Black Page Orchestra

foto: Igor Ripak
“Radical and uncompromising music of current times” is the focus of the Black Page Orchestra, a Viennese ensemble that will perform on the first day (actually, the first night) of the MBZ’s first festival block, at the Small Hall of the Vatroslav Lisinski Concert Hall, which will be, and remains, available online for the audience.
The Ensemble was founded in 2014, and was named after Frank Zappa’s composition The Black Page (whose notation contains so densely written notes that the paper was almost black). They focus on compositions that use electronics, video technology and other technologies in an artistic context, as well as performance-oriented pieces.
They will appear at the Biennale thanks to the program collaboration with the Ulysses Project, a European network that promotes young composers and performers consisting of 11 institutions from nine European countries, and the Austrian Society for Contemporary Music (ÖGZM). They will perform three completely new pieces, that is, they will give the first performances of the compositions by Aart Strootman, Ivana  Kuljerić Bilić and Alen and Nenad Sinkauz, and will also perform newer pieces they have already performed, such as compositions by Alexander Schubert, Alexander Kaiser and Mirela Ivičević.
Sutjeska and patchwork
Croatian composer Mirela Ivičević (Split, 1980) wrote her piece Case Black on the commission of the ORF and described it as a sonic patchwork in which she uses sampling-like principles and strings and connects smaller musical fragments that do not have much in common. Their differences should be emphasized through accurate and confident performance of the changes between the fragments. On the occasion of the first performance of this work, in 2016, Mirela Ivičević also wrote:
“The title of the piece, as well as its content, refers to Black Page Orchestra’s aesthetic approach, but also to the Operation Case Black (Operation Black) known for, and identified with, its final phase, the Battle of Sutjeska, a spring 1943 failed Axis offensive aimed to destroy the main Yugoslav partisan force, near the Sutjeska river in south-eastern Bosnia. Despite numerous partisan casualties, the battle marked a turning point toward partisan control of Yugoslavia.  
As my Croatian grandfather was among many partisans who lost his life in the battle, Case Black has a special place in a history of my family, but also in the history of many Dalmatian families, largest number of fallen partisans being Croats from coastal part and islands of the region of Dalmatia. As present, Croatia [in 2016], with its openly antifascism-resenting, holocaust-denying government slides self-assuredly back into worst of extremisms, the symbolic remembrance of the battle, and of the principles of brotherhood and unity of differences becomes ever more important. 
 Watch the Ensemble’s earlier performance of that very composition here!
From Dowlanda do Sensors
Alexander Schubert (Bremen, 1979) wrote the following about his piece from the BPO programme:
In Serious Smile, four musicians are equipped with sensors that capture their movement and let them shape the electronics and processing in real time. After several solo pieces involving motion detection, this works tries to examine the interplay between augmented musicians. Musically, it departs from the sort of hardcore / free jazz aesthetic pursued in several previous pieces - but moves the material and interaction in a slightly different direction. While the focus in the approaches was an acoustical extension and merging of the acoustic instrument, Serious Smile draws the attention to the artificial and inhuman qualities of electronics and technical interaction. It also plays with mechanical and digital forms of representations. Both performance codes and used musical material can be considered as highly digital.
Alexander Kaiser (Brunico, 1985) wrote his piece, Mechanical Dogs, for a quintet and electronis, at it was premièred by the Black Page Orchestra in Ljubljana in 2019. His programme note tells us:
“The idea of an on/off switch made me think of the ensemble as a broken robot music machine. Emerged from some kind of dystopian cyber-punk world. Which tries to play every time it is turned on again. But each restart is different from the previous one. The music grows more and more. Becomes denser, more complex, more saturated.The cycles become longer and longer. Until the point is reached where the machine breaks and has solidified into a broken loop. Again and again... until the end is reached.”
At the Music Biennale, the BPO will première a work by the Dutch composer Aart Strootman (Oud Beijerland, 1987), who sent us this note:
Dwell in Darkness is a response to John Dowland’s In Darkness, let me dwell. Instead of retelling the song's narrative, I’ve tried to filter an harmonic loop out of the original that functions like a sound world of its own, a sonic biotope to dwell in. Even though all the deconstructed quotes develop in their own way, the ensemble is only playing tiny fragments of Dowland. The shadow play of instruments reacting to one and another seems to be a blissful place, until it’s truly darkened.”
Two first performances of Croatian authors
The concert of the Black Page Orchestra will also include two first performances, the Biennale commissions of pieces by Croatian authors with whom the Ensemble has already wanted to collaborate:
The marimbist and composer Ivana Kuljerić Bilić wrote her new piece, Scarlet Woman Looking to the Left, precisely with the Black Page Orchestra in mind. She had been in contact with them regarding the preparations for the first performance, and as for the electronics for the piece, or “tape”, she says it was designed with “a certain degree of freedom in manipulating the material.” She subtitled the piece “Thoughts on everyday life in five images” and described it to us as follows:
“Scarlet or crimson is one of my favorite colors – red that contains a multitude of associations, but the definition escapes us. I see hints of orange, you see hints of purple... Language is sometimes inadequate in capturing and describing a nuance in a single word. Anyway, the associative power of ‘scarlet’ connects such concepts as a woman or an ‘easy woman’, whatever that means; the church or the cardinal’s authority, the Last Judgement, religion and sacrifice; power, passion and joy; sunsets and fiery dusks.
The title clearly underlines a personal fascination with the works of the expressionists.
By exchanging perceptions, freedom of association, thoughts and questions, the composition does not presume but binds the composer and the performer.”
The brothers Alen and Nenad Sinkauz (Pula, 1978 and 1980) will join the Ensemble in the first performance of their piece Sinking Toilet Water Level, which they describe as follows:
“The composition is created from the sound recording of a broken flushing tank and a lift that is on the other side of the bathroom wall, and the transcription of the recordings. The space, the rhythmic articulation and the ambient tone were sufficiently motivating to work on the composition.
Our wish that the composition retain a level of spontaneity and openness arose with the decision to retain only the rhythmic aspect with minimal melodic motifs, while the expressive content and morphology of continuity are created by the interpreters and their authorial actions. We see the composition as the pretext to create a common moment and an attempt to find a collective sound. We have also set the rules of the game for the moments of improvisation in order to conceptually come closer to the typology of the sound we suggest to the interpreters, but also to keep the performing process alive.”
The Black Page Orchestra will perform their Biennale concert with the conductor Ajtony Csaba and guest players Alen and Nenad Sinkauz.
The members of the BPO are:
Iva Kovač, flute
Florian Fennes, saxophone  
Samuel Toro Perez, electric guitar
Alfredo Ovalles,piano
Igor Gross, drums
Rafal Zalech, violin/viola
Maiken Beer, cello
Matthias Kranebitter, electronics
Lukas Froschauer, sound engineer