MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

A German Maverick: Lachenmann’s Concertini

Getting to encounter the latest crop of Lucerne Festival Academy students is always inspiring, but tonight’s concert included an especially thrilling discovery. With the composer in the house, the Academy players performed Helmut Lachenmann’s Concertini, which was given its world premiere at Lucerne nine years ago.

In a brief interview with Mark Sattler, the Festival’s new music dramaturg, Lachenmann made some very interesting observations, his Swabian accent reinforcing the no-BS, down-to-earth perspective of this genuine German maverick. He noted the difference between safe, unchallenging “listening” (when we’re looking for the same old dependable emotional reactions in a piece of music) and actively “observing” a musical landscape — which also leads us to observe something about ourselves. And he declared he doesn’t think of himself as a poet but as someone working with instruments and sounds as “objects.”

The phrase “risk-taker” gets thrown around a lot in new music circles, to the point of irrelevance, but Lachenmann is a great model for the guts behind that overused label. Though they are several universes apart, in a way his attitude reminds me of the radicalism of Harrison Birtwistle.

About the aesthetic principle in works like Concertini, Lachenmann writes:

From the beginning I have been concerned not just with ‘noisiness’ and alienation but with transformation and revelation, with real ‘consonance’ in the widest sense, so that rhythm, gesture, melody, intervals, harmony — every sound and everything sounding — is illuminated by its changed context.

The concertante arrangement allows an ever-shifting balance between accompanying, disguising, covering, uncovering, counterpointing, how and where transformation occurs, every aspect of this ad hoc collection of sound categories: explorers in a self-perpetuating labyrinth, yet fixed in a rigid time-frame; searching an overgrown garden for …

Filed under: composers, education, new music


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