With a free night in Bologna, I came across the Concorso 2 Agosto concert which was to take place in Piazza Maggiore (on August 2nd). It was a lovely night, and so I ended up wandering around for a while and arriving part-way through what seemed to be a great concert – I’m sorry to have missed the first half!

On August 2nd 1980, a bomb exploded in Bologna Central train station, killing 85 people and wounding more than 200.  As a commemoration of the bombing, the community of Bologna instigated the international composition competition 2 Agosto, in the belief that music would be “the more suitable instrument able to maintain alive both the victims’ memory of that infamous act, and the lesson that we all should have learnt from that event.” The nature of the competition changes each year, and in 2014 composers were invited to write music for one of four short films that they could find on the official website.

I had been told of the massacre and its commemoration when I was in Bologna four years ago, but hadn’t equated it with the date that I would be there this year. Hence, I was surprised to arrive at Piazza Maggiore and find it heaving – more the sort of audience I would have expected for a festival concert than for a composition competition. Yet on the stage was the Orchestra del Teatro Comunale di Bologna under the baton of Timothy Brock.

I arrived in the final minutes of American Kyle Hedak’s work Atticus which received second prize, but remember more of the piazza’s ambiance than the music itself. Then came the third prize piece Duel at Schrapnell by French composer Matthieu Lechowski. To be honest, I was surprised how conventional this sounded. The film was a black-and-white short telling the story of two gentlemen who desire the affections of the same woman, and who end up in a very silly duel in the process. The music was conventional to say the least, and sounded like it had been composed for the original film at the time it was made. Highly programmatic, it enhanced the action on screen but, I feel, could have gone further to comment on it for our times.

Agosto 2

Piazza Maggiore and the visuals for Flames

I much preferred the final work on the program, the musical/electronic project Flames by MaterElettrica created specifically for and premiered at the concert. Here, I felt there was a much more contemporary attitude taken to contemporary music and its relationship with the visual element. The short film was more abstract, depicting a hand drawing lines and shapes, which where then erased. However, the erased shapes kept returning in flashing colours to accompany the next round of drawings, creating an ever-evolving, multi-coloured video that became increasingly complex. The music was similar in that it also gradually increased in complexity, but it also maintained an independence. I suppose the difference here is that I could have really enjoyed the music in and of itself, but its pairing with the visuals made it spectacular. By contrast, the previous piece had been so subservient to the film that I would have felt a bit confused with the music alone.

This prompts me to ask the question of what the composers were seeking to aim for in the competition? Were the judges looking for music that complemented the film, as I saw in Lechowski’s work, or did the first (Benjamin Baczewski, Poland) and second (Hnedak) prize winners do something drastically different? I suppose the best way to find out would have been to go to the whole concert!

Overall, though, I was genuinely impressed that Bologna had so thoroughly embraced a composition competition as a suitable commemoration of the August 2nd bombing. The feeling in the piazza that evening was one of excitement and celebration, and it is a wonderful initiative to remember such a terrible event.

More info available at: http://www.concorso2agosto.it/
You can also watch the videos that the composers could choose from, but alas not the performances themselves.

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