People are drawn to music for many different reasons. Stockhausen might appeal to those who like technology, formulae, ritual and the splitting of fine hairs. But as Mahler said, “the music is not in the notes”. Stockhausen was an obsessive personality but, as this programme showed, there was a deeper vein of creativity in him that subverted the overt control freakery. On paper it wasn’t promising. Two versions of Harmonien, interleaved with two performances of Trans. No wonder so many left at the interval ! Why listen to the same basic pieces repeated ? But that’s the whole mystery Stockhausen presents us with. The music here is not “in the notes” but in the conceptual challenges.
Snippets of Ravel, Stravinsky and Schumann are woven into the piece, too, as familiar points of reference which disappear before they can quite be grasped. At various points individual musicians are drawn out of the mass : a trumpeter climbing a ladder in the background (the only visible non string player), violinists who stand up and play weird disharmonies, and most memorably a music stand that’s wheeled on stage, causing a cellist to suddenly break ranks and play what’s on the stand. As the stand is removed, he tries to follow it to keep playing, When it’s gone he sinks back into the mass.