Last night Wolfgang Rihm was present at LSO St Luke's in London when the Arditti Quartet played his String Quartet No 5 "Ohne Titel". This is the one where the violin plays so fast you'd think the strings would ignite and burst into flames. The Paganini observation's apt because every now and then there are fragments of past music, a Zigeuner, for example glimpsed at, and particles of waltz. And the first violin's demonic, pushing the other instruments to greater heights. It's so inventive, exhilarating.
Over the last 30 years, the Arditti Quartet has been the motor of new music for string quartet: Rihm's great passion. No wonder heartfelt embraces at the end, between composer and players.
Also on the programme was the more recent (1999-2004) Fetzen I-VIII. It's scored for string quartet and accordion, here played by Teodoro Anzellotti. The accordion stretches - literally - the range of sounds strings can make. An accordion pushes air and pulls it forth, like a giant bellows. So swoops of sound that add sonority to the higher strings. The strings swoop and slide in relation to the accordion: the cello almost matches, it's even quite humorous. For many composers, the accordion's useful because of its humble connotations. For Rihm, its valid for its own sake, its possibilities still unplumbed. How thrilled I was today when Rihm himself said of one of the Fetzen segments, that it was meant to be funny, the violin madly bowing as quickly as he could, and the others saying "slow down! slow down!"
More on Rihm in the next few days and also on Wilhelm Killmayer), Rihm's hero and mine too. (Scroll up or use search facilty on right.)
HERE for a picture of my favourite accordionist. I don't know who he is, I found him in an antiques shop, he's so adorable, he should be preserved forever as he was in 1935.