's a member of the trio Building Instrument and collaborates with Bergen (slide-)guitarist Stein Urheim. Building Instrument's hand-made esthetics glues together traces from various sources in a highly idiosyncratic and original way
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