For more than half a century, the organisers of the George Enescu Festival have attempted to include on the roster of guests not only the main Bucharest orchestras, but also the most important ones active in the Romanian provinces. Such was the case on Sunday afternoon when the Moldova Philharmonic Orchestra of Iaşi performed in one of the programmes grouped under the headline “Music of the 21st Century”. Helmed by guest conductor Adrian Petrescu (principal oboe of the Enescu Philharmonic) they acquitted themselves quite well in the difficult task. Unfortunately, despite the presence among the soloists of such a distinguished violinist as the Moldovan-Austrian-Swiss violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja, there were just a few scattered spectators in a hall that could host hundreds. The reason was probably not related to any Covid angst, but to a general lack of interest among a conservative public for contemporary music.

The Moldova Philharmonic at the Enescu Festival
© Cătălina Filip

The first work was Martin Torp’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra. The three-movement work has significant segments of unaccompanied piano ruminations more percussive than melodic in their nature. The concerto, occasionally evoking Shostakovich film scores, provided only for a limited integration between the technically accomplished (Romanian, but Berlin-based) pianist Cristian Niculescu and the orchestra. Various oriental-sounding patterns or woodwinds unison fragments were not without interest. The middle movement’s music had a remarkable dreamlike quality and the finale had interesting jazzy inflexions. Prompted mainly by an enthusiastic spectator, Niculescu played an encore, a dreamy but insufficiently ludic Gnossiennne no. 4 by Erik Satie.

Patricia Kopatchinskaja
© Cătălina Filip

Arguably, the most exciting work on the programme was Fred Popovici’s Concerto for Violin, Live electronics and Orchestra. Given its world premiere in Iaşi two days earlier, by the same team, it has an interestingly odd sound world with no cellos (there were four double basses) and with electronic and natural sounds perfectly integrated. Besides suggestions of forest-like sounds, there were notable echoing hints – moving back and forth between the solo violin and other individual instrumentalists – of reverberations made by stones skipping over the surface of water. With its frequent changes in mood and swings from virtuosic to lyrical passages, the work seemed to fit the unique – a tad mischievous but full of warmth and enthusiasm – soloist Patricia Kopatchinskaja like a glove.

Adrian Petrescu conducts the Moldova Philharmonic
© Cătălina Filip

After the interval, the full orchestra was back on stage for two shorter works that Adrian Petrescu conducted with the same panache. Passages for Orchestra by the Romanian-born Israeli composer Gabriel Iranyi is a soundscape of mostly muted colors, with rare winds crescendos, and occasional suggestions of the real world, such as steam siren sounds. Peter Ruzicka’s Furioso for Orchestra is well defined by its title. Two heaps of turmoil and unmitigated violence, with strings and timpani playing at extreme speeds and sporadic brass stabs are separated by a calmer section. The skilled instrumentalists of the Moldova Philharmonic transcended with ease the difficulties of a score that brought to mind images of a frenzied dervish ritual dance.

Overall, the works presented shared an apparently similar musical vocabulary, characterised by long digressions and little structure, with few individual or – perish the thought – national traits. Based on what one heard, today’s “post-modernism” is perhaps a reincarnation of the so-called “International Gothic Style” of the 14th and 15th centuries, when most of the European art adopted similar decorative patterns, pleasant to look at, but with little substance. The Renaissance creative “explosion” was around the corner, but nobody knew it. There is hope.