To find answers about „Požoň sentimentál“

By Vita Račkauskaite,
student of Journalism
program, AINova, Bratislava 2000

The Middle class chamber orchestra Požoň sentimentál was founded seven years ago, when four members of the VENI ensemble decided to play contemporary experimental music based on local urban tradition. In 1995 „Požoň sentimentál“ started to play regularly. After two years they published their first and still the only CD. During these years the ensemble participated in contemporary music festivals, played in the concerts with famous classical music performers, made a tour in Slovakia’s towns and regularly played in the café-restaurant „Prašná bašta“ in the old town of Bratislava, few times travelled abroad.

Members of the group are composers and this influences the music they play. They use different materials and recreate them. It could be fragment from Beethoven symphony or song of Michael Jackson. They are playing with history of music moving from the 18th century to the end of 20th and back to the edge between 19th and 20th.

In November 2000 „Požoň sentimentál“ presented a new project — Urban songs with the special guest, legendary Czech philosopher and poet Egon Bondy. In this way they not just enriched their music by colourful middle class texts, as earlier they mostly played instrumental pieces, but they also broadened geographical boundaries. They used old Czech urban songs, one German and are planning to include some Hungarian, Polish, Jewish and Roman songs while continuing this project. Medium hundred year old urban songs were left originally, how Bondy remembers them and among them instrumental pieces were written to form a cycle.

They are four young composersin the group: Marek Piaček, Peter Zagar, Ľubomír Burgr and Boris Lenko playing flute, piano, violin and accordion. Except Lenko they are not professional performers, but professional composers, all four study in postgraduate program in Academy of Music and Drama. „It is strange,“– Marek said. „Mostly people from the academies are doing just mainstream music, but what we are doing it is not a mainstream music at all. We even hate this kind of music.“

They have other jobs: as officials in Music Centre, as musicians in theaters, as teachers in Academy and besides „Požoň“ they create other, as they call „serious“ music for other projects together, or separately. But what keeps them to compose and to play together in „Požoň“? What do they have in common? What do they say by their music?

Music critics agree that „Požoň“ has its own style that separates them from the others. Andrea Sere?inová, one of the editors of the magazine „Hudobný život“ (Musical life), said: „Music of „Požoň sentimentál“ is a special phenomenon of Bratislava’s music live. There is some essence in what they do. It is hard to characterise it, but it is something that makes their music recognisable.“

Slavo Krekovič, a chief editor of the magazine „Trištvrte revue“ (Three-quarters revue) sees the importance of what they do. „Požoň“ plays this live style music which was played in restaurants in our country seventy years ago, in the time of Austrian-Hungarian monarchy. And they are the only group in Bratislava that has this style after the Second World War. I think if there was no „Požoň sentimentál“, only few people would knew about this style of music.“

Music of „Požoň“ could be described as mixture of contemporary music and café-house music in the beginning of our century. Marek Piaček described their music as „café-house avant-garde in the end of 20th century, decadent post-minimalism and new simplicism.“ Their melodies are not complicated but joyful and they use humor in comparisons.

From the very beginning this ensemble was established with the conceptual approach. Marek explained that the decision to create „Požoň sentimentál“ was based on the wish to use Bratislava’s culture history („Pozsony“ is old Hungarian name for this city).

„The main idea was to restore the ‘genius loci‘ of this town and middle European region, Bratislava’s region. This town always was a cross-road for different cultures; main trade roads were crossing here. This ensemble tries to revive, recall this atmosphere not in the sentimental way, ‚good-old-days‘, but from the point of view of the end of the century,“- he says.

Most of the music is composed by four „Požoň“ members, but they also asked different composers to create compositions for them. „The main idea is not to collect earlier music as archives in the museum, but we want invite people to write a new music based on the origin, but not traditional. We see it in the modern, post-modern way,“ — Marek said.

For them it is more important to express their view, the view to the ethnic city culture from our days. They could use different local music and recompose it in their own way. Another member of the group Ľubomír Burgr mentioned: „The history is very important for me but I don’t see another way how to continue the history. I think this is just another quality of thinking.“

But is it enough for four people to stay together keeping idea of enlivening music of their city? It looks that they are also holding the same views on many things. „We have the same feelings not only about the music but also about the culture. It is our feeling of life. I think we four always think between irony and satire. It is our style of thinking and we use these moments in our music,“ — Burgr explained.

„What is common among us is the element of play, element of irony, sense of humor. The music we play is happy and joyful even if it is sad,“ — Piaček said. „I think the sense of humor is the only possibility how to compose music today. The music can be sad, it can be serious, but if you have the sense of humor it makes you a possibility to stay above and to see all these problems at once.“

As in one song that Burgr sings:

„I am from the small town in the East of Slovakia,
I wanna go to the big town, maybe to Philadelphia.
But there is one problem, you know, that Philadelphia is not in Slovakia.
But this is, you know, in America.

Sometimes I am dreaming that I am living in a big town.
Sometimes I am dreaming that I am walking in the streets of Philadelphia.
But there is one problem, you know, when I am walking in the streets,
I am always meeting peoplefrom Slovakia.
But this, this is not America.“

Off course, it loses a lot just reading the words. You need to hear and to see them singing. For example, performing this song on the scene they don’t finish it properly. While playing more and more energetic Burgr just jumps up from the piano, waves aside his hand and goes away.

But how does the audience understand „Požoň“ music? What do they expect from the audience?

Members of „Požoň“ separated three groups of audience according to places where they play: festivals, theatre halls and café houses. „In regular concert halls „Požoň sentimentál“ is put in different content and the audience is more reserved,“– Peter Zagar said. — „For me, when we play in a contemporary music festival is like statement what we are thinking about new music.“

„I think theatres are the best places. In café houses it could be too much noise, in festivals audience is too narrow minded, but in the theatre people are open, they listen to the concert. They are present to listen to the music and they don’t expect our music to be avant-garde, or mainstream. The communication, feedback and reaction with the audience in the theatre is the best,“ — Piaček explained.

Members of the group find out that people who don’t have education in music better understand them. „Music critics have problems with understanding what we are doing and why,“ — said Piaček. — „Some people need to find a message, but I think we don’t put messages in our music. This music is fifty-percent entertainment for us. This means that we like to compose it, but we are also solving some structural problems of musical compositions, there are some theoretical question behind.“

Even if music of „Požoň“ is created for relaxation and easier listening the authors can’t hide that they are musicians-professionals. They put different elements in their music that not many people from the audience find. And as Slavo Krekovič said, „There are people that don’t know much about them but they just like their music.“

But they need the audience to listen and to participate, their music is live. Jozef Gejza Trinkerl wrote in the booklet of CD: „One thing is sure: musically požonism very seriously relies on the listener, it needs him, as one needs the missing player for a game of cards, it feels restless without him.“

On the relation to the public Burgr said: „Our intention is to make audience to think if it is a joke or not. We just want them to think about. We don’t give answers.“ So everyone is welcome to listen and enjoy and to find his own answer.