I’ve just arrived back from the ancient university town of Leuven, in Flanders, where I attended the Transit Festival: a non-stop forty-eight hours of contemporary music. Fabulous composers and a very high standard of performance and, most refreshing of all, a very un-British take on what contemporary music is. The festival has a new artistic director this year, Maarten Beirens, taking over from Mark Delaere who has built it into such a successful and well-oiled machine.
Leuven is one of the most delightful and civilised Flemish towns with its fantasic Gothic late fifteenth century Stadhuis standing opposite the sixteenth century Sint-Pieterskerk with its famous town clock – just the place to sit outside with a beer to discuss the concerts at the end of the night.
There were some fabulous events this year and great new pieces - a premiere by the Greek composer Georges Aperghis of his Wild Romance to mark his seventieth birthday (a Transit commission). Also work by an Italian composer I had not come across before, Italian-born Pierluigi Billone. Percussionist Tom De Cock’s lecture recital included a work by him for which De Cock had constructed his own instrument using a series of car springs, mounted on wooden bases and struck with hammers.
For sometime I have been curious as to what music might be emerging from Putin’s Russia and here, in twenty-nine year old Alexander Khubeev’s The Ghost of Dystopia, was some kind of answer. With conductor Thomas Moore literally chained to the podium, his gestures were an attempt to both gain musical control and break free. Khubeev’s work was as much spectacle as musical experience. The ten-piece ensemble creaked back-and-forth like a piece of rusty machinery on its last legs: an ugly but utterly compelling piece of musical grunge.
Take a look at Transit's website and photographs from this year's festival on Facebook