Monday, 19 August 2013

Prom 48 Pintscher Stravinsky

Matthias Pintscher has chutzpah, conducting his own Chute d'étoiles (2012) between Ravel Rapsodie espagnol  and Stravinsky's L'oiseau de feu (Firebird)  in all its original (1910)  glory. But Prom 48 worked well because Chute d'étoiles is a daring, dramatic piece that holds its own in grand company. Pintscher is one of my favourites. Though he's only 42, his work has been conducted by Boulez, Eschenbach and Abbado.

Chute d'étoiles was inspired by an intallation by  Anselm Kiefer in Paris in 2007. Kiefer created a structure combining physical objects and other media. Monumental as the piece was, it was temporary, dismantled at the end of the exhibition. Read more about it HERE. Pintscher doesn't replicate Kiefer's work in a literal way but instead develops its concepts. Two trumpeters (Marco Blaauw and Tine Thing Helseth) engage with members of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and indeed, the Royal Albert Hall, since, like Keifer's installation,  part of the experience seems to be the interaction between performance and performance space. It's an extremely tactile piece : the trumpets project sounds which seem to reach out, exploring physical distance. I thought of Stockhausen (read more here) but also of Rebecca Saunders, but music has often been created in this way - think of church organs and vast choirs.

Pintscher  develops concepts of solidity and impermanence. The trumpets penetrate the void with brazen confidence, echoing resonance even when the sound has left the instrument. Brazen assurance, metallic and shiny. But, as if heard from a long distance, the percussion rumbles in mysterious murmur. The trumpets react, as if some electrical impulse causes them to fibrillate. The percussion becomes more insistent. Tapping noises give way to strange, unworldly metallic sounds and ferocious angular ostinato. One trumpet continues to arch tentatively outwards. When both unite, they play odd, bluesy riffs  but the orchestra stomps even more violently, and suddenly, it all ends. It is important to know what Pitntscher says about the piece, so read the interview he gave last year HERE.For me, the piece worked well on its own terms. Then I noticed who'd helped finance the work : Roche, the giant chemical products conglomerate. When I was a kid, I'd read my Dad's pharmaceutical journals which carried an ad for Hoffmann La Roche (as Roche was known then). The ad showed a man, buckled over having come up a flight of steep steps, maybe having a heart attack. Probably an ad for hypertension drugs, but the image fascinated me. Whatever ideas Pintscher had for Chute d'Etoiles, it resurrected this memory for me. They're not, altogether, really so different because both connect to the idea of strength and fragility, solidity and disintegration.

Pintscher also conducted Igor Stravinsky's L'Oiseau de feu (the Firebird) in the full ballet edition form 1910. Five years ago, at the Proms, Vladimir Jurowski conducted it (though I can't remember exact details and the Proms archive is no help.- it doesn't even recognize that the French and English names refer to the same piece. Jurowski created vibrant, colourful physicality. Pintscher's approach is more sonorous than bright, but evokes the same image of the Firebird, which materializes magically, in a glorious, but ferocious display, before it disappears as mysteriously as it came. Read what I wrote about L'oiseau de feu in 2008. 

The photo shows Leon Bakst's design for the premiere of the ballet.

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