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Luxembourg International Composition Prize 2003

Marco Carnevalini (Italy), Patrick Harrex (England), Francisco Lara (Spain), Kyung-Jin Han (Korea), Paul Robinson (England) and Cristian Marina (Sweden)

Luxembourg Sinfonietta/Marcel Wengler
LGNM 403 [77 mins]

The Luxembourg Society for Contemporary Music's International Competition Prize 2003 was judged and decided in May 2003 at a concert of six works short-listed from scores submitted anonymously.

Apart from exemplary management, this competition has the huge, unique advantage of the exotic line-up of the Luxembourg Sinfonietta; as Paul Robinson, English accordionist/composer winner of the audience prize put it, "how often do you get the opportunity to write for mandolin?".

There is no age limit and several of the selected composers were far beyond the current obsession with "youth". In my probably culpable ignorance, I did not know music by the two English contenders, both fully deserving their successes; there was a strong Sussex factor in the list of those selected.

Nor is there any stylistic prejudice, though mercifully for our tastes there was little of the "new simplicity" in the choices. The orchestra under its conductor Marcel Wengler, gave the first performances of all six works which the international jury had nominated for this final round. The compositions were by Marco Carnevalini (Italy), Patrick Harrex (England), Francisco Lara (Spain), Kyung-Jin Han (Korea), Paul Robinson (England) and Cristian Marina (Sweden).

The concert, impeccably prepared and recorded, is thoroughly entertaining and absorbing on CD. Unsurprisingly for an "eclectic" review journal, I found myself endorsing the audience's choice of Robinson's Chamber Concerto and (no chauvinism I promise you) was also much taken by Harrex's piece prompted by the grid-like structure and subtle colouring of a Paul Klee picture. The best of the compositions took timbre as a primary element and relished the more unusual instruments on offer.

Most unusual was the starter (last track on the CD) the Italian bassist/composer's exploration of quiet sounds, 'often merging into noise' à la Lachenmann, but very individual. 1st prizewinner Francisco Lara had me thinking (not for the first time) that programme notes can be more hindrance than help. Hopefully the learned jury understand fractal geometry, 'reversed Cantor sets' and 'fractal melody' computationally limited to three presentations because the composer set the tempered chromatic system of intervals as his limit, else the piece's duration would far have exceeded the suggested limit. This one I'll have to hear again. On the other hand, I found Korean Finnissy pupil Kyung-Jin Han's music less imaginative than his dream inspiration of standing/dancing on a tall bamboo led us to expect.

The standard seemed to me high and I think this 77 mins concert will give wide satisfaction to those prepared to give it a try. The usual doubts about the awarding of ranked prizes, which were unlikely to have been unanimous this year; perhaps the main sum of money available should be shared equally amongst the finalists, with a smaller sum set aside for those chosen as winners?

See also Luxembourg International Composition Prize 2004