MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Lucerne Festival Academy in Berlin

INORI

To the Orchestra of the Lucerne Festival Academy fell the honor of closing out the 2018 Musikfest Berlin — and what could possibly top their rendition of Stockhausen’s INORI as the final act?

Led by Peter Eötvös, the Academy musicians found themselves on the stage of one of the most sacrosanct spaces of Berlin’s music scene, the Philharmonie, playing the Berlin premiere of the full version of Stockhausen’s intensely beautiful “Adorations” for large orchestra and two “dancer-mimes” (hitherto given here only in a reduced version).

They’d spent the summer rehearsing it and presenting it as part of the Stockhausen homage at Lucerne Festival — the two pairs of artists who undertook the unusually demanding dancer-mime roles spent the past year mastering their parts — and everything was in place for Stockhausen’s weirdly gripping, transporting music of the spheres to cast its spell.

Spirituality and ritual comprised a thematic focus for several of the Musikfest programs. Stockhausen’s gathering of ageless gestures of prayer and worship that have been used across global cultures conveyed a contemporary longing to transcend the mania of our fragmented, restless lives and attention spans in this late-capitalist era.

Trained under the supervision of Kathinka Pasveer, Alain Louafi, and Peter Eötvösm Winnie Huang and Diego Vásquez were the dancer-mimes in this performance. At the start, they ascended the steps to the two raised platforms positioned downstage, where over the course of the 70-minute work they performed Stockhausen’s meticulously notated gestures, in sync with changes in the pitch, rhythm, and dynamics of the music. INORI has been described as a sister work to GRUPPEN, but here the focus is on synchrony rather than simultaneously unfolding polychronies.

Mostly performing from a seated position, the dancer-mimes eventually descended again from their perch, slowly retreating to an exit high behind the stage, like Bodhisattvas who have fulfilled their mission.

Filed under: Karlheinz Stockhausen, Lucerne Festival, Lucerne Festival Academy

Ruth Reinhardt at Lucerne Festival

The talented young conductor Ruth Reinhardt, who returns to Seattle Symphony for a major concert next month (where she was a Conducting Fellow in 2015-16), led an impressive performance of Luigi Nono’s No hay caminos, hay que caminar … Andrej Tarkowskij this past Sunday — one of the highlights of this year’s Lucerne Festival Academy.

Reinhardt gave a brief introduction to this highly challenging piece, suggesting the possibility of perceiving in the highly structured, subtle transformations to which Nono subjects his material a “metaphor for the human journey, our pilgrimage through life.

The Nono work explores spatial music as well, with discrete groups of the players subdivided into seven and positioned throughout the hall. Before and after this concert (which also included Messiaen’s awe-inducing, terrifyingly loud Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum for winds and percussion, led by Sir Simon Rattle), the Orchestra of the Lucerne Festival Academy joined the London Symphony for Stockhausen’s Gruppen.

A fascinating juxtaposition: the devoutly Catholic Messiaen, the resolutely atheist Nono.

Filed under: conductors, Lucerne Festival, Lucerne Festival Academy

Kosmos Stockhausen

Getting ready to take in my first experience of Lucerne Festival’s Kosmos Stockhausen series: a seven-concert homage to the powerful postwar avant-garde guru marking what would have been his 90th birthday this year.
My adventure will begin with this afternoon’s program of GESANG DER JÜNGLINGE, REFRAIN, ZYKLUS, and KONTAKTE, featuring Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Helga Karen on keyboards, Dirk Rothbrust on percussion, and sound designer Marco Stroppa.
Then comes a solo recital with Aimard performing KLAVIERSTÜCKE I-XI, GRUPPEN with the London Symphony and Lucerne Festival Orchestra (and, as the three conductors, Simon Rattle, Jaehyuck Choi, and Duncan Ward).
I wasn’t able to make the most-touted of the series, INORI in its Swiss premiere, but I’m planning to catch it during the Academy’s tour in Berlin as part of the Musikfest Berlin.

Katharina Thalmann offers a preview of INORI for the Luzerner Zeitung here. From her interview with the composer and conductor Peter Eötvös, who collaborated closely with Stockhausen, comes this observation about the work’s contemporary resonance:

Trotzdem: «Die Interpreten in diesem Projekt kommen aus der ganzen Welt zusammen, dadurch wird die multikulturelle Haltung von Stockhausen hier in Luzern am besten repräsentiert.» Denn fast scheint es, als hätte Stockhausen mit «Inori» in die Zukunft komponiert. Die mannigfaltigen religiösen und spirituellen Symbole, die in dem Werk aufeinandertreffen, nehmen das Konzept der Globalisierung vorneweg. Diese Weltvorstellung repräsentiert die heterogene, multikulturelle Zusammensetzung des Academy-Orchesters perfekt.

Manuel Brug writes about INORI here.
And in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Jürg Huber offers this commentary.

Filed under: Karlheinz Stockhausen, Lucerne Festival, Lucerne Festival Academy

Overwhelmed by Cerha

Recently, I had one of my most remarkable experiences in the concert hall ever. In the middle of this summer’s Lucerne Festival, this was a performance that I was initially only “curious” to hear, bringing no real expectations with me. The program consisted of the complete Spiegel by Austrian composer Friedrich Cerha, being given its belated Swiss premiere as a full 90-minute cycle, performed by the Lucerne Festival Academy Orchestra with Matthias Pintscher on the podium.

As my friend visiting that day remarked, “This music is so human. Despite everything going on, it’s incredible that we can still do things like this.” The Spiegel Cycle, understandably a rarity to encounter live — and that’s the only real way to encounter it, especially in such a committed performance from these enormously talented young musicians — is a landmark of 20th-century “originality,” often tagged as an instance of the Klangflächenkomposition movement, in which the actual sonorities produced by an orchestra provide the center of interest (think Ligeti and Xenakis).

But unlike, say, Ligeti, who can sound more “otherworldly” in comparison, Cerha’s unprecedented experiments in this direction seem to implicitly evoke more “accessible” dramatic impulses without losing anything of their audacity and originality.

In a talk beforehand, the 91-yer-old Cerha, who still composes, spoke of a twofold connotation in his choice of the title Spiegel. One is architectural: the overall design is an arch form, with movements mirroring one another around the central Spiegel IV: III and V share certain characteristics, as do II and VI and I and VII, a summarizing movement that also mirrors what has gone before. And there are internal cross-references within the individual movements.

The second connotation Cerha mentioned is autobiographical, though he says he didn’t come to realize this until the 1980s, long after he began the project in 1960 and assumed what he was writing was so outrageous it would never actually be performed. Spiegel can be seen as a reflection of and coming to terms with his traumatizing experiences in the Second World War, when he was drafted as a teenager and deserted. But like any great work of art, the ultimate reflection will be of the experience the listener brings to it.

The concept of composing without motifs, themes, counterpoint, rhythmic phrases — all the traditional “thinking” processes of Western music — is incredibly liberating, but also frightening. In some ways, it’s reminiscent of Baroque Affekt in terms of the mood that dominates a movement. But the emotional complexity elicited is of a high order.

Cerha even foregoes the instinct to use the orchestra in terms of its choirs. All of the voices of his enormous orchestral apparatus are autonomous, though they do gather and unite to thrilling effect.  Pintscher conducted with his hands and inspired the young players to new heights. Each Spiegel called for a separate score, which he ritually put to the side when done, pulling out the next one. His control of the massive crescendos that gradually detonate was remarkable, Pintscher practically flying with wing-like arms).

The climax to end all climaxes that arrives in Spiegel VII brings with it something beyond catharsis: a power of expression that sees hope beyond the devastation in the very fact that it can be articulated by such art.

Filed under: Friedrich Cerha, Lucerne Festival, Lucerne Festival Academy

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