The first event of the artistic and musical season of Efestiade (a must-to-see in the cultural summer of Catania, Sicily since 2010) was a Cello solo concert of Julia Kent, the Canadian-born and New York-based musician now in personal exibitions, that took place in the Ancient Roman Theater of the city tuesday night, August, 7th. A unique date that at last was too short for us all waiting for an encore by the artist, alas!Julia shared informations and impressions with the public even before and after her performance via Twitter: many of us urged her to come out from the scenes and, at the end of the concert, to give us one of her attractive compositions (I craved for 'Overlook'...) but, the heat got the better, and we enjoyed the memories of the music at all and perfectly in line with the location of the show.
Only a few musicologists have been able to understand and reconstruct what Ancient Greek and Roman music really was, and in which manner it sounded to the ears of the public, due to the quite total lack of material testimonies (like papyri, or other manuscripts, especially the Byzantine ones), and of any other evidence. This nearly complete ignorance makes not only a hard and arduous work to imagine the contents of that music but, it obviously makes even more improbable and unconvincing any Musical Philology in whichever way it works on performance praxis. Any attempt indeed is highly circumstantial and truly personal, so we can try to use therefore other knowledge skills to achieve such supposed (until now, obscure) ancient manner to play music.
Julia Kent, who gives concerts in perfect solitude broken only by her modern cello (she perhaps doesn't obey to the tang of having a 'classic' instrument...), might then be a Rhodian, in the meaning given by the Ancient Rhetoric scholars: a wise mixture of articulate rhythmical elements; sound overlaps (maybe most of us soon thinked to David Darling and his multiple tape recording with the cello, just as Julia herself); and a bald technical praxis that drains quite at all the 'vibrato' with the left hand (I heard and saw no more than five minutes of this during an hour, the time of the show).
Asianists, Atticists and Rhodians were in contrast in a world in which Rhetoric (namely the colores rhetorici stated by Quintilian, the greatest Eloquence and Rhetoric scholar of the Roman Early Empire age) was a matter of interest for philosophers, teachers and public speaking professionals, and also for politicians and perhaps for a vaste public of connoisseurs or the simply sightseers during exhibitions performed in squares.
We could imagine the 'asianist' declaiming in a way in some respects similar (in modern sense) to Baroque: they astounded the audience using affected and exaggerated tones, large range pitch of the voice as in music likewise, virtuosity in the structure of the phrases like poets. 'Atticists' otherwise were bald and moderate: without any excess, they loved to be clear and to preserve the order to the extent that they seemed too much concise and terse. One could define them laconic, if they weren't named by Athens and not by Sparta in the way they presented the discourse.
Rhodians at last, were able to use all various rhetorical instruments without exceed in neologisms, or in tone pitch, or in pauses and musical skills, and then without breaking the peace of souls and without the aim of doing so. They were naturally ready to stimulate and involve the public, reaching this as always with supreme tecnique: that of Demosthenes among the Greeks, and of Cicero among the Romans.
It happened so yesterday night with Julia Kent, that her cello was surrounded by the ambient sonorities of light whish water given by the speakers and, that we all had the doubt it was there the really sounding little space of the 'orchestra' sunken in water beneath the 'cavea' to produce this swoosh in the Ancient Roman Theater charming in the dark of the night. May it happen elsewhere a similar consonance in any other 'location', as they say?
The aim but of the cellist, was not to 'try the Greek way' for her catanese play: obviously, in such cases like this an artist shows his own careful reading of the site.
Live electronics and sound overlapping, ambient sonorities and the vitreous consistency of the amplified cello, minimalist structures with a strong inclination to rhythm rather than to harmonic mixture, or towards a melodic order proper to a canon or a fugue: all these are the elements of a blend of styles and genres in the mood of the Rhodian style, shown in a Roman Theater with original parts in stone and wooden bleachers, where the emotional share with the audience get the better, aren't they?
Julia Kent doesn't pale in front of such great personalities: she aroused us on the contrary the desire to listen to her again with pleasure; maybe another time in a setting without pure acoustics like a recording studio ('Asianist'), nor in a Concert Hall like those of the Rasputina ('Atticist', her old group of cellos), but in a extraordinary appropriate place with really 'greek' harmonics like the 'rhodian' Ancient Roman Theater of Catania.