PatKop’s Dies Irae is her show in every dimension of the word

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Dies Irae: Patricia Kopatchinskaja (violin, concept, direction), Michael Wendeberg (piano, organ, harpsichord), Aurora Voices, Aurora Orchestra. Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, 21.2.2024. (AK)

Patricia Kopatchinskaja’s Dies Irae © Pete Woodhead

Giacinto Scelsi – Okanagon
Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber– Battalia à 10
George Crumb – Black Angels
Jimi Hendrix – recording and video
PatKop – Die Wut (The Rage)
Antonio Lotti – Crucifixus
John Dowland – Lachrimae Antiguae Novae
Galina Ustvolskaya– Komposition No.2: Dies irae
Gregorian Chant – Dies irae

Unlike for some (or perhaps many) in the audience, for me this was my first encounter with Patricia Kopatchinskaja’s concept of Dies Irae. She first presented it at the Lucerne Festival in 2017, then she proceeded with several performances in 2021: Glasgow (to coincide with COP26), Salzburg Festival and Freiburg (for SWR and a South German Radio recording).

Kopatchinskaja expects a great deal from her performers, but she is not easy on the audience either. Her almost one and half hour show without an interval and mostly in a dark auditorium might intend to focus the audience’s mind without any distraction. However, unless one is fully versed with the order and content of the programme, sitting in the dark while unable to read the programme is hardly user-friendly.

Kopatchinskaja takes Heinrich Biber’s Battalia à 10 – written in 1673 for violin solo and string instruments – and intersperses her selected five movements from George Crumb’s Black Angel for electric string quartet (1970) within Biber’s eight movements. The glue and understandable logic are the strong anti-war sentiment in both compositions but I for one would have preferred to hear both works in their intended original form and the whole of Crumb’s Black Angel (subtitled ‘Thirteen Images from the Dark Land’). Arguably, both composers and compositions deserve undivided attention.

Kopatchinskaja’s version for this concert was framed with Okanagon (1968) by Giacinto Scelsi and Galina Ustvolskaja’s Dies Irae (1973). In between we heard music by Dowland and Lotti from Renaissance and Baroque times respectively as well as Jimi Hendrix and a composition by Kopatchinskaja. Comparison and linkage between past and present were crystal clear but some of the actual programme (while sitting in the pitch-dark auditorium) was less so.

I took my place in the auditorium ten minutes before the start and I kept wondering whether the sounds I heard from the stage represented tuning or other checks on instruments. It was only after the concert that I realised I was hearing a recording of Scelsi’s Okanagon for amplified trio of harp, double bass and tam-tam. I still do not know whose recording we heard while the audience was arriving and chatting loudly. And I am not sure that for such compositions using their recordings as entrance music in such a way is justified.

Patricia Kopatchinskaja’s Dies Irae © Pete Woodhead

The standard of performances was on top level throughout. I heard Kopatchinskaja some ten years or so ago and was deeply impressed by her musicality. A decade or so on she is a tour de force with full command on her violin and of her musicians. The Aurora Orchestra never ceases to surprise; we know that they play pieces from the standard orchestra repertoire from memory but this time we also witnessed their vocal and acting abilities. Their versatility included doubling on instruments not related to their own and displaying unexpected physicality such as dancing/jumping with their instruments (including the cellists) and lying flat on their bacs. Every member of the orchestra deserves utmost praise but specifically principal cellist Sébastien van Kuijk in ‘Threnody II: Black Angels!’ for solo cello and three sets of bowed crystal glasses.

The Aurora Voices also distinguished themselves by singing beautifully and in appropriate style while moving around in the auditorium. Unfortunately, our attention was drawn to this traffic although, in my opinion, we should have fully focused on their immaculate singing.

I am speculating that the people carrying the large coffin-like box through the auditorium to the stage just prior to the Ustvolskaya piece might have been Aurora musicians. I feared that they might slip in the dark, but they did not, their delivery was wholly dignified.

As I said above, the standard of performances was on top level throughout. However, I was and remain uncomfortable with the last two pieces. To me Ustvolskaya’s twenty-minute-long work (scored for eight double-basses, percussion and piano) disproportionally far the longest composition in the programme – was tiring by that part of the evening and, dare I say, also boring. Kopatchinskaja, this time the percussionist – sitting in the middle of the stage fully focused on hitting the box with various dynamics (although mostly loudly) with two hammers – provided me with an experience far from what she might have wished.

Kopatchinskaja was again centre stage during the Gregorian Chant of Dies Irae. The chorus (and musicians) again entered from the auditorium (and remained there) carrying torch lights and pre-set metronomes to tick at different speeds. This metronome device is likely to have been borrowed from Ligeti’s Poème symphonique for 100 metronomes but was not acknowledged so. I would have loved to hear the Gregorian chant without any interference, but the metronomes took over the attention visually as well as aurally. When the last metronome stopped, we saw Kopatchinskaja still centre stage. This was a Kopatchinskaja show in every dimension of the word.

Agnes Kory

Featured Image: Patricia Kopatchinskaja’s Dies Irae © Pete Woodhead

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