Cyprus Mail

Linking old and new music

Breathe a sigh of relief: it’s the start of autumn! Ushering in – after endless months of sun-soaked summer – October, the most refreshing of months… and not just in terms of temperature. This is the season when the cultural programme really kicks off, and there are a plethora of theatrical, artistic and musical performances in the offing. Chief among them is the Pharos Arts Contemporary Music Festival – a breath of fresh air in more ways than one: having already established itself as one of the most innovative, cutting-edge annual music events in the country, this – the eighth edition – sees Pharos building on its track record of unique performances of contemporary works to the delight of audiences both local and foreign…

Providing a platform for composers and performers to advance and develop new projects and explore new sound worlds in chamber music settings, the festival aspires to acquaint the general audience of Cyprus with the music of our times which is, say organisers, “directly linked with many forms of visual and creative arts and sciences, reflecting the profundity of modernday man and the human spirit.” Thus, under the artistic direction of internationally renowned Cypriot composer Evis Sammoutis, we get everything from world premieres by composers (specially commissioned by the Foundation to write new pieces for the occasion), to the well-established masterpieces of the contemporary music of the 20th century, as well as new works by the younger generation of composers, a series of documentary screenings and lectures, and a number of educational activities – many of which are in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and are open to the public.

This year’s festival, from October 5 to 16, focuses on the contemporary masterpieces in which human voice takes the lead, starting with what is perhaps the most iconic work of vocal musical history… It’s been a decade since the Pharos Arts Foundation first presented the Cyprus premiere of Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire with the London Sinfonietta and 2016 sees a fresh take on this favourite with legendary vocalist Marianne Pousseur joining forces with the exceptional ensemble Het Collectief under the direction of German conductor Robin Engelen. Based on the naïve character Pierrot, Schoenberg took his title from a volume by the Belgian surrealist / symbolist poet Albert Giraud, selecting 21 poems which he arranged in three groups of seven to create evocative and highly original music.

Reflecting a ground-breaking approach to vocal writing, Beat Furrer’s Lotófagos for soprano and double-bass was written in 2006 and premiered by the very same artist who will give its Cyprus premiere as part of the festival – the double-bassist Uli Fussenegger of Klangforum Wien who, this time, will be joining forces with French soprano Hélène Fauchère to present a composition based on José Ángel Valente’s poem describing Ulysses’ companions and their adventure on the island of the lotus eaters. Billed as “a unique approach to contemporary music”, Lotófagos is described as “pursuing a process of deconstruction, of Oblivion.”
Audiences will also have the opportunity to enjoy the Cyprus premiere of Kurtág’s monumental 70-minute masterpiece for voice and violin Kafka Fragments, performed by the internationally acclaimed mezzo-soprano Loré Lixenberg and violinist Aisha Orazbayeva on October 11. Based on Kafka’s texts taken from his notebooks, diaries and letters, this introvertly theatrical work – written in 1987 – can be regarded as a personal diary of both Kafka and Kurtág, with the music and dramatic utterances of the vocalist and violinist complementing and accentuating each other in a piece that runs the gamut from reserved and introspective to explosive and highly dramatic.

The festival will conclude with a recital by pianist Joseph Houston, one of the most sought-after rising stars on the international contemporary music scene, who will perform pieces by Scarlatti, Liszt, Messiaen, Ives and Xenakis, as well as the Cyprus premieres of works by Thomas Simaku and Christian Mason. Focusing on the linkage between old and new music – “so that the listener is familiarised with the historical cohesion of music evolution, can comprehend the various procedures and thoroughly enjoy the end result” – this all-embracing programme is a fitting conclusion to what is – without a doubt – the island’s most innovative music festival.

The 8th International Pharos Contemporary Music Festival
At The Shoe Factory, Nicosia, from October 5 to 16. For more information visit or call 22 663 871. Tickets cost €10 per concert; all other events are free of charge. Bookings can be made through the website or by calling the box office on 96 669003 (weekdays 10am-3pm)

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