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The Queen Elizabeth Corridor hosts an enthralling day-long celebration of the music of Xenakis – Seen and Heard Worldwide


United Kingdom Xenakis: Mark van de Wiel (clarinet), Philip Howard (piano), Tim Gill (cello), Oliver Lowe, Colin Currie (percussion), London Sinfonietta / Geoffrey Paterson (conductor), Colin Currie Group, JACK Quartet. Queen Elizabeth Corridor, London, 8.10.2022. (MB)

Mark van de Wiel (clarinet) © Monika S Jakubowska

O-Mega; Palimpsest; Echange; Thalleïn for ensemble

Concret PH; Kottos; Rebonds A, Rebonds B

Psappha; Ikhoor; Tetras; Mikka and Mikka ‘S’; Pléïades

Iannis Xenakis’s music doesn’t age. It’s an ahistorical cliché to say so, likewise to say how stark, elemental, uncompromising, visceral, mysterious, distinctive, and so forth it’s. These descriptions retain their power, while remaining open to exception and to broader questioning. However they got here to many listeners’ thoughts, judging by the overall dialog on the Queen Elizabeth Corridor all through this Xenakis Day, seeming to lodge themselves in a type of collective consciousness by which works and performances could possibly be heard. I didn’t, alas, hear all the day’s occasions, however I attended the 2 principal concert events within the corridor itself, listening to additionally three of the works on supply within the lobby in between. It was, I feel, sufficient — though the way in which the closing Pléïades left one aurally bludgeoned was much less on account of the astounding performances from the Colin Corrie Group of six percussionists than the unsuitability of the corridor: a pity, one essentially felt, while recognising that the Southbank Centre had finished what it may.

Geoffrey Paterson conducts the London Sinfonietta © Monika S Jakubowska

The primary works I heard have been 4 from the London Sinfonietta and Geoffrey Paterson, in performances like all the pieces right here that appeared fairly past reproach. (If you’ll play Xenakis, you are likely to do it nicely.) O-Mega, for percussion and ensemble, made for a splendid opener; after that, his last work, we may solely return, at the least temporally. Oliver Lowe’s opening bongo tattoo, a name to one thing, it appeared, met with implacable wind response, a hieratic ritual initiated in a theatre of music which may at all times have been, besides it had not. Shifting from 1997 to 1979, Palimpsest, for eleven devices, supplied piano (and different) scales reinvented earlier than our ears, its strains unmistakeably architectural, even engineered — to borrow a bit too readily from the composer’s different callings. Sawmill strings, wind fractals through which one may see in addition to hear the geometry, virtuoso drumming and a lot extra: this was not straightforward listening, nor was it presupposed to be. It was fairly a journey to last, mesmerising piano-and-drum-led climax.

Échange, for bass clarinet (Mark van de Wiel) and ensemble, was equally, but totally in a different way, primal. Once more, it sounded unmistakeably that ‘this was the way it have to be’, in a world of violence (like our personal) fairly unconcealed. How can we proceed so blithely, it appeared to ask, in a world imperilled by nuclear assault? Xenakis should have requested the identical factor, or so we fancied. And but, life in all its physicality, all its psychological surprise, continued. The bass clarinet, someplace between priest and Pierrot, bade new sounds emerge at will, although that was once more typically no imply effort. The ensemble may, although, and did reply. The startling weirdness of an E-flat main chord may hardly have sounded extra alien: a sign, it appeared, from one more planet.

Thalleïn, the Sinfonietta’s first fee (1984) from Xenakis, was as implacable as something but heard, maybe nonetheless extra so. Siren-like — ambulance, not temptress — its opening had us browbeaten, and thereby surprisingly receptive to proliferating subtleties to return, even to the purpose of discovering them inviting. Plenty of sound continued to confront us to exhilarating impact. Ascending and descending scales led each methods, so it appeared, to hell, their mockery a deeply severe enterprise. Piccolo pierced our consciousness, at occasions painfully, like a second of alarm on an intensive care unit display. There was blood-letting aplenty, the ultimate string swarms, punctuated by percussion, so far as ever from comfort.

Concret PH, like most, presumably all, musique concrete truly did appear to have aged — although even that’s depending on our figuring out the unknowable Rankean ‘the way it actually was’, and the way can we? Even when we had been there, within the 1958 Expo Philips Pavilion which Xenakis as Le Corbusier’s assistant designed, reminiscence would play its tips. There isn’t a ‘authenticity’; there by no means was and anybody who tells you in any other case is a idiot or a charlatan. How admirably filled with integrity Xenakis and his fellow avant-gardists appear contrasted with these snake-oil-salesmen to return. No, you can not hear the St Matthew Ardour as in case you had by no means heard Xenakis; extra to the purpose, why would you want to? Or is that simply to take a position my very own fantasy of post-war ‘inauthenticity’ as super- or supra-authenticity? There was, at any charge, room for fantasy right here, if one closed one’s eyes and listened. Right here was one other world: inaccessible, maybe, like that of Bach’s Leipzig, but an concept not with out its personal seduction.

Tim Gill’s efficiency of Kottos for cello actually deserved the principle corridor, as did Lowe’s Rebonds A and Rebonds B. They have been mightily wonderful accounts, although, wherever one heard them, the primary’s evocation of the horrible hundred-armed creature, progeny of Uranus and Gaia, a tune each fragile and stark: deeply rooted, if hardly within the standard harmonic sense. Or maybe it was, for I felt the implication at the least of a harmonic language, even when I may by no means comprehend it, even when it have been in truth unknowable. There was whimsy within the asides, even because the ‘creature’ gained power. And the music reached one thing akin to ecstasy, probably extra effortful than that of Messiaen, but no much less real for that. The state of frenzy reached was a liberation of types, not least amidst the hell of our present existence. Each Rebonds items, A particularly, invoked — even when we knew not what (that inscrutability once more). One was drawn in, much less hypnotised than transformed, in powerfully cumulative, remarkably completely different experiences of management and abandon.

Within the night, Colin Currie’s Psappha appeared virtually designed to cement our rising sense of construction as elementary in an emphatic, once more quasi-engineered sense to Xenakis’s work. The extraordinary musicianship on present by no means threatened to tackle a lifetime of its personal; construction remained paramount. There appeared no different means. And the silences: they could virtually have been from Bruckner. Right here, once more, was a summoning each archaic and never. Pléïades, right here ordered ‘Metaux’, ‘Claviers’, ‘Peaux’, ‘Mélanges’, suffered, as I mentioned, from an ear-splitting high quality that made it, for me at the least, too troublesome to take, the sixxens too hardly ever rising, to cite Xenakis, as ‘clouds, nebulas, and galaxies of the fragmented mud of beats’. Even right here, although, ‘the thought of periodicity, repetition, duplication, devoted, pseudo-faithful,’ and above all ‘untrue copy’ shone by. ‘Claviers’ got here nearer to polyphony, its ripples even a bit Boulezian, although I’m not certain both composer would have accepted of the comparability. Its patterns emerged as if on a number of screens earlier than our ears. Drummed hypnosis in ‘Peaux’ ready the way in which for much less a synthesis or recapitulation than a big rehearing, even rewriting when all devices united in ‘Mélanges’. It was ear-splitting, once more, at occasions, however in fairly an aural panorama, at occasions virtually dreamed.

Rhythm, its issues and alternatives, had haunted a lot of the string music in between, particularly Ikhoor for string trio and Tetras for string quartet, each given by the JACK Quartet. Vivid, fiercely directed narratives marked out each, as did superhuman unanimity of goal. Tetras appeared by some means each stranger and acquainted, the strangeness heightened by sounds I may need sworn had emerged from electronics, did I not know in any other case. Voices, of no matter type, bore witness, as if from Luigi Nono’s long-estranged cousin. Two works for violin solo, Mikka and Mikka ‘S’, got by the quartet member absent for the trio, Austin Wulliman. Measured swarming, management in dilemma, line tracked as if in a real-time graph: all through one ‘felt’ the arithmetic, or imagined one did. As in each efficiency right here, there was a rightness that left one figuring out, like this music or not, it deserved in addition to demanded to be heard.

Mark Berry

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