The London Sinfonietta Celebrates Karlheinz Stockhausen


Stockhausen: London Sinfonietta and Royal Academy of Music Manson Ensemble / Pascal Rophé (conductor). Sound Intermedia; Sophie Motley (stage director); Tony Simpson (lighting designer); Jonathan Berman (assistant conductor). Royal Festival Hall, London, 6.12.2017. (CC)

Stockhausen – Tierkreis for orchestra (1974, 2004/2007); Trans for orchestra and tape (1971)

It was wonderful to see yet more celebration, after the recent Stimmung, of the genius of Karlheinz Stockhausen, marking the tenth anniversary of his death. The piece Tierkreis (Zodiac) was left unfinished at Stockhausen’s death: we have ten out of the twelve zodiacal signs. The 1974 version was for music boxes as part of Musik im Bauch. Later in life, Stockhausen produced the two versions for orchestra, one in 2004 and the second, Fünf weitere Sternzeichen (Five More Star Signs) completed the night before he died. He may have been also planning to complete the missing two star signs (Cancer and Leo) the next year. The piece has appeared in a massive variety of guises, perhaps most interestingly in a performance by two lutes (recorded by Peter Söderberg and Sven Åberg – review).

The version here was miraculous in its cleanliness of orchestration. This is music that some might not guess is by Stockhausen: charming, approachable. Only the music-theatre drama of a tuba player walking onstage towards the end, playing as he walks and taking an early bow from the audience really brought this towards the Stockhausen people might expect (it was superbly done by the Manson Ensemble’s Stuart Beard).  The actual music seemed to reference Schoenberg, but also Weill, and was fascinating at every turn. The evening was to have been conducted by Oliver Knussen, who was unavailable so all credit to Pascal Rophé, whose direction was clear and obviously born of a detailed knowledge of the score.

I expect, though, that most people would have come to hear Trans. The DGG LP cover was fairly iconic back in the day, with its purple haze (here achieved by lighting). Thick black curtains separated audience from stage until the performance began, itself a reflection of the separation between the string players at the front of the stage and the (mainly) unseen performers at the back of the stage (they themselves occasionally transgressing boundaries in cadenza-like solos). Some 40 string players at the front represent orchestral musicians as ‘factory workers’ – automatons who play slowly and without emotion until several of their number, too, break ranks and, in moments of pure theatre, provide their own commentary/cadenza on proceedings. In addition to all of this, the electronic sound of a loom shuttle moves spatially from left to right and back again, acting as a structural marker and sometimes triggering action. This is Stockhausen at his finest: almost ritualistic and certainly with an intent to take us to another reality, while simultaneously offering a comment on the conditions of musicians in the early 1970s (it dates from 1971).

The steely sustained strings at the opening still make an effect (although listening to the Donaueschingen premiere from October 1971 still carries the electric frisson of that moment when the sound was unleashed on the world). It is as if we immediately exit clock time, much as Stimmung invites us to, but with a very different ‘landing place’. A terrific, indeed magical piece, Trans invites us to listen to the music of the wind, percussion and brass through both a sonic and a visual haze, a distancing on one level but at another, an invocation of dream-space on another (it should come as no surprise to learn that the work was conceived in a dream by Stockhausen). Along the way, one hears jazz influences again and that shuttle, a weird sort of carriage-return in music, for those readers that still remember typewriters. A perfectly gauged tutti crescendo was one of the highlights of this magnificent event; but it was really the overall impression that was the point, a reminder that there was once exploration of internal worlds on a grand state, a time when everything seemed possible.

A superb evening of performances. Is it possible that the present spate of performances of Stockhausen’s music could lead to a reappraisal of his output?

Colin Clarke

Print Friendly


Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews


Season Previews

  • NEW! The Piccadilly Chamber Music Series in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Opera and More in Buenos Aires in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Gloucester Choral Society’s Hubert Parry’s Centenary Celebrations in May 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Spend a Penny for Grange Park Opera’s Lavatorium Rotundum __________________________________
  • NEW! Bampton Classical Opera in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! The 2018 Lucerne Summer Festival __________________________________
  • NEW! Leeds Lieder’s Forthcoming Schubert Song Series in Leeds and Sheffield __________________________________
  • UPDATED! English National Ballet’s 2017 – 2018 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! Contemporary Music from Manchester’s Psappha in 2017-18 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! I Musicanti’s Alexandra and the Russians at St Johns Smith Square in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Anna Netrebko and Yusif Eyvazov’s Return to London in May 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! St John’s Smith Square announces its 2017/18 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! The Pierre Boulez Saal’s 2017/18 Season in Berlin __________________________________
  • UPDATED! The Glyndebourne Opera Cup and Glyndebourne in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra’s 2017/18 Season __________________________________
  • UPDATED! English National Opera’s 2017/18 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! The Royal Opera House Announces its 2017/18 Season __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

  • UPDATED! SOME OF OUR REVIEWERS CHOOSE THEIR ‘BEST OF 2017’ __________________________________
  • NEW! Dénes Várjon Talks to Sebastian Smallshaw About Budapest’s __________________________________
  • R.I.P. IN MEMORIAM – DMITRI HVOROSTOVSKY (1962-2017) __________________________________
  • NEW! Ann Murray’s Masterclass at the V&A Part of Opera: Passion, Power and Politics __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Carly Paoli is ‘Singing My Dreams’ at the Cadogan Hall in February 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! A Composer Speaks Up for the Environment: An Interview with Margaret Brouwer __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Russian Ballet Icons Gala at the London Coliseum on 25 February __________________________________
  • NEW! Twelve Years of Celebrating Malcolm Arnold in Northampton __________________________________
  • NEW! What is the Critic’s Job? A Review of A. O. Scott’s Recent Book __________________________________
  • NEW! English Music Festival in Yorkshire Lifts the Lid Off an English Treasury __________________________________
  • NEW! A FULLY STAGED PILGRIM’S PROGRESS IN ORLEANS, MA __________________________________
  • NEW! JIŘÍ BĔLOHLÁVEK (1946-2017) AND THE CZECH CONDUCTING LEGACY __________________________________
  • Archives by Week

    Archives by Month

    Search S&H