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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Zen and the Art of Multimedia

The numbers themselves are impressive: the works of 190 composers performed by 13 orchestras, 10 choral groups, 18 chamber ensembles and 80 soloists, all in two weeks.

While the International Contemporary Music Festival, Moscow Autumn '96, ends Friday night with a free jazz all-star jam session -- as it has every year since 1979 -- one of the high points came earlier this week with the Russian premiere of a multimedia work by American composer Joel Feigin.

Feigin's "Four Meditations for Piano, Dancer, Reader and Video" -- performed Tuesday in the House of Composers -- is a work which takes its inspiration from the composer's belief and studies in Zen Buddhism.

"As long as you can realize that spirititual practice is the most ordinary thing that could be," said Feigin, 45, a soft-spoken, professorial man with a close-cropped beard, "it's almost the only healthy way to approach composition."

The music of "Four Meditations" originated in a score for both voice and piano written to accompany a film by one of the composer's Zen Masters. Using as its basis a great and famous Zen text, the 13th century "Mountains and Rivers Sutra" of Dogen Zenji, the film depicted the natural surroundings of a Zen monastery in the Catskill mountains of upstate New York in their changing aspects through the four seasons of a year. Later extracted by Feigin from the film, "Four Meditations" forms a compact suite for solo piano.

"Serious Zen practice made me open to the tonal possibilities that were so much part of me," said Feigin, 45, who teaches at the University of California in Santa Barbara.

In Feigin's words, his music "is about expressing feelings, embodying them in sound and gesture -- a way to get to those states of feeling which are beyond the verbal." And the sort of expression he chooses is eminently accessible, even to listeners who may ordinarily dread the thought of hearing classical music composed in the present half of the 20th century.

The music of "Four Meditations" was played Tuesday evening by Russian-born American pianist Elena Ivanina, and it was she who first suggested that it be accompanied by chant, Zen poetry, dance and two segments from its original video inspiration. Presented in that form, it seemed very much a work-in-progress, though a highly promising one, with technical problems still to be ironed out and more effort needed to integrate its diverse elements.

At the core of "Four Meditations," lies Feigin's extraordinarily beautiful musical score, which bows toward, but by no means imitates, the preludes of both Bach and Debussy. While the mixed-media format certainly deserves further development, "Four Meditations" ought to have no trouble standing on its own as a concert piece. It could indeed represent a significant contribution to the repertoire of many pianists.

Ivanina, who was trained at the Moscow Conservatory, coped admirably with the virtuoso demands of Feigin's writing and displayed an exquisite tenderness in her approach to its many quiet and tranquil moments.

Aside from presenting "Four Meditations," Feigin also spent his 10 days here meeting with musicians from Moscow and the provinces in an effort to arrange for the production of his opera, "The Mysteries of Eleusis."

Sponsored by the Russian Union of Composers, one of the functions of the Moscow Autumn '96 festival is to bring together composers from all over the world, said Oleg Galakhov, the festival organizer.

"I am very, very satisfied," Galakhov said.

Friday's festival-closing jazz jam starts at 7 p.m. in the House of Composers at 8/10 Bryusov Pereulok. Admission is free, and the lineup will include the trumpeter German Lukyanov, pianist Igor Brill and his two saxophone-playing sons, along with the Ivan Farmakovsky Quartet and other musicians. For details, call 229-1365. Nearest metro: Okhotny Ryad.