Despite our highest hopes and expectations, 2021 hasn’t brought any resolution to the world’s ongoing swings between bouts of freedom and restriction in its attempts to mitigate the effects of Covid. i can’t help hearing something of the pent-up frustration caused by this in today’s Advent Calendar piece, Čvor by Serbian composer Milica Djordjević. The title translates as “knot”, a reference to the fact that Djordjević began writing the piece while “under extreme conditions … in a hospital, finished in the neonatal intensive care unit, where we wait “dass der Knoten platzt” [until the knot bursts].
That sense of something knotted and restrained, unable (yet) to unleash, isn’t simply the inspiration or even the driving force behind Čvor – it’s every single thing about every single moment of the piece. All of it, everywhere, screams, boils, rages and roils against the boundaries of confinement. What’s so incredible about Djordjević’s music is the way it’s so utterly held in check yet as far removed from the notion of ‘static’ as it’s possible to imagine. The closest it gets is to the kind of motion in a clenched fist or flexed muscle: a rapid, quivering tension indicating large amounts of poised power.
But Čvor is less about tensile strength than pure, visceral effort, channelled into wave after wave of energy directed outward, in all directions, compressing and rebounding against invisible constraints. Occasionally, details emerge: the clamour of muted brass; shrill woodwind shrieks; broken shards and dull thuds of percussion; a strange abstract ‘purring’ from an unknown source. More often than not, though, Djordjević presents us with a deep black turmoil, indistinct yet overflowing with struggling activity literally everywhere. It feels all the more troubling when fragments of melody implausibly find their way to the surface, a trace of lyricality that assumes monumental symbolic importance in the midst of such a relentless, white-hot agony of activity.
While the piece sprang from Djordjević’s personal circumstances, this feels like a music very much of our current global predicament. Čvor doesn’t achieve catharsis, or release, or any kind of plausible resolution. Art mirroring life precisely.
The world première of Čvor was given by the Lucerne Festival Contemporary Orchestra conducted by Baldur Brönnimann, at this year’s Donaueschinger Musiktage.
Čvor (Knot) continues the artistic line that I have been exploring since transfixed and transfixed (2020). Relatively short forms, reduced but very characteristic, often crude material(s) that, despite their inner development, elaborate counterpoint and fine details in individual lines, give an impression of stasis. The energy of this piece is nuclear, dense, boiling. Čvor, like transfixed and transfixed is written under extreme conditions: it was started in May in a hospital, finished in the neonatal intensive care unit, where we wait “dass der Knoten platzt” [until the knot bursts].