Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Le Cirque du Son

The Stockhausen night, regrettably, was the other concert apart from the Glyndebourne that I couldn’t go to last week. Unfortunately, pain rather took over, too much for me to really be able to cope with two long concerts, even lying flat on my back in the Gallery, especially as I would have wanted to stay on for the Stimmung.

That meant, of course, that I couldn’t hear Cosmic Pulses in the ‘surround sound’ it obviouly required. Apparently at home we heard the “CD” version, whatever that was. I am entirely uncertain as to whether that was some previous recording or a different stereo mix-down. Or even whether it was recorded on the same day. Very annoying, as anything I write about it might not correspond at all with what I might have heard in the hall.

The presenter apologised for the BBC not being able to broadcast Surround Sound, although I know some years ago the BBC was certainly experimenting with recording it. Whether the experiment was abandoned (Dolby Labs licence fees have often proved a stumbling block) I don’t know, but maybe a surround sound version may just one day turn up on the cover of the BBC Music magazine? Yes, I do realise that it has the same commercial value, and probably even less popular appeal, as producing cloned Dodos for battery farming their eggs, but you never know.

There were two other minor irritations; I tend not to listen to the presentation pieces, but apart from that, I believe I heard the reason for playing Gruppen twice. I should say ‘half heard’. It sounded a little disingenuous, rather as though the idea might be “Since you didn’t like it the first time, we’ll play it again so you can not like it all over again.”* Rather like the EU Commission’s reaction to a “No” vote on a constitution, I thought. I might be doing the Albert Hall audience an injustice; though I thought the applause at first was tentative and uncertain, it did seem to become gradually more enthusiastic. I also know, however, from being there on these sort of occasions, enthusiasts like me can clap louder and harder if the others are jibbing a bit . . .

The other remark I found a little odd was an expression of surprise that Stockhausen included an electric guitar in an ensemble 50 years ago. If he’d been Carl Dolmetsch I might have accepted that, but for someone who was interested in sound manipulation, and was in his (late) twenties, I’d have been much more surprised if he hadn’t discovered the instrument by then. What different and isolated worlds some classical people live in—still—compared to the rest of us who were brought up with rock and roll and punk or even house, garage and rap as well as classical music. . .

And there, of course, is the great gulf fixed. Not being there, I couldn’t know how many fans of Brian Eno, Frank Zappa (post the Mothers, I mean) even Gary Numann, or that much more recent German group (whose name escapes me, yet again, but means something like ‘turning it all inside out and putting it together again’ **) might have turned up to either Stockhausen concert, but much as I would say they ought to be a natural constituency, somehow I bet they didn’t.

Anyway, I am a part of his natural constituency ever since I discovered Zenakis and branched out from him years and years ago; and I don’t think—going back to the pre-concert chatter, again—vague New Age bleatings about cosmic whirlings and spinnings are anything other than patronising about a composer (and why on earth still "challenging"?) who’s been around for more than half a century.

That was a long (only in hours, not in any other way!) and glorious Prom night. One of my favourites so far this Season.

And, since I am getting a bit behind with the reviews, in the meantime I recommend you to two other enthusiasts,
Classical Iconoclast and Boulezian.

*I remember Charles Groves conducting the BBCSO in Maxwell Davies’ cheeky ‘Foxtrot for Orchestra’ on a tour of Germany years ago. It was booed and hissed with a vehemence I thought only the La Scala audience was capable of. Wonderfully, Groves turned to the audience and said: “Since you liked it so much, we’ll play it again.” And did.

** I got there eventually, after being mentally bogged down with ‘Bauhaus’ and 'Einsatsgruppen’, and stuff, so I’m not quite brain dead yet: Einsturzende Neubauten is what I was after . . .

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