New Music Studio Begins Its Season

The New Music Studio ensemble -- one of the country's only permanent contemporary music groups -- will kick off its spring season Monday with a concert featuring music from the postwar rebirth of the avant-garde.

The ensemble is associated with the Moscow Conservatory's Center for Contemporary Music and is composed of a fluctuating group of about 18 instrumentalists, mostly graduate and postgraduate students at the conservatory.

The center and ensemble are the creations of composer Vladimir Tarnopolsky, who has tirelessly advocated for the inclusion of contemporary, or new, music in the conservatory's curriculum since he founded the center in 1993.

Tarnopolsky sees his mission largely to right the wrongs of history and to revive new music after more than 80 years of neglect in Russia.

While Russia's avant-garde composers flourished following the 1917 Revolution and during the early 1920s, their experimental style soon fell out of favor with Josef Stalin's increasingly strict ideology and the move away from experimentation toward socialist realism.

"Since [composer Dmitry] Shostakovich was punished for formalism in music in 1936, experimentation in music has been difficult," Tarnopolsky said. "[Nikita] Khrushchev's thaw opened the path for some developments, but in large part the spirit of the society remained the same. Today, society is still very conservative about music."

At the conservatory -- "the best in the world," Tarnopolsky said -- new music's value is hotly debated. Tarnopolsky is trying to mandate a one-semester interdisciplinary course on 20th-century musical technique, notation and composition for all students. Though the wind instrument faculty has embraced the course, the initiative has met with resistance from most departments.

The New Music Studio focuses largely on young Russian composers and tries to integrate new Russian music with European trends from the past half-century.

This Monday's concert features a mixture of German and Soviet compositions from the postwar period. The avant-garde re-emerged in the early 1950s in both East and West Germany but took about 10 years longer to surface in Russia, during the 1960s thaw.

The program explores similarities and differences between those overlapping movements, featuring pieces like Karlheinz Stockhausen's 1951 "Kreuzspiel" and Dieter Schnebel's 1954/55 "Versuche" from the German side and Nikolai Karetnikov's 1962 "String Quartet" and Edison Denisov's 1961 "Music for 11 Winds and Timpani" from the Russian.

The New Music Studio ensemble performs at 7 p.m. on Monday in the Conservatory Rachmaninov Hall, located at 11 Bolshaya Nikitskaya Ulitsa. Metro Pushkinskaya, Biblioteka Imeni Lenina. Tel. 229-9403/0294/7795/8183.