Monday, 25 October 2010

Helmut Lachenmann Weekend South Bank

The Royal Festival  Hall well filled for Helmut Lachenmann? Maybe it was because most seats went on sale for £10 but so what? It brought in an audience, and by the end, many of them were standing in applause. Perhaps most of them were Indie fans, as my friend observed, but why not? They're more receptive to new ideas, and in many ways, Lachenmann's easier to appreciate without a classical grounding. Ironically, he may bring people into classical through a completely unorthodox route.

It helps, too, that Lachenmann has a fearsome reputation for being "difficult". He enjoys being perceived as "irritating", which adds to his attractions among a certain kind of devotee. Famously he clashed with Hens Werner Henze, who has an undeserved  chip on the shoulder about Stockhausen and Luigi Nono. But Lachenmann's music, inventive as it is, isn't nearly as shocking as it might seem.

I loved the Arditti Quartet's  String Quartets 1 and 3 (Gran Torso and Grido) on Saturday at the chamber music part of the South Bank's Lachenmann Weekend. (Link to review HERE)  Interesting to compare them with the larger orchestral works, Schreiben and Ausklang (1985) on Sunday.

Ausklang (1985) came last as it's a more conventionally impressive piece, a showstopper. Solo piano (Rolf Hind) and orchestra (the London Sinfonietta doubled in size) relate to each other, but it's more tentative probing than theme and development. Midway, Hind drops chords but the orchestra doesn't react, even after several repeats. Then he varies the notes til they're drawn in and all spin off in completely different directions.

It feels like being in a strange jungle, where you think you're lost and alone. A more complicated version of Abrahamsen's Wald, maybe. Yet sounds all round indicate that there are worlds you don't even know about. Hints of things you might connect to things you might recognize, like the long chord that Hind pulls from one end of the keyboard to another in one swoop. Flashy pianists strive for that effect, yet here it's part of the whole. It must look amazing on the score. There's also a "ghost" piano (John Constable) hidden behind the orchestra, to tantalize. My problem was that I kept listening for direction and structure, but perhaps the key to this is not to even try, but take it as it is.

Schreiben, from 2003, is sparser and more abstract, though the orchestra was even larger. Huge range of percussion producing barely audible brushing sounds, like wind perhaps, or sand. Among these sounds is a Japanese shō. (There's quite a lot on ths site about the shō and other unusual instruments). Interesting to me was the way the sounds operated horizontally, in layers, high violins shading to low basses and back: a sense of shifting depths and shadows. Perhaps more dominant were the multiple individual noises in the orchestra. Two pianos. though neither used concertante, more for multi spatial effect. Perhaps Lachenmann is reducing the orchestra to a swarm of individual sounds, constantly whirring in orbits unconnected with each other. A swarm of insects, a cloud of bees.....

On the other hand Xenakis has had much the same concept, and his Pithoprakta, (1955-6), a true masterpiece of sonic invention and energy. Read more about it here.  On a more cheerful level, Kalevi Aho's Symphony No 7 "The Insects". (1988) is much underrated. The stange unearthly brushings brought to mind Elliott Carter and György Ligeti, even Toru Takemitsu. Those indie fans at the concert have lots more to discover. New music isn't frightening.

No comments: