Xenakis – Architect of Sound

07/04/2011

Xenakis – Architect of Sound: Rolf Hind (piano); Tim Gill (cello); London Sinfonietta/André de Ridder. Sound Intermedia. Queen Elizabeth Hall, 2.4. 2011 (CC)

Eonta for piano and brass quintet
Kottos for solo cello
Phlegra for ensemble
La Légende d’Eer for electroacoustic tape

The music of Iannis Xenakis is nothing if not fiercely uncompromising, both in terms of its language and in its demands on the players. Xenakis’ work as an architect (in particular, his association with Le Corbusier) and his mathematical approach to composition rub vehemently against the visceral effect of his works. Eonta (1963) is actually a homage to Parenides, the ancient Greek philosopher and poet. Xenakis derives his materials from theories of probabilities and logistics. The piano part is cripplingly difficult. Rolf Hind not only took all the challenges on his chin, but succeeded in giving the most musical performance I have heard of this piece – some passages seemed actually reminiscent of Debussy. The brass were mobile, moving sometimes as a unit and sometimes wandering around the stage randomly. Quiet plateaux stood in high relief from the post-Lutoslawski barrages. It was a remarkable and thought-provoking performance.

If anything, Tim Gill took on even greater challenges in Kottos (1977), the test piece of the 1977 Rostropovich International Cello Competition. The title comes from the hundred-headed titan that Zeus slaughtered. The crushing, dissonant, low opening was presumably the composer’s idea of “noise”. Contrasts came in the form of pliant whimpers; one passage sounded like a search for a lost consonance, a plea for resolution that went firmly unanswered. Virtuoso in extremis, Gill held the audience in his grip for the entire eight minute duration.

The work for ensemble, Phlegra (1975), again takes inspiration from ancient Greek history: the Phlegrian fields were the scene of the clash between the Olympic Gods and the Titans. Xenakis uses the technique of melodic arborescence (the tree analogy of lines branching out from a single source) in tandem with aleatorism (chance) and rhythmic formulae. The piece is scored for eleven instruments – initially, the impression is that there will be a concertante bassoon part. This was probably the weakest part of the first half, however – at times, the music seemed to be running out of steam.

The idea of electronic music in a concert hall with the audience staring at a bare stage took me back to the Stockhausen festival at the Barbican in the 1980s. If only the music had had the same effect. Stockhausen’s electronic works are shot through with genius, whereas Xenakis’ fifty-minute La Légende d’Eer, composed in 1977/78 for the opening of the Pompidou Centre in Paris, seemed overlong. Natural sounds are used, and come in and out of focus. There is a feeling of space being filled as the work progresses. There are intersection points with Stockhausen, however; it is clear that Xenakis understands the expressive potentials of sounds, including white noise. Huge, monumental aggregations of sound vie with sounds that circle round the auditorium. Yet the piece failed to suck the listener into its strange world. All credit to Sound Intermedia for the presentation, though.

Colin Clarke

Comments

Comments are closed.

Recent Reviews

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • UPDATED ONLINE NEWS! IMPACT OF CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19) PANDEMIC __________________________________
  • NEW! BBC Proms turns 125 years old – 17 July to 12 September 2020 __________________________________
  • NEW! Opera North in 2020-2021 – postponements and plans __________________________________
  • NEW! Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich 2020-2021 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Glyndebourne Festival Opera opens for a 2020 summer season __________________________________
  • NEW! Baritone Federico Longhi’s Rigoletto is part of Parma’s June Verdian renaissance __________________________________
  • NEW! 69th Wexford Festival Opera – 11 to 18 October 2020 __________________________________
  • NEW! Dresden’s Semperoper reopens with Anna Netrebko on 19 June __________________________________
  • NEW! Berlin’s Pierre Boulez Saal in 2020-21 __________________________________
  • NEW! LMP’s first UK chamber orchestra performances since Covid-19 struck __________________________________
  • NEW! Oxford Lieder Festival – 10-17 October 2020 __________________________________
  • NEW! The Metropolitan Opera (2020–)2021 season update __________________________________
  • NEW! Royal Opera House announces first live concert since beginning of lockdown __________________________________
  • NEW! Semi-staged Das Rheingold on Deutsche Oper Berlin’s parking deck from 12 June __________________________________
  • NEW! A breath of fresh air: Opera Holland Park announces 2021 season __________________________________
  • NEW! Grange Park Opera’s 2020 Found Season – 4 June to 12 July __________________________________
  • UPDATED! 2020 Salzburg Festival – 1 to 30 August __________________________________
  • NEW! English Music Festival’s 2020 online series of concerts and talks __________________________________
  • The Singapore Symphony in 2020-2021 __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Free Review Summary Newsletter

    Search S&H

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • NEW! We’ll be back! The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra weathering the Covid-19 storm __________________________________
  • NEW! World Ballet School Day – inaugural edition 7 July 2020 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Longborough Festival Opera launches podcast and extraordinary generosity of the audience __________________________________
  • NEW! The Music Critics Association of North America Best New Opera Award to Blue __________________________________
  • NEW! Lincoln Center honors Pride with a light installation on its iconic plaza __________________________________
  • R.I.P. Dame Vera Lynn (1917-2020): Did we really need Vera Lynn during the war? __________________________________
  • NEW! What price Sherlock Holmes? __________________________________
  • NEW! BBC to show the ROH’s first post-lockdown performance and their other recent music news __________________________________
  • NEW! Woody Allen comes back fighting with a book and A Rainy Day in New York __________________________________
  • NEW! Educating Rita, says who? __________________________________
  • NEW! 2020 Three Choirs Festival – postponed __________________________________
  • NEW! ACCOMPANIST OR PARTNER? PIANIST SUSIE ALLAN IN CONVERSATION WITH JOHN QUINN __________________________________
  • NEW! Need to escape reality? Enter into the magical world of composer David Hertzberg __________________________________
  • NEW! BTHVN2020 – Beethoven anniversary goes into overtime __________________________________
  • Archives by Week

    Archives by Month