At a time when the over-presence of sound all but kills our ability to listen, it is good to find a composer that puts his music in danger of being actually listened to - and heard. 1997 proved a remarkably productive year for Alexandros Markeas (born in 1965) whose piece Remarques sur les couleurs is suddenly interrupted by a lively exchange between four people.
Neither is it a political argument about the very legitimacy of the concert as such in our western society nor an attempt to solve the Strauss dilemma: prima la musica, prima la parola. It is instead a rather straightforward and serious discussion about the status of music today.
Conversation soon falls into the usual clichés until a musician cuts in and brings everyone back to reality: “I’ve got a job to do and I couldn’t care less about all your nonsense! Let’s start again or we’ll be here until midnight.” An ordinary reaction but oh! so true. Some people might think: so what is new? don’t we know that already from Luigi Pirandello’s play: Six characters in search of an author, in which the actors are suddenly beset by reality? or from American author Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy, in which the narrator, the main character and the author exchange roles? “Renewed by tacit agreement”, this taboo on mixing reality and fancy on the stage, in a novel or in a film, seems defeated nowadays by reality-TV. Role-play becomes the very matrix of art. Alexandros Markeas’ questioning starts right here. In a September 2001 tribute to Iannis Xenakis at the Abbaye de Royaumont, which saw the premiere of his string quartet Apostaseis by Quatuor Arditti, A. Markeas wondered about this composer coming from nowhere, who, like Pirandello’s characters, appeared on the stage without having first met with the approval of the authorities, in this particular case the conservatoire or the music academy, and who nonetheless managed to force himself and his music on the scene.
Alexandros Markeas is the son of a composer, and his life bears no resemblance to that of Iannis Xenakis. Music started as a game before becoming a discipline. He studied piano at the Athens Conservatoire, graduated at 20 and left for Paris where he studied at the Paris Conservatoire (CNSMD) with Gabriel Tacchino and Alain Planès, graduating in piano (1990) and chamber music (1991) with flying colours. He then embarked on a successful career as a concert pianist. But his interest in composition led him to further studies at the CNSMD: counterpoint (1992), fugue (1994) and composition (1996). He was also selected for the Ircam composition and electronic music degree course. In 1998, he took part in the first European academy of music (as part of the Aix-en-Provence Festival international d’art lyrique), and wrote a ballet. Athens. Paris. Aix-en-Provence. The next stop on his way could only be the Villa Medicis in Rome where, as an artist-in-residence from 1999 to 2001, he spent two very fruitful years, in close collaboration with his teachers: Guy Reibel, Michael Levinas, Tristan Murail and Marc-André Dalbovie, and various performers: Ensemble TM+, Court-Circuit and l’Itinéraire.
Alexandros Markeas follows the tradition of the Parisian spectral school, that of Gérard Grisey, Tristan Murail, Hughes Dufourt and Michael Levinas. Their music is ‘process’ music. More attached to sound than to the actual note, it goes gradually from one state of the basic material to the other. What is here put at stake are the dialectics between harmonic and inharmonic, between periodic and aperiodic occurrences. To which Alexandros Markeas adds a dramatic dimension, thus avoiding ‘pure music’. He is particularly interested in the ‘stage worthiness’ inherent to music, as it comes through the different aspects of musical life. Rehearsals, classes and concerts, pre- and after-concerts, anecdotes, clichés and music-related texts can all be used as so many experimenting fields.
All the twists and turns, the ups and downs that preside over the creation of a piece of music are integrated into it and have an upsetting influence on its form. Markeas’ reflection on the perception and the decoding modes of the musical object - through a literary and philosophical representation of music - leads him to extend the scope of the process by including drama as a formal matrix. To wit, his Hommage à Salieri (on a text by Claire Legendre) premiered in March 2000, written in reaction to Russian poet Alexander Puschkin, who turned Salieri into “the villain of the story, a composer without any talent”. Legend has now taken over historic truth by the sheer magic of the cinema. Reality forcing imagination, imagination becoming reality: going from one language mode to the other is for Alexandros Markeas a way of breaking down barriers and reminding people that the very notion of process cannot be limited to one mode and one mode only. In Remarques sur les couleurs (from an eponymous essay by Ludwig Wittgenstein), he uses a quote from Pascal Quignard’s La haine de la musique, on the effect of language in the symbolization of the mechanical clock, the famous tic-tac. “There seems to us to be less time between tic and tac than between tac, which seems to end one time sequence and tic, which seems to begin the next one.”. Four years later, this refection has developed into a “musical game around a metronome gone mad, fighting against its role as a mechanical regulator.” And, taking Pascal Quignard’s text quite literally in Actions-réactions for flute and percussion, (premiered in November 2001 at Festival Manca in Nice), Alexandros Markeas introduces a new dimension in music, that of word play.