Friday, February 7, 2014

REVIEW: Jacaranda's "Hallucination" 01/25

On January 25, I went to hear Jacaranda's "Hallucination" concert at the First Presbyterian Church of Santa Monica. The concert began with Timothy Loo's performance of Nomos Alpha, a "solo" cello piece by Xenakis. To accommodate the difficulty and logistical impossibility of the piece, Loo was aided by a pre-recorded track that would occasionally interject with the missing parts. Exciting as this performance was, it was only an appetizer for Nicholas Isherwood and Vox Nova's performance of Stimmung by Stockhausen.

Timothy Loo's performance of the "unplayable" Xenakis cello piece was quite wonderful, overdubs and all. Loo brought a great expressivity to Xenakis' exaggerated, hyper-mathematical gestures. On any other program of 20th century modernism, this could have been a highlight performance. However, one has to tip the hat to Stimmung, a powerful Germanic refraction of the hermetic musical microverse of LaMonte Young.

There seems to have been a healthy dose of Stockhausen in LA in the last 12 months. I've written on auscultations.net about three other concerts featuring Stockhausen works, and I'm sure there were others. On February 23, 2013, Southwest Chamber Music gave the US premiere of Nebadon Aus Klang. On March 27 and 28, LA Sonic Odyssey presented the original 12-channel version of Kontakte. And, in September, Nicholas Isherwood performed Capricorn with People Inside Electronics. Stimmung is the perfect crest of this Stockhausen wave. It is a well known piece - though one I never expected to hear live, and this was the ideal time, place, and performers for it.

Isherwood worked extensively with Stockhausen, and he is one of the vocalists most qualified to realize the composer's intentions. His Vox Nova ensemble, as well as his own fantastic vocal performance, displayed why Isherwood is such a highly valued interpreter of contemporary music.

From the onset, there was a clear performative emphasis on the sung words being envelope filters rather than carriers of information, with each syllable highlighting different frequencies by the shape of the mouth. Such an approach would be aligned with Stockhausen's body of work with electronics. While the sung names of various deities may have been invocations, their musical function was as manners of articulation - vehicles of the semiotic rather than the symbolic.

Meanwhile, the most surprising revelation of the evening was the spoken text, which I had never heard in English (the piece is meant to be performed in a venue's local language). The eroticism of these poems was a complete surprise, since nothing else in the piece points to them in any obvious way. I had only heard the piece in German, and had no idea what the words meant.

After the concert, it was illuminating to walk up and view the performers' scores. Each singer had re-notated the piece to make it most immediately accessible to their own relationship to music. Each performer had a clear and distinct voice, and the combination of them was something uniquely powerful. The personality of each voice was also reflected in how different each singer's re-imagined performance score was.

Also, this is the first Stockhausen piece to reference days of the week - a seed to later grow into larger works like Licht. Mary Bauermeister, who inspired this piece, was actually present for this performance(!), and mentioned off-hand that the days may have been her suggestion. I had a chance to speak with her briefly after the concert, and her innate and potentially-unintentional profundity made it clear why she has been an inspired and collaborated with so many great artists. Unfortunately, her book about her time with Stockhausen, Ich hänge im Triolengitter: Mein Leben mit Karlheinz Stockhausen, is still only available in German.

Jacaranda's next concert in their 10th anniversary season is on February 22, featuring Adam Tendler and Christopher Taylor performing two respective watershed pieces of 20th century piano music: Sonatas and Interludes, and Vingt Regards sur L’Enfant Jesus.

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