Inntöne Keyboard Festival
(Diersbach, Austria. 3-5 June 2022. Round-up by Oliver Weindling)
Paul Zauner, founder and artistic director of the Inntöne Festival, having moved the dates of the main festival to July a couple of years ago, has added a smaller three-day festival devoted to the keyboard. The combinations ranged from solo through many duos, up to, finally, a couple of quartets. ‘Keyboard’ is used in the broadest sense: mainly piano, but with some accordion, in different combinations, and also, most unusually, the clavitone (of which more later).
Cynics were warning in advance of possible repetitiveness or lack of diversity. By the end, the festival had proved them wrong. Greatest credit to Zauner for his imagination and commitment to having this on his family farm.
The weekend was bookended by two UK acts, starting with the Fergus McCreadie Trio. The trio was making up for having had to pull out of the festival in 2021, due to Covid restrictions, and they certainly made up for any delay. Echoes of Scottish folk melody, with imaginative use of the drums more as impressionistic percussion sounds, had the audience swaying along and tapping their feet.
Then, the UK act which rounded off the festival on the Sunday evening was the lively and extraordinarily competent duo of Liam Noble and Paul Clarvis, performing mainly a version of West Side Story. As can be expected from such musicians, there was a mesmerising interaction (and indeed I had first heard them over 20 years ago) and, unsurprisingly given their pedigrees in bands like Orquestra Mahatma and Pigfoot, a lot of smiling and humour.
The accordion was another feature of the festival, certainly a love of Zauner since, over the years, at least one accordionist features in the main festival. On the first night, we had the great contrast of the two accordions of Arnault Methevier (“Nano”) and Otto Lechner, from France and Austria respectively. Beginning with a rhythm that seemed like a clock ticking they starting riffing and ripping around it. Much of the time, Lechner was a sort of lead guitar, wildly improvising and bending notes and chords, while Nano was more like the rhythm guitar, able to change the time signature and pace.
Finally on the first night, we had the sophisticated melodist Enrico Pieranunzi. Seen only a few times in the UK, he recorded with the late Tina May, for whom he expressed to me the greatest praise and sadness. For his first piece, it seemed like he was building on a Bartokian folk song, but one could also feel the influence of Scarlatti, whom Pieranunzi has done a lot of work around, and also the supreme melodic catchiness of the great Italian film composers, such as Nino Rota and Enrico Morricone. He made the complex seem so easy and adapt to. Pure elegance.
We were lucky enough to hear some musicians more than in different formations. The first to do so was almost accidental, as Fergus McCreadie had to replace Allesandro d’Alessanddro who had Covid. But we didn’t lose out at all – the set showed a totally different side of him from the trio. It seemed much more personal, with him showing off an immense technique and echoes perhaps of Rachmaninov and Chopin. The two performances by McCreadie made a great appetiser for the next couple of years when he’ll be given great opportunities as a BBC New Generation Artist.
Another UK duo to appear was that of Xhosa Cole on saxophone and Deschanel Gordon on piano. They are of course the most recent winners of the BBC Young Jazz Musician prize but both making their leadership debuts in Central Europe. And, though virtually unknown to the Austrian audience, they proved themselves with great panache, energy and modesty, in a programme that was mainly of standards, but ended with an original by Gordon. Cole’s version of Round Midnight particularly stood out. And their engaging personalities made them many new friends.
Another to appear twice was pianist Elias Stemeseder, originally from Salzburg but now resident in Berlin particularly as a member of Jim Black’s trio. One of his two performances was with Georg Vogel, also from Salzburg and the inventor of the clavitone, on two pianos. (Great to see two full-sized Bösendorfer pianos in a barn!) With a lot of panache and empathy here they seemed to show influence of many of the imaginative composers of the 20th century, such as John Cage and Morton Feldman but without letting themselves become too academic.
Stemeseder also played with tenor player Philip Gropper from Berlin. With tunes built from Gropper’s larger group Philm, we could appreciate their dialogue and close awareness of each other, Gropper’s use of extended techniques, while Stemeseder could use keyboards and samples to add extra colour.
The range and diversity of so much of the festival almost made one relieved to experience more straighter ahead jazz formations, including the Brazilian quartet of Swiss trombonist Christophe Schweizer and the quartet of Stephane Belmondo and Kirk Lightsey, whom I saw recently in Graz. Both showing imagination nevertheless.
And now to the clavitone! The clavitone is a keyboard able to play what Georg Vogel has developed from inventing a new scale with 31 notes in the octave. The microtones of his trio allow us to hear overtones and beats, as well as sounding like instruments such as the clavichord which are not ‘well tempered’. But there was humour behind the serious intent. And it reminded me somewhat in attitude and the joy in going for it of many of the performances over the weekend.
The concept of this specialised festival was a bonus for us, and an experiment for Paul Zauner. By keeping the audience lower, it meant that we were able to focus properly on the music indoors, something which has been difficult in the past. His infectious personality and commitment came through as ever, and let’s see if he is happy enough to continue with this. In the meantime, we can look forward to his festival at the end of July, which includes the likes this year of Hermeto Pascoal and Manhattan Transfer.
The first two days of the keyboard festival will be broadcast over coming months on Austrian Radio.
LINK: Inntoene website